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Monday October 18 2010

After an annoying few days trying to use my foolishly acquired Panasonic Lumix G1, which is the nicest little camera I could find that uses interchangeable lenses (my idea being that interchangeable lenses might somehow improve things), I switched back to my trusty Canon, with its one lens that does everything from close-up to mega-magnified.  And boy was it a relief.  My new question is: what is the best camera I can get that doesn’t involve farting around with different lenses?  With tons of zoom, and tons of everything, so I can photo the Shard of Glass from a mile away, or the Shard of Glass tiny in the far distance plus the entire nearby gasometer frame that it is visible through, with one push of the button in between shots, instead of spending about three damn minutes faffing about with different elephant penises and elephant penis caps and risking hundreds of pounds worth of damage to every piece of kit involved.  I just want to be able to point, twiddle a bit, and shoot.  No flak jacket pockets full of obscenely expensive alternatives, thank you.

So it is that comparative reviews like this one (thank you Alex Singleton for sending the link), of the latest Canon superzoom one lens (maybe lots of lenses under there – don’t know, don’t care – call it one lens thing if you want to) camera and the latest Panasonic superzoom one lens (ditto) camera (which looks a lot like my new Panasonic with its stupid add-on lenses) are of such extreme interest to me.  Both the cameras reviewed have those twiddly screens that I love, and which my Canon has.  But whereas my current Canon has only 12x optical zoom, the new Canon has 30x.  Wow.  Great for distant Shards.  The Panasonic has a mere 24x, which is still pretty amazing.  Both look pretty good and I might be tempted yet again.  But the Canon looks too bulky, and maybe they both are.  I really should hold off until an even better answer materialises.

Meanwhile and nevertheless, I hope that both these cameras sell really well, because this is a niche I want to get really big and important.  Like the reviewer says, in his concluding “Memo to Canon and Panasonic”:

When you make a camera targeted at the more serious photographer, why be timid? Cost is a factor for almost everyone, but I believe that if you delivered a higher spec product in this category photographers would willingly pay for it.

Take the focal length range of the SX30, the high frame rates and raw mode of the FZ100, put in a solid manual controlled video mode with decent bit rate, add a terrific EVF like the one in the GH1 or GH2, and you’d have a category killer. Sure cost would be higher, but the market would understand and accept a price hundreds of dollars higher that where they are now. And profit margins would be very high because of the perceived additional value.

Alas, I fear that neither company has the cojones to tackle this challenge. Market segmentation through feature castration appears to be the name of the game throughout the industry.

Maybe next year.

Now I don’t know what any of that means, but it sounds spot on to me.  It sure sounds like he’s saying: answer Brian Micklethwait’s exact question!  Give these people the best damn camera they can hold in one hand while still having a life!  Don’t give them a choice of add-on penises to faff about with!  Give them one super good penis and attach it permanently to the rest of the camera!  Give them just the one thing to worry about buying and about not dropping.

These two superzoomers are pointing in the right direction, but they aren’t yet there.  But, if they can demonstrate that the target sketched out above as one worth shooting for, well, then the shooting will soon happen.  And once a few of those “category killers” are out there, making their very high profit margins, the next thing you know, a few months later, there’ll be the same thing, costing no more than what they are asking now for these two pretty good but still really only compromise, castrated cameras.


The funny thing is that a couple of recent camera adverts on the telly have been selling the exact kind of camera that Brian Micklethwait wants.  In these adverts, actor Kevin Spacey, and now actress Sarah Alexander, are to be seen happily prancing about, taking snaps while not being in any way inconvenienced, while simultaneously leading their rich and full lives in glamorous foreign places.  But, Kevin and Sarah are doing this with cameras that are actually very inconvenient, for they have both been starring in lens-swap camera adverts.  And they do their lens-swapping, if they ever do it, with a downright fraudulent ease that probably took hours of rehearsing, many takes, and much broken kit.  The advertisers know what these cameras ought to be.  Too bad the cameras they are actually advertising aren’t it.

My solution is to use a proper SLR (Nikon D90), but not to interchange the lenses. I walk around with an 18-200mm super-zoom, that happens to also have image stabilisation and very fast focusing. The camera is also very fast at turning on and just getting on with taking the picture, or several in quick succession. The end result is that I point, twiddle a bit, and then shoot.

I’d say it’s almost perfect for the sort of photography you do, but it is big (so possibly harder to get candid shots of billion monkeys without attracting attention) and heavy.

Next time I see you I’ll let you try it out, if you want.

Posted by Rob Fisher on 19 October 2010


Just a quickie.

After a lot of thought and research - and knowing I had neither the money nor the expertise for a DSLR - I plumped (just over a year ago now) for the Panasonic DMC FZ-28. (see post and comments here)

Now this is pretty much exactly what you’re looking for but it “only” has a 18x zoom - that was pretty impressive for this sort of camera when I got it, but things move on, don’t they?

However, the standard of the camera, the lens, and the ease of use and flexibility has meant that I know 5 other people who are in the same boat as you and I - want something simple but that does the job - have bought the same camera.

When I do move on (and I have no plans to right now) I will certainly be looking at Panasonic/Lumix again - probably at the son or grandson of the FZ100 above - it’s been excellent and I would highly recommend it.

It can do close up and it can make things which are far away, appear much closer.

No twiddling or additional extensions required.

Posted by 6000 on 19 October 2010


With all this talk of penises I misread the last word here as “drooping”:

Give them one super good penis and attach it permanently to the rest of the camera!  Give them just the one thing to worry about buying and about not dropping.

I agree with Rob’s proposal although the Nikon D90 is now being replaced by the D7000. The new smallish Nikon D3100 looks a good bet. The attraction of the SLRs is the larger sensor and higher quality photos. The problem though is the size and weight. For almost two years now I’ve been carrying around a Panasonic LX3 wherever I go and must say that it’s the most loved camera that I’ve owned other than my old Olympus XA film camera (used to take the famous Hayek poster).

Last summer we went down to the Lake District for a couple of days and with great trepidation I left my Nikons at home and only took the LX3. It was very pleasant walking around without a great brick round the neck.

Here are the results:

Over 800 views on Flickr.

I think the LX3 quality matches the Nikons but they are a generation or two older. But the LX3, while perfect at the wide angle end, is no good for long zooming.

If you don’t want to carry an SLR, I’d go for the Panasonic FZ100.

Posted by David Farrer on 19 October 2010

Thanks very much for these comments, gents.  Very helpful and encouraging.

If the Lumix G1 is anything to go by the Lumix FZ100 will be followed by FZ101, FZ102, FZ110, FZ111, etc.  And quite soon.  One of them looks like being the best bet, especially if there is even more zoom.

I like the idea of a single lens permanently attached to a Proper Camera, but the degree of zoom available on improper cameras is very enticing.  Can you get a separate Proper Camera lens that can go from regular to 25 times?  Not now, I don’t think.  The most at present is something like regular to about 15 times.

My other worry about a Proper Camera is mentioned by Rob.  They’re often very heavy.  I really like the lightness of cheapo cameras.  That means less wobbliness, and, oddly, often better photos.  I like to take a lot of photoswhen I amout snapping, many of them highly opportunist.  For that kind of thing, lightness (to the point of being able to hold them with only one hand with ease) really helps.  Simply on that score, I’m guessing the FZ100 would be better than the rival Canon.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait on 20 October 2010

I meant to say that. The FZ-28 is very light - 417g with battery included.
The wobblinessless is augmented by the image stabilisers as well - important on those big zoomy shots.

I don’t work for Panasonic (although if they want to slip me a few quid, I probably won’t say no).

Posted by 6000 on 20 October 2010

I’m with Rob, really.

A small SLR-like camera (like the G1 or another Micro-4/3 mount) with a 10x (28-300mm equivalent) zoom will get you 95% of what you need without ever changing a lens.

For those very, very rare occasions you need immense zoom, you can pop on a teleconverter or a dedicated zoom.

I wouldn’t worry about “15x” or “30x”, but maximum equivalent focal length.

It’s always looked to me like you don’t do a lot of wide-angle work, so worrying about the multiplier will just mislead.

For instance, there’s an Olympus 150-600mm equivalent for the M4/3 mount.

That’s only “4x”, but it gives you the same zoom maximum as a 28-560 “20x”.

That “30x” camera above is 24-720 mm equivalent, so the 150-600 pushes out nearly as far, despite being only “4x”.

The improved image quality of even the 4/3 sensor as compared to those all-in-ones more than compensates for not having quite a 720mm-equivalent zoom.

Having interchangeable lenses is only a minus if you keep changing them all the time. I typically take my K100D out with a single lens, though I have three useful ones to choose from.

(On wobbliness, don’t forget that the larger the zoom, the more you’ll see it. At some point you really want a tripod, and then the weight and size of the camera area footnote.)

Posted by Sigivald on 21 October 2010

Mostly, what Sigvald said, particularly that the number of times zoom (ratio between the longest and smallest focal lengths) is much less important than what the focal lengths actually are. Or, as he says, what the equivalent focal lengths actually are(*).

I have never been much of a fan of big zooms, myself. They are optically dubious (particularly at minimum and maximum zoom) and of questionable performance in poor light. That 150-600 equivalent will take better quality photographs in poorer light than will the 28-560. On the other hand, I do a fair bit of wide angle work, so my requirements are different to Brian’s. I prefer a good fast prime lens, generally.

Just out of curiousity, Sigvald, which are your three useful lenses? I have a K-100D myself. (Just for comparison, I have an Pentax FA 24mm F2.0, an FA 50mm F1.4, and a DA 21mm F3.2. Plus an old Sigma 70-210 that I seldom use but which is there if I am ever in a situation where I want lots of magnification).

(* Really, what we should measure is the ratio between the focal lengths and the size of the sensor, which focal length was a perfect proxy for in the days when we were all using 35mm film so we just used focal length. As sensor sizes now vary from camera to camera a lot, it no longer is a perfect proxy, and we have to talk about “What focal length would this lens be equivalent to if we were using a 35mm camera. This is confusing, which is probably why camera makes now talk about 8x or 10x, which is a shame as this is a flawed way of looking at things).

Posted by Michael Jennings on 25 October 2010
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