On Cameras and Equipment

Iceland offers a lot of photo opportunities. And in winter, most of those photo opportunities require a camera that performs well in low light–there’s about four hours of full daylight and an extended dawn and dusk period. Traveling to such a destination is reminder of the capabilities of one’s camera.

My camera with the GorillaPod.
My camera with the GorillaPod.

For quite some time I’ve wanted a DSLR or similar high-end digital camera (I’ve been looking at the mirrorless cameras lately). In the run up to Christmas I began looking at the ads for a new camera, hoping that one that I’d want would be on sale. It never happened. Fortunately, I’ve taken some good photos with lesser cameras over the years–the basic models provided enough options for what I wanted to accomplish (though I must admit, I’d really like to use some of those filters and lenses that the high-end models have).

Without a new camera, I prepared for my Icelandic adventure with my Panasonic Lumix. I read some reviews that claimed it does well in low light (or at least a similar Lumix model). I also researched how to take better pictures in low light, specifically for the aurora borealis. I knew I needed to hold the camera steady, which meant purchasing a GorillaPod and setting the timer so I wouldn’t disturb the stability of the camera.

I found my GorillaPod (or a reasonable knock-off) on eBay for a little over $4, and it fit my camera perfectly (I met a fellow tourist with a larger version to support his behemoth camera). I thought I’d use it a lot more than I did, but it’s still a cool accessory to have for future travels. I probably would’ve used it more if I wanted to take pictures of myself, but that almost never happens.

My disappointment in my camera came to a head when I went out for the northern lights on the second night in Iceland. I was told to book early because you’re never guaranteed to see anything. I was fortunate to see the one of the best displays of the aurora borealis–tour guides were still talking about it by the time I left Iceland. Unfortunately, it seemed that my camera was missing at least one setting that would’ve helped to take photos of the northern lights.

You can sort of make out the green haze. I swear it was much brighter.
You can sort of make out the green haze. I swear it was much brighter.

There was a chance that fiddling with other settings might have helped, but it’s not easy to find the settings on a camera when it’s that dark. I wasn’t the only one having problems taking photos, but there were some people capturing some amazing images. I definitely began to regret not spending nearly $600 on a new camera.

While back on the bus returning to Reykjavik, I met Jess Hockey and Paul Lester from Bristol, UK. They were kind enough to email me a few shots that they got of the northern lights. They didn’t have a professional camera, but managed to get some nice pictures from the night. I certainly appreciate having some photos of that night.

This is what my photos should've looked like. Credit: Jess Hockey, Paul Lester (thanks)
This is what my photos should’ve looked like. Credit: Jess Hockey, Paul Lester (thanks)

Thank you, Jess and Paul. I owe you a drink when our travels cross paths again.

3 thoughts on “On Cameras and Equipment”

  1. Very cool you were able to see the Northern Lights! My old point-and-shoot camera (the one the TSA made me throw away during the inauguration) sometimes took better photos than my DSLR, I suppose it was because I understood the settings better. What an amazing trip you had!

  2. I only use my point-and-shoot camera to capture special moments when traveling. I want to get one of those hi-end DSLR, but my budget won’t allow me as of the moment. So I have to make the most out of these point-and-shoot and smartphone cameras.

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