Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Ideal Cycling Camera (November 2010)

Back in August I recommended the Canon S90 with the Richard Franiec grip as an ideal cycling camera. Without the grip the camera handled like a wet bar of soap. And the rear dial spun like a top at the slightest touch.

Apparently, a lot of people agreed that the S90 needed work because when Canon released the S95 a few weeks ago they heralded it as "the upgrade you've been waiting for."

The Canon S95 incorporates an improved rear dial, HD video, a handful of photo processing features and substitutes a finely pebbled plastic body for the shiny plastic body. Yes, the new body does make the camera easier to hold, about 1% easier. It's the difference between a wet bar of soap and a damp bar. Happily, Richard Franiec has come to the rescue again with an updated grip for the S95.

I'm not a fan of planned obsolescence but that rear wheel on the S90 was slowly driving me mad. I bought a third party shield for the wheel, which turned it from loose to hopelessly sticky. So when the S95 appeared I upgraded and added the new--and still essential--Richard Franiec grip (below) on day 1. Later I added a Lensmate polarizer and wrote about it here.

One caveat:

This is still not a camera to hand to a well-meaning stranger who offers to photograph a group. Yes, the new rear selection wheel is improved but don't push your luck. Last Sunday I set up a wide angle shot of about a dozen cyclists, handed the S95 to a kindly woman, and joined the group. The moment she took the photo the group sped off. Alas, my volunteer photographer had managed to jog the ISO dial and what was supposed to be an ISO 80 shot turned out to be an ISO 3200 shot. My group looked like it was standing on the surface of the sun.

We are still a long way from an ergonomic camera that would operate like a fine hand tool—with say, a rubberized body and color coded, tactile controls. We could, of course, have such a camera tomorrow, if we simply demanded it. Meanwhile, when it comes to cycling cameras, the Canon S95 is competing in a field of one. Everything else out there is either too big, too heavy or offers much lower photo quality. And nothing in the S95's class can touch the gorgeous color saturation you get right out of the camera.