Magazine Article


Digicams Can, Part 5

Digicams Can, Part 5:

This in Not Your Father's Digicam

By Don Sutherland

December 2001

Are digicams developing quickly, or what? Look at it this way. This is Part 5 in a monthly series. And some camera features under discussion today were not on the market at the time of our Part 1. That's what you call quick.
The feature that didn't exist for Part 1 was the fully usable electronic viewfinder in digital still cameras. EVFs go back more than five months, of course, but reluctantly, I've had to issue caveats about limitations they impose. Their general graininess, combined with their unique and private interpretations of the colors and contrasts in a scene, should be enough to discourage some users. It's not what most people expect from still cameras. Those with video camcorder experience will find these conditions easier to accept.
But about those who take pictures in the dark?

This month, our author gives us another self-portrait that seems to mirror the digicam field itself. Very few people would have expected them to evolve into what they have so far, just as few would have expected the Digital Dude to evolve like this. However, there is a difference. The cameras' new features can be explained. The author's new features can't. Some say he looks like Richard Kylie, "Jaws" in those James Bond films. Others say he looks like Samuel L. Jackson, in any role the actor played with a full head of hair. Does he remind you of anyone special?

How dark is dark?
It might be safe to say that most of the picture-taking masses are not the low-light junkies I am, and would not undertake the extra steps a working photojournalist does for after-dark photography. But it's equally safe to say that most of the masses are likely to try taking pictures in restaurants, livingrooms, railroad stations and the like, where lighting's not quite bright as day. What does an EVF show 'em?
In normal room lighting, some of the EVFs I've used could show outlines and silhouettes of my photographic subjects. But details of their faces? Not easy to see. The on-camera flash delivers enough light to photograph folks' expressions. But just what they looked like, whether both eyes were open, say, is something you never noticed.
And if Joe Foto decides to go camping, and Jane wants to take some nocturnal snapshots, how's she supposed to know if Joe's in the frame at all? The flash might make a fine exposure, but the shot might include no more than Joe's earlobe. It's no easy trick, shooting without a viewfinder.
So while otherwise wonderful cameras from some of the majors — Canon, Fujifilm, Olympus, Sony — expanded the snapshooter's range with things like high-performance zoom lenses, they tooketh away again by blinding the camera after dark.
Some snapshooters simply won't care. If they live in Arizona and go to bed at eight, they might not have call for shooting in the dark.
But maybe some customers should be steered toward an optical-viewfinder camera. Better to find out on the front end, before the customer returns all huffing and puffing.
Can nothing be said in favor of the EVF? Well, it does suck-up less power than the fullsize monitor on most digicams. If customers take to using 'em for menu settings and in-camera picture review, they leave that much more battery juice intact. Then again, though an EVF needs but little juice, in normal shooting it's still more than any optical viewfinder requires.
The condition was not fatal five months ago, but it needed addressing. How fast do digicams develop? Five months later, the worst of the problem's getting solved.

Beyond human eyesight?
Minolta was the next to join the EVF bandwagon, saying something about a light-amplifying EVF, but couldn't most EVFs be turned-up already? Even Minolta seemed unsure of how much improvement to expect.
I found out the hard way. On a shoot that started at midnight. Five midnights in a row. In a ship's drydock. Where such lights as there were needed to point where the sandblasters blasted. Where a giant-size hull blocked my share of their light. Where the 40-foot walls of the drydock blocked any light from outside. Where there were hoses and ropes and beams and blocks and poles and holes all over the floor.
Whatta place to be stuck with an EVF.
So imagine my surprise, as I stumbled and lurched toward the bow, to see in the EVF a bunch of details that my own eye did not.

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