WHEN YOUR CAMERA SWIMS WITH THE FISHES
A friend of mine and I were chatting on the phone as my brother and I barreled down State Road Six in Wolcott, Colorado to launch his river catamaran into the Eagle River before the afternoon work crowd clogged the boat ramp. "Good luck and swim with the fishes," she said. "Actually, catch many fishes would be more appropriate," I said. "To swim with the fishes implies that you are going to get whacked in a retaliatory strike by a rival mobster a la Tony Soprano."
Two hours later, after landing a nice trout, I was cast off the bow of the boat into the 50-degree waters of the Eagle as the catamaran eased limply over a hidden rock and into a throttling hydraulic. Everything that wasn't strapped or carabinered to the boat proved a casualty of the flip. As I pawed the water towards the bank, my right hand locked to the Orvis rod in my hand, I watched as my Canon G10, safe in the plastic clutches of its housing, bobbed below me in the currents. Perhaps, for a millisecond, I considered racing after it, but my waders were already half-filled with water, a brain freeze was setting in and, frankly, I wasn't confident how long it would take to reach the bank.
So, somewhere in the roiling currents of the Eagle, my go-to point-and-shoot camera in fact now swims with the fishes. As it was nearly three years old, the time was coming to replace it anyway so I decided to toss out a question to a consortium of fellow photographers whose opinions I have come to rely on as to a worthy replacement from among the top choices: Canon S95, Canon G12, Panasonic LX5/Leica D-Lux 5, Panasonic GF2/GF3 and Sony NEX-5. Photoshelter had done a similar canvassing of professionals here. Here are some of the most noteworthy responses from my friends.
"My thoughts on my top three... Canon S95 - great camera in a small package. Has a lot going for it but mostly because of it's size. I think a pro's P&S should be a but more robust though. However, I do think this would make a perfect 3rd camera."
"Canon G12 - has a lot going for it but one drawback in my opinion is the form factor. I've had two G series cameras and have appreciated both of them. That is my only criticism... the brickness of it. Well that and the performance of the sensor. I think the best thing Canon did for the G series was to reduce the number of pixels on the sensor and improve image quality. Another huge plus factor though is the cheap water housing from Canon. This alone was almost enough to keep me in the G series camp, but then again, I'm a water shooter."
"Sony NEX-5 - love the performance from the sensor. Flat out, this was the reason I got one. And the size. And the HD video. And the interchangeable lenses. The one thing that stopped it from being my mistress was the lack of a manufacturer housing. There are third party solutions available but $1500 is kinda steep in my opinion. Who wants to spend that kind of cash on a part time girlfriend when you can give your wife a killer weekend in NYC and reap the benefits the rest of the year? This camera has been in my bag (in all the various uses of the term) since I got it and has turned out some great images. And video. See for yourself here and here. Not too shabby in my opinion, minus the audio of course. Seriously though, you should see the uncompressed footage. I know the industry's complaint is the operating system but, I've used this camera for over a year in various situations (yes, I even used it on an assignment in front of the client!) and it hasn't slowed my shooting process down. I did however, take the time to learn it's nuances and how to work with it instead of fight it."
"As you know, I have the Leica version of the Panasonic LX, so I am partial to it. It and the LX5 have a 24mm lens and f2.0 aperture. The only other one with f2.0 is the S95. The Panasonic gets some negative reviews of its jpg processing, but the Leica version (D-Lux 4) produces astounding jpgs. If you will always shoot RAW, then the LX5 is fine. I love my little Leica; it produces a beautiful file, but the Sony has a larger sensor, and Chris makes a strong case for the quality of that Sony image. The LX5 range is 24-90mm whereas the others start at 28mm but have more on the long end, so if you must have lots of zoom, the LX5 may not work for you. The Leica version I have is only 24-60mm, so it's even more limited in focal length, but I don't mind. The LX5, G12, GF2, S95 have the most options for aspect ratios. These even have 1:1, so if you want to shoot in square format you can, without having to crop later. The Sony only has 3:2 ans 16:9. I am always changing the aspect ratio on my Leica depending on what I am shooting and who I am shooting for. If I know I am shooting a portrait for someone who will only want a 8x10 or other traditional print size, then I will shoot in 4:3 aspect. Much of the time I shoot in 3:2 aspect, which fits 4x6 and 8x12 prints. Lately I have been shooting more in 16:9 format for viewing on my HDTV. I wish my Leica had 1:1 because I love shooting and framing in square format. Now I am seriously considering upgrading."
"As you know, Canons and Panasonic's make up my 'point and shoot' and compact lineups as you know. I think I've had/have four Canons and two Panasonics. The Olympus Stylus tough is great but image quality stinks. The Powershot and Lumix range have superior color rendition and sharpness from my experience with menus and features that are excellent although Canon's are better. The Panasonic DMC-ZS5 has a 25-300 range and a Leica lens. You've seen that camera and you know that it takes very good shots. I can't do fixed focal length no matter how good the image quality is. It's too constraining and you end up with beautiful shots and frustratingly wishful composition. You also know that I have a micro 4/3s Panasonic G1 which I've used (including Yosemite) a lot and love it. It's a great happy medium and you should probably consider getting the GF3 or G3 as their versatility and image quality are excellent. Additionally, shooting 1080i (in stereo), having an articulated 960,000 pixel count screen and shooting multiple formats is beneficial to your work and travel. Buy one of those cameras with the 14-42mm (i.e. 28-84mm) and pick up the 20mm f/1.7 pancake and you're at the same price as that X100 but you're packing heat with great image quality and not just something pretty (with great image quality)."
"Sony? Come on brother…no u/w housings for that pup….so its out. OK…so there is an Aquatica…but you get my point. Ikelite isn't even going to support this model. The only reason I mention Ikelite…..is at least with their housing you can add either the Inon screw on wide angle (on the fly in the water) which gives you the ability to shoot macro and wide angle on the same dive etc. Panasonic….same thing….no u/w housings options or certainly limited. Ah…Canon!! Could keep things ultra compact and simple with the S95. Downside….I don't think there is any option for any housing where you can shoot dual strobes? Which leaves us with the G12! "
Although each of these cameras would be a worthy replacement and represent an improvement over my G10, I elected the Canon S95 largely because of its compact take-anywhere unobtrusive size. I had originally intended my G10 to be a take any camera but it proved to be too much of a brick to schlep anywhere.