5 Reasons Why A Digital Camera Is Better Than A Smartphone For Travel Photos

There is an old adage in photography that says the best camera is the one that you have with you at any given time. This holds especially true in the age of smartphones, which have evolved into solid shooters over the past few years. Owning a smartphone is a lot like having a decent point and shoot camera on you at all times, which has, for good or ill, allowed us to share many more personal moments on Facebook and Twitter.

I’ll admit that on more than one occasion I’ve used my iPhone 4S to take some shots to quickly share with friends and family. It is incredibly fun and convenient to take a photo and then immediately send it along to loved ones to enjoy as well. Image quality is, for the most part, more than acceptable and there is a certain level of intimacy that can be garnered by sharing important moments as they happen.

That said, those that use a smartphone as their primary camera while traveling continue to confound me. Yes they are lightweight and easy to use, but they are also lacking in certain fundamental features that a dedicated digital camera will always bring to the table. Those features make them better suited for travel photography and greatly improve the quality of the images as well. I’m not even talking about higher end DSLR cameras either. A good point and shoot will still be a better tool for travel photography than any smartphone.

With that in mind, here are five reasons why this is the case.Optical Zoom
Most compact cameras will come with at least some level of optical zoom but the same cannot be said of smartphones. Optical zoom uses the physical lenses of the camera to manipulate the image and make objects appear closer. This allows the photographer to get clear images of their subjects even when they are a considerable distance away. The higher the optical zoom the further you’ll be able zoom in, which is particularly handy when capturing just the right shot while traveling.

On the other hand, digital zoom will actually make the image itself larger causing a loss in quality in the process. The further you zoom in digitally, the more the image suffers. Most cameras will have a higher level of digital zoom than optical, but I generally avoid using it at all costs. The loss of detail and image quality simply isn’t worth the minor benefits of digital zoom for me.

Battery Life
Another area that a dedicated camera stands out versus a smartphone is in battery life. I own three different point and shoot cameras and each of them is capable of being used on a weeklong trip without having to recharge their batteries. That comes in awfully handy when traveling through remote places where recharging might not be an easy option. In contrast to that, a smartphone is generally lucky if it can make it through a full day, particularly if it is being used as a camera on top of all of its other functions. True, you can get battery extenders for your phone, but at that point you might as well be carrying a P&S camera anyway.

Simply put, a decent dedicated camera will out perform a smartphone in nearly every way. They tend to start up and shoot faster, offer burst-modes, have much better image stabilization, and reproduce more realistic colors. A good point and shoot will capture fast action shots without blurriness and will autofocus more quickly as well. More sophisticated cameras will even allow the photographer to control his or her shutter speed, aperture settings and ISO levels. In contrast, most smartphones have very few options at all and simply let you capture an image that is processed automatically.

I use my smartphone for a lot of things, and even though it has 16GB of storage, it is usually close to being full at any given time. I have music, apps, movies, photos and more on the device, which means if I start using it as my primary camera, I could easily run out of space before the end of a trip. The memory card in a camera on the other hand is generally only used to store photos and video. They also tend to be very reliable, inexpensive and easy to swap out when they get full. True, some smartphones allow users to add memory cards as well, but they are typically not as easy to access from the device and swapping them can often be a real challenge.

More Than The Sum Of Its Parts
Many consumers are under the erroneous assumption that the more megapixels a camera has the better the images will be. This has led some to believe that their old 5-megapixel point and shoot isn’t nearly as good as the shiny new 8-megapixel camera on their smartphone. The truth is, megapixels are just a small part of the equation. The size of a camera’s sensor, quality of lenses, level of optical zoom, flash and other components all play a role in creating the photo. In most cases, a dedicated camera is still well ahead of the curve in each of those areas when compared to a smartphone.

For me personally, my travel photos are the most important images that I shoot with my camera. Not only are they used to compliment my writing, but they are also shared with family and friends. Occasionally one even gets developed, framed and hung on the wall at my apartment. It is important to me that they are of the highest quality possible and for that reason I simply can’t trust a smartphone to capture the images I want.

As someone who likes to travel light I’d love to be able to shave a few pounds off my luggage by leaving my heavier camera equipment at home in favor of using my iPhone. But I’m not willing to sacrifice quality in my photography, so for now I’ll proudly continue to take my DSLR and a point and shoot into the field when I travel. I don’t see that changing anytime soon.

[Photo credit: Tom Photos and Pierre Bauduin via WikiMedia]

On Traveling Without The Big DSLR Camera

I own a Nikon D200 with some extra stuff, including a 28-300 telephoto lens that weighs a ton. I have a Panasonic Lumix (that’s what I used to shoot this picture of dusk in the Serengeti), and an iPhone. I have a video camera, too (the only thing on my list of gear that I did not pay for – I got the video camera in a promotional scheme two years ago). I’ve traveled with all of this stuff and used it all, though I’ll confess that I never did fall in love with the video camera.

I have some formal training in photography, some hardcore classroom time combined with some unofficial apprenticeship with an architectural photographer in the San Francisco Bay Area. I am no stranger to the darkroom (oh, I just gave away my age). I used to shoot, develop and print my own work, though I don’t miss the darkroom. Digital photography has made me love the art even more, though I decried the clumsiness of my first 3-megapixel camera – the metering was bad, the battery life atrocious and the optics, second rate. Digital gear has eaten film now; the quality is just as good and the optics in my phone are 97 times better than that of my first digital camera.

And while I’m not sorry I hauled my full kit to Antarctica and the Serengeti, I am dead tired of carrying all that weight around. A day behind that heavy SLR with the telephoto, and my arm aches. I hate the hassle of carrying around a pack full of lenses, batteries, maybe a flash, a tripod, and whatever extras I’ve packed in preparation. Sometimes, a full pack of photo gear is what keeps me from traveling carryon only. And there’s the added concern about the value of all that gear – a need to keep it safe and under my watch.

I’ve been shooting with my iPhone 4s for about six months now, and with a Panasonic Lumix for maybe two years. When I headed overseas last month, I decided to make a leap of faith and leave behind the big guns and travel with gear that I could fit in my pockets or the little Swiss Army shoulder bag I like to carry when I travel.

%Gallery-160397%Did I miss having my DSLR? Not at all. I felt surprisingly light and taking pictures was easy – easier than on any trip I’ve ever taken. I split my use about 50/50 between my new Lumix and my iPhone, and the work I got was as good as on any trip that I took with my DSLR. Here are some of the reasons I loved shooting light:

  • Low light: I don’t own the lenses for my DSLR to shoot in low light without a tripod. Night shots – I could never get them right before. My phone and my pocket camera handle low light much better than my SLR.
  • Point-and-shoot: Good photography is about the eye, not about the gear, and my point-and-shoot lets me do just that, fast. Read a little Cartier-Bresson on the decisive moment, and you’ll see what I mean.
  • Super smart settings: Yes, you can tweak the settings like crazy, but you can also shoot in auto. Go ahead, call me lazy – whatever. I’m using the brain inside the camera to enable my eye. I like being able to do that.
  • Display over viewfinder: With my SLR, I was always stopping, steadying, framing – with a camera stuck to my face. It interrupts the conversation. Shooting from my solar plexus allows me to watch and listen and shoot at the same time.
  • Ease of access and use: My camera was always right there, not zipped away so it was padded and protected, so I simply shot more pictures. It fits in my back pocket; it’s about the same size as my wallet, so it’s easy to take anywhere.
  • Serious zoom: The 20x optical zoom on my Lumix is rated as equivalent to a 35-500 lens. That’s some range for optics that fit in a camera that’s the size of my wallet and weighs about the same.

The downside?

  • Bright light: It’s hard to see the viewfinder in brightly lit settings. At a few locations, I wished for a viewfinder and this camera does not have one.
  • The menus are insane: Sure, I’ll figure them out. But I know all the controls and what they do on my DSLR and I can tweak them fast. The navigation system viewfinder-based pocket cameras are basically a computer and you navigate through it as such. This is a learning curve issue that I’m sure I’ll master.

Lots of companies are making higher-end pocket cameras – my favorite is Lumix by Panasonic, but Olympus makes them, and Nikon and Canon too, as well as a number of other electronics brands. We’ve upgraded the Lumix three times at our house – not because it was broken, but because we wanted the improvements. I can’t speak to the other brands, I simply don’t know them, but I can say that yes, it is possible to get thoroughly satisfying shots with only a pocket camera. I loved traveling that much lighter, and what did I sacrifice? Not much. Not much at all.

Photo Of The Day: Amateur Photographers At Big Sur

How often do you arrive at a famous monument or stunning vista and encounter a line of amateur photographers peering through camera lenses and iPhone screens? It seems that as a culture we’ve become more intent on capturing the perfect shot than on taking a moment to be still and appreciate the beauty of what’s in front of us. In today’s Photo of the Day, Flickr user David Lytle trains his camera on the photographers instead of the view at Big Sur, California, perhaps to make us more aware of how photography can both add to and detract from the experience of traveling.

Do you have your own travel photo that doubles as a commentary? Upload your travel shots to the Gadling Flickr Pool and your image could be selected as our Photo of the Day.

Is Instagram Helping Or Hurting Travel Photography?

It’s always fun to look at vibrant images of faraway destinations – a sun ray hitting the perfect piece of sand on a beach, an indigenous woman selling fruit at a weekend market or a mountain glowing 10 different shades. And, with all of the photography technology and apps we now have, it’s making it easier and easier for people to take flawless and exciting photos.

Do you ever wonder, however, if using these kinds of doctoring tools affects the ethics of photography? For example, is looking at a white sand beach that’s been photoshopped and filtered through Instagram really giving people an accurate view of a destination? Is heavily editing your photos, in a way, cheating? Travel photographers and travel editors from around the world weigh in on the subject.

One problem some are seeing with using instant-editing apps like Instagram and Camera+ is the photos can be somewhat misleading. It can give a sense you’re not getting a truthful depiction of a destination.”Sometimes images look a little too perfect. I like them to look a little more real,” says Mike Richard, editor of Vagabondish, a top-rated travel website.

For example, if you take a look at the photo above of Las Tijeretas on San Cristobal in the Galapagos Islands, you’ll notice it looks completely different from the photo below. By using an Instagram filter on the top photo, the photographer has invoked an entirely different feeling of what the destination is like.

Lola Akinmade Akerström, whose work has appeared in publications like National Geographic, BBC and Forbes Traveler, agrees that travel photography should be about capturing a sense of place and culture as accurately as possible, instead of simply trying to take as many photos as you can in 10 minutes. For her, taking the viewer to a place as honestly as possible is “very different from fine art photography, which a lot of these filters and HDR effects cross into.”

She continues, “I personally won’t want to go somewhere where the sky is neon blue, the buildings appear more 3D than in reality, and people walk around looking like caricatures.”

Still, there are those travel photographers who are pro-Instagram, even using it themselves. Travel photographer Ken Kaminesky, who shoots commercial lifestyle images for stock photography, believes Instagram is all about having fun with your pictures. Additionally, because art is about perception, it’s all about how the photographer sees the shot, and how the viewers, in turn, perceive it.

“The photographer takes the pictures, not the camera,” he explains. “It still has a lot to do with your eye and how you compose things.”

Kaminesky also sees the benefit of using Instagram as a teaser for upcoming projects, showing his followers what they can look forward to with current and future assignments. For him and many other photographers, Instagram has many benefits in terms of social media sharing, helping to engage and excite their audience.

J.D. Andrews, editor of earthXplorer and travel photographer and videographer, sees the usefulness of Instagram, although believes it is more useful as a social media tool, more so than an article enhancer.

“When I’m shooting somewhere and I have the time, I always get the shots I need with my Canon, and then have fun with Instagram,” explains Andrews. “[If I were to use Instagram in an article], it would depend on the post. If it was about camera apps, sure. But most of the time, I only use Instagram for fun, ‘in the moment’ sharing.”

Kyle Marquardt, a commercial photographer and photo safari guide, agrees that Instagram is more for having fun than professional photos you would sell. Moreover, he believes the app allows people who would not usually be interested in photography to have fun with the endeavor. In fact, his mother, who had never used a camera before, bought an iPhone and became obsessed with Camera+. Now, she loves photography.

From the enthusiasm that apps like Instagram generate, photography becomes a more recognized medium. Many people will become interested in purchasing higher quality cameras, where they can learn what quality photos really look like.

“There is a lot more casual photography floating around now, and if a photographer puts work into a stunning, well-lit shot, then people are going to notice that gem amongst all the hastily executed and processed mobile photos,” says Marquardt.

How do you think Instagram is affecting travel photography?

How To Put On A Travel Photography Exhibition

You got back from an amazing adventure travel vacation a few weeks ago. Your friends and family have heard all your stories and seen all your photos. Now what? Instead of tucking your photos away in an album or hard drive, why not show off your travel photography to a wider audience?

I’ve run two photography exhibitions and been in several more. My first exhibition was on the painted caves of Laas Geel in Somaliland. Right now my wife and I have an exhibition up about Ethiopia. We are by no means experts but we have learned a few things from the experience. The main thing is that putting on a successful photography exhibition isn’t as hard as you might think, although it does take a fair amount of organization. Here are some things to keep in mind.

You don’t need to be a pro
Here’s the secret to getting good photos: take lots of pictures of interesting subjects and some will turn out well. Look through your collection with a critical eye and have someone who hasn’t been to these places look with you. They’ll be looking at the shots with fresh eyes like your audience will. Take your photos at the highest resolution possible, 300dpi minimum, so they will be publication quality. A good photo shop will be able to turn your hi-resolution photos into lovely prints. This won’t cost much and you can get decent frames cheaply too.

Decide on a theme and purpose
It helps to have a coherent theme: wildlife, a certain historic site, etc. We’ve focused on Ethiopia’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites and children, Ethiopia’s past and future. Our show benefits A Glimmer of Hope, an NGO working on rural education. Having a coherent theme helps people grasp your subject better and a charity benefit tends to attract more attention.

Pick an appropriate venue
Not being superstar photographers, we picked a local bar here in Santander, Spain, that’s a popular hangout for artists, musicians and generally liberal-minded people who would be interested in photography about Africa. Our themes fit in with the general vibe. Bar Rubicón is a Santander institution and word gets around when they host an event. Putting your prize photos up in a bar may not seem very glamorous, but over a month-long exhibition they’ll get seen by lots of people.Think out size and spacing
How many photos do you want to exhibit? What’s the lighting like in your venue? Which are the most visible walls? Think all these things through ahead of time. It helps to bring a print in the size you want to display and take a look at it within the space. In my first exhibition, I made the mistake of printing the photos too small and they looked a bit lonely hanging on a big wall.

Make a snappy poster
I’m lucky that my brother-in-law, Andrès Alonso-Herrero, is an artist. He whipped up this poster in no time. Even if you don’t have access to someone with talent, it’s not too hard to make a poster with Photoshop or PowerPoint that highlights one of your photos and gives all the necessary information.

Send out a press release
Having worked for two small newspapers, I can tell you that editors are starved for interesting local content. The regional paper El Diario Montañés gave us a nice write-up and we made it onto several “What’s On” style websites as well. Be sure to write a clear press release with all the information and attach a couple of high-resolution photos they can publish. Try to write the press release like a newspaper article. Journalists are overworked, underpaid, and many of them are quite lazy. You’ll find that much of their coverage will be simply cut and pasted from your press release. Sad to say, much of the news you read is written this way. If governments and corporations benefit from it, why shouldn’t you?

Tell everyone
Email your friends, hang up posters, do a social media blitz. Get your friends to spread the word too. Don’t be shy; you want people to see your work!

While you have their attention …
You might as well mention any other projects you have going. In the press release I mentioned I had just come out with a novel and that made it into the newspaper coverage.

Host an opening party
On opening night, be there to meet and greet. It helps to have some sort of presentation. Since people will be coming and going it’s best not to have a formal speech at a set time. I’ve found that a slideshow running on a TV hooked to your photo archive works well. It goes on a continuous loop and shows everyone the photos that didn’t make it into the exhibition.
On our opening night, many people gathered around the slideshow and I gave them a running commentary of the places shown in the pictures. It also helps to have some music. There’s no local Ethiopian band that I know of (although there’s a West African band in Santander) so the bartender compensated by putting Ethiopian music on the sound system.

Don’t expect to make much money
Unless you’re a pro showing your photos at a major gallery, you’re not going to make much. If you break even you’re doing well. The point of showing off your photos isn’t the cash but the exposure. You’ll meet plenty of cool people and have the satisfaction of knowing your photos are hanging in people’s homes. Being relative newcomers in northern Spain, our opening night made us lots of new, interesting acquaintances. We’ll take any photos left over at the end of the month and give them away as gifts or hang them in our own apartment.

Most important of all … have fun!!!