Tuesday, December 30, 2003
Some further digital photography thoughts as follow-ups to my earlier Canon G5 post now that I've had time to play around with it for a while. There's a lot that's good about this camera and the current generation of digital cameras in general. Now that I've had some time to play, I'd like to give some more perspective -- from the point of view of a long-time fairly serious 35mm photographer -- of how I view the state of digital today from my particular perspective.
First, let's talk about tradeoffs. If not one of those cameras that are advertised by promoting their fit into a rake-thin model's hip pocket , it's certainly more pocketable than an SLR or one of those near-SLR-sized big-optical-zoom-ratio like a Nikon Coolpix 5700. This tradeoff is about having a goodly set of features, a fairly speedy and high quality f/2.0-3.0 lens, and a reasonable (4x) but not spectacular optical zoom ratio.
It was a reasonable set of tradeoffs for me. I wanted a high quality camera that could shoot in low light that was reasonably compact. (If size weren't a consideration I'd have jumped right into a Canon digital SLR body given that I already have Canon EOS lenses.) But I was looking to step up from my 1 megapixel Olympus D450 that I bought essentially for snapshooting. The day may come when I purchase an more modern ultra-compact digital snapsot camera that wasn't this purchase.
I've learned how to use the camera -- which does require a bit or work; the manual is reasonable but we're talking about a fairly complicated instrument here. It provides control over shutter speed, f-stop, etc. that you don't find any longer outside of exotic rangefinders like Leicas any longer. And its pivoting LCD screen is extremely useful for all sorts of shots from non-traditional not-just-behind-the-camera perspectives. This includes low angle shots and even self-portraits (for which the included wireless remote comes in handy as well.) The pict quality is solid. Nothing to compalin about there.
Negatives? A few. The viewfinder is typical crap point-and-shoot. There are no brightlines to clearly delineate the subject and no information anout shutter speed/f-stop/etc. The lens is also visible through the viewfinder although that's actually not ususual for "real" traditional rangefinders and I find it more an "aesthetic" issue than something that really interferes with photography. Why not just use the LCD? Well, it's hard to see in bright light (like every other LCD) and using the viewfinder can make it easier to hold the camera steady and precise as well.
Digital also still has some inherent shooting time/delay issues compared to film. The delay isn't bad here -- especially if it's prefocused -- but it's still a bit more than my film camera. And, in RAW mode in which the camera records the image as captured by the sensor without compression or other manipulation (my preferred mode of shooting as memory cards are fairly cheap and it gives me the most post-shoot options), I can only get off about one-shot per second. Of course, with film, I rarely use motor drive because of the cost of film so this is more of a complaint about having trouble taking advantage of a potential digital advantage than it is a real limit of digital compared to film. In more modest-sized JPEG modes, however, the shooting speed is quite respectable -- several times per second. The fact that the G5 provides multiple modes -- including custom ones -- means that you can shift quite speedily from full quality to "snapshot" to quality+speed.
The relatively small size of today's digital sensors also limits the wide-angle coverage of current camera. That's the other thing I'm not crazy about with the G5; it only gets down to a 35mm film equivalent of a 35mm lens. I'd prefer something wider and often find myself shooting at the widest angle. This is also an issue even with digital SLR bodies which has in turn led to the popularity of "ultra-wide" zooms to compensate. It's also one of the reasons that I've held off buying a digital SLR back -- I like wide-angles and I'd hate for my Canon 17-40mm turn into an esentially normal range lens. (I'm aware that Canon offers a wide-angle converter for the G5. Quality concerns aside, adding multiple lenses to a camera of this sort bulks it up to look more and more like an SLR or "all-in-one" Nikon 5700 style which starts to make it a fundamentally different form factor.)
A couple of more comprehensive reviews follow. Bottom line? I like it given my emphasis on features and capabilities rather than ultimate portability within the constraints of a pocketable camera. I'll get an EOS digital back someday and, probably, a very compact digital point and shoot another -- but this is a good serious-but-compact camera for now.
Sunday, December 28, 2003
The ultimate backup for digitial photos... Print them out!
We're in a bit of a contradictory situation when it comes to the digital photos that are increasingly replacing the film variety. On the one hand, digital's potential for redundant, off-site backup is great. A few gigabytes or less of storage in most cases could protect against "analog's" faded prints and slides, fire, water damage, et al. One could imagine multiple copies spread among data centers and family memebrs. Far more redundancy than film can provide for more than the odd print here and there.
Yet the reality is likely worse. One copy on a cheap hard disk that will inevitably fail. What's a backup reginem?
I'm a little surprised that no one's made a more aggressive sell of the "all the pictures of little Johnnie will be wiped out some day without XYZ product" variety. But perhaps that's just a reflection of the difficulty of selling "good for you" products like backup. Even those of us who have at least some basic backup strategies in place hesitate to spend more for what we know are complete and proven backup methodologies.
Still, I predict this is going to become a more publicized isue as more and more types of documents and memories get digitized in a way that they can be wiped out by a single head crash.
I spend a good part of my days writing research notes and working on other sorts of research projects. I also deal with the usual flow of other demands -- calls and IMs from reporters, inquiries from clients, briefings/interviews, administrivia... Something we observe is that if you add up the scheduled time of these typically short-term commitments and add it our "productive time" you don`t end up with a full day. Surely not all the other time was taken up by random web surfing and online shopping! (In fact, we figure that about four hours a day of writing time is the most that we can achieve in other than short-term, heads-down mode even though the other stuff may only take up an hour or two on a typical day.) In the vernacular, where did all that time go?!
Jakob Nielsen of the Nielsen Norman Group gives a good explanation in IM, Not IP (Information Pollution) for where this extra time disappears to.
IM is even worse than e-mail with respect to one of the most important human-factors criteria: It's interruptive of task flow because it demands realtime attention. Some things do need realtime attention, but even a one-minute interruption can easily cost a knowledge worker 10 to 15 minutes of lost productivity due to the time needed to reestablish mental context and reenter the flow state. That's why one of the best ways of increasing the productivity of programmers is to give them individual offices. And that's why no e-mail program should come with the biff feature turned on by default. (Biff is the annoying ability to ring a bell or flash the screen every time an e-mail message arrives. In fact, the world economy would gain several million dollars per year if this feature were completely eradicated.)
The issue also has some good other discussions about instant messaging.