My first time

…with a digital SLR was last Saturday, as mentioned before. It appears that Canon had invited about 200 people over the whole weekend, spread over time slots of around 3 hours. We arrived just after eleven in the morning and were greeted -as it is custom in Japan- by staff with Canon signs lined up at the station and on the way to the venue, where we checked in.

Naturally, we underwent a setsumei-kai i.e. a meeting for the purposes of explaining how the basics of the camera worked, fire some test shots, changing lenses and cards etc. After that we were given our zoo tickets and were free to roam until 2:30. Due to the rainy weather and the fact that it was lunchtime and we had not eaten yet, we missed the return time slot by an hour, but again as it is custom in Japan, nobody raised an eyebrow.

When we returned, we were given a pack of 10 sheets of paper and led into a conference room filled with desks, on them Canon Pixus printers with cables ready to connect our camera to. Again we were explained how it all works and spent almost another hour or so printing, with staff looking over our shoulder. When we were finished (otsukaresamadeshita) we handed our gear back to the reception and received a bag full of marketing materials, as can be expected. All very well organised, courteous staff (even hovering around us in the zoo, offering to take pictures; not very good photos though, still appreciated) and generally appearing very generous.

Now some comments about the camera. I have to say upfront that the camera exceeded what I expected from it. I suppose I am a little out of touch with DSLR and also still using my Canon PowerShot G2, which I had for 4 years now. My first impression was about the nippy responsiveness of the thing. Switch on, and it is ready. Press the shutter and it focuses and fires – exactly like my EOS 5 film camera. There was never a time when I needed to wait for the camera to be ready to do what I wanted it to do. I know this sounds basic, but again the G2 is painfully slow doing all its things so this is very much appreciated.

My next thought was about the big talk about sensor size and crop factor. I admit I was silently supporting full-frame sensors, but when using the Kiss I thought it was an utterly useless discussion. It seems only relevant if you have an arsenal of lenses already, which I don’t have anymore. It has been a while since I used an SLR with a zoom and when looking through the finder (acceptable, better than I remember the previous Kiss’ finder), you don’t even know the number of mm the lens is set to, and why is it important anyway? The lens was their standard 18-55mm (4.5-5.6 I think, very slow lens) and it worked just like any other zoom like my 28-105mm (I kept that one for the EOS 5). So when is the last time you looked what the lens is set to? It doesn’t matter.

The controls are familiar to anyone who has ever used a Canon camera. They are always the same, nice and consistent. A new mode “no flash” was on the dial beyond all the easy modes. I thought this was a very useful feature. Due to the dull weather, I had fortunately brought along my Canon flash and especially in the zoo, there were times when I just wanted to not use flash for a shot but not turn it off entirely. I just wished the mode was not at the end of the dial and I need to know what shutter mode it ends up doing. Flash operation was great, all fully automatic. Since I used it as fill-in I should have set it to -1, so some of the outdoor pics are a little too bright… I am a bit rusty I suppose. I am aware of the talk that the Nikon flash TTL system is supposed to be better than Canon’s, but you know what, in this environment I would probably never realise and don’t really care.

The layout of the buttons and the menus are a little different from the G2, but with the same functions overall, so no surprises there. What I liked was the direct access buttons to certain parameters without having to navigate through layers of menus. I also liked that the colour LCD is not always needed and that basic camera functions are set using the gray LCD strip above it, just like on my EOS.

I was once again surprised by how small the camera body actually is. Without a lens, it is barely bigger than my admittedly bulky G2. Perhaps if I had slightly bigger hands, I may have difficulties holding it, but it just about fits. There is an extension grip available I think. Anyway, in my opinion the camera is clearly marketed towards women. The whole brochure shows women taking pictures of kids. The camera is aimed at people wanting to advance from digital compacts. In the bag was a thick manual explaining photography basics, very well done. The intention is obviously to have photographers upgrade to SLRs after getting their feet wet with the point & shoots. I think it is a good strategy and the educational efforts should be commended. Well, there is always idiot mode, I mean green zone.

I was not too happy with the lens because it was slow and quite bulky. I have a number of pictures spoilt due to camera shake. For a film-based shooter, the flexible ISO setting is a new parameter that like speed and aperture can be changed at will. I had it set at 200 (they set it to 400, but I changed it), and that was probably a mistake. A noisy sharp picture is better than a blurry one. Lesson learned. So if ISO is a third parameter, how is one to change it on the fly? While it offers a way out in certain situations, it is another thing to think about and to fiddle with, a bit of a pain when walking in and out of buildings as you are bound to forget it at some point. The solution would be a faster lens, although if it is a zoom and in the focal length range for digital, there may not be too many inexpensive choices.

A last mention about printing. Even to me, connecting your camera to a printer without a PC and have the picture fall into your lap for the first time is quite impressive. I realise that this is not a Canon-only thing, but this is where I experienced it first. You can do some cropping even, which I did and it worked well. They really managed to kill the much-discussed PC requirement and you cannot honestly say anymore that a PC is essential to enjoy digital photography. Sure, you would have more control… but also a lot more problems. I see no problems with the prints made directly from camera. Even my mum could do this. Impressive.

Now I have realised I have broken a lot of my own unofficial photographic principles: I am using digital, flash, a zoom, cropping… yes, it is all a little different. That’s because I think this is indeed a good family snap machine (and with some work maybe a little more) and it proved to work without problems. For the more “sophisticated” uses one may replace the focussing screen (although looses the AF indicators), put on the hacked 10D firmware for extra functions (mostly unnecessary with the new Kiss) and get a lens adapter for whatever manual lens one desires. For me, I cannot see the need to go for the (much heavier) 20D or better unless this is your primary instrument of operation and you really need a a certain feature badly. I think the digital New Kiss is a great shooter especially for family pics that should satisfy most people’s needs and that even the wife can handle. And at ¥70.000 or so for the body only, it is hard to beat. Pictures to follow.