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Digital Travel Advice - Cameras

Purchasing and Travelling with a Digital Camera

There are a few things to consider when purchasing and travelling with a digital camera, more so than a normal film based camera. Outlined in detail below are some of the things to consider. Topics covered are batteries, memory, and how to backup photos while travelling.

Batteries

Different cameras have different battery options. Some take only the custom rechargeable battery supplied, some take regular AA sized batteries but only of certain types (e.g. NiMH or Lithium), some take regular film type camera batteries, and others can take a mix of the above. The ideal situation is to be able to use a rechargeable battery for every day use at home, but be able to use a long lasting easily purchasable non-rechargeable battery when travelling. This is quite often not possible with the super-compact range of cameras as they usually only take the supplied custom rechargeable battery.

Does the camera only take supplied rechargeable Battery? (Worst)

Does your fancy, new, super, small digital camera only take the rechargeable battery that was supplied with it? If so this means you have to take a charger with you, and should also consider buying a second battery so that you can have spare power. Get it before as it probably won’t be easily available where you are going. This is especially important if you are doing hikes or treks away from civilisation. You usually get good battery life from these type of batteries, but not hundreds of photos so you will need to charge them. Does the charger handle both 110 and 240 volts found in different countries where you are going? If not you may not be able to charge your batteries where you are going!

Does the camera take AA sized batteries? (Better)

Some cameras can take rechargeable AA sized batteries, and certain off the shelf non-rechargeable AA sized batteries. This is good because you can buy spare rechargeable AA batteries before you go, and these are quite often cheaper than custom batteries from the manufacturer. Although the battery life on these may not be as good as custom batteries, at least you can get them easily. LCD screens in digital cameras draw more power than your standard off the shelf AA Alkaline battery can support so don’t expect to be able to use these batteries in most cameras. There are some non-rechargeable AA batteries that you may be able to use depending on the camera – Lithium or NiMH, or so called high power batteries, but usually don’t rely on this unless your camera specifically supports it.

Does the camera take mixed batteries? (Best!)

Some cameras come with a supplied rechargeable battery, but have the option of using either AAs or specific camera batteries (e.g. LCR2 Lithium battery) which are very widely available at camera and photo stores throughout the world. These batteries are generally expensive but have a longer life than most. Confirm that the alternative battery is widely available, and purchase some spares before leaving to any remote area.

Memory Cards

First of all make sure it can use memory cards – a camera that only has internal memory will be useless to you for long travelling. You probably only received a small memory card with your camera that won’t hold many photos for your travels. And you don’t want to be spending half your trip searching the streets of Ulan Baater trying to empty your memory card to a CD. You'll probably want to purchase another card or two to use while away.

Type

There are a few types of memory card out there – Compact Flash, Smartmedia, SD, MMC and Sony Memory Stick are the major ones at the moment. In terms of what the camera uses – well it doesn't matter too much, no one has said that one is particularly better or worse than another. Where it does matter is when you come to take your card into a photo shop in Delhi, Irkutsk, or Selcuk and they only have a reader for compact flash and you have Sony memory Stick. The most common types in the world at the moment are Compact Flash and Smartmedia – the first two major types. But the others will spread just as quick as these did – they’re just newer. Just don’t buy a camera with only internal memory or with its own custom card type! Read the card reader/backup section below for more info.

Capacity

So should you buy the card with the largest capacity you can afford and then not have to worry? You must check the maximum size your camera takes – some cameras are limited in the capacity of the card. But what about if that one card fails – it is a sensitive electronic device (they can have problems, but not often), or it gets lost, or when you go to back up the dodgy photo shop you use destroys the files by not using the reader correctly (it’s happened to us!). Maybe it’s better to have a couple of large cards, not just one massive one (not all the eggs in one basket!). Plus you can leave two at the photo shop getting put onto a CD for a day while you continue to take photos on your other card.

Speed

As cameras images grow in size (number of megapixels), the file size of each photo (storage space it takes) grows as well. This means that it takes longer for the camera to write and longer before you can take that next picture while the camera is busy. While not a massive amount of time – speed will come into it more and more – so make sure you are aware of the speed of the memory card you are buying – denoted by 2X or 16X meaning two times or sixteen times.

Backup Solutions

So you have all your photos on memory cards, and they're getting full, and you’re in Agra – what now? Most digital cameras either come with a cable that connects to a USB port (better) or serial port (much worse, and not often any more) on a computer, or come with a card reader that connects to a USB port. There are also some new portable backup solutions available now for those long treks. Below are a number of things that you might want to think about before purchasing, and while travelling.

Cable Connection

Your camera can be connected to a USB port on a computer to download pictures. Sounds OK for travel – but can you just take the cable? Does the computer need driver software installed to be able to connect the camera? A lot do. Most photo shops and internet cafes will not allow you to install software on their computers so you can backup. Some new cameras do not need drivers – so you can just plug it in – but this depends on the operating system of the computer as well (the later the better). So it’s very worthwhile checking out if your camera does or does not need drivers to work through a USB cable – if it doesn't it makes it easy to use internet cafes to upload photos to Planet Ranger and to backup to CDs. Many internet cafes have CD burners. Using the camera and USB cable is not battery efficient – you are using batteries to download pictures from the camera. In this respect it is better to be using a card reader and save those batteries for photos.

Your own card reader connection

Similar issues apply to card readers as to the camera USB connections themselves. There are card readers that require drivers to be used with the computer’s USB port– but some of the newer ones do not. Get one that doesn’t need drivers with the newer operating systems and take it with you. If it does require a driver, you can quite often download the driver (usually quite small) from the manufacturer’s web site and install it in the internet café – if you can get away with it and deal with the hassle! Once you can use your card reader in the internet café you can upload, or backup to CDs if they have a burner available, which many do.

Backing Up using Card readers at Internet Cafes or Photo Shops

Many internet cafes and more modern photo labs have card readers and offer a service of copying your cards to CD. Some of these services are ridiculously overpriced, it shouldn't cost much more than about half an hour of computer time in an internet cafe. If it is possible with your type of card – lock it before handing it over to them so the card can’t be written to (your photos erased or corrupted!). And because of the value of the cards it is wise to get a written receipt for any card you are leaving with them stating brand and size. Don't leave it somewhere if they don’t look like they know what they are doing. If something does go wrong – they say they can’t see any files, or the card no longer displays photos in your camera, or any other similar, don’t give up all hope – utilities such as Nortons Recovery and the use of a card reader can often recover photos as long as you don’t reuse the card – don’t format it or put new photos on there if you want to try and recover them. Saying this – usually things go smoothly, and the technology and services are growing everywhere all the time.

Portable Backup Solutions

Some people travel with a laptop, but to most places it just isn’t practical or secure. There are a couple of devices available now that are basically battery powered hard drives that have incorporated card readers. These allow you to backup your memory cards wherever you are, when ever you need and then connect the hard drive to a computer to backup or upload photos when you wish. You can kill two birds with one stone if you carry an iPod with you on your travels, by using the Belkin iPod Media Reader to backup your photos to your iPod.

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