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Walking (or cycling) the Camino experience necessitates a means to capture the moment. While no camera sensor can match the mind’s eye and imagination for colour, contrast, and composition, for most pilgrims a camera (or two) is essential for personal visual documentation.
As a photographer and one who has walked and cycled the Camino multiple times and used smartphones, mid-range and high-end cameras and lenses to capture the Camino’s spiritual, architectural and geographic ambiance, I will offer a few practical suggestions. Keep in mind these recommendations are for those new to the Camino and/or have little experience in photography as most dedicated serious photographers know their craft well and what equipment to use.
First things first. Consider your photographic intention – do you want to ultimately edit and enhance your pictures after your trip? If so, it makes sense to purchase at least a mid-price range camera that has the capability of shooting both in regular JPEG (most common recording format) mode and RAW (minimally processed digital negatives) mode and has the ability to capture at least 16-megapixel images. Editing RAW images give you much more versatility with colours, contrasts, and hues. That said most digital cameras today, at least the ones priced USD$250-1000 (or €200-€800) can give you excellent colour and black & white photographs right out of the camera but can also shoot in RAW format to be edited later.
One additional but important consideration is whether to use a DSLR (digital single mirror reflex) or mirrorless camera. Either one will be perfectly suitable for photographic quality but the growing utility and popularity of mirrorless cameras have the advantage of being smaller and lighter weight and many of which with sensors that rival in light capture and resolution of larger sensors in higher-end DSLRs.
Professional tips for better photographs of the Camino
Three suggestions I will share with those relatively new to the Camino and/or travel photography –
35mm moderate wide angle
1) Perspective – There are two fundamental perspectives in travel photography, particularly for the Camino: Personal perspective – photographing exactly the way you see the image (e.g.the personal and/or spiritual meaning of the subject matter, colour, shadows, field of view) and your audience’s perspective – i.e., how you want your viewers to see the picture. The first perspective involves “shooting from the hip” without any advanced camera settings (for example removal of shadows) other than having the camera in a reasonably basic auto or programmed mode. Most respectable point-and-shoot compact digital cameras with a fixed lens perform acceptably for this perspective. The second perspective (your audience) includes manipulating special camera settings during the shoot but especially in “post-processing” (after you download all of your photos) via one of the many digital processing software programs e.g. Lightroom or Capture. Which perspective you choose is a matter of personal preference and intent and often times can certainly be an amalgam of both. That said and most importantly – do not undervalue capturing your personal vision on what is artfully and spiritually meaningful to you. Photographs that capture special poignant memories cannot replace the sharpest photograph in a photo contest.
28mm wide angle
2) Variety of lens focal lengths – You should be prepared to take wide-angle shots for the broad Spanish/Portuguese/French landscape, agrarian, and architectural views particularly for countrysides, lagoons and in cathedrals and small chapels (a 28mm lens or smaller, 12-14mm ideal). Be prepared to use longer focal lengths, e.g., 150-300 mm, to isolate distant and special subject compositions. Of course single multipurpose zoom lenses can do both – e.g. a 24-120mm lens or even a 28-300mm lens but there are many more. Example images and focal lengths are displayed below.
50 mm standard view
3) Smaller mid-price-range mirrorless digital cameras with either a fixed multi-purpose digital zoom lens or interchangeable lens option (e.g. Fujifilm XT-2 or XT-3, Lumix ZS200, Lumix GX8 or 9, Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II, Sony RX100 V or VI) are among the best all-around cameras because of their smaller size and versatility. But know there are scores of other excellent camera options within this class of small to intermediate-size digital mirrorless cameras. If you have a choice to purchase a “weather sealed” camera, nearly all camera manufacturers have such models, this would be very helpful as anyone who has walked or cycled the Camino knows there will be times when wind, rain, fog, and even snow will prevail, depending on the season. Ensure you look for the spec “weather sealed” on the feature list of a prospective camera to purchase. The first camera I used on the Leon to Santiago Camino trek was a $300 panasonic GX7 16 megapixel camera with a 14-45 mm lens and I have to say many of the photographs I shot with this intermediate size digital camera match up as well as those I have since taken with considerably higher-end Leica, fujifilm and Nikon cameras.
85mm slight telephoto
But know – If you can only use a fixed lens camera particularly one with a multi-focal length zoom lens ensure that it has at least a 24mm wide angle field of view – you will need it to capture the beautiful Spanish landscapes and towns.
14mm super wide angle
What camera should you take on the Camino?
Smartphone cameras – specifically newer iPhone or Android mobile (or cell) phone cameras. In the last several years, mobile phone camera image sensors have improved markedly in both image resolution, dynamic range, and light sensitivity some even rivaling many of the mid-range and higher-end digital cameras (see the first three photographs). The vast majority of modern cell phones use Sony image sensors which are quite formidable for photographic quality. For still photography – newer cell phones, e.g. Google Pixel II or III, Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus, iPhone XS can take remarkable photographs. The main downside of smart phone cameras is that they often are restricted to narrow fields of view, e.g., insufficient wide angle options, likely to have a more cumbersome lens zooming mechanism, and not impervious to damp or rainy weather.
28 mm wide angle
Price ranges for respectable digital travel cameras (mostly priced by the camera’s number of functions, sensor and autofocus capability, capture rate, and video function. Note that some of these prices include the camera body plus lens)-
USD$500-1000 (€400-€900)(most economical for quality and price)
> USD$1500 (>€1350)
Example cameras by price range (these are just a few, note that most of these prices are for the camera body only – does not include the lens):
Our pick: Nikon D5600
Also consider: Olympus E-M10 III
150mm moderate telephoto
Some final points on getting the most from your choice of camera
Memory cards: There are a lot of options, not only differing in speed and capacity, but also brands and cost. And even though the SD format is the most popular there are other formats too, including Compact Flash, microSD, XQD and CFast. Depending on your camera’s sensor size and megapixel count (i.e., it’s ability to capture special detail in an image) you will need to consider the size of the memory card you use. If you are spending 3-4 weeks walking or cycling the Camino I would suggest at least several 32 gigabyte memory cards or at least one 64 or even 128 gb card. Above all, back up all of your photos as soon as you return home. Rule of thumb: a 16 mp camera with a 32 gb card can shoot ~5000 regular JPEG images whereas if you are shooting in Raw it’s ~570 images. A 24mp camera (fairly standard with higher end cameras) with a 32gb card – ~4000 jpegs or ~400 Raw images.
Image detail: The general rule for high-quality sharp prints is 300 pixels per inch. For example, an 8×10 inch print needs 8x300x10x300 = 7.2 megapixels. One can still make very nice 8×10 inch prints with fewer megapixels, but the lower the megapixel count, the softer the image. All of the digital cameras mentioned in this article have at least 16 mp sensors (i.e. 16 mp per saved image).
28 mm wide angle
A point that probably needs mentioning here is photo editing, i.e., post-processing. Many cameras produce very nice jpegs right out of the camera but if you are like me I like to “fine tune” light, clarity, and sometimes color hues of RAW images. Most camera manufacturers have their own fairly simple editing software that is included with the camera via a disk or download link. If you are more serious about ultra fine-tuning your photos three of the most professional grade editing software programs are Lightroom, Capture One, and On1 Photo RAW – all of which are competitively priced.
As a final suggestion, I would recommend having at least two means of capturing the Camino, aside from your eye and brain of course – a smartphone and at least a mid-range digital camera that can capture at least 16 megapixels per photograph. Here, the smartphone can be a reliable back-up to your primary camera.
In any event, for many of you, this will be a once-in-a-lifetime pilgrimage and one that deserves many exceptional photographic impressions to savour.
Guest Contributor – Ralph LaForge