I’m back to using my old Canon S110 (2-megapixel) camera until my Sony DSC-P200/R (7.2 megapixel) comes back from warranty service in Texas (hopefully without the blob on the image). untitledThe Sony is in fact a very nice camera.

  • Fast startup.
  • Compact and easy to carry (144g).
  • Very sharp pictures (sometimes).

But it does have some failings in my usage - failings likely common to all the current high-resolution point-and-shoot digital cameras.

  1. Still pictures are often blurry.
  2. Twilight pictures are too dark and/or blurry.
  3. Distant pictures (an aircraft flying by) show the subject too small.
  4. Fast action pictures (a running deer, a flying hawk, a kid chasing a soccer ball) seldom turn out.

It seems that the slightest hand tremor is enough to blur the picture, even in normal light. I can largely get around (1) by using the camera in “burst” mode. The 1GB memory card essentially never fills up, and throwing away 3-5 blurry pictures to get one good picture is tedious, but not difficult. Both low-light (2) and “fast” pictures (4) require better light-gathering by the camera - which translates to the need for a bigger/wider lens. Distant subjects (3) require greater zoom (much more than 3x) and high zoom values require either image stabilization or very high light-gathering and very short exposures.

While image stabilization is less needed in bigger/heavier cameras, this is the not the direction I would like to go. Someday the image sensors may become more sensitive and lessen the need for a bigger lens. I would guess this requires some big advances in the underlying technology, and is probably 5-10 years out (at least).

point-and-shoot My requirements for the “perfect” camera are simple.

  • Capture pictures at least as good as what my eye can see. Fair warning - blue eyes and ancestors from northern Europe mean I can “see” into twilight better than most.
  • The camera should be unobtrusive and require the least possible amount of ceremony in use. Big/heavy cameras and extraneous controls count against usability.

Meeting those requirements is far from simple, and doubtless at present requires compromises. The ultimate point-and-shoot camera would track and capture whatever I was looking at. This is not likely to show up anytime soon (though DARPA should have a similar project in the works for battlefield use).

How close can we get? The photography sites have a lot of data, but how to answer my pragmatic questions is not obvious. I have no idea what expectations are reasonable.

  • Can I capture a kid kicking a soccer ball? (Conditions: daylight - full sunlight or overcast, auto-focus, zoomed or unzoomed).
  • Can I capture a bird or aircraft in flight? (Conditions: extreme zoom, daylight, handheld).
  • Can a capture a deer under the trees at twilight? (Conditions: low light, unzoomed or modest zoom, handheld).

The Canon Rebel gets good reviews and sells well. Apparently the stock lens is not very good, and with a better lens (or two) the 20D looks to be around $1100-2000. No doubt this takes great pictures, but there is no chance lugging this camera around qualifies as unobtrusive.

The Nikon Coolpix 8800 looks interesting - 10x zoom with image stabilization, and a rather large looking lens (good light capture?). The camera can only capture limited length movie clips.

The size of the image sensor on the Sony DCS-R1 is interesting - better fast/low-light performance? No ability to capture video clips, and weighing 990g makes this is a klunky single-tasker.

untitled The Sony Cyber-shot DCS-H1 and Canon PowerShot S2 IS are interesting - 12x zoom with stabilization, moderate weight, and modest ~$500 price - but only 5 megapixel - which at present is pretty much the best you can do in this category. Between the Canon and the Sony the features are about the same (with the Sony a shade weaker in some areas I care about). Bought the Canon as I just had to return my new Sony for warranty service (manufacturing fault), and my old Canon still works perfectly.

Not the perfect camera - too bulky and a bit light on resolution - but apparently about the best we can do at present for capturing more distant objects.

Update: the Sony came back from service about 10 days after I sent it off, and seems to be OK. Update(2): after a bit of use, I find that the smaller 1.8”screen on the back of the Canon is much less pleasant to use than the larger 2.5” screen on my Sony. The bigger screen gives you a much better idea about how the picture is going to turn out.