Enroute the SD 100

I own a Canon Powershot SD100.

In the intervening months since its purchase, it has been superceded by the Powershot SD110, the Powershot SD200 and the Powershot SD300. All these changes, and in 9 months too.

I decided to write this entry after reading Paul’s comments concerning my iPod decision. Perhaps some insight into the tortorous path I traveled while trying to buy a digital camera can be of use to somebody out there.

After learning that I had been accepted for a position at Qualcomm, I decided to buy a digital camera. Prior to this, I’d never been ‘into’ photography. Although my family owned a 35mm Minolta, the idea of shelling out for rolls of film and development never appealed to me. I realized that improving photographic skills would be a ardous process and would involve many hundreds of failures for every ‘good’ picture I turned out. My budget was insufficient to deal with the cost of maintaining a 35mm based hobby. My position at Qualcomm and the realization that I’d be embarking on a road trip allowed me to seriously consider another option – a digital camera.

And why not? The road trip would be the chance of a lifetime. I’d want to capture every minute of it and I didn’t want to have to stop to think “Is this picture worth it?”. I wanted to take the photo and cull my mistakes later. The more I considered it, the more I psyched myself into wanting, no – needing – a digital camera to make this experience complete. After all, it was a one-time capital outlay right?

So began the research phase.

Before making any purchase, I research extensively – perhaps too extensively in retrospect. Over the course of a few weeks I gathered enough information to start considering a cash outlay. But – what steps did I follow? What path did I take?

First, I gathered the basics. I educated myself in the basic technical terminology of digital and film cameras (both are important!). I read up on the basic attributes of cameras to understand the area into which I was delving. Next, through extensive google use, I gathered a list of websites that were known for their thorough camera reviews and forums/sites I could browse for user reviews. Armed with my ‘library’ or ‘reference stack’, I started to research into the major brands, the price ranges available, the features available and the models on the market place. This research was extremely cursory and only served to gain an appreciation of what was out there.

Seems like a lot of setup right? It was. Time consuming would be an understatement.

With my information, I now asked myself a few major questions.

  • How much am I really willing to spend?
  • Are there any requirements I have to consider while purchasing?
  • Do I think I will get ‘into’ photography?
  • Where do I see myself using this camera?
  • What are the important features I want to see in this camera?

These questions really helped me narrow down my range of options. I didn’t know if I’d become an avid photographer, so the thought of spending >$500 after taxes on the camera itself struck me as risky at best. What if I got a camera but never used it? Then my money would have been wasted!

Now, what requirements would I have to consider? The biggest one that I could remember involved the storage media to be used. Being the owner of a Palm Tungsten E, I already had splurged on a 256MB SD card. I really didn’t feel like blowing an additional $100+ on alternate storage media. This meant I primarily looked into SD card capable cameras.

Finally, where would I use this camera.

This.
Is.
Extremely.
Important.

I cannot stress this point enough. The places you see yourself taking this camera determine its size, usability and other factors. Fancy yourself a wildlife photographer? Then a little P&S won’t cut it – you need something with a massive zoom and IS. Heavily into macro photography? Look for a different camera. You get the idea. In my case I realized that I needed my ideal camera to be portable. Sure I’d like the latest D-SLR with all the features and lenses, but before you take that step think and realize:

A camera is only as useful as the places you take it.

If you’re not going to take that D-SLR to Giordano’s miss a shot of that two-inch deep Chicago style pizza…then was it really worth it to buy that camera?

I decided that to start off, I wanted an easily pocketable, unobtrusive camera. I felt somewhat embarassed with the idea of carrying a prominent camera around and taking photos of anything and everything. It would be easier, I reasoned, to carry a smaller camera around and aclimatize myself to the idea of taking shots on the spur of the moment. In fact, I wanted something concealable. I didn’t want to be the camera geek.

This left the features I wanted. This point was intimately tied in with whether I was going to get ‘into’ photography. I’ll spare you the deliberations, but outline the end result. I wanted a P&S that would do more than just ‘full-auto’. I wanted to the ability to change some settings but, not a lot. I didn’t want to be overwhelmed just yet.

As a disclaimer – were I to take this decision right now, my choices would be markedly different.

There were a number of manufacturers to be considered. In order of personal preference these were:

I came up with this listing after much, much research. I’ll point out that there were individual models that I considered despite the brand’s placement on the list.

Canon and Nikon were the oft-mentioned names on camera websites and forums. Although they may not have dazzled in terms of sheer feature volume, in the price range and form factor I was looking at, their models were close to the top in balancing image quality/feature set. Kodak…well…let’s just say that to this day I won’t touch Kodak digital cameras.

I hesitated long and hard when it came to Canons. My Dad has had two Canon cameras break on him and I was understandably leery at dropping >$400 on a camera that could turn out to be a lemon. Based on reading in the forums however, there weren’t the large volumes of negative feedback that usually accompanied unreliable products. Nevertheless, I was hesitant.

Why?

Why not just discount Canon altogether? I’ll give you one model number: S400.

At that time, the S400 represented the pinnacle of the Canon line in the form factor that I was interested in. With a 3X mag, possibility of limited manual controls (its only now I realize how limited) and 4MP resolution, this camera had it all. Oh…and its optics. There was nothing but praise for the lenses on the S400. After viewing the sample shots, I knew…this was the camera I wanted.

Unfortunately, two factors conspired against me: price and storage media.

Reluctantly, I lowered my sights and found the SD100. Sacrificing 1X zoom level (35mm – 70mm only) and .8MP in resolution, the SD100 was nevertheless $100USD cheaper, with the same form factor and it used SD cards. Although it didn’t garner the effusive praise heaped on the S400, it was a solid performer. This would have to do…

I’ll spare you the time I spent trying to decide between the SD100 and S400. Sometimes, I wonder how much I would have accomplished had I given the same effort to ECE 316…. Then, I realize that nothing would have rescued that blighted course ;-)

The decision between the SD100 and S400 made me consider non-Canon cameras more seriously. In the intervening period, I actually bought two other cameras before my final purchase. These were the:

  • Pentax Optio 30 (middling performance)
  • Panasonic Lumix DMC-LC40 (high noise)

[stares at size of entry]

Umm….if I were to write about all my camera experiences, I think it would be completely unreadable. I’m going to end it here – a quick description as to the steps I took to purchasing the SD100. Blog entries I’ll consider in the future are:

  • What do I think about my SD100?
  • Future photographic directions?
  • How/why would my camera purchase choice differ right now?

Over and out!

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