Choosing Camera Equipment for the Boat

2nd August 2021

It is not as easy as it sounds, in fact it rapidly becomes quite complicated. I’m not in any way a professional photographer but I do have the slight advantage in that this is my second time around at purchasing boat camera equipment. Eleven years ago, I selected the equipment to take on our voyage to Jan Mayen, so I now know what worked and what didn’t. I have also just taken about a thousand product shots for my old company, so I am beginning to get the hang of “still life” photography for websites. And finally, I also crewed aboard Will Stirling’s yacht in Greenland a couple of years ago and could compare the various results from everyone’s cameras.

I wrote down my wish list which was:

  • It must have powerful optical zoom capabilities
  • It should be waterproof and robust
  • It needs to be small enough to slide in a jacket pocket
  • It should be able to save images as RAW files
  • The view finding screen must show up in bright sunlight
  • It mustn’t be too heavy
  • It must be able to shoot HD video at speed
  • It shouldn’t be too expensive

It wasn’t long before I realised that to cover everything on my wish list I would need two cameras. “Waterproof and robust” sadly doesn’t match well with “good zoom capabilities”. So, I decided that I would buy a waterproof tough camera to keep at the ready in the wet cockpit plus a separate camera, and camera case, for taking ashore and also for those drier conditions on the boat.

Camera Number One – The Ruffty-Tuffty One

The soft silicone cover probably helped to keep it looking nice and prevented it from rattling in its storage hole
My trusty Panasonic Lumix DCM-FT2 has finally conked out
Although the front still looked brand new, the back showed signs of salt water corrosion where I had failed to look after it properly

I have been so impressed with my old Panasonic Lumix DMC-FT2 that my choice for the Ruffty-Tuffty camera was simple. I would just buy another one.

Obviously, the camera has been upgraded by Panasonic over the last ten years but the DMC-FT30E is basically the same thing. My old camera has only just started to play up and I reckon that is stunning performance considering the treatment it has been given. It lives outside in the cockpit whenever we are sailing, and it was the only camera which was light enough to cart 2,273 m up a volcano, so it became, in effect, my primary camera. The main reason for that was that my posh Canon camera was just too big, too heavy, too expensive, and too fragile to take anywhere remotely dodgy, and dodgy remote places are exactly where I tend to end up. This camera can be in my pocket, no matter what the conditions are – but I really must remember to wipe the lens clear of water and muck first!

A old video probably shot with the old Lumix DCM-FT2 from the cockpit of Sumara

At around £130 this little wizard of a camera is a total bargain, even if it was only for a back-up. If it had a more powerful optical zoom, and could save RAW files, then it could almost be the main camera. However, it can’t save RAW files and the zoom is just 4 x, but on the plus side, it is very small and only weighs 144 g. If it is like my old one, it will survive some brutal treatment. I’ll try to buy a silicone case for it, partly to protect it, but also to stop it rattling in its storage location.

My choice of new Ruffty-Tuffty camerathe Panasonic Lumix DCM-FT30E

So, the Panasonic DCM-FT30E is my Ruffty-Tuffty choice.

Camera Number Two – The Fairly Decent Picture One

There is a proviso here, I don’t want to spend a fortune on a camera. I read Andy Kirkpatrick’s excellent little blog on mountaineer’s cameras

and he sensibly suggests choosing mid-cost cameras because there is a strong chance they will get trashed or stolen like my Canon camera was. So I go along with the concept of mid-price making sense for me. Also, I really don’t want to be frigging about with ISO and f settings when a polar bear comes into view – I just want to zoom in, shoot the picture and scarper.

Will Stirling caught this picture of a polar bear sun bathing using his powerful Canon PowerShot SX60 HS built in 60 x zoom. You simply wouldn’t want to be standing there!

That’s why my big Canon camera hardly got any use on my Jan Mayen and Spitsbergen voyages. On a trip to East Greenland, who wants to change a lens in front of a herd of angry musk oxen? By the time you have put on the zoom lens, and found the lens cap that you dropped in the snow, you may well end up needing the macro – and those horns would hurt!

So my choice of Camera Number Two needed to cost less that £500, weigh no more than 350 g and be snug enough to fit in a pocket or belt pouch. Most importantly it had to have a great zoom.

I studied the interbubble, various magazines and bloggers which led me towards this list

Nikon Coolpix    A1000

Panasonic           DC-TZ95EB

Panasonic           ZS70

Panasonic           ZS200

Panasonic           TZ200

Sony                    RX100 VII

Sony                    A6600

Sony                    A7 III

Go Pro                Hero 9

Fujifilm               X-S10

Canon                 Powershot G5 X Mark 11

Canon PowerShot SX60 HS

John Harries from Attainable Adventure Sailing also raved about the Olympus O-MD E-M1, but he is a professional and probably knows how to work all the features!

I eventually ruled out Will Stirling’s camera choice just because the SX60 was 33% bigger and 46% heavier than the small travel zooms, however I may well regret not having that 60 x zoom!

When looking at prices, sadly all the Sony cameras, the Olympus, and the Fuji had to go because they cost over £1,000 and the both the Canon’s were over £600 so they were struck off too. I’ll come to the GoPro later.

The Nikon Coolpix got good reviews and it has an excellent specification and a reasonable price, but I eventually swung towards the Panasonic DC-TZ95EB because I am also considering taking a Panasonic Toughbook. That would keep both my cameras and the laptop all by Panasonic. I am hoping it might help with software continuity but that might just be wishful thinking.

The Panasonic TZ95 EB with 30 x Zoom

I have chosen the Panasonic DC-TZ95EB mainly because it has a powerful 30x zoom. I’ll choose the silver option because I am fed up searching for black things in my bag!

In reality, a decent smart phone can take amazing photos, but sadly they can’t take powerful zoom pictures. If you want to take wildlife pictures, you really need a decent zoom or you could be putting yourself in danger. So, the zoom is the fundamental purpose of carting a camera around, rather than just snapping with your phone. If you want to print the photos, having them stored as RAW files may help to.

Size wise, even the compact DC-TZ95EB is bigger than I really wanted at 112 x 69 x 42 mm. It weighs 328 g. The cameras with the same specifications all seem to weigh roughly the same and are all virtually the same size, mainly because the optical zoom needs space to work. The flip up screen also adds a bit of bulk.

Some reviews criticise the Panasonic DC-TZ95EB’s ability to take photos in low light conditions due, so they say, to the camera’s relatively small sensor. As I will be sailing in the Arctic in the summer, darkness shouldn’t be an issue! I realise that a camera costing less than £400 will have some limitations regarding picture quality. However the sensor is the same size as the Canon SX60 and I have seen great results from that camera.

Sadly, the DC-TZ95EB batteries will not interchange with the DMC-FT30E which is a shame. It also lacks an external mic jack so wind noise may be a major issue when using the video function.

The camera should cost around £399.00. I’ll need a spare battery, a large SIM card and a carry case. Oh dear, all those extras are going to add up.

GoPro Hero Camera Three+

My old GoPro Hero 3+. Possibly to be used as a masthead camera?

While in Greenland, I want to relay live video from the masthead to a laptop or iPad for navigation through ice. I already own a GoPro Hero 3+ so I am currently experimenting with its capabilities. However, I can’t see a way to supply power to it whilst it is 36ft up a mast so this experiment may come to an abrupt end. There are plenty of security cameras available that I could possibly use. This will be the subject of a separate blog with Masthead Cameras in the title.

I’ll post some pictures once I have bought the cameras!

13th August 2021

The cameras have arrived!

I’m not a huge fan of buying online, everything seems to arrive bigger, smaller, heavier or uglier than you thought it would be. The joy of walking into a proper camera shop is you can get a feel for the product and normally pick up a few useful tips. I have been to the London Camera Exchange on the Strand before when I had my old Canon camera stolen. They pointed me in the direction of a secondhand Canon 100D with a much better spec for a very reasonable price. As far as I could tell it looked brand new. So I decided to try them again.

It is so nice when you go into a shop and the staff actually know what they are talking about – and you can generally tell in a few seconds! I knew they wouldn’t have the actual model I wanted in stock, but they were able to show me very similar models so I could get the feel of the weight and size. They advised on batteries and cards and I tagged on a mini Manfrotto tripod. They said they were waiting on shipments from Panasonic and it might be a while before everything was ready. I was in no rush so that was fine. I was therefore delighted when just one week later I got a text from Trevor to say everything was in the shop ready to collect. I whizzed up to the Strand to collect my goodies. I needed to choose a small bag to protect the TZ95. The lady in the shop warned me about accidently turning the camera on whilst squeezing it into the bag that I was contemplating buying. This can damage the camera, presumably they can overheat? Having received this welcome tip, I swapped the soft tight bag for a more rigid but roomy bag by Hamma – the Trinidad Hardcase 80. I dread to think what would have arrived if I tried to buy a camera bag online online. So a big thumbs up for the London Camera Exchange – and probably other real camera shops too.

Next I will take some identical photos using:

My old Panasonic DMC-FT2 (sadly on its way out)

My replacement to the above – the Panasonic DMC-FT30

My Canon 100

My new Panasonic TZ95

I’ll just use Auto settings and take one panorama shot and one on full zoom. Let’s see how we go.

My old Lumix DMC-FT2
My old Lumix DMC-FT2 on full zoom
My new Lumix DMC-FT30
My new Lumix DMC-FT30 on full zoom
My Canon 100D with an EFS 18-55 lens
Canon 100D with an EFS 18-55 lens on full zoom
My new Lumix DC-TZ95
My new Lumix DC-TZ95 on full zoom

Well I think you can see why I choose the Lumix TZ95 with its impressive 30 x optical zoom. Both the new cameras, one in its bag, plus the charger, mains plug, spare batteries, leads, instructions and cards all fit in a little Tupperware box.

Two cameras and all the gear in one little Tupperware box – perfect!
Despite being a “Travel Zoom” camera they do supply a very bulky plug (left). I’ve now swapped mine for an old Nokia one where the earth pin slides back flush and saves half the space


Now I’d better read the instructions.

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