Friday, November 30, 2007


To offset the steaming piles of hate that Salo has served up on the OH blog (not to mention the wealth of Bettman sucks posts), I thought I'd give a nod to the good guys.

Digital cameras are the best, and worst, inventions to come along in quite some time. They've given photographers of every ilk a nearly infinite amount of control over their pictures and how they end up looking and being displayed. However, with amateurs this can be a bad thing, especially where quality is concerned. My mom is no photographer, she's a chronic snapshooter. While she will occasionally (often accidentally) take some great pictures, she always chooses to save them in "email" resolution (640 x 480) to make downloading and sending easier. The result is tiny pictures that look horrible when blown up or printed out, which is the equivalent of throwing out your 35MM negatives and just making a photocopy of the original. (Plus, she uses off-brand ink cartridges so the reds on her printed out pictures more closely resemble the color of a traffic cone--but I digress.) Since people will almost always choose convenience over quality (hence, the proliferation of poor sounding MP3s and iPod AAC music files), personal photography isn't going to improve over the years, it's actually going to deteriorate. But really, it's up to you.

This digital revolution is certainly the best thing to happen to camera manufacturers. Every couple of months, they can tweak the design of their cameras, maybe add a half a megapixel, a screen that's a millimeter wider, or a body that's a millimeter thinner--just enough to make the one you bought last year unwieldy and obsolete. You used to be able to buy a world-class SLR camera and use it for decades, because while the electronic components of the camera might change, the 35MM film and lenses would essentially stay the same. Now, you buy a camera and maybe get 3 to 4 years of use out of it, at best. It's a virtual goldmine.

I joined this trend in the summer of 2003 when I sold my Nikon N2002 and Tamron 28-200mm lens on Ebay and bought a Canon PowerShot S230 ELPH digital camera. However, after 4 great years of snapshottery it began to crap out late this summer, with the sensor only sporadically working when I would power it on. I resigned myself to the fact that it was probably about to give up the ghost, and began to shop for a replacement. In a last ditch attempt to squeeze more usage out of it, I Googled the model number to see if anyone else had the same issue. Sure enough, I found a posting about faulty CCDs (actually made by Sony) in several Canon models which had a link to the Canon website. It was a known defect, and I decided to call the customer service number, not expecting much. Let me correct that: I expected nothing.

As we all know, customer service is a thing of the past. While I don't believe there was ever a time when every company stood by their products with 100% satisfaction guaranteed for life, it certainly hasn't been any worse than it is now. Today, it seems the vast majority of companies stop caring once the product is sold, and their "support" department is merely a formality built to frustrate you into submission.

Enter Canon. In a rare flash of customer support excellence, they replaced my 4 year old S230 with a refurbished SD1000. It was astonishingly painless too. I called the 800 number, where a friendly agent from their Indiana (shockingly, in the US!) office took my information and sent me a free UPS label via email. They soon determined it was indeed the faulty CCD, and told me it would be fixed free of charge. However, since they did not have the parts available, they simply gave me a refurbished current model. I'm shocked. I'm stunned. I'm shocked AND stunned.

This new camera is in every way superior: a giant LCD screen (that I swear is twice the size), more than double the megapixels (3.2 to 7.1), more features (red eye reduction, face recognition), and an incredibly slim body with a better zoom lens (3x optical vs. the old 2x). I consider myself lucky to have gotten this treatment, which is sadly a rarity in today's consumer market. Are they one of the good guys, or a merely facilitator of planned obsolescence? Either way, it doesn't matter to me; I'm happy with this turn of events, and only have to spend $18 on a new 2 GB SD memory card, and every photo I can get out of this camera is gravy. And as Kris said, what camera manufacturer is going to come to mind when it's time to replace this one? Probably a five letter word starting with C.

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