A Tale of Two Cameras

Once upon a time there was a computer technician, who decided to go on a train ride to Picton and back, which is a round trip of 700 km. He enjoyed a photographic hobby and he knew that this train had an observation carriage which would be great for taking photos from the train as it passed by different places. So he decided to take two digital compact cameras along:

  1. A Canon Powershot S1 with lots of super duper features and a 10 times zoom lens, originally costing $700 new.
  2. A Canon Powershot A450, a basic model costing less than $200 in 1997.

Which camera did he expect to use the most? Well, he figured that with its superior capabilities, the long lens, all the options and tricks that it could do, the Powershot S1 would be taking most of the photos.

Guess what? He was wrong. He took over 300 pictures on the little cheap handheld A450 and less than 100 on the expensive S1. Why was this?

Well, the A450 is a compact lightweight camera that can be held and operated with one hand. It has a big 5 cm LCD screen that gives a very good view of the subject. It has a 4x zoom lens that zooms in only about seven steps. It has some most-used settings directly accessible on the back panel, and it has a manual mode that remembers more useful settings such as EV compensation and flash on or off. One of the other useful settings that can be enabled on the A450 is the displaying the picture just taken for a brief period before taking the next one.

While the S1 and later models of that series are more powerful, this adds up to more challenges. Firstly the greater size and weight of this camera make it more difficult to use one-handed. The zoom controller has to be turned very precisely to zoom quickly or slowly and it has a long zoom range. Useful functions like macro and flash cancel are not on the back panel. The 3.75 cm LCD screen is more difficult to see the picture on. Using viewfinder instead has the difficulty of trying to keep up with the scenery flashing by while setting the camera at the same time.

It may be that the later models of the S series overcome some of these limitations. But I was surprised that the little cheap second camera has proved so much better. The main reason why is that on a moving train you have to hang on with one hand. Then you need a camera that can be operated with one hand, that has a good screen, and that doesn’t take long to zoom in. In fact, most of the pictures I took were on the minimum zoom setting. The A450 can get through its zoom range faster, I think. It’s horses for courses, I suppose. The more expensive camera with the bigger lens is superior in some situations, like long distances or special exposure settings. For a lot of situations like rapidly moving subjects or close-range stuff, you might yet find as I did that the basic cheap model is easier.