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Tuesday, June 18, 2013

My Pocket Camera Adventure


Taking advantage of the revolution in compact, non-DSLR cameras

Most important in a camera is the lens, so I wanted a high-quality, fast lens (ƒ/2.8 or better), and I wanted a zoom lens going from wide (24mm) to portrait (105mm). The sensor had to be big for low-light sensitivity, have low noise up to ISO 800 and have a resolution of at least 15 megapixels. For camera controls and mechanics, I wanted the ability to adjust aperture and exposure compensation quickly, a robust metal housing, a quick startup and shutdown, a tilt-swivel LCD screen, a fast frame rate, flash, a completely retractable lens (no lens cap, please) and 1080p video with a lens stabilizer. And it had to shoot RAW files. Okay, that's more than a few things.

This year, several manufacturers came out with products that came close to meeting these criteria. I finally decided on the Sony Cyber-shot RX100. The eye of my RX100 is a sharp Zeiss Sonnar 28-100mm zoom lens. This is the same Zeiss Sonnar name found on my Rollie 35S and Contax T-VS! The heart and soul of the camera are an oversized 20-megapixel sensor and a fast processor. The only fault I can find with the camera after using it for half a year is that this camera is truly small! It's hard to hold the camera without pressing buttons you don't want to engage, but that just takes getting used to.

I've carried the RX100 on a variety of adventures, from mountain biking to rock climbing to packrafting. I shot the photo here on the last day of a rainy three-day packraft trip down the wilderness section of the Colo River in New South Wales. The low-water trip involved many, many portages over and around rocky rapids and across sandbars. The biggest portage was the Kings Rapid you see here. I went first, and near the bottom of the rock garden, I scrambled on top of a truck-sized block to photograph my boating partner as she negotiated the rocks. I balanced on top of a slippery house-sized rock as I held the camera above my head to get a better photo perspective looking upriver. This scene is a big dramatic landscape, and the tiny Sony with its sweet little Zeiss lens had no trouble capturing the drama of black rocks and white water, despite the falling rain and flat light. Using the camera on aperture-priority, I spun the camera's big aperture ring to ƒ/4, checked the shutter speed (1⁄100 sec.) to make sure the image wouldn't blur and began shooting. The camera settings were ISO 200 at 30mm, shooting in RAW capture mode.

The best part about making this and other photos during the three days packrafting is that the camera was fast and easy to use. When shooting, I could literally paddle with one hand and shoot with the other, letting aperture-priority metering and autofocus do their thing; plus, the little RX100 fit in a waterproof Pelican case a little bigger than the palm of my hand. Probably the only thing this camera is missing is Wi-Fi connectivity, a longer battery life and a flip-out screen, but, of course, size would have been compromised with those additions.

Now I'm waiting to see what comes next and how manufacturers respond to this new crop of pro-featured pocket cameras. Given their success, I don't think I'll have to wait as long to see more extraordinary subcompacts hit the market soon.

To see more of Bill Hatcher's photography, visit www.billhatcher.com.

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