Need help choosing a new Digital Camera?

Canon G12 Digital Camera

Looking for a compact camera with top-notch image quality and professional-quality features that you can use even if you're not a pro yet? Look no further than the Canon G12

I spend a lot of time researching a new camera or lens before I buy it. I try to travel very light and I don't want to fill up my camera bag with stuff that's not going to get used.

Here's what I look for in a new digital camera or lens:

  • Compact size: I fit all of my camera gear into one small shoulder bag (that doesn't look like a camera bag). If it's too big, it doesn't make the trip.
  • Top-notch image quality: There's always a tradeoff between compact size and image quality (smaller cameras have smaller sensors to capture to the photo). At the very least the new camera or lens must be lighter in weight and deliver images better than the gear I have already. What's the point of getting new stuff if it doesn't?
  • Durability: If I spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on a camera, I expect it to last for several years (if not longer). I take good care of my equipment, but also expect it to be ready to handle travel situations that are off the beaten path.

Does this sound like the kind of camera / lens you're looking for? If so, please keep reading, I'll show you exactly what I'm carrying in my camera bag now and tell you why I chose it.

Underwater Photography with a Digital Point and Shoot Camera

Underwater Photography of a Clown Fish from Apo Island, Philippines
Underwater photography doesn't have to be expensive. This clown fish was captured with a Canon Digital Elph in an underwater case.


Canon Underwater Camera Case for G11 Digital Camera

Canon makes an inexpensive underwater camera case for most (if not all) of their digital point and shoot cameras

Does underwater photography have to be expensive?

Learning about underwater photography while training as a Peace Corps volunteer in the Philippines was one of the great experiences of my entire time in the country and it wouldn't have been possible without a relatively inexpensive camera case made by Canon.

I didn't want to spend thousands of dollars on a digital SLR camera housing, strobes, and ports for each lens, but I still wanted to bring back photos that were good enough to publish or print out at 20 inches.

At the time, Canon had just introduced a series of special underwater cases for most of their point-and-shoot models that were rated up to 140 feet deep. In March 2004 I started out with a four-megapixel Canon digital Elph (called IXUS outside of America) and began to learn how to shoot underwater photos.

Today, I use a Canon G12 for underwater photography and surf photography. At ten megapixels, it's more than double the image quality of the original Canon Elph that I started out with, but the underwater case is almost identical to the one I used more than six years ago (and still about the same price).

Why do I use a simple point-and-shoot for underwater photography instead of an SLR?

  • I travel light. Lugging a Pelican case full of ports, strobes, housings, etc. would make traveling for me a lot less fun.
  • I like the maneuverability of a smaller camera. It's just easier to swim with underwater.
  • I'm happy with the quality of the photos it brings back--especially if you're concious of the limitations of point and shoot cameras.
  • Much less expensive. At first, I wasn't even sure if underwater photography was for me. I felt a lot more comfortable trying out my skills with a $180 camera housing for my Canon Elph than dropping more than $1,000 for an entry-level SLR housing (and that's not including ports for the lenses).

What do you need to get started with Underwater Photography?

I use Canon digital cameras because I think the picture quality is the best when compared to the other manufacturers. Canon makes a clear polycarbonate underwater housing for every point and shoot camera that I've ever owned, typically retailing for $170 to $200. Just choose the one that's made to fit your camera and you're ready to start your career as an underwater photographer.

Canon G12 Compact Digital Camera

The Canon G12 is the best compromise between the higher image quality of a bulky SLR and the easy portability of a digital Elph that I've seen yet.

I use mine for everything from surf photography in Bali to underwater photography in the Philippines. It's also great for the times when I'm headed out the door to take some photos but don't want to carry the heavier camera bag with my 40D and lenses. The HD video quality is really amazing too.

If you're looking for the perfect camera to get started with underwater photography and you don't want to use an SLR, look no further than the G12.

The Pros:

  • Compact size, Camera RAW format, excellent image quality, easy to reach controls, wide angle lens and a 5x zoom.
  • Amazing HD video quality - I've actually used mine to shoot surf videos already
  • Near-SLR quality performance when used with a small strobe underwater - click here to check out some recent photos from Komodo National Park taken with the G12.

The Cons:

  • Slow frame rate in continuous shooting mode (only ~1 frame per second)--prety slow for surf photography or other action sports.

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Canon Underwater Case (Rated to 40m or 140 feet)

Canon seems to sell an underwater case for every point and shoot digital camera they make. It's pretty safe to say that I would not have gotten started with underwater photography as soon as I did if Canon didn't make an inexpensive underwater case that I could use for my original Digital Elph.

Canon has also significantly improved the features of the case that fits the G12 (or G11)--especially when it comes to minimizing the chances that your lens will fog up underwater.

The Pros:

  • Compact size, Inexpensive price, improved anti-fogging design.

The Cons:

  • Only fits a specific camera model (although to be fair this is true for pretty much every underwater camera housing)

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Sealife Underwater Digital Strobe

If you plan to take underwater photos below ten meters (30 feet), you will definitely need a flash (strobe).

Of course you can do ok with the small on-camera flash and diffuser (pictured on the Canon underwater case above), but this will really only work if your subject is approximately two meters (six feet) away from your subject or less.

Today I shoot a Sealife Digital Pro Flash that attaches to the bottom of the Canon underwater case with an extension arm to hold the flash. The coiled wire (as seen in the photo to the left) is a fiber-optic cable that attaches to the Canon camera housing directly over the flash. The timing of the pre-flash (the rapid sequence of flashes that fire just before the actual flash) synchronizes the external flash. Pretty cool, you can also adjust the strength of the flash depending how far away you are from your subject. I usually detach the flash from the handle and hold it with my hand to try to match the angle of the artificial light from the flash with the natural light from the sun so that the shadows are more realistic.

The Pros:

  • Relatively inexpensive, much more powerful than the on-camera flash, much more control than the on-camera flash, quick flash recycle time when compared with other cheaper models.

The Cons:

  • Fiber optic cable is a bit delicate.

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Digital SLR and Lenses for Travel Photography

Canon Digital SLR Photography
For the best image quality, sharpness, and the creative control of multiple lenses, you'll need a Digital SLR.


Canon 5D Mark ii Digital SLR

I made the switch to a digital SLR in November 2005 and have missed the old days of shooting slide film (Fuji Velvia) only once or twice. Today I shoot a Canon 5D Mark ii.

Point and shoot digital cameras are great, but as I mentioned above, they cannot really compete with Digital SLR's in terms of image quality and the versatility of interchangeable lenses.

If I'm not shooting underwater or in a downpour, I use a Canon digital SLR (I made the switch from film to digital SLR in November 2005). Before November 2005, I used a Canon SLR loaded with Fujichrome Velvia color slide film.

You might recognize the Fuji Velvia color palette in the photos I have here--since I made the switch to digital I've tried to re-create the vibrantly amplified colors from a photo shot with Velvia.

Today I use a Canon 40D digital SLR as my main camera. I bought it in September 2008 as an upgrade from the Canon Digital Rebel I was using before.

The reasons I upgraded to the Canon 5D:

  • Full frame sensor. Built to the size of a 35mm frame, the sensor on the 5D delivers an amazing 21.1 megapixel image.
  • 1080p HD video. Built to the size of a 35mm frame, the sensor on the 5D delivers an amazing 21.1 megapixel image.
  • More durable than the Digital Rebel. The camera body is sealed better, keeping out bad weather, sea salt spray, waves, sun, etc. when I'm traveling.
  • More accessible controls. I like not having to navigate through menus or sub-menus to change the ISO, aperature, shutter speed, and exposure compensation.
  • Bigger viewfinder. It's a lot easier to compose the photo when you can easily see through the camera lens. The Digital Rebel is nice because it's very compact. The problem is that the viewfinder is also compact so shooting in dark or difficult situations makes it a lot harder to see your subject. The 5D solves this problem with a large viewfinder that's much easier to see through.

I usually sell and upgrade my digital SLR every one to two years. I keep an eye on the new equipment coming out in between, but try not to read too many camera gear advertisements because you can always come up with a reason why you need to upgrade. Better to pick your camera and focus on taking your best photos possible with it until the newest model really offers a huge difference (in terms of your creative options).

Why use a Digital SLR instead of a Point and Shoot?

The answer to this question is pretty simple. With a Digital SLR you will have the creative versatility of using interchangeable lenses and the much higher image quality of a larger image sensor (when compared with a point and shoot).

This year Canon released the 60D, an 18 megapixel upgrade of the 50D, which would definitely be my choice if I was upgrading from a cheaper DSLR or a nice point and shoot digital camera. Both the 60D and 5D shoot high definition 1080p digital video--a huge selling point.

If you're deciding whether to buy a more expensive digital SLR or a more expensive lens, go with the better lens. A great lens is much more of an investment than a great camera, and your photos will show it.

Canon 5D Mark ii Digital SLR

I should have bought a 5D years ago.

It's no fun to spend so much on a camera, but in the case of the 5D I have no doubt that the improved image quality and HD video capability will quickly and easily pay for itself.

So far I've done two big trips to Komodo National Park and a traverse of the Philippines from Palawan to Apo Island and have been amazed at the image quality that the combination of the 5D and 16-35mm L lens can produce. The depth of colors, sharpness and incredibly low amount of digital noise in the photos is incredible.

It's even better than the color range and quality produced by my old favorite Fujichrome Velvia slide film. Anyways, enough raving about the 5D, suffice to to say that the price is definitely worth it.

The Pros:

  • Large, easy to see viewfinder, easy access to camera controls (compared with the menus you have to navigate on the Digital Rebel), better weather sealing, easier to handle (again compared with the Digital Rebel), works with all Digital Rebel lenses.

The Cons:

  • Hmmm... Tough to come up with a complaint for the 5D, but if I had to stretch it I would say that the only downside is the large file size of the photos (they're 21 megapixels of course!). But that extra file size also means drastically improved image quality so it's definitely worth it--good thing hard drives are so cheap these days!.

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Canon 70-200mm L Series Zoom Lens

The Canon 70-200mm L is the best zoom lens I've ever owned, and it's no surprise that it's a lens you'll find in the camera bag of many professional photographers.

I don't worry about it getting damaged by salt spray, light rain, or other difficult travel conditions because it's sealed and weather proofed. The "L" series are the highest quality lenses that Canon builds, so the photos are sharp and always have great contrast. I've used it for everything from street photography in Lijiang, China, to portrait and surf photography in Indonesia and couldn't be happier with the results. If you've never tried a Canon L series lens, this is the one to start with.

The Pros:

  • Excellent image quality, sharpness, and contrast; weather-sealing, fast auto-focus.

The Cons:

  • Relatively expensive (when compared with non L-series lenses).

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Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM Ultra Wide Angle Zoom Lens

Open up my camera bag when I'm out shooting and it's more than likely you'll find the Canon 10-22mm super wide-angle lens attached to my camera. Wide-angle shots capture the spirit of a landscape and are the best for giving your viewers the feel of "being there".

I also use it for portraits because you can fit both the person and a lot of the background in the frame. Another advantage for portraits, you can get away with not pointing the lens directly at your subject so they are likely to be more comfortable in front of the camera. The only complaint I have about this lens is the distortion you can sometimes see around the edge of the frame because the focal length is soooo wide.

The Pros:

  • The widest angle you can get with an inexpensive Digital SLR like the Digital Rebel or Canon 60D.

The Cons:

  • Distortion at the edges of the frame because the lens must compensate for the smaller sensor, only works with the Digital Rebel series lenses and the Canon 30D, 40D, 50D, and 60D.

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