The faithful companion

by M

After the unqualified success of my recent foray into internet feminism, I’m allowing myself another off-topic post. If you’d rather read about cycling, I recommend not talking about shaving.

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If you’ve ever thought that cycling is a hobby of avarice and obsession, photography is at least as bad. Where cyclists wax anal* over the perfect stable of bikes, the ideal tyre width or the colour of their cable outers – photographers debate the relative merits of different cameras and lenses with a vehemence and fervour that might surprise the uninitiated.

[*Ouch.]

There are holy wars over brand loyalties and endless personal quests to reach a mythical state of technological contentment, one that remains persistently elusive in a realm of breakneck obsolescence. The need to expand and rationalise one’s shooting kit even has names of its own like LBA (Lens Buying Addiction) and GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome).

Influenced by this teeming world of mutual enablers, I experienced a classic modern photographer’s evolution.

1. Acquire DSLR.

2. Acquire various lenses for [1], starting with the notion of ‘covering the bases’ (i.e. focal lengths) and then diversifying to include any number of fast primes and retro curiosities.

3. Acquire film bodies to take above lenses, start developing film.

5. Acquire multiple other film cameras because suddenly a whole new world has opened up and it’s shiny and exciting.

6. Realise scanning film to share personal ‘vision’ with wider world is one endless, time-consuming ball-ache.

7. Acquire compact digital camera to carry everywhere. Enjoy, but long for better manual controls.

8. Acquire nicer, far more expensive compact digital camera to carry everywhere.

Somebody once said that the best camera is the one you have with you** and it’s a maxim I’ve taken to heart, the reason I’ve ended up at [8]. Once I’d admitted to myself that the DSLR was just too heavy and too bulky to keep about my person at all times, and that shooting film, for all its hipster cred and arcane pleasures, was a great way of ensuring that most of my photos never saw the light of day, a small and capable digital camera was the most natural place to end up.

[**This line is widely attributed online to Chase Jarvis, but I have a suspicion it's been around rather longer than that would imply.]

The Canon S95 was that place.

I’m not going to write a proper review, because the S95 has long since been superseded by newer, more feature-laden models not once, but at least three times.

What I will say is that it represents something of holy grail of features for someone like me. Camera design is an exercise in compromises like any other engineering endeavour and Canon have done a particularly good job in balancing things with the S95.

It has good manual controls, pleasant image quality (even at what counts as moderately high ISO for such a small camera) and most importantly, it makes virtually no difference to the weight of the bag I carry around, and also fits into the pocket of a cycling jersey when the need arises.

A significant proportion of the photos on this blog are taken with the S95, including action shots, box porn, hubs and more.

Sure, I’d like to be able to restrict depth of field more than the small sensor allows, and it doesn’t have the lightning responsiveness of a good DSLR, but by being with me nearly all the time, it is by definition the best camera I own.