4.19.2008

Camera Upgrade

My dear little camera, which replaced the camerasaur, was bought (according to my blog) at the end of July 2004. The little Canon Powershot A75 has served me well over the years and when I had to buy a camera for my project at work, I bought an updated version, the Powershot A560 or A570, can't remember which. However, the A75 has been showing its age. The display will sometimes fritz out, and during the Vegas trip, the toggle button that switches between taking and viewing photos fell off. I can still toggle using a pointy implement, such as a pencil, but it's inconvenient, to say the least.
So, with the big India trip coming up, I'm thinking it's time to buy a new camera. I really like the Canon A series cameras, for one main reason -- they are automatic, but have the capability to switch to a variety of manual settings. As a person who learned to take pictures with a film camera with f-stops and film speeds, I like that a lot. I don't use it often, but it's something that's important to me. Also, they have a viewfinder -- critical for sunny days when you can't see jack on the screen, or the screen craps out. So, having used two different Canon A series, I know my way around the settings pretty comfortably.
With all this in mind, I went on to cnet.com to see what the reviews say about the latest models. I did a comparison style search and settled on these three models, all very similar, with small variations.
The A720 looks like a great baseline camera. It only uses two AA batteries (being in a foreign country, I'm wary of electrical outlets/appliances, so the regular batteries sound great), so it only weighs 8.6 oz. The photo size is 8 megapixels and the zoom is x6, both decent quality features.
The A650 is more expensive, but has 12 megapixel photos and a swivel screen. It's also heavier, 13.6 oz., possibly because it uses 4 AA batteries. Processing speed is also slower.
The "dark horse" in the group is the G9, an "enthusiast" camera that is still more expensive. It's billed as being a good step down from the dSLR cameras, so they're obviously targeting the photographer that takes his/her photography seriously. If I had to have 12 megapixels, this seems like a good alternative to the A650, as it is extremely durable, has better flexibility in the features, and is generally better reviewed than the A650. The settings, however, are different than I'm used to, and have a "retro" bent to them that I'm sure is aimed at making the more traditional photographer feel more at home. Despite having a traditional background, I have been using the A series settings for 4 years now and am wary of change. Also, the G9 has a rechargeable battery.

The only thing that's really keeping me from deciding on the A720 is the photo size. Is 12 megapixels that much better than 8? Worth the extra $100 or so? Worth the heavier body and increased battery needs? If I were to take a really great photo in India and want to blow it up and hang it on the wall, what does 8 and 12 megapixels really mean?

Any advice you all have would be greatly appreciated.

10 comments:

Jeri said...

My son's Canon S3 has the swivel screen and, while it takes fabulous pictures, I don't like the screen. It seems like an easy point of failure, and the LCD picture is small and pixely.

Good luck camera shopping!

vince said...

I also learned to take pictures with film, and did wedding photography professionally for a number of years as a side business.

For most people under most circumstances, the difference in megapixels is of little consequence. For a while now camera vendors have been harping on the more-megapixels-are-better myth. If your comparing with a camera as old as yours, there's some truth to that.

However, much of the quality improvements in digital cameras have come because of things like better optics. The quality and size of the sensor inside the camera has improved as well, and in general, a larger sensor will result in a higher quality image, although it makes the camera heavier and requires more power.

Compact, in-the-pocket cameras have smaller sensors, and thus will produce poorer images even with increased pixel counts. Digital SLR cameras are bigger in part because of the need for bigger and changable lenses, but the other reason is much larger and better sensors.

Cameras with higher pixel counts have drawbacks. In general, cameras with higher pixel counts are slower to start, and they write files to disk more slowly than similarly priced cameras with lower pixel counts. More megapixels on a sensor of the same size also means smaller pixels, less light falling on each pixel and so worse performance in low-light conditions (more noise in ISO 1600 and 3200 modes).

You want a camera that gives you the fastest possible boot-up time and auto-focus, and minimum shutter lag (the amount of time between button press and shutter opening). You also want quality optics and a quality sensor.

More megapixels are useful (somewhat) if you're making posters or larger printed material from the image and people will view them close-up. Otherwise buy based on optical quality, speed,

By the way, digital zoom and digital image stabilization is crap, as almost any camera expert will tell you. Optical zoom and optical image stabilization is far superior, and that's what you want. You will, however, pay more for those options.

The best pictures come with experience. Despite all the technology, most picture quality has to do with the phorographer andnot the camera. Fully understanding the camera, lighting, focus, timing - these are the things that make the best photos, and they all have to do with the photographer.

Unless you need to take pictures that will be printed poster-size or larger, or need to shoot at very high ISO, the PowerShot A720 will do you fine. I use the PowerShot A520, which I love. It has a smaller sensor, but I use the camera primarily for web and brochure photography where I normally can control the lighting, and produces great pictures for my needs.

It also is a great camera for the personal photography I do, such as on vacation and of family and friends.

Hope this helps.

vince said...

Preview before publishing.

More megapixels are useful (somewhat) if you're making posters or larger printed material from the image and people will view them close-up. Otherwise buy based on optical quality, speed,

Otherwise buy based on optical quality, speed, autofocus, and what advanced functions you need.

MWT said...

I have a Canon Powershot A400. Seems to work well enough, though the Minolta I had just before this seemed to do a better job of sharp focus and finding what I actually wanted to take a picture of.

The main thing I miss from my Nikon 5005 (a film camera; still have it but it's really heavy in comparison) is manual focus. All the other things - fstop, light meter, film speed, etc. - I'm perfectly happy to let the camera figure out.

I've also found that not having true SLR doesn't bother me as much anymore either. Mostly what I do with my camera is "raw shots." Then when I get to the computer, I crop it to the composition I actually want.

Anne C. said...

Excellent advice, guys. (Especially, Vince! Thank you, that was exactly what I needed!)

Jeri, I have thought exactly the same thing about the swivel screen. Thanks for reminding me.

MWT, one or more of the cameras I listed here (definitely the G9, not sure about the other two) had a manual focus feature, for those times the automatic focus just doesn't get what you want. I'm not sure how well or easily it works, but it is available.
I most often play with the other settings when I don't want to use the flash, and need the extra control.

Michelle K said...

Sorry, I'm a point and click kinda girl.

I take pictures and learn what works and what doesn't, and assume that since even fools get lucky, if I take enough pictures I'll occasionally get something really good.

But all those fancy schmancy things? Beyond me. I just take more of a picture than I need, take several shots, and then clean it up in a photo editing program.

That said, I do like my old cannon, and in some instances I think it takes better pictures than my new HP. (Both were given to me as gifts.)

But enjoy getting your new toy! And enjoy playing with it to try everything out before you leave for vacation!

brenda013 said...

I was kind of disappointed that your linked word "camerasaur" didn't take me to a picture of this famous camera. :-(

Nathan said...

I have an 8meg Olympus. Although I shoot a ton for work, I'm about as far as you can get from being a professional photographer...especially with digital.

I almost always have my camera dumbed down and I can't remember the last time I shot anything at a full 8megs.

Besides not needing it for the final product, boy do they fill up a card fast.

Anne C. said...

Brenda - I thought I had one on the blog, but couldn't find it. It would have been taken when I got my current camera, which predates this computer. So, no picture on the computer. I could search in my backup disks (CDs and zip disks), but I found something better. I wondered what I had done with the camerasaur, so I opened two desk drawers, and in the second, wrapped up in its case, was the beast itself. Damn, I had forgotten how big it is. What I'll do is take a picture of it next to its decendents when I get the new one, OK? :)

Nathan - good point about the storage space on the card.

Tom said...

My 7.2 megapixel Sony gives me all the picture I need. I usually end up reducing to 1/25 of the original size for web posting. But that also means I can crop a portion 1/25th of the original, and still end up with the same resolution as I would have after reduction.

I think I understood that a 7.2 megapixel shot had enough spatial resolution to be able to be printed at 8"x10" without visible pixelation. I've done 5"x7" prints that you can't tell are digital without a magnifier.

I never use the digital zoon feature. It's just using multiple pixels for a single pixel, so it doesn't increase the resolution at all, it decreases it. I can get the same effect by croping the original, and still have enough overlap to change the framing.