Nobody should travel to Antarctica or the Arctic without a still or video camera. And nobody should travel all that distance with a brand new camera they have not familiarized themselves with prior to their departure.
These days, with digital photography, there are hundreds of different styles and models to choose among. Before you buy one you should explore what is available by going online to a website, such as www.huntsphotoandvideo.com and www.bhphotovideo.com, decide what you would like the camera to be able to do (stills only, stills and video, video only), decide how much you want to spend, and consider how large/heavy it will be to use in the field—and transport from home to the ship and back. You should also know what you want to do with your still or video images. If you simply want to download JPEG still images onto a viewer or a photo sharing website, or keep them on your laptop, the image file size you will need is relatively small. If you want to make a very large wall-sized print you need a camera that is capable of capturing images with file sizes considerably larger than the capabilities of many point-and-shoots. Video is the same. Many small hand-held cameras are capable of creating fine YouTube-quality images. If you are planning an elaborate trip documentary you obviously need a camera that produces a larger HD image.
Many people traveling to the Polar Regions plan to use their camera-equipped cell phone as their principal means of recording their once-in-a-lifetime trip. While this strategy may be adequate for those who only want a few photos of wildlife and scenery, most of us would like to have a little better image quality than is possible with most cell phones. Also, if you drop your cell phone over the side of the ship and into the water, you won’t have it available to contact family and friends or your ground transportation service when you return to your home airport.
A traveler carrying both still and video cameras on the Falkland Islands. Copyright © Ellie Van Os
For most camera manufacturers, their highest revenues come from lower-end point-and-shoot cameras sold in the general consumer market. Here you will find the widest variation of styles and features to choose among. These days, point-and-shoot cameras can produce amazing images for their size. Some can be used to make short video clips, they come in all manner of designer colors depending on your mood, and some can even play music. But what these cameras usually lack is manual control for making images. If you will be happy with a camera that will automatically make a satisfactorily exposed image 90% of the time, you will be very happy with today’s point-and-shoots. Where these cameras disappoint is when the subject and background are very dark or—in the case of the Polar Regions—when the photo contains some ice and snow. The camera will decide the best exposure and will occasionally burn those snowy and icy areas by overexposing the portions of the picture that are white.
Canon PowerShot G12
A level up from point-and-shoot cameras is the “premium compact.” Two new models of premium compacts, among others, are the Canon PowerShot G12 and the Nikon Coolpix P7000. These premium compacts can be used just like a point-and-shoot, but they also feature manual controls that allow you to override the automatic function of the camera and expose by looking at a histogram to make sure bright whites in snowy areas are not blown out. They produce larger file size images than most consumer point-and-shoots and they also make high-quality HD video! Their drawbacks are their cost ($500, plus or minus) and their learning curve—you’ll have to read the manual and learn how to operate all the controls. They are almost as complicated as many SLRs (single lens reflex cameras) but can produce an image that can rival many less expensive semi-professional SLRs. Premium compacts are good cameras for people who want great image quality, are willing to take the time learn the operation of the camera’s modes and functions, and want larger image file sizes. The video functions in these cameras are very good.
Small, hand-held HD video recorders like this Flip camera are increasingly commonplace on our cruises
Of course, the next level up from the premium compacts are the 35mm SLRs with large systems of interchangeable lenses, from extremely long telephotos to extremely wide angles, and numerous body models. Some professional models are capable of creating billboard-size prints and have video capabilities that can rival professional television cameras. There are so many possibilities when purchasing these cameras and lenses—I’ll save that discussion for an entire near-future blog topic.
There are as many levels of video equipment as are available in still cameras. Since so many still cameras have video capabilities these days it makes good sense to purchase one that can do both. However, a new hand-held video camera that is taking the market by storm is the Flip video camera, www.theflip.com. Their UltraHD camera fits easily into your pocket, has image stabilization technology and the 8 GB model can film for 2 hours. It costs $200 and would be a wonderful (and very easy to operate) video camera to take with you on your upcoming cruise.