To lapse, or not to lapse…

by wonderfullyrich on December 4, 2007

William Scott, (of antarctic infamy) asked me about cameras and as I wrote I realize some of what I was writing more people might be able to use some of these thought during this christmas shopping season.

Bill,

Good to hear you have taken an interest in taking timelapses, although I must warn you about what happened last time you grew a beard… just kidding.  First off, dpreview.com is you friend when choosing a camera.  Indepth reviews, exploration of technical features, side-by-side comparisons, etc.

The camera I’ve seen the most and the most number of technically adept people I’ve seen purchase as a point-and-shoot is the Canon Powershot Series cameras, specifically the A Series.  With that said, the A-Series doesn’t have a timelapse feature built-in  (you can run it externally like I do, but *sigh* it’s another device that you have to drag around… )  So the Canon SD Series is a good bet, or the S series is also a good bet. Both have the timelapse feature built in, have image stablization, and have an orientation sensor. The other brand that I would personally think about is a Nikon Coolpix S series camera.  I’ve run into it several times and in general I enjoy Nikon’s interfaces, reliability, and designs.  I’m not a fan of Kodak, but they do make some decent cameras

There’s several things to think about though.
1. size of glass = amount of light into the sensor and the bigger & better the glass the better the picture could be (assuming you point it in the right direction).  Unfortunately it generally corresponds to the amount of power you’ll be consuming as well, so the bigger it is the more power and if it’s not AA’s, your happened to be in camping without your charger, then…well you see that argument.
2. Hand size and hand fit is important, not just when you taking pictures, but because when you hold it you want to be able to access things quickly and easily (generally one handed or at least securely) without worrying about dropping your camera off a bus as you take a picture of a Moose.  Also cameras do drop, so find out what the weakpoints are on the camera.  Which leads me to
3. What are they returned for the most?  www.newegg.com, amazon.com, dpreview.com and others can help you figure out what the user tested issues are with a camera.  One negative comment isn’t bad, even several isn’t bad, as what you are trying to do is figure the failure rate and major design flaws and if you can handle them.  Did they screw up the battery compartment latch, is it prone to len problems, do you see a lot of drops, does it make it through a rainstorm, etc., etc.
4. One fairly obvious point that I won’t spend much time with is size, pocket size is good, but remember the 3 most common things you put in your pocket are cellphone, money, and keys (according to a nokia study) and the latter generally doesn’t interact well with the LCD of a camera.  This is a good reason for a flip & twist LCD, although it does introduce a break point.  Going up a bit in size means also that you are getting something that you can get a firmer grip on and means it’ll be more steady, so it’s less likely to end up in toilet bowl…

Megapixels isn’t as big of a deal to me anymore, remember that a 6mp camera can do a 10″x15″ print at 200 dpi (or what a home photo printer will do).

I might note that I haven’t used the built in timelapse feature as of yet, but am thinking about one of these myself.  I have seen the results of a timelapse using a Canon, and they were pretty good.  I would imaging you’ll probably want one of those tail wrapping tripods so you can stick it in all sorts of interesting places.  It would also behoove you to get a large (very large if you can afford it) Memory card so you don’t have to disturb the camera.  (The raw timelapse photos from the adirondacks video was about 4.4 Gb).  Insulation is also a key point, for Colorado as well as Antarctica or Alaska.  Batteries don’t like cold, so you might want to figure out how to keep your camera warm for hours at a time, while it’s mounted.

I’m going to post this as well, given this is great buying frenzy advice for everyone.  Also we can talk when I get home on the 24-3rd this month.

Rich

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