(This is the first of three articles looking at whether there’s any real benefit in replacing that old 4 or 5 megapixel compact camera from yesterday with one of today’s many ultra-modern high megapixel cameras. Part two looks in detail at the practical differences between the two generations of camera. Part three will be published later this week.)
If you’re anything like me, a couple of years ago you went out and bought a digital compact camera for those days when you didn’t have your digital SLR with you. Time, technology (and probably your digital SLR) has moved on, but your compact camera probably hasn’t – yet.
Unlike digital SLRs, where more megapixels does mean a much improved image, the megapixel arms race between compact camera manufacturers has often served to produce inferior images. Because of the very compactness that allows you to slip such a camera into your pocket, more megapixels fighting over such a small amount of light making it through the lens has translated into more problems with noise and fringing.
But there’s more to taking a photo you can enjoy again and again than such a simple measure of quality. First of all, you need to have the opportunity to take the photo at all. That translates to issues such as battery life, screen quality, low light handling, macro lenses, and lens focal length ranges. Then, you have to enjoy using the camera. You have to want to use it to take shots. The camera has to feel good in the hand, it has to have controls that are easy to reach and operate, it has to allow you to see the shot the way you see it in your head, and it can’t afford to get in your way.
Only after does image quality really enter the equation. How well are the colours captured? Are the images always in focus? What happens when the scene has both bright and dark areas? Does the detail in the distance disappear? Do you look at the image, and regret what the camera didn’t capture? Has the camera earned your trust or not?
A better camera doesn’t make any of us a better photographer, but it can make photography more enjoyable and (in the digital world) help us capture images that stand up better to technical scrutiny. But if, like me, you already have a perfectly adequate, if older, compact digital camera, is there any point at all in replacing it with a later model?
That’s the question I wanted to answer for myself.
To do so, I took both my venerable Canon Digital IXUS 400 and my brand-spanking new Panasonic DMC-FX33 out to the National Botanical Gardens of Wales for a day. Shooting both indoors and out, I put both cameras head to head not just to compare final images, but to get a feel for what I enjoyed about each of these cameras and why.
Find out how I got on in part two …