There’s been lots of interesting forward motion in the photo-products space recently. I thought I’d summarize for the fairly-small set of readers who care about cameras and such, but aren’t obsessive enough to follow the daily news themselves. Also, I’ve tossed in some pretty winterdusk studies. Well, darkly pretty.

The pictures are from a last-day-of-November walk around the block with my 2½-year-old daughter; her divagations and peregrinations leave lots of time for shooting. This was about 4:30PM, which at 50ºN latitude in November, means sunset is in progress.

Early sunset in November, Vancouver

Opening Shots · Want some pure lens porn? Here ya go.

There’s quite a bit of buzz these days about HDR photography, which combines multiple images to produce often-startling results. I mostly hate the HDR shots I’ve seen online, finding them garish and cartoony. But Alex Brown has been fooling around and has come up with some quietly luminous pictures of Cambridge, England. Hmm.

Small Cameras · I have written and spoken on the subject of good small cameras, and the state of the art has moved on since my own most recent acquisition, the lovely but finicky Ricoh GX100 whose efforts often improve these pages.

Of course, there’s Ricoh’s own GX200, which addresses some of those finickiness issues. Then there’s Canon’s G10, whose image quality gets a paean here and low-light performance a heavy snark here. Next, there’s the Panasonic Lumix LX3; I can’t find anybody writing anything but good about it, as some of the usual suspects do here and here.

Finally, the Nikon P6000 which comes with GPS, but, when it originally shipped, had some bizarre apparent lock-in to the Microsoft Windows operating system, but I gather that didn’t last long, Macs can process the pix too. It hasn’t been written up that much, but there is a comparison with the G10.

If I were shopping for a new compact right now, well... I’d enjoy the process.

Big Cameras · For the last little while, the mighty Nikon D3 has been, more or less, the top dog in the world of mainstream SLR cameras; well, to the extent that anything priced around US$5K is mainstream.

Streetlight in early November dusk

Nikon has now launched a pincer attack, more or less replicating the D3’s performance in a smaller package with the D700, then further upping the raw-power ante with the D3X.

Everyone agrees that these are brilliant cameras; in particular that their performance in low-light conditions is frighteningly good. Also, that they are very large cameras. For my style of photography, which is all about walking around with a camera in my hand and hoping I get lucky, they’re just way too big.

Mike Johnson has an absolutely charming illustrated essay on this subject: Nice, Wet, and Blue-Green. I particularly appreciate the side-by-side of the D700 and the Pentax K20D (provider of the pix on this page). Mike says he thinks the Pentax is just the right size, but I still find it a bit unpleasantly large compared to my old *ist D.

Mike also has some consideration of the Nikon/Pentax tradeoffs in The Nikon D700: The New 400.

New Directions · There are a lot of photographers who feel as I do; we want beautiful lenses and effortless low-light coverage and all that stuff in a package that fits into one hand, and costs less than a Leica. In this context, the Micro Four Thirds System has been making big noise. You can read the details lots of places, but goal is to fit a larger (and thus more sensitive) sensor into a smaller body, mostly by removing the SLR’s traditional optical viewfinder.

The first serious commercial product is the Panasonic G1. I’m not 100% sure the G1 is even on the streets yet, but I’ve read one rave review. Dig the teeny telephoto; this is a damn interesting camera.

If you’ve followed any of those links and been thinking about low-light image quality, here’s my Pentax pushed to its low-light max at ISO 1600.

Residential skyline in early November dusk

The K20D can do pretty well, particularly when I strap on the big honkin’ Sigma 30mm F1.4, but getting the focus and exposure right when you’re out at the limits is a cruelly difficult task that I’m far from mastering.


Comment feed for ongoing:Comments feed

From: CraigM (Dec 01 2008, at 01:43)


On a similar HDR vein, you might like to check out some HDR images that Fraser Speirs experimented with ... the Natural History Museum, London, starting at

Nice to see HDR being used to enhance significant architectural detail and not just depth of shine on some blinged out custom car!



From: Gerry (Dec 01 2008, at 08:39)

DXOMark allows you to do a more scientific comparison:


From: Derek K. Miller (Dec 01 2008, at 10:12)

I continue to be impressed with the Pentax DSLRs, but the Nikon D40 is a tiny little machine that can use most excellent Nikkor lenses too. I often chuck my D50 (which is larger) into my shoulder bag/man purse with a 50mm f/1.8, or even the 18-200mm zoom I have, and it's a great carry-around. The D40 would be even better.

As for HDR, while I have done some of the cartoony strangeness (and it can be fun), I've also been working on some realistic but enhanced shots. You might like them (follow my links in the photo comments for more):


From: Paul Boddie (Dec 01 2008, at 11:15)

Great sunset picture, Tim! It looks like it has been built up in layers and thus gives an interesting sensation of depth.


From: DanF (Dec 01 2008, at 11:29)

Thanks for the interesting post Tim. I have a dilettantes interest in photography so this was most helpful.


From: Adrian (Dec 01 2008, at 12:15)

"we want beautiful lenses and effortless low-light coverage and all that stuff in a package that fits into one hand...mostly by removing the SLR’s traditional optical viewfinder"

Maybe you would have fewer problems in low light situations if you didn't have the camera wobbling round in front of you on the end of your arms. I'm having trouble thinking of a less stable way to take a photo.

The loss of the viewfinder on anything but SLRs is the single biggest disservice the digital world has done to photography; I'm surprised more people don't see this.


From: Matthew M (Dec 01 2008, at 19:10)

I'd love to see Pentax design a body with the same intent as the DA Limiteds. Something purposely compact and incredibly well built. Keep the APS-C sensor but perhaps mimic the G1 with an EVF to cut down on the bulk.


From: James Duncan Davidson (Dec 01 2008, at 20:29)

Being one of those that really takes advantage of all the light sucking power that the D3/D700 can dish out, I admit that I'm also really wanting something light and easy to carry around on a day-to-day basis. I'm _really_ intrigued by what is going on with the micro-4/3 stuff and would not mind at all spending some time with a Panasonic G1.

I keep trying with the compacts, the latest being a G9. It's a nice toy, but it’s still not quite all that I'd like it to be.


From: Frost (Dec 02 2008, at 19:15)

Ah! Thank you for this fragment - I'm one of those folks who can't keep up with camera industry news.

The Micro Four Thirds system bit was particularly neat - I love low-light photography, and now that I'm a new parent, I have much need of fast 'film.' I've longed for something with SLR type performance but without the loud shnack of the mirror flipping out of the way.* I had given up hope that manufacturers would see fit to get rid of the extra optics. This is neat.

I have fond memories of my grandfather letting me take a few pictures with his Rolliflex. I'd love to see some enterprising engineer build a dumb, medium format sensor pack that could be slapped on the back of such a beastie, or perhaps other dumb, pre-electronics era cameras. (I wonder if I should email the guys who make the Red One video camera systems.)

Adrian, above, mentioned the disappearance of viewfinders. Personally, I've loved the appearance of lcd viewfinders. Finally, we are getting back to being able to compose a shot without having to squint into a tiny hole! The 'screen' size on a Rolliflex (or for that matter, the Brownie I used all the time when I was 6 or 7) is about the same size as the lcd on the back of my Canon PowerShot. It's a smart design.

*a sound I've hated ever since I had an stage actor yell at me for distracting him.


From: alex waterhouse-hayward (Dec 03 2008, at 08:55)

On HDR Photography. No matter how you look at it and how artificial anybody might say it is one should remember that the failure has always been in the film or in the sensors. Painters, trusting their own eyes to allow for differences in contrast could paint what they saw in sections of what they saw. They were thus able to show dramatic dark skies but allow detail to remain in the darker lower landscape. I wrote of this (below) and how we used to do it before the advent of HDR.

Alex Waterhouse-Hayward


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