A Camera Buyer's Wish List

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Brad Bohland
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A Camera Buyer's Wish List
2 months ago

I’ve been shopping for a camera for a few months now and finally decided on a Nikon P7700 as the closest to what I want that I can find. My first camera, a 2MP Sony DSC-S50 (released in 2000), takes great pictures but I want bigger prints and more controls. The S50 remains a benchmark for me, however, as far as picture quality, with its rich color and sharp detail.

I’ve tried a lot of cameras and I’m pretty sure the camera I really want doesn’t yet exist, which is a little amazing given that there is more than enough technology and my specifications are as common as zoom lenses. So I thought it would be fun to write this and see what other people think about what I’ve learned about cameras and the opinions I’ve formed.

The S50 has a flip out LCD screen and no viewfinder, so that’s how I learned to compose pictures. I am aware of the conventional wisdom that moving up from a point and shoot means getting an SLR, and indeed the first upgrade I tried was a Nikon D5000, which I chose in part because it also had a flip out LCD screen.

The first problem I encountered was that the D5000 didn’t have the zoom the S50 had. I discovered that was because the larger sensor size required a longer lens than the 55mm kit lens on the D5000. Later I learned that a longer lens which would give me the zoom I had on the S50 also involved a large minimum focus distance, which meant unhappily compromising on the macro end.

I quickly realized that I have absolutely no interest in a viewfinder, optical or electronic. Having been nurtured on a flip out LCD screen, viewfinders strike me as ridiculous as corsets. LCD screens give you a bigger image to compose with and, most importantly, you can put your hand in many more locations than you can put your face.

SLRs are bloated, have unnecessary optical viewfinders, and require bulky lenses in order to get decent zoom on the telephoto end and have unacceptably large minimum focus distances on the macro end.

A mirrorless camera with a flip out LCD screen would seem to be the answer but because of the large sensor size, the lens problem is similar to that of an SLR. You’re going to have a bulky lens and a big minimum focus distance.

Here’s a fact I picked up while shopping for cameras: 75% of cameras sold are point and shoots. Most of the people who buy interchangeable lens cameras never take off the kit lens, so they’re really buying a glorified all-purpose fixed lens zoom camera.

And here’s the startling conclusion I’ve arrived at which I want the major camera makers to ponder: probably 90% of the people who buy cameras want an all-purpose camera that takes a great picture.

One of the cameras I tried was a Sony RX10, which would seem to fit this bill, and it has a lot of the qualities I’m looking for. It isn’t too big, has plenty of megapixels for making large prints, has good zoom on both ends, has a tilting LCD screen (which disappointingly also has a useless electronic viewfinder above it which obstructs the LCD screen—but if they made it an option it would lower the high price everyone is complaining about).

Unfortunately, for all of that, it doesn’t take a noticeably better picture than the cheaper, smaller Nikon P7700 which I ended up choosing because it is cheaper, smaller, has a flip out LCD screen, and doesn’t have a useless viewfinder that gets in the way. More megapixels would be nice so I can make larger prints, but it’s a “for now” camera until someone figures out how to make the camera I really want.

Here’s the wish list. I want a premium all-in-one compact that takes great pictures for under $1,000 with the following characteristics:

1. Picture quality is the #1 issue, and its two components are rich color with a wide range of complexity and sharp detail.

2. You need 18 MP to make a 300dpi fine quality print in a 12”x12” size, which, while not huge, is a decent sized print used by most wall calendar makers which are very popular with photo fans.

3. A good zoom range is an inch on the macro end and 200-300mm on the telephoto end.

4. If the sensor size is under 1/1.7, you might as well use a phone or a compact, but if it goes over an inch then your lens is going to be too large and have a big minimum focus distance; therefore, the ideal sensor size is between 1/1.7 (a little over half an inch) and 1 inch.

5. A flip out LCD screen or a tiltable LCD screen that tilts 90 degrees down and 180 degrees up. You need a 90 degree downward tilt so that you can point the lens at the ground while holding it overhead.

6. A metal, weatherproof body.

7. Optional viewfinder only—they’re an unnecessary expense, so let the people who want them pay.

8. Detachable lens cap. Automatic lens caps have openings which let dirt into the lens.

9. Lots of camera controls.

10. It’s inconvenient to take out the battery to charge it, though worth it if it means a smaller camera. There is no reason, however, that you should have to take off your tripod mount to remove the battery or memory card.

Some reviewers have questioned why we need enthusiast compacts, claiming that for a little more you can get a mirrorless with a bigger sensor. Maybe you can get a mirrorless body for that amount but the cost of the lens will double the price of the camera.

The RX10 has been criticized as unnecessary, but I think it’s exactly the kind of camera we need more versions of. Smart phone cameras are pushing compact cameras out of the market. But for those who want to upgrade from a phone or a compact the four current options are enthusiast compacts, superzooms (also known as bridge cameras), mirrorless, or SLRs. The RX10 is a new fifth type that might well be called premium compacts for those who want more than an enthusiast compact in image quality but want all the other advantages over mirrorless and SLRs.

The problem with the RX10 is that it doesn’t take a much better picture than an enthusiast compact, so why pay the extra money for a camera that doesn’t live up to the promise of premium compacts?

Camera makers should focus on making premium compacts that have significantly better image quality to the ordinary eye than enthusiast compacts. I believe there is real demand for such products because people want an affordable all-in-one compact camera that takes a great picture.

My advice to camera makers is to continue making enthusiast compacts for people on a budget and to make more versions of premium compacts with enhanced image quality for those with deeper pockets. I’m waiting with money in hand.

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