Friday, September 26, 2008

Journey of a New Camera Purchase

I've been shopping around for a new digital camera and learned quite a bit in the process. My little Samsung NV15 is sleek, chic, and tiny, but after fiddling with and using only the manual settings, I have found that I still don't have enough freedom.

Previously, higher end cameras that had impressed me were the Panasonic Lumix LX2 ($300-400) and the Ricoh Caplio GX100 ($400-500). They both are known for their wide angle lenses (28mm) and have around 10 MP. The Lumix is a cheaper version of the Leica D-Lux 3 ($800? $1200?), so it sports a Leica lens. Reviews of both are generally quite positive, stating them as all-around good cameras at that price range. especially for the singular Ricoh. Plus, both have deliciously classy all-black bodies. My photography-inclined friends Justin and Gideon own these cameras, respectively, and they love them.

Then, I thought, if I'm looking for a camera in that range, why not up the quality to that of an SLR? Cause point-and-shoot digital cameras will never compare. SLR camera buffs are everywhere and mostly annoying, but hey, it's silly to stay away from a hobby because it's too popular or ubiquitous. That'd be great if more people learned how to take better pictures. I toyed with the idea of getting an SLR (Canon Rebel XSi full kit for ~$400!! It won an entry-SLR Gizmodo comp, and is an improvement over the XTi.) for a day or two, but decided that it's so much bulk. And not to mention the added price of getting lenses and accessories. I'd immediately look into a wide angle lens and perhaps a very fast lens - $hundreds.)

During a Craigslist search, I was distracted for a moment by how cool old rangefinders look, and made the impulse purchase of a Canon QL19. QL17's are the top of the line and are available in a very rare all-black body. Dazed from too many Flickr camera finder visits and the growing allure of film made me confident that I could master using completely manual settings with enough time. After buying a few rolls of black and white Tri-X film and a special battery, I come to find out that the shutter doesn't work. Big disappointment.. I'm gonna stay away from film for a while.

Back to 2008. The new Sigma DP1 has recently caught my interest, as it is hyped for being the first digicam with a sensor size that is close to that of an SLR (APS). I'd previously only heard of it as a lens manufacturer. The photo quality is excellent, as it is equipped with a revolutionary Foveon sensor. Technically, the sensor is only 4.6 MP, but with the new sensor technology, the translates closer to 14 MP. And the body is also a no-frills, sexy all-black. But with a price range of $600-$800, it's definitely out of my economic league.

So, with the Samsung still in my possession, I finally thought about what kind of photos I like to be shooting. About half of my photos I take in low-light settings, and the quality is so-so. Anything about 100 ISO is pretty noisy/ugly on my camera, and even with the longer shutter speeds, I can't escape blurriness because most of my subjects are awake people. So even with a tripod (blech!), my preferred method of always using a low aperture will not do the trick. There is no good way to handle this issue in Photoshop, unless I want to manipulate them to look crappier/more artsy. The photos I take in sunlight turn out pretty well, and I tweak them in Photoshop.

Instead of getting an all-around good camera by paying more money, which is easiest, I did more research into this. Turns out the aforementioned Lumix and Ricoh fail miserably in low-light settings (according to dpreview). And that the Fuji Finepix F-series are renowned for their performance in low-light settings. They range $200-300 and have rather unspiring silver bodies that don't stand out against all other digicams. That's why I've previously ignored them. But acording to Wikipedia, the f30fd/f31fd, which came out at the end of digicam dark ages (2006) takes better photos at high ISO settings than the fancy-pants Sigma DP1! And better than the Lumix LX2! And get this, even better than the new Lumix LX3 ($400-$500)! I'm floored. The Finepix f100fd, which came out at the beginning of the year, boasts a wide angle lens (wooh!) and an insane max ISO of 12800! This and the latest, f60fd, both boast 12 MP, which, according to sources below, isn't an awesome thing. Not sure how I feel about that, but this is the series I'm looking at now.

One bit of important info I picked up along the way:

A higher megapixel count does not correspond to increase in photo quality!
In fact, they may decrease quality. It's a big fat myth! To get your monies! To see a significant improvement, one needs to quadruple the number of megapixels! If you are not blowing up and printing your pictures, a lower MP count is fine. Or precisely 6, as this site explains. NYT tests the myth too. What matters more is sensor size. This is why SLRs take the highest quality photos (in regards to digital).

And lastly, it's not the camera!


Edit 9/29:

Perhaps I should be patient and hold off until the end of the year, as Fuji has announced a new sensor that will beat out the previously heralded Super CCD- the Super CCD EXR! Rock! Can't wait to see how high the ISOs will go!

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