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Shopping for a Camcorder for Travel

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 [...]

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.

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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.

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 88 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 3411 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

Support Wade Shepard’s writing on this blog (please help):

Wade Shepard is currently in: Rochester, New York

8 comments… add one

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  • Dyanne@TravelnLass June 6, 2011, 12:05 pm

    Non-removable/replaceable battery? That’s just NUTS!

    Indeed, battery parameters (i.e. charge life, ease of replacement, etc.) is THE foremost factor in a traveler’s gadgetry. Non-removable/replaceable? Utter nonsense!

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    • Wade Shepard June 6, 2011, 12:10 pm

      I know! Now, I check out electronics pretty well before purchasing (except for my current camera which I had someone else buy and deliver to me in Guatemala) and I did not even think of checking if the battery was replaceable or not before telling the girl I wanted to buy it. I seriously could have ended up with this camcorder if I did not bother inquiring about buying an additional battery haha. I would have felt like a real ass haha. I just took it for granted that the battery would be replaceable. Crazy design.

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  • Bob L June 6, 2011, 2:16 pm

    I like AA’s. The problem is that there are few camera’s that use them, and even then, you never know how long they will last in the camera. I have two Cannon point and shoot cameras. One takes 4 AA batteries and lasts forever with NiMh rechargables. The other uses two and eats all batteries alive except lithium, which last a good long time.

    I consider camera’s expendable. Find a camera that meets the other criteria, plus does not cost too much, then get a new one when it fails. I know, this is not really a good solution. When you find the best camera, let the world know and we will all buy it. Then some marketing guru will decide that the camera is selling so well that it needs changing and it will be ruined.

    I have a camera that my GF’s nephew gave her a while ago. It is fixed focus, uses two AA batteries that last forever no matter what kind you use. It takes acceptable (to some) point and shoot pics. It turns on imediately. Takes a pic as soon as you press the button. There are few ways to screw up. One is to have the photo type selector in the wrong position (distant/portrait/close-up). I taped that shut and now Irene takes great pics, where with my better camera the pics were shaken, out of focus or colored weird, depending on where it was set. There are only two weaknesses with this camera. 1) it is not available anymore. 2) it only takes VGA pics. They look ok, just, when printed and are not bad on the computer, but don’t try cropping.

    In my quest for the best camera, I bought and returned quite a few. I finally settled on my older canon (new at the time) because of AA bats and the good reviews. I settled on the second one again because of AA bats and the review from HoboTraveler. From what my recent research shows, there are no camera’s out there that truly meet my criteria. Good luck.

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    • Wade Shepard June 7, 2011, 8:30 am

      You’re right about there not being a perfect camera for travel. Each type of camera seems made for a particular purpose with no real good all rounder. I really like the Canon D10 — a super tough waterproof, shock proof camera with excellent reaction time and good photo quality– but at $300+ it is a bit out of range. Especially since I just dropped $300+ on a crappy Olympus Stylus ten or so months ago.

      Right on about how camera companies often come out with a second generation or an advanced model of one line of camera and just make it a lot worse. The first generation of the Kodak Playsport (I think) had a battery that could be changed, so the enclosed battery was an “improvement” t the design. The Stylus that I’m using now was actually an “improvement” on a previous model Stylus that I once had and liked, but they took the first generation figured out what was good about it and then decided to not include it in the new model (as well as doubling the price).

      I’m just going to take the journey in Iceland with the camera I have now. It is a matter of responsibility, I suppose: the camera still, ultimately, works. It is just my job to figure out how to make it work better. Have not been able to do this in 10 months, but there is no reason to stop trying.

      Thanks.

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  • Bob L June 6, 2011, 2:18 pm

    Oh, and watch out for “additional” batteries. My newer canon uses two AA bats, but also one watch type battery. This lasts a LONG time and is needed to maintain some of the settings when you change batteries. The camera can still be used without it, but it is a pain to reset things.

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    • Wade Shepard June 7, 2011, 8:31 am

      No kidding, these little watch batteries are tricky additions.

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  • the candy trail ... | Michael Robert Powell June 9, 2011, 9:10 pm

    Wade, just purchased a new camera myself here in China: Sony HX100 – fantastic super-zoom travel camera (27 – 810 @ 35mm) full progressive HD video, panorama, 3D, with Carl Zeiss lens; manual focusing, etc, etc – best ever all-in-one, yet. And while it may be out of your price range the smaller models – HX5, HX7, HX9 – are all great, too.

    I bought this camera as a replacement to all my heavy DSLR kit – Nikon D80 with awesome lenses – as I’m sick of the kg as a constant traveler and this new high-tech makes even my DSLR @ 5 years wanting; but I may yet keep it. I also travel with a pocket-size Canon 770 – great images and this Elph series are recommended but I would first look for the Sony options (this is now my 4th Sony)

    Sony HX5 & HX7 could be you, price-wise (and they also use SD cards).

    Electronics are so cheap in the USA – cheapest in the world … Spend some more via Bestbuy or Amazon; wish I had that option.

    the candy trail – photographing the world, since 1988

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    • Wade Shepard June 9, 2011, 10:04 pm

      Thanks MRP!

      I just gave up and bought a new USB cable haha. I just can’t do it, I can’t go out and spend the money when this crap camera is still kicking. But my NEXT camera, I swear, will be a good one!

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