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The Perfect Digital Camera (for me, anyway)

Wednesday 13 August 2008

Being away from reality for a while allows one to think of more esoteric things. Last week I returned from 10 days of backpacking with Kerry Little in Lake Superior Provincial Park. We talked about all things photographic and one topic we really hit on was “what would make the perfect digital camera?” Obviously, each person would have a slightly different set of features, but it got us thinking about what features might be beneficial for different styles of photography.

So, what am I looking for in a digital camera? Originally, I thought about DSLRs exclusively, but decided to broaden my thinking to consider ditching the viewfinder in favour of a larger LCD. No viewfinder, you say? Read on…

is this the perfect digital camera?

Is this the perfect digital camera?

I shoot primarily nature and outdoor landscapes, still lifes, studies, etc. and have used everything from 35mm to 6×7 to 4×5 and now DSLR almost always mounted on a tripod. I would love to work full time using 4×5 due to the supreme quality for enlargements and the ritual associated with 4×5 that just doesn’t exist with other SLR oformat. However, 4×5 is awkward and not as spontaneous to use as an SLR. As well, with the high cost of sheet film and processing, I don’t find myself experimenting as much as I do when using an SLR. For me, I want to combine the beauty and technique of shooting in 4×5 with the spontaneity of an SLR. So here is my feature list:

  • 4800 x 6000 pixel sensor: That’s 28.8 megapixels, large enough for a 16×20 at 300ppi
  • 3″ x 4″ articulated LCD: 4.5 x6″ would be even better! – large enough to compose with. As I mentioned earlier, I work primarily on a tripod, so a viewfinder is not critical, especially if the camera is lighter and more portable without one
  • 4/3s sensor: What?! Not full frame 35mm?!? Sorry, wrong proportion and too large Not 645? Also too large. I want something I can backpack without and my body is not getting any younger. Besides, with the great advances in technology, this should be possible in 4 or 5 years. Besides, with a 4/3s sensor, I could use the amazingly sharp Olympus Digital Zuiko lenses!
  • Excellent image quality from ISO 50 to 400 only: I don’t want high ISOs – I need slow shutter speeds when working with moving water, shutter speeds that can only be attained at ISO 50 and 100. I could use higher ISOs with ND filters, but why would I want to introduce more glass than necessary?ISO 400 would be very helpful in a dark forest to reduce shutter speeds when a slight breeze comes through.
  • Batteries that last forever: If there is one thing I learned about being away from electricity for 10 days, the batteries had better be good. A “jury-rigged” solar charger saved me this time (thanks Kerry!), but I’d rather have better battery life.
  • Horizontal and Vertical Controls, Tripod Sockets and Levels: I find the lack of vertical orientation of anything on cameras frustrating to say the least. I am convinced that photographers would shoot more verticals if cameras were built for both orientations. Thus, having controls, tripod sockets and levels would make shooting seamless between horizontal and vertical. Having the levels would assist with making panoramics through stitching.
  • Very fast write speed to allow images to be reviewed quickly. The burst speed is irrelevant in this case; even 1 frame per second would be plenty!
  • RAW image histogram: Jpeg histograms are useless at his level, I need to see what’s been captured in RAW

How about you? I’m asking those who shoot like I do – on a tripod, grand landscapes, small-scale landscapes and natural still-lifes. Do you have anything to add to this list?

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