Friday, May 30, 2008

Future of Compact Digital Cameras

COMPACT DIGITAL CAMERAS
This essay is a view of the 'State of the Art' with Compact Digital Cameras. It is a broad yet nuanced analysis of their current strengths, limitations & great potential for being transformed into serious cameras. If I could quote the Modern Photography Lab of old, ...dedicated to providing our readers, as well as all levels of the photographic industry with the most accurate, detailed easy to assimilate but meaningful information possible... The Canon PowerShot G9 is used as a practical example to contextualize the above (see the spiffy new G10).

Intro
Sometimes photographers just want to travel light and fast, but not give up anything in the way of photographic quality and performance with their cameras.
Ok, we've got to have a baseline for comparison here, and in my opinion, the classic rangefinders are the best choice. They are compact, have impeccably sharp optics that have earned legendary status among many photographers, and have very simple and intuitive controls with a minimum of fussy contraptions and are supremely reliable that make extremely high resolution photographs (with scanned film). New digital camera manufacturers would do well to follow this distinctly retro, yet winning formula. I warn you though, its a harder act to follow than you may imagine.

Many artists have an aversion to talking about their technique and prefer to keep that part of their experience shrouded in mystery. I've never been like that and spend lots of time teaching students the basics of photography. One of my favorite classes to teach is still Intro to Photography because their first impression of what the magic of photography has to offer comes from me.

This essay is about compact digital cameras, whose potential usefulness is quite high, and maybe even where all high end digital cameras are eventually going to end up in a number of years. I would put forth the contention that photographers won't need the big hulking cameras that represent the high end of digital photography and that the future lies with compact digital cameras. A critical part of the jury is weighing in here and the findings are not blind by any means.

For an example, Canon's flagship camera is the 21 Megapixel 1Ds Mark III. Compare this with the G9 which is about 1/2 the height, 2/3 the width and less than 1/4 the weight. Man, if I had a choice of cameras with equal features, I'd sure pick the smaller version to carry around; it would be no contest. The solution would be to get all of the features of the big camera into the smaller one. I think that Canon can do a lot of this already, although the technology to complete this task is likely in the future for some of it. In my opinion, the Canon G9 is the compact camera of the moment.

Part 1/ The Baseline for Comparison
No Compromises With Contax G2 and Leica M
Sometimes photographers just want to travel light and fast, but not give up anything in the way of photographic quality and performance. This is why I (and so many other avid photographers) still shoot with a Contax G2 system, and why I recently added a Leica M6 back into my lineup of cameras (I scan the film to come up with a very cool hybrid system between film & digital output). For this essay I am advocating for even smaller cameras than these because after all, it is the digital age, right?

Why is Film Still an Issue?
The quality of digital photography still lags behind what scanned film has to offer, and some of you digital die-hards need to actually hear someone come right out and say it. See the link to Kodak's survey of professional photographers as to why film is still relevant in the digital age. On the other hand, there is no debate that a lot of what digital photography has to offer is easier and faster than what scanned film has to offer. High end digital sensors for the masses are still over the horizon, even as we are awash in the mediocre ones.

The High-end Rangefinder Philosophy

There is a classic look to the Leica M and Contax G that goes hand in hand with the philosophy of minimalist controls, which is why they become like a natural extension of yourself when out shooting. There may be something Zen-like here... repeat after me... 0000mmmmm... ooooommmmm... after you use these cameras for a few years, you're entitled to monk robes for your journey. Just kidding. They're SOLIDLY built for rugged use, and yet epitomize what a precision instrument offers its user. This translates to precise exposures that are sharper than sharp, whatever that means. They're also quiet because they don't have a reflex mirror to bang around or a prism (that adds considerable bulk to a camera) like the SLR cameras.

We're talking subtle, unobtrusive shooting here. Another of their hallmarks is that they have a distinct yet subtle heft to them because key components are metal and not plastic, which instills confidence in the cameras. I've never quite trusted the lightweight cameras and always had a sneaking suspicion that maybe they were just empty bodies with a lens in front, and maybe a little elf was in there doing everything. What happens if he falls asleep, or gets drunk? My titanium Contax still looks like new even though it gets banged around a lot on the road, and there's a coolness quotient with black camera bodies with the well worn brass showing through. Go figure.

The Best Lenses/ Prime Time Stuff
The philosophy of the rangefinder cameras generally includes three basic lenses, a wide angle, normal and short telephoto. My own favorite wide angle is a tie between the 24 and 28mm lenses because they offer a moderately wide view with ZERO image distortion. This is a big deal, because compact cameras generally can't do this yet! The purists insist on what is called a prime, or non-zoom lens, because they're much sharper than what a zoom can offer. A 40, 45, 50 or 55mm is really great because they simulate the perspective that our eyes have, which is why its called a normal lens (even if the angle of view is much narrower than our own vision).

You find all kinds of claims all over the net for the sharpest lens (see 2nd paragraph) but the Contax G2 45mm f/2 Planar by Carl Zeiss has got to be the one to beat with sharpness, contrast and overall resolution. You would never know just by looking at this humble and plain looking little lens. A simple (albeit non-scientific test) is to simply shoot some accurately exposed, sharp slides, scan them and do some comparison sharpness checks at high magnification, say over 300% and look at what happens to the subtle detail, especially in the corners where lesser lenses often fail you. My Leica has the Summicron 50mm f/2 lens living on the body for the same reason. Man, is it sharp. I must confess that I got spoiled by the Contax G2 system because the overall system is fast with great autofocus and you've gotta love that zoom rangefinder that gives you the same view as the lens, much like a SLR camera.

Part 2/ Down to the Nitty-Gritty; No Holds Barred
The Absence of Critical Reviews & Caveat
In my opinion, the best scientific lab for evaluating cameras and lenses was at 'Modern Photography,' which was merged with 'Popular Photography' magazine. To see how rigorous their testing used to be, look at their June 1984 issue. Popular P (snicker) never picked up the scientific meticulousness that Modern P embodied. They titled their reviews 'Modern Tests' and they were collectively written by their staff of technicians, not any one evaluator. Their lab was a 2,320 square foot facility and as they put it, "...a comprehensive state of the art computerized facility superior to any private, independent photographic test lab in the world, dedicated to providing our readers, as well as all levels of the photographic industry, with the most accurate, detailed, easy to assimilate but meaningful information possible..."

Modern Photography was aimed directly at the photographic tech-heads, but I must admit to adding their annual photographic almanacs to my library.  Just about all the photography magazines out there today are full of superficial fluff, aimed more at people new to photography. Of course there are always exceptions.

My own expertise comes from being a photographer since 1978, and a photographic educator since 1992 and I freely admit that I don't do the geeky, yet critical scientific measurements on cameras. However, as a user I am finely attuned to which cameras work exceedingly well and which ones perhaps shouldn't have seen the light of day. Hey man, give me a camera and I'll run it through its paces as a grizzled journeyman Photographer, which is light years different from someone testing an instrument for its own sake. Both have value, and I would put forth the assertion that the scientific evaluative end is largely absent these days (play Paul Simon's 'Kodachrome' here, over on the All Nighter playlist on the left).

Getting down to it: General Observations about Compact Camera's Strong & Weak Points (contrasted with the G9)

Classic Rangefinder Philosophy with its overall design & build
The Canon PowerShot G9 was designed and built to emulate what the best rangefinders have to offer. Lets see how it and other compact digital cameras measure up. Sites like Digital Photography Review (DPR) do an all right job; here is their version of a Canon PowerShot G9 Review from last year. I still miss what Modern Photography would have done with these reviews.

Even though the G9 borrowed heavily from its DSLR siblings, Canon held back key features that would have made this a much better camera, as is a common practice with all camera manufacturers. They dumb down the small cameras so as to keep sales from infringing upon their flagship cameras. What if they just put the important stuff in, like a better image sensor and other key ingredients?

I would also clarify that there is a digital equivalent of the Leica M, which is the Leica M8. Don't forget the Epson RD-1 either, which takes the highly rated Voigtlander lenses (I think). However, I am advocating for even more compact camera bodies than either of these two. Put their capabilities into a body the size of the smaller G9 and you'd have something. Digital technology generally translates to miniaturization right? This is at the crux of this essay.
The Raw file Format capabilityShooting in RAW really is a requisite for the higher end compact cameras these days and Nikon, Canon and others were smart enough to include the RAW file format in some of their new compact cameras. Compact cameras without the RAW capability are not taken that seriously by many photographers. They are perfect for the snapshooters however. My parents would have no need for the RAW file format and the jpegs are more than adequate for their compact digital cameras. You can get a dramatically wider dynamic range than a jpeg with RAW, which of course translates into a photo with more nuanced information. Canon's RAW file conversion software is painfully slow and antiquated; you can pretty much say the same for all the other camera manufacturers too. I get the distinct feeling that life is passing me by as I convert my RAW files with their software and the drudgery is quite palpable. My best word for their RAW conversion software is c-r-u-d-e. There isn't any way to gloss this over and it is not very becoming of our friends at Canon, Nikon, Panasonic, Sony, etc. to be releasing products like this. Maybe they should offer Apple's Aperture or Adobe's Lightroom as a free program with their cameras? So all you guys, here is how to turn one of your key weakness into a strength and make your customers magnificently happy.

Lens Performance for Compact Cameras/ Sharpness & Wide end isn't quite wide enough for G9Optimal sharpness is only one to two stops from the widest aperture with compact digital cameras, which is different than most film cameras. There is a bit of barrel distortion on the wide end, and is the '35 camera equivalent to a 35mm to 210mm zoom, a fairly good spread. I would have preferred at least a 28mm on the wide end because I'm used to that angle of view as getting what I want in the scene. I find that with a 35mm angle of view I often have parts of the scene cropped out, which is a nuisance. I found a bit of CA (no, not California-- Chromatic aberration) in the lens in contrasty light. This is a common lens defect with all compact digital cameras in which the various colors of the spectrum don't have the same focal point through the lens and onto the image sensor (this is called the refractive index), which once in a great while results in a purple 'fringe' around the subject under specific conditions. Hmm. Maybe this is a California aura thing after all...

I've found the G9 lens' resolving power to be a bit lacking in some situations and parts of the photograph lack definition and clarity. These situations generally involve low contrast light, where to be fair, any lens is going to be challenged. This is where prime lenses dominate and there is no contest between a high end lens and an average one. This means that from a critical point of view, Canon needs to wring more contrast and resolving power out of this G9 lens. In bright contrasty light, its lens is excellent. For high end use, it means I still need to use my pro cameras & lenses. Chromatic aberrations in my Zeiss or Canon L lenses? Dream on man, those babies have CA for a little snack. All it means is that the G9 is obviously a consumer camera in a pro's clothing, yet is certainly above average and better than other camera brands in its class. Just about all the other brands of compact digital cameras did worse than this G9, so it is an industry-wide problem that is an accurate reflection of the state of digital photographic technology. This lens criticism is a pervasive blanket reality for all of them. It clearly means that the technology for high end lenses still doesn't really exist for compact digital cameras yet.

Its fast & easy controls that are very intuitiveThe G9's design is more in step with practical use than trying to make a 'designer's camera'. Canon was smart to be adamant about honoring what photographers want in a camera, and borrowed heavily from their big brother's DSLR bodies, which was a great idea. I'm sure that their managers had some testy debates about not giving up too many features to the G9 because it could potentially erode the sales of their DSLR cameras if it were made too well.

This kind of reminds me of what happened with Leica back in the 70's when they released their Leica CL system; a compact 35mm camera with high end functions. They made it too well in the sense that its sales easily surpassed their flagship cameras. Oops. It is probably a classic business model that their executives study in their basic corporate handbook. I think that they could make the G9 better without falling into the above pitfall; there is no reason to dumb it down intentionally. So Canon, Nikon, Sony, Olympus, etc. add some meaningful features to your compact cameras, maybe starting with a better image sensor.

Image Sensors Too SMALL / Megapixel size
It seems to me that the one key element that separates the G9 from it's pro level DSLR's is the image sensor. The one key weakness with just about every single compact digital camera out there is that their image sensors are too small. An exception to this is the Sigma DP-1, which has a large full sized DSLR sensor (not the same size as 35mm film like the 5D's sensor however) in a compact body. Way to go Sigma. Maybe other manufacturers will follow their lead and finally acknowledge that their miniscule sensors are third rate stand-ins for their larger sensors. It appears that the Sigma DP-1 may have given up a bit of camera performance in exchange for this larger sensor, although I'm not sure because I've never seen one in person. So Sigma, feel free to send me one, I'll check it out, man.

The commonality among all camera manufacturers is that they give up photographic quality in exchange for compact sensor size. If they use an ISO higher than 100, just about all of them start having very obvious image problems like digital noise, which makes for a very degraded image. Their collective answer was to squeeze more megapixels onto the sensor, which makes no sense because the added pixels most certainly does not solve the underlying problem. It just adds more pixels that are compromised, which is ludicrous at best, and willfully compromised at worst. What this means is that the physical dimensions of the sensor should be larger (like the above Sigma), not the number of pixels contained on the sensor. They get away with it because just about all of the manufacturers do it. Tell them all what you think of this illogical practice that perpetuates mediocrity with digital camera capabilities. Could you imagine Toyota doing something like adding dead weight to the back of one of their cheaper cars so that it would get worse gas mileage than their more expensive models? Is it just me or is the logic emanating from the camera manufacturers a bit twisted?

The 12 Megapixel sensor gives this G9 a much better resolution than its competitors. Just looking at my photos to date, it appears to me that my photos with the best resolution were shot at f/8 using the lowest ISO setting of 80 on the wide end of the zoom lens. The corners of the images were predictably a wee bit soft (this is a scientific term with measurable increments), but I would bet the resolving ability of this G9 blows all the other compact cameras right back to last week. This is all non-scientific mind you, but am willing to bet is a fairly reliable assessment of this camera. A larger sensor would have allowed the use of higher ISO settings and the resolving power would improve dramatically.

A good description of sensor size is here at DPReview. If you look at the sensor sizes in comparison to a frame of 35mm film, just about every image sensor from compact digital cameras (nearly all brands) would look like the petite frame on the left and the Sigma sensor would look like the one on the right. This is an obvious example of a planned image limitation, and my assertion is that it is high time that camera manufacturers start to offer better sensors in cameras this size, because Sigma has proven that the technology exists to install a larger and dramatically better image sensor. This means that the weakest part of digital photography at this moment is that the miniaturization with image sensors is lagging way behind the rest of the electronic miniaturization initiatives. I still think that the G9 is one of the better compacts out there, but as you can see, there is plenty of room for future improvements.

Easy ISO settings with a dial on top of the cameraThis was very cool. With other point & shoot cameras, you often have to navigate into arcane areas of their screen display folders in order to access the ISO, and to have the ability to just bypass all that and quickly turn a simple mechanical dial is great. It makes for faster shooting. Sometimes simplicity equates to brilliance, especially with camera designs. Nice going Canon.

Mode Dial is the Best!The manual settings mode dial on top of the camera are FAST and easy to use on the fly as you're shooting. My early favorite is to set the aperture manually via the Av on the dial and quickly switch it to M and shoot a quick set of variations at various shutter speeds while previewing the scene in the large LCD viewfinder. It is such a relief to be able to go into manual without navigating in the screen to various folders. I can't emphasize this dial enough; I find that I use this dial more than any other function on the camera and can use it without even thinking about it much; it has already become second nature. Sometimes all you need are the automated scene choices. The camera automatically prioritizes various settings for shooting things like landscapes or portraits (it stops down the lens for increased sharpness w/landscapes, uses a fast shutter speed for sports, etc.). The full auto mode on the dial is pretty good by the way, especially if you only need jpegs. It is very reliable and gives very precise exposures.

The other really invaluable function is that if you're already comfortable with a Canon DSLR, the functions on this G9 are almost identical, so you don't have to learn the controls from scratch. This speeds up the learning curve so that you can almost just start using the camera right out of the box.

Custom ModesThe custom modes are a nice touch because you can store your favorite settings in two of them and access them very easily on the mode dial on top. For an example, I like shooting at around f/5.6 or f/8 in order to pull the most sharpness out the lens for a specific look, so I set the custom mode accordingly. It makes the manual settings even faster and does in fact customize the camera to your way of seeing.

Large LCD Screen/ Shooting, Previewing & MenusFor shooting, the LCD screen is quite large for such a small camera, and is relatively easy to see even in bright sunlight, but not all the time. It is invaluable for evaluating general exposures and therefore being able to shoot a couple of brackets depending on what you see. While shooting on a hike this morning, I noticed that the highlights were washed out (via the LCD) and shot a few images that gave 1/3 stop increments of underexposed images. The aperture f/stops and shutter speeds are large and very easily readable on the screen, even for people who wear glasses.

For viewing your photos from your memory card, a nice feature that surprised me was the camera's ability change the view from horizontal to vertical by just rotating the camera so that you fill up the viewfinder when viewing vertical photos you shot. Other cameras just give you a vertical shot squeezed into a horizontal view, which makes for a tiny preview. Navigating the various menu items is easy too, because they're organized in color coded tabs. The LCD is the biggest power hog on just about all digital cameras, so some people just turn them off when traveling. Get a couple of extra batteries if you like to keep the LCD on while walking around shooting, like I and many other photographers do. The histogram function is pretty cool too because you can see when you get clipped highlights (when they're overexposed with no detail).

Optical ViewfinderMany companies are eliminating optical viewfinders from their compact digital cameras in their chase to make their cameras ever smaller and to cut expenses. The lack of an optical viewfinder makes these cameras dramatically less useful simply because even the brightest LCD's are too dim to see in bright sunlight and photographers are often left blindly hoping that they got the shot, or that they even composed it the way they wanted. Composing your photo qualifies as pretty basic stuff right? This only serves to make photographers shake their heads in disbelief. Would Apple Computer deliberately muffle the sound from their iPods? Needless to say, eliminating optical viewfinders is quite foolhardy, and maybe even irresponsible. Have you noticed that amateur photographers are holding their digital cameras about a foot from their faces when making photos, while pros still generally have their cameras right up to their eyes? This is because pros are using optical viewfinders and amateurs are using LCD view screens. I bet even the casual users would prefer to have an optical viewfinder as a viable choice, especially when the sun makes the LCD too dim, or when you need to conserve battery power.

One of the basic reasons I got this G9 is because it does have an optical viewfinder. You really do need one in bright sunlight (I have a Leica digital camera with no optical viewfinder and it drives me bats when I can't see the image on the LCD in bright sunlight). The built-in diopter dial is a bonus and works very well. The optical viewfinder does crop a small amount of the view from the photograph; the view through the viewfinder doesn't precisely match the actual photograph made. A critical point that other reviewers sometimes miss is the fact that the the optical viewfinder zooms in and out to match the focal length of the lens, a huge plus. The optical viewfinder needs to be made a bit larger in order to see the scene you're photographing better. As it is now, it appears to be there only as kind of a cursory concession to photographers and it needs to be made better in order to be useful.
Image Stablilization (IS)Let's face it, like mentioned above, these compact point & shoot digital cameras have sensors that are too small to get good images sometimes, especially in either tricky or low light. If you set the ISO over 100 on just about all of them, you pick up digital noise and a degraded image. The answer to this conundrum is to have the ability to keep your ISO below 100 by using Image Stabilization in lower light. It simply allows you to hand-hold a slower shutter speed and still get a sharp image. How do they do this? Do they have a (another?) little elf in the camera sitting on a gyroscope or something? However they do it, it works quite well. I never set my ISO higher than 100 for any compact camera with a small sensor, because they all have the same weakness and this IS setting is kind of a band-aid until their engineers can get a bigger (or dramatically better) sensor into their cameras. I know I already mentioned this, but adding more pixels to the sensor isn't necessarily the answer, because the underlying problem still exists. Instead of having something like 6 Megapixels of digital noise, now they have 12 Megapixels of digital noise.
Hot Shoe for external flashWith the hot shoe you can use an external flash with many of its functions in place, and it is hard to beat the automated functions from the Canon flash units. Don't you love the jargon? When I think of a hot shoe I still visualize a clown running around with his shoes on fire. A common drawback for just about all of these compact cameras is that the built-in flash is generally only good for a little twinkie pop of light. Canon's regular flash units are huge on this compact camera, look at how absurd it is. They're not embarrassed to show this? Dang. No shame productions. This is another technological weakness for all compact digital cameras. Their internal flash units are severely underpowered, so their engineers need to figure out how to get a higher powered flash into a compact camera. Good luck, I'm rooting for all of you. Now get busy.

Anyway, here are a couple of smarter options for now. Just use a smaller external flash unit. You may have to use a voltage adapter between your flash & camera to avoid overloading the circuitry on the camera because many third party flash units have a higher voltage than digital cameras can handle. Or better yet, try the ultra-compact Metz 28 CS-2 external flash unit. It is smaller than the camera and is fired by the camera's internal flash; it has a built-in slave unit. It packs a lot of punch for such a little flash unit, is easy to use with either automatic or manual settings and doesn't need any adapters of any kind. I like it way better than any of the large flash units and it has earned an honored place in my little camera bag.
Grip is only so-so/ Upgraded Franiec GripWhat's with the crummy grip on this camera? Get a grip Canon... uh, sorry, bad pun. Fortunately, Richard Franiec has heroically stepped in to pimp this sucker out- his custom machined, black anodized aluminum grip is great. I got one the first week I had this camera and now it is comfortable to use. While I was at their site, I got their black lens ring, thumb rest and mechanical cable release adapter too. Now I can use my regular shutter release cables on this G9. He also has a distributor at Lensmate. Franiec turned a design weakness into a practical, ergonomic strength and it is heartening to see such cool photographic innovators like this out there; way to go man.

Shutter lag & Image ProcessorShutter lag is the time it takes for the camera to make a photograph after you press the shutter button. Some compact digital cameras have a putrid (as in extreme stinking) shutter lag where you fire the shutter and sometime next week it actually fires. Of course this means that you miss the shot because the camera is still trying to figure out what to do. One of the most common culprits for shutter lag is that the autofocus isn't as efficient as it could be. The G9 has a fairly minimal shutter lag, meaning it fires almost instantly. They say you can minimize the shutter lag by turning off the LCD screen.

Its got brains man. Canon was smart to use their higher end DIGIC III processor because it speeds things up a bit. I've found that when I'm shooting in RAW mode with the 12 Megapixel photos, there is a discernible time to process the image, although very minor, almost not worth mentioning. The continuous shooting speed is 1.5 frames per second, which is pretty good for a 12 Megapixel camera, which means it has an above average image buffer. There is room for improvement here too though, and it would be cool to shoot as fast as the higher end cameras.
Misc. Add-on Stuff / Some for G9, some for all CompactsThe Canon G9 case sold to Americans looks crude compared to the one sold in Japan and the UK, so I found an eBay seller in Japan who has the cool ones (Canon SC-DC55A) and he had it on my doorstep in four days. It is great for traveling where you need the camera protected in transit, but can stow the case away when shooting (the left snap won't fasten with my spiffy new grip installed, but who cares). Why isn't it sold in America? I think this falls in the 'pimp your G9' category. It doesn't have a remote cord, so the above shutter release cable was a smart acquisition. The Canon auxiliary wide angle lens is King Kong sized. I laughed when I saw the wide angle auxiliary lens, which gives you a much better 26mm angle of view. Its HUGE. Raynox makes high quality auxiliary lenses too, but I haven't tried one on the G9.

In 2006 I won a National Geographic All Roads Photography Award and they gave us a bunch of very cool equipment, including various NG camera bags. Their smallest bag is just right for the G9 by itself and extra battery and a few other small items. I've been using Delkin camera batteries for a while now because they're more affordable than Canon's and have a good warranty. They're solid performers with a bit more punch than the original batteries. You really do need a larger memory card than usual with 12 Megabyte RAW images. Personally, I've had good luck with the Sandisk Extreme III 8GB cards (their transfer rate is 133x, or 20MB per second, which is pretty good). I wouldn't use memory cards smaller than 8GB for 12MP cameras.
The best screen protector I've found is by Clear Protector. I found them by accident while searching for a good screen protector for my iPhone. It worked so well that I put one on all of my digital cameras too. In 2 weeks of heavy use, the G9's screen protector has a small gouge that would have left a nick on the glass. I subscribe to the hands on, use the camera philosophy and all that stuff about keeping the camera pristine is for collectors, not us photographers. We're about getting photographs, man. So what if the camera gets accidentally thumped every now and then? It is the price we pay for being an active photographer and is why we pay a bit more for tough cameras.

Hey, shouldn't I be getting kickbacks from all these guys for plugging their stuff? Well, NG did give me a bunch of stuff, but it wasn't for plugging anything.
Conclusion (an open letter to Camera Manufacturers)
Hey, there's no need to put on fake airs, not when photography is more fun than ever. I like what you do with your hip little cameras. Some of them exude a definite coolness factor that sidesteps the geeky stuff. My little Leica (Panasonic) digital camera is just plain fun and easy. I have well over 30,000 photos made with it and it is still going strong. Same with my Canon and Sony compact cameras. Some of the photos are really great and the reason many of the photos exist is because the camera was small and convenient to take along, especially on trips where I like to travel light and fast, and not give up anything in the way of photographic quality and performance... oh man, I just had a déjà vu. Did you hear that anywhere else by any chance? If you could see me in person, I would offer you an honorable and sincere bow; my gratitude is most heartfelt. Thank you. For us photographers, cameras are not just inanimate objects; they become traveling companions that need to perform as well as we do, and they earn our trust for our livelihoods. I am looking forward to what is in store for us photographers in the future. I have a sneaking suspicion that it involves much smaller cameras with less compromises.

Well I guess I have to look at the flip-side too. What the heck, I'm an artist first and we're used to confronting difficult issues, so here goes. A lot of us photographers are weary of the questionable strategy of manufacturers installing image sensors that are clearly way too small (as described in the image sensor section above). I was raised to never complain without also offering a solution to the problem at hand. If I had only one request filled, it would be that you install DSLR sized sensors and processors into the high end compact digital cameras. There is no reason for their absence, as Sigma has clearly shown with their revolutionary DP-1. Come on, what do you say? Wouldn't this G9 be a kick-ass camera with a 21 megapixel full sized image sensor? Come on! Get with the 21st Century and be bold! If I had a second request it would be to have compact prime lenses for this sized camera, or better yet, a zoom that performed like the prime lenses. If you did this, I could finally retire the above Contax and Leica cameras. That would be a shame, so take your time... but not too much time.

**As an artist, I have to figure out all this photographic stuff too, so I must confess that it makes me pretty good at the geeky end of things. Yikes. One of my Professors at Brooks Institute back in the 70's kind of resembled a mad scientist guy and he always walked around in a white lab coat and shot techno jargon at everyone, like a verbal machine gun. If you ever see me in a white lab coat, please have sympathy and give me a drink or something. A double tequila maybe?

This essay is Copyright Larry McNeil, 2008 All Rights Reserved. Please get permission prior to using any part of the essay, especially for online usage. Thanks.
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