Vacation or photo trip?

Packing for Hawaii is easy — shorts, T-shirts, sandals, and hiking shoes. The toughest question was “what camera do I bring?” The easiest way to answer this question is to ask yourself, is this trip a vacation or a photo safari? If the answer is vacation, I’ll leave the camera bag at home and travel with a point and shoot. I carried a Panasonic LX1 in a small case on my belt wherever I went last week.The slightly panoramic 16:9 format proved to be an excellent choice for a tropical destination. There are plenty of reviews of the LX1, Panasonic LX2, and overpriced rebadged Leica equivalents online, but let me just say that shooting with a small, lightweight camera that has aperture priority, manual exposure mode, image stabilization, and shoots RAW files is a pleasure.

I wouldn’t have made the windmill image above if I had a typical dSLR kit on my back. The windmills are visible from the road below, but hiking up to them is a challenge. The somewhat steep and rocky Lahaina Pali Trail gets you a glimpse after about 2.25 miles and 1600 feet of elevation gain. To get closer, keep going up a steep jeep service road another 20 minutes or so. The sun was setting behind the windmills, which required either shooting into the sun, or waiting for it to disappear behind the ridge.

Of course waiting for the sun to get lower meant a very short window of twilight to descend the rocky trail back to the car. We were able to descend the rocky section just as it became dark, and walk the final 0.6 miles on a flat path back to the car. Packing light was the key to moving quickly enough to make it down before dark. Of course a digital SLR with one lens doesn’t weigh that much, but which lens? And should I bring the flash? And the macro lens? Tripod?

The LX1 weighs just over 7 ounces. I also carried a Holga, which weighs another 7 ounces. Add a spare roll of film, and I’m still under 1 pound total for photo gear.

Some other reasons you might want to leave the dSLR at home when vacationing:

  • Your partner will be happier if you’re not spending the morning polishing lenses and cleaning your sensor
  • More people photography opportunities may open up for you with a small camera
  • Your shoulders and back will thank you

Besides a camera, there is another crucial item for a visit to Maui — Maui Revealed. This guide book is so good, many locals have a copy. I’ve visited Maui 8 times since 1995 when a close friend moved there. I’ve continued to find some great spots and off the beaten path adventures thanks to this book. Best 10 bucks you can spend, besides sunscreen.

3 thoughts on “Vacation or photo trip?”

  1. I strongly agree with two of your points…

    Since I bought a P&S over a year ago, I’ve probably taken just as many shots with the P&S as I have with my dSLR. IMHO, for photographing kids, and for street photography, a dSLR just can’t compete with a good P&S. And a P&S can’t compete with a dSLR for night photography. The trick is to carry the right camera for the right job.

    As for Maui-Revealed, I can vouch for the entire series (Oahu Revealed, Maui Revealed, Kauai Revealed and Big Island Revealed). The make the rest of the tour books look like a joke, by comparison. I wish I had known about Oahu Revealed when I went there two years ago. And they’re not only informative. They’re actually funny. You can crack them open and read them to kill time while you’re waiting for your loved one to get out of the shops.

    Andy Frazer

  2. Looks like you had a great time in Maui! I wish I could have helped you more with locations, but I was at a loss. If you ever end up in Kauai, though, I have a few locations for you to check out, as well as O’ahu.

    Going to HP tonight. Wish me luck

  3. Good point Joe. So long as you can capture RAW for post-processing flexibility, you lose little going light, and you end up shooting a lot more, including being less intrusive in candid scenes.

    I only wish the Lumix had a good optical viewfinder: I find that using the screen to frame a scene put too much separation between eye and scene, practically and psychologically. Not to mention the loss of stability created by an arms length position, magnified by the small camera weight to offset the shutter pressure.

    Then again, there are situations and situations. As Andy says, to each job its tool.

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