Ask the VR Photography Experts

Q: I will be taking a 3 month trip through Africa and am considering taking a digital camera. My concerns were lack of power outlets for charging and running out of memory without the ability to upload images on the road. I currently use a Canon EOS camera.

A: I've not used the Canon EOS digital cameras, but understand that they are like most professional digital cameras and are very power hungry. I would not choose any digital camera today, unless it was absolutely necessary, for any trip that was going to take me away from a/c power sources for extended periods (several days or more). There is nothing more useless than thousands of dollars of electronic equipment that doesn't work simply because you've run out of power.

Your decision will need to be made based on what parts of Africa you'll be in and what your itinerary looks like. The parts of Africa in which I've traveled are deceiving, because they have what appear to be modern technology and basic services (such as utilities) in the cities and towns, but they are not dependable. Such services are often non-existent in more rural areas.

If you are planning to spend considerable time in remote areas, you are better off shooting traditional film, because most film cameras do not use batteries as fast as digital cameras. Take a good supply of batteries and more film than you expect to use. Both are hard to find in Africa, and their quality can be undependable when you do. Keep your film as cool and protected as possible, and process it when you get home, rather than at any labs you might find in Africa.

You will encounter more dust traveling in Africa than you can ever imagine, and it will work its way inside every bag, case and piece of equipment you have -- particularly when traveling by jeep or truck. Dust is deadly to digital equipment, but somewhat better tolerated by film cameras.

If you really need digital capability, look into the solar charging systems for laptop computers. They may also be useful for camera batteries, but find out specifics about each system before you make a purchase. These solar charging systems cost a few hundred dollars, I think. Get yourself lots of digital memory cards (128MB, 256MB or 512MB) and watertight/dust proof, protective cases to keep them in.

Remember that long distance phone calls are extremely expensive in Africa, and e-mail/web access is often difficult, at best. Don't plan to shoot digitally so you can upload images, unless you have a known location with that capability where you will be returning regularly during your trip.

Expect your best laid plans to be thwarted by happenstance. Africa is a unique and precious place on earth, but it is very much a third world continent, almost no matter where you are. Take nothing for granted, and cherish the moments of luxury and functionality as they arise. Seize opportunities as they present themselves, and be vigilant in protecting your health.

- Scott Highton