Duck at Sunrise
I captured this image at 0530 one morning during my week off last week; the spec-like object in the water looked like a duck and it quacked like a duck, in case you’re wondering. I managed to nab several images that I was quite pleased with despite the fact I was using a fairly basic camera for the job — a Canon A300 3.2 MegaPixel point-and-shoot that we’ve had around the office for a couple of years for utilitarian snapshot uses. I used to do a fair bit of photography back when 35mm SLRs were the norm… and I’ve realized I’m thinking back near 20 years here, as it’s been almost that long since a hobby I once gave a lot of time to has sat dormant with my gear collecting dust and gathering “antique” status.

At any rate, I was happy enough with the results of my recent playing around with the digital and I’m thinking about a family trip we’ve got coming up through the Rocky Mountains later this summer, noticing that my wife’s Canon Elph APS camera is ageing, wondering if I should have the light meters recalibrated on my SLRs before the trip but not really wanting to tote all the necessary accoutrements along in what promises to be an overstuffed vehicle… and thinking perhaps it’s time we just went digital. The idea would be to find something that fits the happy medium between point-and-shoot and higher-quality imaging with enough manual control available that I can achieve what I want when I want it. Since it’ll have to be small enough to actually get carried around and used, the dSLR form factor is out. If I really get bit by the shutter-bug and the hobby catches on with me again (and I really hope it will) then maybe I’ll look at picking up a dSLR next year… after I’m sure it’d get used.

This led to some research, as I’m a bit out of touch with the photo hobbyist world and the whole digital photgraphy thing. What I knew so far was that battery life can really suck big time (major failing on the A300 imo) and that digital zoom isn’t worth much… at least if the A300 is any indicator (1.3-1.6x is the max digital zoom you’d want to use or everything gets seriously pixelated). Once I got into the whole research thing I started to ask how many megapixels I needed to get certain print sizes later, among other things, like battery life, optical zoom, and other standard features. I also decided that I want something that has Linux support, meaning it needs to be on gPhoto’s list of over 700 models.

As I got deeper into it this week, I remembered how when I bought my first SLR with automatic modes, the Pentax Super Program (which is only listed on Pentax’s history of innovations page now), I picked one of the very few cameras on the market that offered both shutter and aperture-priority modes. Part ofmy logic was that being new to automated modes at that time, I didn’t know which one I really needed… and as it turned out, I ended up using shutter-priority only very rarely for the type of photography I did. While I’m on the subject, the Pentax was to augment my original manual camera body, the Ricoh KR-5, which also used the Pentax K-mount. I had the original KR-5, not the one with the automatic mode, meaning as a fully manual camera like the Pentax K-1000, you could operate it without batteries, which only powered the light meter. The original KR-5 was discontinued, but for those in the know, it was a better choice than the more popular K-1000 for people looking for a fully manual workhorse. Smaller, lighter, easier to handle, and it had a better light meter… this point is not really open to discussion with me, and I won’t be letting go of the one I’ve got.

Anyway, thinking back to my SLRs led me to believe that I definitely wanted an aperture-priority mode on the digital camera, which ruled out many of the lower-cost options. Dang.

In any event, I’m looking at the Nikon P2, whose only downside is that it’s only 5.1MP, but it does have built-in wifi… just in case a USB cable isn’t convenient enough, I suppose. Also looking at the Canon PowerShot A620 which is 7.1MP. These two do have aperture-priority modes and are my leading contenders. I’m also taking a peek at the Olympus SP-350 (or 500) and Sony has some interesting-looking models as well, like the Cyber-shot DSC-W7.

The Olympus is a bit more money (more than I’d hoped to get away with spending) and I haven’t figured out if the Sony has aperture-priority or not, but I’d like to figure out what I want to do in the next week. They all have 3-4x optical zoom and I can find most of these models online for $200 and change, which is where the Nikon and Canon options sit. With the Canon, my hesitation is largely in the battery department, where I’ve had poor experience so far and would prefer the Lithium-Ion rechargables to the Canon’s NiCad-AA’s. Actually it’s the AA-format has me skeptical; sure you can get replacement batteries anywhere that way, but it’s the thought that you might have to that bothers me, I don’t want to have to carry or think about spares with a point-and-shoot, as it kinda defeats the purpose.

Still not sure which way to jump, so I’m throwing it open to the wisdom of the crowd… I know I’ve got a number of readers who know more about this than I do, perhaps some who’ve used one or more of these camera models… leave me a comment or hit me offline if you’ve got some insight to share.

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