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December 15, 2004

STILL MORE ON CAMERAS: I keep thinking I don't have more to say, but readers keep emailing. Martin Young writes:

I write to say how much I enjoyed your comments on the Nikon digital SLRs. I've owned a D70 and sold it because it began to malfunction within 6 weeks, a problem that Nikon would have been happy to correct. However, I found the camera to be a lightweight piece of work compared to my D100, which approaches the F5 in construction quality.

With all this, pursuant to a recent trip through Southwest New Mexico, I decided that I can no longer handle bulky cameras and a multitude of lenses while traveling. Accordingly, I took a flyer and bought a Nikon Coolpix 8800. I'm still in awe at what this instrument can do. The built-in vibration reduction device is a wonder, and the very moveable LCD (Monitor in Nikon Technospeak) satisfies my need for interchangeable viewfinders a la F3, F4 and F5. The 10x optical zoom is a treasure for all seasons, and the accessory lenses Nikon has made for this camera--still in the chain of delivery--are impressive.

One of the most important recent discoveries in my digital experience followed from getting a couple of high speed Compact Flash Cards. They really make a difference. I got a lot of great information on this subject from Steve's Digicam.

A lot of people seem to like the the Coolpix 8800, unlike its predecessor the Coolpix 8700, which didn't seem quite ready for primetime. There's a lot to be said for cameras of that sort -- yeah, they don't take interchangeable lenses, but the lens they come with can be quite good, and they're cheaper and easier to carry, and still capable of excellent quality, though not as good as digital SLRs, especially under demanding lighting and focus conditions.

Meanwhile, my earlier post on the Nikon D2H vs the D70 produced this email from reader Ryan Pederson:

You were talking about the difference between a 6 MP consumer camera and
a 4 MP pro camera. It has more to do with the size of the sensor. As you pointed out the pro's are usually tougher and do more cool stuff but really most of the price comes from the CCD.

He notes that pixel count is one thing, but that smaller sensors -- even with higher pixel counts -- tend to produce poorer results. That's certainly true, and it was a problem with the first generation of 8 megapixel cameras.

And reader Joanna Castillo emails about Internet purchasing:

A couple of years ago, I was in the market for a nice camera and went shopping around on the net. I found the best price (a listing for $500 on a MSRP of about $1000) and added it to my shopping cart. I was given an expected shipping time of 3-5 days and was then offered some "special deals" on rechargeable batteries and other accessories. The add-ons weren't at all impressive and quite expensive. I declined the add-ons and tried to complete my purchase. I then got a message that I needed to call a toll-free number to complete the purchase...for security reasons. I called and was give a *very* hard sell on the accessories. I again declined and was then told that upon further investigation, the camera really wouldn't be shipping for at least 3 weeks and I should just try to make my purchase again at that point. And, no, they could not add my name to a waiting list. It became clear that the online merchant was making up for the too-good-to-be-true price of the camera by selling add-ons at incredible mark-ups. So, I ended up buying the camera from J&R Music for $750.

Since then, I almost never bother with any merchant I'm not already familiar with.

I wouldn't go quite that far, but it pays to check them out. And, by the way, I highly recommend the forums at Steve's Digicams and DPreview, where you can learn a lot more from the experience of other users.

UPDATE: A reader emails:

Just wondering: I have a really nice 1988 Minolta (although it's dying, I just took into the shop and had to take it into the shop 2 yrs ago for the same problem) and it takes beautiful pictures. I'm reluctant to get a digital camera. The pictures just aren't as good from what I've seen. I'm curious, what's your opinion on the quality of pictures? Do they now compare favorably to film? Are they getting close? Since you're a pretty techno-hip guy, I value your opinion.

I think that digital cameras are a match for 35mm now. Certainly I'm getting better results with the D70 than I got with 35mm cameras and film. On the other hand, I think that medium- and large-format film cameras still have digital beat. I've worked with some bigshot photographers who have gone strictly digital, and I've worked with some (like Baerbel Schmidt and Naomi Harris) who are still firmly attached to medium format film. I think that digital is bound to win eventually, as film has gotten about as good as it's going to get, while digital is still on a steep upward curve, but if I were a working professional with a big investment in film equipment, I think I'd hold off if possible because any digital equipment is likely to be obsolete soon anyway.

On the other hand, if I were an amateur -- which I am, and have been for all but a brief part of my photography career -- and I were looking for a new camera I'd definitely go digital. Er, which I did.

ANOTHER UPDATE: At the far end of the quality spectrum -- but definitely not of the usefulness-to-bloggers spectrum -- Donald Sensing is writing about cellphone cameras.