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Old Feb 5, 2005, 10:29 PM   #1
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Back when I bought my first digital camera (Coolpix CP900) life was a bit simplier. Fewer options and fewer cameras made the choices a Back when I bought my first digital camera choosing a digital camera was a bit simpler. My first digital was a Nikon Coolpix CP900- remember me- "FRCN Digital Imaging"? I was the guy making lens caps out of plastic film cans, and I was the guy who got Kick/Banned from the Nikon board for asking about the CP900s ridiculous 20 second time-out value and if it could be changed (remember "Came"?) Back then there were fewer options and fewer cameras made the choices a little easier. Form there I got a Sony DSC D770 when they were being phased out. I am still using that camera, but ready to move up.

It seems like every camera has it's strong and weak points and it is up to the buyer to choose what really matters. I was just about to buy the A200 when I noticed that it only accepts the proprietary Minolta flash units (i.e. it does not have a standard hot shoe to fire a standard strobe). How ridiculous! Here is a camera with full manual control and you can't use that to control exposure with a generic strobe.

My first question would be, does anyone make/sell an adapter that allows a generic strobe to be used with the A200? That would simplify matters.

I considered the Nikon 8800 but the multiple posts here concerning its disgustingly slow focus ruled that camera out. I dealt with slow times with the CP900 and I swore I would not fall into that again.

I have dealt with Sony Service, and so I will never get another Sony product if I can help it. Long story short: Cost me $16 to ship a monitor to them with $1000 insurance. They charged me $60 S/H to ship it back!

So it's down to:

-A200 (and buy yet another strobe- ARGHHH!)

-The Panasonic FZ20 (we had one of their microwaves that went in for warranty service twice in its first 6 months under warranty, so not leaning that way either)

-Canon Powershot Pro1 (haven't done much reading there yet- afraid what I will find!)

-I originally liked the Z3 for it's compact size and features/price point, but the pictures are just awful!

Any help is appreciated, even a nice rub on the head and a gentle, "There, there."
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Old Feb 5, 2005, 11:34 PM   #2
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Randy--

First, welcome to the forum! I'm an A200 owner. Glad to see you're considering one for yourself.

To answer your first question: yes, Minolta does make a standard hot-shoe adapter, but I haven't looked for or seen it.

I've been PM'g another forum member who is also in the middle of a camera-purchase decision quandry. I think I've made some decent suggestions for him, and I think those suggestions might help you as well. You mentioned a wide variety of different cameras in different price ranges and performance classes, along with a reason why you have misgivings about each one, which raises a red flag that you just don't know where to begin. Maybe what I told the other member can help you decide too. Well, here it is, edited, copied and pasted for your reading:

Choosing a digital camera is enough to give anyone a splitting headache. So many options, so many cameras, so many choices.

From what you've just posted, it sounds like you're having a hard time picking which camera might be right for you.

It sounds like you may need to go back to the drawing board and start with the basics. We need to get some more details ironed-out before you can really make a decision.

First, honestly determine just how much you are willing to spend on a new camera. $400? $700? $1500? Find out what you can afford first. Once you've set an absolute limit on what you want to pay for a new camera (for example: "Not a penny over $1000!"), then you can move on to the next step.

The next step is: Rule-out any camera outfit that will break your spending limit. That should narrow the field of contenders right off the bat.

Now you need to determine what you intend to do with the camera. I figured that might be a given, but it's best to clarify how important that aspect of your decision making process is.

Cameras can fall into specialized equipment categories quite easily, and often do. Like any other high-tech or high-performance instruments (like telescopes, for instance), high-end digital cameras often are designed to do some things better than others. Like any experienced craftsman will attest, you must use the right tool for the job.

What jobs will your camera be doing? Outdoor sports photography? Indoor portraits under studio lighting? Snap-shot photos of friends and family at the backyard cook-out? Make a list of all the things you envision you will need your camera to do. Then prioritize that list from most important to least.

Now you can generate a list of what features you want in a camera and determine their importance. Make a list of all the things you want your camera to have or do, being careful to ensure that the features you are looking for will allow the camera to perform according to your needs. Be honest in your assessment, too (even include silly stuff like "Camera should be able to change the oil in my car" or "A camera that will drive my friends crazy with envy!"). Once you've got a list of things, start prioritizing that list by order of importance, placing the must-have features at the top ("Can't live without image-stabilization!"), and the least important ones towards the bottom. This is important because it will help you decide what camera is best for you when you go to make the big purchase. Assign each item on that list a number to identify its importance to you, if that helps.

Now that you've determined your budget and prioritized your needs, it's time to go window-shopping. Here's where it can get sticky. You'll need to understand that it is unlikely you will find a camera that does everything you need it to do and be the absolute BEST at it. There WILL be some compromises that will have to be made. However, by making a list of all the stuff you want your camera to do, and PRIORITIZING it, you will have a much better chance of finding a camera that does the things that are IMPORTANT to you, and does them well, while making a few concessions on the things that are of the LEAST importance to you.

Inevitably, as you search among the myraid of cameras out there, you will find that one camera alone will probably not do everything you need it to do. As I said, cameras tend to fall into specialized equipment categories. Some are best used for action photography, while others are built with landscape or nature pictures as their strong suit. Professional photographers usually have a handful of cameras within easy reach, as they know that they need to pick the right camera for the job. They also know that a camera that tries to be everything to everyone usually ends up not doing anything very well.

One thing to keep in mind when deciding on expensive equipment: "compromise" is NOT a dirty word. Everyone does it, they just don't like to admit it. It's no-sweat as long as you can live with the compromise and it saves you a TON of frustration and hair if you've done your homework as described above.

I had to make a couple of compromises when I landed on the A200. For example, I would've liked to have bought a new camera that used re-chargeable NiMH AA bateries, so I could re-use my existing batteries and charger. However, that was a relatively low item on my priority list, so it was no big deal when I decided on the A200 and its proprietary Lith-Ion battery pack. Having 8MP and an image-stabilized, manual 7x zoom were far more important to me, so I was willing to make the compromise. The same went for the lack of an auto-assist AF lamp on the A200. I put much more importance on the requirement for a fully-articulated LCD, so the A200 was the pick over any of the Panasonic FZ series of cameras, as they have the AF lamp, but all their LCDs are fixed.

I think you see where I'm going with this.

Hope this helps! Happy hunting!
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Old Feb 6, 2005, 1:06 PM   #3
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Oh, one more thing: Don't forget to have fun while researching and looking for a new digital camera. If you let it become a chore that turns into frustration, you'll make a bad decision and resent that camera for all-eternity.

Take your time and enjoy the research and the days building-up to the big purchase day. You're about to get a nifty new camera! If you've thought things through and had fun doing it, you'll be proud to know you made the right choice.

Good luck!

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Old Feb 6, 2005, 6:27 PM   #4
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Some rambling responses:

I do have a pretty long and solid background in photography, digital and otherwise, and so have a good feel for what I want. Fast focus, manual focus, spot metering, long zoom range, full manual modes, lack of "purple fringing" in images, diopter adjustment, are among the "requireds." Manual zoom, auto-gain-up on the viewfinder, threaded lens to accept a 1A and polarizing filters, and auto-bracketing are welcomed pluses as well.

BTW- I did find that hot shoe adaptor that you mentioned:
http://www.pbase.com/digital_initiat...er_for_minolta

I think it will do the job with my current strobe (an old Vivitar 285 with the metal hot shoe convrsion). According to my peak-reading Fluke (also old) it triggers in the 5-7 volt range so should be fine. The Minolta adaptor sells for aroud $70-80 and this one is $15 plus $1 shipping. WHAT A DEAL! This is version 1. There is a Version 2 that isolates the camera from teh strobe, but it doesn't work with my flash... oh well.

I am heavily leaning towards the A200 at the moment. Sure, there are lots of better cameras, but as you said, you gots to draw the financial line in the sand. I wish it had the fast image processing of rhwe [email protected], but you can't have your cake with catsup.

One of the many things that impresses me about the A200 is the gentle in-camera processing. It was what brought me to the Sony D770. As the man said, "STAND BACK! I have Photoshop and I'm not afraid to use it!" I do have a colorimeter so getting correct color and such by eye is a simple matter for me.

Live histogram on the A200 is a huge factor as well.

This wil be my fifth still camera, third digital. I have also put together a few computer systems from scratch, so creating a shopping spreadsheet is nothing new to me! javascript:emoticon(':-)', 'images/emoticons/icon_lol.gif')
grin

While we are on the subject, A couple of questions:

1)How is the DOF control in standard (non-macro) situations. I know the Nikon 8800 has a focal plane iris that works like a film SLR. Does the A200 offer that level of creative control?

2) Is the digital zoom stepless? don't think I ever used digital zoom on the D770, but this camera seems to have a greater ability to handle that (after all, the Sony's images are 1344x1024!).

The video mode seems to create some nice images FWIW. I will jst have to remember not to shoot video in portrait orientation! javascript:emoticon(':?', 'images/emoticons/nuts.gif')
confused

The "auto magnify" when manual focusing is also a well-thought-out feature. The relative compact size of the camera for its features is also going to be a big plus for me! I am tired of lugging around the D770!

See! I'm half sold already!

BTW- your comments are much appreciated. I spend a lot of time in regards to my coffee website (http://www.EspressoMyEspresso.com) answering a lot of questions for folks, and sometime it does fell like it comes around- like now!

Anyway, the shopping continues. I will probably be purchasing by the end of the month, so have quite a bit of time to ponder the imponderables...

THANKS for your time!



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Old Feb 6, 2005, 11:05 PM   #5
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The official Minolta adapter is FS1100. You can find it online with a little work. Sometimes people sell it on Ebay.

What I don't like about FZ20 is the so call feature that the camera only shows you how the exposure look with Manual shutter speed and aperture settings without regard whether you are using flash or not. Hence, you can't see a thing indoors with higher shutter speed.
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Old Feb 7, 2005, 12:06 AM   #6
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There are ways to deal with that (generally speaking). With my D770 I always use a full manual mode when using flash. I set the shutter speed to about 1/60 to 1/100 or so, and then use the manual aperture adjustment to get adjust the exposure. A glance at the review screen showing the histogram tells me whether I got close or not with the exposure. Some adjusting of the flash levels give me some control as well.

I suppose I am an old dog that way. I learned on older cameras that had little or nothing in the way of exposure control. My first 35mm was an Argus C3 which wasn't even SLR or metered (remember referring to the exposure tables on the sheet of paper that came with the film?)!

Not commenting on your situation or ability in any way, but I think a lot of folks place too much dependance on the full auto controls of cameras and when situations come up that necessitate manual control they don't have the background or experience to know what to do.

Let me give a specific example- I use bounce flash almost exclusively- either off the ceiling or using a Lumiquest Promax Ultrasoft. I find it is a simple matter of using full manual and just stepping through a few f stops to get the shot I need. It's one of the joys of digital photography- shoot all you want and keep the one good shot.

I do know that the FS1100 is available, but even discounted it seems to be about three times the cost of the one I mentioned. Since I only would use it about one or at the most two days a month, the Minolta aprt seemed like overkill. For what I do the fill flash on the A200 might work fine and i might just use a slave unit on the external flash- I will see...

Reading up on the A200 (and downloading and enhancing sample imagas) I find the A200's images to be very similar to the D770s in general quality, but with better color balance. On some of the under-exposed and "flat" images I have seen, a bit of sharpening and some "levels" adjustment and then a bit of color saturation added really does a lot of good for the images, and that is really important to me. As they say, you can't unscramble an egg, and once an image has been over-sharpened or had its level boosted to the point that the darks go black or the highlights go pure white, no amount of manipulation can get the detail back. I would much rather manipulate a shot after the fact than to lose one becasue the camera "decided" it knew how it should look better than I would.

My next step is to compare the rest of the field to the A200 and see if there are any that beat it (that I can afford). ...

I am rambling now. It's been a very long day!
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Old Feb 7, 2005, 9:16 PM   #7
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Randy G.--

Glad to hear you're leaning towards the A200. Don't lean too far, you'll fall over! :lol:

Ok, enough of the stand-up (fall-down) comedy routine...

I think you'll really appreciate that KM has made the A200's default color and sharpness settings neutral. There are clear advantages to having an unprocessed 'master' to work with. However, you can always change the defaults to be more aggressive if you like. I do notice that people with digicams that have been conditioned to have the settings cranked-up will see the unprocessed A200 images and give a funny look, like: what's wrong with the picture?

Haven't experimented with any depth of field shots yet, perhaps another A200 has tried some already?

As for digital zoom, I have mine turned off by default. However, you can advance through digital zoom from 1x to 4x in .1 increments.

The video mode is real nice. 640 @ 30fps is smooth, 800 @ 15fps is a bit jerky but looks good and overall is quite watchable. Autofocus can be a bit slow, but at least you can use anti-shake and zoom while shooting video.

However, two things that I thought I'd really like, I turned out not liking quite so much: auto-magnify for manual zoom and automatic gain on the LCD. The auto magnify is basically 4x digital zoom, and the picture is so interpolated, you can't really tell if you're achieving focus. You can get around that by pressing the shutter half-way down while using the manual focus (thanks to the forum member that told me about that!) The automatic gain does help, but the LCD gets real noisy when it does it, so I leave it off unless I absolutely need it (thanks, Catbells!)

Other potential things to watch out for: there have been some A200 forum members reporting of inconsistent auto white balance settings, and at least one member having focus-lock issues.

Cheers!
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Old Feb 7, 2005, 9:38 PM   #8
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I didn't mean to down play the alternative adapter that you found. I just wanted to point out there is an official one. I believe there is a version of the alternative adapter that included circuit isolation to protect the camera from high trigger voltage which is not even available in the Minolta adapter.

As to my complaint about the dark screen with FZ20 with manual flash, what I don't understand is if the person taking the picture is counting on the external flash to provide enough light for the camera why would the camera insists on showing you a screen of what it would be like without flash?
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Old Feb 7, 2005, 11:05 PM   #9
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I think all digital cameras entail some sort of compromise. At the top end you have extreme expense. In the range that we mortals can access, there are little details to deal with (on various cameras we have all read about weak auto focus at extreme zoom, moire in images of the D70, extremely slow auto focus with the Nikon 8800, purple fringing on lots of cameras, and the list goes on and on).

Purple fringing is on my pics.
There's no way to get over it.

Printing funny, and I don't know why.
I spent $800, know I'm gonna' cry

Wah Waahh Wahhhhh.. Wa Waa Waaaaa. Wa Waa Waaaa :shock:


Although I don't want to turn this into a personal photo blog, choices were a lot easier four or five years ago. Now, I started THINKING I would like the Z3 and now, although the price/feature point is pretty tempting for the A200, the D70 with a lens is going for around $800.

As BoneDaddy pointed out earlier, unless money is no object it is best to set a price point and shop from there. On the other hand, that has never worked well for me in the past. If you read through my coffee website, it started when I was shopping for an espresso machine over 4 years ago. I went from thinking I could get away with spending about $125. Final initial purchase for the "outfit" was closer to $800 total. I am still using all of that equipment over 4 years later, and making better espresso than you can buy within 100 miles of here.

It also points towards your future intentions. I am still using a camera that produces 1024x1344 images. I bought my current (and only) motorcycle in 1981.. used, I have been married to the same woman since 1971... In other words, I choose wisely and tend to keep things around for quite some time, and I get a lot of use out of them as well!

With all that in mind, choosing a digital camera today is quite difficult. Inany price or function rnage there are numerous choices to be made, and many compromises to deal with. Still, I don't fret too much- it is deductible!

The A200 has become my standard in the pro-sumer rnage against which the rest are judged, and it seems to be holding up well. I downloaded one of the test photos from a major website and printed it at 8x10 and it was quite nice indeed. Natural color, crisp detail against the sky, and excellent tonal range. I am sure I could be happy with this camera, but for the +/- $520 i will do some more investigating. I don't mind the initial investemnt in the D70 of $800 if it will be a camera I can be happy with for 5-7 years or more. After all, that's how much I paid for the D770!

Stay tuned- this adventure is not over!

to hfc1: Thanks for the note about the flash apadter. I wasn't being critical of your reference to the Minolta unit, and thanks for posting it here. It is a handy thing to know, not just for me, but for others as well. For the $.50 it would have cost on such an expensive camera they could have included a PC flash connector. The lack of USB 2.0 connectivity is also a shame, but easily dealt with using an external card reader.

to BoneDaddy: I have lots of experience in adjusting images. I have actuially taught a couple of classes to our local Internet Users group on the subject that were very well received (with 20 years teaching experience it came naturally to me). Even my wife said she learned something! That doesn't happen often! :lol: <-- I got the emoticon right this time!

And I agree totally about pthe false perception folks have about digital images. Much the same as my sideline of graphic art production. I run into lots of folks who think that just because they have a computer with MS word and a color printer they can do brochures and make money at it. I have see so many bad tri-folds it makes me dizzy. I told one lady (who had an art degree) that I had invested nearly 40 hous in designing a logo for a friend and she basically told me I didn't know what I was doing, and that a logo should take three of four hours. She also had a car, so it at least proves that any idiot can get a driver's license in California!

I think that the "instant" nature of digital camras, fast computers, and high speed internet connections give lots of folks a false impression of imaging. Witht he fast technology there are still some things that take time. I wish I had $.35 for every time I have told folks to RTFM! (which I did today- I downloaded the A200 manual from the Minolta website). I just finished writing an article for my March issue on color matching- how to get accurate color from your digital camra to paper. I wrote nearly 7 pages of single spaced typing.

I will be back! The nurse is here with my evening dose.. :?
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Old Feb 11, 2005, 12:02 PM   #10
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Randy G. I understand how frustrating it is to choose a new camera. If your a serious photographer, we all go through this. I don't know if I can shed anylight on your decision, but....

I own an A200 and a Panasonic DMC-FZ10. The A200 blows away the FZ10 in all aspects. The FZ10 is 4mp and 12x 38-420 zoom. I purchased the FZ10 for birds and nature and it is fine for that. I'm sure the Panasonic you mentioned is similiar to that.

The A200 replaced my Minolta 7i which was/is a great camera. I'm in a reverse situation from you as I purchased a $400 ring flash for the 7i for macro photography and wanted to still be able to use the flash. You cannot beat the A200 for handling ergomonics--it's just fantastic. The built-in flash on the A200 is much improved for portraits over the 7i. I understand this will not help you with bounce flash, but you seem to solved that problem.

All I can is the images on the A200 are surperb. I see a big improvement in detail, color over the 7i. The graduation of color is more film like on the A200.

There are a few problems: the camera sometimes "hunts" while focusing. The range of the flash is not too great.Thw write times are not as fast as I would like.I'm using a stard Sandisk 2GB card and I'm researching if the faster cards will help.

Like you said in the beginning of your post-there are tradeoffs in ALL cameras.

I used Nikon 35mm for 35 years and they were/are great. But this is a new age. I purchased good quality products and expect them to last and last. I have my working Nikon Photomic FTN from 1970 and my Nikon F3 from 1980--all still working. BUT DIGITAL, that's different. The cameras are still changing and what is great today will be $100 on Ebay in 2 years. That's my main concern about dSLR's. They're expensive and your locking yourself into one brand if you have multiple lens/accessories. I read some Canon uses can't use lens on the new Canon dSLR that they purchased for their previous dSLR Canon camera 2 years ago. For this I prefer the prosumer camera with a 7x or greater zoom.

In a nutshell for me the handling characteristics of the Minolta prosumer line 7-7i-hi-A1-A2-A200 is the MAJOR selling point. You should definately handle one before you buy. The images are great. Sure you can nickpick after blowing the photos up 200x from one camera over another, but can you really see this is a photograph. The joy of a smooth operating camera and the joy of the feel of the camera in your hands while you take the photograph are very important to me.
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