I bought my old camera in early 2004, and it was a two-year-old model then. It's a Fuji Finepix 4700, and it was one of the most mistaken purchases I've ever made. I got a really nice little film SLR when I was about 11 or 12, and I was somewhat reluctant to make the leap to digital, and in fact only did so because I had already spent about twice the value of the camera on repairing it, so I decided it was time to stop. Even then I dithered about digital; in principle, digital cameras are obviously better, because I'm much more interested in sharing photos on the web than in having piles of paper photos fading and gathering dust in a cupboard. But I didn't want a camera where you press a button and a mini computer does some clever maths and a photo comes out, I wanted a camera that I could focus and adjust the aperture and shutter speed. And the kind of camera I was given as a kid is hard to find in a digital version: the intermediate stage between a point-and-shoot box and a fancy professional camera, a thing you can get for about £50, which gives you control of the actual mechanics of photography.
So I tried to find a camera that was affordable, but also had some degree of manual controls. I was advised that the digital version of that sort of thing starts from about £200, and that felt out of my budget. So I stubbornly searched eBay and other bargain-hunting sites until I found a two-year-old, originally £200 camera that was retailing for £120. The problem with the Finepix is that although it does have the ability to set aperture and shutter speed (also ISO equivalent and white balance), and to focus manually, it's incredibly fiddly to do so. Also, and I don't know if this is a flaw in the model or just because mine was old, to use the manual settings you had to have the LCD screen switched on, and I found that with the screen switched on, I got about 10 minutes of battery life even with high-quality rechargeables. So I ended up using this fancy camera as an inferior point-and-shoot, and feeling increasingly unsatisfied with it. And the flash never worked, and as it got older the mechanism for retracting and expanding the lens became unreliable, and it would more and more often just lose the seating of the memory card. By last year, I'd got to the point where I just wouldn't bother taking the camera most places, and if I did I often wouldn't bother getting it out, because it was more of a chore than a pleasure to use.
I carried on dithering for about half a year, because I don't like spending money, and I don't like the consumer electronics mindset that you have to replace everything every couple of years to keep up with Moore's law and the shoddily made gadgets failing. Finally someone linked someone else on my friends list to Digital Photography Review, which is a comparison and consumer site for serious geeks. It has a long list (like three screens!) of features, and you can select the ones you wanted, and it presents you with a selection of cameras which match your requirements, and then you can read incredibly detailed reviews of every technical aspect of them. This allowed me to find, with about 10 minutes' research, all the cameras which take normal AA batteries, have a real optical viewfinder (this is very rare in modern digital cameras), and have manual focus and some degree of manual light control. (Previously I'd been doing things like going to Amazon or ebuyer and scouring customer reviews for this kind of information, and trying to make a list, and giving up because it was too confusing. Most of the actual manufacturer sites have nothing but puff about how their camera is so cool, and when they do list features it's features I don't care about.) So I decided that what I needed was a Canon Powershot, and Canon are a brand I trust from the film camera days, so once I had that knowledge, it was easy enough to find it sold for a decent price.
I played with it for the first time over Christmas. I wasn't trying to do anything very sophisticated, just holiday snaps, really. I already like it far better than the old camera. It's about half the weight, which helps a great deal, and has a body shaped like a traditional camera, wider than it's long so it's very comfortable to hold even in one hand. Also, even though I was working with the viewscreen turned on, one set of batteries lasted the whole holiday, including four snapping sessions. (This makes the optical viewfinder issue less urgent than I thought it was, but there are still going to be times when I don't want to wait for the screen to wake up and settle.) And wow, I have a working flash for the first time in my life! It can do things that my old camera simply couldn't do, such as this shot where you can see that the scorf is shiny and the fuzzy toy is fuzzy and the jewellery box is stroky and the carpet is carpet-y. And landscapes that don't just look like undifferentiated green, and capturing enough detail at maximum zoom to get a decent shot of a small feature on a roof.
On the negative side, there doesn't seem to be a low quality setting; for the majority of my photos, 8 megapixels just means a file that takes up far too much space on my hard drive, I'm never going to use anything over a fifth that size, and quite often less. Having the capacity to take 8 MP shots is a good thing, for example when I want to take pictures of weather vanes high up on the roof, and crop just the detail from a full-sized image. But I want the option to take 2 MP snaps as well. With my old camera I used to take most shots at 1.2 MP, and process them on my computer to about 0.2 to 0.5 MP, giving me a size suitable for the web. Occasionally I was frustrated because I couldn't go above the 3.6 MP capacity of my camera, which is part of the reason for moving to something more modern. With the new camera, I am forced to take everything at 8 MP, which opens up a whole range of new potential for about 10% of my photos, but annoys me for the remaining 90%, because you can't shrink something from 8 MP to 0.5 MP without visible loss of information.
I'm tempted to complain that the quality is worse; you can see really blatant sensor noise in some of my photos which the Fujifilm camera never had. But that's not really fair, because I'm seeing sensor noise in photos that the Fuji wouldn't have been able to take at all, eg indoor shots or photos of mountains several miles away. And some of the noise is a factor of the resolution being insanely high compared to my requirements, I think. The colour balance is, well, a lot of these shots are taken with flash, which doesn't help, but I'm finding that almost every single photo wants processing to increase the darkness of the dark tones and take away a slightly bleached cast from the raw images. I think a lot of these problems are going to be diminished when I start actually start playing with the advanced settings; I didn't want to do that for the first time when I was taking photos in company, because it's boring if someone you're trying to be sociable with keeps stopping to spend 10 minutes fiddling with a camera.
Anyway, I'm already far happier with this new camera than I ever was with the old one, and I'm looking forward to learning how to stretch it to its full capacity.
To start with, cartesiandaemon and his family were incredibly generous with Christmas presents. And several people gave me lovely things for my birthday, including some parcels which came in the post from abroad, always exciting. Many thanks to rysmiel for bookies and darcydodo for the adorable tiny pink teapot, also to everyone who gave me a birthday present in person. cartesiandaemon has started a campaign to make me less of a film philistine, giving me a huge heap of DVDs and even a DVD player, something I've always wanted but never quite got round to buying myself since I generally didn't want a TV. Now my landlord has pressed one on me, and while I do resent the licensing fee which I'd rather have spent on DVDs or trips to the cinema, at least I have a screen on which to show DVDs now.
Yesterday evening I went to redeem a parcel collecting slip (they have a really good system here, where you get a slip in your mail box, and you take it to a collection point in a supermarket, which is open long hours and convenient to get to, none of this nonsense about the delivery person making a half-hearted attempt to see if you're at home, and if not either making you go to a depot in another city, or dumping the parcel to get broken or stolen). I was expecting the next instalment of my book delivery from staubundsterne, but it turned out that as well as lovely bookies, I had a set of Star wars DVDs from a mysterious benefactor. I think I know who it is, but if my theory is right they'll enjoy making me guess... Thank you both, that was a really cheering thing.
Just a note about Star wars: no, I've really never seen it. Even though it's a classic, I'd prefer not to be spoiled; I know there's a big reveal about somebody being somebody's father, but I can't remember who, and I'd just as rather see the trilogy naively. Also, the DVDs contain the original trilogy, now called IV to VI, and they have two discs for each episode, one with the remastered versions released recently, and one with the original cinematic release. I should watch the older versions, right? The only slightly annoying thing is that I was so excited to have Star Wars suddenly show up that I wanted to start watching straight away, and it turns out that my new shiny DVD player didn't come supplied with a cable for connecting to the TV, so I need to go and buy one of those. Do I need to know anything more than the fact that it will be a SCART cable?
Clothes shopping *sigh*
I was very determined that I would take advantage of the last opportunity to buy warm winter clothes in Sweden, namely the January sales. All the new season stuff is spring already, and if I end up leaving the country, I won't have nearly such a good selection of really warm, snuggly stuff. So I was good, and I didn't get distracted by shiny things, or random cheap t-shirts which I have plenty of already, but methodically went through the shops I know I like (KappAhl, Gina Tricot, Axelssons) picking out warm winter things and patching actual gaps in my wardrobe.
The two big purchases were a good winter jacket, waterproof, with a hood, and a nice dark red colour, so both smart and practical; and some grey woollen trousers. I have been looking for winter trousers forever, and this time my perseverance in trying on about 30 pairs that didn't even slightly fit was rewarded. (It's not that there are no trousers in my theoretical size – most of the shops I bother to patronize have a plus size range – but that all the trousers in the world that fit over my bottom have the waist way too huge and often in the wrong place.) Other than that, I got half a dozen jumpers in a range of colours and styles, and a random bra (after the exhausting and demoralizing trouser hunt, I didn't have the courage to repeat the process with underwear, so just got something basic to tide me over), and a couple of tops, including a polo neck in my absolute favourite shade of bright purple, and lots of tights which I always need more of. And a new handbag, to replace the most recent one I killed by putting too many heavy books in it. This one is gunmetal grey, more or less like an elegant version of a satchel, with space for a modern oversized book and my tiny computer, so it's pretty close to the ideal version I had in mind. Oh, and some warm winter PJs, shiny dark blue on the outside, and fuzzy and warm on the inside. Mm, snuggly.
I think that's a win overall, though I am still lacking a thick winter skirt, and proper gloves for when it gets seriously cold, and decent bras, though that project isn't restricted to January.
In less capitalist news, I meant to add to my New Year social report that lethargic_man very sweetly agreed to meet up with me when I was on the way between Cambridge and the airport. It was really lovely to spend some time with him; we went out to Diwana Bhel Poori, a really excellent vegetarian Indian restaurant just behind Euston, which ewtikins introduced me to in 2007, and I stupidly forgot to write down the name in my LJ report. Happily she didn't mind reminding me of the name and how to find it, so we got to sample the tasty tasty lunch buffet. It just hit the spot, because I'm deprived of Indian food here, and it's amazingly cheap by London standards, and very good, with the different dishes providing really unique flavours. lethargic_man did me the huge favour of accompanying me all the way to Heathrow on the Tube, making the journey incredibly less boring.
This weekend was fun and sociable too; SA invited me and Joanna to dinner on Friday night, and we had some delightfully girly conversation. I was a bit pushed for time in which to get home, sleep, and get up in time to be in shul Saturday morning to lead the service. That went very well indeed; I got the timing right, and could feel that the community were really engaged, and lots of people said very nice things about it. Then I lead a successful seminar on the week's Torah portion. Slightly annoyingly, I had to spend the afternoon in a committee meeting, but we met in the Örtagården veggie restaurant, and the meeting was convivial if the random side discussions meant that it took rather longer than necessary.