Musings on Photography

Pocketable Cameras

Posted in Canon Powershot G9, equipment by Paul Butzi on December 2, 2007

Way back when I bought the Canon EOS-5d, I bought it as a ‘scouting’ camera – what I wanted was a small, lightweight camera that I could carry around to various locations and make ‘visual notes’, so that I could be more productive with the big, heavy Linhof Technikardan 45s. But I bought the EOS-5d, and when I discovered what a great camera it is, and how good the results were, it transmogrified into my ‘main’ camera, and the 4×5 kit got ignominiously stuffed into the storage space under the studio stairs.

A similar thing seems to have happened with the little PowerShot G9. My relationship with this new camera arrival has been interesting to me – it was purchased, really, as a ‘vacation’ camera to take along on my trip to China. It served in that capacity very nicely. Based on my previous experience with cameras like this, I didn’t really expect it to ever get used for anything but a vacation camera, for tourist snaps.

But the big surprise is that I’ve found that the image quality is good enough that it’s turned into a ‘carry around in the coat pocket’ camera – one that I grab when I’m heading into town, or out on some errand. When I go for a walk, the little G9 gets tucked into the pocket and goes along. Sure, it could be a bit smaller. Sure, the photos could be less noisy. And it could weigh less, too – it weighs enough that I notice that it’s in my pocket.

But I’ve bought myriad little digital cameras specifically to fill the camera niche that the G9 is now filling – an Olympus C2000Z, way back when digital cameras were somewhat exotic. The C2000Z didn’t have very good image quality and I felt it was too bulky, and so was followed by a Minolta DImage X, a featherweight little camera that was incredibly small, incredibly light, but had the most flare prone optics ever assembled by man and had batteries that had to be charged every couple of exposures. And in turn, the inadequate Minolta was replaced by a barely remembered series of Canon Powershot A-series cameras, which were tantalizingly close to what I wanted but not quite there. And all the while, I kept remembering my beloved Contax T3 – a compact something more than point and shoot 35mm camera with a stellar lens, small enough to fit in pockets and light enough to take everywhere. Only the prospect of processing and scanning a continuous stream of TMY kept me from pressing the T3 back into service.

Rather to my surprise, the G9 seems to at last fit the bill. I wasn’t expecting it to – it’s not really smaller or lighter than the PowerShot A95 I have here on the work table. It’s not really all that light, truth be told. I’m not really sure what it is about the G9 that means it gets taken along so often, when the previous contenders didn’t. But in some difficult to understand and difficult to articulate way, it seems to have hit that sweet spot.

It might be that, for once, it’s a pocketable digital camera with controls that actually make sense – adjusting the aperture when in aperture priority mode, for instance, is done with a little control wheel on the back, just like with a ‘real’ camera. Press a button, and the same control wheel turns into the exposure compensation control. The autofocus system is not horribly bad, and now that I’ve got the two custom setting modes set to useful setups, I find that the camera is quickly turning into one of those “I don’t think about camera controls” cameras that seem to adjust themselves while you’re thinking.

There are flaws, yes. The viewfinder framing bears little resemblance to what the actual framing will be. The images are noisier than I’d like, and at high iso settings, Noise Ninja seems to turn the images into some sort of surreal plastic reminder of what the scene would have looked like if you’d been overdosed on recreational pharmaceuticals. The metering system seems to continually taunt me by picking an exposure that blows out highlights. But the thing records in raw mode, and the image stabilization seems to actually work. And that means that a lot of photographs are getting made that wouldn’t have gotten made before I bought the thing. Lots of photographic ideas are getting explored that until the arrival of the G9 got mental filed in the ‘Some day I should think some more about that’ part of my brain and thus lost forever.

And it turns out, it’s hard to argue with that. I’m left hoping that the G9 will continue to get put in the pocket when I head out the door, at least long enough to hold me over until its replacement appears on the market.

And if Canon are listening, I offer the following: More cameras like this one, please. A little smaller wouldn’t hurt. A little lighter would be nice. A little less image noise would make me happy. A move to the 2:3 aspect ratio would not break my heart. But on the whole, you seem to have hit it just about right, and you’d do well to keep moving in the same direction.

One Response

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  1. Jared Guess said, on December 3, 2007 at 4:12 pm

    While cruising around on the internet reading about topics like this; small, portable cameras, their popularity, digital photography’s respectability, I came across this article, I’m curious to what you think about it.

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