If you’ve followed us on our merry journey through the world of digicams, you’ve seen us discuss pocket cameras, long-zoom cameras, and a new near-SLR type of camera. Those cameras will cover the needs of more than 95% of consumer photographers. But what if you’re not in the 95%? What if you are willing to pay a bit more to get some special features aimed at photographers who want a bit more control or higher image quality in a small camera? Well, as you’ve probably guessed, that’s what this installment of Thoughts on the Best Digital Cameras is about.
There are a handful of cameras that could be considered in this category. Guest Gadgetmen Jonathan Valin and Steven Stone think two cameras are at the top of the heap. I asked them to answer a few important questions about each camera.
What are the key features and image quality enhancing elements of this camera?
Jonathan Valin (Canon G10): The Canon G10 is so loaded with useful and thoughtful features and so sturdily built (DP Review felt it was as well made as Canon’s 40D/50D SLRs) that it almost qualifies as a professional camera. To begin with, it has an exceedingly sharp, very well behaved (no vignetting, very low distortion) f2.8 (W)/f4.5 (T) 28mm-140mm zoom lens that retracts into a self-protected housing when not in use (no annoying tethered lens cap). The zoom range makes it ideal for just about every situation (save for wildlife photography or sports), and the way the camera is programmed in auto modes takes advantage of the lens’ speed, prioritizing the faster (wider) apertures to give you lower ISOs and better image stabilization. (Just the opposite of the Panasonic LX3 in “P” mode, BTW.)
Second, it has a 15Mp sensor. The conventional wisdom is that the number of pixels doesn’t count as much as their size and distribution and subsequent behavior in low light. Here, by consensus, the number of pixels does matter, although there is a trade-off (for which see my answer to question three). Put simply, at relatively low ISOs (from 80-200 and particularly from 80-120), the G10—a little more noise notwithstanding—is very nearly as sharp as the best full-frame DSLRs. Indeed, Luminous Landscape compared 13x19-inch prints made with the G10 to the same size prints made through a gold-standard Hasselblad medium-format camera with a 39Mp back and no one could reliably tell the difference between the G10 print and the ’Blad print. That’s standard-settingly impressive image quality from a point-and-shooter! (See the aptly named “You Got to be Kidding!” at http://www.luminous-landscape.com/reviews/kidding.shtml.)
Third, it has an optical viewfinder that changes its field of view with changes in focal length. Granted the viewfinder only shows you 77% of what your lens actually shoots, but, frankly, so what? Once I got used to compensating for it (and I got used to it fast), I haven’t found this to be at all limiting. Having a built-in viewfinder allows you to frame and shoot far more quickly, by holding and bracing the camera against your face as you would a rangefinder film camera (which greatly aids in image stabilization). Since the G10 also has an excellent grip, it is perhaps the easiest-to-use point-and-shooter on the market. Although the Canon has a 3-inch LCD screen with startling high resolution, I think I’d only use it to frame and focus in a pinch—or if I had the camera on a tripod.
Fourth, the G10 has dedicated ISO and EV compensation dials on its top panel (meaning you don’t have to hunt and peck through menus to make these critical adjustments). That EV compensation dial (which is essentially a brightness control) is particularly valuable, for which see Ken Rockwell’s discussion of same at http://kenrockwell.com/canon/g10.htm. The camera also has a hot shoe, allowing you to use several Canon (and after-market) flashes.
Fifth, its high-capacity battery is seemingly inexhaustible—good for a day or two or maybe even three of picture-taking. This is perfect for travel, hiking, or street shooting, as you never have to worry about running out of juice (or swapping batteries).
Sixth, it shoots RAW files as well as JPEGs, giving you the added resolution, color and contrast gamut, and post flexibility that come with RAW. However, I have to say that the Canon’s JPEGs are excellent.
(continued on the next page; see page numbers below)