30 September 2004

Digicams: Curing the shakes

Camera shake is one of the most common afflictions of the amateur photographer, second only to camera envy. And while digital cameras encourage you to have a few goes until you get it right, it's not that easy to spot blurry images on a little LCD screen unless you zoom into them and check focus. The traditional solution has always been to carry a tripod or monopod, but non-pro snappers have always been averse to that.

Enter image stabilisation. It's been on video cameras and professional lenses for a few years, and has now made its way to mid-range digicams. There are a few competing systems out there. The Canon and Panasonic solutions cancel shake in the lens. The Konica Minolta solution moves the CCD sensor. The new Nikon solution just transfers the shake to your hip pocket, at least for now. The question is, do these systems work?

And the answer, from my experience so far, is a resounding 'yes'. I've seen excellent results from the Canon IS digicam, with its 10x zoom, and recently had a play with the new 4 MP Konica Minolta Z3. It looks like a Star Trek prop, and has rather too many shiny surfaces which I'd find myself rubbing fingerprints off all the time, but it's very compact and has an astonishing 12x zoom (35–420 in 35 mil-speak). Standing in the camera store I took photos of posters at a shop across a wide arcade, and at 12x zoom the text was crisp and shake free at about 1/100 of a second. Zooming in on-screen I could read the crisp fine print which I could only just detect with the naked eye. There's a bit of purple-fringing and noise levels are average, but overall this is a marvellous thing.

I'm looking forward to playing with the forthcoming Panasonic FZ20. With 5 MP and Leica lens which achieves f2.8 across the whole zoom range, I expect the results to be better, but it's also a vastly larger camera. Choices, choices...

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