Add lightness and simplify…

That mantra was very popular with motorcycle designers in the 60s. It’s also a very good policy when putting together a photographic outfit, especially when one is disabled. My current outfit – a DSLR body (Oly E-420), three zoom lenses covering the range from 35mm to 600mm (35mm equivalent), a flashgun, a tiny camcorder, lightweight tripod (yes, I know there’s a downside), spare batteries for everything, and a 7” tablet computer for previewing my pics – all of which is just too heavy.

Things are going to change. I said recently that they needed to and, in pursuance of that idea, I went out last Tuesday, with the support of a friend, to take some photos of wildfowl and whatever else I came across. It was, as I’ve reported, a disaster. I still haven’t fully recovered – it’s taken me three days to write this, I just can’t concentrate and being drugged to the eyebrows doesn’t help – not that the alternative is any better. I could have sworn I’ve written a blog post about this, but if I did I can’t find it and I definitely didn’t publish it. Ah well…

In the event, I was in so much pain, from my leg ulcer, that it just shut down my brain (feedback on Twitter, from others who suffer with severe, chronic, pain suggests this phenomenon isn’t all that rare), and I just couldn’t remember how my camera worked. Which, needless to say, wasn’t wildly helpful. To put that in perspective, a 35mm SLR has just 3 basic controls, assuming a prime lens** – shutter speed, aperture, and focus; a digital SLR’s control menus, regardless of lens, can run to scores, even hundreds, of items – they pretty much define “complex”, hence the problem.

**A prime lens is one with a fixed focal length, usually 50mm for a 35mm SLR – we probably now have an entire generation of camera users who have never used anything but a zoom lens. Or, god help us, a smartphone.

I wound up with just 8 acceptable pics (and if I’d applied my normal acceptability criteria – I’m a picky sod – I’d have been left with none). For better or worse, I posted them on flickr .

Afterwards I spent days tinkering with my spotting scope/DSLR combo, before giving up on it as a result of poor image quality and excessive weight – a shame as it would have given me a focal length of around 900mm – useful for birding but just too heavy and cumbersome.

And, mysteriously, as it’s sat unused in a drawer since the summer of 2012, my DSLR has developed a few electronic faults, plus a broken door on the memory card compartment. A piece of duct tape affected a temporary repair, but it’s not really a success – the heat and sweat of my hand softens the adhesive enough to loosen its grip slightly. If the door opens by the tiniest amount, it breaks contact with a microswitch and turns off the camera. It doesn’t take a genius to see that the door’s hinge has been strained, stopping it closing fully – but how? I haven’t been near the bugger for 2 years and it was fine when I put it away.

I also have a Canon superzoom bridge camera, an SX30 IS, likewise stored for the same length of time, and which now sounds as if the ultrasonic zoom motor is full of sand (it can’t possibly be), and is clearly not long for this world, which is as much a mystery as my DSLR.

So, thoroughly pissed off, I decided – because, based on how I feel, I might not have much longer** – to do something I’ve not done for about 12 years, buy a new camera. Partly as a treat to cheer myself up and also as an incentive to get out and use it – if I can fix the pain. I think I can…

**Yes, I know I can be pessimistic. Doesn’t mean I’m wrong. Doesn’t mean I want to be right, either, but if I am I want to get some pleasure out of whatever time I have left, not spend it all sat here, wishing I was somewhere else. And if it turns out I have more time than I think, then hopefully it’ll be a bonus, not the pain-filled hell it is right now. (Yeah, yeah, I know! But it’s my blog and if I want to whinge, I’ll whinge, so there!)

True, I have bought cameras during that time, but always second-hand, never new – the last new camera I bought was my first digital, a Fujifilm FinePix S602 Zoom bridge which, in its day (2002), was also a superzoom, sporting a 6X zoom lens!

So I’ve ordered a Canon SX50 HS, another superzoom (50X – how times have changed), with a 35mm equivalent range of 24-1200mm (optical), and, increasingly important for me, image stabilisation.

clip_image002

No matter what camera you have, digital zoom is best ignored as image quality suffers and, anyway, that’s best done in Photoshop (Elements in my case), as you might not always want to zoom in on the centre of the pic. And the small LCD screen is not great for even the most basic editing anyway, on any camera. My 7” tablet is purely for previewing – any image tweaking is done on my desktop machine.

As ever, I’ve read a bunch of reviews, and they all bitch about the same thing – it doesn’t automatically activate the EVF (electronic viewfinder), when you raise it to your eye (well, boo-hoo, isn’t life just too cruel?). I despair of humanity – have we really reached the stage where pushing a button is a chore to be avoided at all costs?

Actually, closing the LCD screen turns it off and turns on the EVF, and vice-versa. Or you can use the Display button to toggle between LCD and EVF. Either way, it’s hardly a challenge. I mean, seriously, if you find pressing a button to be a problem worth complaining about, then maybe a digital camera isn’t for you? It’d be hard to find a gizmo with more buttons! Except for an accordion.

The other main – and justified – gripe is about the admittedly opaque menu system, which changes according to which shooting mode you choose. Yes, it can be a pain, but it’s the same as the SX30 and I’m used to it, so I don’t care. Anyway, I find I only rarely need to delve into the menus when out and about as I’ve already spent time, at home, in comfort, setting up the menus I’m most likely to use. Not rocket science, guys.

Along with my Hahnel tripod the SX50 will give me a seriously lightweight outfit (or with my neckpod for even greater weight-saving), with the lens giving me more than double the range of my entire DSLR outfit for a fraction of the weight – the SX50 is 120g lighter than my Zuiko 70-300mm zoom lens alone (140-600mm, 35mm equivalent).

The neckpod hasn’t been used since I wrote that post five years ago (I got into birding, with a scope, followed by serious illness – then I got into hospital rather a lot), and in the interim the excessive tightness of the q-r plate has gone away – presumably some volatile component of the plastic has evaporated, causing very slight shrinkage – and it’s now very much easier to use.

In addition to the camera, I’ve ordered a spare battery (I’m constantly astounded by people with battery-greedy devices who don’t carry at least one spare), and an SD card reader (I have one, but I also need one as a permanent part of my kit), plus an electronic remote, essential when using a tripod.

clip_image003

There are many third-party versions that are much cheaper, but I thought if I’m splurging on a new camera, I might as well have the genuine article to go with it. Just a pity it only replicates the shutter button, not the zoom function, too – that would be seriously useful.

Accessories that one might reasonably expect as standard – you don’t get a lens hood, for example even though it’s a dedicated bayonet fitting, not universal filter-thread (which is also missing), fitting – are oddly omitted (fortuitously, the items bought for the SX30 fit the SX50). And, really, how much money could Canon possibly save by omitting a USB cable, as they have? Well, given that I can buy one (A to mini B), on Amazon Marketplace for £1.03, which includes VAT at 20% and Amazon’s commission (15%, I’m told), then the cost to Canon, who could buy the buggers by the million (I got one with the SX30), presumably, must be mere pennies, so leaving it out is a tad pointless. However, like anyone else of a geekish persuasion, if there’s one thing I’m not short of it’s USB cables in every possible configuration.

And here’s a thought. My third-party battery cost a tenner (Amazon). They also have the genuine Canon battery for – you’ll love this – a staggering £51.99! And it’s discounted from £60.00, which is the official price according to an Amateur Photographer forum discussion.

So this is probably a good place to say, in closing, that I have never used OEM batteries, except for the one that comes with the camera (even buying second-hand I’d usually get the OEM battery). For the most part – and Canon is notorious for this – they are grossly overpriced.

I always use third-party batteries and I’ve never had the slightest problem. Just two caveats :-

1. Never buy on eBay, you might get a bargain but the chances of getting shafted instead, with an OEM fake or third-party crap, are very high indeed.

And 2. Whatever and wherever you buy, never pay too little. If the deal looks too good to be true, it probably is. Simply put, capacity costs money – the greater the capacity, expressed in mAh units (milliAmp-hours), the higher the price, as it costs more to produce – so a 1500mAh battery for a fiver is almost certainly going to disappoint, while the same price for a 600 or 700mAh battery is about right on the third-party market.

And according to the Canon website, there are a lot of fake Canon batteries out there.

Advertisements