Looking at the Wrong Specs

Editors note: This post was updated to remove all mention of the Tim Moynihan post that I had originally linked to and quoted.

Canon released a new camera that:

The fact that the PowerShot SX260 HS digital camera is an ultra-slim camera with a powerful 20x Optical Zoom […]

I don’t give a damn about this camera, but I think it offers an interesting glimpse at the market. That is: consumers are looking at the wrong specs. Traditionally in this segment it was all about megapixels, but now it seems to be all about: optical zoom and Wi-Fi (this particular camera does not have Wi-Fi but it was a trend at CES). Both are horrible features to care about, let alone to base a decision on.

Wi-Fi is just a way to get pictures off your camera and onto the computer without all that “hassle” of taking a memory card out. It’s a non-feature-feature — a throw-in.

Optical zoom is important, but not when stated as 20x. Because a multiplier specification like 20x is not something you can compare from camera to camera. If the focal length starts at 10mm on one and 40mm on another then 20x that initial focal length on the first and 20x on the second means two entirely different things.

In fact, if you are worried about zooming in that much with a point and shoot, perhaps you should look at other offerings.

The two features that matter most on a point-and-shoot to almost all consumers are:

  1. How wide angle is the lens. This matters because you are going to take far more pictures close up to things than you will far away. Wouldn’t it be nice to fit that entire building in the frame without having to walk a block away? Or fit the line of five friends in frame while still being able to stand in the same room? My most used camera lens on my dSLR? A 17-40 wide angle lens on a full frame camera — that’s a useful lens. My least used: 80-200mm lens.
  2. ISO, or noise is the second most important factor. Most of our pictures aren’t well lit, so you really need to look at how well the camera handles noise in dimly lit photos. If you can get a camera that performs with low noise at high ISO speeds, then you are going to be far happier with your photos and that trip to download them on the computer won’t matter as much.

Those two items are going to be far more helpful than a 20x optical zoom ever will be — remember that the next time you buy any camera.

Originally posted for members on: February 7, 2012
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