My 04/20/08 Missoulian column
When shopping for a digital camera, it’s easy to become overwhelmed with all the information and choices available – from friends, blogs, reviews and offerings at online and big-box stores – for deciding between what you want and what you really need or can afford.
Take comfort in the fact that compromise occurs in everything else in the world, too. The computer-world saying that you can’t be too thin, have too much money or a fast enough hard drive, also applies to owning the fanciest digital camera.
I wanted a Pentax digital single-lens reflex body in order to be able to use my old film camera lenses, but those lenses, though fast, aren’t autofocus. They went with my first film camera – a Pentax K1000 bought in 1989, a fully manual 35 mm warhorse. These days, Pentax makes a nice DSLR – the K100D, the model number perhaps geared to bring back memories of the good old days – but at around $700 for the body and a new autofocus f/1.4 50 mm, I’ll have to wait for Santa Claus.
After looking around a lot, I finally got tired of trying to take into account every digital camera feature and read every review. But I did want to stick with a brand that was familiar in the camera world, such as Nikon, Pentax of Canon. (In looking for a digital camera, you’ll also find a lot of traditional electronics brands – Panasonic, Sony and others – as well as some new ones.)
I ended up buying a Canon Powershot SX100IS point-and-shoot. It seems to be a good fair to middling ground between the sometimes limited capabilities of inexpensive point-and-shoots and full-fledged DSLRs. (We can argue for hours about that, but I won’t.) It cost right around $200, which isn’t bad. The SX100IS seems to already have been superseded by other Canon models, but what high-tech thing isn’t out of date in a few months?
The SX100IS is not too small – and thus, for me, not easily dropped – with a bump on the right side for a handhold; the screen is bright; the menus are easy to navigate and dismiss themselves quickly; it uses AA batteries instead of expensive lithium types; and it comes with a manual the size of a small paperback and a CD of software. (And as with any high-tech toy, the Canon packaging is as much of a marvel as the camera itself; not quite on the scale of Apple Inc.’s, but close.)
The SX100IS is at the top end of the discussion about how much image resolution one really needs – it’s 8 megapixels – but that’s OK. The memory card that came with it was nearly useless at 16 megabytes, so I also bought a 2-gigabyte card. In hindsight, that might be overkill, but the cards are cheap and it came with a tiny card reader as well.
So how is the camera to use? Well, I had to sit on the sofa for a little while and figure it out.
I once knew my 35 mm cameras well enough to change film while walking backward, but this a new learning experience. There are too many features to cover in this column, so I’ll hit the high points.
There are some things I have to get used to with the SX100IS: The 10X zoom seems more than I need. I learned photography with fixed lenses, and pretty much memorized the field of view of those and would automatically move to frame a shot within a 28-mm wide angle, a 50-mm and a 135-mm portrait lens. But these days, anything more than simple point-and-shoot will have a zoom lens.
The lag time – the time between pictures when the image is being stored in memory – is fairly low, and it will shoot a few frames a second in automatic mode if I want, the same as a motor-driven 35-mm camera. The SX100IS also makes an electronic “cha-chink” sound when it takes a photo, which I’ll soon turn off in the settings section.
I don’t need the video capability or to be able print directly from the camera. I do like being able to plug the SX100IS into my MacBook via USB cable to transfer files. I don’t need so many automatic exposure settings on the dial for redeye-less portraits and pet photos. But the “landscape” mode forces a small aperture, which I like for panoramas. It also can be set for shutter or aperture priority, or fully manual. (Concepts such as aperture and shutter speed still matter with digital, though they also may be words that fall by the wayside in the future.)
The big difference with digital and the SX100IS is learning how to get into different habits and figure out what features I really use and what’s too much trouble. Some things don’t change: I still need lens-cleaning tissues and fluid and I found an old camera case in my junk box that fits just right. (I do still need to buy a AA battery charger.) But now I don’t have to think about keeping film away from high heat in the truck or a backpack on a summer day, and the memory card will hold many more photos than a bunch of rolls of film. But. taking pictures is easy again.