Wednesday, December 20, 2006

More musings on the differences between digital SLRs and compact cameras

Sigh, my Canon PowerShot S3 IS is now off to Akron, Ohio, along with the two lovely converter lenses. Yep, sold it on eBay. I'm feeling very comfortable with the new Pentax K100D digital SLR, but I feel like I'm finally coming to a balanced appreciation of what the different cameras can do. Here are a few more random observations.

1. I mentioned in my last post that that digital SLR's glass viewfinder is much nicer to use than the LCD in a non-digital SLR camera. I failed to mention that the Pentax K100D also has a much higher resolution back-panel LCD than the Canon S3 has. According to the excellent site, the Canon S3 has a 2-inch, 115,000 pixel LCD, while the Pentax K100D has a 2.5-inch, 210,000 pixel LCD. What this means is that I am able to make much better judgments about how my pictures are coming out from looking at the back of the Pentax than I could with the Canon. Or, to put it very practically, I am better able to tell when I'm doing something badly wrong. ADVANTAGE: digital SLR.

2. The digital SLR has a mechanical shutter that makes a noise when it operates. You can't do anything about that noise. With the compact camera, whether it makes a noise or not is up to you; so is the kind of noise it makes. I was usually fond of it making a shutter noise, which is a good thing, because it's what I'm used to now. But I could have configured it to beep or do some other things, or be silent. I don't see the inevitability of the noise as a plus. I would like, say, when shooting in a church, to be able to be silent. ADVANTAGE: compact camera.

3. I bought the K100D rather than the cheaper K110D because the K100D has shake reduction, Pentax's version of optical image stabilization. I'm glad I did. But I am quite sure that shake reduction does not help as much on the Pentax when I'm using a telephoto lens as it did on the Canon S3. At first, I thought perhaps Canon's IS was simply superior technically to Pentax's SR. Now I see a more obvious explanation. It's a simple matter of focal lengths. The compact camera's lenses have much smaller focal lengths, even though they may achieve greater magnification. Now, the shorter the focal length, the less camera shake matters. If you hold a twelve-inch ruler in your hand and twitch it slightly at your end, it will move only slightly at the other end. Do the same thing with a yard stick - or a ten-foot pole - and the movement at the other end will be much more pronounced. So image stabilization in the Canon may not be any better than shake reduction in the Pentax, but the Canon has less of a problem to deal with in the first place, so it's not surprising that it seems to do a better job. My brother-in-law Tom told me a while back that he doubted image stabilization would be adequate for shooting with a 300mm lens; he suspected a tripod is de rigeur at that focal length. I responded that image stabilization in my S3 was working fine, even with the 12x lens fully zoomed, which is supposed to produce an effective focal length of something like 450mm. I wasn't wrong, but neither was Tom. I suspect that, to take clear shots with a 300mm or higher lens attached to a digital SLR, you'd want to shoot with a fast shutter, and that in turn means either shooting only in bright sunlight or spending beaucoup bucks for a fast lens (that is, one with a bigger aperture). ADVANTAGE: compact camera.

I could go on, but I won't.

It seems to me now that the digital SLR is a good camera for hobbyists who really are into how you take good pictures, where the compact superzoom is for people who are satisfied that the camera takes good pictures. I am enjoying working with my Pentax very much and I'm not displeased with the pictures I've taken so far. But then I like the challenge for its own sake.

About Me

I am an event photographer living in Dallas, Texas.