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Camera one of two

August 31, 2008

A while back I asked readers for suggestions on what camera to buy.  And several very thoughtful suggestions were made, some for cameras I had not considered.  I carefully checked out each one, and many thanks to everyone who shared suggestions!

When I used to shoot film, I had several cameras to meet different purposes.  I had an Olympus XA, a tiny 35mm rangefinder with an outstanding lens that I could carry with me everywhere.  I had several Olympus SLR’s and lenses (all fast primes) to handle a wide range of situations from flat-field macro to portraits.  I’ve owned a couple different 6×6 TLR cameras for when I needed waist-level viewfinder. 

Over the years I’ve done a lot of different kinds of photography.  Long ago I did wedding photography but after several weddings decided it was just too stressful.  The kinds I really enjoyed included portrait, product, documentary, candid street photography, scenic, macro, and for want of a better term, ‘fine-art’.  Each has its own (often overlapping) technical requirements.

Eventually it became impossible for me to spend time in the darkroom, and I went all-digital.  But no single digital camera can do everything.  So it’s a foregone conclusion that I’ll need more than one camera.  My friend Pete has an Olympus DSLR and the image quality is simply outstanding.  But I pretty much live on a bike and his camera is too large for my backpack.  Also, I really like a waist-level viewfinder for macro and candid photography.

A couple readers suggested the Canon S5 IS, which I had not heard of, and that’s what I wound up getting.  It has a 12x zoom, image stabilizer, excellent macro capability, face recognition, and a folding viewfinder that allows waist-level photography (Joy!). It also has an internal eye-level viewfinder.  Plus, like any modern digital camera, a million other features which may be occasionally useful but hardly essential.  I will wind up using the panorama effect a lot…

And I’m delighted to find that the flash never goes off by itself – you have to specifically turn it on.  (Well over 99% of my photography is available-light; flash is a giant distraction to me)

It fits neatly in my backpack, runs on NiMH AA batteries (I have an ample supply), and image quality is well within the range that I need.  It handles complex lighting situations very well.  (I like Olympus’ image processor better than Canon’s but it isn’t a huge deal.) And did I mention I love the folding viewfinder?

Downsides: at extreme zoom + extreme high contrast scenes, there’s 2 or 3 pixels of purple fringing in white areas.  It doesn’t affect most shots.  I would have liked RAW capability.  And the lens cap was worthless; I got an old 59mm Vivitar slip-on lens cap off eBay instead.  The handgrip could be more ‘grippy’ but I’ll soon fix that.  As with all my hand-held cameras, I use a wrist strap instead of a neck strap.  (Vestige of my old camera-repair days.  Saw too many cameras destroyed by mishaps with neck straps.)

After two weeks I’m very happy with the Canon S5 IS and thanks again for the suggestion.  It will do 90% of the photography that I want it to do.  For my other camera I need extremely high image quality similar to my friend’s DSLR.  But it still has to fit in my backpack, and I’m not in a hurry.

While shopping I overheard a lot of other people shopping for cameras, and I can understand why camera companies are fixated on megapixels.  It is a simple number that consumers think is important, and trying to educate consumers is risky for a manufacturer.  “Ohh, this one has 12 micropixels!”  Bleah.

Folks, worrying about how many megapixels your camera has is like worrying about the top speed of your minivan.  Once you get past about 5mpx, there are other things that have much more tangible effect on visible image quality.  Like keeping .jpg compression to a minimum, and controlling ‘noise’ in black areas of your picture.  Both of these are degraded by cramming too many mpx onto a CCD chip. 

I took a good long look at the Canon G9, and liked it.  WeeDram suggested I also wait and take a look at this Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3K, which should begin shipping in mid-September.  Using the new mini-4/3 chip, Panasonic made the deliberate decision to put fewer megapixels on the CCD chip, so they could have better sensitivity and less noise.  This will have a huge (positive) effect on image quality and it’s very exciting to see a camera company buck the trend.  So I will definitely be checking it out.

Categories: Geeky, Photography
  1. EdK
    August 31, 2008 at 15:07 | #1

    Google for RAW and the camera model.  I can upgrade the firmware on my S2-IS and get RAW format capability, but it requires a large number of steps in addition to the firmware.  I’ll look for the link.

    - EdK

  2. EdK
    August 31, 2008 at 15:12 | #2

    Found them quicker than I thought …

    http://www.linux.com/feature/118946

    What it will point to …

    http://chdk.wikia.com/wiki/Main_Page

  3. September 1, 2008 at 08:22 | #3

    I’m a Canon fan, I hope you have good luck with yours.

  4. September 1, 2008 at 11:22 | #4

    One of my favourite photography blogs is The Online Photographer (http://theonlinephotographer.com/the_online_photographer/blog_index.html)

    … at times a bit esoteric, perhaps, for most DOF readers, and sometimes refreshingly NOT about the technical aspects of photography.

    A recent posting about “noise” in digital photography is very good reading, “high ISO noise” being another sacred cow along with the megapixel race/myth.  Check it out at http://theonlinephotographer.typepad.com/the_online_photographer/2008/08/noise-theres-no.html

    Me, I still like Rodinal, but XTol is growing on me.

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