January 17, 2012

So, what camera would you take to Guatemala?

I usually shoot with a Canon 5D plus a 24-70mm lens. Given the size & weight of that setup, I’m looking for an alternative. I also have a Canon S95, but I don’t love its shutter lag, and I wish I could get closer to the quality offered by a large sensor. Considerations:

  • I don’t want to look like an ostentatious jerk.
  • I don’t want to hang a “rob me” sign around my neck.
  • I’d like great low-light performance for shooting people indoors.
  • Zoom is fairly unimportant.

The Photoshop QE team has quite a few cameras to choose from, including a new Nikon 1. A friend seems quite enamored of his Fuji X100, and the local camera store guys like the Lumix DMC-GX1. I’m open to suggestions, especially if there’s something really solid I should consider renting. Thanks in advance for any ideas.

Posted by John Nack at 8:52 AM on January 17, 2012


  • agesilaus — 9:42 AM on January 17, 2012

    You can’t take a G1x? Seems like the ideal camera for your purposes.

    • claudius — 6:45 AM on January 20, 2012

      My thoughts exactly. Sounds like a cry for the G-Series. If available G1x, if not, its predecessor.

      Moslty the same handling (except for zooming); Very good images for cameras that size.

  • David Saxe — 9:44 AM on January 17, 2012

    I would go with the Fuji X100. I regularly use it as my night -schlepping camera at 2000 ISO and the photos are outstanding. Its not to shabby in daylight either. I would also recommend a second battery.

  • Fuad Kamal — 9:45 AM on January 17, 2012

    Hey John, I was looking into this issue as well a while back for an overseas trip. You might consider a mirror-less camera like the Sony NEX series. That way you can still use DSLR lenses with a body that is much smaller than the trusty Canon 5D. My main issue though was that using a Nex body, if you choose to use your existing Canon lenses then you are going to have to focus manually. If you have the budget though, this past december they released a Carl Zeiss 24mm f1.8 lens http://store.sony.com/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/ProductDisplay?catalogId=10551&storeId=10151&langId=-1&productId=8198552921666375213

    It’s as close as you’re going to get to the 50mm 1.2 on the full frame 5D body, but again the overall form factor is tiny – the lens isn’t that big and the body of the NEX is ridiculously small.

  • Brian MacDougall — 9:48 AM on January 17, 2012

    Nikon V1. Nice lenses. Galbraith has a good review: http://www.robgalbraith.com/bins/multi_page.asp?cid=7-11666-11988

  • Rob — 10:11 AM on January 17, 2012

    I got a Nikon J1 for my wife for Christmas. It has some shortcomings (a bit more menu diving than I like), but the AF is super fast and the shutter lag is pretty much non-existant. I feel like it locks on and maintains focus better than my Nikon D300.

    V1 vs. J1 shouldn’t matter in terms of image quality, both have the same image sensor and same lenses. I’d pick whichever one you have in the Photoshop QE cabinet. For indoor photos, we do use the flash on the J1, but it acts more like a fill rather than a full on flash.

    The kit lens, 10-30mm is really good. We are still evaluating the 10mm f/2.8 prime, it’s smaller but I tend to expect primes to be sharper than zooms and when comparing images, I can’t tell which image I took with the prime or the zoom.

  • Nick Hampson — 10:20 AM on January 17, 2012

    I think that while all the crossover (NEX style) and point and shoots are REALLY good, you are ultimately going to get frustrated with another camera lesser than a 5d, the 24-70 is great but does scream big camera, the canon 50mm f1.4 USM does not and is an amazing lens for the price, looks cheap, packs smaller and still gives you a real, camera. In low light with this and your 5d will be amazing, whack up the ISO and forget the flash. I’d lend you mine if you want to fly via the UK :-) You can get the 50 1.4 for less than the alternative camera and have another lovely lens for your camera when you get home too, try one out I doubt you will be disappointed. The 50 and 85mm F 1.2L are works of art but cost/weight/tourist/mugging factor go against it here.
    You don’t get zoom but you have a pair of feet to do that and I hear for panos/wide shots you might be able to get yourself a copy of Photoshop to stitch them together :-)
    Enjoy the break.

  • Brian Rinaldi — 10:25 AM on January 17, 2012

    I’m no expert on cameras but I do have experience with Guatemala :) Make sure you visit Lake Atitlan and take a boat tour to some of the small villages alongside it – I remember that area being simply stunningly beautiful. I also recall spending days wandering around Antigua checking out some of the old churches (some now ruins and others restored). Lastly, when I was young, it was fun to take a trek up to the top of some of the volcanoes. When I returned years later, safety had become an issue as many “rebels” camped out here and it wasn’t safe. I haven’t been back in years but hopefully they are safe again.

    Enjoy your trip (and the volunteer work you are doing while there).

  • Rob — 10:42 AM on January 17, 2012

    Since theft and damage are valid concerns, you should consider getting a Personal Articles Policy for photographic equipment. The annual premiums run about 1% of the value of the equipment you schedule and insure, and you’re covered both at home and when traveling. I’ve never had a claim, but it’s been worth it to me just for the peace of mind and the freedom to travel without fear of loss (except of course for the loss of the pictures you’ve taken that aren’t yet backed up).

  • Rick Lobrecht — 11:08 AM on January 17, 2012

    I saw this on Engadget shortly after reading your post. It seems to solve your problem, humorously.


  • Jack Melangton — 11:26 AM on January 17, 2012

    I too shoot with a 5D and a 24-70 lens.
    For a light weight camera with excellent low light capabilities
    I purchased the Olympus XZ-1.

    The specs are:

    High Sensitivity 10MP CCD sensor
    28-112mm equivalent lens
    F1.8-2.5 maximum aperture
    CCD-shift image stabilization

    I am extremely happy with it’s performance.

  • John Nolan — 12:08 PM on January 17, 2012

    I really like my NEX-5, but wish it had viewfinder. If the NEX-7 was available it would be worth a look, but I don’t think Sony has recovered supply yet.

  • Cris DeRaud — 12:21 PM on January 17, 2012

    The new Canon PowerShot G1X would be a happy choice for most anyone on the road. It has a sensor 6 times larger than the G12.

  • Frank Scallo — 12:22 PM on January 17, 2012

    I’ve been to Guatemala 3 times (my wife is from there). We’ll be going again next December. I usually only take my smaller setup (panasonic GF1 + lenses). Last trip I took my 5D II and various primes as I was shooting a wedding in the family.

    My recommendation is to use something small AND capable. Guatemala is a gorgeous place and you’ll want something up to the task. I feel the Nikon 1 series lenses aren’t there yet but that’s me. I’d invest in a Micro 4/3 setup. Panasonic GF1’s going used for less than 300 and in great shape. Oly 12 and 45 1.8 + the panny 20 1.7… Add in a cheap trigger system and a couple cheap lumepro flashes and a couple light modifiers and u are a lean mean photo machine ;)

    Just my 2 cents. If you have any questions regarding Guatemala locations and stuff, hit me up.

  • Bill Fox — 1:10 PM on January 17, 2012

    G12 for now, if there out before you go a G1X. Great for all seasons and Raw pics to boot.

  • Ken L — 2:20 PM on January 17, 2012

    Well well John,

    First your name “beloved of God” also my 2nd sons name too. Though he behaves like he is not.

    So, being from a hillbilly state, KY, I suggest the RED ONE and at least 100k in lenses. Half measures never got me anywhere. So, rob a bank before you leave, you can pay it back from all the donations Apple will send with you being in prison, So go, full bore,

    And yes, hand all the gear around your neck, someone greater than ourselves will guard you and your heart

    In your grandiose service
    Ken from KY

  • Greg — 3:13 PM on January 17, 2012

    Hi John,

    I too will be going to Guatemala soon on a mission with my church, and I too was pondering the best camera solution. Before I read this blog I had already decided to bring my Nikon D7000 and a 50mm lens. Glad to see Nick thinks along the same lines.

    I have been to Guatemala before and if your discrete and traveling in a group, you should get along nicely with a camera of this size.

    Let us know what you decide to bring!

    Good luck!

  • Paul Nakroshis — 3:14 PM on January 17, 2012


    First of all, I’d second the idea of making sure you have everything properly insured. If it’s all insured for out of country travel with full replacement cost, then take whatever camera you want and like using.

    Second, unless you’re familiar with Guatemala, I would be very careful where you travel. Some portions of the country are safer than others; when I went there 6 years ago, I had a local guide that informed us in no uncertain terms that “if you take the wrong roads, you will get stopped and robbed”.

    That being said, I brought my 1D Mark II and two lenses (24-70 and 70-200). Be prepared to be respectful and aware that many people do not like being photographed.


  • Eric — 3:20 PM on January 17, 2012

    I’d go with the X100. How long before your trip? The X100 takes some getting used to. It has one of the highest learning curves of any camera I’ve owned. (If I’m not using the X100, I’ve got the Canon 1D4.) I come from a technical background, and learning electronics is never hard for me. The X100 wasn’t hard, but I’m glad I had the background in photography that I do. It’s not a point and shoot.

    If you can’t understand rangefinder parallax error, don’t buy the X100. You’ll drive yourself nuts.


  • Alex — 3:47 PM on January 17, 2012

    unfortunatelyyou have to postpone your trip until this awesome Fuji X Pro1 becomes available. It has a newly developed sensor with a film like random pixel matrix. People say this is the shiz. Just on the same level with the 5D and even better at som high ISO! Fast primes yes, but no zooms yet though.

    Oh, Panasonic has some fast zooms in the pipe. So wait for these and use with a GH2 (best video shooter, better than all the Canons). Oh, and get a m43 Voigländer f0.95 25mm on the real fast end.

    Or, just hold your breath for the all new but so f**ing retro Olympus OM-D!!! Available by the end of March. It will have a focus on high dynamic range and an awesome in camera stabilizer that dose the trick also on vintage glass. Olympus glass is one of the best!

    well – the trick is to stay in the market for ever. That saves you money for not going on a expensive trip. After a few years you’ll become weak and than you’ll take the plunge and buy something. Than you head home to shoot a few “camera tests” of your deserted place and post them on flickr and some forums too – thats great fun!

  • Dragos — 3:49 PM on January 17, 2012

    In truth, I don’t think anyone can recommend for you, there is a lot of variation on the market, especially in mirror less cameras (various body sizes, sensor sizes, optics).
    Personally, I would take the Lumix GX1, as I think it’s the best combination of size/weight vs overall performance & quality, and has probably the best line of available lenses. There are systems with higher performance bodies (bigger sensors etc), but not so good lenses. But I’m absolutely sure there are as good arguments for Sony NEX or for Fuji etc.

  • Kearney Buskirk — 3:55 PM on January 17, 2012

    If you could obtain a Sony NEX7, that would be best. See this photographer’s blog on shooting in Havana for a week with this camera (and his usual Canon):


    Next best would probably be a Sony NEX5n. There’s a new zoom lens that’s better than the kit lens and worth getting, but I’m not finding info on it right now.

    Very small cameras, huge sensors, excellent color and resolution, much more stealthy than a big DSLR. See the reviews on http://www.dpreview.com/.

    Kearney Buskirk

  • Iain Anderson — 4:07 PM on January 17, 2012

    Well, I can’t say I’d recommend buying this for a one-off trip, but for a lighter version of what you have with similar quality, you could consider what I use: a Canon EOS 550D (or 600D) with a Tamron 28-75 F2.8. Much lighter, still a decent sensor, but probably not low profile enough. If an SLR is an option at all, I’d second the “get a fast prime” suggestions above.

  • Iain Anderson — 4:12 PM on January 17, 2012

    (Re-reading your request, where you don’t want a zoom at all and need decent low light — a fast prime would be great. If the 5D is too much, a 550D would save 280g of weight and is a spare body for when you get home.)

  • BJ Nicholls — 4:49 PM on January 17, 2012

    Panasonic G3, $550 with kit zoom.

    1. It’s less expensive than most of the recommendations you’re getting so it’s not a big loss if it is stolen or damaged.

    2. It has a very usable EVF finder built in and a decent on-camera flash. It’s a less fussy solution than cameras with add-on EVFs.

    3. Articulating LCD. Very useful for shots where you want to get a different viewpoint without lying in mud or finding a ladder. Useful for self/group portrait shooting.

    4. Touch LCD interface makes access to settings faster. The same is true for quickly picking a focus point.

    5. Sensor is good enough (relative to other large sensor cameras). Low light performance is good enough given the camera’s size and weight advantage over APS-C cameras.

  • J. Peterson — 5:20 PM on January 17, 2012

    The last significant trip I took, the “nice” camera somehow didn’t make it into my bag (I did have the charger though…go figure).

    So I was left with the camera of last resort, the phone. And except for a few cases in dim light, most of the stuff came out pretty good. It certainly didn’t ruin my photo record of the trip.

    However, if you’re a spy trying to sneak into buildings, the DSLR with the monster telephoto is a must…

  • Greg Schultz — 5:21 PM on January 17, 2012

    Take the Panasonic Lumix. Very versatile. Mine fits nicely in a belt “holster” on my hip.

  • Ricardo Galvao — 6:07 PM on January 17, 2012

    Samsung NX100 or 200
    iFunction all in one touch
    lite, fast, easy

  • Ricardo Galvao — 6:08 PM on January 17, 2012
  • Brian H. — 6:56 PM on January 17, 2012

    Take a couple of Nikon FG’s, some cheap Series E lenses, a bunch of 400 speed B&W and some 100 speed slide film. Take one with you everywhere and don’t worry about getting one stolen. Sounds like the last thing you want to be worried about is some expensive camera.. shoot, why not give the camera and lenses away before you leave to someone who might use them and just take your film. In the end it won’t matter which camera you make your images with- not worrying about losing a camera is priceless..

  • Joel Coleman — 7:58 PM on January 17, 2012

    I love my Fuji x10 – the little brother to the x100 (also half the cost!)
    It’s got a reasonable manual zoom, fast lens (f2-2.8) it’s small, quiet and produces lovely files.

  • Benjamin — 8:02 PM on January 17, 2012

    I bought the Canon G12 to my father last Christmas because the picture quality is close to a DSLR and the size makes that you can always keep it with you. Add that it doesn’t look like a shiny toy but rather like a sturdy camera from the 80’s and you have the perfect camera for your trip.
    I shot a candle in a very dark restaurant with it, and the photo was superb.

  • Flash Gordon — 9:15 PM on January 17, 2012

    Simple answer: No camera.
    Wherever you go, whatever you do, concentrate on capturing every single second of you experience on you most vital harddrive, your brain.
    If you want so take some shots to show an outline of your present feeling, use your phone camera. that should be be enough.
    Enjoy your odysee, may it be rich and enlightning.
    Throw off all technical ballast, be yourself.
    take care.

  • David Schumaker — 12:50 AM on January 18, 2012

    I have traveled all over the world with Leicas. Presently I carry an M9. These are pricey but nowadays you can get them without the name “Leica”, showing or you can put a piece of electrical tape over the name if you’re concerned. I would carry a wide-angle lens and 90 mm lens of 50 if you need it. You can also purchase a 90 mm macro that the wonderful lands. The entire Fits in a 10 x 9″ Domky bag and ways very little. You can’t beat the lenses. Take several batteries. I shoot indoors all the time without flash and get wonderful photographs. Have fun.

  • JImmy — 6:16 AM on January 18, 2012

    Guatemala in NOT Mexico!

    As with every smarty in the box, if you are the only red one is a sea of blues and yellow, you will be noticed, so due diligence is a reasonable caution.

  • Jean Labelle — 6:33 AM on January 18, 2012

    +1 for the Fuji X100.
    Small, light and absolutly beautiful shots!

  • Julian — 7:16 AM on January 18, 2012

    I went to Guatemala last year and didn’t take my Canon 5D mark II and bitterly regretted it. I took a compact camera instead, and although the photos were OK I was limited in what I could do. For example on a bumpy speedboat ride down the Rio Dulce I couldn’t set the shutter speed independently to get a blur free photo. If your camera is insured take it with you and take a compact as well for less safe situations. Guatemala is still a dangerous country. People climbing the volcanoes have been mugged and some killed and the guided parties sometimes now go with an armed guard. Be careful about photographing native children as a few years ago a Japanese tourist and his Guatemalan guide were beaten to death by natives who believed that they were stealing their children’s souls. Don’t travel on the city buses as you are sure to be mugged. The inter-city buses are OK. If you are sensible and careful you will have an amazing time and come home with great photos.

  • Steven Alexander — 7:17 AM on January 18, 2012

    Nikon V1, I am in awe at what this tiny camera’s files look like. Very small package, good EVF, all responses fine. I really enjoy mine.

  • Julian — 7:19 AM on January 18, 2012

    One last comment> I would take the 5D but with a lighter lens than the 24-70

  • Robert — 2:45 PM on January 18, 2012

    I shoot 5d + 24-105 (mainly) and have a similar wish list for a high quality compact alternative for travel. Michael Reichmann’s video review(s) of the Sony NEX7 on the Luminous Landscape website was an eyeopener. So I would pack a latest model NEX camera. They all have wonderful sensors and you’d only have to decide about viewfinder (none, optional or EVF built-in) and lens(es).

  • Albert K — 9:33 PM on January 18, 2012


    Don’t take any camera. If you take one, your sabbatical could end up being too much like your day job—focused around photography (no pun intended) and protecting your economic investment in your kit.

    Soak up the sights and sounds you encounter, and store the memories in your soul. When you return home, you can paint pictures for your loved ones with your words and the newly-relaxed smile on your face.

    These days, there are so many pictures floating around this planet that we are losing the ability to see them, and to see and understand the reality that lies before us as we take them.

    Go light and have a great trip!

  • Daf — 10:15 AM on January 19, 2012

    When ?
    ….. depends on release date.

    Optimum – I’d wait/buy a Fuji XPro1

    Failing that I’d maybe take a small SLR e.g. D5100/D1100 or the G12/G1X

  • Tom Barry — 2:23 PM on January 19, 2012

    I added in a Sony NEX 7 a few weeks back. With the Sony 18-200 lens, it is a perfect travel camera. The photo quality is stunning. Look at Luminous Landscape and DP review for comprehensive critiques. It probably will produce better photos than your 5D. ( 12 v 24 megapixels ) It also does killer panos and nice HDRs in camera. You can get a nice pano in about 15 seconds from aiming to viewing a 180 degree assembled and cropped photo. Check out the low light option of combining 6 shots to get a better photo. It works well too. When you tire of the fun functions, it works just fine as a pro level body.
    You can get the body, a 18-200mm and a 16mm lens, a battery charger and an extra battery in a small bag like the Think Tank Hubba Hubba ( $50 )measuring 11 by 7 by 4 inches.

  • Ellis Vener — 6:06 AM on January 21, 2012

    I’d go with the one that feels most intuitive to you, even if that is the relatively large 5D Mk Ii.

    After all you don’t want to be fumbling around trying to figure out how to make the camera work and where you need to put your fingers to make it do what you want it to do. This life only happens once.

  • Carlos Andres Varela — 1:22 PM on January 21, 2012

    Hi John,
    I just came back from a month long trip to Colombia and it was really great not carrying my 5DMII all over the place. What did I take? The Leica M9.
    I know it’s very expensive so it might not be a real option but let me tell you that my favorite moment was when an older gentleman came up to me in a poor part of town asking about where he could buy a lens like the one I had since he had the “same” camera! He later told me that it had cost him $80K pesos (about $40)!.
    This camera made me feel safer carrying it around, even more than when my wife took out our Canon s95.
    I have three voigtalnder lenses that cost about 1/10th of what their leica equivalents are and are really great! 15mm f4.5, 35mm f1.2, 50mm f1.1
    Let me know if you’d like to see some images.
    Best on your trip!


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