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Shopping for a Camcorder for Travel

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Misplacing the USB cable for my Olympus Stylus Tough was all the impetus I needed to begin searching for a new camera. Small thing, a lost USB cable is seriously nothing to fret about — unless you hate using your camera as much as I do my Olympus stylus. This camera is completely unsuited for the travel blogger, as its reaction time is far too slow: it takes at least 10 seconds just to turn on, and by that time the subjects of my prospective photos are often long gone.

A good camera for travel blogging has three elements: durability, good photo quality, and a fast reaction time (not exceeding one second to be able to turn on and take a photo). My Stylus Tough has the first two of these elements, but lacks the third, and thus, it has decreased my ability to properly document life on the open road exponentially. I often don’t even try to take photos because I know that the event that I want to document will be finished and done by the time the damn camera boots up and is ready to take a photo.

Kodak Playsport camcorder

Part of my living is derived from being able to document the subtle elements of travel, and this takes a camera that is fast. Being a travel photographer is a lot like being a gun fighter, you are either quick or dead. The travel blogger with a slow camera is one that is not getting the essential shots to illustrate their story.

So the missing USB cable came as a relief. I found the justification to search for another camera. My budget for this was not large. Optimally, I wanted a Canon D10 waterproof, shockproof super camera, but a $300+ price tag proved too much to bear. Instead, I went looking for a Kodak Playsport camcorder.

At $150, the waterproof, shockproof Kodak Playsport is a decent camcorder for the price. I checked it out, and the photo quality was decent, the video quality was good (for a pocket cam), the reaction time under one second, and the durability right were I need it to be: f’cking tough. I plan on taking more video than ever before on this biketramping or walking trip to Iceland, and I was going for a camcorder that also takes still photos rather than a camera that also takes video.

“I’ll take it,” I told a girl working at Best Buy. She dug out the box.

“I’ll also need an extra battery,” I said, as I know that I am going to out of reach of electrical outlets for days at a time in Iceland, and will need extra batteries.

The girl then opened up the camcorder to find out what type of battery it took. She couldn’t find it. I looked for the battery as well: it wasn’t there. We consulted another Best Buy employee who did an internet search for the Playsport’s battery specs:

The battery is internal, there is no way to replace it.

“So you mean that when the battery is dead the camera is too?” I concluded.

“No, you can recharge it,” The Best Buy guy responded.

No shit.

[adsense]”I mean that when the battery no longer takes a good charge that I will need to chuck the whole camcorder? ”

The Best Buy guy thought about this for a moment. “Yup,” he finally agreed.

“Well, it is my experience that lithium-ion batteries either last forever or they kick the bucket pretty quick. I don’t want to get this camcorder and then in 6 months find that the battery will only take a half hour charge.”

I walked out of the store empty handed.

A built in battery? WTF? Why would anyone want to buy a camcorder with a built in battery? Only children’s toys have built in batteries? The saleswoman hypothesized that the battery may have been built in so that the camcorder would ultimately be more water resistant, but I had to conclude that the amount of times that I am going to be completely submerged in water in my travels would be few (hopefully). I need a waterproof camera so that I don’t need to worry about the effects of rain, sweat, and spills rather than just the occasional dunk in water or a snorkeling venture. Also, not being able to change the battery means that I would not be able to use a replacement battery when out of range of an electrical outlet. In point, I would be harnessed to only two or three hours of battery life in between charging stations. Not good for a bicycling or tramping trip.

“These waterproof cameras are made for the soccer mom on a beach vacation,” my wife concluded on our ride home.

[traveldeals]

She is correct. Cameras are not made for the long term traveler or travel photographer/ journalist/ blogger in mind. Water resistance and shock proofing on cameras make them optimal for long term travel, but this is, ultimately, not what they are made for. Someone on a family vacation to the beach does not need to worry about their camera’s reaction time as they set up and pose for photos, they also do not need to worry about their camera losing charge as they can always just return to their hotel and re-power up.

It is a losing battle looking for cameras and camcorders for travel, there simply are not many good ones available which meet all three criteria: good photo quality, rock solid durability, and a fast reaction time. Perhaps I should now add to this list the ability to change the battery, although I believe this goes without saying.

Still looking for a good travel camera, if you know of any please let me know.

——————

Editor’s note: This is a “travelogue” type of entry, not an article. I include these from time to time to show the decision making processes  of world travel. A good travel blog will have many types of entries, from travel tips to articles to basic, linear travel logs.

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Filed under: Cameras, Travel Gear

About the Author:

Wade Shepard is the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. He has been traveling the world since 1999, through 76 countries. He is the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China, and contributes to Forbes, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3048 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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Wade Shepard is currently in: Polis, Republic of CyprusMap