Obsessive-compulsive doesn't begin to describe my approach when purchasing a new piece of sporting equipment. The research typically begins on the web - pouring over reviews and sifting through testimonials. These days your B.S. meter needs to be on high-alert, because you never know if you're being fleeced by "paid" contributors or guerrilla marketers.
So it was when I started hunting for a new compact outdoors camera. A 'point-'n-shoot' isn't as versatile or capable as a full-size SLR, but it sure is a lot more practical. I often cart my camera over water or hold it precariously over rocky terrain, and it's reassuring to know that an unexpected dunking or whack against the cliffside isn't going to short the circuits. As a friend and professional 'shooter' told me, "The best camera is the one at hand; that expensive SLR isn't worth a damn if it's always in the case."
From web research I moved on to word-of-mouth and visits to the camera shops. You wouldn't buy a fly rod or skis without trying them out, so why would you order something sight-unseen from Amazon? A camera needs to be fondled. It needs to be operable with one gloved hand right-side up or sideways. You won't get good, consistent shots if you're constantly fussing with the controls or over-thinking things.
I eventually landed on the Olympus TG-4. The 'T' is for Tough - and it certainly is that: waterproof to 50 feet; crushproof to 220 pounds; shockproof to seven feet; and freezeproof to 14F.
But the TG-4 also includes several features that I couldn't find on other cameras in the category - features especially useful to fishermen, hunters, and other outdoor activists. As someone who guides for a living and spends hundreds of hours in the wilderness each year, I'll list those features and explain their importance to avid outdoors' photographers.
The "fast" F2.0 lens. Translation: sharper, brighter images in the low-light conditions so common to anglers and hunters. Let's face it, those blizzard hatches and big fish often come off at dusk, just as the trophy deer usually appear at dawn or after sunset. Yes, you can use a flash, but that popping bulb often washes out the fishy spots and vibrant colors that make the difference between an adequate photo and a great one.
Aperture Priority. Translation: the ability to override your camera's automatic settings and set your own f-stop, which in turn governs the ability to blur the background behind your subjects or have everything in focus from three feet to infinity. The TG-4 is the only "rugged" compact camera I'm aware of with this feature, which you'll appreciate a lot more than you think, especially as your photographic skills improve.
Enhanced GPS & e.Compass. Don't get lost tracking that buck thru the woods. Likewise, record the exact location of every picture taken - from the underwater shelf in the middle of the lake to the pheasant cover in the middle of the prairies. And track barometric pressure and altitude in the process: these features are too good to pass up for serious sportsmen.
And so now it's time to retire my long-time companion, the Pentax Optio 6.0 that's served me well for the better part of a decade.
I'll miss its sleek silver lines - the way it nestles so well in my hand and fits inside a sunglass case. But the 6.0 Megapixels just don't cut it anymore, and even on a relatively low-resolution blog its photos are "noisy" and lack punch. Sorry, old fella, but like a trusted hunting dog or tarnished fly reel, your time has come.
Rest in peace and rest assured that your legacy will live on - from the breathtaking brown trout of New Zealand to the campfire on the beach with friends - from the spiderweb on that dewy morning astream to the kayaks drifting off the kelp beds. Memories and marked time, precious and enduring.
As always, for the best that Canadian Rockies' fly-fishing has to offer, book your next adventure with Dave Brown Outfitters, and don't forget to bring your camera!