Need Digital Camera Recommendations/Advice
19 posts
11 users
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JohnL
October 21, 2004
Member since 01/6/2000
3,509 posts
I'm in the market for a digital camera; one of the big uses for it will be taking photographs on the slopes. There have been a lot of great pictures posted on this site so this is a good forum for me to get some info. Since I've never owned a digital camera, any advice on specific models, features, accessories, equipment care, picture shooting techniques, etc. would be greatly appreciated. You'll get to see the results on DCSki!

My main constraint is that I don't want to spend more than $500 on the camera and any memory upgrades. I've got too many other things to spend money on, I'm not a serious photographer, and I don't want to spend my ski day worrying about the expensive piece of hardware in my coat.

Specific questions that come to mind include number of pixels needed to post a quality picture on the Net, amount of zoom needed for close-ups, required degree of resistance to moisture and cold, etc.

Thanks in advance.
JimK - DCSki Columnist
October 21, 2004
Member since 01/14/2004
2,644 posts
Murphy
October 21, 2004
Member since 09/13/2004
618 posts
If you want an easy to use, point and shoot that fits in your pocket, I like my Camedia camera (not sure which model C-460 maybe).

Taking good pictures on the snow isn't always easy. If the camera has a lens that take filters it would be a bonus. I think a polarizing filter would help. Some sort of exposure compensating option might also be nice too.

If your main objective is posting on the web or pc, the resolution of any camera is probably good enough. A 1024x768 (0.8 megapixel) image is usually considered big. You only need the higher resolution if you want to crop images or print them.

I'm no shutterbug but I hope this helps.
ski_guy_59
October 21, 2004
Member since 11/9/2001
221 posts
Hi, John! I'll chime in with some of what I know. I'm sure Scott might add his two cents as well.

I went digital in June. I was very reluctant at first, because my digital body and laptop cost nearly $3,400; and I'm a freshman in college. I believe going digital was one of the smartest and beneficial things I have ever done.

There are several advantages to having a digital camera. Namely, after your initial expense, the only cost is prints and/or paper/ink. Wal-Mart has a very convenient way to print your digital pictures. I'm sure other stores have them too, but I haven't bothered to look.

With that said, here are some things to consider.

Size: Chances are you will be carrying other things in your pockets along with a camera. I would buy something that is not too small. Still, you want something that feels like a camera.

Weatherability: Many of Olympus' point and shoot digicams are 100% weather-resistent. Likewise, Nikon and Canon perform exceptionally well in the elements. I've used my Canon digi in a steady downpour and water does not affect it. Just be sure to dry it off as soon as possible.

Batteries: Go with rechargeables. Keep a set of Alkalines with you as a back-up.

Memory cards: I can say with 99.9% certainty that all pros use compact flash cards. They don't get lost very easy, come in a wide range of storage sizes (128 mb - 8 gigs) and will fit most cameras. Try to avoid purchasing a camera that uses a different kind of recording medium. At some point down the road, you might want to upgrade your camera. Chances are good that CF cards will still be around, but others might not be.

Image quality: For 4" X 6" prints, 3.0 megapixels should suffice. If you want 8" x 10" or larger prints, buy a 4 megapixel camera or higher. HOWEVER, megapixels are not everything. The quality of the lens is very important. I've heard that Kodak's digital camera lenses are made of plastic. Plastic lens=poor quality.

Features, techniques, etc.: You will probably want something that has a sports mode, portrait mode, landscape mode, etc. If you are interested in photography and like to have more control, buy a camera that allows you to set the shutter speed and aperture. Those two features control motion blur, depth of field (ammount of distance in scene that is in acceptable focus - for example - a skiier two feet away and the skyline of canaan valley, including those awful windmills) and all other creative aspects. I could write for a long time on compositional tips and tricks. My best advice is to buy the National Geographic Photography Field Guide from your local bookstore and read through that. I don't think it costs more than $25, and a copy is still on my desk.

A good place to search for cameras is B&H Photo/Video in New York: http://www.bhphotovideo.com/bnh/controll...p;Q=&ci=989

Hope this helps. If you have any questions, feel free to drop me an e-mail.
Jarrett

jarrett . baker at gmail.com (fill in spaces and at symbol)

Forgot to say....Stick with Canon, Nikon or Olympus. I like the streamline of Olympus models, but creative control is non-existent in their lower end models. Canon and Nikon are the most widely used. If you survey 100 pros, nearly half will use one and half will use the other.
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JimK - DCSki Columnist
October 21, 2004
Member since 01/14/2004
2,644 posts
I have a very cheap HP digicam, which explains why my original photos are not among the nicest you'll see on this site.
I found that lithium batteries were a must for camera to remain functional on cold winter days on the slopes.
SeaRide
October 21, 2004
Member since 03/11/2004
237 posts
I haven't shop around for a year or so but I have a Sony Cyber-shot 4.0 mp model DSC-P9 (discontinued, I think). I use it alot during trekking, seakayaking, snowboarding, fishing and various other activities. It's a nice one where I could take so many pics at 1600x1200 (choice in range from 640x480 to 2272x1704).
This camera can take short movies, burst movies, clip movies and more.
Easy to download/upload using USB connection.
It's thinner & lighter than my friend's Sony DSC-P72.
I can store it in a waterproof container made by Pelican or Otter.
The new 5.1mp DSC-P93 now cost about $299.00 at BestBuy. I am sure there are many other kinds of digital cameras that could be as good as mine or better.
Murphy
October 21, 2004
Member since 09/13/2004
618 posts
I was mistaken in my previous post. I have a Stylus, not a Camedia from Olympus. The Camedia line is good also but I like my model for a compact, easy to use camera, but like ski guy said, creative control is non-existent. It does however have several pre-programmed settings including a snow setting built in. Not sure what it does. The manual says "good for taking picutures in the snow". Guess they don't want to overwhelm me with technical jargon.
rmcva
October 21, 2004
Member since 01/28/2004
187 posts
I have a Canon S50 5mp and it does an excellent job. The other info here is very good - just one other comment to add. When going from film to digital, the first negative impression most have is the delay from the time you press the button to take the picture vs the time it actually happens. The newer (and more expensive) cameras are getting quicker but the others do have some delay. The cheapest a web search returned for the Canon S50 was $389. You would still need to purchase a decent size CompactFlash card for higher quality pics. Once you get use to using digital, you'll probably be very pleased.
The Colonel - DCSki Supporter
October 21, 2004
Member since 03/5/2004
3,060 posts
I have already had three+ digital cameras and here are my recommendations: 1. Get a good camera, one you can adjust if needed. 2.Get more optical zoom, ignore digital zoom. You can get a close up with 7-10X optical w/o lessening the picture quality. 3.Get at least 4megapixels to allow blow up on computer with minimum quality loss.
Now my specific recommendation:
The Kodah EasyShare DX6490 is what I have. It offers 10X optical, 3x digital zoom (and I have been amazed at the clarity. It is 4 mg pizels, and a new model just out has 5 megapixels. It has a high quality lens and can be set for a multitude of picture situations. Whatever you do, buy a large memory card (I have 512) and can put nearly 400 highest quality 4 megapixels on this card. Get an extr battery, although I have been amazed how long the camera battery lasts. The Kodak has a large viewing screen specially made to allow use in daylight. The alternate view port is also digital.
I am really pleased with this camera.
If I were going to spend the kind of money you talk about then go for a real good camera. You can also get a download base or a printer base for extra $.
Glad to talk to you about this if you want.
The Colonel
Scott - DCSki Editor
October 22, 2004
Member since 10/10/1999
1,091 posts
Hi John,

Lots of good advice posted so far. The digital camera market is flooded right now with tons of options; it's a bit different than the early days when the only consumer digital camera available was the Apple QuicTake!

If your primary purpose will be taking pictures on the slopes, from experience I can tell you that you're most likely to take your camera with you if it's tiny and unobtrusive.

My primary camera is a Nikon D100 -- a digital SLR that is big and heavy, but takes excellent shots. I have several lenses, including one that has built-in active anti-vibration technology and weighs over 3 pounds -- more than the camera! I'll occasionally take this gear with me skiing, but very infrequently -- and I ski very cautiously with it, as you might imagine.

The benefit of a camera like the D100 is that you can get shots like this, which I took on a trip to Vail in 2003:



That shot wouldn't have been possible on a sub-$500 digital camera. But it became clear to me pretty quickly that I didn't want to lug around the D100 on most ski trips. I wanted to enjoy skiing, while being able to take decent shots that I could publish on DCSki.

So, I purchased the Canon PowerShot SD100 Digital Elph. It's a very lightweight, small, rugged camera that takes very good shots. (The newest version is the SD300.) The SD100 fits unobtrusively in my backpack, and has a reasonable level of optical zoom. I don't have to think twice about taking it with me skiing, and it also has enough "advanced" features to keep me happy. For example, I was able to swich it over to manual mode to get this reasonable shot at Las Vegas earlier this year:



Here are some of my recommendations:

- If grabbing photos while you ski is your main motivation, small size will be the feature you appreciate the most.

- Be very careful while skiing with a camera. If you have one in your front pocket and fall, the camera could crush your ribs. For that reason, even with a camera as tiny as the Canon Digital Elph, I alway carry it in a backpack, usually wrapped in a small towel.

- Although I agree with Jarrett's preference for Compact Flash, the small cameras are too small to support that type of memory. The Digital Elph (and most other tiny ones) use SD memory cards. Memory cards are quite cheap these days, though, especially if you shop around.

- If you'll mainly be publishing to the Web, you don't need more than 4.0 megapixels. In fact, anything between 3-4 megapixels would be good. I wouldn't go beyond 4.

- As others have noted, ignore any specs related to digital zoom. Digital zoom is worthless, because you lose resolution as you "zoom" in closer. (And you can do higher quality digital zooms after the fact, on the computer.) Optical zoom is what matters, and a 3x optical zoom is decent. The current Canon SD300 has a 3x optical zoom, which is pretty good for a small camera of that size. The smaller a camera is, the less optical zoom it can have, because optical zoom takes more glass and depth.

- I haven't had any problem with cold or moisture with my Canon SD100. It has built-in Lithium Ion batteries that do well in the cold. Lens fogging can be an issue -- especially when the camera goes through drastic temperature changes. It's always a good idea to bring some alcohol-based lens cleaner towelettes (you can buy them at Lens Crafters), but if it's cold enough, the liquid can ice up on the lens.

- It's difficult to take well-exposed pictures in the snow. All of the bright white confuses the camera, resulting in underexposed pictures. Study the camera's manual to understand how it meters light and to see what options you have. Most cameras have several different photo taking modes, or will let you increase or decrease the exposure manually if you know a certain shot is likely to be over or underexposed. If the camera supports spot metering, learn how to use it.

I think the Canon SD300 meets your criteria and would be a great choice for what you want to do. (Here's a link to Canon's web page for the SD300.) But there are lots of options there. I'd recommend swinging by Best Buy or another store and seeing how the different cameras feel in your hand. You might like the feel of some over others. And some of the cameras are very plasticky; one thing I really like about the SD300 is that it feels like a solid chunk of aluminum; that adds a bit of extra weight but it can certainly take a beating.

- In terms of accessories, most consumer digital cameras come with a memory card that has minimal capacity. So plan on buying a higher-capacity memory card. Other than that, the only other accessory you might want is a small carrying bag to add some padding.

- You might also want to buy a copy of Adobe Photoshop Elements 3.0 if you have any interest in photo enhancement/manipulation on the computer. It has most of the power of the full version of Photoshop but at a cheap price (about $99). With Photoshop, you can salvage bad photographs and make good ones excellent. Plus, it's a lot of fun.

Hope that helps!

- Scott
Crush
October 22, 2004
Member since 03/21/2004
994 posts
just my experience .... I've had a *lot* of trouble with anything from Olympus. I would not recomend it at all ... their autofocus is just not up to par. Canon is golden with me ... and my pro-photographer friend claims it is the best point-and-shoot digital line there is. And another shutterbug friend (he owns over 20 cameras including a rollei, a nice hassye, etc) also favors the Canon line especially the Cannon digital rebel, but that is probably out of your price range. Leica also makes a nice cam but again probably too high end. Me, I'd go with the Canon Powershot line . Good engine, good autofocus, good optics. Unless you want to blow money and then think Nikon D70.
ski_guy_59
October 22, 2004
Member since 11/9/2001
221 posts
Scott, you have a VR lens? I was thinking about Image Stabilizing, Canon's version, when buying my 70-200mm f/2.8 back in March. But for an extra $500, I opted against being high-tech. I've read that the IS works great when flying in a B-17. However, I don't think I'll get that privelege anytime soon. I've found that carrying my camera in a backpack while skiing works great. Even though my lens + hood + body is close to 15" in length, I insulate it with a towel. And I try to keep my extra batteries in a jeans pocket underneath my snowboard pants. When I do take a spill, it's normally to the side, the front, or on my butt. The camera stays fairly well protected. If I'm in the mood to do some crazy carving, and have already taken some great shots, I'll put the camera in a locker.

Long lenses do attract attention on the slopes. One of the lifties at CV in March commented "That's the biggest camera I've seen here all season!"

Off topic: Scott, this should give you a flash back to your college days: It's 3:30 a.m. I just put the finishing touches on the UF Men's Glee Club web site. It's simple tables and such - I haven't learned much CSS yet. That, of course, is after I spent two and a half hours building a web site for one of the girls in my class who doesn't know much of what we've covered...ahhh...college! =)
warren
October 22, 2004
Member since 07/31/2003
485 posts
John,
I'll go ahead and add my 2 cents worth as well. I bought a Canon Elph last year. It's a 2 mega-pixel, small (easy to carry in my ski shell), light, and uses re-chargeable lithium batteries. I've been VERY happy with this camera everywhere I've used it (beach, slopes, amusement parks, etc). If you want to produce anything larger than 8x10, I would recommend a higher-res camera but for vacation shots, it's quite an impressive package!
-Warren-
snowcone
October 22, 2004
Member since 09/27/2002
589 posts
Wow! .. these guys know a lot! Especially Scott .. very impressive! I feel kinda dumb offering my suggestion but it works for us and it might work for you too.

We use a Sony T1 for a number of reasons:
Its small and light .. smaller than the Cannon Elph
It has a large integrated LCD for viewing .. does away altogether with the view finder. This is great for shooting even with goggles on.
Has 5.1 m pixel resolution.
Does well (for a small camera) with action shots .
Has all sorts of options for rapid shooting.
Takes Memory Sticks so its dead easy to plug in another stick when the current one is full. Never lose a slot because you run out of media .. the mem sticks are dirt cheap.

AND what makes it especially valuable for us is that it has a custom impact proof, waterproof drybox. Buttons on the drybox are easily handled even with gloves on.

We bike and kayak in the off season so we went looking for a small camera we could use in all sports. It had to be water and shock proof, for obvious reasons!

We had some trouble last year with my Cannon because it seemed sensitive to moisture. It got snowed on and dumped on by snow snakes and didn't want to work afterwards. The Sony T1, even in its drybox, is not much larger than a standard digi camera. You can check out the the specs and price on ... http://www.sonystyle.com ... for the camera (Cyber-shot® Digital Camera DSC-T1) and for the drybox (DSC-T1 Cyber-shot® Marine Pack MPK-THA). Yes, the dry box is expensive, but all you have to do is dump the camera once and the box has paid for itself.
Murphy
October 22, 2004
Member since 09/13/2004
618 posts
Crush,

I've owned two Olypus cameras now. If I had stopped with the first one, I certainly would have agreed with you. The telescoping lens had a major design flaw that caused most of them to be broken within a year and the autofocus was very slow. But I've had no problems with my new one. I've liked it more than the Powershot I got my father in law (it was one of lower end models in the series). But if I were willing to push the limits of the $500 budget I would probably look into a used G2 from Canon. They have a great combination of the capabilities and quality of a higher end SLR with a size closer to the point and shoots. And they feel very solid but they are not exactly pocket size.
JohnL
October 22, 2004
Member since 01/6/2000
3,509 posts
Wow! Lots of great responses! Thanks to everyone for their input.

It's a bit too much for me to absorb at lunchtime, but I'll check out the advice in more detail this weekend. I'll post again if I have further questions and I'll let you know what I decide to buy.

Thanks again.
Crush
October 22, 2004
Member since 03/21/2004
994 posts
Murph - you are right I have not tried an Olympus since 2000-2001 so you must take my comments with a grain of salt. In 2003 I had to make a decision so I went with a Canon Powershot G3 which I am very happy with .... as you can see it makes even tough action shots like the below possible with good results!
Murphy
October 22, 2004
Member since 09/13/2004
618 posts
Crush,

Several of my friends have the G2 (predecessor to the G3 I think). I wasn't aware the G series Canons were part of the Powershot line. Someday I'd love to own one. Nice pic in your post. Of course the most critical feature of any camera the person clicking the button
Scott - DCSki Editor
October 22, 2004
Member since 10/10/1999
1,091 posts
Quote:

Scott, you have a VR lens? I was thinking about Image Stabilizing, Canon's version, when buying my 70-200mm f/2.8 back in March. But for an extra $500, I opted against being high-tech. I've read that the IS works great when flying in a B-17. However, I don't think I'll get that privelege anytime soon. I've found that carrying my camera in a backpack while skiing works great. Even though my lens + hood + body is close to 15" in length, I insulate it with a towel. And I try to keep my extra batteries in a jeans pocket underneath my snowboard pants. When I do take a spill, it's normally to the side, the front, or on my butt. The camera stays fairly well protected. If I'm in the mood to do some crazy carving, and have already taken some great shots, I'll put the camera in a locker.

Long lenses do attract attention on the slopes. One of the lifties at CV in March commented "That's the biggest camera I've seen here all season!"

Off topic: Scott, this should give you a flash back to your college days: It's 3:30 a.m. I just put the finishing touches on the UF Men's Glee Club web site. It's simple tables and such - I haven't learned much CSS yet. That, of course, is after I spent two and a half hours building a web site for one of the girls in my class who doesn't know much of what we've covered...ahhh...college! =)




Hi Jarrett!

Don't worry -- you can still experience sleepless nights on deadline even after you graduate from college.

Yeah, earlier this year I bought the Nikon ED AF-S VR-NIKKOR 70-200mm 1:2.8G lens. (Say that five times fast.) And, it's a little frightening, but it costs more than the Nikon D100 camera itself.

The Vibration Reduction definitely makes a difference -- you can get sharp handheld shots that would otherwise require a tripod. Of course, there are many tripods that are lighter than this lens. Nikon claims that the VR offers the equivalent of using a shutter speed 3 stops faster. If your hand is really steady, it probably approaches 4 stops faster. And that can definitely make a big difference if you're in a situation where you need to catch a shot quickly.

It has two modes -- an active mode that basically keeps the VR on constantly, and is good for shots in a moving vehicle (such as that B-17 flight), and the normal mode, which applies the VR just as you take a picture. Of course, you can turn the VR off entirely.

Another feature of the lens I like is the Silent Wave motor -- this thing can focus in a split second; you just hear a soft swoosh sound as the glass locks into position. I normally use a Tamrom 28-300mm lens, which is a great all-around lens (and very tiny and lightweight compared to the Nikon VR lens), but its focusing seems like a loud slowpoke compared to Silent Wave lenses.

I believe Canon's VR lenses are quite comparable to the Nikon ones. (I think Canon may have come out with the VR lenses first, too.)

Now, I find that I struggle to choose which lens to take. On a hiking trip to Shenandoah the other week, I opted not to take the VR lens hiking (instead just taking the Tamron, a wide-angle lens, and a macro lens -- three seemed enough, plus a tripod , but did use the VR lens while wandering about Big Meadows taking pictures of deer, the sunset, etc. (You can see some of the shots on my blog; I've been too busy to write up a Firsthand Report for DCSki.) If I were in a "photojournalist" mode, for example shooting a busy event, I would definitely take the VR. But, even with the VR, I find a tripod shot (when possible) is always better than a non-tripod shot, so I consider a tripod indispensable.

Is the VR lens worth the money? For the vibration reduction alone, probably not; there are better things the extra money could be spent on. But it's also a very high quality lens.

- Scott

Ski and Tell

Speak truth to powder.

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