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Compact Cameras - Highlighting the Nikon CoolPix S570

In this section, I will review the photo equipment I typically take on board cruises or travel, how I pack the equipment, and some photo examples. I rarely take all of the equipment on a given cruise, but rather tailor what equipment I take to where we are going.

Note that as time goes on, equipment becomes discontinued by the manufacturer. Therefore consider this review representative of the types of equipment you wish to take on your cruise or travel vacation.

If you have a DSLR, why a Point & Shoot? The reason is exactly that; it's a no-brainer Point & Shoot camera. Most photo-bugs that I know always carry a compact Point & Shoot in addition to their DSLR. The reason is that they are compact enough to fit in your pocket so you may have it available when you are not carrying around the heavy and bulky DSLR, and it makes for a nice and quick way to take photos and video. And in the Caribbean, you won't have to worry as much about someone on an island snatching your DSLR out of your hands.

Nikon S570 Overview

Nikon Coolpix S570

Specifications
Exposure modes: Pre-set only.
Sensor: 12.MegaPixel 1/2.5"
Lens: 28-140 mm (35mm) f/2.7-6.6
Movie Mode: 30fps
ISO range: 80~320
File Format: JPG, AVI
Media: SD, SDHC
Optical Viewfinder: No
Manufactured: China
Construction: entry-level
Street Price with lens: $120~150


Newer
Alternatives

Suitability for Travel: Rates a 3 out of 5. While image quality and flexibility are limited, the compactness of this type of pocket camera is highly desirable. A photo taken with a $150 camera you have with you is better than a photo not taken with a $1,500 camera you left behind.

Overview: Notwithstanding the advantages of a Point & Shoot camera, it does not have the capability to take high quality photos possible from a DSLR. But within it's own environment; daylight photography and restricted zoom lengths, they do remarkably well.


Nikon Coolpix S570 - Downtown Basseterre, St. Kitts
In other words, these cameras do fulfill a niche in the photo-bug's repertoire, however limited it may be. I make it a point to always keep a point & shoot in my pocket, as I don't want to lug the DSLR around everywhere on board (dinner, for example). You never know when that once-in-a-lifetime opportunity will present itself, and a point & shoot is still a better alternative than a cell phone camera (at least for now).

A "welcoming committee" of local residents in their colorful garb popped up out of nowhere at the cruise ship dock in St. Kitts. I had neglected to take my DSLR on that day, so I was able to get the shot with my compact camera.

Alternatives: There are so many compact digital cameras on the market today that it is all but impossible to recommend three alternatives. Therefore the alternatives I selected were to show what you can expect in features from the different price-points. The Nikon L22 is about as entry-level as you can get, and uses non-rechargeable AA batteries. For this reason its hard for me to recommend this camera, as it is heavier, thicker, and for the price difference of a year's worth of batteries, a camera having a rechargeable battery, such as the Nikon S570 will actually be cheaper in the long run. The size of the camera is important to me as I tend to put it in my front pants pocket, so the smaller the better.

If you wish to look at the higher-end compact cameras such as the Nikon P7000 or Canon G12, some of those offerings have larger sensors than the typical compact camera, which improve the high ISO noise performance. And most cameras in this range offer user-settable exposure settings such as Aperture or Shutter priority, or even manual exposure control. Some even have interchangeable lenses or lens adapters to augment the wide angle or telephoto range.


Poor focusing on the Nikon Coolpix S570 - Cloud photo somewhere in the Caribbean
Unfortunately a point & shoot won't work for everything. One evening at sea, just before sunset, we had some very beautiful cloud photos. Again, I didn't have my DSLR with me as we were watching the sunset on our way to dinner. I just could not get the camera to focus on the clouds properly. With a DSLR's advanced focusing mechanism, it likely would have focused. At any rate, I could have put the DSLR focus in manual and focused the lens myself.

Another limitation with point & shoots is most of them do not have an optical viewfinder. In the bright Caribbean sun, you often cannot use the LCD viewfinder as it is washed out by the sun - which makes it tough to see what you are photographing. There are not a lot of point & shoots these days that still have optical viewfinders.

While budget point & shoots do have their advantages, they also have limitations. Just realize them and you will take better photos.

When in St. Maartin, we participated in the 12 Metre Challenge, which is a sailboat race using old America's Cup race boats. On this excursion, you are part of the crew, and are either grinding a winch or some other essential duty. There was just no room to carry a DSLR on board, as it would have gotten knocked around, interfered with operating the winches, and possibly gotten wet.

To further protect the camera, its always a good idea to carry a zip-lock bag when you put the camera in your pocket so that it doesn't get wet.

Of course, you could also purchase an underwater or waterproof camera.


Nikon Coolpix S570 - Aboard True North - 12 Metre Challenge - St. Maartin

Summary: To date, we have ruined two Nikon Coolpix cameras due to immersion in salt-water. The advantage of putting the camera in your pocket is offset by the disadvantage of forgetting the camera is in your pocket when you take a swim. Salt water instantly ruins the cameras, as we have found out. Surprisingly though, in both instances, we were able to recover the SDHC card by rinsing it in fresh water - but not the camera.

I suppose on this level, one other advantage of the compact cameras are their relative low cost. While $150 is still a good deal of money, its far better to ruin a $150 camera than a $1,500 camera.