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Obsolescence and obscurity in digital cameras

University Hall Tower at OWU I’m planning on buying a new DSLR, and as I looked through old photos from college today I started to think about my first digital camera, a Philips ESP50.  Here’s a page with some specs, translated from German.

I remember buying the camera, logged in to eBay from my parents’ house late at night the day after Christmas.  I think I ended up paying something like $250 for it.

This was before the megapixel war, when 640 by 480 was considered a viable resolution.  This camera applied tortuous levels of JPG compression to fit images on the 4MB disk.  At the time, though, it seemed like a good deal.  Film cost money, and developing film cost money, and most of the year I was a ramen-noodle-eating college student.  Probably the biggest reason to go digital was the tiny little screen on the back – you could actually tell if you got the shot, instead of waiting to get back a bunch of blurry prints.

The camera is painfully obsolete now, and even then it was somewhat obscure.  The thing is, the Web was a pretty amazing place even back in 1998 – there were lots of web pages about this camera.  I remember reading at least a couple reviews, and searches for it on WebCrawler or Alta Vista or whatever I used back then came up with retailers, other auction sites, etc.  Look for information about this camera now, and it seems that it has been largely forgotten:

And that’s about it.

I wonder, is this the destiny of all cameras?  Will I do a search for my Nikon Coolpix 5700 in 2014 and come up with just as little, or has the Web expanded so quickly that the copious product reviews, blog posts, and technical discussions on photography forums outweigh the force of entropy?  I wonder if the Internet has gained any stability as it has matured – do pages tend to stick around longer, or is linkrot a constant of the universe?

Future generations will hardly feel deprived if they miss out on information about some crappy old digicam.  Still, you never know what kind of information will end up being useful to someone at some point, and this same problem extends to all the information on the Web – from reviews of obsolete products to the human genome.  If a website goes under and deletes a thousand blogs, it won’t exactly make the news.  But our great-grandchildren might look at that stuff the way we look at letters from the Civil War.

The only solutions I have are more effort behind projects like archive.org, increased data portability, and rational intellectually property laws that don’t make saving 70-year-old content from deletion into a federal crime.

For discussion, how do you deal with ancient equipment, keeping around old web content, or even archiving old email?

What Digital Camera Should I Buy?

A lizard in the leaf litter In addition to creating web apps, doing research, and pontificating on usability and social software, I like to wander around and take photos.  Until now I’ve gotten along pretty well with a Nikon CoolPix 5700.  It has a number of features that have turned out to be really, really useful – an 8x optical zoom that makes it easier to take photos from far away, a nice macro mode for very very close shots, and a swiveling LCD display that makes it easier to do overhead shots and candid photos.

But, it has a few limitations that I find myself bumping into again and again.  No vibration reduction, poor performance in low light, slow autofocus, and it definitely does not give you the kind of manual control that traditional SLR film cameras have.  So I’m looking into getting a DSLR.

I definitely want to get a new camera before our kid is born in November.  The only thing stopping me from running out and buying a DSLR is that I don’t want to turn my minor photography hobby into a major production – I like the relatively small size and light weight of my current “prosumer” camera, and the fact that I don’t need to carry 2 or more lenses around with me at all times.

So here’s my project:  to find a combination of camera and lens that gives me a nice balance between control, portability, and versatility.  I’m not as worried about super-high resolution (by the time you hit 5-6 megapixels, you can do pretty much anything you want with the prints), or having really professional gear.  Price is also a big consideration.

My guess is that I’ll have to try to find a small, entry-level DSLR and attach a “walking around” or “vacation” lens – something with a wide range, like 18mm – 200mm.  Another thing I’ll be looking into is automating geotagging – I’m a big fan of photo sharing systems like Flickr and Picasa and it would be great to have faster, more accurate place data on photos.

This definitely calls for a spreadsheet.  I have a tendency to approach major decisions with the application of spreadsheets and/or databases.  But before I start laying out facts and figures, any recommendations?  Suggestions on brand names, specific models, etc. are all welcome.  Please post in the comments below.

Google Earth vs. Reality, Revisited

Last week I compared some real-life photos with the same scene in Google Earth.  Since I’m a bit of a computer/mapping/photography geek, I couldn’t resist doing a few more.  That actually ended up being a pretty popular post, with thousands of pageviews, which just goes to show I’m not the only combination computer/mapping/photography geek out there.

Here’s a view of San Francisco from Coit Tower on Telegraph Hill.  Follow this link to see larger versions in Flickr.  This one is even better than the two from last week – look how well the streets, buildings, and Golden Gate Bridge match with the photo.

Google Earth vs. Reality - San Francisco from Coit Tower

Now I’ll go a little more international.  Here’s a photo from the site of ancient Mycenae in Greece.  This is above the famous Lion Gate looking out tat the hills surrounding the Argolid plain.  See larger versions in Flickr.  The aerial photograph that Google Earth maps to the topography isn’t as detailed as the real life photo, but even the borders of the olive groves line up.

Google Earth vs. Reality - Mycenae, Greece

These next two are not as identical as the San Francisco cityscapes, but are still impressive because of how well they evoke the real life scenes without 3-d buildings.

The first is from the Acropolis in Athens, looking out over the surrounding neighborhood.  Larger versions in Flickr.

Google Earth vs. Reality - Athens from the Acropolis

Here’s another shot from the Acropolis showing the new Acropolis Museum.  Larger versions in Flickr.

Google Earth vs. Reality - Athens and the new Acropolis Museum

If you feel like making some comparisons of your own, please let me know in the comments below – I’d love to see what other people could come up with.