18 July 2009

Compact Digital Cameras: This Is Progress? (Part 3)

Almost all compact cameras are simply throwaways. Unlike my Yashica, nobody will be buying my old 4mp Canon A510 compact off eBay in 40 years and marveling that, even by 2050 standards, it produces pretty damn impressive photos.

Of course, manufacturers are not in the business of making products so great that no one wants to replace them. In fact, that would put them out of business. So I guarantee that your next compact camera will have more megapixels and a bigger screen than your current. But I also know of a four year-old compact that will take better pictures than that new camera.

Fujifilm has employed in some cameras a unique “Super CCD” sensor design that produces superb, low-noise images. In 2006 they wisely decided to use it in a compact with a larger than usual sensor (1/1.7”), aiming for superlative image quality. The Fujifilm F30 and subsequent F31fd cameras have since become legendary among enthusiasts. As can be seen from test photos, the images they produce, even at higher ISOs, are impressively crisp and clean. Even if not DSLR quality, and just a modest (but sufficient) 6.3mp, these cameras are still ahead of most or all new consumer-segment compacts.

Fujifilm Finepix F30

Unfortunately, while critical response was strong, consumer response was modest. These cameras necessarily cost a bit more and, for that money, lacked marketing-friendly features like giant LCDs, superzoom lenses, and ridiculous pixel counts. So Fuji caved, ramped up pixel counts, and destroyed the superb image quality. Now a used Fujifilm F30/F31fd goes for absurd prices on eBay. Even serious SLR-toting photogs like to have a good compact on hand, and are willing to pay for it.

So, for just such serious shoppers, what are the current options? (Part 4)

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