08 August 2010

21st century imaging (part 3)

At some point in the 1999-2000 'offseason', I moved away from the bulk of SLRs and into compact 35mm photography. Since compact cameras now had 28mm zoom lenses, my wide-angle capabilities were intact, and I could carry far less imaging gear with similar results. I was already shifting into digital with the mini-DV camcorder, and that method of recording my life held greater appeal at the moment. My 2000 and 2001 Sierra visits were captured with this camera, but Europe 2001 was strictly camcorder shots plus a tiny, no-zoom digital camera. In 2002 I again carried 35mm compact and DV-cam into the mountains, but I soon saw the flaw in my reasoning. I saw that images from that year had decidedly poor edge quality, and at 28mm some showed strong vignetting. I had gone too far in my search for compactness, and sacrificed too much quality!

At some point in 2000 I found a 1.6 megapixel Kodak DC260 on sale and began my voyage into digital stills. That camera came with me in autumn 2000 on an ill-fated hike that turned into a road trip, and captured a fine enough image of Mt. Shuksan and the autumn colors. It was promising, but images were mighty small at the time: not about to replace the enlargements that 35mm film brought me!

By 2003 I had moved up to a 4-meg camera, Kodak's LS443. A sharp 35-105 equivalent zoom brought me images worth showing off from trips to the Ruby Mts (Nevada) and Enchanement Lakes (WA) that year.

However, small digital cameras were lacking in wide-angle ability, and I missed that. At some point I shifted to a Panasonic LC40, also 4-meg but with a few more features that I liked, and while doing research into better cams in 2006 I found a closeout Casio P505 whose features were enticing and the price just right.

I spent much of 2007 and early '08 searching for my ideal camera, with relatively large sensor, wide-angle capabilities, and with luck reasonably compact size. I thought Fuji would win out; the S6000 supercam was almost perfect, and I was certain the updated model would be mine. Alas, their 'update' had no SuperCCD sensor and lost many advanced features. I began to look again at SLRs in digital form, hoping that the 4:3 sensor would result in smaller cameras. Again I was disappointed, as the Olympus E500 was a very talented camera but equal in size to APS-C cameras. Given my demands for image quality, and after plenty of research and dashed hopes, I finally accepted the result: I could only be happy with an SLR -- again.

In the opening months of 2008 I surveyed the features available in dSLRs, and prioritized what I found important. I was willing to look past a few of them, but I was certain that internal stabilization would improve too many images to ignore (recall that lens-IS was still relatively hard to find). That left me with Olympus, Sony and Pentax for more study. I wasn't into AA power despite my 40mm lens on the shelf, and my E510 tests came up short - so the Alpha 200 became my new favorite camera.