Travel photography and the journey towards a new review style
Ok, I’ve got my passport, I’ve got my boarding pass and the camera is in my bag. We may be stuck in rush-hour traffic, but I’ve made it from the office to the cab and, at this point, success or failure is out of my hands. I’m on holiday (or vacation, depending on how you look at it).
If only I’d remembered to grab the charger and spare battery that I’d left charging. Without USB charging, this means I’ve got maybe one day’s worth of battery for a two week trip.
|Taken towards the end of my holiday. If I'd not bought myself a universal charger upon landing in London, I wouldn't have been able to take this shot.|
This got me thinking about the needs of photographer while traveling and how they differ from the kinds of photography I usually do.
Context is all
So, while we’ve long considered USB charging to be a ‘Pro’ in our camera reviews, it’s rarely felt as essential is it did in this moment. And although my particular circumstances brought it into especially tight focus, even for the less harried and forgetful traveler, it’s still an immensely useful feature to have. The plane I traveled on had US plug sockets, then I spent several days in the UK before heading for mainland Europe: the only socket I regularly encountered was USB. So, while USB charging is a feature I rarely feel strongly about in my day-to-day photography, it matters a lot in this particular use-case.
And, as it happens, use-cases like this are going to play an increasing role in our reviews. Most people buy cameras to fulfill a specific requirement, rather than deciding ‘I really want a single-dial, mid-level DSLR,’ so we’re looking to re-format our reviews to discuss our findings in those terms. We’re still going to do all our standard tests, looking at factors such as JPEG quality, Raw performance and autofocus, but we’ll tend to discuss the cameras in terms of their strengths and weaknesses for specific tasks. The aim is that this will make it easier to recognize which of our criticisms will be relevant to you in your shooting, as well as helping to ensure we stay focused on real-world relevant matters.
|A bright lens and a capable low-light camera aren't the worst thing to have on a summer's evening in Paris.|
Travel is going to be one of the core use-cases that we address in every review, so the past two weeks gave me a chance to test my assumptions about the demands that travel places on a camera. For this trip, I’d decided to pack the Canon EOS M6 and 22mm F2 lens. After all, I’d just recommended it as a plausible mirrorless ILC alternative to something like a Fujifilm X100F: I figured I ought to practice what I preach and try living with my own recommendations. But, rather than just thinking about how the M6 performed as a travel camera, I also tried to establish exactly what I meant by 'travel camera.'
|You never know what you're going to end up shooting, when traveling|
One of the underlying assumptions for all our use-cases will be that anyone buying a camera cares enough about image quality that they’ve decided their phone isn’t good enough, so all of them will have image quality at their core. Individual use-cases, such as social photography might put a greater emphasis on low light shooting than sports photography tends to, but there’ll certainly be some overlap. Travel is, perhaps, the clearest example of this. In principle, travel photography sounds like a superset of all the other use-cases: you could end up shooting some sports and action or some social or landscape photography, just further away from home than usual.
|A tourist might have different requirements from the photographer on a dedicated photo expedition, but there's overlap in what they need.|
The needs of the traveler
My trip made it clear to me that there are some requirements specific to travel photography, though, and also that I’d already considered some of them when choosing the camera in the first place. Although a prime lens is inherently more limiting than a zoom, the 35mm equiv. offered by the Canon EF-M 22mm is the single focal length I personally find least restrictive. Since travel can include a wide variety of photography, flexibility is a fundamental factor.
The other consideration I’d already made was that the M6 with 22mm lens is small enough to carry with me at all times. The need to shoot in bright weather meant a viewfinder would have been useful, but I also know that a full sized DSLR would spend too much time in my hotel room and not enough time slung over my shoulder. The M6 with a small lens is just about small enough that I’ll carry it nearly everywhere and it offers enough in the way of image quality that I don’t mind it not being pocket-sized. Obviously some people travel specifically for their photography but in this instance, photography was a secondary consideration, so compromises had to be made.
|Cheers! The EOS M6 made a good traveling companion that I didn't mind carrying with me. This is as close as I get to selfies, though|
Other than the need for portability and ease of charging, the third travel-critical function I discovered was the M6’s Wi-Fi. Although I wanted image quality beyond what my phone was capable of, I also wanted to be able to use the images I was capturing. Whether on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter, there were moments I saw on my trip that I wanted to share.
|Shot in 1:1 on the M6, Wi-Fied to my phone and then up to Instagram|
A picture of my parents, standing outside one of their favorite restaurants? Emailed to my Dad before we’d even walked back to the hotel. An entertaining pictogram, telling people not to dispose of their turtles in a public pond? Posted to Twitter, while waiting for our train to leave. I wasn’t transferring enough images to make it worth using the full-time Bluetooth connection but the M6’s relatively quick and properly reliable image transfer system proved hugely useful.
|A 36mm equivalent lens is pretty flexible, but there are times you feel its limitations.|
There’s a huge difference between sharing a few selected shots ‘as it happens’ and subjecting your friends and family to a slide show a month after you get back. This became especially apparent when my Girlfriend got me to use the M6 to Wi-Fi some of the photos from her pre-Wi-Fi camera, so that she could share them ASAP.
I went on holiday to see my family, catch up with some friends, rather than expecting any great voyage of discovery. And, consistent with this, my choice of camera didn’t produce any profound revelations. I already knew that I'd find its lack of viewfinder a challenge in sunny weather (though this was nothing compared with the challenge of the 40°C/104°F temperatures that it brought to Madrid). Without access to a computer, I also found myself missing Fujifilm's choice of film simulations, but again, this wasn't particularly unexpected.
|The compact size of the M6 meant it was in my carry-on bag on the flight home, meaning I could grab it as we flew over Greenland.|
But, while my trip didn’t throw up many surprises about the M6, it did give me plenty to think about as a photographer abroad, and how my needs change in differing circumstances.
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