Well, now I have restarted my quest for a new digital compact camera. Just eight weeks have passed and features that I considered very exclusive to the Samsung WB2000 that I bought (and, I am sorry to say, returned) have now appeared in many other cameras as well. But still I think that the WB2000 – for some time at least – will be one of the most “value-for-money” cameras – if you can accept its shortcomings! I “fear” that the new camera will be more expensive…
Selecting a camera is really very much down to identifying your requirements – and finding a camera that is an acceptable compromise to you! I have my requirements and you will have to find out what yours are … If you do not know that much about cameras my requirements could be a starting point – but better still would be buying one of the less expensive cameras without thinking too much about it (they are all quite decent) – taking a lot of pictures – and getting to know what your requirements actually are! And THEN buy a camera that corresponds to your requirements! If you are not very picky you might actually find that your first camera is good enough… 😉
I invite you to follow me on my journey towards a new digital compact camera. I will try to explain my choices and I will definitely tell you what I think is important and what I think is not! Trying to see beyond marketing ploys and stressing things that are really useful and important to me (and maybe you) as a photographer!
My requirements are generally that of someone wanting a compact camera to complement their DSLR. In my case it should complement my Canon EOS 550D – when I for some reason do not want to bring it with me but still want to bring a camera. It should give pictures that resemble the ones from the Canon EOS 550D. It should of course be much more compact!
My requirements have not changed that much since I wrote them last. But more features are “standard” on the new cameras. There is now a few more cameras to choose from – it will be exiting to see if any of those will make it into my shortlist.
My slightly updated list of requirements for my new digital compact camera looks as follows:
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, back illuminated sensors is said to 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 heavy weight on that feature. Having tested the Samsung WB2000 I would say that this is not such an important feature – the way a certain manufacturer processes the image (noise reduction, contrast adjustments, white balance, saturation, etc…) seems to matter even more… but having said that I have to add that it is very hard to isolate exactly what improvements stem from the back illuminated sensor…
I do want this feature! A built-in sensor in the camera registers what direction is “up” and embeds this information into the Exif-tags of the picture. This information can then be used both by the camera in rotating the picture correctly for viewing (handy but not critical) and by the software in the computer for permanently rotating the picture. This saves a lot of tedious work for me.
I like wide-angle shots so it would have to be at least 28 mm on the wide side – preferably 24 mm.
I also like the lens to be reasonably fast having a wide-angle f-stop of at around 2.8 – but better the more light it lets through!
I decided that the zoom range was not that important so I settled for a moderate minimum of around 4-5 x 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 (5?) centimeters (an inch or two).
Having said that I prefer available light my requirements of the flash is not so high. I take quite a lot of macro photos so one thing that matters 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 I see the problems – one that I have to accept. Not that easy to find out about this fact for the cameras – it is not always written in their technical specs.
Here I must point out that I think the term “shutter speed” is not so good – 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 want 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 is choosing when in “Auto-ISO” – and being able to set maximum ISO would be a plus. 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!
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 full size pictures with Microsoft’s 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 handful of properly taken panorama series that it could not stitch.) It handles hundreds of pictures and Gigapixels! Having used the “Sweep Panorama” feature on the Samsung WB2000 I now know that this is not good enough for my requirements! Far too few pixels and too many flaws in the created pictures to hit it with me! The “Sweep Panorama” is a really cool thing – but know its limits! I do wish that it worked in FULL resolution! As it is implemented now it will impress people when you look at the picture on the camera display – but when you watch them on a bigger screen you wish that you had taken proper high-resolution pictures and stitched them together in the computer!
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 – but this I can sacrifice if I value other features high enough! 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 low light quality as the HD movies from the 550D with its big sensor! If all else is super with a camera I might lessen my requirements to HD 720 …
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! Thinking about it I feel that focusing is the more important! Stereo sound would also be a bonus.
In the end – this is what counts! This is a very tricky one to find out on the web for new cameras – not easily gathered from the fact sheets – the manufacturers “sample pictures” are usually taken under so ideal circumstances that they give little info on how the camera behaves in everyday life! For new cameras the owners sample pictures (that I really value!) are not a plenty – for the simple fact that the cameras are so new..! Difficult as it may be, my wish is that the pictures should have a similar appearance to the pictures I get from may Canon EOS 550D – in hue, saturation, contrast and exposure. I know that I am talking about a compact vs a DSLR – so I have to be tolerant here…
Summarizing my compact camera requirements:
- Sensor – not too much over 10 MPix, back lit is a bonus
- Orientation sensor – so that I can have the computer rotate the pictures automatically
- Lens – 24-28 mm wide angle, minimum 4-5x zoom, aperture larger than 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, Auto-ISO with setting for highest ISO
- Panorama support – for full size pictures where all pixels are used
- Screen – 3″ or bigger – NOT wide screen and > 200 000 pixels
- Movie Mode – HD 1280×720 minimum – but full HD 1920×1080 with autofocus and zoom during filming is a bonus
- Image quality – similar colour saturation, contrast and hue as Canon EOS
Compared to my earlier list – I have added the above two green requirements and lessened the requirements on full HD movie and length of the zoom.