Readers Questions

1.  There is one question that’s actually relevant for me these days. Maybe you remember that I asked you for advice about buying a compact camera when we met last. Well, I’m still looking. It is meant to be a backup while I’m travelling, in case my main camera breaks or gets stolen, or also just to have one that fits into my shirt pocket when going out at night. Despite being a compact, it would be nice if it still allowed for manual settings and worked well in low light environments. It should also be small and light, zoom being of not as much importance. I’ve been browsing dpreview.com but the choice is just overwhelming. Maybe you can suggest one or two from your own experience, or talk about what features one should look for in particular.

This is perhaps one of the most common questions, and one with a hundreds of possible answers.  The compact digital camera market is huge and we have hundreds of choices.  I stayed away from this landmine of a question for years, but a few years ago I submitted a readers submission giving a review of Fuji’s F30 compact.  At the time the F30 stood way out from it’s competition due to it’s low light performance and long battery life.  I predicted this would be a very popular camera, and as it turns out the Fuji F30 and it’s almost identical replacement the F31 sold out quickly and are now extremely hard to find new, and they even break the rules by selling used at 3-4 times their original price.  They’ve become sort of a “cult” camera, in high demand by professionals who want to sometimes carry a very capable low light compact.  If you can get one of these then great, but I suspect most won’t be able to.

There are currently no other “stand outs” on the market that makes one compact significantly better than the other, so we tend to shop by which kinds of flash cards it takes, zoom range, size/weight, and how many shots we get per battery charge.  Truthfully there isn’t that much variance in image quality in this range, and while all provide acceptable quality in good light, none provide enough quality to be concerned with “image quality.” 

With that said I plan on regularly reviewing any compact that looks appealing for whatever reason.  For today I can offer this.  If you can accept the slightly larger weight and size of the Canon G9 compact, it has several features that set it above its competition and has quickly become the camera of choice for professionals wanting to carry a capable “good light” camera.  RAW capture, hotshoe that accepts full size Canon flashes, large/bright 3 inch LCD, same batteries as their popular entry level DSLR Rebels, full manual control in addition to many automatic controls, and an excellent zoom lens makes the Canon G9 a very good choice.

In the more “compact” realm I’m looking hard at the Fuji FD100.  In fact, a reader is bringing one over this weekend and will leave it with me so I can review and compare it to my Fuji F30.  So far it looks promising and I’ll bring you a full report on this comparison soon.

2.  What do you recommend for carrying a compact digital camera while traveling?

There are several things to think about.  First and foremost I recommend keeping it on your person or in your carry-on bags when traveling.  I read somewhere recently that over 580,000 laptop were STOLEN from checked bags in the United States in 2007.  That’s a lot of laptops, and if this figure is correct you can assume more digital cameras were stolen because they’re much more common.

I also recommend the cheap technology of large freezer class Ziplock bags.  I find these invaluable for many reasons, and I always travel with 20-30 of these in my luggage.  Anything I want to keep dry goes in a ziplock bag.  I got in this habit during my military days when we’d have a large vacuum bag sealer.  I’d prepare my ruck by sealing each change of clothes in it’s own vacuum bag.  This not only kept things dry after a day of snow, crossing rivers, swimming in ocean, etc.. but it also condensed the size and put everything in easy reach.  I’d do this for travel documents and plane tickets as well.  You never know when your carry on will get dropped in a puddle or creek, or just get heavily rained on.  Even though my hard cases are guaranteed waterproof, I put each lens, body, and flash in a ziplock bag before traveling on a plane or boat.  You can also use the bag to shoot through in the rain.  You’d be surprised on how good the pictures will turn out when shooting through a ziplock.

Other than that I only use a thin drawstring cinched bag for my compact digital.  I want the camera to be easy and  fast to retrieve and put into action, so I don’t want it all zipped and buttoned up and hard to get to.  I put it in a ziplock, in the thin drawstring bag, and inside my knapsack.  I can pull it out and be shooting through the bag within seconds.

Please submit your questions to QandA@bangkokdigitalimging.com   All questions will be answered and most will show up in the weekly column.