My camera evolution has led me to shooting digital compacts almost exclusively these days.
Obviously a major appeal of these cameras is the pocketable size.
I grew tired of having an SLR, then DSLR, or even a Sony NEX with adapter and vintage lens, swinging across my chest.
I prefer a camera I can have on a wrist strap and hold in the palm of my hand.
In my experiences of the last few years, I would categorise the cameras I’ve used into four sizes.
Palm – A camera you can virtually hide it in your hand, like the Canon Digital IXUS 870 IS or Sony Cyber-shot DSC-L1.
Jacket pocket – The typical size of your average digital compact, still very small and light compared to a DSLR, but not tiny enough to secrete in your hand or a trouser pocket. For example the Ricoh GRD III, Pentax Q or Panasonic Lumix LX3.
Wrist strap – These cameras are too big for most jacket pockets, but still compact enough to have on a wrist strap and in one hand. Many mirrorless cameras are of this size, like the Panasonic Lumix GF1.
Everything larger – Even a small DSLR is a bit cumbersome on just a wrist strap, and generally these bodies are more comfortable with a strap across your chest or out back in a bag between shoots.
On the whole, it follows too that the larger the camera, the heavier it is.
But in favouring small, light cameras, there is a limit, an optimum.
I haven’t simply gone for the smallest and lightest possible cameras available. For the same reason I’ve tried on a few occasions to rely only on a phone as my main camera, and quickly remembered it’s not going to work.
This is all about how the camera feels in your hand(s).
You can have a tiny camera, but the handling is so awkward, and space and grip for your fingers so lacking, it can be more challenging – and more annoying – to use than a far bigger camera with excellent ergonomics.
A surprisingly significant factor I’ve also found is the screen, and its size and position on the back of the camera.
Having a larger screen obviously means you can see your compositions better, and make better judgements on the hoof about exposure, focus, depth of field and so on.
But again, if the screen takes up so much of the rear that your thumb has nowhere to rest firmly, and/or the buttons have been made so minute to accommodate the larger screen you can’t operate them easily, it’s a major downside for me.
So in assessing the size of my ideal camera, whilst there might be general rules, there is no single magic formula.
The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-L1 on paper is too small to be comfortable to use – just 95mm long, 44mm high and 26mm deep.
But details like the 1.5 inch screen being small enough to get out of the way (but big and sharp enough to still compose ok), the ample space for your thumb on the rear, the clever position of the angled wrist strap lug and raised metal texture to aid grip even more, the lens being positioned on the far left of the front of the camera so your fingers have plenty of space to close around, and the curved front face following the shape of your partly closed grip, all add up to a camera with brilliant handling.
Something like the A series Canon PowerShots (eg the A95) are much chunkier than the diminutive Sony and into jacket pocket territory. But again, excellent handling – even one handed – and intelligent design and layout, make it a winner.
How about you? How big is your favourite camera, and what makes its size so ideal for you?
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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