Zooming in

After several years of go-anywhere service, my all-weather Olympus Stylus 740 camera decided it was ready to retire a few days ago. I was in the middle of taking some pictures on a hike when the display suddenly changed from the scene to a message of “battery door open”. Sure enough, the battery door was open, and a closer look revealed that the plastic latch that held it closed had snapped off. A quick search of the area did not find it (funny how well a small plastic sliver blends in with fallen leaves) and I finished the day off by holding it closed with my thumb.

A few days later I had exhausted the initial attempts to patch it (tape, rubber bands, string) without lasting success, so I considered repair. The broken piece is easily removed with three screws, so I figured it should be a simple matter to find a new piece and swap old for new. Unfortunately the market for replacement parts for 6 year old cameras is not overly strong, and after an on-line search I was able to find 1 place that advertised they had one – for $25 with free worldwide shipping. While not ideal it seemed worth getting to get me going again, as the camera was essentially unusable. When I tried to order it, though, it turned out that it was no longer stocked. Visiting a few camera stores in Tokyo seemed a decent next step, and I found one that didn’t have one at their location, but they could get one sent from another store and install it for me. It sounded good until the matter of price came up – roughly $100, or pretty darn close to what I paid for the camera, and more than a functionally equivalent replacement would cost… So repair was no longer an option.

It was time for a new camera, and as Tokyo seems to be the world capital of cameras I was spoiled for choice. The first information gathering trip was exhausting as I found myself pulled between full-blown DSLR’s and all-weather compacts with stops at every stage in between.
Eventually I settled down to the Fuji Finepix F600EXR and the Canon Powershot SX 230HS. Both are long zoom compacts with the capability for manual settings and were more or less equal with each leading in some areas and lagging in others, and in the end I picked the Canon as I can set a 15 second shutter speed on it vs 1 second on the Fuji which gives more options in low-light situations.

Once home with it, I had to wait for the battery to charge and then set about playing. The most obvious change for me to get used to is the change from a 5x optical zoom to 14x, and to see the difference I once again repurposed my thumb as a clamp and took a few final shots of my floor with the Olympus at both ends and then did the same with the Canon. The Canon does start with a somewhat wider field (compare the relative distance of the table legs) so the end result is not quite 14/5’ths more than the Olympus, but the difference between the Canon at 14 and the Olympus at 5 is pretty clear. I then used the Canon’s 4x digital zoom to see what it would do, and I’m impressed. For a picture taken from eye level with no additional support, I really did not expect to see anything more than a blur.

More playing to come!

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