Cameras again trump cell phones in quality
(Caption: Baseball player Herman Schaefer snaps shotos using a Gralfex camera in 1911. Peter Vogel writes that cameras, although now far less cumbersome, still provide more bang for your buck compared to mobile technology.)
It is once again time for our annual survey of digital cameras, something we've been doing in this space since 2002, and, in a slightly simpler form, since 1996.
Back then digital cameras were a relative rarity. My school received an early model from Epson, a company no longer in the digicam business, but then neither is Kodak. That camera still sits in my classroom, a small reminder of how far the field has come.
The first thing students wonder, on seeing the Epson unit, is where its screen is, and I have to explain that the screen was a $300 add-on that was rarely used because it drained the camera batteries after just a few shots.
Even though smartphones function increasingly well as cameras, there remains solid demand for standalone digicams, be they of the point-and-shoot or DSLR variety. Of course today's digicams provide much better value and functionality than that almost $1,000, less than 1 megapixel, Epson camera.
To serve that interest we once again have our dedicated single-page website, http://vandigicams.ca, ready. As this column is written the site contains information on nearly 120 digital cameras, with more being added each day until Jan. 6.
Cameras on the list are primarily those advertised in print flyers in the Lower Mainland, and hence most likely to be on sale below manufacturers' suggested list prices. Additional entries come from retailer web sites and from advertising in Vancouver's major daily papers.
Prices on the list, rounded to the nearest $5, are the lowest found in the November-December survey period. Quite often the lowest prices tend to occur mid-November. If you decide to buy a unit on the list you may be able to convince the salesperson to roll the price back to the earlier low point if it has risen in the interim.
Individual cameras in the survey are allocated a single line. Each model number is hyperlinked to the corresponding manufacturer's web site for that camera's full specifications. Along with the camera sensor megapixel rating, there is an optical zoom value, an overview of around half a dozen features, and "street" pricing from up to three local retailers.
Last year's survey was dominated by units in the 16 megapixel sensor class. That remains the dominant class for 2014 as well, but overall representation has dropped to around 30 per cent. The rest of the field is fragmented and spans from 10 megapixels all the way up to a whopping 40 megapixels.
Want an inexpensive point-and-shoot digital camera? A Nikon L30 with a 3" screen and basic 720 HD video recording runs at around $80. A starter DSLR camera such as Canon's Rebel T5 with a basic kit lens can be picked up for $380.
At the other extreme you'll find models from historic German manufacturer Leica approaching $30,000!
As in years past, the survey identifies several cameras as best buys, the optimum combination of features and price within a given class.
Digital camera models have a very short shelf life. Just a handful of models available last year are still to be found on this year's survey, mostly of the DSLR class.
When buying a camera, do check the manufacturer's web site (they are all listed at the bottom of the survey site) to be sure that the model remains current.
Looking for a rugged camera? Colleague and outdoor enthusiast Andrew McCracken speaks highly of the Olympus TG-3 (shockproof, freezeproof, waterproof, dustproof, and crushproof) which he bought mainly for its f2.0 lens, although he notes he's encountered some corrosion on the screws holding the lens housing.
An older rugged unit, the Nikon AW100, he observes, has survived some very rough use and lots of underwater time without problems.
For a solid general-purpose camera he suggests something like the Nikon P600 with an incredible 60x zoom lens. Priced in the $350 range, this unit takes fine outdoor shots and perfectly acceptable indoor ones, something often lacking in lower cost digicams.
If you are just starting out with a DSLR, Mr. McCracken suggests buying an inexpensive 50 mm f1.8 portrait lens. Such a lens, he says, does wonders in low-light situations, even with a modestly priced camera. With this combination, a beginner photographer can start taking decent indoor portrait shots for a price that is not too challenging.
Do check out this year's survey list. You'll find cameras at every price from under $100 all the way up to that multi-thousand dollar Leica DSLR. In between you'll find cameras equipped with Wi-Fi, GPS, and OLED touch screens.
You'll even find the top-rated Fuji X100T that could easily pass as a retro film camera from the 1970s.