Here comes a new challenger

New technology time!  My favourite time, really.

For documenting my time in Japan, my camera is something I carry with me all over the place.  I still use my Sony A300 DSLR regularly, but there’s one problem: it’s a heavy, obtrusive camera.  I feel the need to cart a wide angle and telephoto lens everywhere I go, and feel self-conscious touting it around stores looking for hilariously misspelled English to take photos of.  Additionally, some things like festivals can’t be completely captured as a still frame, so the addition of moving pictures (which I’ve coined the phrase “mopics” for) would be more than handy.

Yes, there are camera phones, but the image quality and response time always feels sub-par.  The other downside of phone cameras in Japan is that as an anti-pervert measure (by law?) the shutter noise cannot be turned off.  This is apparently a regional change to the Japanese version of the iPhone too.  Needless to say, although my objectives are pure (honest!), you don’t always want to break the dead silence of a packed train carriage with the tell-tale shutter noise.  Cameras without a phone feature, strangely, do not appear to be subject to this ruling, and can be run silently.  So, I decided it was time to take the plunge and look at the compact camera market.

After a bit of asking around, I ended up with Sony’s very slick new TX7, which I’m extremely happy with after three days of extensive use.  For around AUD $350 via Amazon Japan, not only does it include a wide range of impressive still shot features, but also the ability to do HD 1920×1080@60i movies!  These look absolutely gorgeous on the TX7’s 3.5 inch touchscreen – running eerily smoothly, they almost look hyper-real.

The sad part is that my three year-old laptop lacks the horsepower to display high quality movies smoothly.  So, I’m reduced to viewing them on the camera itself or converting them to a lesser format.

The video functions seem to perform very well in low light, too.  Although I don’t know if this clip runs in 60i on YouTube, try cranking the quality up to 1080p and tell me how it looks.  Unfortunately, my machine can only handle up to 720p.

The camera itself is slightly larger than a credit card, and 1.7cm thick.  It’s easily pocket-able along with my mobile phone, and easy to grab when the occasion demands.  So finally, I have a “go everywhere” camera I can use without diving into my backpack to grab my SLR.

You may also be surprised to find out that this camera can even take photos!  As well as taking a fairly decent shot for a compact camera, it’s got a couple of new modes I was pleasantly surprised at.  The first is a panorama (a.k.a. stitch) mode.  Stitching photos together is nothing new, but the joy of this camera is that it does all the processing inside the phone almost instantly.  Select a direction to pan the camera, press the shutter button, start smoothly swinging the camera around – a handy gauge tracks how fast you’re moving the camera and how much room you have left in your arc – and the stitched image appears almost instantaneously.

When I was a boy, why, we had to stitch our photos together in the snow!  With no shoes on!  Uphill!  It built character, I say.

But this is way easier.

The other feature of note is a HDR mode, processed in-camera.  HDR is the process of taking three separate shots of the same scene at different exposures, then later combining the shots together to try to “correct” the problems of under and overexposure in parts of a scene with varied lighting.  Usually, I have to do this manually via software, but the TX7 does it quickly and automatically, all in-camera.  The results don’t give you nearly as much control as a program like Photomatrix, but for the minimal effort required, it works a treat.

Anyway, that’s the quick introduction to the new member of the blog.  It really is amazing to me that they stuffed so many features into such a small box.  Hopefully I’ll be able to put it to good use soon to show some aspects of Japan I haven’t been able to until now.

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