Friday, December 2, 2011

My search for a Point-and-Shoot



Also in this issue:
  • Evolution of the Seminars
  • A Parting Shot

My Search for a Point-and-Shoot

I carry a point-and-shoot with me almost all the time.  My motto is "the camera you have with you is infinitely more valuable than the big, expensive one you left home because you didn't want to schlep it around."  And last May my ancient and pocketable Sony DSC-T10 died.  Well, not so much as died as the optical stabilization mechanism went haywire and it was oscillating full-tilt all the time.  (Actually I took advantage of it to get some neat nighttime images like the one above.)  Time to re-acquaint myself with the current offerings and spend way more time than I have trying to select one that's good for my needs.

But what are my needs?  
  1. Must be pocketable (otherwise it won't be with me everywhere).
  2. Must be responsive (I shoot grandchildren a lot).
  3. The image quality must not suck with reasonably good light (about the healthiest expectation you can set for yourself when approaching a point-and-shoot).
  4. Some sort of manual control is essential - at the very least an exposure compensation control that's not buried 5-menus deep.
Seriously, that's it!  RAW would be nice, but as a rule point-and-shoots are not for pixel peepers.  As I tell people in my seminars (more about those in a minute), if you have good light and good composition, then RAW won't matter that much and you should be able to take "Wow!" type pictures even with a pedestrian point-and-shoot.  

One other thing I've discovered is that you can't just buy a camera on specs.  You have to actually use it for awhile.  And that's why it can really pay to buy from a big-box retailer with a generous return policy.  So far I've plowed through six different cameras, five of which I ended up returning for various reasons.  Let me briefly share my experiences with you here:

1) and 2)  My first approach was one of "I'm only going to shoot with good light and so I'm going to go with the most pockatable P&S I can find".  So one day I took home two to try out: The Canon Powershot Elph 300HS and the Sony DSC-W570.  And while the image quality in daylight wasn't horrible, the snapshots I took at my nephew's graduation party (mostly indoors) were just pathetic.  Both got returned within a week.

Even when the light was good, I felt the image quality from the low-end point-and-shoots was just too low.  (This one was the Canon Powershot Elph 300HS.)

3) I always heard great things about the Lumix series of cameras, and so I thought I'd go higher-end and get their ZS10.  The image quality was great!  And it was pretty responsive.  But it really wasn't that pocketable.  (Size and image quality are eternal tradeoffs, aren't they? :-) )

The image quality from the Lumix ZS10 was outstanding.  And I would have happily kept it too if it wasn't for...
And there was another issue: Shortly after I bought the Lumix dpreview.com came out with their review / comparison of six high-end travel zooms, one of which was the ZS10 that I was so pleased with.  After much details and reports of real-world usefulness they ended up ranking one camera "best" in 3/3 categories.  That camera was...

4) The Canon SX230 HS.  And since it was a little more pocketable than the Lumix I was using, I decided to return the Panasonic and bought the Canon. Big mistake.  It reminded me of the folly of relying too much on online reviews.  The problem I had was the sluggishness.  It was MUCH more sluggish than the Lumix for both focusing and zooming, and it just tended to blow out the whites a lot.  (I tested it at a family wedding that weekend - a perfect opportunity for great snapshots.  I had to permanently set the exposure compensation to -0.7 EV just to get decent shots when outdoors.) 

This pre-visualized shot was taken by the Canon which I eventually returned.
5) What to try next?  Convinced that my values were very different from dpreview's, and because it had sweep panorama and other cool features that my bigger Sony cameras had, I sprung for the Sony HX7V (which is slightly more pocketable than the HX9V which gets all the attention).  Let me just say that while the image quality was great, the sluggishness for anything other than zooming and shooting was just abysmal.  Much worse than the Canon.  Switching between playback and shooting took 5-7 seconds.  Similar delays occurred when changing modes.  And I thought I'd be OK with that until one Halloween night when, again, I was shooting grandchildren and I missed every expression because I was waiting for the camera to do something.  My other motto is, "If a camera stresses you out, it's time to change cameras".  

The Sony HX7V's image quality was great - and Manual mode means I could handle tricky stage lighting easily.  This was taken at the Paul Simon concert (Paul's on the right).  I would have been thrown out of the venue if I had brought my A77 and 80-200 f/2.8 G lens.  The guy in the middle playing the Xaphoon is Paul's music director, Mark Stewart.  I hand-picked that Xaphoon for him.  Makes me proud to see it used this way! :-)

6) My latest camera is extremely responsive and has great image quality.  It's the Fujifilm Finepix F500 which I'm really quite happy with so far.  (Although to be fair it hasn't seen much use - I've been using my A77 and A65 for everything because I'm working feverishly on the book.)  If I still like it in a month I might return this camera too and get this camera's older brother, the Finepix F550 which offers RAW mode plus a few other features (but is not available from the big-box retailer with the generous return policy).

So this is how I've been spending my limited spare time. :-)   A part of me feels a little guilty - after all, am I not slightly abusing the retailer's generosity in order to try these cameras out?  The two answers to that question are 1) The retailer doesn't care - every returned camera gets returned to the supplier and it doesn't cost the retailer anything.  2) The retailer knows full well that this kind of policy, while it might cost some sales here or there in the short term, results in a significantly greater return in customer loyalty which will pay off with future purchases.  It's one of those small-investment-high-payoff kinds of policies.  It certainly has worked that way for me.

Evolution of the Seminars

I originally started the Friedman Archives High-Impact Photography Seminars because I got tired of seeing so much poor advice disseminated on the online discussion forums when a beginner would ask how to improve their photography.  “Start shooting in Aperture priority mode”, one person would opine.  “Learn Photoshop” blurted another.  “Examine the EXIF information of pictures you like online and see what they did!”  And the most ill-prescribed advice which I see all too often: “Shoot RAW!”

Lethbridge, Alberta
Well, that kind of advice may be well-meaning, but it's not useful to a beginner.  Never in my life have I seen a rank beginner switch to RAW (or shoot in Aperture Priority mode) and then suddenly start producing "Wow!" type images.  Clearly the secret to high-impact images must lie elsewhere.  And so I thought it was time to share the (seemingly) forgotten knowledge that all successful Kodachrome shooters knew back in the day – how to take pictures that make other people say “Wow!” with nothing more than a point-and-shoot.   

I guess I was a little surprised at the response to the seminars – people LOVED it.  (Even those who had been shooting for 30 years.  Even those who had attended many other photo seminars in the past.)  It must have been a combination of revealing forgotten truths and my usual level of enthusiasm for my subject matter.  I’ve had repeat attendees when the seminar returned to a city.  I’ve had people fly in from several states away (half a world away in one case) just to attend.  Whatever I was doing, it seemed to resonate with people, regardless of the level of experience they had.

Amsterdam
Then people started to ask for more.  “The seminars are wonderful, but there’s so much information to absorb… I wish we could have some time out in the field to reinforce what we’ve learned!”. 

A reasonable request, to be sure,  But it turns out to be a tall order – this means that every city we visit will require not one but two weekends (unless a three-day weekend was at hand, which are rare) and participants would have to be free for two consecutive weekends.  I’d have to assemble a reasonably interesting walking or driving itinerary of each city without really having the benefit of being there to know what I’m planning or whether the light will be good there for that time of day.  I had to make a “Plan B” for each city in case the weather turned bad.  And for practical purposes we had to limit the number of participants in these “field workshops” to 12 people to keep the herding manageable.  This meant considerably more work.  It’s worth it, though, when you consistently hear how much people enjoy it.  The field workshops fostered a bond between participants that apparently is unusual for such photographic events.  As one attendee wrote, “As great as the seminar is, your Field Workshop is the best part of the Friedman Archives Experience!”
Copenhagen

The seminars have been very good to me – they have brought me and my wife all over the world and allowed us to meet people with whom we would become very good friends.  Synergy occurred when I would also add to my stock photography archive on every trip.  Greatest of all is the satisfaction of knowing that there are many, many people who now have an intuitive understanding of what’s really important in photography, and the seminar has improved their images and their enjoyment of the craft forever.

Alas, I find myself with too much of a good thing.  In 2011 we conducted a total of 7 seminars in 10 months, and found ourselves traveling for 2 1/2 weeks out of every month for several consecutive months.  That's fine once in awhile, but we had too many too close together, and it has begun to take its toll.  Not enough time to write or spend time with family.  There was stress when there should have been joy.  A change is needed.

Pubnico, Nova Scotia
And so, we are making the painful decision of scaling back the ambitions of the Friedman Archives Seminars.  We’ll only be planning and promoting at most 4 seminars a year.  Priority will be given to to photo clubs who would like us to bring the seminars to their part of the world.  Photo clubs that have hosted the seminars in the past continue to ask us back, because of the unique way I approach the subject and the revitalization it brings to the club – even several months later.  People talk about new techniques.  Meetings see more attendance.  You get the idea.  Send me an email if you’re a member of such a photo club and would like to bring the seminar to you.

2012 will only see three seminars (Copenhagen, Durango Colorado, and London.)  (Maybe Los Angeles in the summer also if I get enough emails from people asking for it.)  And right now there are four slots available for 2013.  So let me hear from you! (Especially if you're in Australia or New Zealand. :-) )

As always, the current schedule (with links to register or register interest) can be found at FriedmanArchives.com/seminars .

A Parting Shot


Wireless flashes are just too much fun.  The image above used only two of them: one which the subject held in his right hand, and the other placed directly behind his head, creating the same halo around his head as I described last year for one of my signature shots.


===========
That's it for this month.  My next book is the A65 and A77 book which I hope will be finished by late January.  Send me an email (Gary at Friedman Archives dot com) if you'd like to be on the announcement list when it's ready. 
Until next time...
Yours Truly, Gary Friedman

31 comments:

  1. Point and shoot - interesting as I went through the same process and wound up with the Canon S95 mainly for its 'pocketability' - it's very small, will fit in a shirt pocket. Also, has great low light ability with a fast F2 aperture and a neat lens ring that you can choose the function.

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  2. Yes, the S95 (or the recently announced S100) would have been my next choice if the Fujifilm hadn't worked out. (Strange that Fujifilm hasn't changed their name by now...) -GF

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  3. Boy, it's amazing how important that responsiveness is when you have kids. I loved my DSC-S70 until I had kids, at which time it went from favorite to least favorite status due to the shutter delay.
    Thanks for the insights and keep us posted on the F500. Thanks.

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  4. Wow, now I see why Paul Simon kept his hat on at his recent concert in Durham. He looks much older when his gray hair shows! I have a similar picture but I was sitting much farther away. Was impressed with the quality of the zoom on my Sony DSC-W370. Several years old so I imagine the technology is greatly improved now. I particularly like its performance in low light conditions. Unsatisfactory when I need speed, though. Almost useless at sporting events. Fortunately, Paul Simon is old and moved slowly.

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  5. I would love to see a Los Angeles are seminar in 2012.

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  6. Notwithstanding all your arguments, I've stopped my search for a point & shoot now thati have my 8 megapixel iPhone 4S. I'm rarely without my A-900 anyway, but the iPhone fills the bill on the rare occasion. That said, I'm surprised you didn't just buy a NEX-5N or 7.

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  7. Hey, Gerry! Actually, I *did* order a NEX-7 just as soon as they were "available"! Just 2 problems:

    1) it's not here yet :-(
    2) While the NEX-7 is an ideal travel camera, it still doesn't meet my "pocketable" criteria.

    Still remembering you BBQ last summer quite fondly... -GF

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  8. Gary,

    Have you looked at the Canon G12? It's a great little camera. Pocketable in a jacket pocket. Feature rich (includes full manual), RAW, good picture quality, control dials on top like an old fashioned film camera.

    -Ned B.

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  9. I would love LA too!

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  10. The G12 was the first camera I considered! But I deemed it not pocketable enough.

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  11. I am looking at a P&S and from your review I thought the F550exr would be perfect. BUT, www.photographyblog.com says:

    "It's not all good news, however, as the 16 megapixel sensor also results in more noise and loss of fine detail than on the 12 megapixel F300, first appearing at the slow speed of ISO 200 and becoming all too obvious at ISO 400. The F550 EXR also suffers from the same slow RAW processing speeds and high price tag that adversely affected its predecessor.

    Just like its sister model, the HS20 EXR, the F550 EXR suffers from pedestrian writing speeds for RAW files and poorer image quality once you get above ISO 200. Having to wait more than 5 seconds between every RAW image quickly becomes annoying, despite the headline-grabbing 8fps burst mode, and noise quickly rears its ugly head at ISO 400, becoming progressively worse throughout the rest of the ISO range. The flash automatically popping up when you turn the camera on, rather than just when you've actually selected to use a flash mode, is also annoying, though like a partner's annoying habit it's a quirk that you gradually find yourself putting up with over time."

    This doesn't sound good to me.

    Have you experienced these issues?
    steve rose

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  12. Steve,

    Please refer to the part of the blog post that said "point-and-shoots are not for pixel peepers" and ask me that question again. :-)

    Wasn't aware of the slow write times for RAW (the model I have doesn't support that feature). Thanks for sharing that. -GF

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  13. I've been loving life with my a77 and FujiFilm X100 and lastly, iPhone 4S. It's a blissful 1,2,3 knockout combo that guarantees I'm gonna take an awesome picture wherever, whenever.

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  14. If your seminars are half as informative and entertaining as your books then I would fly half way across Australia to attend (probably have to as I live in Adelaide!) Cant wait for the A77 book - the A55 book defined my time with that camera!!

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  15. Hi Gary. I just went through exactly the same process as you and bought the Finepix EXR550 and am very happy with it. If I want to pixel peep I'll do it with photos taken with my new Sony A65 (brilliant and worth buying just for the EVF) :)

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  16. Let us know about your planned Australia seminars. I'll be there..... Brisbane would be a good location :-)

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  17. Need a seminar on the east coast

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  18. I would love another LA/OC class! Maybe more recorded seminars would be key for some people. Thank you for sharing your insights.

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  19. David from Sydney AustraliaDecember 6, 2011 at 6:05 AM

    As always very interesting blog. I live in Sydney australia. I wold be interested in attnding one of your seminars, if it was in Sydney. As David above (no relation) stated the a55 book is the only definative and practical guide for my a55. I have laminated your "quick set up" guides and they live in my camera bag. My wife has an old Panasionic TZ3. I am also looking to upgrade her. I have not decided on anything as yet, so I was interested in reading your comments above. Thank you:)

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  20. Hey Gary - loving the a77 also, although I haven't begun to unlock it power.
    RE: Point and shoot. It was of interest to me recently when Annie Leibovitz pulled out an iPhone 4S on the TODAY SHOW and extolled it virtues to Matt and took his picture. I know you are NOT an Apple fanboy like me, but this really makes sense since I always have my phone with me. I understand the WSJ gave the 4S high marks for photographers.
    Now if I could just convince my wife Debbie that I need to upgrade. :-)
    Martin - student of Nashville seminar.

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  21. Gary,
    While I love what you do I am troubled by your big box return strategy. It looks like six returns with no profit to the company. Even if the company isn't billed for the products they have employee time and shipping costs. No company can afford to operate that way on any scale. If we all tried before we buy to the extent you are describing you can be sure they would change their generous return policy. They have already shortened their electronics return policy due to customer abuse. I am worried about the killing the golden goose.

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    1. Are you kidding? Seriously?! "No profit to the company" - a company that is worth billions? Please! Maybe the zillionaire camera companies should start making cameras that work well, instead of the pieces of crap most of themn churn out.

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  22. Point and Shoot? I'm really happy with my Canon S90, bought used on EBay for $200. The later models are just tweaks.

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  23. Why not the Canon S100??? I am going for the A900, A77, NEX 7, and the canon S100 overall as my main cameras. I do agree the G12 is a great little camera it is not that small...

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  24. Is the S100 even available? If I thought it had started shipping I would have gone out of my way to handle one before making a decision. I know people love the S95...

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  25. To Anonymous who was rightly concerned about my abuse of the big-box retailer policy, I understand and agree with your concerns. (That's one reason I didn't mention the retailer by name.) You're probably also referencing Fry's electronics as the competitor who got rid of that policy due to abuse. Anyway, it's not a technique I employ regularly (so far this point-and-shoot experiment is the only time I've ever done it) and I do not plan on making a habit of it.

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  26. I drove almost 7 hours (one way!) for the seminar and would do it again in a heartbeat. Fantastic stuff and I'm the same as a few posters who have a Sony Alpha and use Gary's book (bible) to understand and make use of the features. I just tried something with the camera yesterday and the Sony manual gave a one sentence explanation, while Gary's book had a two page description, with photos, and examples - which I sued. Need I say more?

    If the store's return policy allows what you're doing - I'd do it. If it doesn't make business sense, they'll stop. Until then if it helps you spend your money wisely, what the heck!

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  27. I use a Sony DSC W350 and am very happy with it. The newer version is the DSC W570. There is an underwater case available for it. The W350 takes amazing photos. It has a Zeiss lens. Check out my blog for examples.

    Gary, Thank You, for writing your books. I have then and I use them. Also, thank you for your blog post on the Minolta Maxxum 7. I read your post and I bought 2 of them for film use with Sony/Minolta lenses. Also, samples on my blog.

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  28. P&S - i went throughnthe same thought process. i have a Fuji WPZ33 - I got a waterproof one after trashing my previous P&S on a water ride. Picture quality is reasonable, but the shutter lag is awful - so much so that my wife has never yet managed to take an unblurred pic with it.

    i finally went with a Lumix FS14 - specifically because it seesm to have one of the shortest shutter lags. Picture quality was surprisingly good too

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  29. Hello Gary ~
    So how did you end up liking the Fujifilm F500? I have a Lumix ZS8 that I liked well enough until I bought my Sony A33 (love your manual, by the way!). Now the ZS8 pix look fuzzy to me. My old Lumix FZ30 took much better pix.
    So did you keep the Fuji F500? I looked through your blogs for a possible update, but didn't find one. -
    thanks,
    Suzie in Austin, Texas

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    1. Hi, Suzie. Honest answer - I've hardly used it. Yeah, it's with me in my car usually; but since the NEX-7 arrived THAT's become my point-and-shoot (which may subside when the book on it comes out, but I doubt it.) The NEX-7 just produces superior results. Hard to go back.

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