Picture Imperfect

Holiday season approaches and due to the confusion that I call my life it has sneaked up on me this year. I booked a week off months ago and with a week to go I have booked precisely nothing. My plan is to go walking somewhere nice, take some interesting photos and Blog my journey from the comfort of some nice pubs. In order to do this I need a new camera and since I have a reasonable idea of what I want – compact digital with wide angle, image stabilisation, manual override and decent image quality – I foolishly thought I could find a few camera reviews and follow somebody elses advice on what’s hot & what’s not.

Apparently that just isn’t the way things work in camera land. For starters the range of units available is mind boggling. There are a dozen mainstream manufacturers (eg: Canon, Fuji, Sony, Pentax, Olympus, etc) and each manufacturer has a line-up of perhaps 5 to 10 different compact digitals alone at any given time. What’s more there doesn’t seem to be any clear way of differentiating between many of the models and you have to spend an age analysing each of them to work out what the differences in specification are. It is analagous to choosing a family car except that Ford do 5 flavours of Mondeo, etc. I have occupied a whole day just trawling through all the models counting some in and some out.

So why don’t I just follow the advice of some camera reviews? The problem is that they are written by and then discussed by photography nerds (suggestions for nerd terminology welcome) who go into so much detail that they always come to very mixed conclusions. You think they are being positive about a product and then they lay into the rate of frame capture or perceived noise levels at 800 ISO. There also seems to be an awful lot of brand and model sentimentality amongst this community. For instance somebody will criticise the reviewed model as not having as fast a lense as Camera X so I go and google Camera X and find out that it is a 5 year old 1kg digital SLR with a 4MB sensor. (Translation: They are saying that the Ferrari F40 is faster than the mondeo. Yes – but it’s 10 times the price and has no boot).

At one point I thought I had found it – a model that ticked all my boxes and was universally accepted by those better qualified than me to judge. It was only when I checked the dimensions that I realised it was 50% larger than I had in mind. It seems that “compact” can be a relative term. Portability is important to me because I will get an average picture from the average camera I take with me and no picture from the top of the range behemoth that I couldn’t be bothered to log around. Case in point, my old camera was a Pentax Optio S4 that pulled up no trees for performance and had a tiny LCD screen but was exquisitely small and portable so could be taken anywhere.

My next course of action was to ask for advice in a camera shop. First I tried Jessops who must surely know what they are talking about. My concerns about the 12 year old who came to my aid were confirmed when I explained what I was looking for and he showed me first an SLR and then a non-manual, neither of which I had asked to see. I made my excuses (why can’t we just be honest: “That’s not what I asked for. You don’t seem to know what you are doing. Goodbye”) and headed for Jacobs. This was an entirely different experience. The girl behind the counter was clearly a black belt in optics and in no time at all had conjured up an appealing looking Sony. It seemed to tick all the boxes. I made my excuses again (this time it should have been “Thanks for your help. I’m now going to check out your recommendation on google and if you are correct buy it online where it will be cheaper”) and went home to google the model to see whether it was fit for human consumption. Of course it wasn’t. There were aspects about its specification and performance that were deemed to be lacking when compared to the latest generation of models.

AAAARRRRGGGHHHH !!!!!

In the end I slept on it and when I awoke it occurred to me that whatever I chose would be light years ahead of my old Pentax. Maybe I didn’t actually need HD levels of video recording given that (a) I rarely use video and (b) I don’t have an HD TV. So the optics aren’t up to professional standards – I’m not a professional. As for ISO – all cameras suffer from noise the further up the scale you go – just choose your settings carefully and if in doubt duplicate photos using different settings. The most influential factor when it comes to getting great photos is after all what you point the camera at.

I have made my choice. A Fuji F200-EXR should be arriving in the next week ready for its maiden voyage. I just need to get it ordered. Plus a memory card. And a spare battery. Of course I also need to decide where I am going on holiday and actually get something booked. It’s going to be a busy week…

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