Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Buying at the edge of technology

This is a tricky subject. If you are going to buy a new camera, should you not buy the best available? Or should you just settle for the older technology. You know, the one a year or two ancient. The one with fewer features, one or more "standards" missing, and certainly not as powerful as today's offerings.

Let me share a bit of wisdom from my days running a computer consulting company. Unless your client supplies you with the newest machine, don't bother buying one. It will be the same model on "sale" in just a few months as the newer ones hit the streets. It just isn't worth spending the extra money for bragging rights.

My friend Bob used to describe technology pricing with a surfing analogy. When the wave is the most exciting, curling and making noise, where the surfers lurk, then the wave is the highest. The height of the wave is the price. The back end of a really good surfing wave has a gradual curve then drops off rapidly into a trough. This is the realm of the flotsam and no good surfer wants to be there. They want to be up on the curl. I was always happy in the flotsam in terms of pricing. Bob preferred leading the way, cutting the wave so to speak.

Cameras seem to work the same way. Today's state of the art options offer 50+ megapixels, full frames, software smart enough to relieve all but the most picky of professionals, and much more. They can talk to phones directly, they can automatically load embarrassing pictures to social media, and they can put a virus on your computer. Amazing stuff!

I am not embarrassed to admit that I've been around hi-tech stuff for a long time. I worked on a software driver for an early digitizing tool that employed a 128x128 bit "eye". The chip for that eye cost over $4000(US) alone. While we were finishing the driver (follow black lines on vellum sending movement commands to a stepper motor set), a new chip arrived with over 500 bits to a side! We were told to program the driver for up to 4000 bits, wow.

Camera buying comes down to what you want. I don't need a lot of features. What I want is a fast chip. One that can get a lot of photons accurately recorded quickly. And the bigger the better. A full frame would be nice if it is to be a DSLR. Pixel density is an issue when doing longer exposures (heat and other error inducing problems) so something that can tolerate taking deep sky images in the tropics would be nicest. Yup, dream on.

Seriously though, there are some features I like on modern cameras for sky viewing. One is the flip up back for a view finder. Use a piece of red filter to make it night vision friendly once the focus is set. My favorite past time currently is photographing constellation groups. Jamaica does not have the constant jet airplane traffic overhead (we have all the satellites though) and that affords a nice luxury for wide field photography.

Big Dipper dumps on a palm tree (meteor cutting handle off)


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