Compact cameras have arrived at That Stage

Column “Dork Talk” published on Saturday January 26th 2008 in The Guardian
“Compact cameras have arrived at That Stage – The Guardian headline

I am in the jungle, filming in the heart of Amazonia. Not much room in my backpack for mobile phones, game consoles or laptops but just enough for a pair of compact cameras with which to attempt to capture the nuanced colourations of the red howler monkey, the pink river dolphin, the scarlet mosquito bite and the purple leech gash. I have a Sony Cybershot DSC-T200 and a Casio EX-S880, two cameras crammed to point of madness with the latest innovations in digital photography.

Compact cameras have arrived at That Stage. They work very well. Resolution is high. We have swiftly leapt from two to three to five to eight to 12 megapixels. Memory cards are cheap and contain far more capacity than could ever be sanely used. I slipped an 8GB stick into the Cybershot without thinking. No matter how many photos I take, they will rattle around in that cavern of memory like a pea in a cathedral. So we can take more pictures than ever before. We can lodge them on more photosharing sites than are necessary to store the sum of human knowledge.

But there is a problem for Canon, Nikon, Pentax, Fuji, Panasonic, Leica, Olympia, Casio, Sony, Kodak and the rest: why should anyone keep buying new kit? Just about everybody who needs a camera has one. What is wrong with that Ixus I bought three years ago? That old Pentax Optio will see me through to my old age, won’t it? No! No, you crazed enemy of freedom, you wild-eyed anti-capitalist, you deranged luddite. Haven’t you heard of Face Detection Technology? Smile Capture? Best Shot Automatic YouTube Uploading?

This is what I mean by That Stage. The manufacturers are now running round in a frenzy inventing more and more zany capabilities and over-specific presets (Candlelight, Fireworks, Baby, Street Scene and so on) in an attempt to persuade us that we must have a new model.

The 8.1 megapixel Casio Exilim is a well-designed camera, slim as a reed and, in the version I was sent, a perky red colour. The stickers that deface the otherwise attractive object trumpet “YouTube Capture Mode” and “Face Detection”. The former is a Windows only capability. You install a YouTube uploader on to your PC, attach the camera when it has shot some footage in the “YouTube Best Shot” mode and the software does the rest. If you have never uploaded a movie to YouTube before, please do not think you need a special uploader. Uploading is the simplest thing in the world. This can be proved by observing that the kind of people who do it most are often barely sentient. So a YouTube uploader you do not need.

Face Detection? This is the new sine qua non. Select it and the camera automatically senses one or more human faces and bounds them in a rectangle. When you shoot, the areas in the rectangles are given exposure and focus priority. Fine if they’re all more or less on the same focal plane, in which case all you would have to do is point at one face, half depress the shooting button as usual and then reframe with your finger still down. That has been a feature of autofocus cameras for at least 15 years. The Sony Cybershot (also 8.1 MP) offers face recognition and Smile Detection. When a detected face smiles, the shutter automatically fires, for up to six shots. The Casio ripostes not with Smile Detection, but with Family First. You photograph your family, the camera stores their face, recognises it the next time you shoot and prioritises them in a group of disparate, non-family faces. This “technology” was developed in Japan, so whether it thinks western faces are all the same I haven’t had the patience to discover. These extras are batty and pointless.

The Sony has a touchscreen display, which works well. It also outputs via an HD cable to your new flat screen TV. The Casio uses a bothersome charging cradle. They are good cameras, but stuffed with insane, desperate, and unnecessary nonsense which is in danger of compromising that simplicity of use which is what attracts people to compact digitals in the first place. If you need a new camera, either will suit you. I prefer the Casio, it’s neater, prettier and doesn’t use expensive memory sticks, but it is virtually a tie.

© Stephen Fry 2008

This blog was posted in Guardian column

47 comments on “Compact cameras have arrived at That Stage”

  1. dark_maylee says:

    A mosquito bites. I get them a lot. I bought one of those bug zappers that look like tennis rackets so I could chase after those foul creatures. My friend once said that mosquito killing should be an Olympic sport. It’s sadistic and amusing to watch them smoke and spark.

    I’m in need of a new camera. I own a Pentax Optio which seems to be losing its poor life on me. I’ve had it for a good while and it has survived long enough. But do I need ‘face detection’ or ‘Youtube Capture Mode’s? I just want some nice pictures!

    Have fun in the jungle!~

  2. xugglybug says:

    Compact cameras are getting good: that much cannot be denied. However, DSLRs are getting even better all the time.

  3. west_haven says:

    Oh dear, Mr. Fry – you had me laughing out loud – as I was trying to eat my dinner. The vision of you scarlet & purple & arm in a cast beating your way through the jungle with only a camera to protect yourself . . .

    Timely column – my old camera has given up the ghost & I’m on the look-out for a new one. Also not much interested in the bells & whistles & glad to get your recco. Shall forward your column to my partner with the merest of hints re Mother’s Day . . .

    Thank you – delightful, as always.

  4. effrontery says:

    There’s something faintly obscene about all this, isn’t there? I can’t help thinking a little less of the author every time I read one of these commons. As for the cloying comments ‘Oh dear Mr Fry’, ‘delightful as always’. Pass the sick bag, Alice. OK, I know, I don’t have to read this stuff.

  5. Flookwit says:

    I like my Casio Exilim S880, but sometimes even for my delicate fingers, I find it a bit too slim and fiddly.

    I have no idea where, what or how the smile function works, although if it would prevent the awful risus sardonicusphotos I normally capture, it would be worthwhile finding.

    I have used it whilst riding and not in the video mode, and it’s ability to correct for slight user movement is quite impressive.

    Certainly, it is very light, and I guess could be used one handedly with a bit of practice if needed, although you must have written this post before you needed to try that trick out!

    Ah yes, I remember that last time I wrote a comment I promised to zip it; couldn’t resist a Casio post and another chance to tell you to take care of yourself. You work too hard. Please don’t follow your friend Douglas Adams too closely, I keep getting very troubling dreams. Immerse yourself in a book-lined room, put some favourite Handel on (Rinaldo is beautiful), think creative thougthts and get well soon. And stop rushing about, juggling a dozen projects at the same time. ‘S’truth, Mr. Fry, if this comment is relayed to you, think about it, please?
    Best wishes

  6. br3nda says:

    speaking of things you don’t really need – instead of getting a bigger flash card, check out these things: http://eye.fi. They’re very much first adopter rough and raw, but heh.. it’s shiny.

  7. AxmxZ says:

    I’m waiting for the camera that can overcome laws of nature and shoot night landscapes with perfect focus. I’m not greedy – let them be moon-bathed landscapes. Full-moon-bathed, even. STOP TURNING MY BEAUTIFUL SELENE INTO A SHAPELESS BLOB IN THE SKY!!!

    *cries piteously*

  8. Martin in Korea says:

    At the risk of turning Mr Effrontery into an out and out h8er, if I weren’t a man and you weren’t a poof, I would gladly have your babies, Mr Fry.

    Anyway, what I want from a digital camera is a slim body and a lovely fast lens. Any suggestions, fellow commenters?

  9. …a pea in a cathedral… I have had one of those. xx

  10. Mike says:

    The main things that point-and-click digital camera buyers should pay attention to are:
    * buy one with the biggest preview screen you can manage. I see so many people of a certain age standing around forever trying to take a good picture while squinting through a pinhole at arm’s length, while their arms jiggle up and down hopelessly, and their subject tires or moves away
    * learn how to turn the flash off. Especially when inside museums and galleries and places where they have big signs saying “NO FLASH” in 17 languages. I keep being told by such camera wielders that they can’t turn it off because it’s automatic, either failing to notice the whopping great flash on/off button on the camera, or assuming that the lightning symbol next to it means they will be electrocuted. Having been temporarily blinded so many times by such cretins or witnessed them flashing away at ancient masterpieces, I would cheerfully ask for a camera with a taser-flash that I could use on them

  11. Christa says:

    LOL…this is so true. What are they going to do next to sell us these baby cameras?

    During the past few years while doing a lot of photography I’ve realized that there are two kinds of people with cameras. Those who are happy with what they’ve got, and those who will buy because it’s new and shiny.

    Personally I haven’t had a compact camera since…oh…a long time. My next aim is a new Canon, and if I ever need a new model after that I will simply get a Hasselblad. But then again, that’s on a professional level.

    But yes, I’ve heard that they are great these days. Not like the old Instamatic…hehe…those were horrible.
    On the other hand, they did do their job and no one had any need to add gadgets to them just to make people buy either. So maybe it wasn’t all that bad.

    The day they invent a compact that can do laundry and dishes, I’m all ears and I’ll get one :D

    At some point the market will overflow and get saturated. It happens with everything.

    I hope that arm of yours is healing well :)

  12. mikevl says:

    Stephen,

    I enjoy reading your blog and hope the arm injury will not keep you from updating it for us readers. Mind you, it might be a good opportunity to review a product like dragon naturally speaking. [smile]

    There is one feature that would add to a compact’s functionality: WiFi.
    Finally put a stop to breaking limbs over cables etc. and synchronize with pc, mac and most other wireless enabled apps.
    Smart whizz kids have actually developed memory (sd) cards that have a wifi chip in them so this feature is just on the horizon..

    Take care and give the arm a rest!

  13. shreena says:

    Some cameras even have a “Myspace” function now.

  14. My dearest Stephen,

    Oh, how delicious the irony! You extol the benefits of compact cameras yet we have yet to see the pictures of you falling from your log. Surely the Sony Cybershot DSC-T200 has a preset for ‘man suffers injury against verdant backdrop of Brazilian rainforest’. When do we get to see the money shot, Mr. Fry? When?

    Reading between the lines, I begin to wonder if you’re protecting somebody, or, should I say, “something”? I’ve read the news reports and I suspect a manatee was involved. If so, then I implore you to let us see the pictures. No doubt I will be accused of being just another sycophant, but wouldn’t it be a perfect chance to use the YouTube upload function? It would be an instant classic, in the tradition of the YouTube greats ‘infant with rabid raccoon’ and ‘pensioner on flaming moped’.

    If these cameras are as good as you suggest, then let us see the evidence. Where are the pictures?

    I remain your humble friend, fan, and occasional Scrabble victor,

    Richard Madeley

  15. quixote says:

    A Baby setting? “…barely sentient … YouTube uploader…”

    ha ha hahaha heehee HOOHOOHOO hoo ha ha

    And informative, too.

    Thank you, Stephen!

  16. doshea says:

    But for ALL this kitting up, the camera producers have dropped one of the most useful, stabilizing features of all: the viewfinder. During my travels I watch my colleagues wave, stagger, and wobble as they hold their new OptoMegaBlitzV at arms length squinting at an LCD screen attempting to frame a shot.

    Don O’Shea

  17. charlbury says:

    Stephen, let us see the results, surely this review would not be complete with some sample images from your trip neatly upload to Flickr. I’ll show you mine if you’ll show me yours:

    http://www.flickr.com/iboogaloo

    alternatively, check out Dave Gorman’s Flickr photostream, he must be preparing for a new book at the rate he is uploading his photos:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/dgbalancesrocks/

  18. Fryphile says:

    @ AxmxZ: Preach it, sista! Trying to take good night pictures is an exercise is frustration. RAZZAFRACKINCAMERA. HULK SMASH.

    Mr. Fry, with your present injury, you would be the perfect spokesperson to advertise the ease of use for any one of these cameras/electronic gadgets. A “so simple, only one hand is needed” type of thing.

    *does Mr. Miyagi healing hand rub on Stephen’s arm*

  19. mockduck says:

    OK, I know this really isn’t the point at all, but I bought the [previous version of the] Exilim on a whim last year and I loathe it with an intense hatred I’d normally reserve for, well, what? Casual kitten killers or something. It not only presupposes a general lack of knowledge of photography – fine – but it also prevents the user from ever rising above that lack of knowledge by putting actions like changing the exposure or focal depth several button-depressions (and I use the word advisedly) away – that is, if the user is allowed to tinker at all. By the time you’ve decided on your best setting and made the manual modifications, your subject will have become bored and moved on to another town. And possibly lost his hair, put on three stone and married again.

    On a personal note of extreme petulance I might also note that my Exilim has failed not once but twice, and had to have the entire lens component replaced.

  20. Steve Howard says:

    Mosquitos: we live in the ‘jungle’ of South Mississippi … we have chickens. It seems chickens are voracious insect eaters … so now we have hardly any mosquitos in the summer. Which is nice, since I am British and I think the mosquitos like foreign food. They certainly like me more than they like my American wife!

    Having once fought vehemently against converged devices – cell phones that have cameras, movie players, mp3 players, keyboards etc. – I am now a Born-again Smartphone believer. So the advent of the Nokia N95 with the Carl Zeiss Tessar 20x digital zoom lense is a step in the right direction for me. But it still takes crap photos compared to a ‘proper’ camera. Let’s see what we have to choose from in another couple of years.

    Absolutely SLRs are ahead of the game and staying there, but really they have only ever been for enthusiasts and professionals. Us plems who loved the old instamatics are happy to endure the awful pictures our phones take today, because we can take thousands of them and never pay Boots to develop the pictures ;-) My phone has an awful camera, but with a 2 Gb memory card the ‘pictures remaining’ stays at >999 all day .

    Now all we need is to combine a decent 10 Mpx camera, phone and projector and home movies will take on a whole new perspective :-)

    Coming to a phone near you soon … http://www.microvision.com/

  21. JSKanga84 says:

    I’ve been without a camera, digital or otherwise, for over a year, since my much beloved Sony camera was stolen. The thought of buying a new one just makes my head ache. All these useless features I’ll never use and won’t have the patience to figure out–ugh!

  22. kevhickeyuk says:

    ” effrontery Says:
    January 25th, 2008 at 10:45 pm

    There’s something faintly obscene about all this, isn’t there? I can’t help thinking a little less of the author every time I read one of these commons. As for the cloying comments ‘Oh dear Mr Fry’, ‘delightful as always’. Pass the sick bag, Alice. OK, I know, I don’t have to read this stuff.”

    This post has been bugging me all day. Effrontery, would you mind articulating what you find so obscene about these columns? I am not having a go, i am just curious. Is it new technologies that you dislike, or do you find subjects such as digital cameras and social networks too low brow and would preffer steven to discuss more worthy and intelectual topics?

  23. paulhulbert says:

    I would like sensors that have a much expanded range of sensitivity. Modern camera sensors – at compact level, at least – still have a limited range that reminds me of colour slide film in the 1960s. They don’t really like extremely contrasty subjects.

    And yes, I’d like proper viewfinders to come back to compact cameras. I know that it probably costs a couple of pounds more to do this with parallax shift – like my very ordinary Yashica 35mm rangefinder camera did in 1968, with a viewfinder much larger than nowadays – but I can still dream, can’t I?

    Oh, and with a viewfinder that’s got a dioptre adjustment I wouldn’t have to squint at that LCD screen on the back of the camera when I’m taking a close-up. And with a viewfinder I could see it properly in sunlight too.

    Yes, I know I could get all this with a digital SLR, but I don’t want the weight penalty. So I have a compact for casual photography, and a bridge camera – looks like an SLR but with a non-interchangeable lens – for more serious use.

    Paul Hulbert

  24. zfiledh says:

    I’m pretty content with the Canon camera we have here, but I’m not averse to having a new one! Oooh, I got the gizmo bug now! Thanks!

  25. williamdeed says:

    My dear Mr Fry

    If you now find yourself with a surplus of compact cameras with the YouTube upload feature, I have some non techy minded park rangers here in Kenya who would find them very useful indeed.

    Let me know.

    Cheers

    William wdeed at wildlifedirect dot org

  26. rcousine says:

    Having arrived at “that stage”, I think compact cameras are about to suffer the inevitable fate that is now overtaking most MP3 players: they’ll get integrated into mobile phones with no real loss of performance, and that will almost entirely end the market for super-compact cameras.

    Stuff like the esoteric Ricoh GR and serious semi-compacts like the Canon A-series or S-series might live through this period, but everything else below the DSLR level ultimately surrenders to the likes of the K800i.

  27. Selma says:

    Some very interesting (but stupid) developments in the realm of image creation.

    Though I am fond of my Optio (even though it’s only a 30) I always go back to this wonderful device I have: a Pentax Spotmatic F. With an infinitely detailed SLR viewfinder (as high-def as my eye), TTL automatic metering which tells you when you have the right aperture and shutter speed without looking away from the scene you’re framing and automatically adjusts for ASA rating,, shutter lock so it won’t go off when you don’t want it to, hotshoe attaching point for automatic flash timing, interchangeable lenses with secure screw mounting, full manual mode for those who like control, attachment for remote shutter control so you can take a photo of yourself at a distance from the camera, a timer release (of course), ground glass AND split screen focusing, extreme hi-def picture capabilities and get this: when the battery goes flat all you loose is the TTL meter. Plus it comes in a lovely tailor-fitted case. All this in lovely black vinyl and brushed steel, so compact you could fit it in a backpack, so light it only needs one person to carry it.

    Ah, technology.

  28. GraceD says:

    In praise of digital compacts

    With film compacts, you can’t frame the image as you take it, you have to use the crappy viewfinder and then take a guess, and you are generally stuck with a fixed 50mm lens. Not to mention that you can’t review what you’ve just taken and have another go if it didn’t work out.

    With a film SLR you have the bliss of being able to see the view through the lens, and the ability to use zoom and macro lenses.

    But with digital cameras, this divide between brilliant cameras and crappy ones is collapsed. Even the humblest digital compact shows you the exact view through the lens on the LCD screen, and has a zoom lens and macro capability.

    And the upper eschelon of digital compacts, especially the Canon G series, has more versatility and more clever features than anyone could wish for. Yes, some of the features are “just because we can”, and almost entirely pointless, but things like white balance control and automatic compensation for backlighting are fabulous. And the resolution is incredible.

    So why would you buy a dSLR? There’s the snob value that has caried over from the days of film: they look like a “serious” camera (making one, by extension, a “serious” photographer). There is the ability to use interchangeable lenses, and lenses of higher quality, and the abilty to see directly through the lens without the mediation of an LCD panel.

    On the downside, dSLRs are are much bulkier, heavier and more intrusive than their compact cousins. Swing one up to your face at a family gathering and watch everybody freeze in selfconsciousness. Miss those spontaneous shots because your camera’s in your backpack, or you have to change lenses. In order to be “serious” you sacrifice ease of use.

    I have a Canon Powershot G9, their current “flagship” compact, and it’s amazing. To get a Canon dSLR with comparable resolution and versatility would cost at least six times as much.

    And with my G9 I take both serious photos and silly ones.
    Hallelujah!

  29. GraceD says:

    In praise of digital compacts

    With film compacts, you can’t frame the image as you take it, you have to use the crappy viewfinder and then take a guess, and you are generally stuck with a fixed 50mm lens. Not to mention that you can’t review what you’ve just taken and have another go if it didn’t work out.

    With a film SLR you have the bliss of being able to see the view through the lens, and the ability to use zoom and macro lenses.

    But with digital cameras, this divide between brilliant cameras and crappy ones is collapsed. Even the humblest digital compact shows you the exact view through the lens on the LCD screen, and has a zoom lens and macro capability.

    And the upper eschelon of digital compacts, especially the Canon G series, has more versatility and more clever features than anyone could wish for. Yes, some of the features are “just because we can”, and almost entirely pointless, but things like white balance control and automatic compensation for backlighting are fabulous. And the resolution is incredible.

    So why would you buy a dSLR? There’s the snob value that has caried over from the days of film: they look like a “serious” camera (making one, by extension, a “serious” photographer). There is the ability to use interchangeable lenses, and lenses of higher quality, and the abilty to see directly through the lens without the mediation of an LCD panel.

    On the downside, dSLRs are are much bulkier, heavier and more intrusive than their compact cousins. Swing one up to your face at a family gathering and watch everybody freeze in selfconsciousness. Miss those spontaneous shots because your camera’s in your backpack, or you have to change lenses. In order to be “serious” you sacrifice ease of use.

    I have a Canon Powershot G9, their current “flagship” compact, and it’s amazing. To get a Canon dSLR with comparable resolution and versatility would cost at least six times as much.

    And with it I take both serious photos and silly ones.
    Hallelujah!

  30. akira_kev says:

    I got to say ever since I bought my Lecia D-lux3 (10meg) its never been away from my side, it feels like i’ve joined the Bang Bang club. Its always in my pocket ready and willing to snap away at the days events. Small enough not to ruin the cut of the suit but good enough to know i’m going to get a good quality shot. People who say my mobile can take a shot as good as that…well as ever its all in the lens…quality is in the glass, the things that made the light dance on the film/CCD. nothing amazes me more than going back and shooting with a Mayima 67 or other larger format camera and how many lessons have to be learnt, not not all about point and shot.

    Ah, Composition

  31. We have multiple cameras. Most digital. That said, had I the time I would, for preference, lash a roll of Ilford B&W into my old Canon AE1 Program and set forth to snap my way through it. It makes an actual mechanical noise. Not a reproduction of one. It has a brass chassis with a reassuring weight that could, in a pinch, cause serious harm to a would be miscreant. It is old, it requires me to keep some noxious chemicals around the house out of reach of my children (to develop the negs), but it is an excellent piece of engineering that is a joy to use, without annoying arsey little modes to allow a computer to tweak someones smile just that little bit whiter.

  32. Neil Bridge says:

    Compact Digital Still Cameras still have a LONG way to go, and as point out by Mr Fry, manufacturers are focusing (‘scuse the pun) on extraneous crap to distract us from our wallets.

    As far as many amateur & pro photographers are concerned (myself included), the Prime lens is superior to the Zoom lens. This is not up for discussion.
    Within the past decade, what are generally accepted as the world’s best compact 35mm cameras have sported only fast Prime lenses, wrapped in strong, lightweight bodies.
    Still very desirable, all enjoy healthy resale prices and are the subjects of many an eBay hunt!
    I’ll name them here and now;

    Leica Minilux – 40mm f2.4 Leica Summarit lens, Titanium body
    Leica CM – 40mm f2.4 Leica Summarit lens, Titanium body
    Contax T – 38mm f2.8 Carl Zeiss Sonnar lens, Titanium & Aluminium body
    Contax T2 – 38mm f2.8 Carl Zeiss Sonnar lens, Titanium body
    Contax T3 – 35mm f2.8 Carl Zeiss Sonnar lens, Titanium body
    Nikon 28 Ti – 28mm f2.8 Nikkor lens, Titanium body
    Nikon 35 Ti – 35mm f2.8 Nikkor lens, Titanium body
    Konica Hexar AF – 35mm f2.0 Konica lens, Alloy body
    Ricoh GR1 & GR1s – 28mm f2.8 Ricoh GR lens, Magnesium Alloy body
    Yashica T4 & T5 – 35mm f3.5 Carl Zeiss Tessar lens, Polycarbonate body

    All of these cameras are legends within their own right, but only one has a true Digital successor – The
    Ricoh, now on its second Digital incarnation as the Ricoh GRD-II.
    I for one am still waiting for digital camera manufacturers to pull their fingers out and produce a pure
    Digital Compact based on the principles of the world’s best compact film cameras.
    Sony are in a brilliant position to do this now that Contax-Yashica are no more (The other Zeiss connection) as are Leica – with a Panasonic Lumix equivalent, of course!
    Even Canon could get in on the action, and produce a hard little workhorse along the lines of its new G9, but with a 40mm f2 ‘L’ series Prime lens instead.
    I’d buy that.

    ps
    If any of you wonder why I didn’t include any of the fabulous Rollei 35 cameras, it’s because they’re so far away from being ‘Digitally viable’, it isn’t even funny…

  33. sulka says:

    I’m not sure if you’ve noticed but in fact the one thing that _hasn’t_ improved with digital compacts in the last couple years is the image quality. Sure, the amount of pixels has increased but if you actually go and peep at those pixels, they’re mostly just horrible colour noise. Further, anything over 4MP is overkill unless you print in sizes larger than 4×6″, which most people never do.

    What makes this even funnier is that the lenses in the compacts aren’t even good enough to allow for the resolution of the sensors due to light diffraction. To get 10MP out of a compact size image sensor, you need a f/2.0 lens or faster. Anything slower and you’ll start losing resolution. Incidentally there are no 10MP cameras on the market with such a fast lens.

    The ideal compact would have:

    * Fast lens (like the venerable compact lens king Canon Powershot G3 with f/2.0-3.0)
    * Fast autofocus
    * Zoom with fully retracting lens for pocketability
    * 6 MP resolution with high quality image in low light
    * Long battery life
    * 3″ high resolution screen where you can actually see if the image is in focus
    * 16-bit imaging or whichever technology to get the dynamic range of film

    Obviously such a camera doesn’t exist yet and won’t for a long time, since the consumers don’t know to demand for one.

  34. Steve Smith says:

    My favourite camera is still working fine. It has all the features I require and was built in 1954. No need to upgrade yet!

  35. Groveler says:

    I had a reason to buy a new compact; I leant over to pick something up and my trusty Sony Cybershot slipped out my inside pocket and on to the floor with a nasty crack. Pas de probleme, I thought, that’s happened many a time with no ill effect. Unfortunately this time the screen was buggered, although the camera was still taking pictures (of feet and sky mostly, not having a viewfinder).

    So I wandered off to the Sony shop expecting to part with 4 guineas or so for a quick repair job; they wanted £45 up front just to look at the bleeder! that’s capitalism for you; we’re all going to hell in a handcart, where’s John Stapleton when you need him etc.

    So I’ve bought an Olympus mju 820, mainly for the 5x zoom, which I’m hoping will help when out and about. Too early to give a worthwhile verdict so I may report back, if this talkback still going in a couple of weeks…

  36. robertas says:

    Latest installment of Stephen Fry Appreciation Monday – things I have learned watching QI… do feel free to pop by and add, I’m going through series 2 at the moment so my knowledge is limited… then again I am blond after all :)

    http://www.couchslobs.com/2008/01/28/things-i-have-learned-watching-qi/

  37. Tony Fisk says:

    My face recognition software resides behind my eyeballs (although, as Dr. Sachs has pointed out, some people have difficulty with this)

    I’m not in the market at the the moment, but what would induce me to part with my Ixus 500? (which can produce perfectly acceptable A4 prints.. haven’t tried A3)

    - manual focus (as in ‘I sometimes know what *I* want to focus on, you #*&^ useless friendly lump of silicon!’)
    - greater video frame rate
    - greater video resolution
    - longer videos (30 sec limit usually occurs just at the critical moment)
    - longer microphone memos (do you use your camera to take notes, anyone?)
    - wifi upload (or even bluetooth. See http://www.witness.org)
    - mosquito/leech repellant

  38. hageltoast says:

    I love my cameras, I have the big optical lense for outdoor gigs and stuff and my little slim one that lives in my handbag, with the rest of my life.

  39. type says:

    Sulka is right. Compacts are still pimping the wrong-headed megapixel race to people who have better things to do than read about camera electronics.

    To get better picture quality from compacts, what is needed are:

    - LESS megapixels, probably no more than 6 (better 6MP of quality detail than 14MP of crappy detail)

    - a much BIGGER sensor to allow those pixels to expose themselves properly to the all-important light and reduce noise and other abberations resulting from pixel overcrowding

    -good quality, fast lenses, with limited zooms or even fixed focal lengths

    All these things are anathema to almost all the camera manufacturers, mostly because they are expensive at a time when mobile convergence is eating their margins and are hard sells to the uneducated. There again, mexapixels and face detection are hardly winning pitches, either.

    The only camera possessing these 3 things is one whose debut on the market is still in doubt, a Sigma. It will be expensive. It should take photos with image quality similar to DSLRs. If it does, it will be primarily because it has (in miniature) the few essential ingredients above that result in DSLRs getting better image quality than compacts.

  40. Redbeard says:

    I like my Olympus (SP560) Ultra Zoom bridge camera – ordinary AA batteries (so emergency spares are universally available), good macro capability, and now with 18x zoom – an SLR style compact that fits into a (large) pocket.

    Fewer megapixels were better the first 8MP sensors were too noisy but the current crop have redeemed the situation.

    I like my zoom – the extreme ends may not be perfect but the effective range gives me a useful flexibility that I would miss with a true SLR or lesser compact.

  41. PC Bitseach says:

    I bought a digital camera a few years ago and couldn’t use it due to the utter rubbishness of the battery life (despite researching these things before buying in “Which” – thanks a lot, Which!)

    I’ve recently bought a fairly basic mobile phone (:o(

    Pc Bits’

  42. PC Bitseach says:

    …hmm, last message cut off in mid-stream – don’t think it liked the “less than” symbol!

    … my basic phone (less than £100) has 3.2 MPixels, flash, steadying doodah, decent memory and space for a stick, excellent battery life and from which I can make and receive ‘phone calls! Who could ask for anything more.

    Consequently Nikon will never get another brass farthing from me!
    Pc Bits’

  43. I have some beautiful film cameras – Rolleiflex, Nikon F100, Olympus MJU II, Zeiss Ikon, but none is really quite as nice as the Nikon D2X. Mainly because everytime you push the button with any film model it costs you dear.
    Between 1996-2001 working at a weekly paper I reckon I took 150,000 frames of film – I should have switched to digital sooner!

  44. Susan P. says:

    PC Bitseach – although an adjunct topic, I have a wireless mouse and keyboard and particular re the mouse I was going through AA batteries at an incredible rate. I bought a rechargeable set and they never work in the mouse and totally unreliably in the keyboard. I’ve just gone back to forking out tracts of money on ‘ordinary’ batteries.

  45. The Bellman says:

    I would suggest that there is one, maybe two, more pieces of technology that can be added to compact cameras before the options for innovation are exhausted. The first of these is one that I am very surprised is not common already: integrated GPS so that photos are automatically “geotagged” with the location of the shot. There are various means of tagging photos on your computer after you have extracted them from your camera, and before sending them on to whatever Web 2.1 cache you choose, but they all appear to have been created by the grand-nephews of Heath Robinson.

    The second is some sort of automatic image analysis that will prevent the user from taking yet another photo of their children putting a bowl of spaghetti on their head, or lining their relatives up against the wall as if waiting for a much-desired firing squad.

  46. rademisto says:

    If you can wait until 2009, Kodak promise to add GPS integration to their camera range. According to ‘Pocket-lint’ “According to Kodak, the GPS information will be added to the metadata of the photo…” more of Pocket-lint report here
    http://www.pocket-lint.co.uk/news/news.phtml/10684/11708/kodak-add-gps-to-cameras.phtml

    Until then, unless other camera manufacturers beat Kodak to the 2009 finishing line, there is the Sony GPS tracker, the GPS CS1 a little device that records the position and syncs with your digital photo information……more information here
    http://www.dpreview.com/news/0608/06080202sonygpscs1.asp
    and here
    http://www.sat.dundee.ac.uk/arb/gpscs1/

    and I agree, I am very surprised that it has taken so long before some person switched that particular light on.

  47. 33hurrli says:

    Dear Stephen Fry

    It’s a great pleasure to read your blog and listen to your blessays, I’m very much looking foreward to the next one…as far as cameras…I just bought a Canon G9 Powershot because the buttons and handling remind me to my old Canon F1, a heavy tractor of a camera, but most beloved. So I’m the more retrotype of custumer and definetly not to bait with always new schnickschnack, although I very much appreciate the audiorecordfunction of my new camera, which makes it a welcome instrument to controle my singing exercises…

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