Buying my new digital camera

Or, why it seems like I love flickr more than this blog lately

New camera obsessiveness and dental woes have conspired to quiet this blog, but I think I’m back now. I figured since I spent so much time googling around and debating camera choices, I’d make future searchers’ lives a little bit easier by describing my decision and purchase process.

First I decided it was new camera time

I love my digital elph, a good solid point-and-shoot four megapixel camera that is three years old. But Lisa borrowed it when she visited Japan last fall, came home, and decided she’d like for it to be her camera — and asked me if maybe, didn’t I want a new one?

Who could resist an offer like that? Besides, now that you mention it, the 3x zoom was starting to feel contraining, and maybe I was ready to try new things and learn a bit more about the mysteries of “manual mode.”

Then I did the info geek thing

I did research on cameras, then more research on cameras. The dpreview.com site was probably the best one I found, but I looked at lots of others, including flickr groups for specific cameras. I searched specifically for problems, too. Even more fun was the time I spent browsing photographs on flickr and Utata checking out what kind of camera was used for shots I liked.

I came up with a list of what was important to me

I thought about what kind of camera equipment I would need to try and take the kind of pictures I wanted. In other words, it didn’t matter to me if Camera X was supposedly the best camera in the entire world if it didn’t do this one thing that I really cared about. What was important to me and and what wasn’t:

  • Megapixel count wasn’t that important. I had ordered prints of shots with my 4mp elph at 11×14 that I was quite happy with, so 6, 8, or 10 megapixels wasn’t going to matter.
  • Macro mattered. The elph did a pretty good job with extreme closeup shots, and I like taking them, so I was looking for more oomph with the extra-close up.
  • Zoom mattered, for those times when I couldn’t get a little closer with feet. That meant image stabilization mattered, because I know I’m not going to lug my tripod everywhere I go.
  • I wanted to push myself to learn more — filters and manual mode are something I’d never used, and wanted to try.
  • RAW format wasn’t that important to me. I wasn’t sure the extra post-processing time and memory-card hogging would be worth it. I didn’t have it, and wasn’t missing it.
  • I had a pretty limited budget. High-end DSLRs were out, as just the body of those cameras was more than I wanted to spend on everything (extra batteries, memory cards, filters, camera bag, and camera strap) included. I was looking for the most camera suited to my purposes for the minimum expense.

All this narrowed my choices to the Canon S3 IS (not a DSLR, but DSLR-like), and two entry-level DSLRs, the Canon’s Digital Rebel and Nikon’s D50. I went to brick and mortar camera stores for a closer look, and to see how they felt.

Then I made my final decision

I considered what each camera could do, and how that lined up with what I cared about doing. Then I bought the S3, and so far I am very happy with it. I decided not to go the DSLR route yet because:

  • Having never used an electronic viewfinder or optical viewfinder, I couldn’t see paying more for the higher quality of optical. I was so used to my trusty elph and its tiny LCD screen, I wasn’t sure I would use anything but the LCD screen anway. The S3’s flip and twist out screen (meaning it could face in to the camera back for extra protection when lugging it around) were a big plus for me. [I am surprised to find myself using the viewfinder now, however. It is easier to see with in very bright sunlight.]
  • Being able to get the macro shots I wanted and have more zoom (without giving up everything in between) would mean buying at least two, if not three lenses for a DSLR. I wasn’t sure I’d feel like carrying around and switching out lenses, having never used a film 35mm camera. You can get adaptors for the S3 to use filters and a couple of different lenses (without exposing delicate camera innards) so I decided to get my feet wet this way. It felt less risky.
  • The DSLRs were just too expensive. I got the Canon S3, adaptors with UV and polarizing filters, battery recharger and two sets of batteries, a neoprene neck strap, small bag, and two 1 gig memory cards for roughly what I’d have to pay for the entry-level DSLR body (maybe with the kit lens).

Who I trusted with my credit card info

I bought the elph from Newegg.com, and that was a good experience. After doing price-checking online, I realized they were pretty much the lowest price (other than those freaky too-good-to-be-true offers from scammers). I bought the camera and two 1 gig SanDisk Ultra II SD cards from them. The purchase went smoothly, everything shipped when it was supposed to, and arrived at my office earlier than expected.

Lensmateonline is the place to go for Canon powershot camera accessories — at least, that is what nearly every forum poster and review writer said. So I checked them out, and sure enough they have a very easy to understand website. I didn’t spring for the infrared filter yet, but I think I will. The transaction went smoothly, and everything showed up in a small box via the post office, and worked with my camera just like they said it would.

Next?

The S3 cost about the same as the elph did three years ago, so it is my not-so-secret hope that in three years, the entry-level DSLRs will cost what the S3 did today. And then, maybe, Lisa will borrow the S3 and I’ll start feeling a wee bit constrained by it and thinking about how I’m ready to learn something new…

Making an Old Camera Talk

I have a camera in my possession now that was first purchased over thirty years ago. On November 28, 1973 to be exact.

I know this because the original owner filled out the registration card, and no doubt tore off and mailed in the other half. They kept the maps to the nine Polaroid Service Centers then in existence. They kept the laminated card demonstrating how to open, close, and otherwise operate the camera. They kept the SX-70 operating manual. All in the original box, with the original form-fitting styrofoam packing.

You gotta appreciate that sort of obsessiveness. You know they must’ve taken exquisite care of the camera.

So by way of an estate sale and then by eBay, via UPS from Pittsburgh, the camera now belongs to me. I wonder where it has been — it was probably a family camera at some point, used for taking pictures on vacations — and what it was used to see.

I bought it because I want to learn how to do time-zero film manipulation, or how to distort what you see in ways to make it look more like what you can see.

Also, I am into instant visual gratification when it comes to taking pictures. I can download my digital images and see how they look on a larger screen right away; with a Polaroid camera I will have the film developing literally in my hands.

Digital Unhappiness

Since I personally find this too depressing to talk about, I’ll just quote. I’ve bolded the relevant bits:

This limited warranty covers all defects encountered in normal use of the PowerShot Digital Camera, and does not apply in the following cases:

Loss of or damage to the PowerShot Digital Camera due to abuse, mishandling, improper packaging by you, alteration, accident, electrical current fluctuations, failure to follow operating, maintenance or environmental instructions prescribed in Canon U.S.A.’s or Canon Canada’s user’s manual or services performed by someone other than Canon U.S.A. or Canon Canada, or an authorized PowerShot Digital Camera service center. Without limiting the foregoing, water damage, sand/corrosion damage, battery leakage, dropping the camera, scratches, abrasions or damage to the body, lenses or LCD display or damage to the connectors or cables, AC adapter or CompactFlash memory card, will be presumed to have resulted from misuse, abuse or failure to operate the PowerShot Digital Camera as set forth in the operating instructions.

I can ship Canon the camera, and they can probably repair it. Minimum charge is $150 to fix anything; they’ll send me a quote before they work on it. If that is the minimum charge, I have a sneaking suspicion paying to fix it will cost about what a new camera will.

I’m not sure what to do. Send the camera and see what happens? Buy a new one, send the broken one in, and if they can fix it for less than $200, have them fix it then resell it? Obsess over this some more until I grow an ulcer and become totally miserable?

<whine>Part of my brain does recognize what I am about to say is ridiculous, but my camera not working feels like I have mangled and appendage somehow. It just makes me sick to my stomach that it is broken. I just want a working camera again.

I have a tripod, extra battery packs, and I can’t see what I’m taking a picture of if I try. Just hideous, nauseating spider cracks and horribly wrong lines.</whine>