Both my cameras are having problems so I’m grumpy; I’m cheering myself up by watching the digicam market, appreciating what I have, and enjoying flash photography.

Let’s start with the good stuff. Back in December I wrote about the joys of using a flash bounce-card. It’s totally the single biggest step forward in my camera technique in years.

The seven lucky gods

For anyone who hasn’t figured this out yet, start doing it, it’s easy. You grab a piece of white paper and figure out a way to hold it up to the front of your camera so that it bounces the light from the flash off to the side, ideally against a not-too-distant reasonably-light-colored surface. You could carry around a prepared piece of paper, but I just use the nearest business card or envelope or whatever, and usually get good results; in the picture above, a monthly bank statement. The magic that makes it work is that digicams fire the flash twice, the first time to set the meter; so it figures out how to compensate for whatever weirdo lighting effect you’ve created.

Most of my interior shots are the kids so I won’t show them to you, which is a pity because I’ve been getting perfect warm creamy flesh-tones almost every time.

So I have a question; why don’t the cameras come with built-in apparatus to do this automatically? Most digicam flash pictures come out bleached and glaring and awful. For example, those Seven Lucky Gods have a pretty pleasing colour balance to my eye; contrast the horrid lighting in the dinner-table photo of one of the visitors who brought them over; for some reason I didn’t use a flash card.

Pocket Camera · My darling Canon S70 is sick; the zoom control sometimes zooms, sometimes doesn’t. It’s been in my pocket more or less every day since 2004, in some really inhospitable places; I’ve used it on beaches and in rainstorms and prairie blizzards and dropped it a couple of times. It doesn’t look as bad as Willie Nelson’s guitar, but it doesn’t look good. I guess I’ll try to get it repaired but I’m not that optimistic.

I have to say that, four years after getting into this camera format, I’m still in love with it. It’s a pocket cam, it’ll do point-and-shoot all right, but it’s a bit bigger, a bit fatter, has pretty extreme wide-angle capabilities and as much manual control as you want to exercise.

Sure, other things being equal, the big Pentax DSLR is more flexible and can capture a more beautiful image. But other things are notably unequal, in that the pocket cam is always there in my pocket when the beautiful image occurs.

There’s a problem in that if the S70 is toast, it’s not obvious what to replace it with. The follow-on S80 has been well-reviewed, but doesn’t do RAW. Announced in 2005, it’s getting a little elderly and notably doesn’t have image stabilization, which is basically the only really interesting new digicam feature to have arrived in the last couple of years.

There’s not much else in the niche; Digital Photo Review, on which I rely perhaps a little more than I should, savaged the Panasonic LX2. Hmm, I see that the about-to-arrive Nikon P5000 is in a similar niche, and the Pentax A20 is also a candidate. Also, I bet that there’ll be a Canon S90 pretty soon.

DSLR · I haven’t regretted for a moment snapping up the Pentax *ist D in early 2005. It’s been a complete joy to work with, and I still haven’t come close to putting all the things it can do to work.

Unfortunately, there’s some dust on the sensor now—you can only see it against a flat background like sky or skin, and you can usually correct it with Photoshop, but it’s really irritating—so something has to be done. Apparently, you can sweep out your camera’s innards yourself, but I’m a little fumble-fingered and a lot impatient and the notion makes me nervous. Hmm, the *ist D’s owner’s manual has detailed instructions, it doesn’t sound that hairy.

Gosh, I observe that the reviews on the Pentax K10D are positively glowing. Also that it has image stabilization. Also that it has a self-cleaning sensor. Down, boy.


Comment feed for ongoing:Comments feed

From: Alan Little (Feb 19 2007, at 23:18)

Hi Tim

I had sensor dust in my Nikons (D70 and D200) and was scared of touching the sensors. I found that for routine, everyday dust just performing the mirror lockup ritual, holding the body upside down and blowing lightly with a blower brush - being very careful not to touch anything - did the trick just fine. If it didn't, then I think my next stop would be the local Nikon pro shop.

The K10D sounds lovely, doesn't it? A D200-class camera, cheaper, with a couple of important technical advances (antidust, antishake) - and look at the price of great used Pentax lenses compared to the price of great used Nkon or Canon lenses. If I didn't already have a D200 and a cupboard full of Nikkor glass, I'd defnitely be interested.


From: Shazron (Feb 19 2007, at 23:20)

Hi Tim,

If you go with the K10D you will not regret it. I'm sure you know about the weather-resistant seals on it? Perfect for Vancouver's rainy weather. Don't know if it is a leap up from your existing Pentax, it might not be, value-wise.

Anyways, I've got a post of my decision to go with the K10D, considering the other alternatives:

The D80 was a close second for me.


From: g (Feb 20 2007, at 01:50)

Single not-very-informative data point: My father got a K10D for Christmas, having had a *ist D before (preceded by years with Pentax film cameras), and is very pleased with it.


From: Noah Slater (Feb 20 2007, at 02:22)

I just noticed that your feed is having the same problems as Mark's in Google Reader. Some of your links are broken.

See the following comment thread for more:


From: Geoffrey Wiseman (Feb 20 2007, at 04:51)

Why don't cameras come with a bounceable flash? The usual reasons. People don't focus on flash when then buy the system, they focus on price and size, and weight -- all of which go up if you offer a true bounceable flash. Plus, they're then less likely to run out and spend another $400 on a hotshoe flash unit.


From: Janne (Feb 20 2007, at 06:36)

I love the K10D; for me it's the weather sealing that did it. No longer having to worry about rain or water splashing in an onsen is worth it all by itself.

That said, as an earlier commenter pointed out, just blow on the sensor with a air blower (manual rubber bulb kind of thing, _not_ compressed air) and you should get rid of most of it.

And if not, Pentax is selling a cleaning kit which seems drop-dead simple, cheap, and is apparently what their service centers are using. It's a rubber thingy on a stick and a set of pads. You press the rubber thingy on the sensor and any dirt sticks onto it. Then you clean the rubber of with a pad, and repeat until you've covered the sensor. Seems pretty much foolproof to me.


From: Bruce (Feb 20 2007, at 06:38)

On compacts, I have no firsthand experience with it, but the Sigma DP1 seems interesting.


From: Ryan Cousineau (Feb 20 2007, at 09:17)

"Savaged" the LX2? They gave it their little "Recommended" badge! Oh. "With reservations."

Heh. But yes, DP Review does seem prone to the kind of reviews where all products are rated on a scale from 8 to 10.

What distinguishes them is their painfully comprehensive explications of the control systems. The last few times I've recommended cameras to people (SD and A-series Canons, though I have reservations about the latest models) the control and menu systems have been a big reason.

Oh, and I totally want you to go for the K10D; as an aspiring member of the local used market for Pentax DSLRs (my family has a lot of KA lenses), I think now is the time to upgrade.


From: Mark Levison (Feb 20 2007, at 09:31)

I'm stunned, this post has been up for twelve hours and no one has suggested the tools from Visible Dust ( I first discovered via Thom Hogan ( Run don't walk to Visible Dust's website. The brushes are expensive but worth every penny.


From: Eric Meyer (Feb 20 2007, at 11:08)

On the pocket camera front, it might be a little too big for your intended use, but I've been really happy with my Canon A710IS (for Image Stabilization). It sits well in my jacket pockets, and it fits into pants pockets as long as they aren't too tight and I don't mind an "or-are-you-happy-to-see-me" bulge. It was an upgrade from my S45 and in just about every sense it was a step forward, letting me set aperture and shutter speeds with ease. It's kind of noisy at high ISO speeds, but nothing's perfect, I guess.


From: Neil (Feb 20 2007, at 16:10)

Re the point about digicams firing the flash twice: it's not to set the meter, it's red-eye reduction (the first flash makes the pupils constrict). They can still do automatic flash exposure if red-eye is turned off because they can control the duration of the flash, and turn it off when enough light has been received.


From: jgraham (Feb 21 2007, at 10:33)

I agree with pretty much everything Eric said about the Canon A710IS; I've been using my gf's a bit whilst my 350D has (temporarily, I hope) gone to meet it's maker and it's very nice. The image stabalisation seems highly effective and the picture quality is pretty good. The fact it has a slightly larger size compared to the ultracompacts makes it that bit easier to grasp, especially singlehanded. The biggest problem feature-wise is the lack of a RAW mode. At the time of writing, my last 10 photos on flickr ( ) were taken with the powershot; the original size images should be avaliable.


From: Paul B (Feb 21 2007, at 12:29)

Engadget just ran a snippet, yesterday or so, on a new 10 MP Nikon compact that, if it performs well, could be worth considering. Due out in March, they say. IS, RAW mode, maximum 3200 ISO though the high end sounds like it may be pretty limited.

Err, here, I guess...

What about something like the SD900. As for myself, I have the A640 with which I'm pretty happy. Very nice pictures. No image stabilisation, though, and I wish the sensor was faster. Also, pocketable in a windbreaker pocket, but not pants or shirt pocket.


From: Roland Tanglao (Feb 21 2007, at 20:19)

Unfortunately the Nikon P5000 doesn't have RAW:

Sad but true.

Until a Nikon P5000-like camera with RAW comes out, I am sticking with my old Canon S400 and cameraphones.




From: waveney (Feb 27 2007, at 11:23)

It's a shame that Sony did not continue the compact V series. My V3 now 2.5 years old continues to give very good results. The spec:

7MP, Raw, full manual control, near instantaneous focus response and shutter release, Nightshot mode(which also does IR but principally means the camera will focus on a black rabbit in a dark room), 34-136mm zoom lens, 2.5" lcd, flash shoe and a host of others.

I hope you come up with a replacement for your Canon, but the pro-compact area is sadly not part of the manufacturer's marketing plans.

If a compact is what you want then you should ignore all the dslr advice. I have two dslrs but the first thing into my daybag is the Sony V3.


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