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If you are considering buying a digital camera for use on your next vacation, we provide a brief overview of these types of cameras, their benefits, and limitations. 

If you  are interested in understanding image size and picture quality issues,  you have come to the right place. 


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Travel Tips - Digital cameras

Stand-alone digital cameras continue to revolutionize the way people take, manipulate, and display photographic images. Digital cameras are relatively expensive, but offer great flexibility during both photography and subsequent use of the images.

Cameras on phones are now being used by many travelers to record their travels, and the newest phone-based cameras are competitive with  good point and shoot camera for most types of photography.  Here, however, we will focus on stand-alone digital cameras

One shortcoming of some digital cameras is that they  are slow to focus and somewhat difficult to use for catching “action pictures”. Conversely, new digital cameras have a short start-up action, as well as the ability to capture video for action sequences. Video however, can use the storage capacity of the memory card very quickly.


Fully featured digital cameras capable of taking large, high-resolution, pictures are relatively inexpensive. The most significant differentiators of digital cameras are lens quality and memory size of the imaging chip contained in the camera. Memory size is directly related to image size and resolution. In general, more pixels allow you to take pictures at higher resolution. Whether you will benefit from higher resolution pictures depends on how you want to display the images.

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Image Size

Most cameras have settings that allow you to create images of varying size and quality. Image size is directly related to the number of pixels contained in the camera’s imaging device (not in the memory card). Camera standards continue to evolve and most technology writers recommend that any new camera purchased should have at least a 20 megapixel capability.

In general, the largest photograph that you can create using a digital camera can be calculated by dividing the pixels in each image dimension by the resolution of your intended output.

For example, printing photo quality images requires an image with a resolution of 300 pixels per inch.  In turn, a 20.2 megapixel camera has a resolution approximating 5184 x 3888 pixels which would produce a high quality printed copy  at approximately at 15" x 12" size (at 300ppi). 

Many owners of digital cameras display their pictures on computer screens and televisions where image quality is less demanding.  Depending on the output devices, images produced at as low as 96 pixels per inch will look OK.  The best approach to deciding the image size issue is to take your photos at a size that meets your most common need.  Your best source of information about your camera's capabilities is the owner manual, which should be on the CD that contained the camera's software or available online.

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Image storage

Pictures taken with digital cameras are stored on a removable memory card that is housed inside the digital camera.

  • Currently, several types of cards, (Mini Secure DIgital (miniSD), Compact Flash (types 1 and 2), Multimedia Cards, Smart Media, etc.) are commonly used by camera manufacturers. Note that different types of memory cards are not interchangeable.
    • You must use the type of card (e.g. Compact Flash or SmartMedia) that is supplied with your camera, which should be available in various capacities (memory size).
  • Memory cards are available in increasingly larger memory sizes (e.g. 128 GB, 512GB). Larger memory size allows you to store more pictures before you will need to download them to your computer for processing. Memory cards are designed to be reused over and over, as they contain only magnetic memory that can be written on (to store pictures) and erased (after you have copied the picture to your computer) thousands of times.
  • Memory cards differ in size and the speed with which the image is written.  Before you buy a fast card with large data capabilities make sure your camera will operate with this type of card.  Refer to your camera manual to make sure.

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Memory card management

Memory cards are relatively inexpensive (particularly since they can be reused over and over). When taking a trip, be sure to take enough memory cards to capture the number of pictures that you think you might take. We suggest taking several 32GB or larger cards to record the images on your trip.  If you plan to use higher resolutions, increase the number and storage capability of the cards you take.

Most digital cameras feature an option that allows you to create and name folders on the memory card. In essence, you can create  new folders and label them descriptively for each new destination.

Unlike film-based photography with multiple rolls of film, all of your images from digital photography will be loaded on a small number of memory cards.

  • For this reason, we urge you to keep the small plastic holder that contained the memory card (usually a clear plastic case the size of the memory card) when you purchased it).
  • Take a small piece of tape that will fit on one side of the card case and write your name, address, and phone number on it before fastening it to the card case.
    • If you should happen to lose the case, there is at least a chance that someone will return it since they know how to contact you.
  • When you have filled a memory card with images, store it in this case until you are able to download it.
  • If you are serious about your vacation photos you may want to travel with a laptop and upload your images at the end of each day.  In addition, you can purchase devices that can be used to transfer  your images from the card to a local disk for more secure storage.

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Before you leave on your trip

Be sure to use your camera before you leave on your vacation to make sure that you understand how to use its features to your advantage.   Read the manual or pay the price.  At the very least, take the manual with you or know where you can find it on the Internet so that you can access it from an Internet cafe.

  • This is probably a good time to tell you that for some it is  difficult to take a good picture while viewing a scene through the preview screen on a digital camera.
    • The reason for this is that it is likely that your hands will shake and “fuzz” the picture.
  •  For stable images, use the normal viewfinder, if your camera has one, to compose the image, snug the camera to your head as you compose the picture, and firmly depress and release the shutter for a great picture.  Others suggest holding your breath while you snap the photo.
  • Most cameras have image stabilization capability, which helps avoid blurry images. Image stabilization is defined differently by different manufacturers and we suggest that you examine the claims before buying.

Digital cameras run on electrical power supplied by a rechargeable battery. Most camera manufacturers provide the battery and charger as part of the camera package. Do yourself a favor and buy a second battery for the camera. When we vacation, we charge up both batteries before we leave for our days touring. We often burn though the charge in one battery and need the second to capture all those priceless moments.

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