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Author Topic: Point & Shoot Cameras  (Read 9908 times)
Ray
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« on: May 21, 2008, 01:05:41 AM »
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Am I one of the few people who see the potential image quality benefits of the smaller P&S camera? We all know they are lighter and more compact and we all know they produce inferior results in terms of absolute, pixel-peeping image quality, compared with larger, heavier and more expensive cameras. One could say there's a scale of basic image quality ranging from the mobile phone built-in camera at the bottom of the heap, to the P45+ at the top of the heap.

Most comparisons are based on single shots and the single shot is usually better, the larger the format, when shutter speed and/or extensive DoF is not an issue. We know that sports shots of fast action need a Canon 1D3, not a P45, but for still-lifes or any scene with little movement, the larger format triumphs.

But does this necessarilly have to be the case? Are manufacturers failing to exploit the full potential of the smaller format in order to protect the sales of their larger format DSLRs? This might seem like a dumb question, but the fact is, hardware and software go in tandem. Apparent limitations in hardware can often be overcome with clever software. We now have a lot of clever software. I'm thinking of auto-alignment of multiple images in CS3; stacking of images to reduce noise in CS3E, automatic and effective parallax correction in stitching programs such as Autopano Pro etc.

Rather than waffle in a theoretical manner, I'm going to concentrate on a specific scene I photographed with my Canon 5D in circumstances where I would have preferred to have used a much lighter camera. The scene is the Himalayan mountain range featuring Nepal's highest mountain, Mt Daulagiri, at dawn. The light was dim and I wanted extensive DoF, so I set up my rather wobbly and inadequate but lightweight tripod on the rough terrain. With the rising sun suddenly creating a blaze of red on the snowy peaks, but the surrounding foliage being relatively in shade, I could sense there would be a dynamic range problem, so I bracketed 3 shots ranging from 1/6th to 1/60th second at F11. I honestly can't remember whether I had mirror lock-up enabled. This glow appeared quickly and soon disappeared. The fact that the image is not quite tack sharp might indicate I simply didn't have time to enable MLU. On the other hand, the uneven and soft terrain might simply not have been suitable for a rock-solid tripod placement, or F11 might not have been sufficient to encompase the entire DoF. Perhaps I really needed my TS-E 24mm which, as I recall, I didn't have on this climb.

What I want to do is imagine what the shot might have been like if I'd had a camera like the Canon G9 sporting the features that I'd like, such as a fast frame rate in RAW mode and the potential to bracket 5 or more shots ranging from +/- 5 stops of exposure, which entails having a much larger buffer.

For the same DoF as my 5D shots, I could use F2.8 instead of F11 or F3.5 for greater DoF. 1/6th of a second would probably be overkill for the shadows. However, on the same flimsy tripod, if a P&S such as the G9 could take such bracketed shots as I describe, would image quality be any worse than what my 5D produced? I can't see that it would be. In fact it might be better as a result of less need for the really slow shutter speeds.

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dalethorn
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« Reply #1 on: May 21, 2008, 08:41:44 AM »
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I have a similar problem sometimes, but with a different configuration, which you might appreciate from a manufacturer's viewpoint (imagining how users use the product).  I carry the big camera on a wide shoulder strap, and the smaller camera in a big pocket, as a backup, or for better macro shots.  So in a way, it's the opposite of what you describe, but fairly common for a lot of users.
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Ray
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« Reply #2 on: May 21, 2008, 09:07:33 AM »
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I have a similar problem sometimes, but with a different configuration, which you might appreciate from a manufacturer's viewpoint (imagining how users use the product).  I carry the big camera on a wide shoulder strap, and the smaller camera in a big pocket, as a backup, or for better macro shots.  So in a way, it's the opposite of what you describe, but fairly common for a lot of users.
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I've only once experienced a camera break-down whilst out shooting. My 5D's mirror fell off. Carrying a P&S as a back-up might be fine if it had those features I mentioned, such as fast frame rate in RAW mode and large buffer. I wonder how much that would add to the size, weight and cost of the camera.

I'm really trying to find out how much extra bulk and weight the fast frame rate and larger buffer would entail because, in my view, that would make the camera so much more useful. Is there a major technological problem here?
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dbell
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« Reply #3 on: May 21, 2008, 11:10:46 AM »
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At the opposite end of the spectrum, I'm one of those folks who's eager for a point-and-shoot that's ideal for handheld, street use: fast lens, optical viewfinder, good manual controls, reasonable image quality, but without the size, weight or feature-set of a DSLR.

There are many cameras that have been successful in this vane to varying degrees at various times. None of them have been what I'd consider ideal. The thing I've come to realize is that what I want just isn't in the mainstream for what consumers want out of P&S cameras, and that's who the vendors are catering to.

Sadly, I think the vendors are failing to maximize the potential of the "tiny camera" format, as enabled by current technology: small, high-quality lenses (ED glass, computer-assisted design) with minimal distortion and huge DoF coupled with optical image stabilization,  a go-anywhere form-factor and every software trick available to squeeze image quality out of a small sensor could be a really compelling combination if the cameras weren't so unpleasant to use (bad LCDs, awkward controls, etc.). Note that I'd be willing to pay well above the standard price-point for a P&S camera if someone made one that fully satisfied my criteria (and they could certainly leave out all the junk I never use like scene modes, movie capture and so forth). Unfortunately, I'm not sure any of the vendors are listening.


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Misirlou
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« Reply #4 on: May 21, 2008, 11:50:08 AM »
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Interesting. In similar situations, I go in the absolute opposite direction. Rather than having to depend completely on electronics, I take a Rolleiflex 2.8 (old one, without a meter) and shoot film. I usually still carry something digital, but I like having at least one camera that I know will function without batteries of any kind. I started doing that in the early 90s when the CR2 batteries in my 35mm SLR would cease to function in extreme cold.

The Rollei plan only backfired on me one time. I was high in the Sandias near Albuquerque one winter, shooting snow scenes. When I got my film back, there was a mysterious white line emmanating from the location of the sun in one frame. I thought maybe the shutter stuck due to the cold, so I sent it out for a CLA. Years later, I realized it was a spark of static electricity.

But from the tops of mountains to the jungles of Cambodia, and even in Afghanistan during war, my Rolleis have never let me down other than that one spark of static. Bigger than a Point & Shoot, but not a whole lot heavier. Definitely lighter than a DSLR. I guess I'd rather have reliability than flexibility from my backup camera.
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dalethorn
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« Reply #5 on: May 21, 2008, 02:17:53 PM »
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A little analogy to depress you:  In 1975 I paid $800 u.s. (that's about $3500 today) for a pocket computer, replaced several times with more capable models until about 1994.  Now you can get a pocket "computer", but they are toys compared to what was available 15-30 years ago.  I'd look for the same in pocket cameras - and don't get me wrong - the low end models, particularly with long zooms will continue to improve somewhat, but G9-type cameras will eventually go the way of the Leica M's.  No major manufacturer is going to make a true state-of-the-art pocket camera to sell for serious money, and not because they can't sell a million of them, but because the bean counters just won't let them.
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Ray
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« Reply #6 on: May 23, 2008, 10:15:19 AM »
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A little analogy to depress you: In 1975 I paid $800 u.s. (that's about $3500 today) for a pocket computer, replaced several times with more capable models until about 1994. Now you can get a pocket "computer", but they are toys compared to what was available 15-30 years ago. I'd look for the same in pocket cameras - and don't get me wrong - the low end models, particularly with long zooms will continue to improve somewhat, but G9-type cameras will eventually go the way of the Leica M's. No major manufacturer is going to make a true state-of-the-art pocket camera to sell for serious money, and not because they can't sell a million of them, but because the bean counters just won't let them.
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That is indeed a pessimistic outlook. Manufacturers have to make profits and market research is paramount.

Considering Michael's review of the Sigma DSP-1, does anyone believe that flexibility and useabilty is not paramount. Absolute image quality is important, which all owners of DBs know. But there are other considerations also.

I consider the  Sigma DSP-1, in relation to other P&S cameras, to be similar to the comparison between the 1Ds3 and DBs of greater pixel count.
Ie. The DB is playing the part of the DSP-1. It's got advantages but disadvantages.

The relative merits of those disadvantages and those pluses and minuses depends upon usage.
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Ray
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« Reply #7 on: May 23, 2008, 10:29:33 AM »
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The main point I'm trying to make here is that software is up to the task of seamlessly stitching images with minimal parallax errors, and merging even hand-held shots to HDR when dynamic range is an issue.

In order to take images which lend themsleves to this process, we need cameras with fairly fast frame rates in RAW mode.

Why are P&S cameras lagging behind in this respect?
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dalethorn
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« Reply #8 on: May 23, 2008, 01:02:44 PM »
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My guess is that fast frame rates for large RAW files requires a lot of power, and just like the mfrs couldn't support the well-protected CF cards and switched to SD to save a sliver of space, they fight for every sliver with battery space too.
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BernardLanguillier
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« Reply #9 on: May 25, 2008, 07:18:32 PM »
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My view is that the best solution with today's technology would be to use the lightest DSLR available with your brand of choice as a backup to your main body (I am not sure which one it is now with Canon).

It would probably be 300 gr. heavier than a compact, but you will be able to share your pool of lenses and will have reasonnable image quality. Besides, the usage of an APS body has some value in that it offers both more DoF and more reach which can be valuable in many situations.

The problem you might run into is battery compatibility etc... a problem I faced when I considered taking with me a D80 as a backup to my D3 when trekking in Nepal (I ended up taking a D2x as backup).

Cheers,
Bernard
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Ray
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« Reply #10 on: May 25, 2008, 10:56:28 PM »
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My view is that the best solution with today's technology would be to use the lightest DSLR available with your brand of choice as a backup to your main body (I am not sure which one it is now with Canon).

It would probably be 300 gr. heavier than a compact, but you will be able to share your pool of lenses and will have reasonnable image quality. Besides, the usage of an APS body has some value in that it offers both more DoF and more reach which can be valuable in many situations.

The problem you might run into is battery compatibility etc... a problem I faced when I considered taking with me a D80 as a backup to my D3 when trekking in Nepal (I ended up taking a D2x as backup).

Cheers,
Bernard
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Bernard,
I agree that having to carry different size/types of batteries and their chargers is a pain, but I guess with a P&S camera one has to accept that. In any case, I always carry a few spare batteries. The lithium-ion variety are so light one can sometimes be unaware one is carrying one. I recently had a bit of trouble passing through the security scan at the airport. I was carrying a spare BP-511 Canon battery in a small pocket in my trouser leg. I thought I'd emptied all my pockets, keys, coins, wallets etc, but the alarm kept going off as I walked through the gate. I was eventually searched and the battery was discovered.

My first digital camera was the Canon 60D; 3 fps with a buffer large enough for 8 images. Quite respectable, although the "Power off" to "on" time was at least 2 seconds, which could cause one to lose shots.

The Canon 40D with significantly more pixels manages 6.5 fps and a buffer that can hold 17 RAW images before slowing down, and virtually no time lag in 'power off' to 'on'. Yet the 40D is no bigger and no heavier than the 6mp 60D. In fact it's 33gms lighter.

My question would be, if manufacturers can so dramatically increase the frame rate and buffer capacity of DSLRs, despite increases in pixel count and without increases in the weight and bulk of the camera, why can't they do the same for P&S cameras?
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BernardLanguillier
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« Reply #11 on: May 25, 2008, 11:51:23 PM »
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My question would be, if manufacturers can so dramatically increase the frame rate and buffer capacity of DSLRs, despite increases in pixel count and without increases in the weight and bulk of the camera, why can't they do the same for P&S cameras?
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My view is that there are basically 3 main sets of reasons:

1. By far the biggest is markering. DSLR bring in more money and need to keep a competitive advantage compared to compact cameras,
2. Customer demand. Few of the compact digital camera purchasers care about raw,
3. Technical reason. The main one probably being power mgt in relation to the size and weight available for the batteries.

Cheers,
Bernard
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« Reply #12 on: May 26, 2008, 12:53:26 PM »
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2. Customer demand. Few of the compact digital camera purchasers care about raw,
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Seeing as there hasn't been a decent quality P+S until the Sigma which seems to have a lot of drawbacks, I'd say the market is still  untested with regard to this area. It'll not be aimed at the average snapper, but there's a lot of keen photographers/professionals who want a pocketable camera [not a small SLR]. A 40D chip in a S80/G9 body would certainly sell, even if it was the same price as a 40D. Just like laptops have always sold at a premium price compared to desktops. The other way to get around the lens quality  issue is to follow Haselblad's lead and use software correction, rather than simply relying on the optics. Though make sure it leads to a DNG, so at least we then are able to use our RAW processors of choice.
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dalethorn
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« Reply #13 on: May 26, 2008, 03:40:14 PM »
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.....Just like laptops have always sold at a premium price compared to desktops.
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It doesn't work that way, sorry.  Try to get a Libretto-size laptop in the USA.  Try to get a laptop with a pointing device other than touchpad in the USA.  Try to get a laptop with built-in mouse like the HP's circa 1994 in the USA.  No deal.  And for the same reason you can't get anything truly "different" in a laptop, you will not *ever* get a state of the art compact camera.  Not in the USA anyway.  But you can buy 50 or so USA flags (made in China) to stick all over your lawn and automobile.  And they photograph well with those Kodak P&S's.
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Ray
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« Reply #14 on: May 26, 2008, 06:04:06 PM »
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My view is that there are basically 3 main sets of reasons:

1. By far the biggest is markering. DSLR bring in more money and need to keep a competitive advantage compared to compact cameras,
2. Customer demand. Few of the compact digital camera purchasers care about raw,
3. Technical reason. The main one probably being power mgt in relation to the size and weight available for the batteries.

Cheers,
Bernard
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Bernard,
I agree that marketing is probably the main reason, but there are some paradoxes. I think it's true that most users of P&S cameras don't care about RAW. In fact, my experience meeting other travellers who carry a DSLR is that even they mostly do not bother shooting RAW with their DSLR.

However, when the Canon G7 was released and people realised that RAW had been omitted, there was quite a furore on this site. My guess was that Canon had done their market research and concluded that the RAW feature on the G6 was rarely used, so why bother including it on the next upgrade.

The fact that they have since changed their mind about this feature and included it in the G9 might suggest they are paying attention to the demands of the consumer.

The paradox is, anyone who's keen enough to use RAW with a P&S camera is also likely to appreciate a fast frame rate, large buffer and instantaneous shutter response. So why not give it to them?

I don't believe there are technical reasons. You could double the size of the battery without increasing the bulk or weight of the camera to any significant degree.

Consider the difference in weight and size between the Panasonic LX2 and Canon G9. You could add to the LX2 a battery the size and weight of the Canon BP-511, which drives the 40D DSLR capable of 6.5 fps, and the LX2 would still be lighter than the G9 and no more bulky, probably less bulky. The LX2 has RAW capability and 10mp.

That leaves us with marketing decisions. I think it's significant that Canon's latest and highest resolving DSLR, the 12mp 450D, does not accept compact flash cards, but only SD and SDHC cards. This camera seems to be designed to attract those who want to upgrade from a P&S camera that they might already own together with a few SD memory cards.

I suppose it would not make much marketing sense if Canon were to upgrade their P&S cameras to include a large buffer and fast frame rate. Then people would be able to climb a mountain when every ounce of weight counts and take a huge, detailed panorama with the dynamic range and resolution of an MFDB, by stitching multiple shots in Autopano Pro, each shot exposure bracketed say +/- 4 stops in one stop intervals.  
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BernardLanguillier
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« Reply #15 on: May 26, 2008, 06:07:03 PM »
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Seeing as there hasn't been a decent quality P+S until the Sigma which seems to have a lot of drawbacks, I'd say the market is still  untested with regard to this area. It'll not be aimed at the average snapper, but there's a lot of keen photographers/professionals who want a pocketable camera.
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Well yes, they would sell to some extend, but in the end in very small numbers compared to the size of the regular digital compacts.

Then it really is a matter of whether Nikon and Canon want to take that kind of risk, and how objective they are at assessing the cause of past failures with those higher end special cameras (think Nikon T35, etc...).

Don't forget also that the camera divisions of both Canon and Nikon are in fact pretty small operations with limited resources. Those limited resources tend to be focussed by Mgt on the key programs like mass market or high end. As the Nikon product line manager, am I going to risk compromising the image quality of the D3x by asking my top sensor engineers to work in parallel on an uber compact likely to sell 10.000 copies at most with very small margins? I wouldn't do it.

We are a tiny minority.

Cheers,
Bernard
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BernardLanguillier
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« Reply #16 on: May 26, 2008, 07:10:36 PM »
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I suppose it would not make much marketing sense if Canon were to upgrade their P&S cameras to include a large buffer and fast frame rate. Then people would be able to climb a mountain when every ounce of weight counts and take a huge, detailed panorama with the dynamic range and resolution of an MFDB, by stitching multiple shots in Autopano Pro, each shot exposure bracketed say +/- 4 stops in one stop intervals. 
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Sure...

The thing is that raw on those compact doesn't really add that much DR since the DR available to start with can in fact be reasonnably well coded on 8bits and stored in a jpg file without much posterization.

I hope I am wrong, but I feel that high specs compacts are a thing of the past except for some niche players like Sigma who don't have much of a DSLR market share to canibalize. Panasonic might want to go that route also.

There are some things Canon and Nikon DO talk about, and my view is that they are smart enough not to go there. It doesn't take much crystal balling to see that both companies would end up losing a lot of money once they start competing this way.

Cheers,
Bernard
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Ray
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« Reply #17 on: May 26, 2008, 07:34:34 PM »
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I hope I am wrong, but I feel that high specs compacts are a thing of the past except for some niche players like Sigma who don't have much of a DSLR market share to canibalize. Panasonic might want to go that route also.
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I don't really mind which company offers the P&S I want. There's no issue of lens compatibility. The point to bear in mind is that compacts with APS-C sensors (or slightly smaller), such as the Sigma DP-1, can never be as lightweight and compact as a P&S with the sensor size of a G9 or LX2 because lenses need to be big and heavy. The DP-1 is only able to fit into the compact category because it has a fixed 16mm (28mm) lens. Give it a useful, wide-apertured zoom lens, and it's no longer compact or lightweight.
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dalethorn
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« Reply #18 on: May 26, 2008, 09:31:23 PM »
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....Don't forget also that the camera divisions of both Canon and Nikon are in fact pretty small operations with limited resources.... I wouldn't do it....
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Here's where I disagree.  I have worked for (and continue to) large corp's with "small dept's" with "limited budgets".  These are purely artificial constraints, and when these same corp's decide to reallocate funds when their "vision" changes (which happens often), those artificial constraints often disappear.  The problem is *not* limited budgets or risk, it's morons running the show (exactly as Dilbert portrays) who let their bean counters slash ten cents cost from a laptop motherboard by not gold plating contacts, then having influential customers run them into the ground as a result.  There is plenty of investment money out there, believe it or not.  The problem isn't budgets or risk.
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BernardLanguillier
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« Reply #19 on: May 26, 2008, 09:37:31 PM »
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The problem isn't budgets or risk.
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The problem is priorities, and these priorities are driven by the perception of potential return vs risk.

Cheers,
Bernard
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