Saturday, May 19, 2007

Digital Point and Shoot versus DSLR... Maybe it's time for the sub-mini DSLR

Pentax Auto 110, circa 1979. Photo by Morven

I had some fun writing in to the Online Photographer yesterday with my take on Mike's latest topic, point and shoot cameras. Or, as I like to say, POS cameras. I'm like everyone else, I think they're nifty, I use them, too, but I'm frequently frustrated. They're like the uncanny valley of cameras. In robotics or CGI, the uncanny valley is that shadow area of animatronics that are almost human looking, but they're just not quite right and they make you feel creeped out a little. Every year I look at the latest models of digital P&S, thinking maybe this year they've got it right. And then I slink back, disappointed that the results are just not quite there yet. Here's what I said to Mike:

If you ask a random teenager who's browsing through Best Buy for XBox 360 games what they require from a point and shoot camera, you essentially receive the instructions that millions of dollars of marketing acumen and sampling tell the camera companies every year:

1. It has to be small, futuristic, and shiny so that it will look cool when I non-chalantly show it off to friends.
2. It has to be able to zoom in really close, just in case a girl is looking super hot and I'm too far away to see anything with my own eyes.
3. It has to be able to have enough shutter lag for me to blame my lack of photo talent on the camera.
4. It must have a flash so that people will know I've taken their picture, because otherwise they don't know to stop posing until I tell them. And I hate talking.
5. It must be able to take pictures in the dark, because I'm mostly nocturnal and spend most of my time in basements or clubs.
6. The LCD display needs to be big so that I never have to print anything and can just show people the back of my camera for 95% of what I take. The rest I'll just upload lo-res to Photobucket for my MySpace page.
7. If my parents have to spend more than the cost of an iPod on it, I'll never hear the end of it when I inevitably lose it or drop it in a pool.
8. I need it to do HD video, too. Again, just in case that hot girl is around.
9. The fewer buttons the better. I only have one belly button and that's the way I roll, so that's how I want my camera to roll.
10. And, finally, could I just subscribe to your company for an annual fee and receive the latest model every 6 months, because these things are disposable, right?


You see, I really want to love them, but it's a love that's thwarted by ridiculous pandering. 12MP in a little camera serves two purposes, to help people zoom in to dizzying lengths with very poor quality and to give them the remote possibility of large prints they'll never make. But eventually the quality will getter better and so I keep coming back to them. My experience with POS cameras has been miserable for the most part, except for the odd encounter, like with an Olympus XA (from the late '70s vintage), and the Canon Sure Shot Classic 120 (again, film) - which are both lovable cameras. What I tend to experience with digital POS cameras is lots of chromatic aberations, having to resort to terrible flash lighting in doors (and I'm not even talking about red eye), and unrelenting fear that the batteries are about to die. Somedays, I do manage to pull a rabbit out of the hat, but it's not at all the ratio I get with a DSLR or a small rangefinder system, like Contax or Leica.

So let me ask you, do you think it's time for the mini DSLR system like the Pentax 110 was years ago? Imagine it with new mini DA pancake lenses, an APS-C sensor, Shake Reduction, and it could easily fit in your palm... I would get one.

Links: T.O.P.: Building the perfect Point and Shoot, Pentax 110 system at CameraQuest

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