After enthusing about my Canon Powershot A40 in Part 2 of this article, I discovered something else it couldn’t do: it couldn’t handle a short drop on to the pavement very well, even when protected by a padded carry case. Half of the retractable lens cover failed to tract afterwards, although in fairness this didn’t stop the rest of the camera from working. But it seemed safest to buy a whole new camera (honest, dear), so I immediately started drawing up my list of requirements.
Actually, that last part was what writers call a euphemism, meaning lie. I actually decided that the forthcoming Canon A610 was exactly the upgrade I wanted, and now I’m writing this list of features to illustrate why I’m right.
So, if you’re looking for a digital camera, here’s my idea of the key attributes worth looking for.
- Full manual control: I’d add aperture and shutter priority too, but the former is simply a choice between the lesser of two evils on a digicam and the latter is merely a convenience. Being able to set long shutter times opens up some creative, if slightly overexposed, possibilities. Some kind of metering indication would also be useful. Exposure compensation, which even the most basic digicams appear to sport despite most users probably having no clue what it is, is a partial substitute for manual control.
- Multi-angle LCD: The ability to hold the camera one way and point it somewhere else sounds extremely useful. It would allow you to overcome some of the instability in the “classic” digicam pose (arms out, squinting at the display), perhaps even emulating the use of a TLR.
- Raw output support: Nice-to-have when postprocessing, as JPEGs degrade quickly under heavy manipulation and often fail to capture all the detail in a scene, but sadly lacking on most low end models. Not essential then unless you want to pay upwards of £400.
- AA battery support: Proprietary batteries are a cancer on the personal electronics market. While they might allow the manufacturers to design a smaller device, they also allow them to profit from a hefty mark-up and then obsolete that device arbitrarily by stopping production of the battery it requires. They prevent you from making use of later, better battery technology. And they ensure that eventually you’ll be caught out with a dead battery and no easy way to swap it.
- Fast lens: Hahaha, I kill me. Oh well, at least you get a zoom lens of acceptable optical quality, right down to ooh, f/5.0.
- Histogram display: Only way to accurately detect digital blown highlights.
- Auto selection across all ISO levels: Not just the lower ones, unless you want a lot of blurry pics.
- Flash compensation: Anything to reduce that blinding full-frontal starkness, when using it is unavoidable.
- Rapid switch-on and focusing: No, really. Does it exist? And how come the 0.2 seconds on the spec sheet always feels ten times longer in reality?
(Some careful surgery with a precision instrument later - i.e. poking about with a pair of tweezers - released the stuck cover blades on the A40, returning it to full as-new condition. But you never know when it might go again, right? Right, dear?)