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Buy the Canon PowerShot A70 and explain it to me – that’s what friends are for

Nowadays the gadgetry available even to quite non-rich people is advancing at a hectic rate, and the people in the shops selling these gadgets can’t keep up with it. The very thing that makes you want to go back to the shop to ask them how the hell it works is the exact same reason why they can’t help you. They can’t keep up with what’s in all their boxes any more than you can quickly work out what’s in your box. If the bloke in Dixon’s was smart enough to explain all the nuances of digital radio or Norton anti-virus software, he wouldn’t be working in Dixon’s, now would he?

So what do you do? Read the manual? Yes, but only as a last resort. The real trick with new technology is to watch what your friends are using, and if it works, get one of those yourself. That way, any new discoveries made by any of you about whatever it is can become common knowledge for the entire group of you. You can also share things like discs and data cards. This is how standards emerge in the free society. They aren’t imposed. People buy them, by buying what their friends also have. And people are being smart. Other things being equal, which they often are, get the same stuff as your mate down the road.

I mention this now because a user group may be starting to form in my little bit of the blogosphere, around one of the Canon range of digital cameras, the Canon PowerShot A70. Last weekend, Alice Bachini and I discovered that, all independently, we had both bought one of these. She wanted a digital camera, and I wanted a replacement digital camera. Straight away I was able to give Alice some handy tips, about such things as how the After Eight Wafer Thin Mint that stores the pictures works, and on the subject of rechargeable batteries. Simple stuff, but the thing about gadgetry, computers, etc., is that however simple something may be, it’s hard if you don’t know it. It’s not the difficulty of each bit of info that is the problem, it’s the number of bits that you need to get and stay on top of that is the problem.

Which means that if any others in my network of friends and acquaintances is thinking of getting a digital camera, it would make sense for them to get a Canon PowerShot A70. That way, we’ll have a network of friends to ask about it and to offer help to. That way, if any of us do read the manual and find wondrous tricks in it, this trickery can be handed around the group.

How do you set the clock on the video? How do you do coloured writing in Word for Windows? (Don’t answer those, I don’t care, they’re just examples.) How do you put writing beside a picture in a blog posting, instead of just underneath? (I can do pictures next to each other, but not yet pictures and text in the same horizontal space. Do answer that.) How do you stick up pictures on a blog if you are still stuck with Blogger instead of normality in the shape of Movable Type? (Tell Alice that.)

The Canon PowerShot A70 is a powerful piece of kit, with many desirable features. It says so in the (mostly rave) reviews. But how do you get all these features to work? Modern gadgets generally, and digital cameras in particular, and in particular particular the Canon PowerShot A70, all ooze with potential, but how do you release this potential? You get the stuff your friends already have, and they get what you already have, is how.

And when you do buy an unfamiliar gadget, it’s always a smart move to look over your shoulder and see who else is following you into the jungle. Maybe they’ll help you take some of the strain, like Tour de France cyclists. This is the techno-missionary effect, which here takes the form of me saying: buy the Canon PowerShot A70, it’s brilliant.

It’s interesting that, despite what Frances Fukuyama has called the Great Disruption that we are suffering from these days, in the form of disintegrating family life, juvenile misbehaviour, drug abuse and craziness of all kinds, the one social institution that seems to be sailing ahead strongly is friendship. Other more ‘institutional’ institutions crumble. Political parties lose their members. Corporations downsize. But most of us still have as many friends as ever, and maybe more friends than a generation or two ago, to take up the slack left by weakened family links. Friendship is something that we mostly seem to be able to do as well as ever. Not for nothing is one of the most successful sitcoms of our age called … but you’d already thought of that.

Part of the reason that friendship, in contrast to romance and marriage and romance say, works well is that we tend to be realistic about friendship, again in sharp contrast for what we expect from romance and marriage. We don’t expect our friends to be perfect. (It helps a lot that we have quite a few of them, and not just one.) But this gadgetry thing also makes a difference, I think. All these gadgets, which are such a feature of our lives now, are actually helping to make friendship work better for us, by rewarding us lavishly when we do friendship right, and punishing us if we don’t.

I hope you agree that the above ruminations make a pleasing contrast with one of the most regular complaints about modern technology that you hear, which says that modern technology serves only to cut us off from one another, and make us live in isolated little cubicles of techno-entertainment, but also loneliness. The point is that if you really are alone, your chances even of getting your little cubicle to work well, let alone anything else, are much reduced.

14 comments to Buy the Canon PowerShot A70 and explain it to me – that’s what friends are for

  • It is a good camera by the looks of it. I have a higher res camera from a computer manufacturer and it gives me 4 megapixels of mediocre pictures.

    I feel some investment coming on.

  • And we have friends who live on different continents who we have never met. Heaven knows what people in the past would have thought of that.

  • Gasky

    Of course, if you are going to spend the best part of a grand on a camera, you could do worse than buy something like a second hand Bronica. But then that uses boring old film, which means you also have to THINK about what you are doing before you commit the image to film. Also the quality of the image is far beyond your average (and not so average) digital. The fact that you can’t just fire of hundreds of snaps and then hope that you can rescue a picture or two with photoshop might actually encourage the user to use JUDGEMENT.

  • mike

    The A80 is scheduled for release at the end of the month. Spiffy.

  • Bryan C

    Canon makes good stuff. I haven’t used their compact digitals, but I have an EOS-10D and a D30 that I love dearly.

    Check out Digital Photography Review, too. Great reviews and really helpful forums.


    Gasky, your insinuations are unfounded. The photographer’s talent (and maybe a bit or luck) are the most important aspects of photography, not the particular chemistry involved. Or do you also believe that good writing can only be accomplished with a quill pen and dried sheepskin?

  • Welcome to A70-land! My primary user tip so far would be to get one of those clingy plastic sheets that people use to protect PDA screens, and cut a small rectangle to stick over the rear viewscreen, which seems easily scuffed on camera-case zippers, etc. (this is probably a good tip for digital cameras in general). This also seems to cut the screen glare a bit. Apart from that issue, I like it a lot; they’ve done a good job in both the full-manual and the full-auto mode. And the sixteen or so sort-of-auto modes.

    As for digital vs. film: I was initially surprised at the amount of detail I was pulling out of shadows on bright days, just by wandering around taking fairly indifferent test shots. Reading around a bit, it turns out that while people tend to focus on the relative RESOLUTION of film vs. digital, the digital imaging chips in any decent camera can now see and record a higher CONTRAST range than film can.

    I think the major remaining aesthetic problem with digital is that, while film imaging degrades wonderfully in low light, with all that fabulous grain, digital imaging in low light just gets crappily littered with green and red pixel-noise. Improving the light response of digital imaging would sidestep this issue, but you’d still lose that whole aesthetic palette. So my guess is that the ultimate response will be to build “film simulators” into digicam firmware that will respond to low light by creating artificial film-grain (with optional plugins to render various favorite film stocks).

    Alternatively, we could all learn to enjoy digital noise the way we currently enjoy film noise. But I would argue that digital noise is objectively crappy 🙂

  • Michael Jennings,
    Yes the web does allow affinity groups across national (though not linguistic) boundaries. And its remarkable.
    But as to far-distant friends whom one has not met, I think the the past is filled with examples of such far-apart correspondents. At least somehow I have gotten that impression of the dead-tree era. No?

  • David: That’s a fair comment, yes. On the other hand, the simple number of them I now have is getting impressive. And there are some curiously odd consequences. For instance, there is a “meet Michael Jennings” evening planned in Sydney on November 8, in which people who have read my blogging for the last 18 months or so can get to meet me. The intriguing thing is that Sydney is my home town.

  • Tony H

    Is it really possible for someone you’ve never met – merely encountered their ghostly cyber-presence on the net – to be counted as a friend? I doubt it. I do have a couple of friends I originally made contact with via web-based discussion forums, but they didn’t become real friends until we’d met and shared a few pints. Yes, epistolary friendship was a feature of the past (cf the vast correspondence conducted by literary figures of the 18th & 19th centuries e.g. Johnson) but I’d argue that the nature of their medium, and the fact that correspondents were often known to one another at second hand via other mutual friends, made their correspondence more indicative of genuine friendship than our comparatively superficial electronic meetings.
    Re the digital thing, the battle is over: I love film (more precisely, certain films by Fuji) and film cameras, but the digital momentum is enormous and commercial reality is that it’s rapidly taking over from film in professional practice. Dunno about Canons, but problem with most digi compacts is lack of W/A lenses – my Nikon Coolpix 5000 is an exception. Otherwise I shoot a Fuji S2, more than good enough to replace most 35mm film applications – and yes, I bought it after lots of research and consulting friends/acquaintances who had one already.

  • I bought a Nikon Coolpix 4300 (to replace my elderly Sony Mavica), and it sucks.

    The “Close-up” function does NOT work without a tripod — the stupid autofocus wanders all over the place, and manual focus doesn’t seem to be an option with Macro.


    [And I’m not a camera ignoramus, either — I used Pentax ME Supers (I have two) for nearly fifteen years before I went digital.]

  • I bought an A60 in August.

    Yes, the manual is a bit much. I’m still learning all the ins and outs. That’s to be expected. The functions clearly outstrip — by a wide margin — my previous camera purchase — the film using Canon T90 (from the late 80s).

    Playing with this new toy is a lot of fun. I haven’t put any photos from it up on the web yet, but I expect I will after this weekend’s Red Dress Run.

    You can look at some of stuff on the web at

    Chuck Divine’s SF art


    2000 Red Dress Run (film, digitized)


    2002 Red Dress Run (Canon A20)


    Full Moon Prelewd to 2002 RDR

    To do good photography you need talent and lots of practice. Equipment doesn’t really factor in except as a limitation.

  • > digital imaging in low light just gets crappily littered with green and red
    > pixel-noise.

    By the way, there’s a program called neatimage that does a fairly decent job of
    reducing pixel noise.

    And I’m based in Sydney. 😉

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