Tips for Choosing and Using an Outdoor Digital Camera
Do You Need an Outdoor Digital Camera?
The average consumer purchases a point and shoot camera because they don't want to have to deal with too many manual adjustments, they want something simple. In addition, they want something that is affordable.
Of course many of those same consumers want to be able to take their digital camera outdoors to shoot pictures that preserve memories of their many outings and excursions. The problem is, that digital cameras, like most electronics, can be poorly suited to outdoor environments and the many hazards found there; things such as moisture, cold temperatures, bright sunshine, the risk of falling, and so forth.
On this page, I'll provide some suggestions on how to find a good outdoor digital camera and/or how to protect the camera you have in the outdoor environment.
A True Outdoor Camera
Some digital cameras are designed specifically for the rugged outdoor environment. They are built to withstand the shock of being dropped from a height of 10 feet or even more. They can survive exposure to freezing temperatures, and are often waterproof. In fact they may shoot photos and video in water, allowing users to snorkeling with their camera. They also won't be damaged due to dust, dirt, or sand as these things won't penetrate the outer housing.
Some of these cameras are fairly affordable. Many of them are in the $200-$450 price range for consumer level cameras. Olympus, Panasonic, Casio, Sony, Fujifilm, Pentax, Nikon, and Canon are among the well known manufacturers that have some of these outdoor digital cameras.
I've written about these rugged digital cameras before, so I won't go into the details on this page. But if you're interested, you can learn more at the link here.
However, for others who want to know how to use their current camera outdoors or how to select a more affordable model that might work well in such conditions, I'll make some suggestions.
Using a Camera Outdoors
If you don't purchase a digital camera made specifically for outdoor use, then it is at risk for suffering damage due to falls, including everything from merely scratching the lens, which happens to be the most critical and expensive part of your camera, to crushing it entirely.
There are a couple of things however, that can help reduce the risk of such damage. One is a lens cover. Many compact point and shoot cameras have an automatic lens cover. It will cover the lens anytime the camera is powered off. Obviously this helps reduce the risk of damage. Some cameras allow you to place a lens cap over the lens manually. This works well also. The lens cover can also help shut out dust, sand, and dirt, although it only protects the lens. A camera without an automatic lens cover or the ability to have a cap put on the lens, is a less attractive choice as an outdoor camera.
Another bit of protection that can be important related to damage from falling or a drop, is a camera bag. I've dropped my point and shoot camera a few times while out hiking, luckily it was in a camera bag at the time. The bag fits it snugly and offers good padding. There was no damage at all, the camera bag saved the day.
If you choose to carry your camera without a bag, it's risky. Personally, I would choose to put it in a lined pocket that zips to avoid a drop, however, you would need to be sure there was nothing else in the pocket to rub, scratch, or otherwise damage the camera. You would also need to be very careful not to sit on it, lean against it, or anything like that.
Of course another risk of using a camera outdoors is related to moisture. Electronics devices and moisture don't mix. Moisture can come in the form of rain, fog, condensation when going from cold to warm, or a drop into a puddle, stream, and so forth.
A waterproof camera bag can help avoid exposure to rain and possibly a drop in a puddle. If you don't have a waterproof camera but want to use it underwater, the only other choice is to use some type of waterproof housing. These aftermarket housings won't tolerate much pressure so the water depth it can handle is quite limited. These housings can also make the camera difficult to operate but can allow you to take a few photos underwater.
If a camera does get wet, it's best to set it aside, remove any batteries/memory cards, allow it to dry out for a day or two, and then power it up to see how it does.
Extreme temperatures are another problem you'll encounter with a camera outdoors. When going out in colder temperatures, it's best to either keep the camera close to your body, under a coat perhaps or in an insulated camera bag. In addition, cameras should never be left in a car where the sun can create excessive temperatures.
Other Features for a Better Outdoor Camera
Based on my experiences using my point and shoot camera outdoors, I would suggest some features that you may want to consider when making a purchase:
- Consider the LCD screen carefully
I use the LCD screen to frame shots and most people do. However, they are extremely difficult to see in bright sunlight. A screen with adjustable brightness and/or a screen that can be pulled out, swiveled or tilted might be best. I would take the camera outside and see how it looks in sunshine before making my selection.
- Consider the types of shots you want
Know what types of shots you'll want to take outdoors. I love to take close ups of flowers, insects and other small items. Therefore, I selected a camera that had a good macro mode. Without it, I would have to buy a high priced macro lens for my camera. If you want to take shots of landscapes, a panorma mode might be good and a wide angle lens might help too by allowing you to fit more in the picture. If you will be trying to shoot animals (with your camera) then you will want a good optical zoom so that you can get more detailed shots even if you can't step up closer to them. If you think you'll want to capture fast action, then a burst mode or sequential shooting mode will allow you to take multiple shots in rapid succession. Having a high speed memory card to do this is often necessary as well.
- Optical image stabilization
Most good digital cameras will offer some form of image stabilization, optical image stabilization is preferred. This will help the camera capture a blur free image even if you have a little bit of hand shake when holding the camera. This is true of course for both indoor and outdoor camera use!
If you plan on being outdoors for an entire day (or more) then it would be advisable to have a camera that will accept higher capacity memory cards. I would recommend 2GB as a minimum. You may not be where you can easily download your shots and you don't want to run out of storage space half way through the day. You can carry more memory cards of course, but that's just one more thing you can forget to do.
- Battery Life
Digital cameras use a lot of battery power and that's another thing you don't want to run out of when you're outdoors and away from a place to recharge. You want a camera that sips rather than guzzles battery power or at a minimum, one that provides features that help it conserve. Auto shut off and the ability to turn off the flash and other automated functions as needed can help. Carrying backup batteries is wise in any case.
GPS is a feature that might also be useful for some people. A camera with GPS can geotag your photos but some now offer mapping/location functions as well.