Best Antarctica Camera System?

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#1
Paradise, USA
633 Posts
Joined Jun 2009
We are going to Antarctica, and I want to obtain a camera system for this bucket-list trip. I hope you can help identify options for me.

Situation:

While I have not used an advanced camera in about 45 years, I used to handle good equipment as a photographer for my college newspaper. How much do I remember of the basics? Only a bit.

In the more recent years, I have had an array of small point-and-shoot cameras. Currently, a Cannon PowerShot Elph 310HS. I have not really studied up on the manual that much, as I only pull it out occasionally when using my Iphone camera might lead to the loss of my Iphone

I want to get a camera and lens that would be optimal for shooting nature in Antarctica and Patagonia. I desire to be able to take high resolution pictures that I can blow up and mount on the walls of my house (if any come out great).

Given that I don't care to develop a hobby as a photographer, and don't desire to keep lugging a larger camera around on other trips, this might be a one-off.

So, I called my local camera rental place and asked how much a good camera system would cost to rent for a month. They quoted me $750.00. They said that would be for renting $5000 of equipment.

I would appreciate any advice that you might be able to provide to this "newbie." Is there a great and simple camera/lens out there that I could buy for less than a $1000 that would give me really high resolution pictures suitable for enlarging and mounting? Other options?

Many thanks!
#4
London
5 Posts
Joined Mar 2013
While a multi-thousand dollar camera system will theoretically be able to get you great shots that you can blow up, you're not going to get there without a lot of practice - and if you're just renting for the trip length that's not going to happen. Interchangeable lens cameras at that level need time to learn to be able to use to their best advantage and if you just pick one up then you could just end up frustrated and with heavy expensive kit that you have to lug around. Especially if you're used to the ease and weight of an iphone this will be a shock to the system as kit of that caliber will weigh at least 5lbs, and if a small compact is too much fuss compared to an iphone anything bigger is going to be even more frustrating!

So stepping back for a second - what don't you like about the Elph that you have already? Have you tried printing pictures from it at high resolution? What exactly are you hoping to get shots of on your trip - mostly landscapes or mostly close ups of penguins/whales? Go to flickr.com, search for antarctica and pick out five photos that you'd love to have on your wall and post links here. That'll give a better indication of what exactly you need. Even with that expensive kit you don't say exactly what's in it - is it a body and one lens? two? and if so what are the suggested focal lengths that they'll rent to you? All of that will determine what you'll be able to get shots of, because even with a great camera, if you've only got a 50mm lens and want close ups of whales it's not going to be successful.

If the camera you take is something heavy, complicated and frustrating that you have no need to learn more about as you're only using it once it's going to spend time most of its time in your cabin, or you'll miss out on the actual experience of antarctica because you'll be so busy fighting with advanced tech that isn't giving the results you want.

Looking at the most sensible options that would probably be better for you than renting something- there's the micro 4/3 system which is a step up in image quality from point and shoot - but is still a relatively steep learning curve with lenses that need to change and manual settings to get the best results. To give you the highest chance of getting the shot, you'll want lenses that cover a 35mm equivalent range of at least 24 to at least 400mm. It's lighter and cheaper than an SLR system so you can take the time to buy now and practice lots, but you'll still have to invest time in something you don't want to keep as a hobby. Next up would be a superzoom - Canon sx60 or Nikon p900 are the top two which cover a huge zoom range, do brilliantly in auto modes and are fabulous all in one cameras but at the expense of smaller sensors so image quality at a pixel level will be lower. They also have manual overrides if you do want to learn in the future. The third option is only a rumor at this point and that's the Canon G1X mk111 which should have an SLR sensor in a compact body, but at the expense of a more limited zoom range - this could work for you, but it'll have to be released first and it's unlikely to be under $1000.

First step is still to look at photos on flickr, look at the technical details and see what focal lengths things were shot at and use that to guide choices. Flickr also lets you search by camera - so have a look at shots that come from the various suggested options and I think you'll be really surprised at just how high quality shots you can get from a smaller sensor - ie https://www.flickr.com/search/?q=ant...2Fcoolpix_p900

Unfortunately even with the advances in technology there's never going to be magic solution that will give you everything you want - so you have to decide what to sacrifice - time and money to learn a heavy system or lose something in the quality to have simplicity and lightweight.
#5
Oslo, Norway
1,588 Posts
Joined Aug 2006
I wholeheartedly agree that you should go with equipment that you're comfortable with. Beyond that, it's completely a matter of personal preference.

Advantages of a point and shoot - No hassle. It's easy to carry, it's easy to keep dry, and it's easy to access for a quick, unexpected shot.
Advantages of a DSLR - You can get some more complicated shots if you know how to set them up. You'll have much better luck shooting birds in flight.

I've been to Antarctica twice with this camera, and while I can't blow my photos up to full wall size, I have a few printed out and hanging on the wall behind me. It's a fairly old model, so the newer versions have improved resolution that would help with this.

Unfortunately, my high-end point-and-shoot died a horrible death in the dunes of the Sahara earlier this year, so I had to make our recent trip to the Arctic using a borrowed DSLR. I have a background with a fully-manual film camera, so I wasn't completely lost, but there was a definite learning curve. I pulled it off and got some decent shots, but honestly, I would have rather had my point-and-shoot. There were a few shots I couldn't have gotten without the DSLR, but overall I'm not sure the hassle was worth it.

Who are you traveling to Antarctica with?

My last trip was with Hurtigruten, and we spent very little time in the Polarcirkel boats. The trips to/from shore were generally smooth, and we did very little small-boat cruising in lieu of landings. Handling the DSLR in that environment wouldn't have been a big issue. However, my first trip was much more similar to my recent Arctic trip. We spent a lot more time the zodiacs, getting up close to wildlife and icebergs, and since we were covering more distance, there were higher speeds and more splashing. Keeping the camera covered during these times was a must, and unlike the point-and-shoot, I couldn't just tuck it away in a pocket. I eventually found a solution of keeping a drybag clipped over it (though not roll-sealed) and then taking it off and clipping it to my life vest when I wanted to shoot.

I carried two lenses with me, a fairly general purpose telephoto lens and a wide angle, but I pretty much never switched lenses on shore. It would have been too much work given the limited time. The added weight of carrying the extra lens would have bothered me as well. On long hill climbs, I found the weight of the DSLR to be a bit annoying as well, and I wasn't even carrying a long lens.

Honestly, I missed the optical zoom of my point-and-shoot, because when we encountered wildlife that was a bit farther away, I had no chance of getting a great photo without a giant telephoto lens. Definitely don't feel like you must have a DSLR to get some incredible shots in Antarctica. You'll be up close to the ice and penguins, so with a decent optical zoom you'll be able to get plenty of good shots. The biggest advantage I've found to the DSLR is the shutter speed. If you want to shoot seabirds from the ship, a point-and-shoot probably won't cut it. Ice, penguins, and seals all move pretty slow.

For me personally, next time I head to Antarctica, I'll probably go back to a high-end point-and-shoot. I would rather spend less time setting up my photos and more time experiencing the environment and the atmosphere, even if it means that my pictures aren't all National Geographic quality.

And if you do choose to go with the DSLR and you bring along a long telephoto lens to get the great up-close wildlife shots, pleeeeease be careful about getting in people's way! On my most recent Antarctica trip, there were so many people with giant camera lenses who weren't careful about them, and I got knocked in the head multiple times! Not to mention the number of photos I took where someone swung their lens around at the last minute and it ended up in my carefully-framed shot!
#6
UK
1,543 Posts
Joined Jan 2009
I usually have a couple of DSLRs with long lenses, but you're not going to get that sort of equipment for less than $1,000. You could, though, get a bridge camera like the Panasonic FZ2000 with its 24-480 lens for just under the $1,000; or its predecessor, the FZ1000, with its 24-400 lens for something less. They would give you the range you need and also reasonable video.

Whatever you decide to do, practise before you travel. You really don't need to be working out which button to press or knob to rotate as the shot of the trip disappears beneath the waves...

Oh, and make sure you have twice the number of memory cards that you might imagine you need, along with a spare battery!
#7
Paradise, USA
633 Posts
Joined Jun 2009
@evie0110:

Many thanks for your helpful suggestions.

To answer your question about what kind of scenes I would like to capture: I am an amateur geologist, so I am interested in scenes of rock formations, landscapes, and --in this case-- icebergs. I'm sure I might want to take a picture or two of whales and penguins

I was hoping to upgrade from the Elph because I wanted to have higher resolution so I could enlarge the pictures more than the Elph allows.

Thank you for your camera recommendations and flicker site link. I appreciate all your thoughtful insights!

@kaisatsu: Thanks so much for your thoughtful advice!

We are going on the Seabourn Quest.

Would you have a recommendation for a high-end point-and-shoot?

Again, many thanks for your informed suggestions!

@digitl: Thank you so much for your very specific suggestions regarding camera options, practice, and the need for accessories!

I appreciate your advice! Thank you!

All: You were great in giving of your time and experience.

In contrast, I posted the same query on another travel photography forum, and all I got was ridicule by a professional photographer.
#8
ExPerth, Now Melb Aus
654 Posts
Joined Feb 2010
I agree with others that you need to be comfortable with the camera you choose. I dont think Antarctica is the time to be practicing using an expensive DLSR if the technology is new to you.

I suffer arm and shoulder issues so I can't use a DSLR because of the sheer weight of them. I stick with bridge cameras. Look and feel like a "real" camera rather than a matchbox, are fantastic on auto point and shoot, but have the benefit of flicking the dial round to fully manual settings to really experiment. Also useful shortcut settings for high speed burst mode - essential for birds in flight and whales popping up. And of course the big benefit of super zoom.

The one I have used for past past few trips is the Canon SX50. with 50 optical zoom. There are more current models but this one has become a trusty favourite so I havent upgraded in a while. I had all the previous Canon super zooms prior to that one too.

It has produced photos of such great quality that I have had several featured in polar catalogues and won a couple of competitions. They also blow up awesomely for huge canvas prints on my wall.

I also always have my iphone hanging on a lanyard round my neck to capture fast shots - and for videoing whales in one hand while photographing them with the canon in the other hand ! Multi tasking!! And you cant beat the quality of an iphone panorama - I have one blown up on canvas over a 150cm long and its stunning.

Whatever you end up choosing - make sure you get it well in advance of the trip and sit and work through all your settings and menus and ensure you are super comfy with it. And practice handling it with gloves!!
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Antarctica
Kapitan Khlebnikov Nov 2010 (West Antarctica, Weddell Sea, Riser Laarsen Coast, Sth Sandwhich & Sth Georgia Islands)
Kapitan Khlebnikov Dec 2011 (Final voyage - East Antarctica & Heard Island)
Sea Adventurer: Feb 2014 (East side of Antarctica Peninsular, South Georgia Is, Falkland Is).

Ortelius: Feb 2014 Bluff NZ, Ross Sea, West Antarctica, Peninsula, Peter 1st Island, Ushuaia
Other regions: too many to list so just the highlights:
P&O Oriana 1984 (Indian Ocean) and 1986 (Pacific Ocean), Superstar Virgo 2003 (Indian Ocean),
Radiance of the Seas: Nov 2014 Bravo Theatre Opera cruise - Noumea.

#10
Paradise, USA
633 Posts
Joined Jun 2009
@PerfectlyPerth:

Many thanks for your time in crafting your thoughtful response. i appreciate your suggestions for a specific camera and to practice beforehand. Perhaps I should find a walk-in freezer?

Again, many thanks!
#11
Oslo, Norway
1,588 Posts
Joined Aug 2006
Originally posted by notjaded
@kaisatsu: Thanks so much for your thoughtful advice!
We are going on the Seabourn Quest.
Would you have a recommendation for a high-end point-and-shoot?
Again, many thanks for your informed suggestions!
I've been very happy with Canon's SX line of compact point-and-shoots. Mine was the SX210, and you can tell how long I had it by the fact that they're now up to the SX730! However, PerfectlyPerth now has me curious about the SX60!

I only have a few weeks to make a decision before I need to order my replacement. This isn't really polar-expedition-specific, but right now I think I'm leaning back towards the compact SX720 or SX730, because the biggest barrier to use for me is actually having the camera with me! Being able to tuck it into my purse or a large pocket will probably mean I get more use out of it for travel photos. My iPhone has taken over a lot of my photography simply because I have it around all the time!

If I know I'll have the space and inclination to carry a larger camera, my SO has a spare DSLR that I can borrow, so I think going with the compact would open up the most options for me personally. If I didn't have the possibility to borrow a DSLR, I suspect I might strongly consider a bridge camera like the SX60 as a potential middle ground. Especially since the price difference is relatively negligible. I haven't used one, though, so I defer to PPerth for personal experience!
#12
Paradise, USA
633 Posts
Joined Jun 2009
Originally posted by Thecat123
There are quite a few hints for cold weather photography here
http://boards.cruisecritic.com/showthread.php?t=2321595
We went on Seabourns Quest a few years ago having magic weather for the whole cruise
Drake lake going down
Seabourn do it really well
Thanks for the link!
#13
Paradise, USA
633 Posts
Joined Jun 2009
Originally posted by kaisatsu
I've been very happy with Canon's SX line of compact point-and-shoots. Mine was the SX210, and you can tell how long I had it by the fact that they're now up to the SX730! However, PerfectlyPerth now has me curious about the SX60!

I only have a few weeks to make a decision before I need to order my replacement. This isn't really polar-expedition-specific, but right now I think I'm leaning back towards the compact SX720 or SX730, because the biggest barrier to use for me is actually having the camera with me! Being able to tuck it into my purse or a large pocket will probably mean I get more use out of it for travel photos. My iPhone has taken over a lot of my photography simply because I have it around all the time!

If I know I'll have the space and inclination to carry a larger camera, my SO has a spare DSLR that I can borrow, so I think going with the compact would open up the most options for me personally. If I didn't have the possibility to borrow a DSLR, I suspect I might strongly consider a bridge camera like the SX60 as a potential middle ground. Especially since the price difference is relatively negligible. I haven't used one, though, so I defer to PPerth for personal experience!
Many thanks for the detailed advice! I'll be reporting back with my decision and successes, as time goes on.
#14
ExPerth, Now Melb Aus
654 Posts
Joined Feb 2010
On my first trip I had no interest in "bird photography" but during the trip I got quite hooked on seeing people's incredible photos of albatros and petrels in flight. But my SX20 was not up to the task. For my 3rd trip I upgraded to the SX50 for its high speed burst and sports modes (and the extra super zoom).
I practiced on the many seagulls that hang out in the park near my home and I would rock gently on my feet to pretend I was at sea - and maintaining my focus on the bird as I swayed.

Once at sea I would head to the stern of the ship and wedge myself against a wall with feet slightly apart and elbows wedged against my side or chest - and just move with the ship as I followed the birds with the camera. And pleasingly I got some fabulous shots. The benefit of time and lots of birds circling the ship - is you can spend hours out there practicing !

For holding the zoom at such a distance - that too requires pre practice. I like to zoom in on shorelines - which don't move, and other ships - which do move. Also whales from on board the ship. With a zoom of 50 optical (and the more current 60 and 70 models) you need to be able to keep real steady to maintain eye contact on the thing you are capturing from so far away. So again - bracing yourself. Arms stiff. Breathing out before the shots. Zoom holding is easy to practice at home - in a park or something - just zoom right out to something you can see in the distance and practice getting a crisp shot. These days I use my SX50 from my city apartment to track cruise ships coming into the bay more than 5km away! And I get crisp shots of the names on the bows !!

Penguins and seals generally get a lot closer to you so the zoom is less vital.

Memorising the functions of your dial and setting up shortcuts is useful. So I had sports and high speed burst immediately accessible - to flick to for birds or whale calls straight away.

And of course playing with all the fun pre set settings is fun too. I loved using the miniature setting at the old whaling stations like Stromness and Grytviken. Made them look like model villages.

On my iphone I loved using the slow mo video function when in the zodiacs as we broke through ice. And the panorama function is to die for ! Also made good use of the time lapse video function - just popping camera on a flat surface at a penguin landing and letting it go for 10 minutes to get a 1 minute timelapse of penguins waddling by.

Important to remember the video function on your camera or phone too. Its my videos from my 4 trips that I rewatch the most. Hearing the wind, the cracking of the ice, the cacophony of a penguin colony, the waves splashing on a berg, the humpback whale appearing half a metre from me - that is what takes me right back to the moment.
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Antarctica
Kapitan Khlebnikov Nov 2010 (West Antarctica, Weddell Sea, Riser Laarsen Coast, Sth Sandwhich & Sth Georgia Islands)
Kapitan Khlebnikov Dec 2011 (Final voyage - East Antarctica & Heard Island)
Sea Adventurer: Feb 2014 (East side of Antarctica Peninsular, South Georgia Is, Falkland Is).

Ortelius: Feb 2014 Bluff NZ, Ross Sea, West Antarctica, Peninsula, Peter 1st Island, Ushuaia
Other regions: too many to list so just the highlights:
P&O Oriana 1984 (Indian Ocean) and 1986 (Pacific Ocean), Superstar Virgo 2003 (Indian Ocean),
Radiance of the Seas: Nov 2014 Bravo Theatre Opera cruise - Noumea.

#15
UK
1,543 Posts
Joined Jan 2009
Agreed on video. Too often overlooked but it really does take you back, especially with the sounds but, thankfully, not some of the smells!

Steadying with a long zoom can be helped by waiting until you have reached the extreme of a 'wobble' and then going for the image. The slow reversal in movement gives you a little more of a chance. Works especially well if you're using a physically long (and heavy) zoom like the Sigma 150-600.
#17
ExPerth, Now Melb Aus
654 Posts
Joined Feb 2010
Hmmm it seems to rate the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX10 highly but its only a measly 3x optical zoom (useful if you want to zoom to the end of your cabin basically) so you wont be catching many birds in flight or whales with it.

You can see reviews and comparisons for the super zoom ranges here for some ideas

Lower end types https://www.dpreview.com/reviews/201...-zoom-compacts

Pro types https://www.dpreview.com/reviews/201...g-zoom-cameras
Expand Signature
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Antarctica
Kapitan Khlebnikov Nov 2010 (West Antarctica, Weddell Sea, Riser Laarsen Coast, Sth Sandwhich & Sth Georgia Islands)
Kapitan Khlebnikov Dec 2011 (Final voyage - East Antarctica & Heard Island)
Sea Adventurer: Feb 2014 (East side of Antarctica Peninsular, South Georgia Is, Falkland Is).

Ortelius: Feb 2014 Bluff NZ, Ross Sea, West Antarctica, Peninsula, Peter 1st Island, Ushuaia
Other regions: too many to list so just the highlights:
P&O Oriana 1984 (Indian Ocean) and 1986 (Pacific Ocean), Superstar Virgo 2003 (Indian Ocean),
Radiance of the Seas: Nov 2014 Bravo Theatre Opera cruise - Noumea.

#18
ExPerth, Now Melb Aus
654 Posts
Joined Feb 2010
Skimming down this comparison page of the super zooms - the Canon SX60 weighs up well against the Sony HX 400 (and even as a die hard canon fan I see the Sony has a much faster shutter speed which is great for birds and whales etc).
https://www.dpreview.com/products/co...tDir=ascending

The Canon and the Nikon both have articulated LCD screens which can be super handy when you are in a zodiac and someone is right smack bang in front of you when the whale appears - you can hold your camera up way above your head and see clearly in the LCD what you are filming. Also extremely useful for selfies which I personally utilise as I am a solo traveller and like to capture myself during my travels. I set the camera up on rocks and then step way back into the distance to capture self timer or remote control timed shots of myself and all the mass of scenery.
Expand Signature
Collapse Signature
Antarctica
Kapitan Khlebnikov Nov 2010 (West Antarctica, Weddell Sea, Riser Laarsen Coast, Sth Sandwhich & Sth Georgia Islands)
Kapitan Khlebnikov Dec 2011 (Final voyage - East Antarctica & Heard Island)
Sea Adventurer: Feb 2014 (East side of Antarctica Peninsular, South Georgia Is, Falkland Is).

Ortelius: Feb 2014 Bluff NZ, Ross Sea, West Antarctica, Peninsula, Peter 1st Island, Ushuaia
Other regions: too many to list so just the highlights:
P&O Oriana 1984 (Indian Ocean) and 1986 (Pacific Ocean), Superstar Virgo 2003 (Indian Ocean),
Radiance of the Seas: Nov 2014 Bravo Theatre Opera cruise - Noumea.