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Camera Geeky

When thinking about cameras lately I always find my self reflecting on how nice it is to have a good camera that fits into a normal pocket. That saying "the best camera is the camera you have with you" underscores why a compact form factor is important for mainstream consumer camera acceptance. Keep on reading if you want to go down the geeky camera path to look at cameras from a different perspective.....

Defending the Pocket Sized Camera Crown

Canon S90 : S95 : S100

Far and above all of the point and shoot cameras rests the Powershot S class gear from Canon. These diminutive cameras produce images that put the iPhone 4S's image hardware in its place. There are limits in physics that will prevent phone cameras from ever eclipsing the performance of a high quality point and shoot. While budget point and shoots have improved greatly over the last 10 years as my friend Reed pointed out, the sleek little canon's remain the lone option for a high quality pocket friendly compact. There are others emerging that will soon challenge this title, the Sony RX100 for example.


This form factor is larger than a normal point and shoot. These cameras are the product of a collaboration between olympus and panasonic. They have an image sensor that is 5 to 9 times larger then that of a standard point and shoot. The sensor is not huge however, enabling compact optical lens designs to work. As sensor size increases, optics must also increase in size to produce sharp focused images that make use of the large sensor area. These cameras are expensive and so are their lenses. In photoblogs and review sings these cameras are knows a MFT or mft (micro-four-thirds). Their major advantage is a compact form factor and a huge selection of lenses.


The APS-C sensor area is about 60% larger than that of the micro-four-thirds cameras. While many APS-C cameras are in a large DSLR sized camera, the Sony NEX 5N has the APS-C sensor and is actually smaller then a lot of micro-four-thirds cameras. The aforementioned Sony 5N is also in a class of its own in terms of value. Nikons D3200 is an APS-C camera, but it is far larger then the Sony 5N. The Nikon D3100, D3200, D5100 and other mid range DSLR's are full sized cameras with lots of clunk and heft. The only pants willing to accept a DSLR camera are the odd kinds worn by people with eccentric urban clothing styles: the rest of us would be hard pressed to fit even the 5N with a 16mmm pancake lens into a normal pocket. The Sony NEX series offers that big sensor performance in a compact package that makes even the otherwise space saving high quality 4/3rds cameras look fluffy. Cameras with these APS-C sensors are going to give you the best performance per dollar ratio when you are willing to go in $1K+ big on camera gear.

Full Frame

This kind of normal professional camera boasts a full frame sensor that is 250% larger then the APS-C variety. These professional grade digital cameras have sensors as large as 35mm film. They offer the greatest overall quality in a hand held normal digital camera, but they are huge. Typical Full Frame DSLR's like the Nikon D3 or D4 are 9 times larger than the NEX 5N, they weigh 5 times more, and their lenses are heavy, huge and super expensive. The camera bodies of these beasts alone cost north of $2000: a kit with a few lenses and accessories can easily push the $6,000 mark. Many professional full frame cameras cost more than $15,000 if you include a few high quality ED glass lenses. Some of the large apature telephoto lenses like those huge tubes you see shooting sports games can cost north of $10,000, and that just for the lens. The price sky is the limit in optics.

Medium Format

Landscape photographers looking for the penultimate single shot resolution turn to huge sensor cameras. These beasts are truly massive, requiring a vehicle for transport. Their size and weight dwarfs that of the full frame camera. All of this heft can be avoided with the use of a APS-C camera on a special tilt pan stitch mount with special software. You can see examples of huge panoramic images created with these digital hybrid mechanical setups online. The medium format stuff is used for really high end large format printing: check out Rodney Lough Jr.'s work:
for examples.

Megapixel's & Sensor Size

The rage in camera retail marketing over the past several years has been the MP or Megapixel number. Recent compact cameras have gone from 5MP to 8 MP to 10 MP now to 12 MP and 14 MP and 16 MP: the really bad part is that point and shoots retain tiny sensors. 

As more pixels are added to a sensor the pixels are smaller. These smaller pixel sensors produce images that are noisier. Higher resolution sensors also make abnormalities present in cheap optics more visible. Pixel size is very important in terms of the amount of light that each pixel receives. Smaller pixels get fewer photons and produce noisier signals.

While post processing and CMOS production advances have helped to cancel out these problems, small pixels are intrinsically limited. Most point and shoot cameras employ tiny 1/2.5" sensors. Better compact cameras employ larger 1/1.7" sensors. Somes of the latest compact cameras like the Nikon J1 have CX sized sensors larger than those of the P&S but smaller than the 4/3 MFT sensors. Lets have a look at a graphical image of this sensor size comparison.

Image : 


In film cameras, ISO was a system for measuring the films speed, or how long the film had to be exposed to light in oder to render an image. In digital cameras the ISO is more complicated because the film has been replaced by a digital CMOS or CCD sensor: so ISO has to do with signal gain, color space and signal noise. Low ISO settings in digital cameras tend to give the sharpest least noisy images with brightly lit scenes. High ISO settings are able to capture images in low light at the expense of introducing more noise into the image. High ISO images tend to be grainy looking. Very nice DSLR's like the Nikon D800 can shoot really clear great images at ISO 12800. A camera like the Sony NEX-5N can shoot good image up to ISO levels around 1100. The canon S95 has a special low light mode that enables it to shoot up to ISO 12800 at a reduce resolution. 

Digital camera sensors are more sensitive to light than chemical film, so extremely high ISO levels are possible in very high end digital cameras. This has to do with the way that the digital sensors work. These sensors are prone to signal noise when they are turned all the way up to maximum gain for super low light sensitivity. The trick to clean high ISO digital images has do with with very creative signal noise mitigating algorithms that mathematically tease out the photon strike signals from the high gain setting sensor noise. 

Digital cameras also have the capacity to preform advance image compositing to achieve greater dynamic range. HDR or high dynamic range modes for example utilize an automated series of shots taken by the camera in quick succession at at different settings to gain the maximum amount of scene data in areas of the image that would otherwise be overblown with too much brightness or obscured by excessive shadowing. Bracketing is another method where the camera can create a hybrid composite image from a series of single images. 

Digital sensors also offer the potential for much large spectral range performance. Where chemical film was very limited, electronic imaging sensors can be turned to respond to a wide range of frequencies that extend unto the ultraviolet and infrared. This is actually a design challenge for camera makers, where high end cameras employ special filters to restrict the frequencies of light reaching the sensor. Accurate color rendering is an illusive design goal. Most cheap cheap cameras are plagued by poor color rendering because of the lower bit depth of their imaging (color detail), and poor automatic white balance. 

White Balance 

The right light for each situation. A picture will look warm or cool depending on how the white balance setting is adjusted. Automatic white balance challenges most cameras. Only the best DSLR's have an excellent ability to accurately pick the correct white balance setting. Light sources are all very different in nature. The suns light has a specific spectral range and color rendering capacity that is very different from a tungsten incandescent artificial light. CFL and LED lighting tends to come in cool or warm varieties: these efficient lights tend to have strange spectral peaks (uneven color output with spikes at certain colors); this has to do with the way that these lighting technologies produce white light, by the electromagnetic excitation of a mixture of special RGB blended phosphors. The exact type and ratio of these phosphors tends to produce wild variability between manufactures in terms of color rendering and spectral profile. High intensity gas discharge lights like metal halide and high pressure sodium also come in a huge variety of types with dramatically different spectral profiles. High pressure sodium tens to emit this obnoxious color obscuring orange light (think of many commercial outdoor lights). These sodium lamps are chosen because they last a long time, have very high light output levels, are very cost effective and are exceedingly energy efficient. Gas lantern light and candle light offer still other lighting situations with complex color rending issues. Indoor scenes are often hit by a mixture of natural light from windows and artificial lighting. Many indoor situations have a mixture of tungsten, fluorescent and led light. These complex lighting situations create math havoc for the lowly little processors and white balance algorithms in digital cameras.


I absolutely hate using the flash on a camera. Flash use is require when the scene being photographed does not have enough light for an acceptable shutter speed: this is particularly important in free handed photography, where a faster shutter is require to minimize motor blur. Image stabilization can help with reducing image blur, but the camera still needs light to render a scene correctly. Flashes work by producing a bright xenon arc discharge right when the image is being captured. This creates all kinds of shadowing problems that make images look harsh and strange. A lens with a large apature (smaller F stop number) enables a camera to take a clear image with less light in the scene. The canon S95 for example has an F2.0 lens: which is stellar for a compact camera. Many prime lenses that have a fixed focal length (no zoom) have really great light gathering capacity with F1.8 being common. More expensive price lenses can go down to F1.4. Lenses with low F stop numbers are said to be "fast" since they can let enough light into the camera for a faster shutter speed and lower ISO setting in a lower light scene.

Light is about position too. The way your subject is lit makes all the difference in your photography. The quality of the light can have a dramatic impact on the image. Think of a sunset. When you are shooting people, make sure they are facing the sun. If you try to shoot into the sun, the sun will overpower the imaging sensor, and your subjects will be obscured by shadowing in the image. The goal is to capture your subjects lit with balanced light. You can do a good lighting demo by putting an egg on a table in a dim room and taking a flash light and pointing it at the egg and them moving the flash light around to point it at the egg from different positions. Notice how the egg's appearance changes with the different illumination angles and shadow casting. Professional studio photographers tend to employ elaborate flash systems and point source light to bring light in from different angles in a way where they can precisely control shadow formation, position, and intensity.

If you ever do have to use your flash, think creative and figure out a way to bounce the flash. Direct flash hits tend to be harsh and overblown, creating red eye and strange color rendering. When the flash is diffused it produces more even balanced lighting. I personally avoid the use of a camera flash whenever possible. 

Shutter Speed

Slow exposures allow the sensor more time to capture light. Fast exposures allow for extreme fast image acquisition to freeze moving object in an image. Typical digital quality cameras have shutter speeds that range from 15 seconds to 1/2000th of a second. Really high end cameras can shoot 60 second exposures on the slow end and super fast 1/8000 of a second at the fastest. Anything slower than 1/30th of a second will likely result in motion blur from handheld photos. If you want to shoot astronomy or night time scenes with slow shutters, you are going to want to grab a tripod and use it.

Auto Mode

All of these settings, ISO, Shutter Speed, White Balance, Focus : it makes perfect sense why most people use automatic modes on their digital cameras. Try to remember that your brain and eyes are much better judge of a scene's lighting. With some mild training and focused study, you can quickly learn to tune the settings on your camera to get the most out of any photographic opportunity.

Play With Your Camera

If you really want to get to know your camera well, you have to use it. Playing with your camera and doing fun photo hunts and photography for fun will help you to learn your specific camera. Each camera is unique. Once you step outside the walled garden of automatic modes you are going to enter the custom settings world where photography enthusiasts spend their time taking those job dropping images that inspire others to shoot. The skill of the photographer has more impact on the image quality than the camera hardware. Think about light and color, think like a photographer. Think of those really cool images, how did the photographer that took those great photos capture the scenes: what perspective or angle did they take to photograph the seen. How is the lighting in the scene. You really have to think about it in order to improve your skills as a photographer. Playing with your camera, reading about photography, learning more and thinking about it : you can go from producing mediocre images to producing stellar interesting sharp clear well lit quality images. Knowing what settings to use, what angles work, what lighting works, how your camera works: your knowledge will form the foundation on which you can build your skills as a photographer. 

A Good Guide for Camera Shoppers 

Those tech blog writers over at The Verge published a great guide for camera shoppers. "Buying a Camera, Everything You Need to Know" : please have a look.

You Get What You Pay For 

Hunting for sale prices is probably your best bet here. Used cameras are notoriously difficult to assess. If they have been dropped, exposed to excessive moisture, lived in dusty environments: you really have no idea what you are getting into. Even new cameras have a finite lifetime. The one thing you can probably buy used with out fear is camera gear. Tripods are mechanical and can be tested. Bags and holders and other things that you might shoot with can be visually inspected. Uses camera lens's are also a place where you can save big. Keep your eyes peeled for gently used lenses. Beware that old lenses require a camera with an auto-focus motor. Some fancy new DSLR like the Nikon D3200 lack this drive motor, requiring the end user to only use modern motor enhance lenses: not that this is a problem. The Nikon F mount system has hundreds of motor enhanced auto-focusing lenses to choose from. The Sony NEX lenses also include drive motors and image stabilization, although there are only 8 to choose from at this point.

High quality optics are expensive. Enhanced density precision ground multicoated lenses in robust high precision machine housings are intrinsically costly to make. The coatings in ultra-modern lenses allow much more light to get through to your sensor. While a vintage lens may have other kinds of appeal, state of the art lens' draw a huge price premium from the free market for a reason. You can't get something for nothing in engineering, increased image quality almost always comes at a cost. If you are frugal and only shop deals, you can save enough to get a nice external drive to store all of your photos on..... :P

Sorta Camera Geeky 

I like to read about cameras. My long standing fascination with Japan almost inexorably caused me to become fascinated by photography. Light and optics have long fascinated me: lasers and spotting scopes: the human visual system is amazing. I enjoy my eyesight almost more than any other sensory input. 

I know that no camera will ever simulate experiencing something in first person: that is not the goal of photography. The goal of photography is to capture quality images. The goal for camera makers is to build the best camera for the least amount of money: they are always seeking to optimize designs to stay competitive with constant innovation.

One area where almost all cameras can improve is in autofocus: target acquisition and focus determination speed. While phase detection systems in most DSLR's have the technical edge, many modern Contrast focus systems work nearly as fast. The human eye uses a combination of methods to constantly preform instantaneous focus acquisition. Some newer camera designs employ hybrid focus technologies. Dynamic range is another area where cameras are lacking. The human eye has a dynamic range of over 1,000,000,000 to 1: but it can take human eyes up to 30 minutes for full dynamic range adjustment (dark adapted vs bright adapted vision).

My History With Cameras

My first hands on experience with a camera dates back to early experiences with some kind of film based 110 camera. I honestly can not remember any of these clearly and ended up taking them apart to render the flash drive circuits and optics.

In 1999, my father bought a Sony Digital Mavica MVC-FD73 that shoots 640 x 480 images at a fixed ISO of 100 through a F1.8 4.2 x 42mm (10 x zoom), with a shutter that ranges from 1/60th to 1/4000th of a second. It records to 3.5inch floppy 1.44mb disks :)

Papa Schwarz's 1999 Sony Mavica FD73 : Still Works :) 
It has not been used in years until today, so I pulled it out and charged up the pair of dead "stamina" info lithium ion made in Japan 5Wh batteries, and shot a few photos with it. Using a vintage desktop with a "floppy disk drive" I was able to capture the following image. 

Sony Mavica FD73 640x480 "Fine" Image of a 5W LED Shot Glass Lamp
I got started shooting black and white Agfa 400 film on a Canon AE1 back in the year 2000 during my first of two high school photography clases. We manually developed this film in the dark, and then printed it with projectors under special lighting. It was time consuming and interesting: more of a science enhanced artform. Thinking about it brings up warm fuzzy memories. 

My first digital camera was a 5MP Sony P93 from 2004. It sports a 1/1.8" CCD with 3X (38-114mm eq) lens of F2.8 to F5.2, capable of shooting ISO 100-400 with 14bit color depth at speeds from 30 seconds down to 1/1000th of second. This camera lacks optical image stabilization and I have a hand tremor which almost always restricted me to a tripod. 

My Sony P93 : Scratched and Battle Worn :) Still Works ! 
In 2006 I got a Canon A590IS as a requested Christmas present. For $130, this was a steal. I paid over $300 for that Sony just 2 years prior. This canon sports a 8MP ccd shooting through a 5.8-23.2mm F2.6-5.5 optical image stabilized (4x) lens at up to ISO 1600. After a hiking mishap, dropped onto a rock, the battery door broke. I was able to fix this issue eventually, but only after I already got the rugged pentax. 

The Canon A590IS :) I gave it to Papa Schwarz : It Still Works
In 2010 I got a Pental W90 rugged camera. This camera works great on a tripod, but the tiny image sensor and slow lens makes it a sunlight friendly waterproof shockproof freezproof bright light wonder. Take this into any sort of low light setting and be prepared to be underwhelmed with blurry mediocre photos produced by a tiny 12MP CCD through a 28 x 140mm lens (I think F3.5 or worse / dim at widest) The coolest part of this camera is the folded rugged 5 x zoom optics. I have it running time lapse (interval shoot) mode over 30 minutes on a rotting strawberry under a 7watt CCFL lamp. The microscope macro mode on this camera is epic!  

My Pentax W90 "Interval Shoot" Time Lapse
In late 2011 I purchase my Canon S95. This is currently my workhorse camera that shoots excellent shots on its 10MP 1/1.7" CCD through a 28-105mm F2.0-F4.9 lens at ISO up to 12800 in low light mode. This is by far the best digital camera I have ever used: it is my current photographic tool of choice :) I absolutely love that it fits into a normal sized pocket. I can take it with me at a moments notice with almost no hold up as a result. The bright fast optics and solid IS system makes for crisp sharp photos in almost any light. The auto-focus is hit or miss, but the manual focus mode takes care of that :) Macro performance is also limited here in contrast to the digital microscope available on the ruggedized pentax.... 

Cropped Sony Mavica FD73 Image of my Canon S95

On Sept 20th 2012, after more than a year of pondering, market research, and discussion with my future wife (beautiful creative, artistic, loving girlfriend) Megan Otto, I decided to get a Canon SX40 HS. The recently announced SX50 HS caused the SX40 to go on sale from $430 to $350, and I had a $32 BB store credit, effectively allowing me to get one out the door for $348. I have only taken 8 pictures with it, and they were all late last night indoor under poor lighting. At ISO 1600 the images turned out ok, with a light edit under ShotWell in ubuntu they were greatly improved :)

The zoom is amazing. We are talking about 840mm worth of zoom or 35X. With hybrid intelligent optical image stabilization it can smooth out my hand tremor even at deep zoom levels in low light (that is impressive). At full view it is ultra-wide (24mm) providing a great field of view. The Macro-mode works with the lens almost touching the subject (also amazing)

The SX40 HS like Canon's other premium cameras was made in Japan by expert camera craftsman that train for decades making lens's and camera assemblies. The built quality is impecable. It is kinda heavy and kinda large, think along the lines of a compact SLR with a 18-200mm lens. 

10FPS burst at full resolution, 240FPS video at QVGA and 120FPS video at VGA, it Shoots 1080P 24 cinema style with stereo microphones. The 1/2.3 tiny 12.1MP CMOS is what enables the compact optics to achieve massive zoom in such a compact form factor. A Full Frame DSL with an 840mm lens is 5 times larger and 12 times heavier, and about 15 times more expensive. It is this combination of restrictions in the DSLR cameras that pushed me ever more towards the SX40 HS, a bridge camera. The Digic 5 processor is what gives the burst performance, great subject tracking, fast autofocus & good DSP performance Electo-optical excellence!

The reviews of the SX40 HS speak volumes. Nearly perfect consumer reviews and excellent expert reviews, it is one of the greatest compact consumer bridge cameras ever made. It is however not without drawbacks. The swing tilt LCD in the back is low resolution at 230K dots 3", and the EVF is also low res, although both look great and the EVF extends battery life and allows for better framing in high light conditions where the external LCD would be easily washed out. I had tried this camera at Best Buy several times over the last year but always resolved to wait for it to go on sale. At last it did and I got the last one in stock at my local Best Buy.

Note: This camera will not fit in your pocket. It is the size of a large grapefruit or small cantaloupe. At deep zoom levels you will probably also want to mount it to a tripod to avoid image blur. Also be aware that CMOS based cameras (almost all DSLR's and most point and shoot and cell phone cameras) like this SX40 suffer from "rolling shutter"
Fortunately it is possible to remove the rolling shutter effect in video postprocessing/ editing in iMovie or other editing software packages. Just keep your panning slow and steady and that will minimize the rolling shutter effect.

The SX40 sports a hot shoe for a more powerful flash attachment or speedlight adapter for external flash use in portrait/ studio use scenarios.

No wifi, GPS, Bluetooth or other gimmicky junk here to drain your battery. Using the new XL-10, it can capture about 380 12.1MP 4000x3000 images per charge. The battery charger included with this pack is one of the slickest looking that canon has ever released :) I have a nerdy interest in lithium batteries and chargers (specifically because of electric vehicles, and mobile electronics).

I will update this section with a more "review" oriented section after I have spent some time behind the new (to me) SX40 HS.

Thank you Lord God for blessing me with yet another photographic tool! Thank you Megan Otto for my early Christmas present :) Thank you Jesus for inspiring me to photograph your beautiful creation (life).

Update: Having spent some time behind the Canon SX40 I can say it is worthy ^^ No, its not a DSL-R or some other uber high resolution camera: it is a the best "bridge" I know of! Made in Japan! The zoom is so deep I can shoot aircraft with it, and have many times now! The macro works well, the wide is nice and wide, the optical image stabilization works great! Woot Woot ^^  I give it an 8.8 out of 10

The ? will likely be my next ~

I often find myself wishing I could zoom in farther. It looks like the Canon SX40 is going to be the next camera I add to my collection. *** update Sept 20th 2012 : SX40 HS added to collection :) *** 

The large file sizes and raw capabilities of high end cameras are not for me. I never shoot raw. Huge photo files are time vampires to transfer and edit: The Ubuntu desktop I do use for photography has just enough pull to edit 10MP (2-5mb JPEG files) with fluidity. Throwing giant files from a DSLR into my computer box sounds questionable at this point: I will leave the wedding photography to a professional. 

The price of quality glass more than anything is what really holds me back from a DSLR. While the D3200 comes in at under around $700 with the kit lens, a quality prime lens can cost just as much as the camera: A bright zoom lens with good reach can cost several times more than the camera. The sky is the limit with lens prices for DSLRs. Finding quality glass at a reasonable price becomes a game, and it exits. Sigma for example is known to make quality primes for reasonable prices. The learning curve on glass is steep and requires a lot of time consuming research and ends up being expensive one way or the other. The D800E looks epic to me at this point.

Speaking of the D3200: I can say with some degree of certainty that this will become my pro-summer tool of optical capturing choice in the future when it goes on sale and become steeply discounted. The SX40 is going to be the super zoom for a decade or more because even with a D3200, a 840mm zoom lens that is bright would cost more than my motorcycle!

*Update October 29th 2012* after an extensive amount of research, I have decided that the D5100 is going to be my next camera. The body only price for the $5100 is already under $500 and Nikon makes a really nice 35mm AF-S 1.8G prime lens that retails for $200, so with tax and the whole bit that is about $770. This is really quite amazing if you think about how the prices have fallen in the last 5 years. A 16MP DSL-R with that kind of prime lens a few years ago would have been north of $4000 ;) Ah how time brings down the costs of technology. Nikon has not announced the D5200 yet, and I suspect that when they do, the price of the D5100 will come down again. What? Aaron shooting a lens without image stabilization... that sounds crazy.... lol... fear not... I know exactly what you mean. On the flip size, the kit lens that normally ships with the D5100 has VR and can be picked up second hand in brand new condition for $50.... and that is about what it is worth as far as glass is concerned. Time will tell, for now I camp on my main 2 : the S95 and SX40 ;) they are both great! There are a few issues that will likely hold me of from going for the D5100 or any other DSLR.... 1 I would really like a camera that is Made in Japan... personal preference based on my knowledge about Japanese Culture ect. 2. The SX40 and S95 are a brilliant pair and I am not sure I will see much of a real world difference in terms of image quality between shooting the aforementioned canons in Auto mode and shooting the D5100 in Auto... the real strength of the D5100 comes from using it like a pro, and while I like the idea of getting more geeky on shots, I can technically already do that on my S95... with manual control modes in F2.0 for bokeh :) I am looking at $800 on Amazon for the D5100 body and the one prime lens I would like with it.... while this is a great deal (and Amazon even throws in a memory card), it is very expensive: more than the cost of my S95 (sale price purchase) and SX40 (sale price purchase) combined. Quality lens' for the D5100 cost north of $200, many in the $400-$900 range...... that would get into the thousands plural over time. Right now the D5100 body is on sale for $497, and I suspect it could go on discount even deeper when the D5200 is announced... but the D5100 is made in Thailand.... sigh..... if not for this I might have already ordered one.... I have nothing against Thailand as a country, but if it was anything like Japan, I would feel more comfortable buying a camera made there. The Japanese are fastidiously detailed people (cultural) and this means that when Japanese people assemble something, they focus and do it as best as they are able because they want their work to be a reflection of their character and family name. This means that things (vehicles, cameras, electronics) assembled in Japan are assembled better on average than an equally well managed factor by the same company operating in a country outside of Japan. Think of a nice Swiss watch assembled by 3rd generation expert craftsman by Rolex, and Sturhling Original chinese assembled clone (operated by a swiss company)... the QA QC in Germany at Rolex is simply higher. Carl Zeiss lens' made in Germany also fetch a hefty price for the same reason: they are assembled and quality tested by expert German craftspersons. Germany and Japan have similar cultural values for worker precision in assembly of highly delicate/ precision machinery/ devices. The D5100 has shutter defect issues (A QA/ QC) problem. I suspect this is related to it being assembled in Thailand. I am also not a big fan of the mechanical action going on in DSLR's: noisy, failure prone. A mirrorless interchangable lens camera seems much better as a design MILC. While I like the idea of using an Optical viewfinder, I am just not sure that I would have enough fun with it to make it worthwhile. The SX40 already shoots full 1080P at 30FPS and focuses brilliantly through its somewhat slow (dim) super zoom assembly. The SX40 also has super-slow motion, which I really like ^^ : and the S95 has the color picker HDR functions... so between the two.... IDK if the 35mm AFS-1.8G Nikkor on the D5100 makes that much sense...... If the price was right.... I would also like to buy it locally at Best Buy.... so that if something goes' wrong I can return it in real time without thinking about shipping and packing. I also get a kickback when shopping at Best Buy.... so.... and they only sell the D5100 with its mediocre kit lens... which makes it $100 more than the body on Amazon.... and for a lens is only "ok"..... albeit perfectly functional.... I think I need to think about it more...... the Sony Nex 5R also looks brilliant.... and knowing that sony is the one making the sensor in the Nikon's, it gives me even more room for pause. The video issues with the Nex 5N actually caused me to steer clear, otherwise it was looking very nice!

If I had more money then common sense I would grab a D4S with a bag full of carl zeiss's finest primes, macro, normal and zoom's. It would be easy to drop $ 5 digits or more on such a setup. Pipe dreams for an amateur photography geek like me. Leica's full frame compact ILC cameras are also awesome, but at over $7K with tax, they are a luxury camera for people with lots and lots of discretionary funding to spend kardashian style. It is possible to drop more than $90K on camera's and lenses: I was looking at a F2.8 300-500mm Sigma Nikon F Mount lens... $30,000.... see what I mean. 

One recently announced little "video camera" that I have been eyeing for a while is the GoPro Hero3 Black Edition. "The Wi-Fi enabled HERO3: Black Edition is the most advanced GoPro, ever. No expense was spared during its development, resulting in a GoPro that is 30% smaller, 25% lighter and 2x more powerful than previous models." 4kp 12 fps, 2.7kp 30 fps : 1440p48/1080p60/720p120 fps : 12MP / 30 fps Burst : Wi-Fi Built-In : Wi-Fi Remote Included : GoPro App Compatible : Pro Low-Light Performance : The GoPro has evolved greatly over the years. The new Oct. 2012 Hero 3 is amazing. It is also $399 ... that said you will be hard pressed to find anything else that shoots 4K at anything even close to this price ^^ it also shoots 1080p at 60FPS ^^ wow !!
The GoPro Hero3 
I know the Nikon 1 series got a lot of mixed press, but I honestly think it looks interesting: super fast shutter at 1/16,000th and lightning fast autofocus with super high speed video.... oooo la la... with that CX sensor size though it seems overpriced. The major hold up for the J1 or V1 is the lack of glass. I think the Sony RX100 and Samsung NX200 look interesting too. 

This Canon S95 I currently use as my go everywhere camera has lots unexplored potential left. For now I will focus on enjoying the S95 more :) I will also keep that W90 busy with "interval shooting" time lapse fun!

As for the half baked camera on my iPod Touch, it works ok when used with apps like Autostitch or Photosynth that fuse its output into an image with a reasonable level of detail: and this stitching major produces results often mirror the look of image shot through a fish eye super wide angle lens. Note the new iPod Touch late 2012 October Launch has a 5MP camera and will be a massive improvement over the 0.7MP camera in my 4th Gen Touch. While that will be great for buyers of the 5th generation iPod Touch, I am not going to be buying one. My 64GB 4th Gen Touch is fine, and now I have the 3 cameras I need for every shooting situation I can think of :) The super-zoom was the only thing missing and that problem is now fixed :) 

My fathers vintage Sony FD73 will continue hanging out. The Sony P93 is also doing shelf duty. That Canon A590IS is my fathers real estate/ ebay camera of choice these days. The lowly 3MP camera on my aging dumb phone is for emergency back up only at this point.

:P If you want to get the low down on how photography came to become a commercial reality, go ahead and read the next section adapted from wikipedia about the history of photography. 

The History of Photography

Modern photography became possible when industrialization enabled greater access to the light sensitive chemicals needed to convert metal and glass plates into a photographic recording medium. French inventor Joseph Nicephore Niepce used this technology to produce the first modern photograph 1826.

The camera obscura was really the precursor to all modern cameras. Ancient philosophers Mo Ti and Aristotle investigated and explored these devices. They are still in use today, but unlike a camera, they are more similar to a projector running backwards where the image is projected into the box: if an imaging sensor or film and shutter was adapted to this box it would effectively form a primitive camera.

Albertus Magnus discovered nitrate 1206-1280. Georges Fabricius discovered silver chloride between 1515-1571. Daniel Barbaro described a diaphragm in 1568. Wilhelm Homberg described how light darkened some chemicals (the photochemical effect) in 1694.

Niepce's photographs were produced on a polished pewter plate covered with a petroleum derivative called bitumen of Judea, which he then dissolved in white petroleum. Bitumen hardens with exposure to light. The unhardened material may then be washed away and the metal plate polished, rendering a positive image with light regions of hardened bitumen and dark regions of bare pewter.

Niépce then began experimenting with silver compounds based on a Johann Heinrich Schultz discovery in 1727 that silver nitrate(AgNO3) darkens when exposed to light. Niépce and Louis Daguerre partnered to refine the existing silver process.In 1833 Niépce died of a stroke, leaving his notes to Daguerre, who had no scientific background.

Daguerre made two pivotal contributions to the process when he discovered that exposing the silver first to iodine vapour before exposure to light, and then to mercury fumes after the photograph was taken, could form a latent image. Bathing the plate in a salt bath then fixes the image. On January 7, 1839 Daguerre announced that he had invented a process using silver on a copper plate called the daguerreotype, and displayed the first plate. The French government bought the patent and almost immediately (on August 19 of that year) made it public domain.

After reading about Daguerre's invention, Fox Talbot worked on perfecting his own process; in 1839 he acquired a key improvement, an effective fixer, from John Herschel, the astronomer, who had previously showed that hyposulfite of soda (also known as hypo, or now sodium thiosulfate) would dissolve silver salts. Later that year, Herschel made the first glass negative.

Unlike a daguerreotype, a calotype negative could be used to reproduce positive prints, like most chemical films do today. The calotype had yet another distinction compared to other photographic processes of the day, in that the finished product lacked fine clarity due to its translucent paper negative. This was seen as a positive attribute for portraits because it softened the appearance of the human face. Talbot patented this process, which greatly limited its adoption. He spent the rest of his life in lawsuits defending the patent until he gave up on photography. George Eastman (grandfather what became the Eastman Kodak company) refined Talbot's process, which is the basic technology used by chemical film cameras today. By 1840, Talbot had invented the calotype process. He coated paper sheets with silver chloride to create an intermediate negative image.

In 1851 Frederick Scott Archer invented the collodion process. Herbert Bowyer Berkeley experimented with his own version of collodion emulsions after Samman introduced the idea of adding dithioniteto the pyrogallol developer. Berkeley discovered that with his own addition of sulfite, to absorb the sulfur dioxide given off by the chemical dithionite in the developer, that dithionite was not required in the developing process. In 1881 he published his discovery. Berkeley's formula contained pyrogallol, sulfite and citric acid. Ammonia was added just before use to make the formula alkaline. The new formula was sold by the Platinotype Company in London as Sulpho-Pyrogallol Developer.

In 1847, Count Sergei Lvovich Levitsky designed a bellows camera which significantly improved the process of focusing. This adaptation influenced the design of cameras for decades and is still found in use today in some professional cameras.

In America, by 1851 daguerreotypist Augustus Washington was advertising prices ranging from 50 cents to $10. However, daguerreotypes were fragile and difficult to copy. Photographers encouraged chemists to refine the process of making many copies cheaply, which eventually led them back to Talbot's process.

In 1884 George Eastman, developed dry gel on paper, or film, to replace the photographic plate so that a photographer no longer needed to carry boxes of plates and toxic chemicals around. In July 1888 Eastman's Kodak camera went on the market with the slogan "You press the button, we do the rest". Now anyone could take a photograph and leave the complex parts of the process to others, and photography became available for the mass-market in 1901 with the introduction of the Kodak Brownie.

For the modern enthusiast photographer processing black and white film, little has changed since the introduction of the 35mm film Leica camera in 1925.

The first digitally scanned photograph was produced in 1957. The digital scanning process was invented by Russell A. Kirsch, a computer pioneer at the National Institute of Standards and Technology. He developed the system capable of feeding a camera's images into a computer. His first fed image was that of his son, Walden Kirsch. The photo was set at 176x176 pixels.

The charge-coupled device (CCD) is the most important invention for digital photography. It was invented in 1969 by Willard Boyle and George E. Smith at AT&T Bell Labs, where they conceived of the design of what they termed 'Charge "Bubble" Devices'. The essence of the design was the ability to transfer charge along the surface of a semiconductor. This paved the way for the development of an semiconductor (chip) imaging sensor.  In 
1973 - Fairchild Semiconductor releases the first large image forming CCD chip. In 1975 - Bryce Bayer of Kodak develops the Bayer filter mosaic pattern for CCD color image sensors. In 1986 - Kodak scientists develop the world's first megapixel sensor.

You Might Find These Sites Interesting

If you are interested in comparing modern photography gear: check out snapsort.

For photography hardware reviews: chech out the Digital Photography Review is a also a great resource!

Online References 

I references a few different cameras in this posting; you can find more information about them on the digital photography review website.

I also mentioned the Micro-Four-Thirds cameras: while I have not really reviewed any of these in any depth within the literature, I know they have a large following. Take a look at the wiki:

These 4/3rds cameras are very expensive and so are their lenses. If I was going to drop that kind of cash on a camera I would go with a Nikon D3200, D5200 or better.

Full Frame Sensors Going Mainstream? 

A very interesting article about the "sensor" size competition that is now replacing the "megapixel" race : for better real world low light performance and beautiful Bokeh with big fast lenses.
See :

Mirror-less ICL's eating into DSLR market ?
Sony (electronics) beating Canon and Nikon (camera makers) at their own games? Sorta

Sony Puts Almost $700million FY2012 USD into Olympus to get down on the 4K image action

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