A humpback whale swims past our kayaks.

Kayak Photography – Camera Types

Our guests join our kayak tours in part for the beautiful scenery and diverse wildlife we encounter on our tours. Many of our guests are also avid photographers, whether it be using a simple point and shoot camera to document their trip to more serious wildlife photographers with all the latest gadgets. Photos are a great way to share and reminisce about your experiences. However, you have to be careful you don’t spend your whole time looking through a viewfinder in the attempt to document everything or trying to get the “perfect” photo. When your time is spent this way you may miss a lot of the beauty and action that is all around you. Sometimes you just have to put the camera away and sit back and take it all in.

The above is not meant to dissuade guests from taking photos during their kayak tour. We also love to take photos while we are kayaking too but like most things in life, moderation is best.
The intent of this series of photography posts is not to delve into the art of taking photographs from a kayak but more or less outline some of the pros and cons of each camera type and the considerations needed on how to carry and store these cameras during your kayak tour.

In this series of post we discuss:

On our kayak tours we often see four types of cameras: waterproof point and shoot cameras, point and shoot cameras (not waterproof), mobile phone cameras, and digital SLRs.

We will have another post soon on GoPro and similar cameras. We also have had a few questions regarding the use of drones on our kayak tours. We will deal with these in a later post but in the meantime if you are considering using a drone please contact us to discuss further as they cannot be used from our kayaks and if used from shore there are still some major concerns about using them around people and wildlife.

Waterproof point and shoot cameras have the big advantage of allowing you to take photos at a moment’s notice. Because they are waterproof you can keep this kind of camera in your PFD pocket, attached to the deck of your kayak, or on a lanyard around your neck. We highly recommend adding a float to the camera’s lanyard so if it gets dropped overboard you won’t lose it. While you won’t get the same zooming ability or quality of photo from these cameras as you would from a non-waterproof point and shoot or a higher-end SLR, they still take very good photos. Those using non-waterproof cameras may miss unexpected photo opportunities while they get their cameras out of their protective cases while someone using a waterproof camera can take photos almost immediately. For this reason many SLR users also carry a waterproof point and shoot for spontaneous photo opportunities. A quick Google search provides lots of options for waterproof point and shoot cameras.

You can also buy point and shoot cameras that are not waterproof. The main advantage of these cameras is that they can often be found with much higher optical zoom factors than you can get in a waterproof version. A higher optical zoom helps you get higher quality wildlife photos. Not being waterproof means greater care has to be taken in carrying and using these cameras while kayaking. More information on that is below. A Google search can help you find point and shoot cameras with a 40X optical zoom.

As the camera quality on mobile phones get better and better many guests use these as their primary camera while kayaking. However, they do a have many major drawbacks and few benefits. Very few mobile phones are waterproof so you should plan on getting a waterproof case if you plan to use in on the water. Most phones also lack an attachment point for a lanyard and float so if you drop your camera it will likely sink to the sea floor. Phone also rely on digital zoom, rather than optical, so high quality photos are wildlife are difficult to obtain. However, an even bigger drawback for many is that many people are tempted to see if they have mobile coverage so they can check Facebook or their emails. We don’t get many opportunities to disconnect from the outside world so it is best to enjoy it while you can – check email and Facebook when you get back to town. The one benefit many people see when using their phone as their camera is they don’t have to buy a camera. Considering the relatively low cost of a waterproof point and shoot camera versus the cost of a mobile phone – and the hassle it would be if yours was to be lost or damaged during your vacation – the savings are hardly worth it.

One drawback we find most of the above cameras have is that they rely on an LCD screens to know what you are taking a photo of. In somewhat bright conditions it can be difficult to view the screen to know what you are taking a photo of. Consider choosing a camera that has an optical or digital view finder or pick one of the many cameras that have shades available for the LCD screens to make them somewhat easier to view.

Digital SLR cameras with an assortment of lenses offer the greatest versatility to photographers. In Kingfisher’s early years we saw very few SLR cameras on our kayak tours (and most of the cameras at that time were still film) but over the years Digital SLRs models have been introduced for novice photographers with lower priced entry points and they are now a regular item on all of our kayak tours.

Just like the above cameras, DSLRS have their good and bad points too. The advantages include better image quality, better sensitivity in low light conditions, faster shutter speeds, and faster focusing speed compared to point and shoots. The last two points can make a great deal of difference when shooting wildlife photos. Having interchangeable lenses is also big benefit – a larger lens is great for wildlife photography but you may want a wide angle for scenery and people photography.

Some of the drawbacks include price, complexity, size and weight, and difficulty changing lenses quickly.  However the price points and ease of use of entry and mid-level DSLR have both improved over the years.  Due to their size and need for protective case DSLRs can be more challenging to use when kayaking compared to a point and shoot camera.

To learn more about protecting your camera while kayaking read our next post on dry bags, dry cases, and rain covers.

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