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Scott's Column
Vista No More, Sony DSC-T9 Digital Camera

August 1, 2006
By Scott Lewis

I have played with Windows Vista long enough. I went back to Windows XP as my primary operating system. Why? What did it take to go back? Well, that's what this month's article is all about. Also we had fun getting a new digital camera. Let's get on it.

Gaming

Now that I put Windows Vista out to pasture I loaded Max Payne... 1. This was the next game I wanted to play and it did not run under Vista. Unfortunately, that's about as far as I got. Maybe I will get to playing Max Payne next month.

Windows XP Returns

Like Superman Returns... which, by the way, was a lot of fun to watch... XP returns. I like Windows Vista... a lot. I really like the Sidebar with the Gadgets. I am still running Windows Vista in a dual boot mode as well as through Virtual PC (at work). I tried installing it under Virtual PC at home but it crashed my system just trying to boot to the ISO image. Oh well, I have far too little memory at home to run Vista in a virtual environment.

So I am not running Vista as my primary operating system anymore. There are two main reasons for this. 1) Compatibility, 2) Performance. I expect both of these issues to be worked out in later versions of Vista. Last month I listed 5 applications that do not run under Windows Vista. That's just too many incompatibilities for me. Plus, Windows Vista would not let me download pictures from my Kodak DC280 Camera. As for performance, Intel's 64 bit dual core CPU chips (currently code named Conroe, officially called Core 2 Duo) will be out in time for new machines to be running Vista on them.

What I did not get around to testing last month was printing. When I setup Vista I setup file sharing across my network. After that I setup the printers that I keep in the closet with my server (the server is a print and file server). The setup went fine and I didn't think anything about it. However, when I actually went to print something it would not print. I could not find any reason for this. Vista told me that the "print spooler" was not running on the server and I should reboot it. I tried that and it didn't change anything. I was able to print from my laptop, and my wife has not had any issues with printing from her laptop. Unfortunately I did not have as much time as I want to look into this.

The final straw that put Windows Vista out to pasture was when my wife and I purchased a new digital camera. You can read about our purchasing decisions that led us to a Sony DSC-T9 camera below. I was not about to try and deal with Windows Vista and a new camera. So it was time to make Windows XP my main operating system again.

Returning From Krypton... uh, I mean Vista

What did it take for me to switch back? Actually it was quite easy. I did an export of my main e-mail folders from Microsoft Mail (Outlook Express's replacement in Vista). I exported the folders to a directory that was on the Windows XP drive on my system (I have two hard drives, one with Vista and one with XP installed). I also copied all the files from the Documents and Pictures folders to their appropriate places on the Windows XP drive.

That did it. I booted into Windows XP and started up Outlook Express. I ran its import feature and that did not work. I decided to look at the directory containing the exported mail messages. Microsoft Mail created folders for each folder of mail, and in those folders were a bunch of .EML files. Simply drag the .EML files into the corresponding folders in Outlook Express and Bob's your uncle. The mail messages looked like they were part of Outlook Express all along.

My son had a number of files he created and saved somewhere other than the Documents folder. I was easily able to browse the drive Vista was installed on and find his files and copy them over. I will have to do a little clean up on the Windows XP side because I copied everything  from Vista, and some of that is just not relevant.

I thought about using Microsoft's SyncToy to move the files. I used SyncToy to load a bunch of files on my laptop before going on vacation. It worked well, and I was able to easily sync up when I got home. However, I did not want to push all my Windows XP stuff over to Windows Vista. I was a little concerned that the drive Vista was installed on might get full.

When Microsoft makes the first "Release Candidate" versions of Vista available I may use SyncToy right after installing Vista to manage files between Vista and XP, but that is a ways off. I want to do some cleanup of the files now, and see what can be moved permanently to my server. I have had bad experiences in the past when making a network folder the destination for the "My Documents" folder of Windows, so I won't go that far. I just want a clean way to keep my laptop and desktop documents synchronized. I currently use my file server for files I want to access from both, but a good synchronizing methodology might be a better way to go for some documents. I'll have to give this some thought before Vista RC1 comes out.

Sony DSC-T9

We purchased a new Sony DSC-T9 digital camera. This time I did a lot of research on digital cameras before making the leap. The camera that got me interested in replacing my aging Kodak DC280 camera was the Kodak V610. This is an ultra compact camera that has two lenses and an optical zoom of 10x. The big thing was that it would be able to fit in the pocket of my jeans.

So I started reading reviews on digital camera. The Kodak V610 reviews seemed pretty consistent in that the camera's images were just average and it had trouble focusing at the long zoom ranges. Picture quality is very important to me. I go back and forth between being a serious amateur and a point and shoot kind of picture taker, but I still need good image quality when those point and shoot images turn into printed images.

I am a huge Canon fan. I have owned four Canon film cameras over the years. My very first camera was a Canon T-50. This was a SLR camera that was as easy to use as a point and shoot camera. I don't think it had any manual controls at all, except the focusing and maybe aperture and shutter priority. I bought it because I wanted to use interchangeable lenses. I loved that camera. Unfortunately it was stolen when I was visiting San Francisco. The thief got a great shot of Lombard Street. Next up was a Canon T-90. I was really getting into photography and this camera was the exact opposite of the T-50 in that it had every manual control you could think of, including a very fast auto advance for film. In those days it was common to buy add-on film advancers for fast shooting. The T-90 was rated at 4.5 frames per second out of the box.

The Canon T-90 had a problematic shutter. It would not fire consistently. It was long out of warrantee and it was going to cost quite a bit to replace the circuit board that the shutter button was attached to. So my wife bought me a Canon Rebel EOS. This was the first generation Rebel. At the time it was the best compromise between the T-50 (fully automatic) and the T-90 (lots of manual controls). It did not have the speed of the T-90, but I never actually used the continuous shooting mode anyway. The only thing I did not like about that Rebel was that it was a little limiting in its shutter speed. I think it was only capable of 1/1000 sec. It is rare, but I did use my T-90 at 1/2000 a couple of time. This was really helpful in portrait shots that you want to blur the background. I loved using this technique ever since I learned it. Set the camera to aperture priority and crank the number as low as possible. This leaves the aperture open the most, and forces the shutter to fire as fast as possible to get the right exposure. What happens is that when the shutter is open such a short time it can only focus on the subject... hence the blurred foreground and background. I did this with the T-90 and on a bright day I saw the shutter speed hit 1/2000. BTW... we sold the T-90 to a camera exchange outfit for about what it would have cost to fix. This was a great trade off in getting the EOS Rebel.

The Rebel took a bad fall and its main lens (50mm) shattered. The Rebel was having a little trouble with the battery. Its contacts would not work perfectly. It would think the battery was dead, even though it was brand new. Granted this only started being a problem after the camera was almost 10 years old. When the lens broke we bought a Canon EOS Rebel T2. The T2 has a shutter speed that goes all the way to 1/4000 sec. WOW, when will I use that! I still have the old Rebel because I still have an old 100-300 zoom lens that I can use it with. Granted, I have only used it once since buying the new Rebel. But it is still a valid option. I should be able to use the 35-100mm lens we got with the T2 on the old EOS, but that is not necessary. Basically the old Rebel sits in a camera case in the closet.

O.K. Enough about the history lesson. We are supposed to be talking about the Sony DSC-T9 and how we came to choose it. I started looking at reviews of compact and ultra-compact cameras. The Canon line really stands out. I was looking hard at the SD line (SD500, SD550, SD630, SD700). I also noticed that some of the Casio cameras are looking pretty good in the reviews (EX-S500, EX-Z750, EX-Z850). Surprising was the mention of a Panasonic DMC-TZ1 as a great super zoom camera. I really like the idea of a reasonably compact super zoom camera. Next up was the Sony models (DSC-T30, DSC-T9, DSC-N1) when I tried to concentrate my searching on ultra compact cameras.

Some of the above cameras came from this Buyer's Guide. I really like the way this guy reviews cameras, and his recommendations were taken to heart in building my list. In fact, it was this reviewer that got the three Sony cameras on the list.

I was really concerned about picture quality, and all these cameras were getting good to excellent ratings in the picture quality department in every review I read. I have noticed that pictures from my Kodak DC280 come out blurry more and more often. I am assuming this is me and not the camera. Too old and and too much caffeine. So I really liked the ideas of a camera with image stabilization. Since many ultra compact cameras forego an optical view finder, I definitely wanted image stabilization if I was going to be holding a camera out in front of me where camera shake would be a serious problem. Currently, the only Canon SD camera with this feature is the SD700. Granted the SD700 is the big boy in Canon's compact camera line up. However, the SD700 is $500 and I was not sure I wanted to spend that much.

The next step down the price scale was the Sony DSC-N1. This has a touch screen and a really cool photo album feature. This can be nice in showing pictures from the large 3.0" LCD screen. However, I would be concerned that the touch screen would be something that could "go wrong" over time. How well would it hold up? Plus it was significantly thicker in the hand than the T9. The T30 is the replacement for the T9 and has the 3" LCD, where as the T9 has a 2.5 inch screen. Again, the $500 price tag made the T30 less than ideal.

Armed with the list of cameras above, and there basic specs (megapixels, zoom range, image stabilization... yes or no, and screen size) we headed off to Best Buy. I have said this before, Best Buy is not the best place to buy electronics. However, Best Buy does have a few things going for it. 1) You can handle a fair number of products in their store. 2) They are conveniently located (they just opened a new one about 6 miles from my house). 3) You can return things easily compared to mail order. However, the best reason for me to go to Best Buy was that I had $65 in gift certificates laying around to help with the cost of the Camera. In the tight profit margins of electronics $65 is enough to sway me from mail order.

First off Best Buy did not carry Casio cameras. That left us looking at Canon and Sony. We did take a quick look around at some others, but without good review information I would not consider another camera. They had the Sony DSC-T9 and DSC-N1 in stock and ready to play with. They also had the Canon SD700 & SD630. However, the next step down on the Canon line was the SD450. I did not have specs on the 450, and had not read any recent reviews of it. However, I have read enough about the SD line from Canon that I would consider the SD450 without its own review. Brand loyalty! (I did come across a SD450 review that was very favorable as I was writing this... just in case you're interested.)

The SD630 and DSC-T9 were both priced at $399, with the DSC-N1 going for $449 and the SD700 topping them all at $499. We tried taking pictures with each camera. Unfortunately, the battery in the Canon SD700 was out of juice (the store forgot to charge it up the night before). So we had to get the "feel" of the Canon by its "kid" brother. We had trouble getting a decent "action" picture with the SD630. To test a minor action shot we had one of our sons walk on the other side of the counter and we would try to take a picture of him as he passed. The Canon flunked this test. It took me two tries to get anything and it was completely blurred. The Sony got two out of two in this quick and dirt test.

My wife's sister has a fairly new Canon SD series Camera. I think it is the SD400. She complains that it is too slow to shoot. Too much shutter delay from when she presses the button to when it takes the picture. This is one thing that leads to blurred images... which is why I want image stabilization. So, to test this I turned the Sony DSC-T9 off, then I turned it on and instantly shot a picture of my wife looking at another camera. I got the shot and my wife was very surprised that it came out. The Sony DSC-T9 was definitely the speed champ of all the cameras.

It was time to do a little reflecting. I love having the option of manual controls, yet the Sony has little to none. The Canon has many more manual controls, though I believe reviews say it is missing aperture and shutter priority. The Canon has two features that were really pulling at my heart strings. The SD700 has an optical viewfinder and it has a 4X zoom instead of the typical 3X. On the downside of the Canon is their zoom control. To zoom in or out you twist a ring that is around the shutter button. This means you have to zoom or press the shutter, not both. I found this a little weird. The Sony DSC-T9 puts its zoom control as a rocker switch in the top right of the back of the camera... almost exactly where your thumb wants to rest naturally when you hold the camera. Close enough to easily get too yet not likely to be pressed accidentally.

Back to the reflecting. What do we want the camera for? Ultimately I would love a camera that could do it all. But I also love the idea of a camera so small and easy to use that we will take everywhere... and use it a lot. Every review of the Sony mentions its great picture quality. In the end we picked the Sony DSC-T9 because it is small enough to fit in my jeans pocket, it will take good pictures (especially with image stabilization) and it would be easy enough to take with us all the time, so the next time we meet Jared Padalecki, from the Warner Bros. TV Show Supernatural, in a restaurant we will have a real camera and not a phone camera.

Price also had a factor in the choice. Since we would still need to buy memory for the camera, we figured it would be best to put the extra money into memory. And we did just that as they had a 2GB Memory Stick PRO Duo media card on sale for $99.

As one honorable mention I would like to point out that if I was willing to deal with a bulkier camera I would have bought the Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ1. Its 10X zoom lens and image stabilization would be great. It just won't fit in my jeans pocket. Plus Jeff Keller, Founder & Editor of Digital Camera Resource Page had this comment about the TZ1, "If you want to know what I really think about the TZ1, this statement should sum it up for you: I bought one as a birthday gift for my dad." That statement was enough for me to forget about the Kodak V610. But it was just not compelling enough for me to give up on an ultra-compact camera. I tried out the TZ1 at Best Buy and it was easy to hold, pretty light in the hand, focused easily at all zoom ranges and snapped pictures easily. If I could get more than one camera I would get the Panasonic as a backup when I needed more zoom.

Next month I will give the Sony my own review. In the mean time you can read these reviews on the Sony DSC-T9:

Sony DSC-T9 on Digital Camera Resource Page  
Sony DSC-T9 on PC Magazine   
Sony DSC-T9 on CNet   
Sony DSC-T9 on Steve's Digicams   
Sony DSC-T9 on The Imaging Resource  
Sony DSC-T9 on Digital Trends   

Also of note... the June 28th CNET Digital Dispatch listed the Top 5 Ultracompact Cameras as:

The Top 5: Ultracompact cameras 
Canon PowerShot SD600 
Sony Cyber Shot DSC-T30 
Casio Exilim EX-Z850 
Casio Exilim EX-Z750 
Sony Cyber Shot DSC-T9 

Notice, that the model numbers were not exact, but these are basically the cameras we were looking at. I only read this a week after buying the camera, so it was a nice reaffirmation of our choice. Also, if you follow the main link you will see the Canon SD450 and SD550 were 6 and 8 on the list, respectively. We were definitely looking at the right stuff.

Conclusion

That's it for this month. It seemed like a very busy month, and it was. Though not much of a technical story... I did my first crown molding installation. We painted the formal dinning room back in June. It is open to the hallway and foyer so we only had to paint two sides... but one side is a bay windows. The bay window made cutting the crown molding more difficult (22.5 degree cuts instead of the basic 45 degree cuts), but overall it came out well. I have the desire to tackle the master bedroom next. We painted it last summer and I never got around to doing the molding.

I hear a miter saw calling my name.

When I switched back to Windows XP I installed Kodak's Easyshare software. I am looking for a good photo "management" software. Often referred to as photo album software. I downloaded Picasa and I have a copy of Adobe Photoshop Elements 3 (one version old). I'll let you know about them soon... hopefully next month.

Until next time.

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