The Halcyon Days of … 2003, Canon SD10

There was a brief period back in the day, when men still wore frilly shirts and dueled each other with rapiers, Casio, then Sony, then Canon (and I think Nikon got involved too) released a slew of “mini-cameras”. They were, in effect, the netbook equivalent of the P&S at the time.

These cameras would have tiny, tiny screens of about 1 inch, a fixed length lens, moth-lifespan-like battery life but would also be really, really small and relatively cheap. I was enchanted by the little things and bought two. One was a Sony that reminded you of a big pill and delivered crap results, and the other was the subject of today’s post, the Canon SD10.

All things considered, the SD10 was not a bad camera. The lens was pretty good, 4 megapixels meant at low ISO, noise was pretty tolerable and although the battery life sucked, you could usually tease one more shot out of it by warming up the battery and turning it on again. It was small, no-nonsense and took pretty good pictures.

In the end, I’m not quite sure what happened to this fork of camera evolution. The Casio range turned into the under-appreciated Exilim range. Sony has those superthin cameras with touchscreens. Canon decided if they are going to make a small camera, it needed to be more capable, with zoom etc. I guess on top of that, we have modest cameras in our phones, iPods, laptops so the mini-camera has gone the way of the do-do. There is one direct descendant though, the little video-camera, but that’s too far out of my field.

Enjoy some photos of the SD10 and its somewhat distant great, great, great grand cousin, the Panasonic GF1. Appreciate that although we have made progress, they were built on the shoulders of really, really small giants.

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Autofocus and Lack Thereof (part 1)

For an experienced DSLR user, the E-P1 and GF1 autofocus systems are a little bit unsettling. I always set my DSLRs to use the autofocus point in the center of the frame, which usually gives you the the most sensitive, fastest autofocus point on the camera. I stress the word “point”, because that’s what it is. A single point. Using that point, I would try and catch focus on something with a bit of contrast.

On the E-P1 and the GF1, it is more like a “square”. And quite a large square at that (though more on that with the GF1 later in the post). The behaviour is the E-P1 will try and put whatever is filling up most of the square into focus. So far, I have had very little luck in trying to focus on something very small and only filling a small portion of the square. Focus will tend to be on whatever is behind the small object since it fills up more of the AF square.

On the GF1, the size of the AF square is adjustable, all the way down to a very, very small square. A point, almost. ;) Given that the camera will try and put into focus whatever fills up the suqare, precise autofocus on a small object is now in reach.

Kudos to Panasonic for improving on an E-P1 niggle.

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Shutter Noise

gf1-ep-1-shutter-noise

gf1-ep-1-shutter-noise.

In response to a reader’s request, I’ve recorded the two camera’s shutter noise. First set of noises is the GF1, second is the E-P1. Seems the E-P1 has a higher framerate. The GF1 is slightly louder and i find the noise more intrusive. I’d add the sound of a DSLR on as well but … I don’t have one anymore. This is a website about small cameras after all!

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Good Lookin’ Flash

It’s got quite a Johnny Five sort of appeal to it, no?

[all photos with Olympus E-P1 / 17mm f2.8]

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GF1 Noisy Cricket

That shutter is pretty loud, especially considering there is no mirror flapping around in there.

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The New Standard Length Panasonic 20mm f/1.7

Having f/1.7 at your disposal does let you do some interesting things for portraiture and be a little bit abstract. The Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 does a nice job of rendering out-of-focus areas and is generally quiet and quick.

[all photos with Panasonic GF1 / 20mm f1.7]

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The Cheap & Cheerful Olympus 17mm f2.8

The Olympus 17mm f2.8. Contrast-wise it’s a little bit flat, it’s really not that sharp and it has quite a bit of distortion. However, it gives a great field of view that is both narrow enough to be intimate yet wide enough to allow busier compositions. Thankfully, RAW files stand up to a good bit of prodding, so you can still get some impressive results out of it. For day-to-day snapshots, I prefer it over the 20mm f1.7. p.s. I really like the fingers of the girl below. Quite elegant, no?

[all photos with Oly E-P1 / 17mm f2.8]

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Some Early Thoughts About the GF1 (compared to the E-P1)

Compared to the Olympus E-P1 Couple of quick observations:

  • GF1 has a more functional read-out and interface, fewer stupid, laggy animations.
  • GF1 is slightly faster in focusing.
  • GF1 is noticeably lighter.
  • GF1 LCD is very nice. Sharp!
  • GF1 control wheel is a bit stiff, the upper control wheel on E-P1 is nicer. However, I am very against the lower control dial on the E-P1. It’s too easy to hit buttons on that thing accidentally.
  • GF1 has a flash! Ok, it’s weak but the mechanism is very pretty and it’s a real boon for any night time snapshots.
  • GF1 has no sensor stabilization. I miss that feature much more than I expected.

[all photos with Panasonic GF1 / 20mm f1.7]

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Excuse the Dust

You will have to excuse the crappy layout of the blog. This theme is not ideal but I want something that allows me to display 800 px width photos as part of the text. It always irritates me to see small photos on blogs. As it is, this current theme is cutting off part of the image.

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E-P1 vs GF1 vs ?

Hi Everybody,

I’m Mark and I love cameras. I used to carry a DSLR with me all the time but it has become too impractical. Now, I am looking for the ultimate small camera.

I photograph anything that takes my fancy and I usually use wide to standard length lenses. This blog records my thoughts on various small cameras as well as the small camera scene at large.

Right now, the two most interesting small cameras are the Olympus PEN E-P1 and the Panasonic GF1, both capable of high quality images using the micro 4/3 sensor. The Panasonic GF1 just came out in Japan on the 18th and I managed to snag one on the day, albeit without the optional electronic viewfinder. A lot of people have been wondering how the E-P1 fares against the GF1 so I’ve started a blog to share my experiences with the two.

Stay tuned!

Mark

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