Never go on a holiday without a proper camera

Don't make the same mistake Tein Hee Seow did, bring something portable and customisable, like a mirrorless camera

On my last work trip to Tokyo, I made one very big mistake - relying on my smartphone's camera to capture the massive cityscape.

I was patting myself on the back, praising the fact that I managed to travel light with my trusty smartphone to get all the shots. In mere seconds, I can pull it out of my pocket or bag, launch the camera app, tap and shoot. Voila, beautiful landscape shot taken.

All that self-confidence melted away when I was walking along Odaiba and saw Tokyo Tower on the horizon. I whipped out the phone, started framing the shot and snapped away.

What greeted me was the photo below:

A mere speck of light, shining in the background. That's the extent to what I can catch at that distance and under such low-light condition.

To be fair, smartphone cameras have come a long way, and seen significant improvements in night photography. Recent devices like the Samsung Galaxy S7 have shown its ability to take decent photos under low light. But when push comes to shove, can you really rely on your smartphone to do the job?

Honestly, I'd rather leave it in the good hands of a mirrorless camera. This is especially important when I'm dealing with a high ISO that generates a huge amount of noise, which translates to grainy shots. Not with mirrorless cameras. A larger sensor size, faster aperture to grab more light and a stronger optical image stabiliser contribute to a better night shot. This alone is enough reason to stick with a mirrorless camera.

Even for normal daytime shots, I'd like to capture everything in my peripheral vision. A wide-angle lens comes to mind. Or if I'm stretching my sights a bit further, a zoom lens comes in useful. A smartphone can do almost anything. But not everything, especially the abovementioned types of shots.

With a mirrorless camera, it’s just a matter of switching out for the right lens for the perfect setup.

I've come to realise that one should go on a holiday with both a smartphone and a proper system camera. I know what you're thinking - why the heck would you want to lug a system camera, both body and lenses, just for fleeting moments?

Again, on the same trip to Tokyo, which involved a visit to Fujifilm's factory in Sendai, I noticed that no one was lugging a huge bag filled with a DSLR. Some lucky (or perhaps preferred) journalists were already holding onto the just announced Fujifilm X-Pro2 mirrorless camera.

Their bags didn't look bulky, mainly because of how small and portable mirrorless cameras are. On top of that, it came as a surprise when I noticed how they're whipping out different lenses as the day passed. It was far more than I can do with the limited range of my smartphone.

Again, it was a hard lesson learned. Too late for this trip, but not lethal.

With three months to go before my holiday to Tokyo, I've already decided what my setup is going to be - a simple, portable mirrorless camera along the lines of the Sony a6300 or Olympus PEN-F will do the trick.

Oh, and a 18-50mm lens that's versatile for all situations and a dedicated 28mm lens to hit those bokeh shots.

This isn't me admitting that a smartphone is absolutely useless on trips. On the contrary, it's great for quick snaps that you want to tag on Instagram with #foodporn, #enviousmuch and #holiday.

Also, you won't catch me taking a selfie with a system camera. Not even though mirrorless cameras now come with tiltable LCD screens, allowing you to swivel till you can see yourself while you’re snapping a selfie. Smartphones are much easier to manage and can even recognise a gesture and start the timer for the front camera to snap away.

Plus, it looks less ridiculous holding a phone to your face. Imagine how you’ll look with a camera at point-blank range to your face.

On the topic of point blank range, that's how I intend to catch those shots of hunger-inducing, gloriously fat ootoro. Like the picture above.

But with food photography, the idea is to spend the least amount of time capturing the shot and focus your attention on the food after that. Nothing else matters except placing that chunk of delicious fatty tuna, feel the oils flowing down your throat and savouring every bit of the sashimi.

So it makes sense that you'll want to do all that on your smartphone. Just whip it out, snap and upload to Instagram. Done in under 30 seconds.

Point being, while I see the value of bringing a lightweight mirrorless camera along, it doesn't hurt to utilise your smartphone camera. It's not as if you're carrying a non-essential item, that smartphone will be with you through your journey.

So for your next trip, don't leave home without a mirrorless camera. It might seem like a chore, but trust me, it's going to get you more Reactions and Likes on Facebook and Instagram when you #latergram and #foodporn the photos.