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November 10, 2008

Contemplating a new Camera

Filed under: Review & Criticism,Thoughts — chuck goolsbee @ 10:44 am

One of my frequent commentators, jculpjr recently asked about what sort of camera gear I use. It was a timely question as I’m seriously considering a new camera. I’d like to throw out a wish list so to speak and hopefully get some feedback that will help me make a choice. Your participation is welcome.

This is the machine (photo from a contemporary review) I’ve been using to capture images since 2002:

It is an Olympus C-5050 zoom. It has been a great camera for me and I still find it useful, however it is getting a tad beat up and it has some weaknesses that I’d like to eliminate with a new machine. However, let me start by telling you what I like about it most, in order of importance:

  • It is small and lightweight.
  • It runs on AA batteries.
  • Did I mention it is small and lightweight?
  • It has fairly easy controls, and a lot of manual settings.
  • It works well on “point & shoot” mode quite well.
  • It shoots VERY well in low-light conditions.
  • It has this nifty flip-out LCD:

You have no idea how handy this is when shooting with the camera at arm’s length, something I do a LOT. It flips both up AND down, meaning I can hold the camera way above my head, or down on the ground an still see the LCD screen.

Some other nice things about it:

  • It has a “movie” mode, so at the flip of a switch it can be a video camera, with sound.
  • It has lens adapters so I can shoot with a wide-angle or a telephoto.
  • It has never given me trouble.

Now, here are the things I hate about it:

  • Whenever I change batteries, the date/time reverts to midnight 01/01/2002. This is annoying especially since all the other settings (flash, drive mode, etc) are saved!
  • It is NOT an SLR. It has a viewfinder, which I adore, as that is how I prefer to shoot, rather than looking at a screen, but that viewfinder does not see what the lens sees. This is fine when working with the built-in lens, but utterly fails when you add a lens adapter. In the latter case the lens almost always blocks the viewfinder. This hurts as I shoot with a very wide angle lens MOST of the time.
  • The tripod mount is off-center from the lens. A design crime of the highest order in a camera!
  • The LCD is small compared to today’s cameras.

So my ideal camera is a Digital SLR, that is small and lightweight with a good, reasonably-sized multi-angle LCD. After that, I’d like it to have great lenses, good controls, and the ability to shoot video & sound. Size is my primary concern though. I used Mark Collien’s Nikon D-something on the GTTSR and it is am amazing camera… great lens(!) and awesome photos but my gawd… it was friggin HUGE! I just don’t want to lug around something that big & heavy.

So I’m all ears if you have some suggestions. I have ZERO brand loyalty, and am open to any and all comers.


  1. I updated my blog at to share some of my shots (and other stuff). That being said, I have brand loyalty to Canon- mostly because my first hand-me-down analog SLR was/is a Canon and I love their ergonomics and lens ranges. I’m just used to Canon and am somewhat heavily invested in their glass. I shoot with a Canon 20d and I love it.

    The problem with DSLRs (for you) is the lack of real-time image viewing in the LCD like most point and shoot cameras offer. I have heard that some recent DSLR offerings offer this feature (sorry don’t remember the exact ones), but I fear this may severely limit your choices if that is a steadfast requirement.

    Leicas are fairly small but obviously pricey. Check out . They truly give excellent advice on purchase options and the site gives you the ability to compare different cameras side by side.

    If I come up with the brand/camera with the real-time LCD, I’ll post it up.

    Comment by jculpjr — November 10, 2008 @ 11:08 am

  2. con’t- here’s the one I have heard about Chuck:

    Comment by jculpjr — November 10, 2008 @ 11:12 am

  3. I use a Canon digital Elph. It has a decent lens, 3x optical zoom (more for digi) and 7mp. It is very light and compact and rarely makes mistakes but it doesn’t have a view finder. Also like most P & S cameras, it can be slow to compute the shot when the subject moves quickly (children, animals, race cars). Overall I’m quite pleased with it but I feel it needs to be complemented with an SLR.

    Comment by Mad Dog — November 10, 2008 @ 11:51 am

  4. Zero brand loyalty, eh? Smallest and lightest pro-quality DSLR of which I’m aware is the Leica M8. Nineteen ounces, 3.2 x 5.5 x 1.5 inches. Not what you’d call cheap, but the cool factor is huge. Plus, you can use all Leica lenses going back to ’54.

    Comment by proscriptus — November 10, 2008 @ 12:03 pm

  5. I should have laid out my budget: Ideally under $500, but willing to go up to $1000 for the perfect camera.

    So David, your $5500 suggestion is a bit out of my league!

    My friend Chuq von Rospach suggested these:

    Comment by chuck goolsbee — November 10, 2008 @ 2:02 pm

  6. If you’re interested, contact and/or google my brother, Doug Wigton, who is:
    -A VERY experienced and dedicatged MacHead, and:
    -someone who was ‘at the creation’ of digital imaging, many years ago. He’s a no BS kinda guy and I’m sure his recommendation would most likely be the cat’s meow!

    Comment by vrooomie — November 10, 2008 @ 2:16 pm

  7. Oops…fergot! Doug is *also* a lifelong, and very experienced, gearhead AND fotog of same.

    Comment by vrooomie — November 10, 2008 @ 2:19 pm

  8. Personally, I prefer Lithium Ion batteries for cameras. The combination of better battery technology and lower consumption makes for much better battery life these days.

    I currently have both a DSLR and compact camera that both use LiOn batteries. My shooting style is a bit battery heavy but I still get 500-600 images with the DSLR on a single charge. The pocket camera (nearly three years old) isn’t quite as good but I still get around a hundred images per charge.

    Comment by Sandro — November 10, 2008 @ 5:57 pm

  9. I like AA batteries since I have 3 sets of rechargeable ones, and should I ever get caught out with nothing but dead ones, every gas station and convenience store on the planet has something on-hand that will get me going again.

    Comment by chuck goolsbee — November 10, 2008 @ 6:06 pm

  10. possibly not quite what you are after Chuck but I have had a Canon S2 and now an S5 – uses the AA batteries, flip/twist lcd, 12x optical zoom and image stablisation – not a bad camera for the money – worth a look on the review sites.


    Comment by gondwana — November 11, 2008 @ 12:59 am

  11. Mine was/is a Nikon D80, which is now superseded by the D90. The D90 is, of course, better spec-wise and also has the ability to shoot HD video. Remember, mine had the battery grip which adds quite a bit to the size of the rig. And the 18-200 VR zoom is no small lens either. But it covers almost everything I need so I rarely carry more than that lens. I also have an 18-135 which is quite a bit more compact. So a D90 without the battery grip and a “normal” lens isn’t too huge. I’d suggest trying one at a camera store to get a feel for it.

    If you do get the battery grip the bonus is that you can put either the standard Lithium batteries in it (x2, you can shoot forever) or AAs.

    I went with Nikon because I have used their film SLRs since the 70s and already have a number lenses that all still work with the D80, albeit without the autofocus and other bells and whistles, but they do work. In practice though, with the 18-200 I never even look at my old lenses….

    Canon DSLRs are also fine cameras. The Leica M8 is a joke.

    For something more compact than the “traditional” SLRs you might want to look at the 4/3 cameras, especially the new Panasonic DMC-G1, Looks decent enough, should be worth checking out.

    Comment by markc — November 11, 2008 @ 5:25 am

  12. I spent last night reading DSLR reviews and it seems pretty obvious that AA batteries are not really an option (unless I add on a big grip-thing.)

    Movies also seem to be off the table for DSLRs at the small/light-end of the scale. I did note that the Canon EOS line does support tethered control by a computer for timelapse work though, which seriously intrigues me!

    Here is my short list of possibilities. I plan to go to a camera store one evening and spend some time looking at them in the flesh.

    Comment by chuck goolsbee — November 11, 2008 @ 7:02 am

  13. You could go get a used Fuji FinePix S3Pro.

    –Ultra high quality images
    –Uses AAs
    –Uses any/all Nikon lenses
    –Dual CF/SD card slots
    –$500 range in as-new condition

    –Slow burst rate
    –poor high ISO performance
    –full-sized pro camera

    Comment by proscriptus — November 11, 2008 @ 7:31 am

  14. The “Full-sized” bit is a complete non-starter for me David, sorry. Like I said in an earlier comment, the AA battery thing is obviously a place where I’m going to have to compromise.

    Comment by chuck goolsbee — November 11, 2008 @ 7:56 am

  15. In that case, my vote is for the Nikon D60. Very compact, priced right, and the backwards compatibility with old lenses is awesome.

    Comment by proscriptus — November 11, 2008 @ 12:37 pm

  16. You’ve only for three sets of NiMH AA batteries, Chuck? My last purchased was for a batch of 60 NiMH AA. 🙂

    As much as I am a fan of NiMH batteries, I think the Lithium Ion batteries are better for cameras. They have a far longer charge. Five or ten years ago, it made sense to use rechargeable AA batteries but battery and camera technology has come a long ways in the past few years.

    As I mentioned earlier, I get 500 images to a charge with my D80. I always carry a spare. The charger comes with me when I travel. If I think I’m going to be away from power for longer than 1000 images, I bring a third battery. Oh, and mail order batteries are often better (higher charge) and less expensive.

    Comment by Sandro — November 11, 2008 @ 6:00 pm

  17. Several people have mentioned the various Nikon DLSRs. Being a Nikonian, I would like to weigh in on the various models. I am a bit biased, both in my preference for Nikons and my choice in camera models.

    First, let me expound on a theory of mine. We’re still quite early on in digital camera (DSLR) technology. This is evidenced by the significant changes taking place in the market today. Just look at the differences between the D80 and D90 or the D300 and D700. It was a long, long time ago, if ever, that we saw this big a difference between models back in the film era.

    That said, my theory is to buy in to a lens system as your lenses will be with you for several camera bodies. Buy the best glass you can.

    The D60 is last year’s model. The sensor in the D60 was originally in the D200, then the D80 and finally in the D60. The two things to like about the D60 are the size (if the small size matter that much to you) and the self-cleaning sensor (if it really has the feature).

    The D90 has three features that make it far and above *the* amateur Nikon to purchase. Call me lazy but the self-cleaning sensor is a must-have feature. I’ve spent far too much time in CS3 cleaning dust spots. The D90 has the next generation sensor. My D80 tops out at 1600 ISO (anything higher is just too much noise). The equivalent noise on a D90 is around 6400 ISO. Wow. The third feature that makes the D90 is HD video. Who wouldn’t want the ability to shoot short high definition video clips with their DSLR?

    The D80/D90 (not the D60) also has the auto bracketing feature which I find necessary for high dynamic range photography.

    The D80/D90 is the right camera for me. Your requirements, Chuck, are a bit different so I’m not sure if this is the right camera for you. No swing-able display and it’s a bit larger than you’ve been using.

    If you’re interested in meeting for lunch, I can bring my D80 + 18-200mm VR so you can check them out.

    Comment by Sandro — November 11, 2008 @ 6:15 pm

  18. I’m not recommending this mount for you Chuck, but this is pretty cool news none-the-less. “Red” an innovative manufacturer in the AV arena has just come out with a new DSLR/video platform that is compatible with Canon or Nikon lens systems. It’s really quite cool and really quite expensive, but the cool outweighs the expensive part IMO:)

    Comment by jculpjr — November 13, 2008 @ 10:44 am

  19. I just read about the new “Red” products. Sounds very tempting … though way beyond my price range right now.

    Comment by Sandro — November 15, 2008 @ 11:22 am

  20. Red’s the dream, all right, especially for action photography. 25fps at 261MP? That’s not too shabby. No onsale date or prices yet, though, plus they’ll be very large.

    Made any decisions yet, Chuck?

    Comment by proscriptus — November 17, 2008 @ 6:54 am

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