Saturday, April 23, 2005

Digital Cameras

I've been pining for a new digital camera lately. Our current camera (a Sony DSC-P71) is getting to be a number of years old, and while it still works ok, it has some issues. As was common in cameras of that era, it takes extremely nice pictures in scenes with lots of ambient light (i.e. outside in the sun), but in low-light scenes (i.e. inside) it often doesn't take particularly nice pictures.

The trouble is (besides, of course, the expense of buying a new camera) that I am torn over what kind of camera to get.

On one hand, I would love to have a Digital SLR camera like a Canon Digital Rebel/Rebel XT, a Nikon D70s, or maybe if cost was no object a Canon EOS 20D. I have no doubt that with some practice and experimentation, these cameras would let me take the nicest pictures in pretty much any situation. Especially with special lens and/or an external flash attachment.

But there are some disadvantages to SLRs too.

For one thing, they can be relatively complex when in 'full manual' mode. While I'm sure I could learn how to use it, the camera isn't as useful if only I can use it or if there is a big learning curve to be able to take good pictures with it. Most digital SLRs have automatic modes, but to really take advantage of their features I think you probably have to use manual settings.

The bigger problem that I can see is simply the size of an SLR camera. They have big bodies, large lens, and are just generally bulky. I don't particularly like carrying around a camera on a strap if I am out somewhere with other people (I don't know why, it's just one of those things). I would much rather slip the camera into my pocket and just take it out when I see something I want to take a picture of. Our current camera just barely fits in my pocket, so it works OK for this. No SLR is going to fit in my pocket, so I am afraid that would make me reluctant to use it. It doesn't do much good to buy an expensive new camera if I end up using the old one all the time because I don't want to hassle with the bulkier camera.

Finally, digital SLRs are expensive. They start around the $800 - $1,000 range or even the $2,000 - $2,500 range for the 20D. That's a lot of money to spend on a camera.

So it seems like SLRs aren't the way to go. But Point-and-Shoot cameras aren't necessarily a slam dunk either.

For one thing, the 'better' ones, with more megapixels then our current camera, better automatic focusing, better low-light performance, faster cycle times, etc, are not exactly cheap. Not exactly SLR expensive, but still $300 - $400. And that is a lot of money to spend on something that still might not take all the kinds of pictures I want.

Another problem is size. Some of the best Point-and-Shoot cameras are pretty big, nearly SLR size. That defeats one of the primary benefits I am looking for. The smallest Point-and-Shoot cameras don't necessarily have the best performance, some don't have optical viewfinders (and so can have shakey-cam problems, or battery problems resulting from the LCD being on all the time), and others just don't have all the options I would be looking for.

The ideal solution would be to have camera phones progress to the point where they could replace a high-end 5M Point-and-Shoot camera, and I could just get an SLR for times when I am willing to deal with the larger size camera to have more control over the pictures.

Until that day, I'll probably get something like a Sony DSC-P200.

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