The Sledgehammer – Version 2.0

April 25, 2008

Building a Better Sledgehammer, One Exorbitant Purchase at a Time

Filed under: Site Stuff, Technology — Tags: , — Brian Lutz @ 11:54 am

Lately, you might have noticed a few changes to the site, particularly with regards to the photos used in my posts.  This is because I’ve finally managed to get around to upgrading a number of the items used to produce the site, especially the photos.  For some reason, it seems that lately I’ve managed to let a lot of the miscellaneous technology which I use on a day-to-day basis get fairly old, which is really unusual since I usually make at least some effort to keep up with the latest technology.

This recent (and ongoing) round of upgrades started with my phone.  For the past couple of years, I have used a Sprint PPC-6700 (Also known as a HTC Apache) as my phone.  Although this particular phone has worked well for my needs during the time I have used it, it is definitely beginning to show its age by now, with the rubber part on the front of the D-pad missing for several months now, as well as a missing stylus and a battery that holds a charge for about six hours on a good day, assuming that you don’t actually use the phone for anything.  Since the 2-year contract on which I bought that phone on was going to expire at the end of this month, I was making plans to get a new phone, and was looking at the HTC Mogul on Sprint, which is basically the replacement for the 6700.  Fortunately, before the end of the month came around, I managed to get a really good deal from a friend that I could not pass up on a slightly used Mogul, which not only saved me a fair bit of money over what I would have spent buying a new one,  but also means that I don’t need to go onto a new 2-year contract to get it.

In just about every way imaginable, the Mogul is an improvement over the phone that it’s replacing.  With more memory, Windows Mobile 6, better battery life and some nice features like built-in GPS.  In fact, there’s only one major feature that I have a problem with:  The camera on the phone doesn’t work all that well.  It operates at a higher resolution than the PPC6700’s camera, but the fixed focus design that the Mogul’s camera uses means that it is basically useless for taking close-up pictures.  As anyone who has been reading this site for any length of time knows, I use a lot of close-up pictures here, and not being able to take those is obviously a bit of a problem.

Which brings me to the next recent upgrade.  Even without the somewhat earlier-than-expected phone upgrade, I had already been considering an upgrade to my digital camera for some time anyway.  For the stuff on my site that hasn’t been covered by the cameraphone, I have been using a 4-megapixel Olympus point-and-shoot camera that I have had for about four years now,  While it has also worked out reasonably well, I have always had an issues with photos not turning out with the thing, and it usually took 2 or 3 shots to get a good one (which I understand is pretty much standard practice if you’re doing any sort of serious photography, but I’m far from serious.)  I have also found that this camera’s low light performance leaves much to be desired, and the not-so-standard XD memory that the camera uses has also proven to be a pain, since even if you have a reader which supports the format handy, transferring files off the card is still rather slow.  The final straw came when I was recently working on my writeup of the Crossroads Mall (yes, I am actually working on it) and realized that far too many pictures for my liking had not turned out for one reason or another.  I have also found the camera difficult to work with for taking pictures from microfilm, as I have for some of the research projects I’m working on currently.

In spite of this camera’s shortcomings, It’s been all over the place during the four years that I have owned it for.  Just within the past year this camera has been to the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone, and plenty of points in between.  It has also taken trips to Disneyland, Florida and even the Caribbean.   Even so, this camera is so old at this point that pretty much anything you’re going to find on the shelf these days is going to be a huge improvement over this one.  Having done some research on the subject, I found that the Canon Powershot SD series cameras seemed to be the best fit for the type of photos I take.  I need something that’s nice and compact (as well as fairly discrete, since I frequently end up taking pictures while in stores) yet takes good pictures.  Quite frankly, with as old as my other camera was pretty much anything I could have bought would have been a significant upgrade (I don’t think you can find much of anything that shoots less than 7.1 megapixels these days), and based on my findings, I decided that the Canon PowerShot SD850IS would be the best fit, and ordered one off of Amazon.  I’m still getting used to that camera, but so far I have found that it takes pictures a lot faster than the old camera, handles low-light situations a lot better, and the image stabilization also helps quite a bit.  In addition to these, there are other nice features like the ability to take 30fps video at 640×480 and 60fps at 320×200, a bunch of bells and whistles like an image stitching assistant (which should help with some of the newspaper stuff), far better low-light performance than the old camera, which became pretty much useless in low-light situations where the flash couldn’t be used.  For example, this is the type of photo just wouldn’t turn out with the old camera:

On top of all that, the new camera is also significantly smaller (and thus more portable) than the old one was, making it a lot easier to carry around on a day-to-day basis.  Using the new camera, I have gone back and retaken a number of the Crossroads photos which did not turn out the first time I went over there, and I should have enough stuff to finish putting together my initial profile of the mall.  That should be coming shortly (and this time I mean it, I think…)

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