Istanbul from the Bosphurus. See the whole set on my photography site.

Which camera should I buy?

Aug 22 | Comments (0)

As a serious amateur photographer and resident technology geek, this is a question I get asked frequently. My brother-in-law recently posed this question so I thought I'd share my thoughts as I expressed them to him. Of course all of this information will be dated in a few months or so and I have not personally tested all of these camera's, so please don't take this as gospel. You should always exercise caution and do your own research when making any major purchase including a camera, and if possible you should try it you buy it. That said, here is I what I sent to my brother-in-law.

The camera market is constantly changing and what you get depends much on what your particular needs are. When I'm camera shopping I usually check out reviews at a couple of sites including cnet.com, dpreview.com and http://www.steves-digicams.com. I've done some looking at what's current and based on your budget of $200-300 I have four suggestions for you with some explanations on why it might or might not be appropriate. I've included links to the details page on dpreview.com for each camera. There are links to online stores selling these cameras there including there price. There is often quite a bit of variance in pricing between different stores. Check out the store before you buy and make sure they look reputable. Also, be sure to check Amazon.com and NewEgg.com before you buy as they are often very competitive in pricing. Buying at a local store is almost certain to raise the price by 25%, but you do have the advantage of someplace you can go if there is a problem. I've bought quite a bit of camera equipment online and never had a problem. (Knock on wood!) Also, don't forget that you'll need at least one memory card and that batteries are not cheap. If you don't have them already, plan on buying 4-8 AA rechargeables and a charger, otherwise the batteries will eat you out of house and home. Plan on getting at least a 512mb memory card. All of these cameras are at least 5 megapixel. If you can swing it get a 1 or 2 gb card (or if it's cheaper, a couple of 512mb cards.)

Ok, now the cameras. Flat out my recommendation is the Canon S2 IS. (http://www.dpreview.com/reviews/specs/Canon/canon_s2is.asp) One of my pet peeves about point and shoot cameras are the wimpy zoom lenses. Most point and shoot camera's come with a 3x optical zoom which is better than nothing, but only barely. By the way, digital zoom is worthless. Ignore all digital zoom features and don't use them. They are the equivalent of taking your photo into MS Paint or Photoshop and cropping them then enlarging them. Completely useless. A 3x zoom is the equivalent of a 105 mm lens which is fine for a lot of things, but you'll get annoyed as soon as you take the camera to a little league game or the ice rink or anything where you can't be right up close to the action. The Canon S2 IS has a 12x optical zoom. More than enough to get the job done in virtually any situation. Plus the IS stands for Image Stabilization. The problem with long zoom lenses is that they magnify camera shake. The IS helps combat that problem. The downside to this camera is the size and the price. It's a little large for just sticking in your purse or pocket. It's not as big as my camera, probably half the size, but it's not a pocket camera. The other problem is the price, this one will be right at the upper limit of your budget without adding rechargeable batteries or memory cards.

If you find this camera interesting, you might also check out the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ7. (http://www.dpreview.com/reviews/specs/Panasonic/panasonic_dmcfz7.asp) I've been hearing good things about the Lumix cameras and this one has most of the same features as the Canon S2 IS, plus it's a 6 megapixel camera vs the Canon's 5 megapixel. The same downsides apply to this one as the S2, plus I don't have any personal experience with it.

If you want something smaller and or cheaper, take a look at the HP R817 (http://www.dpreview.com/reviews/specs/HP/hp_r817.asp) Now I don't have any personal experience with this camera, but the price to feature ratio on this camera is very good. The size is more manageable than the S2 or Lumix and it still has a 5x optical zoom which is excellent for a camera this size. I can't say I'm a fan of the HP brand for cameras, but that's mostly a lack of experience with them. Definitely worth checking out.

If the HP is still to big or if you want to stick with a more name brand camera check out the Canon SD600 (http://www.dpreview.com/reviews/specs/Canon/canon_sd600.asp). Fair warning, I'm a big Canon fan. This looks like a solid contender, but the zoom is only 3x.

I would take a trip to a camera shop or Best Buy, etc and try to play with this cameras yourself before you make a decision.

Since I prepared the previous, my brother (ubergeek, Ben) has found another contender, the Ricoh Capilo R4 in the $200-300 category. Nice stats: 7x zoom, 6 megapixel. A few niggles on the image quality, but not enough to damage it's user rating on DPReview. I'll leave you with the link. (http://www.cameratown.com/reviews/review_listing.cfm/hurl/id%7C2368)

Relating to the past.

Aug 20 | Comments (0)

Jason Kottke has taken images from a new book, Bound for Glory, a collection of American images from 1939-1943 and has added new life by simply color correcting. There was nothing wrong with the color before, per se, but Kottke's work takes the photos from something clearly "old" and from the past and makes it look like something you or I might have shot yesterday.

Purists might argue that this ruins the integrity or lowers the historical value of the photographs, I believe, however, that Kottke's work enables an insight that few of us manage on our own when studying historic documents: the idea that these people we see were as real as you and I. Two dimensional images, especially those burdened with the unreality of black and white or faded color photography are like fairy tales. We don't relate. By simply correcting the color on these remarkable images to approximate that of a modern camera, the people and situations they depict come alive in a way I had never before experiences.

Bravo Jason for daring to tinker with the past! I'd love to see the whole book with this treatment.

Wells Fargo - The internet like it's 1899.

Feb 02 | Comments (2)

Internet banking is wonderful. Online bill pay is a godsend. Wells Fargo Financial Bank, unfortunately, just isn't keeping up. Not even close. I tried to access their bill pay site this morning and found this delightful bit of news (emphasis is mine):

We support the following browsers. If your browser does not meet Wells Fargo's security standards, please follow the download instructions below. Otherwise, your experience may vary, or you may not be able to sign on to Wells Fargo Financial Bank Online Payment System. If you have the required minimum browser version, it must also have at least 128-bit encryption. This is a very strong, secure form of encryption. This will allow you to make your payments online securely. Note: We strongly recommend that your computer be running one of the operating systems listed below, and be connected to the internet using one of the browser versions indicated. Netscape® 6.XX and 7.XX * Netscape Navigator/Communicator Upgrade for Windows * Netscape Upgrade for Macintosh Microsoft® Internet Explorer (MSIE) 5.X - 6.XX * MSIE Upgrade for Windows * MSIE Upgrade for Macintosh America Online® 4.0 - AOL 8.0 for Windows; use with MSIE 5.X - 6.0 * America Online Browser Upgrade For your protection, Wells Fargo does not support beta versions of browsers. Under normal circumstances, Wells Fargo will support the final version of a browser shortly after the release date. Wells Fargo regularly monitors and tests browsers to ensure the highest security standards for our customers.

Huh. I'm pretty sure Safari 2, Firefox 1.5 and Opera 8.5 are all out of beta, and have had non-beta versions for quite some time now. So what exactly are "normal circumstances?"

Aperture

Dec 28 | Comments (0)

I've been wanting to write something about Apple's Aperture since the moment I received it. I haven't. Not because I dislike it and not because it sucks, although many photographers believe just that. Rather, because I do like it, but I'm frustrated by so many things. Charley Bandes sums it up perfectly in his "Apple Aperture Review." The sort and select functionality, once you get the hang of it, is excellent. If the rest of the program worked this way, I'd be tickled. But the fact is that converting RAW files in Photoshop is better, easier and more intuitive. Frankly the RAW/image correction tools in Aperture are clumsy and aggravating at best. Mostly they don't work for me for anything other than quick adjustments to snapshots I'm printing at Walgreens. I desperately want Aperture to be as good as Apple's other Pro apps and I need it to work as well as Photoshop for RAW conversion and/or play well with Photoshop (in other words, let me use Photoshop's RAW processor.) Apple doesn't misstep often, so here's hoping this get's fixed and pronto.

Synchronicity

Dec 26 | Comments (0)

I'll just come right out and say it. RSS is the greatest thing since sliced bread. In the good old days I would open dozens of browser windows or tabs to load my favorite websites just to see if anything new had been posted. Now I subscribe to their feeds and my newsreader tells me if there is anything new to read. Currently I subscribe to about 150 feeds. While that certainly doesn't put me in the league of Robert Scoble, it certainly is enough to keep me amused, especially with my busy schedule.

Which brings me to today's gripe: the lack of RSS reading tools to meet my needs. Sure, their are lots of different news readers out their, and, yes, I am not your usual internet consumer, but c'mon people! The missing feature in RSS apps in my world is synchronicity. Actually, this is the killer feature for almost anything I do online, but more on that some other time. I work on four different computers. My main machine is my 17" Powerbook G4. I maintain my email on this machine, although I'm working on converting to IMAP so I can be more fluid in my email habits. My second machine is my custom built Windows PC at home.My third machine is my Dell at work and my fourth machine is my Treo 650.

At various times, for various reasons, I use all four to access the internet and I would like to be able to use all four to keep up with my feeds. Time is precious, so I like to be able to make good use of any spare cycles and that means being able to use whichever machine I'm sitting in front of at the moment. One of my best tools for capturing those spare cycles is my Treo. I certainly don't have a lot of good things to say about Sprint, and the internet access they provide is a little slow, but in the aggregate, it's better than being idle. However, finding good tools for managing my feeds between these four machines has been nearly fruitless.

For my first foray into RSS I used an OS X reader called NetNewsWire and another reader called Pulp Fiction. I preferred the interface of PulpFiction, so for a little while I stuck with it. The problem with these and any other desktop RSS reader is that it is isolated. I could use a desktop newsreader like FeedDemon on my PC and I could even use an RSS reader like on my Treo, but none of these apps can talk to each other. Enter online RSS readers. Two services rise to the top in this category. Bloglines and Newsgator.

Both services are web based RSS readers and each handles the process with slightly different quirks and annoyances. One of the virtues of both services is the ability to use them on a mobile device like my Treo. Unfortunately the implementation of this ability lacks anything but the most basic features. I began by using Bloglines. On the plus side, Bloglines is free, including accessing it with a mobile browser. Bloglines works, after a fashion, but a couple of serious issues had me looking for something new in just a few weeks.

My number one issue: clicking on a feed shows all of the unread posts from that feed and promptly marks them all as read. This means that if I only have time to read one or two posts out of the dozen waiting for a particular feed I have to check the "Keep New" box on all of the ones I haven't read. This is counter-intuitive and Just Plain Wrong. I have since found NewsGator. I first heard about the gator from reading Scoble's blog, but initially ignored it since it seemed to be mostly about the Outlook plug-in and the fees for anything but basic service. I gave it a second chance, however, when NewsGator acquired FeedDemon and NetNewsWire. The promise of a better tomorrow was tantalizing enough to pony up the cash for a paid subscription.

The mobile version of NewsGator requires the subscription, but everything I read indicates that paid subscribers will also get FeedDemon and NetNewsWire...if they ever come out. The web version of NewsGator is adequate. It doesn't have many features when compared to desktop programs, but since it's not a desktop app, I guess that is to be expected. It is a bit more intuitive than Bloglines. Posts are not marked read the second you click on the feed link. Instead you mark them read individually or all at once by clicking the appropriate links. There are a few other tools like a ratings system, clippings and email post that are useful, but unfortunately not present in the mobile version where they would be even more useful.

While I would like better features for saving and managing posts and feeds when I'm sitting at my desktop, I could really use some of these features when I'm mobile. At my desktop I can easily follow links and use other tools to manage information and follow-up on interesting posts. When I'm mobile, my only choice with NewsGator is to leave all posts for a particular feed unread. With Bloglines I can at least email myself about an interesting post. Bottom-line. I'm looking for a cross-platform, including Treo-friendly, RSS reader solution. A web-based solution is fine if it is full-featured. The mobile solution must facilitate reading feeds in small increments and have a decent system to allow me to follow-up on interesting posts. Any thoughts?

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