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An off-topic rant

February 9, 2010

I’ve been looking for a new camera. My old camera was good, but following an incident that shall not be mentioned (involving New Year’s Eve and someone being careless with some gravy) it’s ceased working. Although it might be fixable – depending on whether anyone provides a service to dislodge congealed condiments from the crevices of the shutter or zoom – Moore’s law would dictate that it’s worth looking to see what else is available on the market.

As a photographer, I’m not quite point-and-click, but I’m not in the market for some infinitely complex SLR either. While automatic settings deal fairly well with the majority of circumstances, it’s often the more interesting photo opportunities where these just don’t cut the mustard. My old camera, a Samsung S850, had taken good photos on an automatic setting but also been flexible in terms of what could be set manually. Easy to use, compact and with a decent battery life, it had served me well.

Ynyslas Sands, Borth (not far from Aberystwyth) on a stormy-but-sunny winter's day.

Manual settings are much better for picking out light and shade. Auto settings will either focus on the light or try to compensate for the dark, taking the impact out of moody scenes.

My detailed irks with customer service are after the jump, along with what I’d really prefer to see from bigger chains.

So, looking for a mid-range compact camera that could easily toggle between automatic and manual settings, I set off for Comet in Oxford. (Purists, I know, will swear that a dedicated camera shop is the only place to go for knowledgeable service and a broad range. However, time was of the essence as I needed a camera for the following week.)

Eventually I was noticed by a member of their customer service team. Not necessarily a bad thing, because there are few things more annoying than having sales staff jump down your throat before you’ve even had a look at some of the products on display.

Anyway, I wanted to know a bit more about some of the features of a camera on display, so I asked. The salesperson didn’t know the answer, so went to look up the product on their intranet. Again, not necessarily a problem – the store stocks a broad range of products, so expecting someone to know everything about an individual product is a tad unrealistic. However, the camera didn’t have any charge in it to play with (some seemed to, although there seemed to be little rhyme or reason as to which were operational), so I couldn’t see how the features worked.

Reflections in a venice canal with lots of light and shade.

Venice on a bright day is a real challenge for auto settings. Trying to deal with the level of light and shade without bleaching the colours or burning out the detail is often a good case for fiddling with the manual settings of the camera.

Eventually we got to the bottom of what it could do. As a Samsung camera, I was fairly confident I knew what it did and how it did it – the controls seemed to be the same as my camera. So, the price was about right, the features seemed to be there, so I was willing to take a punt.

Having gone through all that, we found out that the store didn’t have any in stock. ‘Do you know when you’re getting some more in?’ I asked. ‘No’ was the answer. At least it was concise and honest, I guess, but c’mon people there’s got to be a better way.

So, cast back to step 1, the salesperson asked me if there were any other cameras I was interested in. So, we went to have a look at another model made by a different manufacturer. Again, the information published about this model was sparse and didn’t give me the details I wanted. This was, apparently, because it was in the sale. The price of a cheaper product is, it seems, buying blind. Presumably this meant physically removing the useful information from when the product was full price.

Back we went to the intranet to find out what features the model had. It seemed to indicate that there were no manual settings. ‘But what if I want to change the ISO, or increase the aperture, and manually adjust the settings in that way?’ I asked. ‘The camera does all that for you,’ was the response. At which point I decided to call it a day and take my custom elsewhere.

In fact, I took my custom to Argos. A completely different store, but they give you more detailed product information in their catalogue and let you open the packaging and have a look at the user guide and camera itself before committing to the purchase. And so, I now have a Kodak EasyShare Z915, which looks packed with features, flexible, even the software works with a Mac and Argos were offering it £60 cheaper than Kodak’s rrp. Nice.

The sun setting over the sea off the coast of Sicily

Auto settings often don't capture the colours of a scene, instead bleaching it out. Sunsets are often enhanced with gels and filters, but there was enough haze in the air to handle this.

I don’t expect perfection from sales staff in shops with a lot of different products, but I do expect to be able to play around with the products so I can understand if it’s right for me as a customer. Apple Stores do this really well, and even the Apple reseller in Broad Street, Oxford, manages to allow customers to play with every model of Mac product they sell before customers commit themselves.

I don’t expect everything to be in stock all the time, but I do expect to know when it’s coming into stock and if it’s not in stock fairly early on in the transaction. Argos do well through their stock-checking units, which will tell you if something’s in stock and – if not – the nearest store where it can be found. Surely a simple ‘More coming soon’ sign could be used, perhaps with a date of the next delivery. If people are spending a reasonable amount of money on electricals, there’s a good chance they’ll come back when it’s back in stock if it’s something they’re really interested in.

I don’t expect product specifications on display to be great tomes of technical information, but I do expect to find some useful product information. The number of different auto settings isn’t useful information on its own unless accompanied by some details about those settings. Arguably, that’s more important than whether it’s got an internal battery or uses AAs – which you will invariably be told.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Jon Darke permalink
    February 9, 2010 4:36 pm

    Take it back to Argos under the 16 day money back guarantee, and get yourself one of these: http://www.photographyblog.com/reviews/canon_powershot_s90_review/

    G11 if you’re feeling braver. Comparison: http://dpinterface.com/camera-reviews/features-comparison-canon-powershot-g11-powershot-g10-powershot-s90/

    Probably one of the best compact out there that is small, and packed with manual features.

    Worth the investment!

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