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Old Dec 6, 2003, 12:02 AM   #1
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Default Thinking outloud: Compacts vs. fullsize

n my recent search for a new camera, I've been torn between getting a compact or a larger, full size cam, particularly the S400 and the G3/G5, or Nikon 4500. In trying to decide bewteen the three, I've made some observations and though I'd share them with you and get your opinion. Here we go:

The goal of most photographers, amateur and pro alike, is to take good and interesting pictures IMO. I've found that sometimes the best picutres are the unexpected ones. I can recall several times when I'm out in sticks or in the city and say to myself, "Man, I wish I had my camera with me." But I never do, namely because it won't fit in my pocket. If I had a camera that I could put in my pocket, I'd take it everywhere and would have the opportunity to take many more interesting photos due to the versatility and mobility of a small, pocketable camera. However, with a small camera you do miss out on some desirable features. For instance, the S400 doesn't have the image quality of a G3. It only has a 3x zoom, doesn't accept other lenses, and has fewer manual features. So, a larger camera usually takes better, crisper photos and allows you to control more aspects of the camera. It would make a great camera for shooting in your backyard or when you actually go somewhere planning on shooting, but not for those times when you want to carry your cam "just in case." What do you guys think? Is it worth sacrificing some features for added mobilty or not? And any cam recommendations are greatly appreciated. Thanks for your opinions.
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Old Dec 6, 2003, 1:15 AM   #2
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My solution (I had the same thoughts):

http://www.pbase.com/jcockfield/konica_kd510z
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Old Dec 6, 2003, 9:44 AM   #3
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Iíve had both a large camera and small carry camera forever. My last film mini was a 35mm Konica that was listed as the smallest zoom 35mm camera and had a 28-70 zoom. I tried holding out for something with a 28mm wide for my little camera when I went to digital, but gave up and got an Oly C50 to go along with my D7i.

Going back through my images I have more photos with the little cameras than with my big SLRs or Minolta. The first rule of a gunfight is to have a gun. So logically if I could have only one camera I would choose one that I could carry everywhere.

If I were buying a camera today and could only have one it would without question be a Pentax 555. The biggest limitation of my C50 is the 3X zoom and the Pentax has a much more versatile 5X lens with good quality. If that was too pricey I would probably go with the Minolta G500 that JimC suggested. I think it is a better buy than the S400.
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Old Dec 6, 2003, 11:15 PM   #4
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Well, after some thought, I agree with you guys. I'll pick up a small pocketable cam. I am considering the S400 (I just really like it for some reason), the G500, and the Optio S4. But I'm not sure as to which one. They all seem to take good pictures and they all have pretty much the same features. The S4 doesn't go up to ISO 400 and the others do. Is that a big deal? Jim, what other compacts did you consider along with the G500 and what made you choose it over the others?
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Old Dec 7, 2003, 2:51 AM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by dylan_d
The S4 doesn't go up to ISO 400 and the others do. Is that a big deal? Jim, what other compacts did you consider along with the G500 and what made you choose it over the others?
I would never consider shooting at ISO 400 with my G500 (ISO 400 would be an "emergency only" -- to heck with the noise kind of thing).

ISO 400 is not pretty in low light. In good light (when you generally don't need it anyway), it's useable. In bad light, ISO 400 has too much noise for me. The smaller, denser sensors used in subcompact models are more prone to noise.

Bear in mind, with a camera like the G500, you're packing 5 Million Pixels of resolution into a 1/1.8" (.556") sensor. This allows manufacturers to build smaller cameras, but the downside is increased noise at higher ISO speeds.

A camera like the S4 has an even smaller, denser sensor (4 Megapixel 1/2.5" or .4"), so it's even denser than the 5 Megapixel sensor used in a camera like the KD-510z/G500. That may be why the ISO choices are even more limited.

Smaller photodiodes are more prone to noise in lower light conditions (especially in underexposed areas of a photo). When you increase ISO speed, you are turning up the gain (or sensitivity) of the sensor.

This is sort of like turning up an amplifier without any input. You hear lots of hum and hiss.

The CCD Sensors work the same way. When you turn up the volume from the CCD, and you don't have enought input to the photodiodes (underexposed areas of a photo), you get image noise (instead of sound noise).

So, I generally try to keep my camera set to ISO 100 (rarely shooting at 200), and saving 400 for a dire emergency.

That's one of the reasons I went with the KD-510z/G500. It has an extremely powerful flash for a subcompact model. I have been able to get reasonably well exposed flash shots at up to 16 feet from the camera. It's VERY conservatively rated at 10.5 feet at ISO 100.

Most subcompact camera can't do anywhere near as well (so you have to increase ISO speeds, which is how most of their flashes are rated -- at Auto ISO, versus ISO 100 as in the Konica).

When selecting a camera, I looked very carefully at all available options (including the Canon S400, Pentax Optios, etc.). I almost went with a slightly larger camera. I actually tried a Sony DSC-P10 first (assuming that it's scene modes would make up for lack of user control), but I was very dissapointed with it's metering, flash, etc.

Before giving up and going with a larger camera, I tracked down and located a Japanese Konica KD-510z -- about 2 weeks after it started shipping in Japan (long before it started shipping in the U.S. as the Minolta DiMAGE G500). I've had mine since mid-July (it started shipping in Japan at the end of June).

I had already been looking closely at the Konica KD-500z (older model). It had a fixed ISO speed of 100, and didn't offer much in the way of user control. But, the results users were getting with flash range, etc., impressed me.

The new model uses the same body and lens design (with a little different cosmetics), but represents a complete overhaul of the firmware and feature set.

It's got user adjustable ISO Speed (50, 100, 200, 400), Contrast, Saturation, Color (red, green, blue channels), Manual Exposure (limited aperture choices, but very fine control of shutter speed), Noise reduction on exposures of 1/2 second or longer, longer exposures (up to 1 second using autoexposure, or up to 15 seconds using manual exposure), and more.

I've been extremely pleased with it.

Is it perfect? Nope. None of them are. But you have to look for balance. I think it's the best balance of Physical Size, Flash Strength, User Control of features used most often, Focus Ability, Speed of Operation, and Image Quality out of any of the pocketable cameras.

I really like it's ergonomics, too (MUCH better than the Sony, IMO). It's not as small as a camera like the Optio S, but I wouldn't want to go any smaller, personally.

It's 1.2 inches thick, so I wouldn't want to go any larger either (I did look at the 1.6 inch thick Pentax Optio 450/550 models, but they were just a bit too large for me, and way too slow at startup). They also had much higher noise than their competition (but this has improved with the newer Optio 555).

The Konica is just right for me (small enough so that I carry it with me everywhere in my pants pocket, but not too large). It's a tight fit with some of my jeans, but pretty comfortable with most pants. Any thicker wouldn't work for me (for how I like to carry it -- my left front pants pocket is reserved for the camera).

You can read my user review of it for more details on it's strengths and weaknesses. You'll see a link to it on my Konica Album Page at http://www.pbase.com/jcockfield/konica_kd510z
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Old Dec 7, 2003, 12:13 PM   #6
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I plan on carrying mine in my left pants pocket as well. I was worried about the G500 and S400 maybe being a bit too thick to carry around all day comfortably. That's one of the main reasons I'm considering the Optio S4. Best Buy has all three of these cameras in stock so, I'm going to run over there tomorrow and handle each one in person.
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Old Dec 7, 2003, 12:57 PM   #7
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That's the best way. Check 'em out in person.

For me, the slightly larger size was worth it, to get the extra flash range (since I like to take lots of indoor photos at parties, family gatherings, etc.).

BTW, the default settings on the G500 leave a lot to be desired. You can give the camera a LOT more flexibility. When you "test drive" the cameras, you may want to enable these options. Here's how:

Press the Menu Button, and go to Setup, Custom.

You'll see a list of icons. Select each one, and turn all choices ON.

This should take all of about 30 seconds, and it will stay that way, even when turning the camera off, or recharging batteries.

This turns on the Continuous Mode feature (and you can leave it that way all the time) -- allowing faster repeat photos, by holding down the shutter button.

Then, frequently used features are under the Controller Keys. Once you set it up (about 30 seconds), and use these features, they become "second nature".

Then, you'll have this:

Left: switches between landscape, macro, self timer modes, including fixed focus choices (1m, 2m, etc.).

Right: switches between different flash modes

Up: allows you to set Exposure Compensation using left and right keys

Down: allows you to change White Balance Settings.

This gives you very fast access to exposure compensation, white balance, focus distances, white balance, and flash modes, without using the menus.

Turn it all on. Then, use it for a while, then go back into the Custom Menu, and turn off choices you don't use (so you have less choices to toggle through).

You can allow or deny specific flash modes from appearing as a choice when using the right arrow key to toggle between them.

You can allow or deny specific self timer/focus combinations from appearing -- even including (or excluding) macro, landscape, 1m, 2m, 4m from appearing as a toggle choice when the left controller key is pressed.

With everything turned on, you also get Autoexposure Lock with a half press of the shutter, and a press of the up arrow, or Autofocus lock, with a half press of the shutter and a press of the left arrow.

These virtually eliminate shutter lag when enabled (AF lock, AE lock).

It's a very nice design, while keeping the control layout simple

Also, make sure to turn Quick View off (Setup, QuickView). This reduces lag time some, since it won't display the last photo taken for as long.

Here's an example of a test of the G500 flash range.

It was taken in "pitch black" conditons at night at ISO 100 (using camera defaults and autoexposure). F2.8 at 1/60th second. All lights turned off, TV turned off. 16 Feet from Fireplace Wall. I was unable to even seen the wall (which is why it's framed crooked):

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Old Dec 7, 2003, 9:49 PM   #8
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That is an impressive flash indeed. I personally try to advoid using the flash as much as possible, I just don't like the way it looks when it directly hits something. Maybe I should try a diffuser. Most my shots are taken outside anyways.
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Old Dec 8, 2003, 1:59 AM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by dylan_d
That is an impressive flash indeed. I personally try to advoid using the flash as much as possible, I just don't like the way it looks when it directly hits something. Maybe I should try a diffuser. Most my shots are taken outside anyways.
I like to take lots of photos at family gatherings, parties, etc., so flash strength is more important to me.

Also, the newer generation of smaller sensors (more pixels/square inch, with smaller photodiodes) being used in Digital Cameras is too prone to noise indoors without a flash (you really want to avoid higher ISO speeds, especially considering that the tiny lenses in subcompact models are not very fast).

The lens in the G500 is rated at F2.8/F4.9 -- typical for a compact model. When combined with a small 5 Megapixel CCD, flash is a must indoors (unless you really like the noise you'd get at higher ISO speeds).

So, flash strength had a big influence on my decision -- I can shoot at ISO 100 indoors with no problems with the G500.

BTW, it "throttles down" nicely at close range, yet it's still powerful enough to take photos of someone at further distances, too
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Old Dec 8, 2003, 3:30 AM   #10
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Small cameras are very handy. My first digital camera was a Sony DSC-P31. I now have an F717 as well, but I plan to keep the p31 even when I eventually upgrade my "main" camera, beacuse it's nice to have a little camera that I can take anywhere in my pocket and use for spontaneous pictures that don't really matter (and sometimes end up being really cool).
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