Sunday, September 13, 2015

What to Consider When Buying a Camera Part II - by Jerry Schneir

Jerry is an instructor at Emeritus College in Santa Monica, California where he teaches courses in digital photography dedicated to seniors. He also has taught introductory courses in Photoshop Elements.

Today we’re continuing our 2 part series on the 7 major factors to to consider when buying a camera.

CAMERA WEIGHT (AND SIZE) Think about a day of walking around in the sun with a camera hanging from your neck or shoulder should give you a far greater appreciation for considering that point in selecting a camera. Not all pocket cameras are created equal. Some will really fit into a shirt pocket while the others require something more like a jacket pocket. I don’t know if I would be happy carrying around a camera weighing 12 oz or more even in a shirt’s pocket. Smaller camera often mean having that camera with you when you are out and about rather than leaving it at home, in the car, or in the hotel room. Smaller cameras are also less intrusive, less threatening and thus more readily accepted in places where a larger camera may make photo subjects wary and uncomfortable. I have seen this and been the subject to that reaction. It is one of my reasons for having a small camera always with me whenever I travel.

LCD  Most LCDs are fixed, they do not tilt or rotate. Some cameras do have tilting LCDs. This feature can be very useful in shooting above a crowd or down low to the ground. Some LCDs can rotate as well as tilt, “fully articulated”. It is a big feature but something that also adds to size and weight. Some of the LCDs may have a touch screen. For some people this is a great benefit but for others it is a real pain. Some LCDs are far easier to use in bright light, others much less so. Almost all current model cameras have LCD with at least 460,000 pixels. By today’s standard, 460,000 pixels should be the minimum you should accept on any camera. LCDs with high pixel (or dot) counts generally means greater ability to use in bright light or at an angle.

MEGAPIXELS-(MP) The number of pixels on the sensor CAN affect how large a picture you can print or crop and print. The more pixels in the picture the more you can crop and still get a printable image as large as 12x18. More pixels also tend to yield a greater dynamic range and should, also in theory, mean sharper pictures. However, packing too many pixels onto a sensor can, and often does, degrade the final image. On some cameras changing the resolution, i.e., the number of pixels being used, can increase the zoom range. Also note: the internal image processors in the cameras also play a large part in image quality and lack of noise at higher ISO levels.

CONTROLS OR SHOOTING PROGRAMS The ability to easily change shooting parameters, such as Program, Shutter speed, or Aperture are critical to some, not so for others. The scene mode options on many of today’s cameras can, to a certain extent, offset that lack of specific aperture or shutter speed controls. As you become more proficient in using a camera you may find the lack of some camera controls frustrating. Most lower priced cameras lack any direct method for controlling shutter speed or aperture.

  • Is the camera being considered a back-up or the primary camera? Two cameras from the same manufacturer often have SIMILAR menu systems and shooting modes which makes mastering the new camera faster and life easier especially when traveling .
  • Placement of buttons or dials can make using a camera easier or harder. Harder because a misplaced button can accidentally activate a feature and cause confusion.
  • Camera construction or weather sealing can be critical for people who may be traveling to moist, humid places.
  • Is the camera being considered an older or newer model? Camera prices can drop dramatically a few months before a new model appears.
  • If this is going to be your primary camera, and if so, what does it offer that your smart phone does not?
  • Do you want to get an interchangeable lens camera to grow with as your ability grows or get a very sophisticated fixed lens camera that will meet current and future needs?

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

What To Consider When Buying a Camera Part I - by Jerry Schneir

Jerry is an instructor at Emeritus College in Santa Monica, California where he teaches courses in digital photography dedicated to seniors. He also has taught introductory courses in Photoshop Elements.

I buy 3 or 4 cameras a year as I am always looking for that one perfect camera and still have not found it. Come close, but no winner. Think about it for a second; if you're trying to take really great bird pictures you want a fast lens and a lot of zoom. That almost always means a bigger camera, and probably a bit heavy as well. At a party you might like something smaller and unobtrusive. Each set of circumstances and conditions tend to dictate a somewhat different type/style camera. It is hard to balance cost along with your perceived photographic needs as well as your photographic knowledge and/or ability.

Trying to evaluate things like: zoom range; viewfinder; fixed, tilting or fully articulating LCD; maximum lens aperture; movie functions and types; weather sealing or proofing; weight; size; these are just some of the factors that should play a role in making that choice. Sometimes the placement of buttons or dials becomes even more important as to how well you will like using a particular camera. Sometimes intangibles like ease of use of the menu or the degree of customization may become final determining factors. What is close to ideal for me may be a horrible choice for you.

ZOOM RANGE In today’s digital world, optical zoom in even pocket sized cameras have reached 50-60x. The lens can go from 24 or 28mm wide angle to 1200mm or more. That amount of optical zoom in a very compact camera generally has some very negative tradeoffs. The lenses on those cameras lose their fast aperture, if they have one, very quickly as you start to zoom out. That fast f2.8 lens at 24mm quickly slows to f5.6 by the time you zoom out to as little as 100mm on some cameras. Some of those lenses can be very much slower than a camera with less optical zoom. On some cameras you can increase the zoom range by reducing the resolution, sometimes a worthy trade.

LENS APERTURE-SPEED A faster lens (larger opening, smaller F number) means you can take pictures at higher shutter speeds and can contribute to getting sharper pictures, IF you used that higher shutter speed. A big lens opening yields a shallower depth of field (DOF). Note: MOST lenses are marked with 2 aperture values, the larger numbered one is at maximum zoom, the smaller numbered one is at maximum wide angle. The drop in lens speed is NOT linear but rapidly occurs as you start to zoom in on your subject. The bigger lens opening means you can use a lower ISO even with higher shutter speeds. Using a lower ISO level means less noise in the image and thus a sharper picture. A faster lens (larger lens opening) also means not having to use flash as often. And larger lens openings also means that you have an increased ability to blur the background so that your subject stands out better. That faster lens almost always means faster auto focusing even in poor light.

VIEWFINDER The more zoom a camera has the more important it is to have a viewfinder. The need becomes even more acute in bright sunlight. Trying to use a camera at or near maximum zoom but without a viewfinder in bright sun can be an impossible obstacle. The newer EVF (electronic viewfinder) closely mimic the best optical viewfinders and sometimes offer some advantages.

A few of the cameras with a built-in EVF (electronic view finder) have an eye sensor which automatically switches from the LCD to the EVF as you place your eye near the EVF. The EVF can display a live view, i.e., how the picture will look when the shutter is tripped by just half pressing the shutter button. That is not possible with some of the optical viewfinder. On the other hand, some type of an optical viewfinder may show you what is happening as you follow the action of a scene, there is no lag in what the camera is showing in the viewfinder and what will be captured. Again, depending of the type of optical viewfinder it may be best for taking fast action pictures.

Some cameras do not have a built-in viewfinder. On some of those cameras there is an accessory viewfinder, generally an electronic viewfinder that use the external flash bracket. That increases the bulkiness of the camera, may limit your use of an external flash, and gives you something else to carry around and perhaps lose or break.

In the next post, we’ll look at the size and weight of the camera, the LCD, the megapixels and the controls and shooting programs.