My digital still camera

by Tané Tachyon on December 24, 2010


the Sony DSC-P10 cameraMy little point-and-shoot digital still camera is an important part of my filmmaking. When I’m filming a play or other event, before it starts I’ll walk around taking candid photos of the cast and crew, posters, marquee, auditorium, ticket booth/sellers, refreshments — all the extra and otherwise-ephemeral details that help to recreate the experience of having been right there when it happened. Often I’ll use these photos in my DVD design — as backgrounds for the main menu, chapter-selection menus, the credits roll, a special-features slideshow, some Ken Burns-style panning and zooming, and/or for the printed graphics on the DVDs themselves — and I also like to include them in the flickr photosets I sometimes make about the productions/events I film and produce DVDs of.

For that matter, when I was asked to make a video in honor of retiring consultant-teacher Meg Brown for the 2007 AFE Follywood festival of short student/family films, I did it using nothing but still photos — half taken by me and half by Dorothee Ledbetter — from Meg’s June 2 2007 beach bonfire retirement party, set to music by Meg’s good friend Joya Winwood.

As shown above, my digital still camera is a Sony DSC-P10 that I got in October of 2003, so it actually predates my camcorder by four months. There’s a funny story about how it physically made its way to my house, which I’ll include at the end of this posting, but first I’ll explain how I chose it from the vast ocean of digital cameras:

I wanted a Sony

Having been happy with Sony products since the days when the Walkman was the latest and greatest gadget, OK, it was going to be a Sony. Plenty of other manufacturers may be just as good or better, and since then Sony has unfortunately gone over to the DRM dark side, but whether reasonably or frivolously this definitely did narrow the field to a manageable size.

I wanted 5 megapixels

These days 5 megapixels is pretty much a laughable minumum, but at the time it was basically top of the line as far as affordable consumer cameras went. And although megapixel numbers keep getting higher as each year goes by, for the majority of people 5 megapixels is plenty — at that resolution the photos are large enough for most uses, but small enough not to really bog things down in terms of storage and bandwidth.

I wanted a viewfinder in addition to an LCD screen

Viewfinders have been getting less and less common, but I’m much more comfortable framing an image by looking through the viewfinder than I am trying to make out what’s on the LCD screen in extremes of bright sunlight or murky darkness.

I wanted it to support taking movies as well as still photos

This has some relevance for filmmaking in addition to just short wizard-pictures-style vignettes, because with plays and other live events there will always be times when suddenly there’s some really great behind/before/after-the-scenes action going on that you want to include in your movie, but your camcorder is not set up yet, in a different room, etc. (Though actually the DSC-P10′s implementation of this is the one thing I’ve not been totally happy with about it — its “VX” mode MPEG is only 16 frames a second, which does not always play nicely with my Sony Vegas software despite being fine for uploading short one-shots to YouTube or Flickr.)

I wanted a rechargeable battery

I’ve got the charger on my desk, so that whenever I plug in the USB cable to copy photos to one of my computers I just plug in the charger cable as well — about as minimum fuss as possible, as opposed to one of my children’s cameras which just eats AA batteries like crazy (and for that matter, four AA batteries plus four spares add a lot to the size and weight of a camera and camera case).

* * *

These days people generally take little digital cameras (including cell phone cameras) for granted as they should, but for someone who had grown up with film cameras, getting my digital camera really changed my life. It was such a revolution for photography to go from a rationed activity requiring regular doses of $$$ and waiting both before and after each lot of 24 or 36 exposures, to being able to take as many pictures as I wanted to at no added cost and immediately upload them to the computer.

For anyone who remembers the bit in Erma Bombeck’s “I’ve Always Loved You Best” column about the youngest child’s baby book being “barren but for a recipe for graham cracker pie crust that someone jammed between the pages”, well, the ever-increasing availability and cultural penetration of low-cost digital cameras have really turned that on its head — these days, the further-down-the-line-in-terms-of-birth-order the child, the more-photographed their day-to-day journeys and joys.

In addition to providing a rich record of family life and other personal adventures and interests, my camera has turned me into the designated photographer for all sorts of events and parties and yearbook pages and the like simply because I’m known as someone who always has her camera with her. As Neil Gaiman has often said about writing, “it really is 90% just showing up and doing the work, and doing it as well as you can”.

And to elaborate a little more on the “parties” part, as I recently commented on a friend’s blog posting, “Being a person who usually spends most of a party either following the kids around or sitting in a corner reading a book, having my little camera with me all the time both expands the menu of activities I feel most comfortable with and gets me thanked for documenting the goings on.”

And so, my digital camera happiness having now passed the seven-year mark, truly geologic time as far as consumer electronics are concerned, am I wanting to replace my camera as soon as possible with this year’s hot model? No, not really — I won’t say that newer cameras don’t sound pretty amazing and appealing, with improved low-light performance, larger sensors and LCD screens, HD video, increased speed and optical zoom, etc., but my camera is still going strong and still better than any film camera I ever had.

One funny thing about the march of time and my camera is that its curved, rounded contours and larger size (which in 2003 was considered quite compact!) compared to today’s very thin, flat, and squared-off point-and-shoot cameras have led some people to think not “that camera is seven years old — totally ancient!” but rather “that must be one fancy feature-packed camera!”.

If I had huge tracts of $$$, my fantasy camera of the moment would be not only packed with all the latest, top-of-the-line features, but also built into a medieval-style gauntlet/bracer, with the lens on the outside/back of my wrist and the LCD screen and controls on the inside, so it’d be right there and ready to go any time I was out and about, needing only a bit of dramatic swish and flick to aim and shoot.

And now, as mentioned above, here’s the story of how my camera both didn’t and did make it to my house, as I had written it up on the night of October 9, 2003:

An <insert bizarre word of choice> yet true story

the game 'Apples to Apples'Early this afternoon Sam and Arthur and I were talking about playing the game Apples to Apples with [a certain friend], but as I’d forgotten that she had to run off to an appointment, it didn’t happen.

On Sunday I’d posted about having finally gotten around to picking and ordering (from the dreaded, oh well) a digital camera. Well, when I checked the UPS tracking page this morning I saw that the package had already made it to Santa Cruz, so one thing that *did* happen early this afternoon was a UPS guy handing me a package. But I didn’t open it right away — having gotten two lectures on priorities from my boss during the last week (eep!), I thought I should get some more programming done before I did any camera playing around.

Eventually I came to a good stopping point about 45 minutes before the time I’d be walking over to Sam’s art class with him, so I decided to have a couple bowls of rice and lentils, make sure the camera was basically operational, and take it and its manual along with me to try/read while Sam was in his class.

Rice and lentils: check.

Camera: I opened the shipping box, pulled out the packing materials, pulled out the receipt, reached for the box that had been underneath the receipt, and stopped. It was a shrinkwrapped Apples to Apples box. I felt very uneasy, but, well, OK, I supposed there was a remote chance that *maybe* they had reused such a box to pack the camera in. Already having “my word against theirs” visions involving large amounts of money jabbing around in my brain, I had a strong feeling that I did *not* want to undo the shrinkwrapping on the Apples to Apples box unless I was sure a camera had gotten inside, so I got down our set for comparison. They seemed to weigh about the same, and as I tilted the new box one way and then the other I’d say I could definitely hear the sound of racks of cards shifting back and forth.

Well *shit*. Does someone in one of Amazon’s warehouses have a racket of stealing high-ticket goodies by pocketing them and sticking some other handy items into the boxes instead? Will Amazon send me out a new camera right away or are they going to balk and think I’m totally making this up to try to get a free camera?

Usually going to and from Sam’s art class makes for a pleasant walk and conversation, but I fear that tonight I spent way too much time muttering about cameras.

the book 'Lost in a Good Book' by Jasper FfordeAs Sam went into the classroom I sat down and started reading a book I’d picked up at the library last night — “Lost in a Good Book“, sequel to “The Eyre Affair“. Oh my. I don’t think it should really give away any plot secrets to mention that when coincidences start happening it means something bad is afoot, and that the early warning system for coincidences starting to happen consists of … rice and lentils.

I’m not looking forward to having to deal with Amazon about this, but as when I just flipped up the top of the shipping box I saw that the Apples to Apples box had somehow not magically changed into a camera box while we were out, I guess that’s next on the agenda. <insert frustration word or sound of choice here>

Luckily, the next morning I got mail back from Amazon saying that they were sending me a camera right away, no problem. And so they did, and I’ve been getting a lot of use out of my Sony DSC-P10 — many tens of thousands of photos — ever since!

October 2012 Update

At my son Arthur’s 18th birthday party I was standing on a chair on the raised deck in the backyard taking photos of him opening presents, when suddenly my camera slipped out of my hand, and — turned on and with the lens out — fell about ten feet down to go bouncing along the concrete sidewalk. I thought this was the end, but amazingly enough, the only effect this seems to have had on it was to reset the settings to factory default, so I had to reenter the time and date and all that. Yes, I am amazed!

updated November 8, 2012


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