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Old Jan 29, 2004, 7:54 AM   #11
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The president of NFL Films was interviewd on 60 Minutes II last night and something he said stuck with me. When asked about the added cost of using multiple cameras and shooting much of the action in slow motion he replied "the quality will be remembered long after the price is forgotten". This might apply to cars, vacuum cleaners and even digicams. Buy the best you can afford. You won't regret it.

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Old Jan 29, 2004, 8:41 AM   #12
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Bruce, I just did a quick visit to your Web site. Post "Waiting for the Times" at the Funny Fotos forum. A nicely subtle picture.
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Old Jan 29, 2004, 9:51 AM   #13
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Default Yes, but...

I hesitated to jump in, but...

Bill's first post was excellent. I'd generally agree, with the small condition that, as a newbie, try real hard, if you buy that BarbieCam, to not compare your pics to the results to the generally excellent images you see posted here and elsewhere. If a BarbieCam could produce those kinds of images - even by just being in the hands of non-newbies - then most FRUGAL folks for whom the final image is what's most important would never buy more than a BarbieCam. Of course, the rest of us with egos and $$$ would still buy the latest and greatest anyhow! Where would the world be if all we would buy is BabieCams - global disruption of economies and widespread unemployment, even worldwide protests and revolutions! See how important it is to support ever changing technology?

Seriously, it normally does take more than minimal technology to get good pictures. DON'T GET DISCOURAGED if you buy the BarbieCam! Stick with it. Even if you've had 50 years of experience in film cameras, your first digital images may be less than you anticipated. Digital doesn't compensate for inexperience, lack of talent, or poor technology. You can fix a lot in Photoshop, but there's a limit.

Maybe there should be a forum for posting only newbie pics, and only those taken with cameras costing under some minimal amount. It's always nice to know you're not alone!

Great post Bill! BTW...You and I look a lot alike...though I must admit my avatar isn't a good likeness of me!
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Old Jan 29, 2004, 11:47 AM   #14
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Originally Posted by bcoultry
Message to all newbies: these guys aren't making fun of you. Anyway, I don't think they are. I think they're making fun of themselves. The reason I think this is because there once was a time when they didn't know squat. Imagine that.

Except for Bill, who started this thread. His advice is right on the button.
Yes, I probably should have ended my post differently. My point is that there is no perfect camera.

Bill is right in that sometimes it does take experience to learn what features are more important to you. So, almost any camera is better than none at all.

After all, the first rule of a gun fight, is to have a gun. Ditto for taking photos. You must have a camera!

There are some things that a new digital camera purchaser should look for. The reviews normally hit on some of the highlights, so look at these things carefully (if you have a special need).

Physical Size:
This is important to some users. However, smaller cameras have their drawbacks. One is Flash location. As a general rule, the closer a flash is to the lens, the greater the potential for redeye. Redeye Reduction flash modes can reduce it (by causing the pupils to shrink), but often do not eliminate it.

So, if you want a smaller camera, be prepared to learn how to use image editing packages to reduce redeye.

Flash Range:

This is in a camera's specs. Often, the flash range assumes that the camera is boosting ISO speed (similiar to buying different ASA film). The higher the ISO, the worse the noise (similiar to film grain). Usually the built in flash on most compact cameras is only good for about 10 feet. Also, this usually assumes you are shooting at the wide angle setting (dramatically more light can reach the sensor through the lens at the wide angle setting on most cameras).

What is bright to the human eye, is not to the camera's lens.

Low Light Useability:
Several things influence this. One is the speed of the lens. By speed, I mean light gathering ability. This is the aperture rating of the lens. In order to prevent blur from camera shake and/or subject movement, the lens must be able to gather enough light, so that it can use fast enough shuttter speeds to prevent blur.

This is also in the camera's specifications.

Larger Aperture (smaller F-Stop Number) = Better Light Gathering Ability = Camera's ability to use faster shutter speeds for the same lighting conditions and ISO speed.

Here is a handy table that gives you an idea of how lighting (rated as EV) and Aperture impact the shutter speeds you'll need to get proper exposure.


The table is based on ISO 100. Each time you double the ISO speed (for example: ISO 200 versus ISO 100), you can double the shutter speeds used.

So, in most lighting conditions indoors, with most cameras, you'll need to use a flash to prevent blur (unless your camera is mounted on a tripod, and your subject is not moving at all).

As a general rule, you want to use a shutter speed of 1/focal length. In other words, if you are shooting at the widest setting (using the zoom buttons) on a camera with a lens that is equivalent to a 35mm - 105mm zoom; you'll want a minimum shutter speed of around 1/35 second (at the camera's widest zoom setting) to prevent blur from camera movement.

Most compact cameras are rated with a lens of about F2.8/F4.9

The first rating is for the light gathering capability of the lens at wide angle. The second setting is for the light gathering capability of the lens at full zoom. Dramatically less light can reach the sensor through the lens when using zoom. This is also why flash range diminishes rapidly as zoom is used.

Some cameras are better than others at taking indoor photos in low light. For example: the Canon G3, Olympus C-4040z, and Sony DSC-F717 all have lenses that are about twice as bright (able to gather more light), compared to most other consumer (non DSLR) camera models.

So, if you plan on taking a lot of indoor photos at ranges exceeding the rated flash output with most compact cameras, then it's a good idea to purchase a camera with the ability to use an external flash (via a hotshoe, or flash sync port with a flash mounting bracket). In most cases, you must use a flash from the manufacturer designed for your camera model (or a third party flash that can emulate a manufacturers specific flash model).

CCD Size/Density:
This is important for low light. The pixel pitch (size of the individual photosites for each pixel) can make a big difference as ISO speeds are increased. Sometimes, a 4 Megapixel Model (using the same size CCD), is a better performer in low light than some of the 5 Megapixel Models with the same size CCD Sensor.

Most consumers are under the impression that more megapixels = better quality. Sometimes, this is not the case! You have to look at many other aspects of a camera, too.

Here is another discusson thread on CCD size, and how it impacts noise. Take a look at my first response to get an idea of how some of the more commonly used CCD sensors perform:


Lens Quality:
Often times, the "cheap" cameras from "no name" manufacturers have very cheap lenses. They also tend to be dramatically inferior as to things like color accuracy, image quality, etc. Again, there is more to a camera than the number of megapixels.

Buy your camera from a major manufacturer -- not the cheap cameras you see quoting high megapixel counts from little known manufacturers.

Speed of Operation:
The time it takes a camera to focus tends to be much longer with a Digital Camera, versus a Film Camera.

Autofocus Lag time is often quoted in camera reviews. If you have kids running around, this time can be important (you don't want to wait 2 seconds for your camera to focus in this kind of situation). Also, some cameras are better in focusing indoors than others. This is because non-DSLR cameras use a Contrast Detection Focus System (versus a Phase Detection Focus System used by Film Cameras). There must be sufficient light and contrast for the camera to "see" the subject well enough to focus.

Some cameras have autofocus assist lamps to help the camera focus in lower light. Some cameras do not. However, don't go by this feature alone. Read the reviews, and pay attention to comments about focus in the review conclusions. Some cameras focus pretty good without a focus assist lamp; and some cameras focus poorly, even with a focus assist lamp.

Another thing that impacts speed of operation is a camera's cycle time. This is how long it takes between photos (the camera must save a photo to the memory card, before you can take another one). Some cameras have a larger "buffer" (allowing you to take photos faster, while they are writing the images to memory cards in the background. Some cameras do not. As a result, you must often wait several seconds or more between photos. Again, the reviews normally comment on this aspect of a camera's performance.

Image Quality:
Again (sorry, if I sound like a broken record), you must not go by megapixels alone. Many factors impact image quality (JPEG Compression Algorithms, Lens Quality, how well the camera handles color accuracy from the image it captures and processes, noise (similiar to film grain only worse); contrast, color saturation, sharpness, etc.

Again, the reviewers normally comment on these types of issues.

User Control/Features:
Some users want to be able to adjust things like Aperture and Shutter Speed for different situations. For example: if you are taking lots of sports photos, you may want to tell the camera to use a faster shutter speed than normal, to help prevent blur from motion. You may also want features like manual focus (to reduce the lag time the camera needs to autofocus).

There are many features available in a camera. Read the reviews, make a list of the features that may be more important to you, in the conditions you'll use a camera in.

Also, don't get caught up too much in the "feature war". Most users just want the camera to figure out the best settings for them. Also, even though some cameras have a lot of manual control, they also have a full auto setting. So, if you want to learn more about photography, sometimes these models are still a good choice for beginners.

For models that don't have a lot of user control, sometimes the manufacturers are providing "scene modes" (to help the camera compensate for different lighting conditions and shooting environments). These are popular in some new models (although I probably wouldn't use them myself). More than 90% of the time, the camera's defaults work fine (in the conditions I use my camera in).

To give you an example of how a camera choice is a compromise: My latest camera is the Konica Revio KD-510z. This camera is also known as the Minolta DiMAGE G500.

It's perfect for me, but may not be for others.

For one thing, it's very small (fits in my pocket).. This means that the flash is located close to the lens. So, I must correct redeye in the majority of my indoor photos using software.

For another thing, it cannot use an external flash (without going to what is known as a slave flash). So, it's useability at very large indoor gatherings is limited to the range of the built in flash.

It's lens is rated at F2.8/F4.9. So, it's not a very good camera for "existing light" photos of moving subjects indoors. It's small lens simply cannot gather enough light for this purpose, without using a flash. It can't use external lens accessories either (teleconverters, wide angle converters, filters, etc.)

It's using a 5 Megapixel 1/1.8" (.556") CCD. This sensor does not perform well at higher ISO speeds (needed to allow faster shutter speeds in low light to prevent blur). So, to keep noise (similiar to film grain) down in my photos, I usually keep my camera set to ISO 100, rarely using ISO 200, and almost never using ISO 400 (emergency use only, due to unacceptable noise levels which destroys detail captured).

Lens Focal Range:
The lens in my camera is equivalent to a 39mm - 117mm lens in a 35mm camera. For me, this is fine. For an architect, it may not be. A "wider" lens setting (compared to 39mm) may be desired for someone wanting to get a wider view in the image taken. For someone wanting to take wildlife photos, it's 117mm maximum zoom setting may not be adequate to "get close enough" to the subject.

Speed of Operation:
This camera is fine for my needs. However, someone taking sports photos may want a camera able to take a burst of photos at multiple frames per second. My camera can't do this (fastest operation is about 1 frame every 1.2 seconds in continuous mode).

Anyway, you get the idea. Every camera is a compromise.

I wanted a pocketable camera, and knew that I would not be taking lots of low light sports photos, wildlife photos where a long zoom would be needed, etc. So, I looked for "balance": Physical Size, flash range, user control of features I would use use most often, etc.

Read the reviews and look at the features a camera offers. Then decide which ones are more important to you:

Physical Size, Lens Focal Range (wide angle to zoom); Light Gathering Ability of the Lens (smaller F-Stop Numbers are better for light gathering ability); Flash Range; Ability to use an External Flash; Ability to use add-on lens accessories like Filters, Wide Angle Converters, Teleconverters, Close-Up lenses; User Control of Image Processing (Color, Saturation, Contrast, Sharpness, Exposure Compensation, Metering, Aperture, Shutter Speed); Ergonomics; Control Layout; LCD Size/Useability; Viewfinder Size/Accuracy; Speed of Operation.

Also, make sure to "test drive" a camera in person. No amount of reading can give you an idea of how the camera "fits you". Try it out. Most stores have demo models available. See if you are comfortable with it's ergonomics, control layout, menu system, focus speed, viewfinder, LCD, autofocus focus delay, etc.

Also, when looking at photos in reviews, they are usually taken in ideal lighting conditions by experienced photographers! Most cameras perform great in good light. Light is a Digital Camera's best friend.

One resource you may want to use is a photo sharing web site like pbase.com. Then, you can get an idea of how the camera performs, in the conditions you'll be using it in (indoors, etc.). You can see user photo albums by camera model at http://www.pbase.com/cameras

Just keep in mind, that the photographer's skill, and lighting conditions have more to do with getting good photos than anything else. You'll find great photos from inexpensive cameras, and terrible photos from "top of the line" cameras if you look through enough photo albums.

As Bill said, the best thing to do is to buy a camera -- almost any camera, and use it. Then, you'll get a better idea of what features are more important to you. So, once you know this information, you'll be able to make a better informed decision for your next camera purchase.

One more closing thought. The photographer's skill is the most important aspect of getting good photos. The camera is just a tool that you need to learn how to use -- taking advantages of it's strengths, and working around it's limitations.

Here is an old analogy:

Writer to Photographer:
"Your photos are fantastic! You must use a VERY good Camera!"

Photographer to Writer:
"Your books are great, too! You must use a VERY good Typewriter"
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Old Jan 29, 2004, 12:06 PM   #15
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Wow, Jim, you really spent some time on that, and it got me thinking that, if we all put our heads together in just this way, then boil it down into an article, making sure we eliminate as much jargon as possible, it could be placed as a sticky thread at the top of this forum so newbies would (we hope) read it first.

One of the things you mentioned was physical size of the camera. This reminded me of something that was important to me: weight. I needed a heavy camera because I found it reduced my tendency toward camera shake. I've talked with others about this and discovered I'm not totally peculiar in wanting the opposite of the lightness many manufacturers think of as an asset.
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Old Jan 29, 2004, 1:01 PM   #16
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I'm with you Barb, on the weight issue. I prefer some weight in my camera also. I've noticed I get more blur (handheld) in the pics I take with my S30 than I do with my D100. I think I remedied the blur in the S30 though. I went and bought a tabletop tripod for it since I take mostly macro pics of 1/35 scale military miniatures. I tried it with the D100 and a macro lens, but the S30 pics were far and above better.
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Old Jan 29, 2004, 1:48 PM   #17
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Chris, another thing to put in your bag of tricks is literally a bag--a beanbag. You can place it almost anywhere and then nestle your camera into it. You don't have to buy one. It's easily made with a pound bag of dried beans from the supermarket. If you don't trust the plastic (and you shouldn't), it's easy enough to sew a small sack for it. Don't do what I did, however. I thought if one pound was good, two pounds would be even better. That's two pounds of beans I'm walking around with.

No mean jokes allowed. :evil:
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Old Jan 29, 2004, 2:02 PM   #18
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I just purchased the Pod (http://www.thepod.ca) from B&H. It's essentially a bean bag with a screw so you can attach your camera to it. I think B&H had it for about $15. It's pretty light weight, and I've been able to balance my camera on some pretty interesting surfaces (like on the edge of a box that was only about 1/8th of an inch thick or so). And it's small enough to where you can probably shove it in the bottom of your camera bag. The only thing I'd suggest would be to get a little bubble level so you can make sure your camera isn't crooked. But, if you want your camera to not be level, that's easy to acheive. Also, you can't position your camera vertically, unless you unscrew it from the bag, and stand it up on it's side.
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Old Jan 29, 2004, 2:22 PM   #19
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I realize not all tripods have this, but mine has a quick-release thinga-ma-bob (the whatchamacallit that screws into the bottom of the camera) and on this doohickey is a level. Since I never remove the hoojigger, I always have a level on my camera.

I'm getting senile.
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Old Jan 29, 2004, 2:36 PM   #20
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Originally Posted by bcoultry
I realize not all tripods have this, but mine has a quick-release thinga-ma-bob (the whatchamacallit that screws into the bottom of the camera) and on this doohickey is a level. Since I never remove the hoojigger, I always have a level on my camera.
I can almost see the puzzled expressions on the faces of our visitors from other countries (hastily searching through their dictionaries)... :? :shock: :lol:

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