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Camera shopping is very frustrating

June 4, 2010

I use a Canon S5IS for many shots, a digicam with a vari-angle LCD screen and an eye-level digital viewfinder.  Ergonomically, it’s perfect, but it has poor low-light capability.  Since I take a lot of pictures under less than perfect light, I want something with a less noisy chip.

Notice I did not say; “more megapixels”.  I want better signal-to-noise ratio when the light is only so-so.  I can’t be setting off a flash in classrooms while someone’s trying to teach, for example.  And I do love to take pictures at night.

The Canon PowerShot G11 is quite a step up in image quality, but ergonomically it’s only so-so.  Nevertheless it does have Canon’s superb vari-angle LCD screen.  And it’s in my price range.

There are other cameras with interchangeable lenses and even better low-light capability, but most of them are SLR’s with fixed viewfinders.  Some cameras with folding or variangle viewfinder are “planned” or “will be introduced soon” by various manufacturers including Sony, like the NEX-5.  It has a tilting, rather than vari-angle viewfinder display but I could live with that.image

Test shots from the NEX-5 suggest it beats the Olympus EP-1 (which has a fixed viewfinder anyway) for image quality, and and is just… barely within my price range.  But I do hate the idea of buying the first release of any model line.

The Nikon D5000 looks promising.  A bit bulky and heavy though, which nods back towards the Sony.  Which hasn’t been released yet and will be a first-release when it finally is.

Anyone have any suggestions?  Not necessarily for a camera – perhaps drugs I could take that would make waiting for the ideal camera less of a chore.

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  1. June 5, 2010 at 12:17 | #1

    The Canon S90 seems to be the point-and-shoot twin of the G11. It has the same sensor the G11 uses, but doesn’t have as much zoom. That seems to be the way to deal with the low-light problem – bigger pixels equals more light energy per pixel.

    Wish I had more suggestions. I’m looking for a camera that can do well in low light primarily. “Do well” means photograph moving things without flash in good indoor light. I’ve been using a Kodak C763 for a few years now. It’s one of those entry level digital cameras. It was a great deal at the time, and it’s been a good camera for outdoor scenes. Indoors is quite another matter though.

    One thing I’ve been wondering about with respect to zoom – how much zoom is usable when you’re holding the thing in your hands? My experience has been that even the 3X on my camera can be tough to get a clear shot with, even in sunlight. That could have something to do with the camera’s software, but I suspect that at some point, you really need a tripod, assuming there’s no level surface handy.

  2. June 6, 2010 at 04:34 | #2

    I just fell completely in love with the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX5V, which is reputed to have fantastic low-light performance, but I’m a complete and total ignoramus when it comes to this stuff.  Opinions?

  3. June 6, 2010 at 09:27 | #3

    Both the S90 and the G11 do something remarkable: they derive fewer mpx than are theoretically possible from their imaging chips.  Hopefully this means the megapixel wars are over.  In any case their chip and processor combinations are great.

    The Sony DSC-HX5V has a CMOS sensor and “Handheld Twilight Mode” which is a nifty auto-bracketing and image-combination trick.  So yes, it should give outstanding low-light performance!  Plus it’s Design By Sony.

    I do like the professional-type controls on the G11, and the superb vari-angle viewfinder.  Handled one again last night and its shadow processing is clearly a big deal. I’d have to use an accessory handle for a better grip though.  I am tempted to get one, and use it for a year or two until Sony works the new-model bugs out of the NEX-5. 

    But if the NEX-5 were released tomorrow, I’d be tempted to get one.  There aren’t even any good rumors as to the release date – does anybody know?

  4. June 6, 2010 at 10:10 | #4

    Cujo – you are right on about the tripod.  Another under-appreciated accessory is a sturdy monopod (mine could, in a pinch, double as a weapon) or an accessory grip (which expands the force-distribution geometry of both lens weight and of pressing the shutter button, resulting in much steadier pictures).

    I often combine the two by using the monopod, collapsed and attached to the camera, as a kind of grip-on-steroids+steadicam. But you know what I really miss in digicams?  A cable release.

  5. David Evans
    June 7, 2010 at 05:19 | #5

    Cujo – most new cameras have image stabilization (IS). That really makes a difference to camera shake – I can hand hold my Panasonic TZ7 and FZ30 at their full 12X zoom at a shutter speed of 1/15 or less. Without IS 1/250 would be the minimum.

    It’s also easier to hand-hold a camera with an eye-level viewfinder. Your two arms form a triangle, which makes them more rigid than when holding a camera away from the eye.

    On both counts I think the Canon G11 is probably the best buy for now.

  6. June 7, 2010 at 22:10 | #6

    I was never comfortable with eye-level viewing, even in my SLR days.  Long ago I loved using my Rolleiflex TLR, especially for the waist-level viewfinder.  Now digital cameras with vari-angle viewfinders have brought that feature back :coolsmile:

    When I shoot waist level, I brace my forearms against my sides with the camera close to my body.  It works especially well when using a pistol grip or monopod.  But Image Stabilization makes even good holding techniques better, so I’m a definite fan of digital.

    (By the way Image Stabilization predates digital cameras.  If I’m not mistaken it first appeared in very expensive binoculars.)

    Back when I was repairing cameras, I’d have been very surprised to think that one day I’d consider buying a camera from Sony or Panasonic.  How the market does change: those are really great brands now, both filling new design niches (along with Olympus) that Canon, Nikon, and Pentax were late getting to; “mirrorless SLR’s”.  And Minolta and Konica are both gone.

    Anyway (drumroll please) I decided:  I am getting the G11, then waiting six months to a year, and then getting the NEX-5.  My hands are getting worse, so both cameras need to be light, and both those cameras are.

    Thank you everyone!  I’ll post a review of the G11 soon.  And if you’ve written any camera reviews anywhere, please link them in the comments too.

  7. June 9, 2010 at 22:55 | #7

    We have a Pentax K10 that my wife, Kathryn, settled on after looking real hard at Nikons and Canons (we have a Canon Rebel film version, so the lenses would have carried over, sorta).  It’s rather spectacular in low-light situations without flash.

    But it’s big. 

    I also use a Pentax Optio V20 that I got at Woot for about $125.  It’s not quite as good at capturing pictures in ambient light indoors, at night—but it’s very good in daylight.

    Here’s a picture I took with the Optio last night, no flashes (it’s a 3-piece stitched-together tryptich):

    I’ll have to search around for a low-light photo from the K10.

  8. June 12, 2010 at 02:01 | #8

    Can’t wait for your new pictures from your new baby!

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