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Having finally agreed with my husband that a brand new digital camera was absolutely necessary, he went out of his way to review the guides available online as well as in magazine form.
Its a man thing, I thought and left him to it.
I most certainly learnt my lesson from that.
This product is most certainly easily managed as a one click option, however, should you wish to practice your photographic abilities, you have all possible digitalised functions available.
Unfortunately this means a long sequence of button pushing and any moving target will have dissappeared by the time you get around to pushing the button.
This camera does not come with a case of any form and you cannot cover up the lense, bar the inbuilt shutter. It does make it feel very frail.
In addition we have had this camera now for 18 months and it has failed on us again. We have had to return it to the manufacturer twice with an incorrectly formated processor.
Even though the photographic results are fantastic, we have unfortunately found that this camera is not worth the money you pay for it. The picture quality is brilliant, however, if you want something fairly handy with a decent number of functions, this is not it.
everyone give me a show of hands.
Now if you already have a digital camera, put your hands down.
Fine if youre thinking of buying a digital camera soon, you can put your hands down now.
Just as I thought. You with your hand still up youre on your own.
See everyone can now get digital. Cameras are getting cheaper by the day, and printing at home is pretty cheap too. Even taking your memory card to the High Street and getting prints done for you isnt mind-bendingly pricey.
Now I have to confess at this point to having been a professional photographer at one time, so when the time came to do digital it wasnt long before I had talked myself into spending a VAST amount of dosh on a digital SLR (single lens reflex interchangeable lenses, major price tag etc).
I have subsequently found that theres a bit of a problem with JUST having a big bloody SLR to use for grabbing those all-important snaps that show themselves at all the wrong moments (e.g. when your camera is in your backpack, youre half-way up a mountain and teetering on the precipitous edge of a 400m drop and a bloody humming-bird decides to graze on flowers about 2m away), so I felt the time had come to buy a back-up camera that could be carried in a pocket or whatever, thus saving myself the need to make life or death decisions regarding the deployment of the trusty Nikon.
I did my homework like a good boy, and found out that there are THOUSANDS of digital cameras in all sorts of sizes, shapes and prices. THOUSANDS I tell you!
I set myself a few parameters in an attempt to narrow the field.
The camera had to be able to take pictures in RAW format. I wont bore you with the technicalities of RAW and why its so desirable. It just is desirable that is. At least to me.
It had to be able to take high resolution images; the higher the better. This basically translates as having many, many mega-pixels. The more the better. That isnt the whole story, but itll do.
It should have the facility to take pictures manually as well as the various options for automatic shooting.
And it had to feel right in my hand.
All this narrowed the field to a scant handful of cameras strewn willy-nilly on the counter of my local Jessops, and the winner by a short head was the Olympus SP 350.
Its got a sensor that packs in 8 megapixels, which should ensure high resolution, it allows for manual as well as shutter or aperture priority automatic operation, it shoots RAW or JPEG files, or indeed both together, so you can take a picture and have a readily email-able small file and a huge (nearly 10mb) RAW image to play around with in Photoshop or in the Olympus software supplied or any other decent graphics or photography software, and it feels great, with a solid heft despite its small size and weight of just 180g. On the subject of size, its 99.5 x 65 x 35mm the technical term for which is bloody tiny.
As well as all this, it also boasts a hot shoe for attaching an external flash, an optical viewfinder, for those days when the sun is just TOO bright to see the huge 2.5 screen, a 3 x optical zoom and it can be run off 2 plain vanilla AA batteries (though it prefers CRV-3 lithium)
It will shoot at anything between 50 and 400 ISO, and at shutter speeds of 15 1/2000th of a second, while the lens aperture will open to between f2.8 and f4.9 (depending on where you are on the zoom range)
As far as memory is concerned, it takes the skinny little XD card, which is available up to 1gb and isnt too pricey. I paid £45 for my 1gb card, which is Olympus branded. Shop around for the best deals, and remember that memory prices are still dropping like an ice-cream from a high-rise but not quite as messy.
Just so you cant say I left too many important bits out, I should tell you that I get 10,000 (let me say that again I cant quite believe it myself 10,000) low-res images; 640 x 480 pixels good enough for happy snaps, onto my 1gb XD card. On the other end of the spectrum quality-wise, if I shoot in RAW and take a high quality JPEG alongside it goes down to 89 images. Of course, all that means is that I have to download the pix more often. It also means Im a quality junkie, and cant get me enough of them high-res photographs.
Now I fully appreciate that a lot of this is pretty well meaningless to any but the most techy-minded of photo-geeks, but trust me, its all good stuff. Nod off if Im boring you, but come back soon for the interesting bits, OK?
One of the features I hadnt set my heart on, but which I have found to be a real asset, is the macro doodad. The camera has a macro and a super-macro setting, accessible through the menu. This means that you can shoot close-ups. And I dont mean squiddly little fairly close-ups. I mean you can get to 3cm away from your subject and this camera will focus and shoot a perfect picture of whatever you feel happy getting that close to. When you print the result it is truly astonishing. Id never have known my knee looked like that NEVER!
The controls are all pretty intuitive, and I dont intend to do the guided tour, as people like What Digital Camera (www.whatdigitalcamera.com )and DP Review (www.dpreview.com) do a much better job than I could. Lets face it; they get paid more to do it too.
A few of the operating details I will outline for you, as there are a number of things that are quite different from the norm. These include the rather quirky wedge-shape of the body. Theres a big handgrip type lump on the right side, then the rest of it tapers away to a skinny end on the left. I have no problem with this, indeed it makes it even easier to slip the little mite into a pocket, but I suspect it might make two-handed operation a little awkward for some people. Having said that, one-handed operation is a doddle, as all the controls fall easily to hand on the right.
Located around the shutter button is a sprung switch with a little lever to the front. This serves as the zoom select when shooting, and then doubles as the selector for choosing how many images to view on the lovely LCD (did I say how BIG that screen is?) at one time.
The exposure lock, for those occasions when your subject isnt in the centre of the shot, or when theres a lot of contrast, is a button on the rear upper edge of the camera, and unlike most such controls its a switch: one push to set it, and another (or take the picture) to unset it. Dashed clever in my book.
There are a few limitations, so its not ALL wine and roses. For instance, when you shoot RAW images it takes the cameras buffer a good few seconds to write the file to your data card. Its also not too rapid when you want to view these huge images, so patience is needed.
The SP 350 will never replace my Nikon D100, or whatever I buy to replace it in due course, but its small enough to fit in a pocket or in a briefcase, durable enough to take the bashing itll get in your pocket or case, and it provides excellent images.
So to sum up this ramble through my semi-conscious mind:
The Good:- Its small, its sturdy and its packed with all the techy wonders that I crave. The pictures taken are sharp, exposure is excellent and the colours reproduce very naturally.
The Bad:- Maybe Im just spoilt from spending a couple of years shooting with my Nikon, but the images dont look as sharp as Id like when theyre blown up to A3. (Dont get me wrong; theyre not bad...theyre just not quite right. Its not too quick when you shoot in RAW. You wont be sneaking around in low light getting great candid shots, because the focus assist lamp is BRIGHT a bit of a giveaway, I find.
The Ugly:- My dog Doogie, my knee in super-macro, British weather and those little bugs that get in your wine in the summer.
I paid £260 for my SP350 from a dealer in the FAR north of Scotland, but as I bought it on the internet I didnt have to travel all that way. Jessops will try to prise £345.00 from your paw for the same package, so shop around for the best deal. Id like to thank the staff at Jessops in Kingston for showing me all hardware I wanted to look at, and letting me play with them all. Id have liked to buy from you, guys, but the difference in price was just TOO huge to countenance. Id also like to thank the guy at Ffords from whom I DID buy the camera. Great service!