Not Your Everyday Banana

by Bart Arondson

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I'm looking for a new compact camera that:

  1. has a swivel screen
  2. is small enough to be mountable on a small tripod and,
  3. runs on AA batteries.
  4. good flexibility

Requirement (3) stems from the fact that I may be hiking in the wild for weeks on an end, with no opportunity to change a Lithium-Ion battery. If another solution permits me to take thousands rather than hundreds photographs on full charge, I may consider that as well.

Additionally, it would be nice (but not essential) to have:

  1. the ability to handle high dynamic range
  2. a viewfinder
  3. physical buttons — I live in a cold climate, and don't like to use touch-screens

The upper price range for compact models is still good for me, and I don't mind a pricerange of €400–€800 (but I don't mind cheaper either, if still of good quality).

I've been the happy user of several models in the Canon PowerShot A series, but now my PowerShot A650 IS has died. Starting from the Wikipedia article on articulating screens, it seems requirement (3) kills of many cameras: the Canon PowerShot SX50 HS, (might also fail (2)), the Canon PowerShot G1 x, the Nixon Coolpix P7700, the Samsung EX2F... Although enough models meet requirements (1), (2), and (4), as well as the (non-essential) additional features I listed, it seems in the past 5 years, cameras have moved away from using AA batteries. What camera models still exist that meet my requirements?

very last picture

Last photograph taken with my Canon PowerShot A650 IS, taking on Christmas Day 2012 in the Caldera de Taburiente, La Palma, Canary Islands, Spain.

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A entry level DSLR can usually take 1,000 or more images per battery. More if you don't features like live view especially. You could buy a dozen third party batteries that run about $15 each. That would give you somewhere in the 10,000-15,000 image range if this isn't in very cold weather. –  dpollitt Jan 6 '13 at 23:20
    
@dpollitt 1k shots on a single charge ? Last time I went out i got ~700 shots without live-view or video recording –  GoodSp33d Jan 7 '13 at 12:46
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@2-Stroker You are right, 1,000 would be excessive for most cameras. My old 40D would get around 1,200 per battery - but that was exemplary. It looks like 500 would be a much safer assumption. Even so, 5,000-7,500 shots for a reasonable investment in batteries is not that limiting at least for me over a multi-week hiking trip. I mean, what if they were shooting film?! 5,000 shots in a year would be extreme! –  dpollitt Jan 7 '13 at 14:55
    
1k is more than enough for me on a 3-week hiking trip. My experience with rechargeable batteries however is that they're always empty when I need them (and get empty even when not in use)... –  gerrit Jan 7 '13 at 16:48
    
Note that finally, I managed to fix my old camera, and will not buy a new one at this point. See also this question. –  gerrit Jan 14 '13 at 17:48
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4 Answers 4

There is no current camera with an articulating (rotating) screen that runs on AA batteries but there is one left with a tilting screen. That is the Pentax X-5.

It can take up to 950 shots per charge on a pair of AA batteries. So, with 4, you'll get good for a while. I too favor AAs because I am often away from a power-grid and have found an affordable ($30 USD) solar charger for AAs, it takes 6h to charge 4, even on a cloudy day.

This type of camera will be easily held by a flexible tripod such as a Gorillapod Hybrid but not one as small as the one you pointed out. It does have physical buttons with a single control-dial and an EVF too. This is as close to your requirements as you'll find these days.

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Thanks for the link to the excellent overview site. As no camera meets all my requirements, I'll have to compromise somewhere... –  gerrit Jan 6 '13 at 21:53
    
@gerrit But if we use battery grip for a DSLR, we can use AA batteries right ? There are few models with swivel screens, what if we use battery grip to make use of AA batteries, but it wont be small though. –  GoodSp33d Jan 7 '13 at 12:53
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As you've ascertained, requirement 3 (AA batteries) is going to be the deal-breaker.

Backing up for a second, I don't know that AA batteries are a good solution. I would not expect them to last for weeks in my camera, at least -- I shoot far too much for them to last. Presumably you envision taking along a pile of alkaline or lithium AAs to power the camera. That's obviously more space and weight, and even spent batteries occupy space and weight -- surely a concern for any backpacker.

For whichever camera you choose, I think it's most important to look at battery life and understand how you can extend battery life easily. The large LCD sucks up plenty of battery and if you can figure out how to minimize its use you will extend the battery life (a viewfinder is likely going to use much less). Power zoom will eat battery; a manual zoom is likely a good savings. Manual focus also doesn't use any battery, too.

Adding up those things makes me think a different type of camera might be better: a mirrorless might be ideal. That's more likely to meet your "additional" requirements, too. That's really going to push your price range and could be a little larger than you like (though if you're considering the G1X and P7700 that may be less of a concern).

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So far I've been taking along a pile of AA's; on a three-week backpacking trip, I need to replace a set of 4 non-rechargeable AA's at most once. Also, on some back-packing trips, I might pass by places where I can get and dispose of AA batteries (e.g. a small store), but not have the opportunity to charge anything. –  gerrit Jan 6 '13 at 21:17
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Requirement (3) stems from the fact that I may be hiking in the wild for weeks on an end, with no opportunity to change a Lithium-Ion battery. If another solution permits me to take thousands rather than hundreds photographs on full charge, I may consider that as well.

There are quite a few solar-powered battery chargers on the market. Most look to be pretty lightweight -- possibly lighter than carrying several sets of AA batteries. Some are built for charging specific camera battery types, others are more general USB chargers. Google 'solar camera charger' to find them.

Using a solar charger to eliminate the AA battery requirement should let you pick nearly any camera you want, and there are of course a ton of compact cameras on the market that'll meet requirements 1, 2, and 4.

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I'm going to recommend a slight departure from your requirements. I'd consider getting a smaller digital SLR. The bit of extra space required is really the only huge difference, since if you're taking piles of batteries camping the weight difference of the body is reduced proportionally compared to the difference of the bodies/lenses alone.

Along those lines, I'd consider something like a Canon T3i / 600D; here's a spec comparison with the A650 IS. Note that the weight, including batteries, is 570 grams for the T3i, 300 grams for the A650 IS. Add in a cheap zoom such as the 18-55mm IS, and the difference grows to approximately 500 grams, or slightly over a pound.

Then you could do one of two things: either buy extra rechargeable batteries (modern ones hold their charge very well and certainly would be fine over the space of weeks or months), or add a battery grip which would let you use AAs and go far longer between battery changes.

The DSLR would allow you to have a nice big viewfinder, manual control out the wazoo, and a swivel screen, plus giving much better photographic results than with an AA-using compact. If you care enough about your photography to suffer the bit of extra weight and space penalty (this is still somewhat of a small package if you pack it right, perhaps with a bag like this) this is the option I'd pick. You could go even lighter and smaller with a prime, for instance this quite small package with the Canon 40mm pancake mounted: quite small package with the Canon 40mm pancake mounted (the bag shown is a Lowepro Apex 100 AW).

No matter what you do, I suggest looking into buying rechargeable high-capacity AA batteries, such as 2500 mAh XX Eneloops. They will cost a bit of money up front, but pay for themselves in the long run compared to buying disposables. They also offer a lot more capacity than normal rechargeables, meaning you can pack fewer of them to save weight and space.

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with you on the disposable batteries. They just don't have the capacity even the most expensive ones. If I might be so bold, buy third party batteries for the DLSR. –  Peng Tuck Kwok Jan 8 '13 at 7:59
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