A New Digital Camera

by Bob Seidel

For those of us who follow the digital camera industry, THE big event of the year is the Photo Marketing Association (PMA) trade show, just recently held in Las Vegas. Most manufacturers introduce their new products there, and the industry press is full of product evaluations. So, if you are going to buy a new camera around this time of the year, it's worthwhile to wait until after the PMA to get the latest and greatest.

My wife and I now photograph almost exclusively in digital, and we use two cameras. My main camera is a somewhat elderly now Olympus E-10. It is a fairly large, DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex) camera but still an excellent one. In fact, I just renewed the service contract on it, because I intend to be using it for a few years to come. Our other camera was an also somewhat elderly Kodak unit - in fact, it was one of the first popular digital cameras. Well, the Kodak auto focus has begun to fail, and it is of course not up to speed technically any more. So, we set about finding a new camera.

The field is now full of really excellent cameras from many manufacturers. Digital cameras have steadily improved in features and quality, and steadily declined in price to some degree. The question is: how to evaluate all the features and pick one? These are the features that we wanted:

Size: We like to use a "big" camera (one with a large lens and full features) for our better photography, and a smaller, almost pocket sized, unit for quick shots. We try to carry a camera with us when we take walks on the beach or ride our bikes just in case that spectacular shot suddenly presents itself to us. Since the E-10 is our "big" camera, the new one needed to be petite.

Lens Cap: This may sound trivial, but we needed a camera with a built in, automatic lens closing mechanism. My wife constantly misplaces lens caps (they appear months or years later in various corners of the house) and she hates lens caps on a tether.

Batteries: We have lots of rechargeable (NiMH) AA sized batteries. We didn't want a camera that took an odd sized or unique battery, and wanted to use the batteries, chargers, etc. that we already had. Also, battery technology does advance. Our first NiMH batteries had a capacity of 1450 mah (milli-amp-hours). Our newer ones are 1900 mah and you can get them with 2000 mah - a significant improvement in capacity. This type of advancing technology only occurs in "standard" units, rarely in oddball or unique ones.

Photo Storage or Digital Film: Both our prior cameras used CF (Compact Flash) cards, which continue to be the most popular format. There are a number of new sized cards being used by cameras now, which in my mind has just introduced confusion into the industry. We wanted to again use the CF cards that we already had.

Features: Most digital cameras now are very technically capable, but there are still differences in the feature sets, controls, usability, etc. Since there is no local digital camera store, you can only rely on reviews and comments you read on the Internet. So, I did a lot of reading and browsing.

We finally ended up with a new Canon model A70. Canon is, of course, a major player in the business, and the A70 was very highly rated. It was also a follow-on model to a proven family of cameras. It satisfied all of the above requirements, but once we got out hands on it, we found that there were some features that were really excellent.

Primary of these was that it was very fast. The time to start up and the time to store and retrieve images from the CF cards was dramatically better than either of our prior cameras. With my E-10, you have to wait when you view images after shotting, and especially if you zoom in - with the Canon it's almost instantaneous. However, the auto-focus and shutter delay was about the same as the old Kodak. If you want good auto-focus, it takes the camera a bit of time to do it.

The LCD screen was a vast improvement over the Kodak, and much more visible in bright light. The menus were also very well organized and easy to use.

The auto-focus is definitely far superior to even the E-10 - something Canon has always been known for. It will scan the photo area for items to focus on, and even shows you the area in the picture that it uses by displaying green squares on the screen where they are. Really neat!

And, of course, the photos it takes are excellent. I think we have a winner!

(Bob Seidel is a local computer consultant in the Southport / Oak Island area. You can visit his website at www.bobseidel.com or e-mail him at bsc@bobseidel.com)