This year, I had the opportunity of a lifetime to travel internationally. I spent a full year researching, budgeting, and coordinating all the details to ensure I wouldn’t miss out on a single thing that I wanted to see. It was a whirlwind adventure: two weeks, four countries, six cities, and at least half a dozen security checks. Yup, you read that right, at least half a dozen security checks!
So? Who cares? Has Casual Photophile turned into a personal blog/travel influencer machine? Not quite. I won’t peddle travel hacks or tell the best time of day to see the Mona Lisa (in my opinion, don’t). Nope, I’m here to drag you along for the ride as I reflect on the existential question all photographers ask themselves before a trip – “What camera should I bring?”
One thing you need to know about me before we embark on this adventure is that I’m a self-proclaimed film girlie™. My first “serious” venture into photography was a high school darkroom class and while I’m a technical person who works with computers daily, I have never clicked with digital photography (horrible pun not intended). I have no rational justification for it. I just don’t like digital. It’s not as fun as shooting film.
Another thing you need to know about me is: I am but a lowly hobbyist photographer – if it’s not fun, I’m not doing it. Add all of this together and the answer to the original question, which camera should I bring, is obvious. Of course I’m taking a film camera with me on a once-in-a-lifetime trip, right?
I know, it’s crazy and makes absolutely no sense but, I left out some other key info: I’m the cheapest person I know and I’m also a certified X-ray technologist.
If you’re in the film community I’m sure you’ve seen at least one Reddit thread or Instagram story asking “My film was scanned in the airport – is it trashed?” These discussions are riddled with contradicting responses.
“If it’s less than 800 ISO you’re fine.”
“My film was x-rayed 25 times and now those photos are on the cover of Rolling Stone.”
“Why didn’t you just ask for a hand-check?”
I’ve even seen a few responders go as far as suggesting we all haul along powdered chemicals and develop our film at our destination. Insanity.
I’m not going to get into all the caveats regarding film and X-rays. Kodak and others have well-documented the issues seen with the new CT scanners in airports (which are x-ray tubes that spin in circles but deliver a much higher dosage of radiation). As an X-ray tech and the cheapest person I know – all I can tell you is this: I’m not putting a single roll through an X-ray, ever. It’s too expensive. There’s a chance the film will be fine, but there’s also a chance it won’t be. One roll of film can cost as much as $18 nowadays. Not to mention, the photos on the roll itself on a trip like this are priceless memories. I’m not risking it.
I love photography, but again I’m a hobbyist. I just want to take an amazing vacation and document the memories along the way. I don’t want to be anxious in the security line and spend my precious PTO arguing with a foreign agent that my film absolutely must be hand-checked because *mY qUaLiFiCaTiOnS*. I also don’t want to carry around a heavy digital camera worth a thousand, or even hundreds of dollars through cities I’m not familiar with. None of that sounds fun.
So what’s a girl to do? I say, bring on the digicams.
Digicams! They’re small, cheap, and unassuming. Now, I know what you’re thinking – “You trusted once-in-a-lifetime memories to a tiny sensor that’s 10+ years old?”
Yes. Yes, I did. And I don’t regret it.
In the winter, when I was deep in my “I don’t know what camera to bring” crisis, I stumbled across one of KingJvpes videos in which he and a friend walked around town and pitted a Ricoh GR III head-to-head against an old Canon S95. I initially thought all the same things you’re probably thinking – “These kids today. Why not just use your cell phone if you’re going to use a camera with such a crappy, old sensor?” But as I watched, my main takeaway wasn’t that the photos were indistinguishable between the two cameras – they were obviously very easy to tell apart. But I did realize that the old Canon S95 really held up much better than I thought it would and it was only $100.
As I did more research by endlessly scrolling through photo examples on Flickr, I found that the older pre-2010s digicams with their CCD sensors produced photos that had a unique look to them that I really liked. They felt a bit more “vintage” to my eye. I’d heard people in the photography community say that digicams “are the new film” and give a “film look.” I personally don’t think that’s true, but I do feel they provide a certain nostalgic look to photos that younger Millennials and Gen-Z would attribute to their childhood eras. It’s definitely a look that resonates with me more than the super crisp amazing digital sensors that are out there today.
So, off I went down the rabbit hole of DP Review’s camera feature search (kudos to onemonthtwocameras on Youtube for that gem) and filtered for cameras that had all the features I was looking for: RAW capabilities, “larger” 1/1.7 inch, 10-megapixel CCD sensor, and an optical zoom. I came away with two options that I was personally interested in: the Canon S90 and the Panasonic Lumix LX5. I cross-referenced prices on eBay and other used retailers and they were each around $100 at the time so, against my frugal heart, I bought them both and planned to sell whichever one I liked the least.
After testing for a few months before my vacation, I ultimately decided to bring both cameras along. Each camera had different ergonomics and I couldn’t decide which files I favored more. They’re both so small and light, they took up less space and weight in my bag than one of my 35mm SLRs would have anyway. In the event one of them got lost or broken, I’d have a backup. It was an easy decision.
I had the time of my life. I kept one of the digicams on me at all times during the trip. They easily stashed into my little travel purse. I never felt weighed down by my camera or felt the need to leave it back at the accommodation. I didn’t worry that someone was eyeing me up as a potential target for carrying a bunch of expensive camera gear. I never thought twice about plunking my bag up on the belt to be x-rayed a million times. I was carefree and living my best life. The digicams did exactly what I needed a camera to do for this trip – get out of the way and let me take photos.
Since I carried a camera with me everywhere, I got a lot of great shot opportunities that I might not have had if I’d opted to bring along a bigger camera. The RAW capabilities and manual settings made shooting feel more like actual photography than simply using my cell phone, which for me is not an enjoyable photographic experience. I’m very happy with the decision to use digicams for this trip and I’m confident that the 10-megapixel files will have plenty of detail to print the photos into a memory book.
With that said, I want to reiterate that this trip wasn’t an African safari, Paris fashion week, or a destination wedding that I was being paid to shoot. It wasn’t even a photography-focused leisure trip. I didn’t take the most ground-breaking, iconic photos ever. But what I did do is have an amazing time traveling and get to sneak in some fun, low-stress photography whenever it was convenient.
So, if you’re a frugal-to-a-fault hobbyist photographer with a love of film and all things vintage but don’t want to deal with the hassle of flying with film (or heavier, bulkier cameras) and you’re taking a trip that isn’t photography focused, I encourage you to give digicams a try. They’re great little companions. Lastly, thanks for making it to the end of this long-winded article – why are you still here? Just bring whatever camera you want. Don’t let anyone tell you what to do. Happy shooting!
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