Camera Shopping (Warning: Long Rambling Post)
04.01.57 - Mark
I've been itching to replace my dead (via my own stupidity) Canon SD300 for a while now. It more than proved its worth but I'm only now starting to get the cash to replace it. What I'm finding however is there isn't a camera out there that matches the feature set I want. The following is a lot of thinking out load. The meat of the post is in the last paragraph or two.
- Size Matters. I'm looking for a small camera. Preferably both size and weight. As much as I love the versatility of SLRs, I'm looking for a point and shoot camera I can keep on me at all times. The SD300 is hard to beat in this field, I usually had it in a pocket or, for longer shooting excursions, a case with a belt loop that held the camera plus extra memory and batteries. The newer SDx00 are nice, but they still have some of the shortcomings I'd like to avoid
- Image Quality. It's not hard to find a 5MP+ camera, but its harder to find one that actually takes a good picture. The SD300 had a fairly good image quality, and offered plenty of image controls. The only downfall really was that it was easy to get motion blur due to the camera's weight. Newer point and shoots are starting to offer image stabilization, but I'm relying on Flickr's Camera Finder to see how image quality stacks up.
- Build quality. I try to take care of my cameras, but they suffer their share of abuse. With few exceptions I don't trust plastic electronics. They don't feel solid and are easier to break. The sd300 was mostly metal and its overall build quality was excellent. I used it for a good deal of Cameratossing in addition to regular day to day abuse and it held together. It only died after accidental exposure to a spin cycle in the washing machine.
- Optical zoom. Digital zoom is evil. The SD300 had a digital zoom in addition to a 3x optical zoom, but that was disabled within an hour of getting my hands on it.
- Manual controls. I may be shotting for a point and shoot, but I need to be able to take over the controls on the camera to get the shots I want.
- Low price. Everything else on this list so far has been screaming the opposite, but I need a camera that doesn't wipe out the bank account. I'm aiming for $250ish, give or take some if I need to get new accessories.
Wants (where things get complicated)
- Video. I want a decent video function. I shot some great video with the SD300. Ideally this means 640x480 at 15fps or better with no length cap.
- SD cards. I've already invested in a couple of 512MB SD cards, I'd like to be able to keep using them. Alternatively, I'll settle for Compact Flash cards. CF cards are cheap enough to buy on their own, and there is such a thing as an SD to CF converter. Mainly I want to avoid anything that uses a weird format, like xD or Sony Memory Sticks
- RAW file format. This is more common on DSLRs but there are some compact digitals that support RAW files. I don't have a problem with high quality JPEGs, but higher quality RAW files would be nice.
- Timelapse shooting. I've always wanted to play with time lapse photography. I've done it manually, but I'd like to have the function built in.
- Image stabilization. I mentioned this with image quality, and its a feature I'd like, especially on a smaller camera. I've got a fairly stable hand, but small light wight cameras take in a lot more motion then you expect or want. Good for camera tossing, but bad for snapshots.
- Wideangle (16:9) shooting. There are a few cameras out there that take wideangle photos, some even take that into movie modes. I haven't really seen it in photography, but it makes sense for the same reasons it does in film. It reproduces images closer to how we actually see the world.
What am I looking at. I'm really partial to Canons, not just because of the SD300, but also because I've never been disappointed in their products. I'm looking at the newer Digital ELPH cameras which are decedents of the SD300. That should be fairly obvious. The SD700 and SD800 are both tempting. They have image stabilization, and all of my accessories will work perfectly with the SD800 AFAICT, but they're currently a bit beyond what I'd like to pay and lack some of my wants. The SD800 also lacks some of the manual controls I need.
Other Canon's I'm looking at are the A710, which is essentially the SD800, plumped up on AA batteries and given the option of conversion lenses. The Canon s80 and S70 are tempting, but they've got several strikes against them for reasons not on the list. The s70 does nearly everything I want, except video - which has a 30 second max, and can be purchased for under $300 is also 2 and a half years old. The S80 which fixes video (but drops RAW) is a year older and pushed my budget.
The Panasonic DMC-LX2 and its predecessor the LX1 have a damned near perfect feature set, only lacking of timelapse photography. The downside is that there are pretty strong arguments against their image quality. Watercolors are frequently mentioned in reviews, but shooting in RAW supposedly helps - some. The big downside is the price, which is well above my price range. The LX1 might be affordable off eBay, but it would be pushing it and I'm not fond of buying a used camera.
I'm likely missing a few potential options. For one thing I want to look at more of the Panasonics. I also find myself drifting away from the ultracompacts (like the Canon SDx00's) and more towards the regular compacts like the Canon A710 and the Panasonics. Fortunately I don't need it tomorrow, I've got a couple months to shop before I'd like to have a good camera in my hands, hopefully some prices will drop, deals will show up, and I'll have time to better refine my need/want list as well as compare image quality on flickr.
What bugs me is that camera shopping today feels a lot like computer shopping a few years ago. There's a big emphasis on meaningless numbers rather than on anything useful. When there's a shortcoming in the camera the response is to throw more pixels at the problem, which is often makes the problem worse. They're also taking away features, not adding them. Few of the compacts and none of the ultra-compacts I've looked at have RAW support, things like manual control and interesting features like time lapse photography are stripped away or avoided when all it would take is a bit of software that clearly exists.
Digital Camera Resource Page
Digital Photography Review
Flickr Camera Finder