September 24, 2003
Smack it – it's a Minolta Dimage EX Zoom 1500

I have just replaced my digital camera with a cheaper, cheerfuller sort of beast. I did this not because my previous camera was badly designed or badly specified. It was just that it didn't work properly. If it had worked I'd have been happy to carry on with it more or less indefinitely. But once you start trying to mend discontinued electronic kit, there's no knowing what it will cost or when the grief will end, so I cut my losses.

My old camera, a Minolta Dimage blah blah see above, still works after a fashion, in its own clunky and unsatisfactory way, and it still has its uses. But for wandering round London taking open-air shots of London's buildings, old and new, it won't do.

Basically, ever since it conked out and I had it "mended", it has turned any seriously bright light it sees into strawberry icecream. Like this:


You can't do culture blogging with every other sky you ever show looking like that. Photoshop? Well, it can work, but washing out the strawberry can also wash out a lot of other things. No,that won't do. And it has other problems too, which rule it even further out for serious outdoor snapping.

But I will miss this old Minolta. If it had only worked properly, it would have been wonderful.

Almost all digital cameras are built in one piece. (My new one is, for example.) Everything is combined into one small, or not so small, case. But if you want to do clever things with flash, this creates a problem. If the flash is built into your camera, then you are stuck with light that only comes at your subject from the same direction that you and the lense of your camera do. If you want faces side lit, or if you want to prevent those little linear shadows that crop up in flash photos, you have to get a digital camera with a gizmo on it which allows "external" flash, which means a flash gun at the end of a wire. These cameras are much more expensive than regular ones. And the flash guns and the wire to connect them to the camera aren't cheap either. If you want external flash, you end up having to pay anything up to a grand or more.

The Minolta Dimage EX Zoom 1500 was different. It looks like this.


It wasn't cheap, but the ability to separate the flash gun from the lens, if you get my meaning, was built into the design. Instead of separating the flash from the rest of the camera, the Dimage EX 1500 separates … well, the camera, from the rest of the camera. By the "camera", I mean the lens and the little box within which (I suppose) the picture is assembled. Then an optional wire intervenes, which you can either attach or not as you please, to the rest of the camera, where there's the little TV screen, the place where you stick the wafer thin mint that stores your pictures, the batteries, and all the nobs that control everything.

There are several advantages to this beyond being able to vary the direction of the flash light. First, if you have the wire in place, when you push the button to take a photo, you don't simultaneously push the bit of the camera that actually does the photography – a big plus for avoiding camera wobble just when you don't want it to. Second, this strange set-up confuses people about where the photography is coming from, and even about whether it's happening. Impromptu shots are a lot easier to contrive. Manipulating the direction of the lens without moving the picture that tells you what your picture is also makes things easier.

I just wish the damn thing worked properly. In addition to the strawberry icecream syndrome, there's also the fact that when I have that wire installed, I have to smack the camera to get it to receive any pictures at all. Some kind of missing connection. This doesn't happen when the wire is cut out of things, but with the wire, trouble trouble trouble.

But the thing still has its uses. If you own a new digital camera, it's funny how much easier it is to make your old camera behave itself. I can now afford to risk destroying the old camera for the chance of making it do the one thing I still want, which is take indoor shots with the wire attached. And I think it realises this, and is suddenly desperate to please. Now, what with my new camera ready to take over everything, I can smack the old one like I was Harrison Ford smacking the controls of his spaceship in the original Star Wars movie. And it can work.

Today for example, I damn near set fire to the camera, by poking around with the connections on the off chance that this might improve matters. There was evil smelling smoke, and frankly I expected a very bad sort of flash at any moment, of the sort that liquifies things. So I quickly switched it off, and removed the batteries and the wafer thin mint, and let it blow off its steam and cool down. Then I reassembled everything, and hey presto, it still worked, provided I smacked it in the right place. And I took a stack of photos, of myself, to get one to put at the top of this blog when it gets its new makeover which it will Real Soon Now.

This is the kind of thing I have in mind, although maybe my design team will overrule me and want it all to be posher and uglier, more significant and less cheerful:


What you see here is me looking at the picture of myself on the main body of the camera, which is on the right as you survey the scene. The wire hanging down leads to the little lens bit surveying the whole scene. Those are classical CDs in the background. And I wasn't faking how pleased I was about all this. Basically, anything good I get out of the old camera is a bonus.

The strawberry icecream thing is not a problem for this photo session, because the colours will be yanked around all over the place by Photoshop or whatever anyway, to fit the blog colour scheme.

And now I also have a cheap, cheerful, and touch wood fully functioning camera, trailing rave reviews in all the magazines, much lighter than the old one and light enough to take with me everywhere in my pocket to grab all photo-opportunities as they present themselves. It also uses the exact same brand of wafer thin mints and batteries as the old Minolta, which greatly simplifies things. The new one also uses much less power. I went photo-ing across the river yesterday, and the wafer thin mint ran out of puff before the batteries did, which was a big surprise after the old Minolta, I can tell you.

Best of all, the new camera is cheap. Dropping it in the Thames would be painful, but not nearly as painful as totalling a serious piece of heavyweight kit, such as the Minolta once was.

So I'll end with one of the photos I took with the new camera:


I know. Nothing special. Just a curvy new building I happen to like a lot more than I would have if it had been straight and dull. Not arty. But that was how it emerged, straight from the camera. And the only pink on show is the pink tower, which is pink. No strawberry icecream to be seen anywhere.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:57 PM
Category: Photography