Monday, April 28, 2008

Cognitive Surplus

What a concept, worth 16 minutes to watch. I think Clay Shirky might be a little optimistic, but still a fabulous piece of thought. I hope I am just being pessimistic, watch this (or read it if you prefer) and decide for yourself.

Via Daring Fireball of course, where all quality links come from.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Cheap Digital Cameras for your Sister

Edit: The digital camera world is an ever changing landscapes, camera models live for six to nine months before being replaced, so the cameras I list below are already out of date. There is still a lot of good information in the following article, just ignore the specific models. Instead, I have setup and mini Amazon store front with new models. Check it out here.
My sister asked recently for some advice on buying a new (cheap) digital camera. This is what I told her, the same advice I would give anyone:

Here are a few cameras to look at:
Canon PowerShot SD870IS - $250 - very small
Canon PowerShot A720IS - $200 or less - the one I have
Canon PowerShot A590IS - $150 - pretty close the the A720, like a little brother

'IS' at the end of the model number means it has 'Image Stabilization'. It steadies the camera to minimize blurry pictures. But it only works with still subjects, not running children.

The A720 has a very nice 6X optical zoom, the other two have 4X and that's pretty good too. There is a new bread of cameras out now called 'Super Zooms', some of which go up to 14X. But those are stupid. The further you zoom, the steadier you have to hold the camera to avoid blurry images. Also, the quality of the lens is compromised to accommodate such a wide zoom range.

'Digital Zoom' is junk. If it is possible in the menus to disable it, you should. Camera manufacturer's should be ashamed of themselves for adding this 'feature'. But they all do it, so I guess they will be able to console one another when they get sent to hell for this sin.

MegaPixel count is the other area of pure marketing hype. Anything over 6 MegaPixels is stupid on a point and shoot because the sensors are too small to really handle anything above that. The new 12 MegaPixel cameras use the same small sensor and create larger but much noisier images

Buying used does not make much sense for digital cameras, they are too delicate and you never know what you will get.

The SD 870 has a lithium-ion battery which is great, it takes more pictures on a charge and the flash cycle time between shots is much faster. But, if you have only one battery you can get stuck with a dead battery when you want to use it. So get two batteries and always have the second one charged and ready.

Flash cycle time is the amount of time between shots when using the flash. It takes time for the battery to normalize and have enough current to fire the flash again. With the flash off, the time between shots it only a second or two.

Both the A720 and A590 use AAs. Standard AAs don't last long and the cycle time between flash shots is incredibly long. Using good rechargeable batteries will work much better, but flash cycle time will still be rather long.

I hear good things about Sanyo's Eneloop rechargeable batteries.

They all take great video, but are limited by the size of the memory card, a 2gig card can store up to 15 minutes of video.

Other things you will need are:
  • Batteries
  • Camera case
  • Memory Card (SD Card) 1 gig would probably be OK
  • SD Card adapter
  • Picasa
The last two are optional, but it lets you avoid having to install the camera's craptacular software. I don't ever install the manufacturer's software, it is always junk that hurts more then it helps. Instead, I take out the memory card from the camera and stick into a card reader attached to my computer. The computer will treat it like an external hard drive so you can go in and manually transfer your images to your computer. Some computers have SD Card slots built right in, so you may not need that and Picasa is free, so no worries there. It's a program for organizing, viewing, and editing digital images. I have much more powerful image editing software, but I always start with Picasa and use it for cataloging my shots.

The other main difference between the the SD870 and both the A720 and the A580 is that the A series (A720 and A580) are designed with a lot of manual controls that are easy to access. The SD870 does not have as many manual controls and they are harder to get to. The SD870 really is for pointing and shooting.

But here is the thing, a good photographer can get a good picture regardless of the camera because he knows how to manipulate the camera to get the best results. All these cameras can create OK images in the Auto mode, but if you know something about photography, you will be able to get better images with the A series cameras.