One Month, One Camera – January 2019 (II)

So, half way through the first month of this one month one camera project, you’ll recall I chose the  Canon Digital IXUS 870 IS for January.

There is plenty to like about this camera, and very little I don’t like.

In fact, once I solved the rather slippery handling issue with a few centimetres of grip tape, there’s only one minor niggle I can think of so far.

Although the camera remembers virtually all of your settings after turning it off, the only thing it seems to reset is the AF mode, back to “normal”. This I’m sure covers the typical photographer and target customer for the IXUS for probably 95% of their shots, so I understand why it resets.

(It reminds me of the Olympus XA2, which does the same, though mechanically rather than electronically, when you slide the cover closed).

The other two focus options are AF Macro, for subjects 2-50cm away, and Infinity, for 3m to infinity.

Personally, with my shooting style, I use the AF Macro mode more often than not, and often like to get within 20cm of subjects.

So if the camera switches off, when you switch it on again, you have to choose Macro again. No big deal, it’s two presses of a dedicated button, and as I said when this is the only real niggle I can think of, it speaks volumes about how impressive the little IXUS 870 is.

All I’ve changed since my first post about the camera is shooting at ISO800 instead of ISO400 on the b/w mode, just because it gives the images a bit more noise and grain, which I like with b/w, and for me suits compact camera photography.

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The images aren’t stunningly sharp like the best I’ve made with my Ricoh GRD III say, but that’s a camera with a fast prime lens that was £600 new, a larger sensor (1/1.7″ vs 1/2.3″, the Ricoh’s is 1.5x the size), and it’s about three years newer than the Canon, so it’s not a fair comparison.

That said, I really like the photos the IXUS makes, and as mentioned before, with a little tweak to saturation and contrast I’m using the Custom Color [sic] mode for colour images straight out of camera. The Ricoh can’t do that!

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Some further thoughts on this one month, one camera project so far as a whole.

A month feels like a long time with one camera.

This is to be expected I suppose, as even with just five or six cameras, I still alternate between them quite regularly.

This longer time encourages more initial exploration of the camera’s capabilities.

Take my Ricoh GX100 or GRD III, or Lumix LX3. I never think twice about adjusting the settings, as I already spent a while experimenting in their early days, and have them set up to my preferences.

This includes b/w mode (“Dynamic Mono” on the LX3), ISO400, macro focus, and so on.

The GRD III has a fixed lens of 28mm equivalent and whilst the other two are both zooms, I have them set to 35mm and hardly ever touch the zoom control, so they may as well be prime lensed.

With the IXUS 870, I’m switching between b/w and colour more, mainly because I can. I like the colour images straight out of camera, and the b/w ones, whilst too grey and low contrast straight out of camera (like most of my other cameras), come out fine after a tweak in SnapSeed.

This does sometimes impact the flow of how I see images. I usually prefer to have either colour eyes or b/w eyes in on any one photowalk then look for compositions, textures, colours etc that suit colour or b/w better.

But this is partly because the IXUS is still new to me. In time, I would be familiar enough with both set ups to just choose one per photowalk and commit to it, in effect making it two cameras to choose from, rather than one. Talking of which…

I love not having to think about which camera to use each time I go out.

In other words, because I’ve already made the decision on the first of the month to use one camera the whole month, I don’t need to debate the choice again every time I reach for a camera. This is a huge thing for me, and saves much time and unnecessary mental gymnastics.

The only real decision is whether to shoot b/w or colour, which is dictated by the season, weather, where I’m going, my mood and so on.

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I really enjoy using compacts.

The IXUS is pretty much ideal in size, small enough to disappear in my hand or a trouser pocket, but large enough to handle well (after grip taping!), for the screen to be more than adequate (in fact quite excellent) and the buttons are few, and not overly small or fiddly.

Now even my relatively humble and compact micro four thirds Lumix GF1 – which I use predominantly with vintage M42 lenses – feels so unnecessarily bulky, heavy and almost over-equipped.

Focal length is not quite as important as I used to think.

When I got the IXUS 870, I gave the spec a cursory glance, and noted the fairly fast f/2.8 lens. I assumed the focal length (in 35mm terms) would be around 35mm at the wide end – as most digital compacts are – and gave it no further thought.

Then looking at the spec in more detail to find the sensor size stated above, I realised the focal length is 28mm at its default widest. (I don’t touch the zoom, always just shooting at its widest.)

This is the same as my Ricoh GRD III, but somehow the Ricoh feels wider. It surprises me that I though my ideal focal length for a compact was 35mm, and I sometimes find the GRD a bit too wide, I haven’t thought that at all with the Canon.

Of course the difference between 28 and 35mm isn’t vast, but I just thought I would realise sooner with the Canon!

Embrace each camera for what it is. 

Following on from the above, if I had realised about the 28mm lens from the outset, I might have tried to figure out how to zoom the lens to 35mm, like I did with my Lumix LX3 and activated the zoom memory so it never changes from this.

But once I’d figured out the basic controls and set up, instead I just set about shooting with the IXUS and trying to get the best from it.

A similar variable is aspect ratio. I wrote about this previously, again when I was more concerned about the numbers, and how after shooting at 3:2 with 35mm film for years I was trying to embrace the more typical standard 4:3 of compact digital cameras.

The Canon has various image quality settings, but all are the same 4:3 aspect, except a 1.78 / 16:9 “widescreen” option, which I haven’t yet used and likely won’t.

In my experience, the more you can just “set and forget” with a camera – or better still leave it on its default settings – the more invisible the camera becomes.

Rather than constantly fiddling with buttons and rifling through menus, you just hunt, frame, shoot.

Which is the kind of very pure and simple photographic experience I’ve come to love so much.

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Canon have finally won me over.

With film cameras, I had two or three Canon SLRs and perhaps 10 compacts. All performed well and were very capable. I recommended one of their EOS bodies more than once as the only SLR you need.

But none of them really excited me, there wasn’t the personality I experienced using a Pentax or Contax film camera. They were very bland, too vanilla.

The IXUS doesn’t exactly thrill me to giddiness, but it does two two things no other Canon camera has really done.

First, make me smile when I look at it, because I know I like using it and how it performs, and second, it feels like a companion, an eager, willing and devoted comrade in our photographic adventures.

The fact that it only cost £15 makes me smile even more, and proves again you can photograph with an almost zero budget.

I’ll likely write another final post about the IXUS 870 when January is over, and include a few more photographs.

How are your photography plans for 2019 panning out so far? Please let us know in the comments below. 

Please let us know in the comments below (and don’t forget to tick the “Notify me of new comments via email” box to follow the conversation).

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29 thoughts on “One Month, One Camera – January 2019 (II)”

  1. I’m considering aping your project.

    I’ve always grown most as a photographer when I use one camera exclusively for a while. I’d like to try that with an old box camera. Like the Kodak No. 2 Brownie, Model F, I just put two rolls of 120 through.

    That it cost me $31 to have those two rolls processed & scanned outrages me and is driving me to buy my own processing equipment. I haven’t done it yet but I will soon. I’m going to experiment with monobath developers as they look the least tedious. (I’ve developed film before and found it tedious. I hate tedium.)

    Anyway, then I want to buy a bunch of film and shoot that camera for at least a month. I will feel freer to shoot it knowing that processing will cost pennies and scanning will cost me time. This will also let me practice getting my processing and scanning techniques down, eight shots at a time rather than 24 or 36 as on a 35mm roll.

    Thinking March/April for the time to start this, as that is when the weather will get nicer again and we’ll have good sun for the slower films these old boxes like best.

    1. Sounds like a great plan Jim, and feel free to ape! I’m sure you’ll keep us posted on your blog.

      I remember your year with the Nikon (F2?) and how rewarding you found it.

    2. I need to get back into processing my own film too. I have all the gear just haven’t found the time. Hopefully 2019 is the year for getting out of the costly film processing exercise.

      1. I know what you are doing and I appreciate the effort 🙂 There is nothing I physically need I have absolutely everything required (apart from maybe a suitable space to do it). Having moved into a new house though any time I have has higher priorities at the moment, I can’t justify taking time to re-learn how to do this stuff. I need to get organised is all really.

  2. I haven’t gotten to any photography so far this year, except for some cell phone snaps. I like your idea a lot, a month is not too much to commit to. One less thing to make a string of decisions about. I have not really bonded with any Canon camera either, but from now on, when I have to get the shot (for work) I will use the EOS Digital and the compacts will stay home. I don’t love it, but it always does the job. I can’t say the same about my Panasonic’s.

    1. Hi Jon, yes “one less thing to make a string of decisions about” is a major plus. I remember when I shot mostly film I would have to decide on camera, lens, film, and location. Just the first two of these would sometimes render me unable to decide, so I’d end up not going out at all, or taking so long to choose I had hardly any shooting time left.

      Added to that, even when you have decided, you’re second guessing yourself, wondering if a different camera/lens/film combo might have been better, rather than just enjoying the experience.

      By choosing one camera at the start of the month, for the whole month, it makes all of those decisions in one go.

      I’ve had a few EOS 35mm bodies and you can’t fault them for size, handling, features, and performance. I would still recommend one for anyone start with film, especially coming from digital – they likely will have owned/used a Canon Digital EOS!

      What’s happening with the Panasonics?

      1. Dan, I love the Panisonics to bits for most things (I like the GF-1 so much I bought another) but for fast-moving indoor work with flash they have let me down. It could be operator error, but never had any such trouble with the Canon.

  3. Dan, not well enough to read your post today but a little energy left to reply to your question. Doing the best I can. Photography so far this year. I don’t think I have taken a photo this year so far. Energy going on the essentials

    1. Hi Susan, I’m not Dan, but I just wanted to say I hope the longer days perk you up a little. Best wishes, Jon Campo

  4. Photographic plans for this year? Well basically just continue my explore, finding ways to interpret what I see ‘out there’ relating to what I feel ‘in here’ *tapping side of head, with hand on heart*

    After some years, my trusty old Kodak Junior gave in and went to the big darkroom in the sky. So, I finally had to fork out some dosh on a ‘new’ shooter. Having settled on my quiver of 5 (yes only 5) cameras… one per format) a long time ago, and not spending time frozen by GAS, I’m free up to look at other parts of my process.

    I will continue to investigate the film processing possibilities. I am trying a new (to me) Rodinal derivative, and a few alternate (also new to me) emulsions. The new shooter I picked up is a Voigtlander Bessa folder. It can do 6×9 size negs (on roll film). These are large enough to contact print, which is always a joy to do. If contact printing was good enough for Edward Weston… hey, who am I to argue?

    I also want to get out on the street more this year using my Nikon FE2. Again it is a case of film processing, as I have the gear I need (more importantly, I have gear that I know and am comfortable with).

    I recall someone (might have been David Carol) saying : If you shoot digital and process to make it look like film, why not just shoot film 🙂

    1. Thanks as always for a juicy comment Anton!

      I love this expression – “not being frozen by GAS”. It is a horrible affliction, I know all too well. One camera per format is a great plan, as variation between formats is significant, and there’s unlikely to much debate in choosing between them when considering your next photowalk.

      I do sometimes feel I’m missing out on a chunk of the wonder of photography by not exploring film processing myself. Perhaps one day I’ll build an outhouse in the garden (or buy one of those old steel shipping containers – perfectly dark inside!) and explore.

      I agree to a point about shooting digital then processing to shoot film. I understand the appeal of digital for convenience, that immediate feedback than then leads to learning, and affordability. These are three reasons I love digital.

      But whilst in my earlier days of using a DSLR/Mirrorless I would spend ages faffing about in LightRoom to make the images look like film, I’ve come to appreciate more the distinctive look that digital cameras can give (older CCD ones almost exclusively), and embrace their charms, rather than process the life out of the images to make them look like film.

      1. Yes, I realised there is a very fine line with digital. It’s either cold, or over-processed. For me, it comes down to either creating an image, or letting the software generate the image. There is very little difference between a 3MP P&S, and a 20MP mid-ranged camera. It’s all about interpreting the light values, and converting that to code. It was all about letting the sensor and software do the magic… There was very little for me to do.

        Hey, you don’t really need a dedicated dark room to enjoy the magic of film. Start small… A changing bag and some other bits and bobs to process the film, which can be done in your kitchen (sans kids of course) is really all you need. Start (roll the film on the spools) to finish (negs hanging to dry) need not be more than 15 or 20 minutes. Then you can do some scanning. I will concede that this analogue/digital mash-up is not exactly what we are out to achieve… however, it’s a start.

        This way you can enjoy the delights of trying out some interest film stock or developer. Learn that the image can be defined after the exposure was made. Learn to see differently when trying to push the film stock to where you want to go. There is much to be said about knowing the mechanics of a particular camera. But when the image it generates is indistinguishable one from another, then you have to look elsewhere to push your creativity.

        Sorry about my rambling…
        Have a great weekend mate

      2. Not rambling at all, always interesting!

        I think with digital you still need to figure out each camera and how to get the best from it.

        Partly this is finding and playing to its natural strengths, and partly it’s learning how to bend and mould it to your own photographic vision and preferences.

        If I do ever start out in film processing, you’ll be the first person I speak to.

  5. There’s something attractive and Zen about all this, no?

    Take one piece of kit and live with it for a long time. Carry it, hold it, handle it, live with it, have it on the banquette next to you at coffee, exercise every lever and switch, turn the taps full on and off, adjust a slow drip, again and again, and you’ll get oddly frugal with burning digits. Those no-cost 1s and 0s are free, but a paradox kicks in; you become slow, stingy, and take more and more considered care.

    I am a bit daunted; I have the S95 and S100 to do this with, and yesterday the IXUS (silver, as I thought) arrived in the mail, so clean, pristine, full complement of booklets, CD, cables, case and “IOB” – In Original Box, as they say – that I might have shoplifted it off the shelf, but it is going this morning to my shooting partner, my cousin, and she will have first shot at that covalence.

    Because, well, covalence is what it. I have done this with motorbikes, musketry and fishing gear, and the shifters and brakes of certain small cars; athletes will marry-up with gloves and bats, finding just the right grip, correct stroke and power to put into it. Writers will exercise daily, make discrete notes for musing later wherever they are, pianists and Morse operators will tappity-tap along the edges of tables.

    This is what will keep you from the run of the Internet mill-race, the unceasing flash-flood of perfectly-focused, well-exposed swirl of empty garbage.

    1. I’ve never been all that comfortable with brand new stuff, especially technology. I don’t mean I’m intimidated in how to use it, but more the fact this it is pristine and untouched and anything I do will only add wear.

      But give me a camera that’s already used, and I love using it more, adding my own marks and scrapes and stories. I love paint worn at the edges, and parts worn smooth with repeated caress, both of which my IXUS has. Plus I think with used stuff (especially years old and within the £20 limit of this project), I don’t have any concerns about damage or theft. I don’t think I could ever use a new camera that cost £500, let alone thousands. Just not comfortable with it.

      Did you at least fire up the little IXUS? I have leant towards buying cameras like these with the original leads, box etc, as generally it suggest the owner was careful with it and it’s more likely to work! Though it is tempting to pick up one of those job lots of 10 or 20 cameras, and hope that one or two work, I like the “Lucky Dip” aspect! Maybe I’ll do that for one month, I’ve seen a few lots go for less than £20 overall.

      I like the idea of a kind of camera swap club, which is something I’ve been involved in a little in the past – either me sending someone a camera, or them me, as a challenge to then produce something interesting with it. It would be cool to have a little collective pool of old digital compacts that was circulated amongst a few enthusiasts, each one tried for a month, then sent on to the next willing recipient. Hmmm, I might explore this further…

      As I said in this post, I already upped the ISO another stop with the IXUS for b/w, as even at ISO400 it was a bit too clean for my tastes! I’m certainly not one for perfect focus and exposures…

      1. Oh, test shots taken for sure; works just as advertised.

        One thing about these little Canons – I have seen some “sample variation” in IQ (in the 1100is at any rate), which suggests that uniformity of manufacture may have had a slip now and then. This specimen, however, is bang on.

        Now for patience until it’s my turn with it…unless I can come up with another. This one was cheaper than lunch – still mind-boggled how such high-performing gear can go so cheaply.

      2. I wonder if the sample variation might be that over time some cameras have inevitably received a knock or been dropped, and it might have knocked something fractionally out of alignment, just enough to be noticeable in pictures compared with another “perfect” example of the same model?

        Absolutely agree about the cost. I’m desperately trying to avoid the deadly twin temptations of the Canon Camera Museum and eBay!

        I just finished another post about my IXUS, and said there, after spending hundreds on cameras since 2012, it’s insane that this one does all I need and gave me change from £20…

      3. “I wonder if the sample variation might be that over time some cameras have inevitably received a knock or been dropped..”

        Very like. Found a tiny lens ring dent in one, so…

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