mnot’s blog

Design depends largely on constraints.” — Charles Eames

Sunday, 28 December 2003

What I want in a digital camera

Before all of this “Web” stuff came along, I was a photographer; I designed an… unusual university program that had me study fine art photography, photojournalism, aesthetics and the physics of light. After that, I spent a little time doing newspaper and studio work before realising that I wanted to do something else (long story here; buy me a beer).

Since then, I haven’t picked up my traditional cameras (two black Nikon FM2ns with an assortment of fixed-aperture lenses, a Leica IIIc* and an Olympus XA) much, but I did buy a digital camera, a Canon Powershot S100, when we moved back to the states. Now that I’m doing other things, I don’t have the time or space in my house to set up a darkroom and work through all of the chemistry, especially when a really good session will produce hundreds of shots.

The S100 was a really good camera for the time, the first real compact digital camera of any quality (I remember one of my former employers plonking down AU$1,200 for a Casio digital camera that did a massive 320x240!). It’s actually stood up fairly well; besides another megapixel or two, there are only a few areas I’d consider it lacking. They also happen to be what I’m looking for in my next digital camera;

Quick

It has to have as little delay between the button being pressed and taking the photo as possible. On the S100, this is around a second, which pretty much rules it out for spontaneous shots (the best kind).

Interestingly, the newest Canon, the SD10, has a “Quick Shot” mode, which (as far as I can gather) stops down the aperture as far as possible and crosses its fingers that something will be in focus. This apparently gives it a lag of as little as 4/10ths of a second, which would be helpful for some shots.

Fast

The S100’s sensitivity is equivalent to ISO100, which is fine for daylight and horrible for anything else, especially when you consider how bad reciprocity failure is on digital sensors.

I’d like at least ISO400 equivalence, but also the ability to go slower if I want to, for higher quality. Most modern digital cameras will allow this. A lot of the shooting that I used to do was long exposures at night, and I’d like to continue that, but it’s all about shadow detail.

Wide

Almost all consumer-grade (or even “prosumer”) digital cameras max out wide angle-wise at around the equivalent of 35mm (relative to a 35mm SLR). This is fine for everyday shooting, but the most dramatic and interesting shots happen around 24mm-28mm. Yes, it means a bigger front element, but the results are worth it.

This requirement is somewhat in conflict with…

Small

The S100 (and the XA before it) addicted me to compact, take-it-everywhere shooting. I’m no longer willing to take a big bag (or even something that won’t fit comfortably in my pocket) unless I’m going on a dedicated shoot, which isn’t that often at all. The SD10 is once again tempting here, as it’s even smaller that the other S-series Powershots. Of all the criteria, this is probably the most flexible; I want it to be small, but it’s not important that it be absolutely tiny, as long as I can get the shots I want (i.e., I’m not discouraged from taking it with me).

What are the contenders now? Right now, I’m inclined to wait for a few months and see what happens. That said, the SD10 wins on three out of four; unfortunately, being able to take wide shots is critical to me (I’d happily pay $250 more if it could go down to 28mm). The new Leica Digilux 2 is very tempting, but it looks a bit big, and I don’t know how much it costs.

Anything else I should be looking at? Canon has announced** that they’ll be manufacturing a whole slew of new cameras in 2004; I can only hope.


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