Digital cameras

I have been using digital cameras since they first came on the market, around 1998 or so, and have been through quite a few cameras in that time. Below I discuss some of the cameras I've owned and others that I'm considering buying at the moment.

Update: I've bought a Panasonic Lumix FZ20, which I talk about below. Pleased with it so far, will post more information shortly!

Olympus C2100 UZ (Ultra Zoom)

This is still my primary camera in September 2004, even though it came out in 2000 - it has lasted incredibly well in the rapidly changing world of digital cameras. It has been all round the world with me, including my safari trip to Botswana in 2002 (pictured on the left), where I took some amazing pictures with it.

It is "only" 2 megapixels, which is very low by today's standards, but in my view it's enough for most purposes. If you look around the web, people have differing views on how many megapixels you need to print at various sizes, but I have been very happy with prints I have made at 8" x 10", and even 11" x 14", from the images I've got from this camera. To my mind, the main advantage to having more megapixels is having greater flexibility to crop a picture and still be able to get good quality images. There are some downsides to higher resolution images too - including the (obvious) fact that they take up more space, both on your computer and in your camera, so you can get fewer pictures on a card. Before going on my safari trip in August 2002, I decided that I should really upgrade to something with a higher resolution, and I bought a 5MP Nikon 5700, but I found that I really preferred my Olympus so I returned it - check here for more discussion and examples from the two cameras. Having said all this, at the time of writing (September 5, 2004), I am seriously considering upgrading to a Panasonic Lumix FZ20, which I'll talk about more below.

The key feature of this camera which has distinguished it from others on the market is its long zoom lens (equivalent to 38-380mm on a 35mm camera), combined with optical image stabilization. There have been a number of other cameras with similar long zooms, including several from Olympus, but none (until recently) with image stabilization. This feature significantly reduces camera shake, which makes it much more feasible to take hand held shoots using a long zoom, in low light conditions, or both.

You can find detailed reviews at various places on the web including Digital Photography Review, Digital Camera Resource, and Imaging Resource. There are still a lot of users who are very passionate about this camera!

I use the multi-shot mode on the camera a lot, which enables you to take a number of pictures in quick succession (at about two frames per second). This is great not just for action and wildlife photography, but for taking pictures of people too. I will usually take several pictures using the multi-shot mode whenever I'm taking portraits, to avoid shots of people with their eyes closed, etc!

In addition to the obvious attractions of the long zoom lens, I also really like its ability to take good shots in low light. You can manually set the "film speed" to ISO400 to get better results in low light (there's an "Auto" mode which I thought should do this automatically but it doesn't appear to).

Panasonic Lumix FZ20

After looking for a successor to my Olympus C-2100 UZ for a long time, I am seriously considering buying a Panasonic Lumix FZ20, which appears to have key features of the UZ with some significant improvements in various areas. It has a phenomenal 12x zoom, which is the equivalent of 36mm to 432mm, with the crucial optical image stabilization which you really need with a long zoom like that. It has a burst mode which lets you take 3 photos a second, for up to 7 pictures, as well as an unlimited consecutive shooting mode which lets you shoot until the memory card is full - the speed for this isn't specified, apparently it varies depending on the memory card and various other factors. It's also 5MP rather than 2, so a big jump there.

One of the main alternatives to my current Olympus or to the Lumix is the latest digital SLR cameras like the Canon EOS 300D or the Nikon D70. While these cameras have great capabilities, they are significantly larger than the Olympus and the Lumix, and to get an equivalent zoom you need to buy additional (expensive) lenses, which in general will not give you nearly such a wide range of focal lengths, so you probably need to carry more than one lens. So you end up with much bulkier and heavier gear to carry round. One other useful function that is not available on true "through the lens" SLRs like these is that you can't use the large screen on the back of the camera as a viewfinder (because they use a mirror like a traditional SLR, which means you can only preview the image in the small viewfinder). While this isn't a showstopper, I do find this capability very useful, for example when taking pictures over the heads of a crowd, or when you want to take candid pictures without it being obvious that you're doing so.

The other more direct competitor to the FZ20 is the Konica Minolta Dimage Z3, which is 4MP with a zoom of 35-420mm equivalent. It's a tough choice between these two. The Lumix has a faster lens, f2.8 throughout the zoom range, which is excellent for low light. In contrast the Konica is f2.8-f4.5. However, the Konica has better video capabilities - it can take 640x480 pixel movies (versus 320x240) and can zoom while taking video, and supposedly has an extra quite zoom. The Konica also has a really interesting "progressive capture" capability in burst mode, where you just keep your finger on the shutter button taking pictures until you're satisfied, and when you let it go, the last several images in your sequence are saved to the memory card. This could be very useful for action photos - like sports. The Konica also uses AA batteries rather than proprietary ones, which I also like.

So anyway, watch this space, but I think that there's a good chance I may be getting either an FZ20 or a Z3 sometime soon!

Olympus 3030Z with underwater case

One of the other cameras which I still use is the Olympus 3030Z, another relatively old camera which is 3MP with a 3x zoom lens. The main reason I use it these days is when I need to do underwater photography, as I have an underwater case for it. This is a fairly simple setup as far as underwater photography goes - this is yet another of those hobbies where the gadgets can get out of control very quickly! But I've been very pleased with the quality of the pictures I've got on my two scuba diving trips to Grand Cayman and Cozumel, and I also took some good pictures with it when we went on a very wet speedboat ride below Iguassu Falls.

2000-2008 Peter Batty | Home | Contact