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Thursday, June 10, 2010


Is it time for a new camera?

After five years of travelling with me, my Panasonic fz20 is showing signs of wear and tear. If you look at the pics attached to this post you'll see that it doesn't look so good anymore. What is left of the plastic grips is now held on by what we in Australia call Blutack. The body isn't holding together well and the viewfinder doesn't work anymore. I posted these pics on a photographic forum and one response I received was 'Boy, you've certainly beaten up your fz20 badly.' But it still takes fairly good pictures. If you're not familiar with them, click some of the links in my sidebar.

I am not a four-star traveller. I move around slowly and I'm more interested in people than monuments. I get down and dirty and mix with the locals. I love to meet people who might be considered 'exotic' to us westerners. (Though I'm sure they don't think they are.) I'm interested in getting to know them and experiencing their lifestyle. Sometimes a camera is a novelty to such people. I've learned not to show the pics I've taken as people want to grab the camera for a closer look and they don't always know how to handle a camera. All this is often done in tropical heat. Does this make me rough on cameras? I don't really think so. I have to wonder if cameras of today are built so well as in the past. I might add that I've found Apple computers are not so strong today as they were five or more years ago.

Most cameras available at less than A$1,000 today are made of plastic. Would any other plastic camera survive better than my fz20? I don't really know but I have my doubts. Therefore I have decided that when I get around to buying a new camera I want it to do two things. First I want it to extend me as a photographer, to give me possibilities to take my photography further, to learn more about photography. Secondly I want it to survive my lifestyle better than the fz20 has. I'm interested in a camera with a metal body.

The last thing I want is to add more weight to my packs. Hey, I'm 62 and I weigh only 57 kilos. I travel with two backpacks—a biggish one for clothes and other necessities and a Crumpler for technology. If I have to walk any distance the Crumpler is mounted over my chest and the big one on my back. The combined weight of the two is about 25 kilos—equal to about 44% of my body weight. I don't really want to add more weight to my packs.

Until recently, to improve on an fz20 one had to upgrade to an SLR camera. The idea of an SLR doesn't excite me so much. The main advantage they have over point-and-shoot cameras is a bigger sensor. This makes a huge difference to the potential image quality. I say 'potential' because the biggest influence on image quality is the photographer. The best SLR in the world is no better in the hands of an incompetent photographer than the cheapest point-and-shoot. I'm tempted, but not too tempted.

The weight of my fz20 is just under 520 grams. That includes a lens that has a zoom range equal to an SLR 36-432 mm lens. If I buy an entry-level smallish plastic SLR, they may be a similar weight—without the lens. How much weight will it add to my pack to include either one or perhaps several lenses that will give me the same zoom range I get with my fz20? Yes, I will get more in terms of picture quality but at a price in terms of weight that I would be reluctant to pay while I continue my travelling lifestyle. And I would still have a plastic camera. How long would I expect it to last?

Pay a little more and I could get a mid-range SLR with a metal body. I've seriously considered this possibility and perhaps have not ruled it out completely. The Nikon D 300 looks promising weighing 825 g without a lens and the Pentax K 7 comes in at about 750 g. This Pentax camera has a good reputation as a rugged camera which I find tempting. It has a weather, dust and cold resistant shell. Interesting that they make them to survive the cold but make no mention of heat. I often find myself in temperatures over 40 degrees c. Can it handle that?

I am interested in a relatively new camera format known as four thirds that, I believe, has been developed jointly by Olympus and Panasonic. The latest version of this is known as Micro four thirds. I first noticed the Olympus models which are quite small and have a metal body. The sensor size is larger than that found on most point-and-shoot cameras but smaller than those on the smallest SLRs. Like SLRs they have interchangeable lenses. The design of the camera is such that unlike SLRs they do not use mirrors to transfer the image to the sensor. It goes directly from the lens to the sensor. By comparison, this reduces both the weight and size of the unit. Overall the lenses are smaller by comparison to an SLR, much more like those found on a point-and-shoot camera but picture quality is very close to that of an SLR. And like an SLR, they give the photographer the opportunity to expand their ability by using different lenses.

I've been aware of these Olympus models for some time. I've observed that they've been a bit slim on features. While they interest me, they don't excite me. I was also aware that Panasonic had some similar models too but they appeared to be more expensive so I did not look too closely.

Recently I was killing time and found myself in a camera store where I saw for the first time one of the Panasonic Micro four thirds models. I took the time to have a look. The guy in the store seemed to know so little about it but I could see that it had features that interested me and most importantly I was impressed by its light weight and compact size. When I got home I looked it up online and discovered that there were currently three models available. One that was very basic, similar to the Olympus ones and two with a few more features. I also saw that there are two new models coming soon with even more features.

At the moment the one that interests me most is the G2. It is scheduled for release this month. It is available with various lens combinations at various prices. I favour the twin lens version which has a list price of A$1,599. Yes, I could replace my fz20 with Panasonic's latest evolution of that type of camera, the fz35, for about a third of that price. But I expect that will give me a camera that will once again last me about five years. That is one way to go—use it for five years and then get another that is updated with the latest technology. However, the Panasonic Micro four thirds cameras, like the Olympus models, have a metal body. I trust it will last longer, though at the moment I have no way of knowing.

Apart from the metal body, here's what else interests me with the G2. The weight of the basic camera is about 371 g. That's about half the weight of the metal-bodied SLRs I mentioned above and theoretically the picture quality is not far behind them. Add the weight of two lenses and it comes to 1,032 g all up. That means I'm looking at carrying around twice the weight of the fz20. I'll get a similar zoom range but have to change lenses from time to time. Not always convenient but hopefully, coupled with the bigger sensor, they'll do a better job. The G2 has a 3" LCD that rotates. A bigger LCD appeals to my ageing eyes and being able to rotate it gives me much more flexibility in seeing the screen when I want to take a picture from an unusual angle. It has many more features such as a touch screen, perhaps some of them are gimmicks, but to me the important ones are those I've mentioned.

I haven't made a decision yet. My mind is open until I put my money down but this camera has a lot of appeal to me.

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If this were a Poll, NO,

till death do you part,

keep the old lady.
This comment has been removed by the author.
Thanks for the comment Anonymous. I admire your suggestion of fidelity but I must admit that I already have a second camera. It would be my intention to keep the fz20 until it does indeed die. I'd just be adding one more to my collection. BTW, you should also be aware that from time to time I take the occasional photo on other people's cameras.
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