Camera Conundrum

In 2004 I bought my first digital camera, a Konica Minolta Dimage Z3. I remember it costing me over £300 when new but I got much enjoyment out of it, along with a few memorable snaps. Something has to be said about taking the time to choose such a product with care, doing the necessary research; it can make you value something more. I still have that camera but the main thing that lets it down is that it produces pictures at only 4MP. This is fine for 4×6 prints, and occasionally larger ones if cropping isn’t required, but it doesn’t leave much headroom for quality editing.

One way around this, which works well for some situations, is to take a number of panoramic stills and then stitch them together later. Microsoft have a free tool for this called Image Composer Editor. The following two pictures were taken with the Dimage Z3 back in 2011/12 as panoramas, resulting in 8MP images instead of only 4MP, and enough headroom for me to edit them with the nice sepia effects and get them developed as large-ish prints.

Then along comes 2012 and a client gives me a Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX180. At 14MP the pictures it produces are far higher resolution than my Dimage Z3, that and due to its smaller size I ended up using that instead, most of the time.

Megapixels aren’t everything though and there is something lacking with the Lumix that I’ve never quite managed to put my finger on. I’ve tried comparing the specs further and the only thing I can come up with is something to do with sensor size, or sensor quality, with the Dimage having a larger sensor. But still, pixels per sensor area size are similar, so maybe it’s not that per-se.

I’ve produced some nice shots with the Lumix but with that thing that isn’t quite right with it for me, along with some lens smudges appearing on any picture with blue sky in has lead me, in the past, to look for another camera.

My searching failed me though; I did find one camera, a second hand one, I did quite like but the price wasn’t quite right at the time and I gave up procrastinating and settled with what I already had. Sadly the Dimage is next to worthless now and the Lumix fairs little better, so it’s not like I can sell them and put any significant earnings into a replacement.

Even with a replacement I have renewed use of the Lumix in the form of my Model Railway videos since it can record video at 720p; I’ve used it for capturing the running by of a model train, and for mounting over my workbench to document my progress [link].

Batteries for each camera also set them apart with the Dimage Z3 requiring 4 x AA rechargeables (plus a spare set to rotate in when they run flat), compared with the pair of more compact, and lighter, batteries I have for the Lumix. On my 2-and-a-half-week Scotland trip a few years ago I opted for the Lumix to travel with me for lightness and I just about made the batteries last me, negating the need to take a charger, but more on this in a moment.

I always thought the Lumix’s batteries would being its downfall at some point (one selling point of the Dimage Z3 in my mind was its use of AA batteries), but those batteries with the Lumix really have held out well.

And batteries are which lead me on to my third camera, the one that I use for recording video of my cycling trips. The pair of batteries I have for this Action Camera last little over 50 minutes each, they’re also a hassle to swap round when the camera is mounted, that and the date and time settings are lost each time (the Dimage Z3 also has this issue if I’m not quick enough), and this is why I purchased a separate 10,000mAh battery pack shortly after buying the camera. I’ve had that battery for less than 10 months and with regular use it is now letting me down by failing to hold charge and then perhaps working for only a few hours compared to the ~10 hours when it was new. This is a pity and I’m wondering if I can justify buying another.

You’d hardly believe that of the times when my battery has let me down that’s when I experience the “best stuff” (I do my best to ensure it is charged and ready for any trip, but I have also tried to avoid routinely topping it up, since this can shorten the lifespan of a battery). Just today was one of those day, with no batteries available I happened upon a vehicle accident that had occurred shortly before my arrival. There have been a few close calls for myself too where motorists have come too close, all missed opportunities for my camera.

Also to make use of this camera more practical I’ve been looking at a better way to mount the battery pack to my bike’s handlebars, since I’ve been making do with a bum-bag (fanny-pack to you weird American) strapped round, which takes time to unstrap and restrap if I need to take it off anywhere to avoid it being pinched. Now that the battery pack needs replacing if I want to continue with my BGB Videos, I’ll have to consider more carefully one based on mounting options.

The Camera Conundrum is now what to do about my upcoming cycling trip?

Would I even take my action camera? Even with a replacement battery it’s going to need charging back up at some point.

I need to travel as light as possible and this is why I only took my Lumix “point-and-shoot” round Scotland (I didn’t have my action camera back then).

I actually have another camera I thought about taking with me, but when the time came for packing my panniers (and then feeling the weight of them), I considered one camera was enough. This other camera is one I inherited, an old Boots Beirette B.L. 35mm. When I was given this a few years ago I got hold of a couple of black and white films and proceeded to take a few shots with the first, but alas it’s still in the camera awaiting completion and developing to see what the results are.

Anyway, back to the digital cameras and at 350g all in the Lumix weighs half that of my Dimage Z3. But I wasn’t all that thrilled with the photos I’d taken – I have a few memorable shots but in addition to not using the right camera, I didn’t have my photographer’s eye with me. I’m not all that sure I still have it. The right tools for the job do really help. Being pressured into conserving battery life also hampers one’s freedom; taking nice photos takes time and patience I find – framing the shot, choosing the right settings/shutter speed/F-stops and all that.

Whist preparing this post I discovered the battery flap on my Dimage Z3 has some damage and isn’t latching shut on all catches; I’m concerned this might let me down at the worst possible time. Perhaps I’d damaged it just now because I discovered I could upgrade the camera’s firmware to up the storage capabilities from 1GB to 2GB, which involved taking the batteries out and putting them back in; really 1 or 2GB is plenty with 4MP shots.

So with the Dimage Z3 sustaining some damage and the Lumix not being my tool of choice, plus having splodgy splodges, maybe I need to renew my search for a replacement camera. The problem is that the ones I was looking at, and would still consider, weigh in at more than the Dimage, and once out on the road I’m pretty sure I would kick myself, if my legs had a moment free to do so.

7 comments

  1. I guess what you have to weigh up (literally as well as metaphorically) is how much you want quality photos on the one hand, and what sort of weight you can manage on those interminable hills. If you knacker your knees, will a perfect set of pictures be worth it? I’m afraid my solution would be, just take a camera phone. They weigh very little, you can get portable chargers to go with them (maybe even solar chargers these days) and as well as a camera you’d have GPS and a means of communication

    • Those are some good points – a camera phone is a consideration I hadn’t considered. Probably my least ideal type of camera but now top of my list as far as lightweightness and compactness are concerned.

  2. I had, well I’ve still got an HP Photosmart 945 which they gave me at work when I’d been there 10 years so must’ve got it in 2004. It took really good photos but it was so heavy to lug around that I got a small Samsung which is 13 mp but has never taken such good photos. So for a long time I’ve wanted to get a DSLR but worry they’ll be too heavy so have been considering mirrorless. But I think what I liked about the Photosmart was the old fashioned viewfinder that you put up to your eye.

    • Our experiences have been similar. My Dimage Z3 has a viewfinder, whereas the Lumix doesn’t but has a larger screen that works well in sunny conditions. I think a viewfinder helps you better line up a shot and also steady the camera for crisper pictures since it’s held in close; perhaps this is why I feel my shots with the lower resolution Dimage were always better.

      • Yes, I agree. I’m not sure if a mirrorless camera would be too small. There is a camera shop not too far away from me so I’m planning to go down there to try some out – they also sell secondhand so may be able to pick something up at a good price.

  3. I think the answer is use your phone.

    Really. If your phone doesn’t take decent enough photos – then time to upgrade.

    Unless you’re really a connoisseur and have to frame your photos in exquisite posture, any top end phone’s camera will do quite well. And, you know, all the benefits from just carrying a phone.

    • Yeah, really my phone is only good for phoning. And I do like framing my shots carefully, although “connoisseur” is going a bit far!

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