Picking Camera equipment for your trip to Costa Rica
This article of mine originally appeared in The Costa Rica Star, please stop by and have a look around. Thanks, Solson
Whether you’re taking the vacation of a lifetime or just out for a Sunday drive, Costa Rica is a country seemingly designed with the photographer in mind. Beaches, mountains, wildlife and quaint towns abound. The only problem is deciding which camera or equipment to bring. There is no right answer but I’ll try to help. If you are not a serious pro, are on a budget, or just don’t want to risk all your gear, you are going to have to compromise. Here are some suggestions for the best ways to compromise and still get great pictures. I have suggestions for the DSLR crowd as well as the folks shopping for a compact camera (and no, your smart phone is NOT a camera no matter how many megapixels it has).
Since this article is for residents and visitors I will sneak in a word on shopping and pricing. Buying camera gear in Costa Rica is insanely expensive so I don’t do it. Import taxes, exchange rates and the sales tax routinely push prices 50% or more above what can be had in the States. This also means we don’t get the selection that is available in the States or Europe. My solution is usually to wait until a friend headed to the States needs a ride from the airport. I have my new toy shipped to them and they bring it back on the plane. This works with co-workers on business trips as well. (If anyone from the Ministerio de Hacienda is reading this I am in no way advocating tax evasion). Just remember you are taking a risk because if there is a problem you won’t have a warranty claim.
Ok, now down to business. First for you DSLR folks it’s simple: go wide. The landscapes are breathtaking, and usually there is another scenic view just around the next bend. I’ve seen a lot of the country in the past few years and I find myself packing my super-wide angle most of the time. Super-wide lenses also tend to have very short minimum focusing distances so you can still get close-up, you just have to use your feet. You may not be able to get as tight on some shots, but you can always crop and you probably weren’t packing a lens long enough to zoom in on that sloth’s eyeball anyway.
If you’re shopping for a super-wide lens, I’ll stay neutral and recommend the well reviewed and reasonably priced Sigma 10-20mm EX DC HSM f/3.5, for cameras with APS-C sensors (commonly called crops), since it’s what most of us have. This lens is available in mounts for most camera brands. If you use a full frame camera, the advice is the same, pack the widest lens in your bag. As for accessories I recommend a circular polarizing filter to make that glare disappear, and a tripod. Here’s an example of all three items at use:
Exposure info: 10 Secs at f/11, 22mm ISO 100
If you are a bird-watcher or want to shoot surfing (or zoom in on the sloth’s eyeball) then you’ll need something very long, and you probably already have it and are willing to haul it. For the budget conscious who need more reach I have a solution in the next section.
If you are shopping for a travel camera and don’t want to compromise too much or just don’t want to haul a ton of gear, consider a super-zoom camera. These cameras are somewhere in between a DSLR and a compact point and shoot. They usually have manual control features similar to DSLRs, faster shutter response than point and shoot cameras (action shots are possible, try that with your fancy phone), as well as incredible zoom ranges often from 24-800mm.
You’ve got tons of options, but my suggestion would be to look at the models from Canon (SX series) first, then Sony, Fuji and Nikon. All are reputable, quality brands and will take great pictures. Most also feature some form of image stabilization for low-light and super-zoom lengths. The wide-end of the zoom range isn’t quite as wide as what I suggested for DSLR users, but it’s close, and the whole camera costs less than that lens I recommended to the fancy camera gang. Ignore the megapixel count, trust me it means nothing. My advice as for accessories with these cameras is a tripod (or monopod), plenty of batteries and a carrying case.
If that still sounds like more than you want to carry (super-zooms won’t fit in your pocket) and you are just looking to have fun, pick up a waterproof point-and-shoot camera. While a bit of a compromise as far a features go, these cameras are tons of fun and are far more likely to survive, a sudden downpour, adventure travel, some bugs I’ve seen, or the kids.
Since these cameras are well sealed and built tough they tend to survive being dropped in the sand, bumps and cold temperatures as well as going swimming. One big thing to keep in mind with these is the depth rating. Most are rated to 3 meters (10ft) of STATIC water pressure, though a few go down to 10 meters (33ft). Waves are big, heavy and moving. Don’t let a wave slap your camera. Don’t let the kids jump into the pool with the camera. Bad things will happen, crying or cursing may ensue.
There are quite a few options (and tons of colors) but the Olympus Tough and Canon D10 are tops for quality in this category. You do get what you pay for, and I would be leery of the quality of the lowest priced models. As for accessories get yourself batteries, a gorillapod mini tripod, and sense of humor.
Goofiness is often a side-effect of waterproof cameras. Tons of fun, where only they can play.
Whatever camera and equipment you choose while exploring Costa Rica have fun and take lots of pictures. Remember any camera is better than no camera, even if that camera is a phone.