IRL: Canon Powershot D20, FX Photo Studio and Nikon's 35mm f/1.8G lens

Welcome to IRL, an ongoing feature where we talk about the gadgets, apps and toys we're using in real life and take a second look at products that already got the formal review treatment.

IRL Canon Powershot D20, FX Photo Studio and Nikon's 35mm f18G lens

It's photo week here at IRL. Turns out, quite a few Engadget editors are in the mood to talk up their shooting gear lately. On the camera side, Edgar recently took the PowerShot D20 on his honeymoon in Jamaica, while Darren's been giving FX Photo Studio a whirl (spoiler: he still prefers Snapseed). And say hello to our new copy editor Philip Palermo, who says if he had to live with just one lens for his Nikon D90, it would be the 35mm f/1.8G.

FX Photo Studio
IRL Canon Powershot D20, FX Photo Studio and a 35mm Nikon lens

I'm all about photo tweaking. But honestly, I'm not super into using filters for the heck of using a filter. Instagram's built-in options -- while appreciated for $0.00 -- isn't exactly something that a haughty-taughty photog would adore. And over on the desktop side, Adobe's Lightroom is probably far too rich for the blood of those just messing around. FX Photo Studio (and FX Photo Studio Pro for OS X) hits somewhere in between on both fronts.

I've spent a few weeks using both the Pro version on the desktop and the paid version on the iPhone. Put simply, the app provides 170-plus filters, a few frames and some very basic editing tools (crop, rotate, brighten, adjust, etc.). For just a few bucks on iPhone and iPad, it's actually not a half-bad deal. The Pro version, however, is entirely overpriced at $40.

The biggest pitfall is the quality of the filters. I'd estimate that two-thirds of these are of the "so cheesy you'll never use this" variety, while the others are still too potent for my blood. In other words, there's really no "touching up" photos with these filters; when you apply one, you know it. It's also no good for doing anything other than toying around; even amateurs won't want to rely on this for any serious editing. Sadly, you can't import your own textures and backgrounds to mix with the company's own cadre. There's promise here, but I still prefer Snapseed when push comes to shove.

-- Darren Murph

Nikon 35mm f/1.8G
IRL Canon Powershot D20, FX Photo Studio and a 35mm Nikon lens

Back in my newspaper freelancer days, I once agreed to shoot some high school wrestling matches and basketball games. It was one of those last-minute, short-notice deals and I felt unprepared to capture fast-moving action in a dimly lit high school gym -- my trusty, fast telephoto zoom was out for repairs at the time. I looked over the rest of my gear and puzzled over what to use instead. In the end, I decided to bring along a cheap 50mm prime lens (i.e., non-zoom) that only worked in manual focus mode. I felt a bit unsteady at first, in the knife-to-a-gunfight sort of way, but I soon realized just how much fun it was. I had fewer things to worry about and I came away proud of the shots I managed.

That assignment helped me rediscover shooting with prime lenses, and it led me to purchase one of my most-used pieces of kit: Nikon's 35mm f/1.8G. It's the lens I keep on my D90 for those unpredictable, fleeting moments when my dog is doing something utterly adorable. My longer lens is just too ungainly to lug around the house for a quick snapshot and my wider zooms can't match the prime lens' large aperture. Despite being one of the least expensive lenses I've owned, it can do things my $2,000 telephoto zoom lens can't (letting in more than twice as much light, for example).

I'm honestly not exaggerating when I say the 35mm f/1.8G would be my choice if I could only have one lens. Naturally, I'd love if it had an even wider maximum aperture, a faster autofocus motor or a sturdier build. Such a lens does exist -- at nearly 10 times the cost. No thanks. When I'm asked to shoot in places where ambient light is poor and using my flash isn't an option, I no longer worry. I don't get that knife-to-a-gunfight fear anymore – not when my knife is this good.

-- Philip Palermo

Canon PowerShot D20
IRL Canon Powershot D20, FX Photo Studio and a 35mm Nikon lens

Aside from must-haves like a passport, swimsuit and boarding pass, what else would I need to throw in my bag for a trip to the Caribbean? A camera, obviously. In an adventure involving swimming pools, salty waters, sand, parasailing, beach footy and kayaking, however, I needed something other than my T3i or Sony NEX-3 to handle the load. With that in mind, I brought Canon's ruggedized PowerShot D20 on a recent journey to Jamaica.

Without a doubt, one of the best traits the D20 has to offer is its robust battery, which lasted the entire six-day trip without the need for a single charge. The long-lasting prowess of that 1,000mAh battery were surprising, to say the least, especially when I was using it for two to three hours of photos and video per day, on average. Speaking of which, the image quality coming out of that 12.1-megapixel HS CMOS sensor isn't anything to write home about, and the same applies to the 1080p videos; both tend to look over-processed and unlike anything you'd expect from a high-end $349 point-and-shoot.

Still, you could argue the D20's durability and underwater shooting modes make up for the lack of outstanding pictures. Canon's all-terrain shooter managed to survive a snorkeling trip and a 7-foot drop (a bit higher than the claimed threshold). Apart from my minor quibbles about the image quality, the D20 is everything I expected. In other words, you can count on the D20 as being part of my gadget entourage during my next venturous trek, even if it lies dormant in the meantime.

-- Edgar Alvarez