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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.

Picasa vs. iPhoto vs. Flickr vs. Panoramio

Ledges along Doan Brook in ClevelandEarlier I mentioned that I have some photos uploaded to Panoramio. I’ve also played with Flickr off and on, and have recently started uploading some photos there as well. To add to the confusion, I use Picasa to manage photos on my hard drive, and my wife uses iPhoto on her Mac. Picasa has a web albums feature, and I’m sure iPhoto has something similar with a .Mac account.

Why use four different services that overlap each other to such a degree? Picasa and iPhoto both do the important job of managing photos locally, Flickr seems to have the largest community and the most widgets written for it, and Panoramio integrates with Google Earth. Since I want to do all those things, I have to use them all.

There are ways to make them play nice together. You can use a Gmail account to email photos from Picasa to Flickr, and so far it seems to work fairly well. There are a few iPhoto plugins to upload to Flickr and you can use iPhoto to subscribe to Flickr photostreams. Google just bought Panoramio, so I’m sure there will be more integration there soon as well.

Even with all these options, there are some annoyances. Picasa’s keyword tagging is not very useful, it only allows one-word tags. I tried creating multi-word tags with dashes or by enclosing them in quotes, but Picasa ate the special characters. There’s also the complication of managing public photos vs private photos.

Still, it is amazing how well these different websites and programs work together, through the magic of RSS, web API, and plain old email.

If you’d like, you can see my Flickr photos here. You can also see my photos in Panoramio, or just look close enough in Google Earth, since a few of my photos now how up there.