We will be setting sail for Alaska very soon on our first ever cruise. We were wondering about digital cameras. We presently have a small compact camera with a 3X optical zoom & we are considering buying a camera with a larger zoom. I just wonder if it would really be necessary or if the one I have will be sufficient. Also the MP is 3.2 & I know that isn't very much but the camera dealers tell me that it is all I would need
3.2 mega pixel is more than adequate unless you plan on blowing your pictures up to larger than 10 x 14.
A 3x is zoom can be a disadvantage for shooting anything at any sort of a distance but something with a higher zoom will have a larger lens and will have a larger size.
I have 10x zoom Sony that is a fantastic camera but it is like taking a full size 35mm. I have another 4 mega pixel that is compact and only has a 3x zoom and I use that for most shots. Granted the larger camera takes much better scenic shots but it is a pain to carry. It's nice to be able to put something in your pocket instead of having something that looks like a 45 automatic strapped to your hip.
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I like the higer mega pixel camera because I am always cropping the picture. I can take a small part of the picture & it "blows up" better. That is especially important if you don't have high digital zoom. I just did the Amazon Explorer Cruise in April/May. I took pictures of birds in the trees of the rain forest. I couldn't get close enough with my zoom so I cropped the pic
I would ignore the digital zoom rating, since (as a previous poster stated) you can achieve the same results later by cropping and enlarging a portion of the photo. That same capability makes the higher megapel a necessity, rather than an option, in my opinion.
As far as optical zoom, you'll have to trade off the size versus range yourselves. My camera is a 10x optical, and I wouldn't consider anything less, though there many situations that a 3x would also work. I find I need the extra zoom range primarily for outdoor and scenic shots.
For extra research, I'd suggest you visit your local library, and check out the ratings in Comsumer Reports, not only for their recommendations, but also for their advice on what and why they considered important. They did a major writeup on digital cameras in the Nov 05 issue, but there have been updates in some later issues (they have a neat 12 monh index in all issues).
Finally, consider taking both cameras. The old one may be more compact than the new one (if you get a longer zoom) and may be ideal for keeping in a purse or pocket on board, taking to dinner, etc. You can take the new one on shore excursions when the higher resolution/longer zoom are worth the extra bulk. Also, the old one might be the choice if you are going on true "roughing it" excursions, like ocean kayaking, since if it was ruined by exposure to the elements, you wouldn't cry as much.
You will really want a good zoom if you plan on taking photos of grizzlies in Denali or whales out in the Sound. I cropped and still wasn't very satisfied with the quality of my photos. I will definitely take a better camera when I go back next time!
I take 2 cameras. One of them is a Canon Digital Elph 5 MP and I use that for things that I don't need to process quickly.
If I'm going on a tour where there is a lot of movement I use my Canon Rebel XT with a zoom lens and a smaller lense. I can get very fast processing with things that are moving quickly and don't have to wait for any amount of time while the camera is processing before I can take another shot.
If you have a camera with a 3.2 zoom on it...you will be able to crop it and bring it closer, but not so much as to not distort the picture.