Saturday, July 5, 2008

My digital eyes (Pt 2)

Hmm... this past week has been really nuts. It didn't really help with me loosing the entire previous article as well. So I thought I'd better skip the yarn and get straight to things...

To recap, I had been happily using my Lumix FX9 for almost 3 years, but was beginning to feel frustrated over the limted optical zoom (3x). So I made up a list of features I was looking for in my next camera. In short, we say in Hokkien as "ai parng-ghee, tuar-tay" - literally, I want it cheap and big (in value).

One of my biggest criteria was that I wanted a big zoom range, but didn't want to have to carry around multiple lenses. So that ruled out the SLRs and anything with less than 10x.

Had I tried to look for something like that a few years earlier, I'd have gone mad with the very limited choices!

Fortunately, this time around, there were at least a few more to choose from. They were, in no particular order:

Olympus SP-560UZ

When the 550 came out, I was actually very excited to go try it. A few shops had them and the price was RM1899 (USD 580) or thereabouts. The 10 minute impression was 'OK'. No 'oh wow' or anything magical. However, upon doing some more research, I started realising what was not right.

Pix Source:

What I liked:
  • A slightly bigger wide-angle lens (actually meaningless, if I think more about it) at 27mm
  • ISO starts from 50 and goes all the way to 6400 (although with reduced resolution)
  • Nice package with metalic accents -- looks handsome!

Show Stoppers (there are actually many, but I'll stick to the worse 3 for me):
  • Contrast detection autofocus - my Minolta S304 had that and it was sheer pain trying to shoot in low-light conditions. Have lost count how many party shots I'd gotten totally out of focus. This guy has the same problem as well.
  • AA batteries - RED ALERT RED ALERT! The Cantonese have this saying that goes something like "once you've seen a ghost, don't you think you'd be afraid of the dark from then on?" In theory, using an 'open' battery like AAs frees you up to by spares anywhere, any time, should you run low. In practice, if your propreitary battery is good enough (and they tend to be), why would you even need to 'buy spares'? If they say they wanted to support defacto standards, then why on earth still stay with xD memory??
Other reviews: DP Review; Trusted Review

Fujifilm FinePix S8000fd

When news started surfacing about a Fuji superzoom, I was hopeful that they would make one with its famed SuperCCD chip. That, I had hoped, would address the noise issues better than all those crappy 1/2.5" chips that Panasonic tended to like. Alas, they decided to build it around a conventional CCD instead. Fuji must not be very popular in Malaysia, as I really had a hard time finding them in shops. So no hands-on for me here!
Pix Source:

What I read that I liked:
  • Okay, I'll just admit it now. I'm a sucker for black bodies with metallic accents. And this, like the Olympus has it! Sigh... can't say the same for the Panny!
  • A sligtly larger LCD at 2.7" (vs 2.5" for the other 2)... but this comes with a price... the powe conconsumption! (see show stopper)
  • Good flash coverage... strong enough for most cases
Show stoppers (not so much show stoppers, but demotivators):
  • Not very popular in Malaysia... not heavily promoted as well.... hard to find! (so how to buy?)
  • Feels like a 'me-too' camera (I'm sure fuji was not trying to copy anyone!) with no killer feature to distinguish it from the crowd.
  • AA batteries -- that again! It would be something if the camera can really last on AAs (I'll be impressed), but if the buyer is expected to say "oh, they're AAs and the lifetime is terrible, I understand"... then the makers must be nuts!
More reviews: DP Review,

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ18

When my friend Trish asked me for my opinion about some cameras her sister was considering, I told her up front, that I'm a Lumix fan! So read below with a pinch of salt if you like.... but that still doesn't discount the fact that the FZ18 is still a great all-rounder with good value for money superzoom! Its got its fault (NOISE!) but I still love it.

** If you Panasonic web researchers somehow stumble on this blog.... please, tell your people, fix the noise, forget about the megapixel race!! **
Pix Source:

What I love still (have been using this for 8 months):
  • Great interface and usability -- really makes shooting fun. I have a lot fewer missed shots these days as the FZ18 is really fast. Having some dedicated buttons sprinkled around strategic places also help.
  • On-lens image stabilization, a.k.a Mega OIS. The other 2 use CCD-shift instead... somehow, i feel that comes out a bit short compared to this. I've gotten away with some silly shots (think: low, low light, no tripod or firm base) thanks to this.
  • Nice, crisp images throughout the zoom range with beautiful colours... in-camera purple fringing correction... jpegs come out (near) perfect!
  • 1cm macro -- go right up to the incect and say 'HELLO!!'
  • Electronic view finder is a godsent on sunny days. The resolution in this is also good enough that you can faithfully see the image without having to peep out and see things 'with your real eyes'... at least in most situations.
  • For RM 1550 (USD 470) with 4GB card and Raydawn UV filter... its quite a steal!
Things I didn't quite like:
  • Sigh, noise. Even at low ISOs. If your idea of enjoying photos is blowing them up to max resolution on your monitor, and examining it with inch by inch, then this is *not* the camera for you. Get an SLR (and a life, I think!)
  • Focusing in low light at the extreme long end of the zoom can occassionally get a bit tricky. Images also a bit soft as you approach max zoom.
  • Nobody seems to mention this, but the volume (even at max) during video playback is really very soft -- can only be heard in quiet rooms.
In short, the FZ18 for me is like a jack of all trades. You get a bit of everything... but doesn't really feel like there's too much of a compromise though. Add that to some features like 18x zoom and user interface that it has firmly mastered, you're left with a neat package with little to complain about! Heh :)

Other reviews: DP Review,

Next -- you're in for a treat. A couple of pals of mine have agreed to let me feature their pix taken on their Lumix TZ2 and TZ15! Stay tuned!

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