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November 2, 2011

The Day The Blogging (Almost) Died*

*Or, Nerd Tragedy in the Catacombs
**Or, If I Weren't Quite So Chubby I Wouldn't Have These Problems

The second most frequent question I receive via e-mail – behind a myriad of “what kind of shoe should I buy?” queries – is what kind of camera I use while running. I’ve discussed this once before, but a recent set of circumstances required me to get a new camera, which happens to be a lot like the old camera, but not exactly so. I’ll explain more in a minute. In the meantime, please indulge me in a little back story …

About two years ago I made what was possibly the best investment in my blogging career, purchasing a Canon PowerShot SD1400 as a dedicated blog-use camera. It was sleek, compact, super-easy to use, and took remarkably decent pictures that didn’t require a long set-up period to get started or a long shutter lag between shots. It gradually became a constant companion in my running exploits as well as my everyday routine. Basically, I took it with me everywhere.

It also turned out to be surprisingly resilient to sweat, dust, moisture from fog and rain, or the occasional accidental drop on account of my clumsiness. In fact, it had proven so durable that I rarely had any second thoughts about tucking the camera into a pocket for whatever strange adventure I encountered … which is how it ended up in my back pocket as I descended into the Catacombs.

This was perhaps the most notorious of the cave networks at Lava Beds National Monument, and before taking our group of 8th-graders underground, everybody was made aware that exploration of the cave would be extremely challenging in places. In other words, I can’t claim I wasn’t warned.

We eventually broke into small groups and made our way down into the tunnels, which started out relatively manageable …

… before becoming so low as to require some commando crawling …

… and ultimately reaching portions where the ceiling scraped against your back even as your belly was scraping against the ground. (On a related note, it’s definitely not the place to be if you’re slightly overweight. Or remotely claustrophobic.) It was in a section very much like the one shown above – a photo, incidentally, taken by a friend who is much skinnier than me, using a shock-resistant camera – that I felt the sharp protrusions of lava rock against my backside while I was wriggling through a narrow tunnel.

When I finally made it to an area when I could sit upright, I reached into my pocket and found the glass LCD screen on my camera had shattered. RIP, Best Blogging Investment Ever.

So the search was on to find a replacement, and my first instinct was to replace my old camera with the exact same model. But when I looked it up on the Amazon.com page, there was an automated “There is a newer model of this item” sign, which took me to the Canon PowerShot ELPH 300. After a bit of comparison shopping between the two, I decided to purchase the updated model.  (As a bonus, it was a few bucks cheaper.)

Canon PowerShot ELPH 300 on left, SD1400 on right; photo taken with yet another camera.  Yes, we have a few cameras at home.

Here’s how the two compare*: they’re roughly the same size, with almost all of the same user features. The main spec difference is that my old camera had 14.1 megapixels, while the newer one has only 12.1 MP. From what I read, consensus says that the lower MP value doesn’t sacrifice image quality or detail, but results in smaller file sizes. I suppose that’s good.

*This should go without saying, but I’m nowhere an expert when it comes to digital camera reviews. So all this is just one idiot’s opinion.

The case of the new camera is a coarse plastic, as compared to the smooth polished exterior of the old camera. I initially didn’t like this change, but now I think it might help me have the whoopsies less frequently when pulling it out of my pocket. One can hope, anyway.

ELPH 300 on left, SD1400 (with shattered LCD screen) on right

One downside of the new camera is that the back side controls are slightly less intuitive and user-friendly. For example, there’s no icon for the self-timer where the old one used to be; the feature is still there, but you have to make one additional click to the menu screen to find it. I’ll probably get used to this, but it’s still kind of a disappointment.

ELPH 300 on left, SD1400 on right

The nicest thing about the new camera is that it’s slightly wider and more square on the bottom, which means that it balances a little more easily for those aforementioned self-timer photos. If I can decrease the number of rocks or twigs I have to arrange to get my camera to balance, that will be good news indeed.

Time will tell if the durability of this new camera is as good as my old one was; my adventure calendar has been woefully empty lately, but that should hopefully change in the near future. No matter how well it performs, though, I’ve learned one important tip: if I ever take my camera underground again, I should probably invest in a nice little carrying case.

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Gretchen 11/2/11, 9:25 PM  

Remind me to take you through the Spider Caves, should we ever end up in Yosemite together. No headlamps are allowed - it's like a park rule or something.

Richard F. 11/2/11, 9:40 PM  

While lower megapixels results in smaller file size, it allows for a larger pixel sensor per site which results in a better detailed and cleaner photo. Canon realized a few years ago that the megapixel war was over and moved their focus to site size to increase quality.

Donald 11/2/11, 10:13 PM  

Gretchen: Sounds fun! Let's make it a date. I'll bring the kids, you be the tour guide.

Richard: Thanks for the tip - that makes sense.

Eric 11/3/11, 11:42 AM  

I used to love spelunking in college (still would it I lived near caves), but I never dared to take a camera with me.

I seriously considered getting a Canon ELPH, for my adventuring camera, based on your recommendations. However, I settled on the waterproof Sony TX5 instead because it rains almost constantly here in the Aleutian Islands.

John E.,  11/10/11, 11:23 PM  

I want to put in a pitch for the Canon Powershot D10. That was the camera I used to take the photo of Donald's backside in the cave! Its a very durable, underwater capable camera. It is not as flat or quite as portable as the one Donald uses but has held up very well for our family. When we were snorkeling in Hawaii last winter, I took movie footage of a sea turtle using the camera. All I could hear at the time was my own breathing through my snorkel. When I got home and downloaded the footage, the microphone clearly picked up the singing of the humpbacks that would have been audible to me at the time if I had only been listening for it. Signed, Donald's not really skinnier, but thanks for saying so friend, John

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