I knew I needed a digital camera for Life Nomadic, my 2008 trip around the world. But which one should I get?
Point and shoots just don't cut it. The trip was planned to bring me to some of the most amazing places on earth, and there was no way I wasn't going to capture them in the best quality possible.
I tried to find high end point and shoots - some costing as much as $500. Still, they just don't have that rich feel that SLRs (the big ones) have.
1. Pictures are made out of light. The more light you get inside the camera, the more information the camera has to make the picture, and thus the higher quality it is. Megapixels are a bit misleading once you get past 4 or 5. The size of the lens and the image sensor size matter a lot more. Point and shoots have tiny sensors and tiny lenses.
2. Small lenses have no depth of field. Depth of field is when the camera only focuses on a narrow plane, so everything else is out of focus. This sounds bad, but is actually good because it helps define the subject of the image. Pay attention and you'll see that every professional picture or video has it.
Ok, so no point and shoot.
What about SLRs? One problem:
1. They're freaking huge.
I'm traveling with a tiny backpack - and that's it. An SLR would take up a good third of my alloted space.
The only solution seemed to be the Sigma DP-1, a camera had been rumored to come out for years but never surfaced. It combined a bigger lens with a bigger sensor. Not SLR, but not point and shoot either. It was pretty compact and seemed like a good compromise.
But... we had our tickets for January 7th and there was no indication that the camera would come out before then. I waited and waited.
Eventually I realized I wouldn't get the camera before I left. I researched desperately for weeks until I finally hit the jackpot.
There's yet another kind of digital camera, called a Digital Rangefinder. Why hadn't I heard about it before? Because there are only TWO models ever produced.
Digital Rangefinders use the same size sensors and lenses as an SLR, but are far smaller. This is because SLRs have a large moving mirror in them to reflect light from the lens to the eyepiece. Digital Rangefinders have a separate smaller focusing method.
The two Digital Rangefinders are the Epson R-D1s and the Leica M8. The Epson costs around $2500 and the Leica costs about $4000. I didn't really want to spend either amount of money, but eventually caved and bought the R-D1s.
And I couldn't be any happier.
It is incredible. Looking at it is like looking at a piece of art. It has no digital indicators at all until you flip around the stealthily hidden screen on the back. The top analog gauges show battery life, pictures, white balance, and image mode. Looking at it, most people would mistake it for an old film camera.
The pictures it takes are nothing short of stunning. It's even thought to be better in low light situations than the more expensive Leica. I've never taken a photo with a real camera before, but now my shots could be confused for a pro's.
The only apparent disadvantage is that everything is manual other than white balance and exposure. You set the F stop, focus, and aperture manually. You can also set the exposure manually if you want.
At first this takes some getting used to, but truthfully not as much as you'd think. Now I can shoot all day and forget that it's not automatic. This, of course, gives me a lot more control over the photos.
To see some shots I've taken with it, check out our Flickr Account for Life Nomadic.
If you think life's to short to not take amazing pictures of it, check out ebay deals on the R-D1s. As I write this there are a couple for under $2000, which is a very good deal. The normal "best price" is around $2100.
P.S. The R-D1 is an earlier model that's pretty much exactly the same. A free firmware upgrade makes it identical.