Friday, July 25, 2008

Getting The "G"

The Lineup: Apple iPhone 4GB, Canon 350D (XTi), Mamiya 645-1000s, Yashica T4, Canon F-1n, Canon EOS-1N, Nikonos V, Nikon LiteTouch, Nikon Coolpix 4300, Polaroid iZone and Nikon Coolpix 775 (crushed).

I've been shooting images since the seventh grade. For many years, I fancied myself as a wartime photojournalist traveling to far-off and exotic lands to see the world and take pictures of other people killing themselves. I wanted to be where the action was. Mortar fire, rocket propelled grenades and the sweet sound of AK-47 fire was, I figured, my calling.

Instead, I ended up shooting traffic accidents (with some carnage) and rock concerts for the local daily, or posed photos for national periodicals - not quite the rock and roll from heavy gunfire I was envisioning in my youth. When the HBO film Live from Baghdad came out, I wasn't aghast that they were caught by surprise at the onset of Desert Storm. I watched with envious eyes, wishing that I could have been one of those cameramen catching the most amazing footage of the twentieth century. Of course, my reality could well have been me hiding under the bathroom sink, crying out for mommy...

So why this sudden left turn about photography? Well, I've been getting complaints from friends around the world about the quality of photos on this blog, specifically the iPhone photos. "Why do you keep using that crappy iPhone camera?" Yes, I know the photos aren't the best possible, but I use it only when I don't have an alternative handy.

But all of that is about to change.

After years of being a film stalwart, I started making the slow switch to digital in 2001 with my Nikon Coolpix 775. It was a small and handy camera that fit comfortably (if bulkily) in my pocket. It was run over by a car in April 2002. From there, I moved to the Nikon Coolpix 4300. During the summer of 2004, I went whole hog and purchased the Canon 350D and started building a kit of lenses and accessories to match that of my old Canon F1 kit from my shooting days.

For a couple of years, the combination of the Nikon 4300 and Canon 350D sufficed, but the 4300 was getting a bit long in the tooth, so I went out and bought a refurbished Nikon S1 in the summer of 2006. The S1 was a decent camera but took a long time to lock focus and was just a slow camera to shoot with in lower light. Four months later, just after the warranty had expired, so did the electronics. After sending it back to Nikon and getting an estimate on the repair, I decided to abandon that camera (it was almost the same amount I had paid).

In April of 2007, during a visit to Los Angeles, I found a great deal on a Nikon Coolpix S200. I bought it. But the S200 was like the S1: slow in low light, slow in daylight, slow to shoot, slow to write, and with a reddish hue. It turned out to be one of the most frustrating cameras I've ever had to endure. I barely use it and now don't even know where I've placed it. It's that important.

I've spent a lot of time traveling these past eighteen months and the one thing that keeps growing on me is my hand-carry luggage. It's an old Tenba photographers computer case that I've been using for over ten years now. Ten years ago, it was just right and I don't remember it being a burden. Lately, it's grown into a beast that holds my iBook, 350D, video camera, books, accessories and all sorts of other stuff that I've been on a campaign to lighten my load and lose the bulk.

While I enjoy taking pictures, I don't enjoy the bulk of a small SLR, like the 350D. And while the S200 was perfect for the pocket, it infuriated me with everything else. There has to be a compromise somewhere, and before I leave on my next trip in August, I'm determined to find it.

Enter the Canon G9.

Touted as an excellent replacement its' predecessor, the G7, this camera seems to have it all: fully manual control, 12 megapixels, wide lens range and stunning picture quality that's not quite pocketable (unless you have big pockets), but small and compact enough to make it more enjoyable to tote around than the 350D.

The problem is that my local camera store is out of stock and it doesn't seem like they're going to get any more since its' successor, the G10, is going to be announced very soon. Well, as cool as that may be, I don't have the time to wait until the fall to buy a camera for an August trip. Something else has gotta work.

My trusty guy down at the camera store said I should check out Nikon's P5100. Like the Canon, it has a manual mode (though not as much manual controls on the body), a hot shoe for external flash, and good resolution in a compact body. Unlike the Canon, it doesn't shoot in RAW mode and is about $150 less. Hmm, that could be a good alternative.

I sat around for a day or two pondering my choices. I could go to Best Buy and buy the G9, but I'd pay full-tilt ($500) and support big box stores (not too keen on either). B&H in New York was also out of stock. Then a friend told me about Circuit City's online deal: $499 for the camera, $50 online rebate, additional 10% off online coupon and in-store pickup. That would bring the total price of the G9 with tax to $430, plus an additional 10% off coupon for in-store purchases. Tempting.

My favorite camera website: has a buying guide feature where you can compare side-by-side any two (or more) cameras that you desire. I lined up the P5100 against the G9, read their individual reviews and came up with only one choice.'s in-depth reviews are fantastic reference points when considering a digital camera. They've developed a standardized format that looks at everything, including photo results and the differences between the P5100 and G9 led me to only one choice. Now honestly, both cameras are great performers and for my purposes I bet I wouldn't be able to tell the difference between the two since it's mainly for general shooting for personal use and for this blog. But, one's greater sharpness and image quality would allow me to use it for print work in a pinch, that's important in case something happens to the 350D.

Enter the G9.

So I ran out and picked up the G9 from Circuit City for an incredible price and found the SanDisk Extreme II 4GB SDHC card on sale for $29.99 (usually $49.99) and bought two using the 10% off coupon. Whatta bargain!

While reading the reviews, I also realized that I was ready and willing to spend the money for the best camera I could find in that category. That camera was the G9. I thought about getting the P5100 and waiting until the release of the G10, but that would be a compromise. I didn't want to compromise. I wanted the best and had to be honest with myself and acknowledge that I wouldn't be happy unless I had the best. I bought the G9.

It'll take a little while for me to get out there and really work the G9 through it's paces, but hopefully you'll see more and more of it on these pages. Ciao!

Oh, and for those of you thinking about the G10. It should be in stores by the fall.