Wednesday, 27 May 2009

The true use for a pocket digicam

Untitled, Cumbria, May 2009
Lumix LX3, ISO 80, 1/15" @ f/8.0 handheld

Like Colin Jago, I've been a little frustrated in using pocket cameras, even my Panasonic Lumix LX3. Nice results, but a little slow for anything requiring speed of reaction. I've never been happy with the way it forgets zoom and focus settings when going to sleep. Around town it just doesn't compete with a rangefinder.

This last week, however, I was trying an experiment. As I was spending a week walking in the hills, I thought I would see how well it did as a general landscape travel camera. I know the image quality is good, so in situations where speed isn't essential it should be ideal.

Before I get to the verdict, a little background on my idea of a travel camera, and a little of what I was doing photographically in Cumbria.

I was after 2 things - testing gear in the hills to see what would be appropriate for a tip I'm going on this summer and also taking some shots to put together a collection of my views of the area. I took my large format camera, the EOS 40D DSLR and the LX3 pocket camera. I had a few specific photos in mind, scenes from familiar routes but was also open to interesting things along the way. This was also a walking holiday, so I didn't want to spend too much time stopping.

My use of LX3 extended to carrying it in a pocket all day, lens cap off. See a photo, retrieve quickly, snap and away. Not as fast as DLSR hanging from the harness but much smaller. I used the large format for the more deliberate stuff. In the end I didn't use the DSLR at all.

The main advantages of a small format camera in this use: small sensor = large DoF = large aperture = fast shutter. Makes it good in windy conditions when it's hard to stand still. Short actual focal length = low minimum shutter speed handheld = low light & motion blur. Good for forests, overcast conditions and water.

The initial results look good. Nice for smaller prints, web and books. Not fine-art quality but that's not the aim of a travel camera. It saves several kilos of gear and I can carry a much smaller bag. For hiking in the mountains, that's a big plus. An important thing to watch for is smears on the lens - I have several shots ruined because I didn't check. That also means always having a small lens cloth to hand.

Processing the images: Lightroom default seems to yield more natural colours straight from camera than for other cameras. White balance is particularly good. I took a lot less shots mainly due to the live histogram which means less bracketing.

Overall verdict - the LX3 is likely to become my travel hiking camera, with DSLR and/or rangefinder in support when a vehicle is available. There will be times I carry something larger when a main aim of the trip is photographic or the walking is easier but for the long trekking holidays I like, the LX3 seems to fit the bill quite nicely.

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