Sunday, April 11, 2010

New camera, Fort Howard, Picasa and more!

It's been a while. I was supposed to update this regularly, like how I was also supposed to do a daily, or at the very least bi-weekly, vlog series. Ah well.

Anyway, I had sold my two Flip cameras a couple months ago in favor of a Canon HF20. I had shot a couple of videos on Youtube with it, and promised to do a video review, but never got around to it. I WILL do it at some point, I've just been lazy as of late. In short, the camera rocks, having excellent video quality and all the features needed to actually do some semi-professional looking videos. The only downside, especially considering I sold the two pocket Flips, is that even though I have a true performance camcorder, I have no real portable option. The HF20 is small, to be sure, but it's not like I can fit it in a pocket like I could with the Flips. I was looking into rebuying one at some point and was anticipating their next upgrade, which I knew would be coming up soon.

A couple of days ago, Best Buy leaked some images on Engadget with what's being called the "SlideHD" and frankly...I wasn't very impressed. It doubles the storage of the latest minoHD from 8 gigs (2 hours)to 16 gigs (4 hours), but that was never an issue considering the battery only lasted two hours anyway. Additionally, they added a flip up screen which looks like it has no real practical purpose. Adding to the negatives against it, it looks like the thing is going to cost $280...ridiculous for a pocket cam, especially one thats only 720p at 30fps.

Needless to say, I was pretty disappointed in the newest offering from Flip/Cisco, so I checked out what good old (read: shitty) Kodak has been up to. Looks like their newest offering, the Kodak Playsport ZX3, is just a waterproof version of the Zi8. This isnt a good thing. The Zi8 had some major problems, none of which have been really fixed at this point. Believe me, I know: I owned three of them before giving up on it. So the Playsport wasnt an option either.

When I got the Flip, I gave my wife my Sony Cybershot T500 (I think it was the was thin, had a touchscreen...too lazy to check now). It was a nice little camera, but the video was lacking and I never really found myself taking a ton of still photos. Since then, I haven't necessarily had the urge to take stills, but there have been a couple occasions where a good point-and-shoot would've come in handy. Without a pocket camcorder OR a point and shoot, my ability to shoot anything on the fly has been severely lacking.

Enter: Amazon. Since I had bought and reviewed the Canon HF20 on there, they had recommended me the Canon S90 point-and-shoot. I had seen a review of this particular camera on Gizmodo before, and it got some pretty glowing comments for it. Problem is, even though it was released last year, it was still almost $400. And, it only takes stills.

While I was looking at the listing though, I saw the Canon SD780 IS, a point and shoot that takes 12.1 megapixel stills AND shoots the typical 720p 30fps video that all the pocket cams manage. Color me intrigued. I read some reviews, both on Amazon and elsewhere, and everyone seemed to love it. An independent vendor had listed it new for $130, and I had about $75 in Amazon gift certificates, so I thought "why not?" and bit the bullet.

I'm glad I did.

While I plan on doing a full-blown video review later (I will this time...I promise), I thought I'd leave a few thoughts on here. First off, this thing is small. Not typical point-and-shoot's the same dimensions as a credit card, barring depth. Surprisingly, it doesn't feel too tiny in the hand though, and fits in my pocket with my cellphone without even trying. The build quality is exceptional, as everything is made of metal parts with a powdercoat black finish. Feels sturdy and not at all fragile. A main selling point for me was the fact that even though the camera is incredibly tiny, it still has the same awesome Digic 4 processor that Canon has been using in a lot of cameras as of late. Thus the images are stunning, not DSLR stunning mind you, but more than exceptional for a camera of this size. Included in the tiny package is a 3x optical, 5x digital zoom lens, which is more than enough for the type of shots I'll be taking with this thing. With manual ISO, scene, coloration, and facial recognition settings, they also manage to cram a ton of features that are normally relegated to much more expensive and much larger cameras.

Beyond the excellent still shots, the main reason I even looked at this thing was the video option. To tell you the truth, it's a mixed bag. On one hand, the actual video clarity, in both fully lit shots and low light, exceeds that of the Flip/Kodak cams. Could be something to do with the lens, or the image processor, but it really does blow them out of the water. That said, this thing won't replace a dedicated camcorder of any merit. There's lots of grain in low light, though not as bad as the aforementioned two. Colors are great, but some details are lost in bright light/darkness. The main issue I have with the video has nothing to do with the image, but the sound. The microphone does a really good job of picking up sounds in all directions...but it's almost TOO good of a job. You hear the internal camera noise in every video; sometimes it's low, sometimes it's loud, but it's always there. With no external mic input like the Zi8, you really cant remedy this, which is a shame. The Flip has the best microphone of the pocket cams, and the SD780 IS doesn't really challenge the crown here.

It's a real shame the video experience isn't exactly as good as I was expecting, but for something of this size, and for the price I paid, it's really just nitpicking on my part. If this was a video camera only, I'd be kind of pissed, but seeing as it takes some truly awesome stills, it more than makes up for any shortcomings. And it's tiny. Really. This thing is small as hell. It's awesome.

So I got the thing yesterday, and did some toying around with it, but today was when I got some real testing done. Sunday's are "Family Fun Day" where my wife, my daughter, and I usually do something fun as a family. Sometimes it's going to the movies, sometimes it's sitting around playing games, and sometimes we just go somewhere. Today, we decided to go to Fort Howard, considering it was so gorgeous outside.

Now, I've been to Fort Howard before and it''s a park. In Dundalk. It's not great, it's not bad, it just is. That said, I think we had a really great day. The weather was, as I said, beautiful, and the breeze coming off of the water was refreshing. We stopped at a deli, got some sandwiches and snacks to take with us, and had a picnic on one of the tables in the park. We walked through the old forts/dungeons, wandered out onto the pier, and swung on the swings in the playground. All the while I was taking stills, shooting video, and generally trying to get in as many kind of shots as I could. After about two hours, we left and came home to clean up and relax.

After lounging around for a bit, I uploaded the pictures from the SDHC card onto the computer. Before we looked at them, I downloaded the latest version of Picasa, which I hadn't gotten around to since I got the newer computer.

As one of my previous posts mentioned, I'm now a full-blown Googlyte, using just about any Google software I can get my hands on (Blogger, Youtube, Gmail, Wave, Reader, Voice, Android, iGoogle, Chrome), and I do it only because I can painlessly share information between all of them. I can upload Youtube videos directly to Blogger. My Gmail contacts sync to my phone. I get Voice notifications in Gmail. Reader has changed how I browse the web daily. iGoogle consolidates everything to my home page. I am in LOVE with Google, and I'm not ashamed. Hence, Picasa.

I've used Snapfish and Flickr in the past, as well as Photobucket, but I've never really fallen in love with any of them. Picasa is different. Not only does it automatically add new photos to my database, but I can do basic photo tweaking (red-eye reduction, cropping, etc.) within the program seamlessly. It auto-detects faces in photos (even faces from picture frames in the background...which is insane) and auto-suggests name tags based on facial recognition within my contacts. I can create subfolders, upload to my web albums, upload directly to Facebook and Blogger, and search my photos/videos by name-tag or geo-tag. In short, it does what any good Google program does: it consolidates and streamlines my pictures/videos with all of my social networking and productivity suites. It's perfect for the kind of person I've slowly become, and I think it's actually going to fuel my picture-taking and video producing by proxy.

So after all of that, we got ready again and headed over my in-laws house for dinner and a movie. Considering I had already seen the movie my daughter picked, I took my netbook (Asus 1000HE with 2GB RAM upgrade) with me for some more updating. Since I got my new desktop, I loaded Windows 7 on the netbook and it runs like a breeze, but since I did a clean install, I lost all of my files/programs/settings. I haven't gotten around to reinstalling all of my programs and setting up things like bookmarks again, so I took the opportunity to get some of that done. I re-did my Chrome bookmarks, reinstalled CDisplay, Debut, uTorrent, Openoffice, VLC Media Player, and most of my Popcap/low-spec games, and set-up a Thor theme of wallpaper backgrounds. In short, it has become a severely less-powerful extension of my desktop experience, which I can live with quite nicely. Still got my Netflix, still got my Youtube, still got my .cbr comics, so I'm really good to go.

Afterwards, we went home, tucked the daughter in, and we've been watching Ninja Warrior as I typed this. All in all, a really good weekend. One thing I didn't write up was Friday's Steel Panther show, but I think I'll do that tomorrow. Right now though, I'm a bit tired, so I'm probably going to hit the hay.

More updates later, I promise.

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