People often ask for advice on buying a camera. Most are looking for something between the simplest point-and-shoot and a professional camera. I usually recommend an entry-level, single-lens reflex with interchangeable lenses or a quality point-and-shoot with some manual controls. It makes me consider what one camera I would pack for that deserted island conundrum that list-makers love to ponder. So, in addition to The Band’s “Rock of Ages” album as my deserted island music choice, here’s how I would narrow my camera pick.
• A 28mm wide-angle lens. This is a must-have lens and is my most used focal length. It works well with landscapes, interiors, group shots and environmental portraits. Ideally, the camera would have a zoom lens to at least 100mm and macro capability. A 100mm lens can fill a frame with a portrait from 4 to 5 feet away and pull in distant objects.
• Manual controls. Shutter and aperture priority are standard and nice, but manual allows more creative control over exposures.
• Portability. I want something that’s easy to carry with me at all times. Whether I’m hiking in the Flint Hills, cycling across the state or on a cruise to Antarctica, I want my camera to be light on my shoulder or in my pocket. My Journal-World gear is too big and heavy for my all-purpose pick.
• Optical viewfinder. A lot of people don’t remember when all cameras had viewfinders. For me, they are an essential part of a photographer’s engagement with a subject. Also, with the camera to your eye you have a steadier hold. LCDs are OK, but they drain batteries quicker, and they don’t work well in bright light.
• RAW capture. Most cameras capture digital files in a compressed JPEG format. In JPEG, there is compression, and if you underexpose a shot or have a wrong white balance you can’t do much to correct the image. An option of RAW (the acronym doesn’t stand for anything other than “raw”) saves data off the image sensor without internal camera processing and no compression. In RAW, many “in camera” settings such as white balance, contrast, etc., are not applied permanently. RAW files allow you to change many of the shooting parameters after exposure and in post-processing.
Several cameras meet the above requirements. Personally, I would probably go with Canon’s G10. But cameras are a personal choice and vary in cost and the way they handle. You should find one that matches your personality and lifestyle. Feel free to e-mail me with questions or with your deserted island choice.
After writing this column, I found two articles online about deserted island cameras. One had readers submitting their choices of mechanical film cameras. The other deals with choosing a camera body and several lenses followed by reader submissions.