Technology

Snap decisions on holiday camera options

LJ Rich with giraffe
Image caption Click reporter LJ Rich with one of her many photographic models

The best of British summer may have passed, but it is never too late to go sun seeking further afield.

Alongside food poisoning and jetlag, taking photographs is an essential part of the holiday experience.

But airlines' less-than-generous luggage allowance means you may have to make difficult decisions about which camera to take.

Is the the extra weight and bulk of an SLR camera worth the hassle? Can holiday snappers get away with a decent mobile phone camera? Or would a compact offer the best of both worlds?

In the name of research I sacrificed most of my outfits and instead took a smartphone, a mid-range compact camera and an SLR on holiday to see how they fared against each other in a semi-wild environment, the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.

Over 3,500 animals live in the complex. The safari tour had a selection of photo scenarios for testing, including close-ups, quick reaction shots and wide landscapes.

MOBILE PHONE

Model: (Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc)

Weight: 117g plus charger, 8.1MP camera

Size: 125.0 x 63.0 x 8.7 mm - SMALL

The phone performed especially well in landscape mode, with lovely wide angle shots of the scenery and beautiful colours.

Close-up shots were favourable, even at around 20cm (8 inches) from the subject.

Auto-focus meant all I had to think about was composition, although I was at the mercy of the phone for a lot of the settings - great for point-and-shoot opportunistic pictures, but I missed a decent optical zoom, so some animal pictures looked a little distant.

It was easy to share images online over wifi (never with roaming 3G data charges!) but I had to be mindful of battery life in case I needed to make any calls - talking of which, the phone rang which then meant I had to answer it instead of snap a rhino being fed apples by a small child.

Perfect for: Weekend city breaks, social occasions, and casual shooting where the action is close to you.

COMPACT CAMERA

Model: (Nikon P7000)

Weight: 360g plus charger, 10.1MP camera

Size: 114.0 x 77.0 x 45 mm - MEDIUM

These come in all shapes and sizes, but we used a mid-range compact with some advanced features like being able to adjust the aperture and exposure.

The camera was user-friendly, and gave excellent quality photos without the fuss of having to change lenses or setting it to anything in particular.

It had a built-in flash, and extra settings for the adventurous to twiddle with, as well as a video mode. However, when taking photos, the screen was difficult to see in the sun - and the many buttons were a little fiddly.

For pictures which required a quick zoom in, it was difficult to get late-reaction shots, as the camera was not as responsive as expected.

Overall a good performer - it was possible to vary shots and play around with depth of field, which should keep most people happy.

Perfect for: Sightseeing, casual shooting, close-up and distant shots, creative photography.

SLR CAMERA

Model: Canon 5D plus 3 lenses and filters

Weight: 6.5kg including charger and bag

Size: 152.0 x 113.5 x 75.0mm - BIG

This was the largest and most unwieldy of the three, including swappable lenses and filters.

Of course an SLR is a pro camera which can take really high quality images incredibly fast at varying distances.

Changing the lens to make the right shot allowed for extra flexibility, and the overall picture quality was (unsurprisingly) impressive.

From eye to shot it felt instantaneous, and being able to add, say, a polarizing filter to the lens allowed for even more control over the resulting picture.

However, when a giraffe leant into the caravan, we had to stop and change the lens before taking a picture, then change it again for another shot, while others were busy capturing the event.

Perfect for: Photo addicts who are going to take their beloved camera anyway, strong-shouldered types, confident SLR-users on a once-in-a-lifetime holiday.

The Big Picture

Holidays may be a great time to get comfortable with new kit, depending on our idea of fun, but which camera actually makes it into carry-on still remains a matter of individual preference and compromise, not unlike everything else we pack for a holiday.

The test did indicate that after using a more advanced camera, it may be harder to downgrade to a less flexible model.

For example, my travelling companion - an SLR enthusiast - was impressed by the compact, but said they would still take their SLR to most events, be they socialising, sunsets or safaris.

Below are a few scenarios that might help with decisions about what to choose.

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