In the last year, I’ve bought and sold a handful of cameras. I keep trying to find exactly the right one for my needs, and I’m just not having much luck. Today, I’ll share my current moment of frustration.
Sony DSC-HX200V: Built for Vacations
Last year, I went on a couple of SQLCruises and I wanted a camera that was purpose-built for travelers. I looked for:
- Built-in GPS – to automatically tag my photo locations
- Really, really high-powered optical zoom (in this case, 30x)
- Bokeh mode to automatically defocus the background
- 1080p video recording
- Panorama shots to capture the amazing beauty of Alaska
After much research, I bought the Sony DSC-HX200V. The zoom on it is absolutely incredible – here’s a full-width shot from my balcony:
See Navy Pier off there in the distance? No? Here, lemme zoom in for you.
That’s purely optical zoom, not crappy digital. This lens is strong enough that from the cruise ship, I was able to shoot Mama Bear and her cub on shore while everybody else was trying to figure out if Mama was a bear or a rock.
The camera performed almost all of its duties well, but I had two problems with it. It’s pretty bulky for a fixed-lens camera, and the bokeh mode is garbage. Instead of gracefully blurring backgrounds, it takes two pictures and tries to digitally figure out the differences to produce one good shot.
Here’s a great example from SQLCruise Alaska – it’s one of my attempts to be all artsy and catch the morning after at the hot tub:
I wanted one of the glasses in focus, and everything else blurred out. Well, first off, it takes several attempts with the HX200V to even get it to take a shot. Half the time the background defocus mode takes the shots, waits a second to think, and then reports, “Cannot Perform Defocus.” Awww, man. Takes too much effort to get it to work. And even when it does work, it doesn’t really work – as evidenced by the full size pixels when you zoom in:
The water droplets on the glass are perfect because it’s the only part of the image that the Sony didn’t have to fake-fuzz. The hot tub looks like it’s a flat picture with water droplets on top of the picture, and the towel looks like some unnatural piece of coral. Digital bokeh looks passable in some situations, but often it just looks cheesy and fake.
Enter the Sony DSC-RX100
Fellow gadgetophile Allan Hirt turned me on to Sony’s latest point-and-shoot that’s really different. The RX100 has a big honkin’ 1″ sensor, roughly four times larger than the HX200V (and larger than most other consumer cameras). Forget megapixels – if the camera’s got a bazillion pixels crammed into a tiny sensor, it’s not really capturing much light. Bigger sensors give the camera more flexibility to do tricks with the lens and capture better pictures.
As a result of the sensor, the RX100 doesn’t need to play the take-two-pictures game to get background defocus. None of that digital fuzziness here:
I’m not even showing the full-blown camera quality here – I’m using the camera’s JPGs rather than the RAW images. Apple’s iPhoto is so easy to use that I’m hooked, but it doesn’t handle RAW images, so I lose some quality.
On the other hand, the 3x zoom is no match for the 30x zoom on the HX200V. Here’s the before-and-after shots from my balcony aiming at Navy Pier:
And fully zoomed in (chuckle):
Nowhere near as good as the HX200V – but it can’t be, because the camera’s lens is so much smaller:
The HX200V doesn’t quite fit my needs. It’s too big to carry around day-to-day, which makes it exclusively a vacation or special occasion camera. Thing is, in those situations, I want something with more flexibility on up-close shots with bokeh. I’ve eBayed the HX200V because it just couldn’t cut it in my 3-camera rotation.
My New Winter 2012 Camera Lineup
Day-to-day – I rely on my iPhone 4S. The photos it takes don’t need apologies, and besides, I mess with ’em using Instagram filters anyway. They say the best camera is the one you’ve got with you, and I never leave home without my iPhone.
Conferences – Sony RX100. It fits into my laptop bag or coat pocket, and I love love love the built-in lens cover. It takes lively, beautiful photos, does a pretty darned good job of bokeh, and even shoots good video. When I’m at conferences, I like running through the sessions, shooting the presenters, and giving them the photos afterwards – I know as a presenter, I really appreciate having photos of me at work.
Vacations – Panasonic Lumix GF1. This micro-four-thirds camera is like a junior DSLR; it’s got a good selection of interchangeable lenses, a killer bokeh mode, and yet it’s small. It’s no RX100, but it doesn’t have to be that small. When I carry it, I’ve got a bag full of lenses with me – and interestingly, the camera, two lenses, and an iPad all fit into a Tamrac bag smaller than most laptop bags. The funny thing is that I actually sold my GF1 to Buck Woody – and now I’m buying it back! I wasn’t able to find anything I liked better, and just like me, he’s struggling through finding the right camera for his own needs. The GF1 didn’t work for him. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.
I’m going to try hard to stick with this lineup through 2013. I’ve made myself a promise that my only camera expenditures will be lenses for the GF1. Mmm, lenses…