What kind of camera are you?

Are you Coke or Pepsi? PC or Mac? Oxford or Cambridge? Nikon or Canon? Stephen Fry reveals where his loyalty lies

Column “Dork Talk” published on Saturday 20th September 2008 in The Guardian “What kind of camera are you?” – The Guardian headline.

Every Coke has a Pepsi, every Visa a MasterCard. Who do you support in the Boat Race and why? Don’t you dare tell me you couldn’t give a fig either way: it’s Oxford or Cambridge, at some point one must develop a preference, for whatever reason. It’s Harvard or Yale, Harpic or Domestos, AA or RAC, PC or Mac. Binary tribalism: Gilbert and Sullivan wrote a song about it.

Canon EOS 1000D: All the convenience of a compact, but underneath lies the potential of a real grown-up SLR

In the world of serious SLR photography, the choice has always been between Nikon or Canon. The single lens reflex (SLR) camera is best defined as being the sort of camera where what you see is what you shoot. As the initials tell you, it is a single lensed entity, a lens that can be changed with a twist of its bayonet. A clever mirror ensures the viewfinder’s image is more or less congruent to that of the lens. The SLR is the choice of photojournalists, paparazzi, sports photographers – anyone who needs fast, accurate shooting. The camera goes up to the eye and will be manufactured (with apologies to Pentax, Olympus, Leica and Minolta) by Nikon or Canon. A huge range of Nikkor F-mount lenses for the Nikon and EOS EF lenses for the Canon have built up over the years; they are forwardly and backwardly compatible with new DSLR and old SLR bodies, but not across the brands. An EOS won’t fit a Nikon body nor a Nikkor a Canon. There are issues with older Canons and with some Nikon auto focus lenses, but generally speaking, this broad description is correct. A profitable war zone where two major powers continue to joust.


This blog was posted in Guardian column

Save yourself a packet on mobile calls

Stephen Fry: I Skype, you Skype, he/she/it Skypes, we will have Skyped, they would have been Skyping

Column “Dork Talk” published on Saturday 13th September 2008 in The Guardian “Save yourself a packet on mobile calls” – The Guardian headline.

Every once in a while a proprietary device or process strikes it lucky and becomes The One. A combination of apt nomenclature and mass-market penetration will allow it to achieve the ultimate accolade of being used as a verb – we have been Googling for the best part of a decade. But who would have guessed that a company from Tallinn, Estonia, might join this elite group? But I Skype, you Skype, he/she/it Skypes, we will have Skyped, they would have been Skyping.

3’s Skype phone

Skype is the best known of the VOIP services, utilising the Voice Over Internet Protocol to allow anyone with a net connection to make free calls to other Skype users. You can also top up a Skype account via credit card or PayPal to get a SkypeIn number, and make and receive local and international calls, taking advantage of all that bandwidth at a fraction of the price your home telecoms company would charge. On top of this are Skype’s videoconferencing and instant messaging services, akin to iChat, AIM, Jabber and Windows Messenger.


This blog was posted in Guardian column

SanDisk Sansa e2x0

It is rare for me to contemplate new gadgetry without a pang of regret for the early passing of Douglas Adams.

Column “Dork Talk” published on Saturday 6th September 2008 in The Guardian “Dork Talk” – The Guardian headline.

I miss him both as friend and technology guru. For years, we played with digital toys together, swapping software and finding new ways to make our systems crash. Back in the 80s, we had acoustic coupler modems, capable of what we thought was a dazzling half-duplex 1,200 bps. In those pre-internet days (or, more accurately, pre-ISP days), we communicated with each other’s Macs via these modems: plugging telephone receivers into the rubber-grommeted holes of the coupler, we spoke into the Mac’s inbuilt microphone and waited for it to emerge from the other end as (broadly) intelligible speech. It took us a week to fine-tune the system, but in the end we could hold a conversation. We triumphantly told Douglas’s wife, Jane, who asked why we didn’t get rid of the computers, the acoustic couplers, the miles of wiring and the discs. “It’s called a telephone conversation,” she said. Doh.


Douglas never lived to see his beloved Apple rise from near-collapse in the 90s to today’s position. He died a few months before the arrival of the first generation of iPods; I missed his response to them dreadfully, as I have every new arrival in the digital sphere since. Some Christians have What Would Jesus Do? as a motto; I have What Would Douglas Think?


This blog was posted in Guardian column

Wii is a kind of magic

Column “Dork Talk” published on Saturday 30th August 2008 in The Guardian “Dork Talk – A kind of magic” – The Guardian headline

Stephen Fry is wowed by Nintendo’s magical Wii

Last week I looked at the remarkable rebirth in the fortunes of Nintendo, a renaissance engendered by two products – the DS, a pocket gaming device, and the Wii, a larger living-room machine.

The Wii arrived in Europe last year and demand has been allowed massively to outstrip supply, causing howls of anguish from those who, like Veruca Salt and me, always want it now. You can buy a basic Wii from any old Woolworths, but the Wii-Fit add-on is still made, as the saying has it, from purest unobtainium.

Photograph: Itsuo Inouye

Wii is white and dinky. It connects to your TV by ancient Scart connectors, for heaven’s sake, eschewing 21st-century HDMI. Its graphics, power and storage capabilities are nothing like as impressive as those on a PlayStation or Xbox, it can’t even play back basic DVDs – but it has a USP that makes up for all that.


This blog was posted in Guardian column

Handheld gaming

Column “Dork Talk” published on Saturday 23rd August 2008 in The Guardian “Dork Talk” – The Guardian headline

Stephen Fry has a lot of affection for Nintendo’s DS, which he finds much more engaging than Sony’s PSP

Poor Nintendo. Those clever little handheld games in the 80s: small, orange, plastic “Game & Watch” devices that opened up like a book. A gorilla threw barrels down at you while you leapt about a beeping LCD world. Then came the NES Game Console, followed by the highly successful Game Boy. After that, things began to go wrong: the Nintendo 64 and its successor, the GameCube, failed to penetrate what was now an enormous market. The oldest video games company of them all was in trouble: Donkey Kong and the Mario Brothers seemed destined to go the way of Atari and Sega, Pong and Sonic the Hedgehog, while the big boys would be left to slug it out with their PlayStations and Xboxes. That was Sony and Microsoft’s plan, and no one doubted it would be so. Nintendo, as a games brand, was about as hot as Waddingtons.

“I Nintendo live for ever, or die trying” – Mario Marx.

And then came its “seventh generation” offerings, the DS and the Wii (pronounced “wee”). The assumption made by Sony and Microsoft was that awesome processing power, state-of-the-art graphics, smooth animation and voluminous storage would make their big beasts market leaders. Nintendo staked all on cheaper devices that stressed a personal relationship between player and machine. The DS was all about a highly portable, stylus-driven environment, while the Wii – well, the Wii changed the rules completely.


This blog was posted in Guardian column