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Old Mar 21, 2009, 6:37 PM   #1
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Hi folks,

I'm in the market for a new digital camera and thought I'd get some feedback before taking the plunge. I've done some reading on the technologies, some specs on some models for comparison, but I might have overlooked something. Sorry in advance for the long-winded post, but perhaps its detailed nature will help narrow down model selection.

Keep in mind that I'm an experienced film SLR user, with various lenses, filters and flash units, but this will be my first digital camera. As an electronics technician with some programming experience, I'm fairly adept with computers and software, so I won't have a problem with complex camera menus/setups.
Also please keep in mind that I'm on a budget, and not a commercial budget. This is coming directly out of my pocket. Times are hard and I'm not rich. Indeed, I'm about to have to purchase an HDTV to replace my 9-yr old Sony WEGA, and we all know how costly flat panels are these days. :sad:

Although I'd like a good quality general purpose camera, I have a few specific uses in mind for the unit which may limit my choices:

1) I'll be taking close-ups of fine print and tiny detail, such as sticker labels, surface mount printed circuit board components and hair-thin, densely grouped pcb traces. So I need a camera that handles macro photography well. From what I've read, Canon seems to keep macro photographers in mind -- some of their models can shoot at zero distance from the subject (i.e., touching the lens!). I'm not sure how I'd achieve adequate lighting on the subject at zero distance, but it sounds intriguing at least.

2) I'll be taking video clips of electronic test equipment in action (oscilloscope displays, LED and vacuum-fluorescent instrument readouts, etc.). So I need a camera that shoots quality video. I'm aware of the problems with shooting 30fps video with certain display types, but since most(all?) of these cameras do only 30fps, I'll have to live with it. Not sure if I'll need HD video capability (for better image quality of smaller readouts). Audio will be required for some clips, but probably not stereo capability. The ability to zoom in/out while filming is a definite plus -- e.g., zoom out to show setup/adjustment of equipment controls and zoom back in for closeups of resultant displays. I can't envision needing to shoot more than 30-60 minutes of video (VGA or better) at one sitting.
I know, I know.. some of you are thinking I should buy a dedicated video recorder if I want to shoot video. If possible, I'd like an all-in-one unit and I'm trying to keep end cost to a minimum.
Stills of said displays will also be taken. Some stills and videos will be taken in low lighting, so I'll probably need a unit with low noise figures at higher ISO's. I can't use a flash or other bright light source, as it will wash out the illuminated displays. I've read some of the peculiar diffusion tricks, and maybe I could get decent results with those, who knows. I realize that low noise at high ISO's is a tall order with non-SLR units, but some are better than others at it. For example, some lines like Canon apparently use rather heavy-handed noise reduction, which kills detail.

3) I'll be shooting documents, such as large labels and 8.5" x 11" forms. Color fringing, poor perimeter focus, and barrel distortion would annoy me enough already, but for this use the results would be exaggerated. So, I need a camera with minimal fringing, good border focus and low distortion. From what I've read and images I've seen on various review sites, although Canon has superior color reproduction and white balance, their models suffer from color fringing and barrel distortion more than, for example, their Panasonic rivals.

Pixels: I'm assuming around 10 megapixels will suffice. This seems to be the standard nowadays. And considering I'll need good detail in macro shots and documents, I presume I'll need just about as high of a mp count as I can afford.

Superzoom: would be nice just so I could have an all-around GP camera for occasions when I'd like to shoot wildlife outdoors, but if it won't handle the above requirements, I may have to rule many zoomers out.

RAW: would be nice to be able to tweak images on the pc and bypass inbuilt noise reduction algorithms. It seems this feature in non-SLR units is relatively uncommon and, sadly, costs quite a bit more.

Hotshoe: an attractive feature, but I'm not quite sure I'll absolutely need it. I have quality flash units for my film SLR's and I do hate the thought of them being useless from now on.

Filters: seems my 58mm SLR filters won't fit most digital cameras -- not the adapter rings I've seen anyway, and some of the adapter makes I've seen are exorbitantly priced.

Stabilization: would certainly rather have optical as opposed to purely digital; a combo optical plus digital may be acceptable. As I'll be using a tripod for closeups and test gear shots, stabilization shouldn't be necessary for these. However, back to the GP usage, stabilization is obviously needed for zooms, and I haven't seen any zoomers that don't have it, most of them optical.

Modes: seems to be a plethora of scene modes in just about all digital cameras nowadays. I doubt I'd get much out of the more esoteric modes. However, I imagine something like a museum mode might come in handy for flashless, low light, equipment display shots. Then again, I might be better off setting that up manually.

Custom setup: would definitely enjoy having a "full manual" mode, as I'm so accustomed to my film SLR and having complete control over my shots. Custom white balance would also be appreciated, and likely necessary in certain situations.

Remote control: might come in handy during video capture while I'm using the aforementioned test equipment in purpose #2 above.

Viewfinder: not sure what I really need here. I imagine it helps to have the most pixels possible, and a diopter adjustment could come in handy -- I don't have astigmatism, but I am becoming presbyopic. I suppose as long as I could get my readers situated to the viewfinder properly, I wouldn't need the diopter control.

LCD swing display: might be helpful to have 2-axis rotation if I were to shoot from the floor or ground or up high like over the heads of people in a crowd. This doesn't apply to purposes 1-3, but would be of benefit in GP usage.

Storage: don't know what I need here. I've read some about the different kinds of memory cards, but I'm just not sure what would be best out of all the formats for my intended uses. I guess I don't need the fastest available, as I won't be shooting high-fps sporting events and the like. However, if a fast type is required for good video, that's what I'll want. I'll also obviously need enough memory to store the 30-60 minutes of video as alluded to in purpose #2 above, which means I might need to steer clear of cameras with built-in time/size limits. I have a reader for my pc which recognizes 25 different types of cards, so surely it would work with most modern camera ones.

Power supply: I'll admit the idea of being able to pop in normal AA cells is attractive. There's nothing worse than having an expensive, proprietary pack go kaput at an inopportune time. Also, end cost goes up quite a bit if I must buy proprietary backup packs in case the primary fails or gets drained. But again, if I can't get quality results for purposes 1-3 above with an "AA" unit, I guess I'll have to forget that feature. I'll obviously need available power for the 30-60 minutes of video as alluded to in purpose #2 above.

Digital SLR: can't be beat for low noise figures at higher ISO. But again, I'd like to have video capability in the same unit. I'm only aware of certain Nikon SLR's that can do video, but I'm not sure I'd want to stress the large, expensive sensor by using it for video anyway. Good SLR's are also quite a bit more costly than most other camera types.

The upcoming Canon SX1 IS appears to have almost all the features I want. I don't see an available adapter ring for it, though. From the sample images on Canon's site, it seems to suffer less fringing than previous models, too. But the retail price ($600) on that thing is out of my reach. I'm guessing the street price won't put it in my price range, either. It's hard to say what my price range is exactly. It depends on a number of things, not the least of which is how good of a deal I can make on that new HDTV I alluded to earlier.

Thanks for taking the time to read through this.
So, what camera model(s) would you recommend I consider?
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Old Mar 22, 2009, 8:31 AM   #2
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The Canon SX10is and Panasonic FZ28 have most of the features you want. The Canon does not shoot raw files while the Panasonic does. However, the Canon does have a hotshoe, which the Panasonic lacks.
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Old Mar 22, 2009, 9:19 AM   #3
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You haven't mentioned a dollar limit, but you did mention some things I'd like to comment on.

Nikon has the only optically stabilized macro lens, though, of course, if a dSLR with video capability is outside your budget, then a $900 lens won't help.

You mentioned optical image stabilization and digital image stabilization, but didn't mention sensor shift image stabilization. To be sure, digital IS is inferior to the other two with regard to still images, but it's the method of choice for video. P&S digicams may use any of the methods of stabilization, but dSLRsonly use optical or sensor shift IS methods, and, by all accounts,with equal effectiveness. In addition, some of your current film SLR gear might work with a current dSLR, though, of course, your lenses will only be stabilized on the camera bodies that use sensor shift IS. That would be either Pentax or Sony (Minolta).

Superzoom P&S digicams are a good choice, but superzoom lenses for dSLRs are not usually the best choice when either image quality or budget are a concern.
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Old Mar 22, 2009, 10:36 AM   #4
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jet wash wrote:
Quote:
...
3) I'll be shooting documents, ...
This one all but restricts you to a DSLR with a true macro lens. At the very least, you will need to have a very high end P&S with RAW capability and be prepared to deal with the rectilinear distortion (barrel or pincushion) and color fringing by applying correction when post processing. You'll still end up with lower resolution at the edges either from actual lower edge resolution or from curvature of field (edges focus to a different distance than center).

You may want to rethink you specifications with an eye to moving some taskes to a separate piece of equipment rather than trying to find a jack-of-all-trades (and therefore master-of-none!) camera. Perhaps the copy work could be assigned to a flatbed scanner.
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Old Mar 22, 2009, 12:06 PM   #5
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Good Morning,

Since you listed the Canon SX1, I'll use that as the top of your budget range. I believe that most of you needs can be met with a high end P&S and I am thinking of the Panasonic LX3, since it covers most of your needs...

Overall - Its a 24 to 60mm f/2.0-2.8 lens, 10MP with a minimum focusing distance of 1cm, image stabilized, fully manual (shoots JPG or RAW), with a large 3" screen, low iso of 80, has a hot shoe, no viewfinder, movies of 1280x720 (30 fps) [note no focusing while zooming], lots of modes (actually too many), 2 custom modes (user defineable), takes filters (via extension tubes), it is relatively small and light (half the weight of the SX1). Uses SDHC cards for storage (name brand 8GB, class 6 cards go for $20)

Negatives - no remote control, no viewfinder, limited zoom to 60mm, no active focusing during movie zooming, Audio during movies is not stero, but very acceptable. Screen is fixed - no articulation. Uses a properity li-ion battery, with about 400-700 shots per recharge, replacements are $10/each.

Some specific items - ISO of 80, and even with a small sensor (compared to a dSLR) its large for a P&S so the pixels/cm**2 are relative low again for a P&S (provides noise reduction). With the f2 lens, its great for low and ambient light. Its sensor is much larger than the SX1 therefore its pixels/cm**2 are much lower. Its video is great, however you are not able to zoom and you are limited to 10 minutes per segment (just stop and restart).

The black ones are going for a premium ($420) while the silver bodies are going for the around $350 - not that I think that color matters to you.

On another website, a user who is a researcher, uses it to photograph documents rather than Xerox them (in a library - no flash), and reports it works great.

I would investigate a number of web retailers and their return policies. If interested, order it and try it out. If it does not work for you - return it.

Hope that helps...
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Old Mar 22, 2009, 12:36 PM   #6
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You have my interest, since I have not actually used the LX3 in the way your wishing to apply it. So here are a couple of tests - just for grins.

These were all done on the kitchen table with a 60 watt table lamp - no flash, hand held, nothing special.

This first one is an 8.5 x 11 color brochure. It had been folded, so it would not lay flat - thus the reflection. I was about a foot away, just framed it and hit the shutter.

PS - if you want the full size images - PM me your email address and I'll send them your way.


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Old Mar 22, 2009, 12:37 PM   #7
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Here is a crop from the right hand side of the above image. I selected this area due to the reflection on the left hand side.


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Old Mar 22, 2009, 12:44 PM   #8
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I had an old modem card, so here is a test. First with it setting on an 8.5x11 sheet of paper - same old kitchen table, same old table lamp - nothing special. Its about a foot away.


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Old Mar 22, 2009, 12:45 PM   #9
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Then here, I zoomed into the right hand end of the board...


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Old Mar 22, 2009, 12:55 PM   #10
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Here is another one, of the other side, more parts and interconnects. Its still a foot away, at 85% reduction of 100% crop (so that I could meet Steve's image size threshold).


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