You can go about buying a new camera in a number of diffrent ways – from just picking what the person in the shop shows you or you can try and find out as much as posible beforehand, make lists and then try to make an informed decission. I don´t have any facts showing that the last way gives a more satisfied owner – but I like to find out things and brood on the decission for some time – I actually think it is great fun! This is the story of how I went about it. Maby this can inspire someone else out there to also try something fun!
First I started out by reading lots about the current crop of cameras on the web in places like www.dpreview.com and then I mostly used Google and Bing to find info on lots of different sites.
Then knowing what features the new cameras was offering – this autum – I tried to write down the things that mattered most to me! (Camera wise that is! 😉 ) Buying a recently released camera means that there are few or no reviews to help you with the selection. Many cameras offer very similar features making it difficult to differentiate between them.
It would have to have a sensible pixel count. Preferably not much over 10 Mpix. This because I do like to use available light if at all possible. The latest new feature is back illuminated sensors so that would also be a bonus for available light photography – but not really knowing how much of a difference it would have I do not put such a weight on that feature.
I like wide angle shots so it would have to be at least 28 mm on the wide side – preferably 24 mm.
I also liked the lens to be reasonably fast having a wide angle f-stop of at at least 2.8 – but better the more light it let through!
I decided that the zoom range was not that important so I settled for a moderate minimum of at least 5 times zoom.
As I like to get really close to things and takes lots of pictures of flowers and other small things the “macro” distance had to be in the order of a few centimeters (an inch or two).
Having said that I prefer available light my requirements of the flash is not so high. One thing that matters though is being able to use the flash close to the motive. I did find out that not many cameras can use the flash at their closest focusing distance – a pity I think – but one that I have to accept. Not that easy to find out about this fact for the cameras on my shortlist.
Here I must point out that I think the term “shutter speed” is not such a good word – you are not interested in the speed of the shutter itself (which probably stays the same all the time) – you are more interested in the time which it is open … so I will be using “shutter time”.
The shortest shutter time I decided was almost uninteresting due to the fact that all cameras have 1/1500 – 1/2000 sec. Again my interest in available light affects the requirement. Night photography requires looong shutter times so being at all able to set long times (at least 10-15 sec) was important – and that the camera automatically could handle times of at least 1 second – preferably longer – for convenience.
Here I wanted to have automatic ISO-setting (which almost all cameras feature) and a wide range – from ISO 100 to around ISO 3200. Preferably also some indication what ISO-value the camera chose. Yes I know that ISO over 400 starts to show noise and 3200 has LOTS of noise – especially with a small sensor. Still it is nice to be able to actually take a picture – even if it is very noisy! Beeing able to set the maximum ISO-value would be a bonus!
The Panorama Support
This is a favorite of mine – panorama pictures. How this is implemented is important to me. A lot of the cameras has what is called “sweep panorama” in which you just sweep your camera slowly across the scene and the camera will create the wide (or high) picture automatically. What is bothering me a little is the fact that this does not seem (according to the descriptions I have found) to use the full resolution of the cameras. That would mean that it would be of little use to me. At least now, beforehand, I would say that I prefer to stitch together the fullsize pictures with Microsofts eminent FREE panorama stitch software “ICE” – try it you will like it! Easy to use and produces really GREAT results! Evens out exposure and tries really hard to make the seams invisible. The only drawback I have seen is that if it can not automatically figure out how the pictures should be stitched together you can not help it by selecting similar points in both pictures. (I have used it a lot and only had a handfull of properly taken panorama series that it could not stitch.) It handles hundreds of pictures and Gigapixels!
My previous compact camera (and my current DSLR Canon EOS 550D – which has an absolutely gorgeous display) both had/has 3″ displays. I do NOT want a widescreen display that normally would show pictures with space at the sides – wasting a lot of the screen pixels. This requirement might change in the future – I guess – but for now it is still valid for me so the screen will have to be at least 3″ – and filling out the screen with the pictures! Having being spoilt by the Canon EOS 550D display – and actually seeing that it helps in getting better pictures by showing me a lot better the “final” image – I would like to have a screen with quite a bit more than the standard just over 200 000 pixels. I have not yet seen the advantage in touchscreen – I want to be able to adjust the settings with just the fingers on buttons that I have learnt to find and use. But this might also change in the future!
The Movie Mode
Again having being spoilt by the Canon EOS 550D – and its superior full HD 1920×1080 movie mode I don´t really want to go with anything but full HD! I do realize that I can not demand the same quality as the HD movies from the 550D with its big sensor!
Beeing able to zoom and autofocus during filming makes the compact camera double as a (half)decent movie camera so that would be handy – but not absolutely required! Stereo sound would also be a bonus.
Summarizing my compact camera requirements:
- Sensor – not too much over 10 MPix, back lit
- Lens – 24 mm, 5x zoom, bigger then f 1:2.8, min focus 5 cm
- Flash – being able to use it really close
- Shutter – long times (> 10 sec manually and >1 sec automatically)
- ISO – wide range 100-3200
- Panorama support – for full size pictures where all pixels are used
- Screen – 3″ or bigger – NOT wide screen and > 200 000 pixels
- Movie Mode – full HD 1920×1080 with autofocus and zoom during filming is a bonus
The MOST SCARY of all of this is that I will not know how well the camera handles and how user friendly it is or how good photos it takes and that I will not be able to figure out just from the specifications…
Tomorrow I will discuss my shortlist of cameras that I considered.