Papa Got Some New Glass

Post by blogger | November 22, 2009      

For most of my photography, I’m happy with a good quality point&shoot with custom settings I can tweak, such as the amazing Canon A720. But sometimes limited zoom range and the lack of easily installed filters causes frustration. So I picked up a Canon SX20 “super zoom” for something closer to a full-on SLR, but more compact, with a built-in zoom, filter holder, and filters such as polarizer and clear lens protector.

Corona Arch

Corona Arch off Potash Road, Moab area, Utah, today. Please click image to enlarge.

The SX20 saves weight and bulk by using an electronic viewfinder instead of a prism. It’s hard to get used to that as you’ve got to check at colors and shadows without looking through the camera, as the electronic view is fairly whacked, though it does show pretty much your exact composition. But perhaps the biggest disadvantage to electronic viewfinder is its near uselessness for checking focus. Any SLR user would find that hard to get used to. For me, coming from thousands of point&shoot photos, not having visual focus is no big deal, as I’ve learned to visualize it from knowing the camera settings.

(Note, SX20 has a nice foldout LCD, but this suffers from the usual lack of legibility in bright light.)

Aside from its amazing lack of bulk for what you get, the other crown of the SX20 is a “super zoom” lens that racks from 28 mm to 550 mm (35mm equivalent). This allows nice wide-angle creativity, but gets you out in the fancy zone with long lens effects such as selective focus and background compression. More, electronic image stabilization lets you use the lens long, handheld, at lower ISOs and shutter speeds so you get that “film” like quality.

I’m not sure this is the camera for much ski photography, as the control dial is so sensitive it’s difficult to operate with gloves (I even have trouble with bare hands in warm temps). But I’ll give it a go this winter, and meanwhile the unit seems quite nice for everything else.

Like I said, this probably isn’t a great rig for backcountry skiing photography if you optimize your settings much (due to the difficulty of the control dial), but it’s worth looking at for just about anything else. Used on automatic, however, it would work as good as any other point and shoot, and perhaps better because of the zoom. So for the curious or any holiday camera shoppers, buy link provided above.


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10 Responses to “Papa Got Some New Glass”

  1. Paul Beiser November 22nd, 2009 8:19 pm

    Lou, as much as you like photography and as much as you and your desparadoes get out, you outta think of a DSLR like the Oly’s (small, interchangebale lenses, and FAST FAST Autofocus), Of look at the new micro 4/3s Panasonic
    :cheerful: :cheerful:

  2. Mark W November 22nd, 2009 10:45 pm

    The electronic viewfinders sorta freak me out. Can’t get used to ’em. I like my Canon G9, but would like to add a wide-angle converter.

  3. dongshow November 22nd, 2009 9:59 pm

    Lou, with your Cannon point and shoot you have to install CHDK. It’s honestly changed my life, cameras I can afford to destroy are now incredible fun. When you see what the new OS can do on your camera you wonder why they don’t sell it like that stock.

  4. Lou November 23rd, 2009 7:41 am

    Dongshow, I was using that before you were born (grin). See previous posts about Canon cameras. But last time I looked a firmware hack had not been ported to the new rig. Thanks for the reminder, I’ll look again. It’s indeed the ticket and if it tweaks the controls at all might make the SX20is better for working with gloves, otherwise at least it will allow shooting in RAW, which with the newer Canon A and S series is critical, as they got rid of the Jpeg quality settings (you used to be able to set quality to “fine” and end up with nearly the same thing as a RAW.

  5. ScottP November 23rd, 2009 10:00 am

    Funny, I just switched to a DSLR from an EVF. When I went digital I went to an EVF because the size and weight of my film rig was prohibitive and I was hoping to enjoy carrying less around, but I could just never get used to the EVF. Like you said, manual focus is impossible, and using manual settings in general is just less satisfying. In the end I ended up getting a Nikon D60 and the 18-70mm 3.5-4.5 lens (the D70 kit lens; hard to find these days but was worth the search for the f/4.5 max aperture at 70mm and the external focus scale) and it’s not much heavier or bigger than the EVF and the difference in usability is humongous. It’s so nice to once again be able to tell my camera what to rather than vice-versa. You should really look into the latest crop of DSLRs; they get smaller and less expensive all the time while the functionality keeps going up.

  6. PamolaPat November 23rd, 2009 11:30 am

    Thanks for the info, Lou. Can you tell us anything about shooting action shots with rapid fire mode? What is the maximum frame rate like, and more importantly, does the electronic viewfinder update quickly enough to track a skier while shooting in rapid fire mode? I have found that in cameras with EVF and no optical VF, it is hard to track moving targets because EVF doesn’t update quickly enough after each shot, or not at all between shots. With my current optical VF P&S Canon I’ve had great success “holding down the button” and getting rapid fire pictures. Thanks!

  7. Lou November 23rd, 2009 3:55 pm

    Max frame rate is more than 1 a second, but definitely not an AK on full auto. Frankly, you can’t really consistently use the machine gun method of getting action ski shots unless you have frame rates approaching those of prosumer or pro SLRs. Better technique is to play around with the point-and-shoot till you figure out the way it’ll make the fastest transition between shots. Sometimes that means putting it in continuous mode but still shooting one shot at a time while holding trigger part way down. Other times tweaking the image size and stuff like that makes a difference.

    Once you’ve got the speed trigger figured out, then you learn to time your shots for those best moments as the guy is coming down the hill. Not as good as shooting movie frame fast so you capture everything and edit late, but does result in good shots.

    In terms of the EVF blacking out each shot, yes it does, but for a very short time so you can get used to it. One trick is to be using both eyes, so when the EVF blanks out you get in the habit of just opening the other eye to key in on how far the skier has moved, so you can track with the camera. Another technique is to simply shoot a bit looser, since with these huge file sizes you can crop tighter in post shoot processing, usually with pixels to spare.

    Now don’t get me wrong, I still think the smaller prosumer SLRs are a cool solution (I’ve owned two digital Rebels), but the idea of one smaller camera with one attached wide range lens is very appealing fror my year-around photo work such as product shots, summer outdoor stuff, photo jobs for websites I do, and stuff like that. And as the ultimate ski action tool, nope, it’s not.

    Oh, and let’s not forget that this camera DOES use AA batteries without any add-on battery packs or mods. That’s huge for backcountry use away from charging voltage, and is one reason I’ve been such a fan of the Canon A-series cameras from the start (though recent ones now lack the optical viewfinder that made models such as A720 almost too good to be true.)

    One other thing. I’m pretty amused by guys going out and buying thousands of dollars worth of electronics and glass when nearly every shot I see from them could easily have been done with a good point-and-shoot. On that one, if the shoe fits wear it, and go take a photography class!

  8. nintendo dsi r4 December 6th, 2009 11:34 pm

    I bought Canon 40 D. This is a good camera for the price. It is simple to use and takes clear, crisp pictures. Also, the battery life is good. And the price makes it affordable to take good pictures.

  9. Dmitriy November 19th, 2010 10:25 am

    I think its time to revive the camera posts. Canon came out with a few cameras that are getting rave reviews from users – S95 and G12 – based on their user interface. The adjusting ring is awesome. Lou check those out you might really like them for your next backcountry adventure.

  10. Lou November 19th, 2010 11:11 am

    I hope the new Canons have better controls. The SX20 is beautiful, but nearly impossible to use with gloved hands due to the ultra sensitive control dial. I even have trouble using it bare handed. Louie took it on Denali and we ended up flubbing nearly all our once-in-a-lifetime summit shots.

    That’s not saying the SX20 isn’t a good camera, it is, it’s just no good for extreme conditions.

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