Camera Selection Basics for the Lightweight Backpacker

Features for a lightweight backpacker to look for in a digital or film camera.

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by Franco Darioli | 2006-07-04 03:00:00-06

Introduction

Cameras For Lightweight Backpackers - 2
The author holding a Pentax WPi. The WPi is a rugged all-weather camera with a moderately fast 38-114mm (35mm equivalent) / F3.3-4.0 fully enclosed lens.

Amazing! Having turned the last corner out of a dense forest, you are facing a magnificent little lake that is reflecting some glorious peaks on top of it. You are overwhelmed by the incredible beauty. Now it is time to relax, set up the tent and prepare dinner; it just does not get better than this!

As you smile to yourself, the desire to freeze the moment in time comes to mind. Pity, you do not have a camera. You have pondered getting one but they are either too heavy and too big or they don’t shoot quality pictures. Well, fortunately you are wrong. Maybe that was the case, but now there are several choices for the lightweight backpacker and even some for the ultralightweight backpacker.

When looking for a good camera, what items should you consider? To start with, the camera should be able to take pictures that will not only be of good quality in the standard size print of 4x6 inch, but also up to at least an 8x10 and worthy of a frame and wall space in your favorite location.

Another desirable requirement is some “weatherproofness,” better still, waterproofness. Battery types and their expected life should also be examined. I do not believe in absolute “best” in a camera; in the end, you will have to decide according to your particular preference.

I will divide the different options available into three categories:

  1. One-use (disposable) film cameras
  2. Compact film cameras
  3. Compact digital cameras

(Note: camera model names and numbers can vary wildly across the globe for identical models. Wherever possible we’ve included both US and overseas nomenclature.)

One-Use Cameras

Cameras For Lightweight Backpackers - 3
Disposable cameras are available from many camera manufacturers. FujiFilm's QuickFlash is shown here.

Tip: There are also some “panorama” types available. Check the focal length in millimeters, the lower the number the better. Standard on a compact is 35mm, 28mm is wider, and 17mm is the widest of this type. (Note that the panorama effect is created by masking off parts of the top and bottom of a standard 35mm negative.)

One-use cameras are available from most film suppliers, Fuji/Kodak/Agfa, and generic brands. Look at the weatherproof type for an extended trip, or simple non-flash standard type for a day trip.

There are also “digital” one-use cameras that provide prints and a photo CD as part of the processing.

Pros: Inexpensive to buy and you are not out much money if you damage or break them. Also, very important to the lightweight backpacker, they are very light. 4.5 to 5.3 ounces (130 to 150g).

Cons: Image quality is only good enough for a standard size print; they have a fixed lens and no exposure or focus settings, so are generally restricted to fair weather use. If you think you’ll want more pictures than the camera holds, you’ll have to bring a second camera, limiting the weight and bulk advantages.

Compact Film Cameras

With the advent of digital cameras the range of available film cameras has been reduced dramatically. But the good news is that they have also gone down in price and there are some real winners left. Star performers are the Olympus Stylus/MjuII, the Kyocera (Yashica) T4 and the Canon A1. Some of these cameras will be hard to find.

Pros: Very affordable, choice of high performance, low light lens (Olympus Stylus Epic) or mini zoom, auto focus and auto exposure for sharp and well-exposed negatives or slides. Generally they have good battery life.

Cons: You do not know what the results will be until the film has been developed and printed. Because of this, some shots will translate into wasted money and time and others will never be captured.

 

MODELWEIGHT
oz (g)
SIZE
mm
BATTERY TYPENUMBER OF SHOTS**LENS***OTHER
Canon A111.29 (320)133x88x53CR12324032mm / F3.5Waterproof/Grade 7*. Great for tough environment
Minolta Explorer EX / Riva 758.9 (255)121x66x44CR12330028-75mmGood wide to tele zoom
Nikon 100w7.76 (220)115x65x41CR12335028-100mmVery light for a 3.5x zoom film camera
Olympus Mju II/Stylus in U.S.5.29 (150)108x59x37CR12328035mm / F2.8Weatherproof/Grade 4*, bright sharp lens
Pentax Espio 24EW7.3 (215)113x62x45CR235024-105Widest wide angle available. Expect darker and softer edges
  *Refers to the Japanese Industry Standard (see the sidebar on Weatherproof Grades for more details).
 **A very approximate number for the number of shots the camera can take before its batteries are exhausted.
***The first value describes the lens focal length or range of focal lengths if it is a zoom lens. The second value is the lens' maximum aperture represented by the F-Number.

Compact Digital Cameras

Here we have a huge range of choices, but the standards we are using of size, weight and weatherproofness reduce the choice to a much smaller number. A digital camera is a rather fragile piece of equipment. Water, condensation, dust, and sand are the enemies, so some sort of weather protection is very important for the typical outdoor user.

Tip: To save battery life on multi day hikes, avoid chimping. Chimping: The act of reviewing one’s pictures and emitting oh, oooh sounds.

Use power save mode.

Avoid consecutive flash shots, give the battery time to recover.

Turn off the sound effect mode. On my Pentax WPi I get at least another 50 shots by foregoing the shutter noise and various other amusing but power hungry sounds.

Cameras For Lightweight Backpackers - 4
The Ricoh GR-1 is a tough, fixed focal length - 28mm (35mm format equivalent), fast, weather resistant camera.

Another major consideration is the type and the capacity of the battery used. Digital cameras either use standard AA or AAA batteries or proprietary Lithium-Ion batteries. The former are easy to acquire anywhere and come in non-rechargeable (alkaline or lithium) and rechargeable (Nickel Metal Hydrate, NiMH). The latter are typically camera specific, rechargeable, higher capacity, and only available through specialty stores. The single greatest advantage cameras that use standard batteries have is that you can purchase replacements quite easily. However alkaline batteries - which are what you will most readily find - are fairly low capacity and will not yield as many photos. Recharging standard size batteries in the field may be easier too with the use of a solar charger, but this of course adds significant weight. Proprietary batteries are harder to recharge, cost more, but are typically considerably more powerful.

Many digital cameras will tout their water and weatherproofness. There are relatively few waterproof cameras that can actually tolerate immersion. For example, the Olympus Mju/Stylus is weatherproof (JIS Grade 4) which means it can tolerate splashed water and dust particles 1mm and larger. While the Pentax Optio Wpi, possessing a JIS grade 8 rating, can be submerged for up to 30 minutes in water up to a depth of 4.9 feet (1.5m). Another practical choice to improve the weatherproofness of your digital camera is a compact digital camera with a waterproof housing. There are two types of waterproof covers. A thin and relatively light (about 5.3 ounces/150 grams) waterproof case to about 9 feet (3m) or a heavier (around 9 ounces/250 grams) and larger housing waterproof to 100-130 feet(30-40m). The former is available for the Sony L1, T7, S60 and 90, also for the Olympus Verve/Mju Mini. The latter can be had for most of the models by the top brands.

Pros: Instant gratification, point/shoot and review, don’t like it? Delete and shoot again. Choice of functions and zoom range.

Cons: Startup cost (camera, spare battery, memory card).

Models

The following is a list of some of the latest digital still models. There are several hundred on the market. This list focuses on what I consider backpacker friendly cameras.

MODELWEIGHT
oz (g)1
SIZE
mm
BATTERY TYPENUMBER OF SHOTS2LENS3PIXELS
megapixels
OTHER
Canon Powershot A5208.5 (240)91x64x38AAx235-140mm4Great value for money
Casio EX-Z556.7 (190)87x57x23NP40 Li35-105mm5Great battery life, winner of the Camping Camera 2005 award
Fujifilm F106.7 (190)92x58x27Li-Ion50036-108mm6Long battery life. Best in low light. Largest CCD
Nikon Coolpix 56006.7 (190)85x60x35AAx234-102mm5Another one for the long trail
Olympus Stylus 720 SW5.3 (150)95x56x20Li-Ion37-114mm7Waterproof to 3m (9ft); Shock proof
Olympus Stylus Verve/Mju Mini4.5 (130)95x55x27mmli 30b35mm-70mm4Weatherproof /Grade 4*
Panasonic DMC FX015.5 (155)94x51x24Li-Ion27028-102mm6Widest angle+16:9 capture and playback. Great for that HD TV screen
Panasonic DMC FZ512.0 (340)108x68x85CGA S002E36-432mm5Very small for a 12xzoom. Close to SLR performance. Includes optical stabilizer
Panasonic DMC LZ28.11 (230)101x64x33AAx220037-222mm5Compact for a 6x zoom with optical stabilizer (anti-shake)
Pentax Optio WPi4.8 (135)102x51x22DL1838-114mm6Waterproof/Grade 8*, Silicon skin now available for a better grip
Ricoh GR Digital7.1 (205)107x25x58Li-Ion28mm fixed8Solid construction, high quality wide lens, low noise
Ricoh R2/Rollei Dr57.1 (200)100x55x25Li10 / AA400 with Li1028mm-135mm5Wide angle lens/ can use 2x AA Batteries
Sony DSC L14.94 (140)95x44x25Li NPFT124032-96mm4Small and light, with an extra battery you could do a multi week walk
Sony S909.2 (260)108x52x26mmAAx240039-117mm5Heavy, but great colors and long battery life with 4x spare AA Li you can do all of the AT
*Refers to the Japanese Industry Standard (see the sidebar on weatherproof grades for more details).
1Weight does not include battery and memory card. Save weight with AA batteries by using the lithium type.
2Number of shots is according to CIPA standards.
3Lens size is presented as its 35mm equivalent, e.g., a 50mm focal length is standard, a 25mm would be twice as wide and a 100mm twice as long (the subject would appear twice as far or twice as close).

Cameras For Lightweight Backpackers - 5
Olympus continues to improve the Stylus camera line with the waterproof (to 9 feet / 3 meters) 720SW.

Most of the above models are available as 3 or 4 megapixel (mp) or 4 and 5mp versions. With some, the higher mp version has a larger screen or better battery performance.

Digital cameras have a very short product lifecycle and are replaced quickly. The above list is only a guide highlighting some of the best of each type, see the “other” column for the reason.

The Pentax WP has been replaced by the WPi, same camera but with a 6MP sensor from the current 5mp,

The Olympus Verve is now the Verve S, from 4 to 5MP, also see the Stylus 800, which is a bit bigger and heavier but 8MP.

Battery Performance

Digital Cameras - what is mAh? mAh stands for MilliAmp hour. This is a capacity rating telling you how much power a particular battery has. A higher mAh means the battery should hold a charge longer, which means that you can take more photos before recharging. When using multiple batteries in a camera, make sure that their mAh values match.

Tips: Different camera brands and models have different power drain, so do not assume that the 800 mAh battery inside model X will last longer than the 600 mAh powering model Y. As an example, the same battery will deliver about twice the number of pictures when used with the Olympus Verve S compared to the Verve.

Sony, Casio and Ricoh have put a lot of effort into delivering more shots per charge. There is a standard established by the Japanese Industry Standard Association to guide us with the expected performance with each model. The test sequence is as follows: power up the camera, zoom out, take a shot with flash, zoom back, take another shot without flash, and switch off. Because of different habits and temperatures, in practice what you get will vary from this, or any other standard.

Generally speaking, for better performance avoid powering up the camera too often; better to keep it on for a couple of minutes than to switch it on and off. If you can, use the viewfinder and not the LCD screen and use the “power save” mode. Limit unnecessary zooming and flash use.

Battery Types Compared

DisposableProsCons
AA and AAA
Cheap, easily availableThe disposable types are not exactly a “green” solution", bulky compared to many proprietary rechargeable batteries.
AlkalineCheapOne use and low power
LithiumVery light (about 2 ounces / 60 grams for four) About three times the power of the alkaline battery and has a very long shelf life, up to 10 years.More expensive, harder to find.
Lithium cells such as CR123, CRV3, 2CR5 and CR2 power many film and some digital cameras.
Long life, light weight.Can be difficult to find, expensive.
RechargeableProsCons
Rechargeable batteries offer the obvious benefits of many reuses and always being able to leave home with a fully charged battery. Few film cameras and most digital cameras use rechargeable cells. On longer trips, backpackers face carrying expensive extra cells or some way to recharge them in the field.
Ni-Cad (Nickel-Cadmium)-Not usable with most compact digital cameras, avoid them.
Ni-MH (Nickel Metal Hydride)Reusable (up to 500 charges), available in capacities from 1200 mAh to 2500 mAh (the higher, the better)High self-discharge rate, about 10% after the first 24 hours and 25% per month after that, so not recommended for long trips. No "memory."
Li-Ion (Lithium Ion)Small and light (some will give up to 500 shots per charge), have a relatively long life, have a self-discharge range of only about 5% overnight and 8% per month after that. No memory. Now available in AA and AAA size.Expensive and too many types (proprietary) makes them hard to find. Available from tiny 500 mAh to 1800 mAh - most cameras can only take one size.

Discontinued Cameras

There are a lot of very good but discontinued models out there. The shelf life of a digital still camera is now less than 1 year, keep in mind that newer is not always better. Here are some suggestions for some of the better discontinued models.

Film Camera
Contax T series
Minolta Riva
Olympus XA/XA2
Rollei 35T/S
Stylus/Mju
Yashica T
Digital Camera
Canon Ixus /Powershot S-SD (various models)
Olympus Mju/Stylus (various models)
Sony U30/40/60 (Only 2mp but tiny. The 60 is waterproof. Great for 6 by 4 prints.)

For more details check these two excellent sites http://www.dpreview.com and http://www.steves-digicams.com.

Tip: the lens size and coating is always a good indication of the quality of the results. A small mono-coated (bluish tinge) lens spells cheap.

As stated at the beginning of this article, there is no single best camera; you have to choose according to your own preferences. The brand is only important for after sales service, no single brand makes only good cameras, however there are a lot of No Brands that are sold on the Internet and in some shops that are best avoided. Do not buy by comparing numbers, I can show you better pictures from a 2MP than from some so called 10MP. The price is an indication, the look and feel of the item is another way to tell the quality. I very rarely see a cheap looking camera that takes sharp pictures.

None of the cameras that I have highlighted should disappoint; however, I suggest you handle and compare them before you buy. I started selling cameras when the Kodak 110 was the people’s choice and as bad as they were, they did give a lot of joy and preserved memories for most.

Now, go and buy a camera, return to that fantasy lake and freeze that magic moment. Happy shooting!

About the Author

Cameras For Lightweight Backpackers - 1
The author at Waterfall Valley in Tasmania. The Bennett's wallaby (Macropus Rufogriseus) is wild and common at this campsite.

Franco Darioli was born in 1955 in the Italian Alps. He did some hiking up to the age of 18 in elevations from 2500 to 7000 feet. He has worked in London, then New Zealand and Sydney, Australia. Since 1980, he has been living in Melbourne. He is the still digital and video buyer for a busy photographic shop and a regular contributor to the photographic section of the largest Melbourne newspaper. He has recently started hiking again and is gradually changing to lightweight gear, (e.g., from a Bibler Pinon to a Black Diamond Lighthouse to the TarpTent Rainbow and soon the TarpTent Squall Classic).


Citation

"Camera Selection Basics for the Lightweight Backpacker," by Franco Darioli. BackpackingLight.com (ISSN 1537-0364).
http://backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/cameras_for_lightweight_backpackers.html, 2006-07-04 03:00:00-06.

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Forum Index » Editor's Roundtable » Camera Selection Basics for the Lightweight Backpacker


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Cat Jasins
(CatJasins) - MLife
Camera Selection Basics for the Lightweight Backpacker on 07/05/2006 01:03:31 MDT Print View

Companion forum thread to:

Camera Selection Basics for the Lightweight Backpacker

Edited by CatJasins on 07/05/2006 01:05:12 MDT.

Summit CO
(Summit) - F

Locale: 9300ft
UL Camera Comments on 07/05/2006 02:25:43 MDT Print View

The selection of compact film P&S cameras is dwindling to near nothingness from a great selection of great cameras just a few years ago. Many cameras are still available from retailers or on the used market with ease.

Here are my comments on the 35mm P&S from your article:

Minolta FreedomZoom Explorer EX: DISCONTINUED
A great camera with a fast zoom.
Konica Minolta has ended all camera production as of March 31, 2006.

Nikon Lite Touch 100W: DISCONTINUED
Released in 2003, a nice camera but a slow zoom f/5.8-10.5. This camera has been discontinued.

Pentax Espio 24W:
The features on this camera are beyond awesome... "spot" meter, +- 3EV exposure compensation in 1/3 stops, unparalleled wideangle zoom, 7pt passive AF, BULB MODE, easy infinity and fixed size portrait modes, for only 7oz! This is easily the most feature filled 35mm with the exception of the old Rollei Prego Zoom 90. However, the lens is slow at f/4.9-12.5.

Canon Sureshot A1:
It should be noted that the SureShot A1 is truly an amphibious camera intended for use by snorkelers (it floats!) as well as on the surface. Consequently, it is bulky.

Olympus Stylus Epic:
Oh this camera is sweet. The lens is more than sharp enough for a magazine cover from slide film. f/2.8 is great for ambient light. "Spot" metering. Simply as pie.

Addendum for the disconinued cameras:

Yashica T4 Zoom
-6.8oz
-(114 x 64 x 41 mm)
-28-75mm Vario Tessar Zeiss zoom lens f/4.5-8
-CR123A 360 shots
-5pt Passive AF
- +-1.5EV exposure compensation
-Remote control


Yashica T4 Super/T5 - *possibly* discontinued this year
-6.7oz
-Very popular alternative to the Stylus Epic though much more expensive than the $60 Epic
-Fixed Zeiss 35mm f/3.5 lens.
-Normal and sports (look down) viewfinder.
-Remote Control


1970s SUPERCOMPACT CAMERAS:
All manual focus with silent leaf shutters.

Olympus XA
-7.9oz
-102x64.5x40
-Olympus Zuiko 35mm f/2.8 lens (very sharp)
-APERTURE PRIORITY EXPOSURE f/2.8-22 (shutter speed readout in viewfinder)
-Manual ISO setting in 1/3 stops gives full exposure compensation, also +1.5
-Manual focus via rangefinder or focus scale
-Smallest lightest rangefinder camera in existance
-Detatchable flash unit optional
-Clamshell covers all sensors, viewfinders (both sides), and lens
-2x SR44 button cells (last forever)
-Easily found one ebay or from used camera stores (avoid the XA1/2/3/4, get only the XA)

More info: http://www.diaxa.com/xa/xa.htm

Rollei 35
~11.4oz (metal/everywhere, very compact)
- 97 x 60 x 32
-Zeiss 40mm f/3.5 (magazine cover sharp)
-Manual exposure with needle match B, 1/2-1/500s f/3.5-f/22
-Manual focusing via focus scale
-No battery on the B version, other versions need a button cell for the meter only (work without)
-External flash available
-Easily found one ebay or from used camera stores


Minox 35 GT
-6.4oz
-100 X 61 X 31
-Minotaur 35mm f/2.8
-Program or aperture priority autoexposure 30s-1/500s
-Manual focusing via focus scale (with hyperfocal)
-button cell bateries
-External flash available


For the record I own:
P&S:
Olympus Stylus Epic 35mm
Olympus XA 35mm
Canon A610 digital

LF/35mm SLR/DSLR:
Canon 20D, Canon EOS 3, Canon Elan II, Linhoff Tech IV 4x5 fieldcam

Edited by Summit on 07/05/2006 02:58:31 MDT.

David Bonn
(david_bonn) - F

Locale: North Cascades
polarizing filters... on 07/05/2006 16:29:34 MDT Print View

A big pet peeve of mine is that compact digital cameras which have a way to accept filters are extremely rare. Especially since a polarizing filter is a pretty outrageously effective tool for producing dramatic scenery images when there is snow, clouds, or water in the picture. Which happens quite a bit.

And you can't emulate the effect of a polarizing filter with any photoshop plug-in.

Franco Darioli
(Franco) - M

Locale: Melbourne
Re: Try Cokin on 07/05/2006 22:22:50 MDT Print View

You could have a look at the Cokin shoeholder A300 system. With that holder you can use up to 3 filters at a time, although with digital photography the Pol filter is provably the only one required. Not exactly an elegant solution but it works.
See here
http://www.cokin.com/shoeholder.html
Franco

Summit CO
(Summit) - F

Locale: 9300ft
Canon P&S takes filters on 07/05/2006 22:52:02 MDT Print View

Most Canon digital poitn and shoots from the A series have removable rings that you can mount a barrel that accepts a filter on.

S series do not...

Adam McFarren
(amcfarre) - F
Re: Re: Try Cokin on 07/06/2006 07:16:46 MDT Print View

Franco,

Do you know if that Cokin shoeholder can be used along with a tripod? That would be a great solution if it'll work with my Gorillapod. I assume the tripod's screw would work to hold the camera and the shoeholder?

Thanks,
-adam

David Bonn
(david_bonn) - F

Locale: North Cascades
oh, and what I use... on 07/06/2006 15:13:12 MDT Print View

I forgot to mention what I use.

I have a sony DSC-U-something that I bought for $30 bucks from a big box store. They didn't have the box or the manual (which you can find on the internet anyway) and the model was being discontinued. It serves me well but my niece is using it on her trip to Wyoming this month.

I have a sony DSC-R1 that weighs more than my sleeping bag, pad, tarp, ground sheet, and bug shelter combined (including the camera bag, a polarizing filter, and a cleaning cloth). It takes awesome pictures though. Really a nice scenery camera.

I like the singh-ray polarizing filters. I just got one of their newfangled LB filters that gives you a nice warming polarizer but only takes about half a stop of light away from your camera. Not cheap (nothing from singh-ray is) but still a wonderful gadget.

Using two sony rechargable batteries and two 2MB memory cards (the DSC R-1 has two slots) I was able to take over 900 pictures in three weeks of travel in the Sahara Desert this spring. No, I didn't walk, and yes, the sand is mostly out of the camera.

Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Cameras on 07/07/2006 07:40:34 MDT Print View

Ditto on the Olympus Stylus. I've used them for travel cameras for years. Dead simple, easy on batteries, excellent focus and exposure results.

I'm using a Canon SD200 Digital Elph for my everyday carry camera and I have been happy with it. Battery life is good and the proprietary rechargeable is small enough that carrying a spare is very practical.

I got a tiny USB SD card reader that was designed to be USB drive. I carry the camera, USB reader, spare battery and the smaller Ultrapod tripod all in a little LowePro case. When I was shooting 4x5 my LIGHT METER was about the same size!

Franco Darioli
(Franco) - M

Locale: Melbourne
Re: Filter adaptor on 07/10/2006 22:24:54 MDT Print View

The A300 Shoeholder does not have a double thread, so it cannot be used with a tripod.
There is now another version available, the B400 AC-M, that attaches to the front of the lens. Have a look at the compatibility chart.
http://www.cokin.fr/ico15-B.html
Franco

Franco Darioli
(Franco) - M

Locale: Melbourne
Re: Summit's list on 07/11/2006 01:58:40 MDT Print View

Hi Summit
Nice list.
The Rollei 35B (Basic) with it's Triotar lens was at the bottom of the pile, however the 35 S(Sonnar) and the 35T(Tessar) were very good indeed. I used the S (made in Singapore) and the resolution as good as I had from prime SLR Canon and Nikon lenses, the colours from it were great.

I would not turn my back to the Olympus XA4 , 28mm 3.5, not bad at all. Zone focusing, but that is how I used the XA anyway.

The Yashica T4 is very similar, obviously, to the lens quality of the Rollei 35S, so in my book a bargain.

The only one that is easily available now and at a bargain price, is the Olympus Epic, better than most digital compacts at 3 times the price but we want the instant gratification of digital.

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
old film cameras on 07/14/2006 01:47:54 MDT Print View

So what do I do with an Olympus OM-2N and an Olympus OM-4Ti, with a wide range of lenses and rings? (sob)

Now using Canon A95 digital

Cheers
Roger Caffin

Franco Darioli
(Franco) - M

Locale: Melbourne
Re: old film cameras on 07/14/2006 04:03:10 MDT Print View

Hi Roger
When you come to Melbourne I will trade it all in for $87.95.....
Don't tell anyone, but Olympus are coming up with a kick-*BEEP* (ass for the USA) camera and lenses at Photokina, a worthy successor to the Maitani legacy.
Franco
hint
franco@cameraaction.com.au

Rick Dreher
(halfturbo) - MLife

Locale: Northernish California
Re: old film cameras on 07/14/2006 11:08:45 MDT Print View

Well Roger,

You can place them in a nice display case or you can stock up massively on your favo(u)rite E6 films and keep using them. Scan the slides you'd like digitized.

Now I do recognize that the instanteous gratification that is digital is hard to beat, but I'm also mindful that a digital SLR system to match the breadth of a nicely assembled OM system is a breathtakingly expensive investment and a risky one, since the stuff seems to become obsolete within months (the camera bodies, at least).

We also don't have a clue as to which chip formats and lens mounts will prevail in the marketplace. I'm rooting for the four-thirds format, myself, and note that at least three makers have adopted it.

--Rick

p.s. Best 35mm point-and-shoot: Contax T3.

Casey Bowden
(clbowden) - MLife

Locale: Berkeley Hills
Is an optical zoom required? on 07/14/2006 14:41:43 MDT Print View

Optical zooms add complexity, weight, cost, and decrease the battery life. Now that 6 megapixel cameras are common do we really need optical zooms? Why not crop the picture at home on the computer rather than in the field?

Rick Dreher
(halfturbo) - MLife

Locale: Northernish California
Re: Is an optical zoom required? on 07/14/2006 15:39:20 MDT Print View

It's a good question especially, as you point out, while pixel counts climb. A high-quality prime lens cannot be matched by a zoom, either in resolution or speed, and matched with a good low-noise imager one should be able to crop severely while retaining quality.

Ryan has a Ricoh GR that he seems happy with and will hopefully review. It's a very intriguing little camera with a prime lens.

I hope someday to see a mini-SLR or rangefinder digital system with interchangable lenses.

Summit CO
(Summit) - F

Locale: 9300ft
Optical zoom? Depends... on 07/14/2006 16:00:16 MDT Print View

Starting with your 6MP image, let's see how cropping equates to zooming and what you can do with the results:

Zoom, Megapixels, Resolution, Print Size (300ppi)
1x zoom - 6MP no crop - 2800x2100 - ~8x10

1.4x zoom - 3MP crop - 2000x1500 - ~5x7

2x zoom - 1.5MP crop - 1440x1024 - ~3.5x5

2.8X zoom - 0.79MP crop - 1024x768 - email only

Digital zooming works the same way except with pixel interpolation which you can do in any editor anyways. In other words, digital zoom as a camera feature is worthless.

Relying on cropping for your zooming means you'd better not want to do anything with your picture.

If you want a fixed lens camera in the name of weight AND you expect to crop in place of zooming AND you want to do anything more than send the images in emails or low quality postcards, I reccomend a film camera with a good lens and slow speed film (equivelent to 12-20MP depending and done right).

Edited by Summit on 07/14/2006 19:09:07 MDT.

Casey Bowden
(clbowden) - MLife

Locale: Berkeley Hills
Optical Zoom on 07/14/2006 17:47:35 MDT Print View

Summit CO,

Thanks for your input. I posed my question based on my experience with my 2 megapixel Nikon Coolpix. Its 1600x1200 pixel resolution produced very nice 8"x10" prints. If a 6 MP camera takes 2800x2100 pixel shots that means I can "zoom" 1.75 (2800/1600) times by cropping at home and still get 8"x10" prints.

Summit CO
(Summit) - F

Locale: 9300ft
Some things to think about... on 07/14/2006 18:49:21 MDT Print View

PRINT SIZE NOTES:
My print sizes were given assuming 300x300ppi. 300ppi is considered photo quality. (I updated resolutions)

WHY 300PPI?
If you go to WalMart and pay them some pennies to develop and print your film, their Fuji Fronteir machine will digitize your negatives and exposure R4 color photo paper with 3 lasers at a resolution of 300ppi. THAT IS WHAT THE PHOTO PAPER CAN HANDLE!

300ppi FOR DIGITAL?
The same goes for brining in a memory card to Walmart and having their Frontier print that on photo paper. 300ppi.

The same goes for a pro lab with a fancier frontier or a kodak lightjet.

SO WHAT ABOUT SMALLER RESOLUTIONS?
Newspapers print at about 150dpi to 200dpi (the fancy ones like NYT).

Most magazines and any photo competition expects submissions at 300ppi for the required size.

WHAT PRINT RESOLUTION AM I GETTING AT 2MP?
Let's look at the 1600x1200 (1.92MP), or a 1.75x zoomcrop of 6MP:

4x5.5: 300ppi (standard photo)
4.8x6.4: 250ppi (probably the minimum)
6x8: 200ppi
8x10.7: 150ppi (newspaper)

The numbers are funny because they are given in 4:3 aspect. 1600x1200 is 4:3 aspect ratio. Printing papers are actually all 3:2, 5:4, or 7:5.

I'd guarantee you that you'd be impressed with a properly printed 300ppi image vs a 150ppi image, especially with point and shoot digis. Try it... take a picture with the camera and have a lab print you a 4x6 (~300ppi). Take them the same image except reduced from 1600x1200 to 800x600 and have them print the 4x6 as well (~150ppi).

If you can't tell the difference, then tell me to shut up. :)

WHAT IS THE GAIN?
Zooming 35mm 1.75x is 60mm... not much.
Nobody even produces optical zooms with such a tiny range except in an ultrawide 20-35mm. Just about everything else is at least 2X and most are 2.5X-4X.

CROPPING IS NOT AS GOOD AS ZOOMING (even when final image sizes are the same)!
Another thing to consider when cropping a high resolution image... you accentuate noise and lens abberations.
So if you have a 2MP camera with a 60mm lens, it will produce a better image than a 2MP image cropped from a 6MP image taken with a 35mm lens.

This is doubly so for small sensors in poitn and shoots.

Note: that is for equal sensor dimensions with the 2MP and 6MP.

MY OUTLOOK:
I'll take a 3MP camera with a 2X zoom over a 8MP camera with a fixed lens almost any day of the week.

MORE ON FIXED/CROP vs OPTICAL ZOOM:
Optical zoom is infinately easier to compose an image on, however, digital zoom defeats the composition advantage.

Digital fixed lenses are not really faster than zooms in the range at which you can reasonably crop.

Fixed lens digital cameras with extending lenses can usually accept accessory tele-extender lenses (and wide angle adaptors) for much less of a performance hit than cropping. However, at that point whether you are saving over a optical zooom in terms of weight, price, and quality is questionable. Certainly loses convenience and speed points. You can get these for zooms too.

Edited by Summit on 07/14/2006 19:17:39 MDT.

Steve Whiteaker
(hikesalot) - F
disposable cameras on 07/17/2006 15:43:17 MDT Print View

has anyone tried enough disposables to know which one is best for backpacking as far as quality?

Rick Dreher
(halfturbo) - MLife

Locale: Northernish California
Re: disposable cameras on 07/17/2006 16:57:31 MDT Print View

Try the Kodak HQ. It's got a sharper lens and higher-definition film (ISO 800), which should yield better results than run-of-the-mill disposables.

I've seen reasonably good results from them, but not specifically backpacking photos.

Note that both Kodak and Fuji sell waterproof disposables, which might trump other concerns in mixed conditions.

Brian James
(bjamesd) - F

Locale: South Coast of BC
GR Digital on 08/24/2006 13:38:05 MDT Print View

DPReview has looked at the GR Digital and were apparently nonplussed... too bad as I was really looking for this to be an excuse to leave the SLR at home.

http://www.dpreview.com/reviews/ricohgrd/page12.asp