This is a very low-powered entry in comparison to the advice on buying technical gadgets I’ve encountered in other weblogs, or even the ATA member’s husband I met at the Steinbachbräu in Erlangen last week who had a handheld GPS device that guided him from the Frankenhof hostel to the brewery. I can loosely connect it to the topic of the law when I say that I had heard it is much easier to exchange things in the USA than in Europe. I didn’t intend to buy a digital camera, learn how to use it in two days and then exchange it for another that I haven’t learnt how to use yet, but that’s what happened.
In September 2000 I bought a Nikon Coolpix 800 for about DM 999. When the switch broke, a simple mechanical defect, last summer, it cost me EUR 157 to have it mended – mostly labour and the postage to Munich and back. It was therefore a good idea to get a camera in New York, where they are a bit cheaper. I was in Manhattan for four days and went to B & H, allegedly the largest photo store in the world.
Following superficial initial research, I looked at the Nikon Coolpix 4500 but decided to take the Minolta Dimage F100 – I think it’s been replaced by a 5-megapixel one now. The former weighs twice what the latter does but it’s still very light at 12 ounces, although it doesn’t fit into a small handbag the way the Minolta does. However, the Minolta has one of those zooms that have to zoom out every time it’s turned on and in when it’s turned off, so it is awkward to start using in a hurry. The other thing that irritated me about it was that it came with a non-rechargeable Lithium battery that cost $16 to replace. Minolta advised against 2 AA batteries unless these were rechargeable, and even then it said they weren’t that good. But the old Nikon used 4 AA batteries, so how long would a 4 megapixel camera run on 2? I phoned Minolta to find out if I’d understood it right, and they said I ought to buy only Quest batteries from the USA. I would have finished up buying a recharger, about which they were not informative and an AC adapter, and also or instead probably an SD card reader, pushing the price up quite a way. I would have preferred to pay more and get a recharger with it. Another disappointment was the macro – you can get very near to your subject with the Nikons and I was used to that. The Minolta is an excellent camera though, takes good pictures and is easy to learn, and has a fair amount of manual control, but not as much as the Nikon. It has a focus system that is claimed to track a moving object. Cost: $380 (plus all the extras). The Nikon does more and costs $649, less a $200 rebate if I am lucky (camera has to have been delivered to you in the USA). The Nikon, for me, sits very well in the hand, the Minolta not quite so well.
In B & H, all the goods travel under the counters and overhead in green boxes on a conveyor system. You go first to the assistant who advises you and takes your order, then you queue to pay, then you queue to get the goods. Most of the staff, especially in the last stages, seem to be Chassidic Jews (but I am afraid this clothing catalogue may be a spoof).
It may be worth looking at B & H’s used equipment, because it will include my Minolta. When I went to return it, I found the five staff in the returns department in the side street engaged in a lot of joking in Yiddish, some of which I understood. I told them most of the Jewish community in Fürth speak Russian rather than Yiddish now. There is a Jewish museum here too.
I still need to sell the SD card I bought, but I had all 190 pictures I had taken copied onto a CD in 5 minutes for $11. (The photo shop in Manhattan said they needed two working days to do this, and it sounded as if they would have had to keep the card too).
People keep telling me digital cameras are not high quality. But I find I take more pictures than I used to. For years I used a Canon EF but it would be too heavy for me now. Nor could I imagine using a darkroom, any more than I tweak my pictures much now. A nice feature of the Nikon is that you can correct the verticals in pictures of architecture, while they’re still in the camera (I wonder if I could copy the original of the picture I posted recently of the Hyatt Regency back to the card and then correct it, because I think the verticals were rather Pisa-ish there). But there is a lot still to learn.