Shopping for a Camera—What NOT to DO!

Okay, I’m camera shopping.  Yes, I still love my Canon EOS 5D (although at coming up on seven years, it’s getting a bit long in the tooth).  I also still enjoy my two Panasonic travel zooms, the Lumix DMC-ZS3 and DMC-ZS6 (similar to the DMC-ZS7 discussed here).  Alas, there is just too much a gap to bridge in the capabilities between these two extremes.

The EOS 5D has almost everything you’d want in a camera—interchangeable lenses, raw capability, excellent high-ISO response with minimal noise, and great automatic functions yet full manual control for when you just want to take over for yourself.  But for most overseas travel?  It’s just too big, heavy, obtrusive, and conspicuous.

Panasonic used to make the best little travel zooms in the business . . . right up until they foolishly got caught up in The Great Megapixel War and degraded their image quality.  Until they did that, though, the ZS-series were great—shirt-pocket compactness, fantastic zoom range, fairly fast apertures, and adequate resolution.  Unfortunately, they wouldn’t take pictures in anything but JPEG and the high-ISO/low light capabilities left much to be desired.

That left me looking for something in between, which I’ve been doing for some time now.  Most of the current bridge cameras use the same small-sized sensors packed into the ZS-series and still wouldn’t give me raw capability.  Thus, all I would gain there is increased zoom range.  The newest mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Cameras (ILC) can get you raw and larger sensors.  But the largest sensor cameras in this category (Sony’s NEX series) start getting bulky again, and the kit lenses packaged with these cameras don’t have a very useful zoom range (for the NEX cameras the kit lens is in the vicinity of 27-82.5mm in 35mm equivalency) necessitating the need to haul around additional lenses.

Then the latest edition of Popular Photography arrived.  It appears that the camera that would most fill my particular gap is now available:  The Canon Powershot GX 1.  The sensor is huge for a compact camera—larger than Micro Four Thirds and just a tad smaller than APS-C, which is the standard size for the most popular consumer-grade DSLR cameras currently on the market.  The camera size is on the largish side, but not unmanageably so.  Image quality equals and in some cases even surpasses many of the more popular DSLRs on the market.  High-ISO noise levels are acceptably low all the way up to ISO 6400+ with minimal loss in resolution.

But what, you may ask, are my particular needs?  And why do I feel the G1 X addresses those needs?  Those are questions anyone in the market for a new camera should ask themselves.  But frequently they don’t, and that drives me insane.  I’ll get into why in a minute.

My particular photographic subjects trend toward travel, landscapes, and architecture (both exterior and interior).  Seldom do I photograph portraits, and I engage in macro photography even less.  That narrows considerably the features I need in any particular camera.  In this case, my “needs” tell me that I require a camera with a zoom range biased toward the wide side (preferably at least 24mm in 35mm equivalency).  I also need high-ISO/low light capabilities for nighttime shots and building interiors.  That means the camera should have a large sensor with low noise and a fast lens, preferably at least in the f2.8 range at the wide end.  But in travel photography mid-range telephoto zoom comes in handy as well.  Thus, the perfect lens for most of my needs would be in the 24mm-135mm range at f2.8-4.0.

So, what don’t I need?  I won’t normally need close focusing, as that is used in macro photography.  The G1 X just happens to have a terrible close-focusing distance.  I don’t need blazingly fast focusing or the ability to take large numbers of pictures per second as those are the hallmarks of a camera geared toward action photography and sports.  The G1 X only does 1.9 frames per second or, if burst mode is enabled, a one-second burst of six shots is possible—totally unacceptable for people with active kids and pets.  If I did more portraits, I’d probably want an aperture of at least f2.8 at between 85 and 105mm (in 35mm equivalency) so as to defocus the background behind the person, but with the G1 X I’ll be lucky to hit f5.0 in that range.

What will I get with the G1X and it’s fixed-lens?  A zoom range of 28mm on the wide side (less than I’d really like, but manageable) and 112mm on the telephoto end (again less than ideal, but not as important as the wide-angle aspect).  But I can always fall back on the 25mm-300mm lens of my ZS6 when needed.  I also get low-light images that exceed any other compact camera currently on the market, and often meet or exceed the capabilities of many DSLRs.  Look out, great cathedrals of Europe; here I come!  And then there’s the geek photographer’s capability (not really needed for most photographers in most situations, but nice to have)—the ability to capture images in raw for better post-processing control before conversion into JPEG format.

Now, back to my rant people who refuse to do their homework before making a camera purchase.  By now I’ve read probably two-dozen reviews on the G1 X ranging from expert to obvious novice.  One such review was on a well-known online vendor, and it was written by someone who owns an EOS 5D Mark II ( the successor to my old 5D).  The person was also looking for a camera to bridge the gap between his 5D and his desire for a point-and-shoot.  He wound up sending the camera back to that online vendor.  Why?  Because he wasn’t happy with the macro capabilities.  Well, DUH!  The specs are out there.  The specs plainly say that the minimum focusing distance ranges between 7.9 inches (20cm) and 2.3 feet (70cm).  Practically every reviewer has remarked that this camera really doesn’t have great or even adequate macro capability.  This was almost as stupid as the reviewer who sent back a Panasonic ZS-7 because the flash wasn’t strong enough to capture his kids indoors.  Hey, dude, it’s called a “Travel Zoom” for a reason.

But why should you care?  Because when people such as this don’t do their most basic research, when they box up and ship back the goods that didn’t meet their “expectations.,” they drive up the prices for you, me, and everyone else.  The company that sold this individual his G1 X isn’t going to take the hit for now having to resell an “open-box,” “used,” or “refurbished” item.  You and I are.  In this day and age of internet access and search engines, this kind of “try it out, see if it works, if not ship it back” attitude is, quite honestly, unacceptable.

So before you buy your next camera:  Analyze your needs.  Research online.  Read reviews.  Read more reviews.  Read even more reviews.  Narrow your search and study the specifications of the cameras on your short list.

And, whatever you do, don’t embarrass yourself by publicly posting a review that indicates you’re too stupid to be entrusted with either a credit card or a PayPal account.

Okay.  Rant over.  Now go out and find something to photograph.


Filed under Photography, Technology/New Stuff

3 responses to “Shopping for a Camera—What NOT to DO!

  1. Thanks, R. Doug. This is packed with helpful tips.

  2. You should have a chat with my friend Kai. He’s the Canon brand manager in Australia.

  3. I’m a huge fan of Canon equipment. My first SLR (35mm) was a TLb (as your friend if he knows THAT camera) nearly forty years ago, and I’ve been using Canon products ever since.