Stylus Epic Zoom
Stylus Epic Zoom (courtesy, Olympus)

Film or digital camera for a Peace Corps posting?

Can you recommend a quality camera to use while spending the next two years in the Peace Corps? I'm open to either digital or film, but not sure which would be the best option. I also don't know if I'll be living in the middle of the jungle or in a metropolitan area. Matt Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Stylus Epic Zoom

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Here’s the big issue: Batteries. Whether you have access to new ones or can re-charge them, your juice supply is going to be a big factor. If you CAN’T get regular access to batteries or a power supply, then that largely eliminates digital cameras as they’re pretty battery-hungry. Some do use AA batteries (the Nikon Coolpix 3200, for example, selling for $199;, and for those you can use either one-time-use batteries or rechargeable ones. The advantage of a film camera is that you can pack three or four batteries and have a good shot at making them last your full tour. An example of that would be Olympus’ Stylus Epic Zoom 170 ($170, It’s a fine little point-and-shoot that has a good zoom lens.

Stylus Epic Zoom Stylus Epic Zoom

Otherwise, I am genuinely torn. I use both digital and film cameras, and believe each has its place. With digital, you save money on film and can easily download pictures to send in an e-mail, which may be a feature that’s extremely useful for you. On the other hand, I think digital cameras create all sorts of storage issues: Where do images go? Will you really still have files of today’s photos in ten years, or 20? And I think that people with digital cameras spend more time looking at tiny little LCD screen images than they do actually taking pictures. It’s true you can remove pictures from the camera’s storage, but if you can’t get access to a computer’s hard drive and offload them, you’re going to have to carry several memory cards (no hardship, unless you lose them).

On the other hand, film is easily stored—a shoebox does nicely for decades—and eliminates that “let’s look at the picture I just took” syndrome. But, digitizing film is an issue (I use a scanner) and when you travel you then have to pack along enough film to last you. And there’s the expense of printing.

In film cameras, the Olympus would be a good choice, as would the Pentax IQZoom 105WR ($200, The Nikon digital is a good choice, as is the Canon PowerShot S410 ($350,, which has a little higher megapixel storage for better resolution. I also like Olympus’ just-released C-5500 SportZoom ($400). But, keep in mind that the C-5500 has five megapixels of resolution, which is fine for most people but may pose storage and mailing problems for you. You don’t want to be stuck for hours in some cyber café in Ulan Bator waiting for your pics to send. The three- or four-megapixel resolution of the Nikon or Canon, respectively, should be perfectly adequate—even more than adequate.

With all that filed, I’d actually wait until you know more about your posting. If you’re in an urban-ish setting, go digital. If very rural, film will likely suit you better.

Check out Outside‘s
2004 Buyer’s Guide
for a selection of last year’s top-rated cameras.

From Outside Magazine, April/May 2021 Lead Photo: courtesy, Olympus