So this year I’ve chosen a project to guide my photography – One Month, One Camera.
The premise is very simple – use just one camera each month, something I’ve only managed to do once since discovering film in 2012.
As January ends, here are my thoughts on how the first challenge of 2019 has gone.
First, thoughts on the camera, the Golden IXUS.
The camera I chose for January was a Canon Digital IXUS 870 IS, known as the PowerShot SD880 IS DIGITAL ELPH in the US, and the IXY DIGITAL 920 IS in Japan. Quite why Canon chooses entirely different (and rather lengthy) model names and numbers in different territories I have no idea.
My example is a kind of champagne gold at the front and dark bronze at the rear, so I quickly named it The Golden IXUS.
The camera was released in 2008, has a 1/2.3in 10MP CCD sensor, a zoom lens from 28mm to 112mm (35mm equivalent) and is tiny enough to almost disappear in a loosely clenched fist. If you want the full spec head to Canon’s excellent Camera Museum.
It cost me £15 plus postage, comfortably within my £20 limit for this project.
It’s become the only camera I now have and can use for colour photography straight out of camera, which is a pretty big deal for someone as post processing shy as me.
For b/w I use my usual 13 second Snapseed process, as with most other digital compacts.
Once I’d improved the initially slippery handling with some strategically placed grip tape, it’s been excellent to hold and use.
It’s about as small as a camera can get whilst still being able to hold it and use the buttons without anything being too fiddly. This was aided further by attaching a lovely leather wrist strap made by Footprint, of which I have two that alternate on the cameras I use most.
What I think has impressed me overall with the Canon is the intelligent design.
My preconception of a consumer compact (based on limited experience of a few previously) is thus –
– They have a bunch of scene modes that are never quite right for any real world situation.
– They automate things you don’t want them to (making poor and/or baffling decisions in the process).
– They have complex menus with the most useful features buried.
– The buttons are too small and fiddly to use.
– They generate overly clean and digital images with colours that are either too bland or artificially over saturated.
The Canon is not like this at all, and is impressively intelligent in many ways.
To name a few –
It has a dedicated button each for flash, ISO and focus.
The Function menu contains virtually everything else you might need to change, from exposure compensation, to metering, to colour mode, to image size/resolution.
There’s a strange send to printer button which I won’t ever use, but happily it can be programmed as a custom function button, a short cut to one of the other functions you use most.
I set mine to exposure compensation, so a press of this button gets the exposure comp slider straight up on screen. Very useful especially in the low light churches I often explore and where the Canon leans towards over exposing.
Its Program mode is perhaps the best example of the Golden IXUS’s intelligence.
Canon obviously knew they’d made a lens that is excellent at its widest aperture, f/2.8. The also know that as with any digital camera, the best results will come at the sensor’s native ISO, which is ISO80 in the case of the IXUS 870.
Furthermore they knew that their Image Stabilisation (IS) is well respected and some claim give you an extra couple of stops on the shutter speeds. In other words if you normally don’t go below 1/30s because your hands aren’t steady beyond that, with IS you can go down to 1/8s with pretty much the same sharpness of results. I shot at 1/4s and 1/3s with no visible detriment to the images.
However, all of these qualities combined might be of very limited use if the camera didn’t make clever use of them.
Fortunately it does, and in my month with the Canon I found on Program mode and Auto ISO it always shoots at f/2.8 and ISO80 when it can, then drops the shutter speed to get the correct exposure.
Which means the output is, far more often than not, the best the camera is capable of.
Maybe this all sounds obvious, and maybe plenty of consumer compacts do this. But credit nonetheless to Canon for optimising certain functions, then programming the, um, Program mode to ensure these individual optimum settings collide beautifully to help the camera deliver its “A game” as often as possible.
My intention with this project initially was not to buy a new camera every month for 12 months and expand my collection. But given how emphatically the Canon Digital IXUS 870 IS has impressed me, I’m not ready to let go of it yet.
So that’s the Golden IXUS itself, what about the experience of sticking to one camera for a whole month, only the second time I’ve done this since owning more than one?
Despite the not inconsiderable delights of the Canon – I never felt I was reaching for it with a feeling of duty or reluctance – it did still feel pretty hard using only one camera for 31 days.
This is mostly because for the last seven years my photography adventure has featured hundreds of cameras, and I’ve rarely shot the same one on two consecutive photowalks.
But once you start to overcome this change, the benefits of using just one camera for a sustained period are obvious.
Sticking to one camera means zero deliberation when heading out.
I remember having say five SLRs with 10 lenses and perhaps 10 different types of film. Which gives a crazy 500 different combinations. Too much for my simple brain to comprehend!
Being able to just grab my one camera (and it being one I could literally grab and hide in my hand without needing anything else to use it) rather than deliberating over even three or four, was very liberating.
Using just one also means once you’ve got used to its controls (which didn’t take long with the Golden IXUS and didn’t require looking at the manual once – again credit to Canon for their user friendly design), then it becomes second nature.
The one thing that bugged me at first was the despite having a very good “macro” mode, you need to set it on the focus button. This resets when you turn the camera off – whereas all other functions and settings are memorised.
This is logical for the typical user, who no doubt wants to switch on the camera and take a picture of a subject between 0.5m and infinity in a second. Not someone like me who nearly always takes carefully composed close ups of decaying objects.
But I forgot about this after a while, and my power up sequence just became pressing the power button then the focus button twice to go to macro mode without thinking.
If I was only using this camera perhaps once a month, I know that every time I went back to it I’d forget about the focus resetting and would wonder why it wasn’t focusing as close as I wanted.
Another benefit is you get to know the limits of a camera better, and more quickly. And then use it to its optimum strengths, knowing you can depend upon it to deliver.
Overall this project is proving a very worthwhile experience. No great shocks, just further embedding what I already knew and suspected – both in terms of the great results and fun that can be had for less than £20 of digital compact, and using one camera for a sustained period.
So, onwards to February!
When did you last use one camera for a sustained period, and how did you find it?
Please let us know in the comments below, we’d love to hear about your experiences and decisions (and don’t forget to tick the “Notify me of new comments via email” box to follow the conversation).
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