12.22.2007

Commodity fetish: A new camera?

Do I dare to eat a peach? -- Prufrock

That's a moose behind the sapling.

When I took this image (other, better moose pics here), I think that I resolved to buy a better camera. It wasn't that my existing point-and-shoot camera focused on the saplings in front of the moose instead of on the animal itself: My decision is based more on my lack of enthusiasm for the dim electronic viewfinder on the camera. I wear rather thick glasses and I am tired of only having a vague sense of the scene I am trying to capture, the viewfinder is small, murky and unclear and does not give a good sense of what the final image will be.

This is compounded by the fact that my current camera works best in bright outdoor light -- these are the conditions where the viewfinder, or the display screen on the back of the device, are least legible. Not all the errors in composition in my photographs are the result of my ineptitude and artistic failings (which are many): I don't see much detail at the time I am taking an image, it is very hit or miss.

The s3is does not thrive in low light.

The other motivation for my thinking is that there have been several instances in the past year where my camera (Canon s3is), with its fixed lens and small sensor, has been out its depth, and while I have captured some images at various events, the images have pretty serious faults. Unlike many users of the camera on Flickr, I tend to accept these limitations rather than endlessly and pompously complaining about the camera's 'failings' in user forums online. Some compromises must be expected in a $300 device, and my camera has some real virtues: It's light, compact, works quite well in a wide range of conditions (if one takes the time to learn its capabilities), and is a powerful multimedia device.

Tourists lugging lots of fancy, heavy, expensive gear to capture the sunrise at Poon Hill.

I know that a more powerful camera will not make me into a 'photographer' and there are times were I see people walking around with big chunky black DSLRs and to me, it just says very loudly, "I'M A WEALTHY TOURIST" (this happened in Nepal a few times) but it would be nice to have a better sense of what I am trying to photograph -- ie, to use a camera with a nice clear, sharp, optical viewfinder. I also have an interest in wildlife photography -- it's kind of like hunting without guns, which appeals to me: One of my 2008 projects is to try and get a clear photograph of a black bear in its natural habitat, not raiding a birdfeeder in someone's backyard, and I have some ideas on how and where this might be accomplished. So a relatively nice telephoto lens would also be good to have -- to save me from having to get too close to a large omnivore.

So, even though the year ended at work with much more of a whimper than a bang (and I have some concerns about the coming year), and I have a very large bill -- which I plan on disputing -- from my latest domestic catastrophe, I have been spending a lot of time online reading DSLR reviews. I have played with Canon Digital Rebels and Nikon D40s in the local chain stores and I don't like them much, the Canon feels plasticy and neither has image stabilization in the camera body, and stabilized lenses are very expensive. I am torn between buying a Pentax k100D Super (small -- a good thing -- simple and straightforward, and very inexpensive) and the K10D, a much more fully featured camera, heavier, more complex, and weatherproof -- a plus for me, and I would never outgrow this device.

So at a time of year when I should be ostensibly focusing on other's needs and wants, instead I have been earnestly weighing the pros and cons of this rather frivolous and non-essential decision. I know I'm not a photographer, though I did give my boss a framed photo last year, and an interior designer friend of hers asked recently "who took this cool picture?", not knowing it was me, and I am also very aware that the eyes and the brain are the truly essential pieces of photographic equipment, not the camera. We'll see how this plays out.

Here are some photostreams put out by some people who are truly talented, one thing I admire, is the ability to make the prosaic memorable -- it's harder than it looks.


I find Flickr to be very annoying -- I don't think I would ever be bothered with a paid account -- but there is some talent on display there, along with some inane and poorly informed opinions.

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