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Technology Today – October 2011 Digital Cameras
by Robert Sanborn

Ahh, the joys of shopping for new technology.  I am in the middle of two such research projects; one for a new digital camera, and one for a new Smartphone. This is a triple cursed time for doing this as I wait for the horde of trick-or-treat goblins to appear on my doorstep.  Black Friday is less than a month away now, Christmas is two months away (despite what Cracker Barrel and the other stores may think by having their decorating already done) and worst of all for me, the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas is two and a half months away.  To make it even worse, my wife has decided that I should look at the December 2011 issue of Consumer Reports which is the annual electronics issue that despite all the research that I do, I really haven’t finished it until I look at Consumer Reports.  So, let’s start with the digital camera.

Digital Camera

My current digital camera was considered one of the best superzoom cameras of its day. It is a Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ20 with a then whopping five megapixel images and an incredible 12X optical zoom with image stabilization. It has been an incredible camera and I have the images to prove it having carried it several times to places ranging from Enfield to Jingdezhen.  I loved it, got used to it, learned how things worked, and how to take some wonderful pictures and it was easy but difficult to replace my film cameras with it.  But unfortunately, after long years of service, a couple of hard knocks, and many failed batteries, it is time to replace it.

So, in July, I started to research digital cameras and finally settled on three finalists.  Panasonic’s DMC-FZ100; Canon PowerShot SX30IS, and Sony Cybershot DSC HX100V.  All have some great features, some interesting features, and some nonexistent features.  Doing the research was actually kind of fun as there are a ton of websites to help you and then you finally go to the store to see how the camera feels in your hands. I went to a couple of different stores to look at the cameras and one thing I learned very quickly is that the answers you might get in the stores and the ones you get online don’t often match.  Another is that as you read the glowing reviews, it makes it difficult to choose even after looking at the scoring results from the different websites.  One of the other curses of coming from using a film camera over the years is that you get used to having things like lens filters for dealing with smog in places like Mexico City (or Lost Angeles); a hot shoe for using an external flash to compensate for the pathetic short range of on board flash units, and even a simple thing like a lens hood so that when you have to shoot with the sun facing you, you have some semblance of help in preventing the sun spots from ruining a good image.  The final thing that eventually did in the Canon and Panasonic cameras was the fact that when you look at the reviewer’s comments on the quality of the image from those particular cameras, you will find that they were near the bottom of the ratings.  I had thought that taking a picture ended up being all about the quality of the image.  If all you are interested in is a snapshot of a scene to just say you were there, then any camera will do the job and maybe not as well as some of the new Smartphone’s that are out there now like that Apple iPhone 4S. But that is another issue.

So, the finalist that I came up with was the Sony but while it had a number of really neat things like a monster 30X zoom lens and GPS tagging of your photos; it did not have a hot shoe, filter capability, or lens hood nor could I capture an image in any format other than .jpg.  For many photographers, .jpg is their last choice because of the nature of what jpg does and that is to uncompress and compress the image every time you open it up and save it. Each time you do that, you end up losing some of the pixels in the image because that is how .jpg compression works to give you smaller file sizes.

So, I did nothing and stewed about how unhappy I was with my choices and decided the middle of this month to revisit my research.  The websites I have been using are really full of great information and I am listing a few of them for you here.

And of course, there are more like PC World, Cnet, ZD Net, and others.

One of the first things I do when researching a camera is to see when the camera was introduced and also when it was available on the store shelves as I find that as the manufactures constantly update their offerings, when I went back to review things, low and behold, Panasonic and Canon have upgraded their cameras and what really surprised me that both of them reduced the size of the digital imaging sensors to capture better pictures. Both Canon and Panasonic went from a 14 to 12 megapixel camera and the quality of the images in both improved significantly. Someone was listening.  The Canon PowerShot SX40HS will be available mid-November and the Panasonic DMC-FZ150K probably in December. Both will be over $400. Now to go see how they feel in actual use.

Robert Sanborn



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