One of the doctoral students asked me in May which digital camera he should get for his summer predissertation fieldwork. He was leaning towards getting a digital SLR but I suggested he instead look at high-end compact digital point-and-shoots -- specifically the ones in the 8-10 megapixel and $400-600 range. He ended up getting the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX2.
Just as I believe that film rangefinders are superior to film SLRs for ethnographic work because of their portability and inconspiciousness, I think the high-end compact digital camera has now come of age. They now have just as many megapixels as their dSLR brethren and if the engineers can work on the noise reduction of high-ISO images just a little bit more (and put back in optical viewfinders), they'll be perfect.
Fast forward a month later and I'm in Japan looking at the various options for my own fieldwork this summer and fall. After a couple of hours playing with the various cameras at Yodobashi Camera in Umeda (Osaka Station), I ended up choosing the same camera -- the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX2. Here are the things that I particularly like about it:
- 16:9 frame format (4:3 and 3:2 selectable)
- 24mm equivalent on the widest angle, about 100 mm on the tele
- 10 megapixels
- SDHC compatible -- I bought an 8 gigabyte SDHC card for it
- Movie format (MJPEG)
There's some shutter lag, but if you prefocus you can take sports photographs with a little practice (see photograph of one of my informants playing ball). I'm also playing with the movie mode and finding it isn't nearly as unusable as I thought it'd be.
Now the big news is that the new Mac OS 10.4.10 update now supports the Lumix RAW format of the LX2. I'm storing all my fieldwork photographs in Apple Aperture and using its powerful organizing indexing functions.