Monday, August 24, 2009

What camera should I buy?

The reviews are in and the little SD980 gets mixed reviews. I'm still keen but then I like my daily, have-it-with-me-at-all-times-camera, to be ridiculously small.

I also like it to as automatic as possible and this camera is that. For many, this is not a good thing. But the other day I missed a neat picture because I had shot a macro shot previously and had not reset the camera. The SD980 will automatically sense if it should be in macro mode and then it will automatically sense that for the next picture it should not be in macro mode. No missed picture.

The 24mm lens is a real plus and no one argues that point. The image quality is good but there is a little purple fringing on the edges of a contrasty scene. I have that now and I can live with it.

Before or after you read my piece, written after the camera had been announced but before it hit the store shelves, check out the embedded video and read the following linked review. This camera is a lot of money. But it is a real toy, and if you like toys, you will probably be happy. If you don't like toys, you may find yourself returning it to the store - if they will take it.

Now, check out the review in Photography Blog. (The IXUS 200 is the SD980's name outside North America. Same camera but different name.)

Now, if you are still interested, read my now quite dated post.


...for quick party photos, carry an ELPH
A friend asked me what digital camera to buy. He has a new grandchild on the way and wants a camera to capture both still images as well as make videos. As I worked for decades as a news photographer, wrote a photo column for a daily paper and taught photography, he thought I would have a quick answer; I didn't, but I do now.

I have now done my homework and here is my answer. (I will start with the camera suggestions, then explain my thinking. A classic inverted pyramid of information.)

Ultra Compact
— It's small enough to drop in your pocket.

As the best all round digital camera, the new ultra compact Canon PowerShot SD980 IS Digital ELPH gets my nod. This camera, just announced by Canon, will be in stores in September (2009) retailing for an estimated $399.99 (Canadian).

Don't be fooled by the cool colours — silver, blue, purple and gold. These are not toys. I use the original camera in the SD series, a little bronze coloured SD10 purchased years ago, to shoot the pictures illustrating my blogs. I have illustrated this post with images taken with my SD10. To see more examples go to my blog, Rockin' On: London Daily Photo. Note: all pictures have been downsized for the Net. I have made prints as large as 16x22-inches from image files shot with my SD10. I fill the frame, of course.

Being very tiny, yet full featured, these cameras can be carried in a shirt or pants pocket. You can't take a picture without a camera; with a digital ELPH your camera will never be far away.

As this camera is not on the market yet, there are few Internet reviews. But other cameras in the ELPH line-up rate very well. Consumer Reports recommended both the Canon PowerShot SD880 IS Digital ELPH and the Canon PowerShot SD1100 IS Digital ELPH.

Super Zoom — can take the place of a complete camera kit. The following is an excellent choice if you require very long lenses, say for shooting birds or other wildlife.

The latest Canon PowerShot SX20 IS Digital Camera is absolutely mind-blowing. When I think of the kilos of gear I used to carry, this lightweight, easy-to-use camera is a technological tour de force, a camera miracle. The 20x optical zoom, when extended to its max, makes the use of a monopod a smart move. Image stabilization is a great feature, but with a 560mm lens I would use a monopod at the very least.

The SX20 is replacing the SX10, a camera that Consumer Reports recommended. The new SX20 will work for shooting sports, but it does not have the frames per second speed of the present SX1. My guess is that an SX2 is on the horizon. It will be more a more expensive camera but may be worth the wait if you are a really serious amateur shooter. (Me? I may not wait.)

The sensor in the SX1 is CMOS technology, while that in the SX20 is CCD. I understand that a CMOS chip is quicker than a CCD chip and for that reason is the technology of choice in the high-end Canon cameras which are sold mainly to photojournalists.

What I look for in a camera.

As I said, if you don't have a camera, you can't take a picture. For this reason the first thing I look for is small size. My SD10 is almost always with me and because of this it has taken some of my all-time favourite photos. Sadly, my little camera is dated. For instance, it lacks a zoom lens and image stabilization.

Features I look for:
  • small, compact size
  • rugged construction
  • SD card. This is an industry standard. SD cards are available almost anywhere unlike proprietary cards such as the ones used by Olympus and Sony.
  • image stabilization. This minimizes camera shake resulting in more usable images and sharper as well.
  • at least a 10 MP sensor. Once we reach 12 MP, more is not necessarily better. In fact, noise at higher ISO settings often increases in super compact cameras using 12 MP, or larger, sensors.
  • a minimum of a 4x optical zoom. It must be optical. Digital zooms are a gimmick, nothing more. Do not use.
  • a true wide angle setting. 28mm is the minimum. 24mm is better. 35mm isn't wide to me.
  • face detection
  • a viewfinder is nice, especially in bright light, but you can live without one. I do.
  • HD video shooting capability is a strong plus. Almost half of all buyers of point and shoot still cameras take advantage of the video feature. The quality is not on parr with true video cameras but it is more than just acceptable; the quality is quite good. Be aware wind noise can be a problem when shooting outside. Shooting from in close will improve the sound. In other words, get in tight and think wide angle rather than hanging back and going with your telephoto.
  • long battery life — but always carry a spare battery, or two.
  • a compact battery charger with fold away plugs
  • minimal first shot delay
  • a high-quality low-light setting is a real plus
  • good dynamic range with excellent image quality
  • last on my list is wireless capability
My two camera choices are able to check off almost all the desired features.

For more info, check the following links.

Digital Photography Review is excellent. I like the camera reviews.

Steve's Digicams was one of my favourites but it has changed lately. I believe it has changed hands. So far, I am disappointed with the new look but the reviews are still excellent.

Two Canadian sites I like are: digital and Digital Camera Resource Page

Lastly, if you are a professional, this site run by Rob Galbraith, a former news shooter for the Calgary Herald, is fantastic. This fellow got into the digital era early and is now the defacto digital guru for all things related to digital photojournalism.

A positive view of Canon cameras can be found at engadget.

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