A good road trip camera offers good image quality, long battery life, and the ability to zoom in to capture a far-away detail and out to bring in a big scene when you can’t back up any farther. It is pleasant — not too big or heavy. It’s nice to have a viewfinder for full-sun days that wash out the screen.
I’ve used my 10-megapixel Canon PowerShot S95 on road trips for years, and it’s been a good and faithful companion. Sometimes the sun makes it hard to see the screen. I also wish for deeper zoom — 105mm is sometimes not quite enough. Its big bugbear, true of any compact digital, is that I can’t get through an all-day trip on one charged battery. I always bring three. It’s happened that my third battery was dangerously low by the end of a trip.
Yet the S95 is easy to carry, and delivers terrific photographs. I’ve enjoyed it as a road-trip camera since I got it.
I’ve brought my 16-megapixel Nikon Df along on my Indiana State Road 67 road trips both last October and in April. It’s a heck of a lot larger and heavier than the S95. Yet I can attach any of the huge range of F-mount lenses to it, and it has a full-frame FX sensor at 36x24mm, which is huge compared to the S95’s 7.44×5.58mm sensor.
I don’t find the Df to be unpleasant — it’s not too big or heavy. Slung over my shoulder, it’s not fatiguing to carry, and both hands are free.
But this is faint praise. In truth, it’s not better than the Canon S95 for documenting things. I publish my road-trip work only online; both cameras offer more than enough resolution for that. The two cameras render color differently, but both are realistic enough.
I bought a 28-200mm zoom lens for my Df. There is no doubt that this is more useful than the S95’s maximum zoom. It let me get very close to the top of the tall tower on the Murat Shrine building in Indianapolis.
It also let me take a lazy photo from the driver’s seat of my car of this building in Marco, IN.
The Df is quicker on the trigger than the S95. There was a greater chance I’d miss or whiff this photo with the S95.
But otherwise, the Df isn’t appreciably better than the S95. I got the same kinds of photos with the Df that I always did with the S95, and the Canon PowerShot S80 and the Kodak EasyShare Z730 that preceded it.
My chief complaint about the Df — and this has nothing to do with documentary road-trip photography in particular — is that I had a devil of a time figuring out how to set the camera for consistently sharp photos. I keep my S95 set at ISO 200 and it kills it nearly every time. At ISO 200, the Df gave me lots of shake and shallow depth of field. What the …?
Thanks to a comment on an earlier post about the Df on this blog, I changed my default ISO setting to 800, and this problem went away entirely. But ISO 800 just feels weird and wrong to me after all of my experience with other digital cameras. But for whatever reason, ISO 800 just works on the Df. I get great sharpness, plenty of depth of field, and no ISO noise. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
After I figured that out, I started getting consistently great images from the Df.
I’m likely to keep using the Nikon Df on the road, if for no other reason than the 28-200mm zoom lens I have for it. But there’s no denying that a compact digital like the Canon PowerShot S95 is easier to carry, and usually easier to use.