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Old Jul 9, 2004, 9:03 PM   #1
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Greetings from Arizona,

I need a better camera than my Canon A20 for indoor, artificially lighted shots of the lamps I make, which are very detailed, colorful and quite reflective (ie:shiny). The shots are rarely if ever blown up for prints but are used in brochures, on postcards, on websites, in magazines, made into slides and occasionally emailed to customers.
In addition, most shots are at least cropped in PhotoShop and often tweeked for color, etc.
I usually use a 1-2x zoom on the Canon which probably translates to around 50-80mm lense.
That said, here are some features I want in a new camera:

$599 price range.
Fast lense ...2.8F or faster.
Manual focus is a MUST and other manual controls would be nice.

As my PRIMARY use for this camera will be the afore mentioned product photos I'm relatively indifferent to massive zoom, movie mode, compactness, etc. I simply need a camera that'll take crisp, clear, color correct shots in relatively low light conditions (using a tripod).

I'm considering the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ10 which seems to have what I need (and more) but I'm not stuck on any particular brand.

I don't know much about cameras or photography so ANY ideas, hints, tips, pointers, suggestions would be appreciated.

Thanks,

Frank









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Old Jul 9, 2004, 10:08 PM   #2
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Frank:

Most Digital Cameras have a lens that's around F/2.8 at full wide angle. However, most are not nearly as bright, once you start using zoom.

The Panasonic has a lens that maintains it's F/2.8 through it's entire focal range. However, I'm not sure this is the best option foryou.

There are few models with brighter lenses at the focal lengths you'll use for your photos, as well as larger, less densesensors (which usually translates to less noise, better higher ISO performance, better dynamic range), that may suit your purposes better (especially since you don't need a 420mm equivalent focal length at max zoom).

Itwould help to know in what areas you find your existing A20 lacking.

You may want to give us a short description of any problems you have(focus difficulties, color, motion blur, etc.). Then, forum users can offer suggestions on what they think is the"best fit" in equipment, and may be able to offer a few tips to workaround any potential equipment limitations.


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Old Jul 10, 2004, 12:12 AM   #3
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JimC wrote:

.... snip snip snip .....It¬*would help to know in what areas you find your existing A20 lacking.

You may want to give us a short description of any problems you have¬*(focus difficulties, color, motion blur, etc.).¬*¬* Then, forum users can offer suggestions on what they think is the¬*"best fit" in equipment, and may be able to offer a few tips to workaround any potential equipment limitations.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Good idea Jim.

Actually I've been quite happy with the A20. It's nice and simple to use and we've never had any problems with it other than inconsistant AF. Once in a while, especially close-ups, indoors or out, using macro, are breathtakingly perfect, especially for a $350 P&S camera. However ... the lamp photos, taken from 4-8' away using a combination of natural/artificial light are usually pathetically out of focus. The shots are normally taken against a 18%(?) grey photo backdrop.
I use a weighted tripod. It doesn't seem to matter if I use the manual or automatic mode. It also doesn't matter in terms of correct focus if I use the optical zoom or not, although without moving back and zooming the perspective of the lamp photos is distorted. The lamps are between 30" and 65" tall.
Truth be told ... if I could manually focus the A20 it'd probably be fine for our limited and specific needs.

We previously did product shoots with an Oly OM-2n with a 1.4F 50mm lense ... but a digicam is VASTLY more convenient, especially when combined with PhotoShop. Too bad I can't convert the Oly to a digicam. <G>

Later,

F







¬*
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Old Jul 12, 2004, 11:38 AM   #4
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Frank:

I see that you got no responses, so I'll give it a try....

I'm not sure why your A20 has so much trouble focusing on the lamps.

Although, if they're lit, I have seen Autofocus systems get confused when lamps are in the background -- misfocusing -- not on the lamps - just plain misfocusing (usually towards infinity). You sometimes see Autofocus problems (False Focus Lock), taking photos indoors with a lit up Christmas Tree in the Background.

Are you getting Autofocus Lock?

I have scene some scattered reportsfrom Canon users, with occasional problems getting accurate focus using AiAF (Canon's Multi-Point Autofocus System). The solution seems to beturning off AiAF, and going with a single focus point.

Unfortunately, I don't see a way to go to a single point focus system with the A20 (disable AiAF). I haven't tried looking through a user guide yet, but reviews don't indicate a way to do it.

Are you sure it's not motion blur from slow shutter speeds without a flash? Do you have a sample image that we could look at. If you can post a blurry, unmodified photo on a web site (like a photo sharing site like http://www.pbase.com ), then we could look at the EXIF (part of the image header) for things like shutter speed, focal length, aperture, etc.

I realize you're using a tripod, but somtimes you'll get a bit of movement when pressing the shutter button. Make sure to use the self timer.

Given that you've already got a Canon (and a camera with CompactFlash media), you may want to look at the Canon Powershot G3 (if you can find one, since it's been replaced with the 5 Megapixel G5).

It's got aparticularily bright lenses (F/2.0 at wide angle, stopping down to F/3.0 at full zoom). They also have an interesting focus system, that lets you select the Autofocus point, by moving around the display. Manual Focus is also available, with the center portion of the image magnified in the LCD, to help assist in focusing.

Between the two models, the G3 would give "cleaner" images at higher ISO speeds, because it's 4 Megapixel Sensor has lower noise, compared to the 5 Megapixel Sensor in the newer G5. However, since you're shooting from a tripod anyway, you could keep the ISO speed set down to 50.

These models also you to shoot in Canon'sRAW format (versus JPEG or TIFF), which would give you more flexibility in correcting color cast problems due to white balance settings, as well as given you a bit more latitude for accurate exposure.

My concern, given your subject type, would be Chromatic Aberrations. Sometimes with bright reflective surfaces, where you tend to have overexposed highlights, you can get a bit of Purple Fringing, when the lens is wide open.Thesemodels are a bit worse than the competition in this area. However, stopping down the aperture some (to around F/4.5) does reduce the fringing signficantly. The G3 is much better in this department, compared to the newer G5. But, stopping down the aperture would defeat what you wanted to begin with (fast lens).

Now, fringing may not be a problem at all. This tends to show up in bright reflections fromchrome, trees against a white sky, etc. shooting outdoors.Given your budget, I'd probably be inclined to give one of these (preferrable the G3) a try. If you buy one from a vendor with a no-restocking fee policy, then you could give it a try to see.

What you really need, issomething like theCanon Digital Rebel ($899.99 or less for body only, $999.00 or less for a kit with a zoom lens). Then, get a fast lens to go with it -- for example, a 50mm F/1.4 (around $300.00 discounted). Not only would it be very fast, you'd eliminate the distortion you'd get with a zoom lens (since you're just zooming to longer focal lengths anyway,to eliminate the distortion).

Note that you need to multiply the focal length of the lens by 1.6, to get the equivalent focal length of a 35mm camera when using this model. So, a 50mm lens would look like 80mm to the camera (50mm x 1.6 = 80mm). So, if you need wider shots of a room, etc., then buy a shorter lens.

Anyway, this model has a dramatically larger sensor, compared to non-DSLR models. As a result, it can shoot at much higher ISO speeds, with lower noise (noise is similiar to the film grain you get with higher speed film).

My guess, is that you've probably got an EV (Exposure Value) of around 7 (bright indoor lighting). So, the50mm F/1.4 lens would give you the ability to shoot at around 1/120 second when set to ISO 200 (VERY clean from a DSLR like the Digital Rebel).

So, you'd eliminate the need for a tripod at all.

You'd also have better dynamic range (thanks again, to the dramatically larger sensor you have in a DSLR, compared to non-DSLR models) --giving you better exposure latitude for shadow areas and highlights - especially if you shoot in RAW (versus shooting in JPEG). RAW is taking the data from the sensor, before it is processed by the camera. So, you can set things like white balance and exposure compensation, after the fact using software (versus before taking the photo).

BTW, this camera is capable of producing useable images at up to ISO 1600. Although, for your purposes (product photos used in brochures, etc.), I'd probably stick to ISO 400 or lower, so I wouldn't need to use noise reduction tools in post processing for the cleanest images.

Anyway, since you wanted to stay within a $599 budget, you'll need to go with one of the smaller sensor models. At F/2.8 and ISO 100, you'd get shutter speeds of around 1/15 secondwith an EV of around 7 (typical for a brightly interior -- although most interiors are at an EV of around 6).

At the focal lengths you're wanting to use a camera (around 50mm or so), you'll need to use a tripod to prevent motion blur from camera shake with these settings. If you bump up the ISO speed, you'll probably need to use software to reduce noise in post processing for the best images.

Now, you mentioned the Panasonic DMC-FZ10. It does have a stabilized zoom lens. So, you could get away with trying to hand hold it at shutter speeds this slow (although it's a relatively poor performer at higher ISO speeds, and low light focusing is also lacking).

For just a little bit more, you could get something like a Konica-Minolta DiMAGE A1. It's a 5 Megapixel Model with a unique Anti-Shake feature that also allows you to hold a camera at slower shutter speeds more easily.

Of course, I'm assuming that you may want to get rid of the tripod. :-)

You may still be able to get away with one of the smaller sensor models (although, I'd try to stay at lower ISO speeds in existing light to keep the noise down).

Keep in mind that what is bright to the human eye, is not tothe camera's lens. In fact, just investing in decent lighting, may solve all of your problems without upgrading your camera.

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Old Jul 14, 2004, 11:46 AM   #5
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JimC wrote:
[quote]Frank:

I see that you got no responses, so I'll give it a try....

=== Thankyou. It's clear that you know much MUCH more about all this than I do, so take my reply with a grain of salt. I just have the vaguest idea of what I'm talking about re: photography.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I'm not sure why your A20 has so much trouble focusing on the lamps.¬*

=== I'll bet that half of it is the limitations of the camera, perhaps even a malfunction? and the other half is my ignorance and inattention to proper set-up.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Although, if they're lit, I have seen Autofocus systems get confused when lamps are in the background -- misfocusing -- not on the lamps - just plain misfocusing (usually towards infinity).¬*

=== My lamps are not lit when I shoot them. We shoot the shades seperately and graft 'em on in Photoshop.
(It's a l-o-n-g story).

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


You sometimes see Autofocus problems (False Focus Lock), taking photos indoors with a lit up Christmas Tree in the Background.

Are you getting Autofocus Lock?

=== Yes ... although the screen doesn't have enuf resolution to really tell what it's choosing to focus ON.
I put a yardstick in one test photo and by looking at the numbers on the yardstick it appears that the A20 is more or less focusing on the lamp.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I have scene some scattered reports¬*from Canon users, with occasional problems getting accurate focus using AiAF (Canon's Multi-Point Autofocus System).¬* The solution seems to be¬*turning off AiAF, and going with a single focus point.


Unfortunately, I don't see a way to go to a single point focus system with the A20 (disable AiAF).¬* I haven't tried looking through a user guide yet, but reviews don't indicate a way to do it.

=== Right ... as far as I can tell I'm stuck with AiAF.
The EXIF does indicate left-center-right AF or any combination of those. From the last shoot I did, I can't find rhyme or reason to how the camera "decides" where to focus (or not focus). In one series of the same "set-up" the AiAF chose 3 different combinations of left-center-right in 3 consecuative shots !
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


Are you sure it's not motion blur from slow shutter speeds without a flash?¬*

=== EXIFs indicate 1/50 to 1/00 with AP around 4 on many shots. That's not all that slow, is it ?
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Do you have a sample image that we could look at.¬* If you can post a blurry, unmodified photo on a web site (like a photo sharing site like http://www.pbase.com ), then we could look at the EXIF (part of the image header) for things like shutter speed, focal length, aperture, etc.

=== I'm a bit pressed for time to figure out how to post such info. Perhaps later this week ? However, from the little I know the EXIFs seemed within reasonable limits.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I realize you're using a tripod, but somtimes you'll get a bit of movement when pressing the shutter button.¬* Make sure to use the self timer.¬*

=== Good idea. I did on my latest shoot. It didn't make a dramatic noticable difference.
The shots turned out lit well enuf and usable, but lacking in detail. Might that simply be a factor of the fact my Canon A20 is only 2 megapixel ? What I mean is that if all else were equal, would a higher megapixel camera give sharper detail ? (see, I told ya I was ignorant!)

I've read your recomendations about possible replacement cameras and I'll check them out although I'm somewhat put off by the lack of focus ring on the G3. (just a personal preference).
That said ... I've been cruising the camera review sites and have become quite interested in the Sony F717.
It seems to have a lot going for it, plus generally GLOWING reviews. Whadaya think ?
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

What you really need, is¬*something like the¬*Canon Digital Rebel ($899.99 or less for body only, $999.00 or less for a kit with a zoom lens).¬* Then, get a fast lens to go with it -- for example, a 50mm F/1.4 (around $300.00 discounted).¬*

=== Yeah, I'm sure it would be a fine camera, but the fact that my SOLE interest in photography is the necessary evil of product shots ... I'd be hard pressed to justify the investment. On the other hand, product shots ARE important enuf to justify $599. Guess I have to draw a line somewhere and that's where I've arbitrarily drawn it.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Now, you mentioned the Panasonic DMC-FZ10.¬* It does have a stabilized zoom lens.¬* So, you could get away with trying to hand hold it at shutter speeds this slow (although it's a relatively poor performer at higher ISO speeds, and low light focusing is also lacking).

=== Plus ... I really have no need for that megazoom.
As mentioned above ... my sites are now on the Sony F717. That could change though. : )

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

For just a little bit more, you could get something like a Konica-Minolta DiMAGE A1.¬* It's a 5 Megapixel Model with a unique Anti-Shake feature that also allows you to hold a camera at slower shutter speeds more easily.¬*

=== How does this compare to the Sony F717 ?
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Of course, I'm assuming that you may want to get rid of the tripod. :-)

=== Using a tripod is NO PROBLEM. It helps "register" the view from lamp to lamp and it gives me somewhere to put the camera so I won't misplace it between set-ups ! : )
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

You may still be able to get away with one of the smaller sensor models (although, I'd try to stay at lower ISO speeds in existing light to keep the noise down).¬*¬*

=== Could you explain ... or direct me to a website ... about sensors ?
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Keep in mind that what is bright to the human eye, is not to¬*the camera's lens.¬*¬* In fact, just investing in decent lighting, may solve all of your problems without upgrading your camera.

=== Better lighting would no doubt help, but what I'm using is on the lower end of the acceptable scale. I still think that my main problem is the low megapixels and questionable focus of the A20. Of course ... I could be wrong. : )

Thanks again Jim.

Later,
Frank
Cordes lakes, AZ

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Old Jul 14, 2004, 12:22 PM   #6
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Yes, the Sony DSC-F717 is a fine camera. It's got an exceptionally bright lens (F2.0 at wide angle, only stopping down to F2.4 at full zoom). It also resolves more detail on resolution charts, than any other model usinga Sony5 Megapixel 2/3" CCD (the Nikon 5700; Minolta DiMAGE 7xx, A1 models are some of the cameras using this size sensor from Sony).

I didn't mention it because it's getting pretty hard to find now that the newer DSC-F828 is out.

As far as the resolution you really need, it depends on the desired print sizes. I probably wouldn't try to push a 2 Megapixel Model beyond about 5x7" prints now. Although, to be fair, I've gotten some pretty darn nice 8x10" photos from a 2 Megapixel Nikon Coolpix 950. But, a 3 Megapixel Model provides a noticeable increase in quality at this print size (at least, to my eyes).

As far as your A20 problems -- actually, the shutter speeds sound a little fast for typical indoor lighting. So, the camera may be increasing ISO speed indoors. This does degrade quality. So, since you're using a tripod anyway, you may want to shoot at a fixed (i.e., 100 or 50) ISO speed (versus Auto ISO).

Edit/Added: Even of you don't notice grain (indicative of noise at higher ISO speeds), sometimes manufacturers image processing to reduce noise at higher ISO Speeds can soften a photo's appearance. Although, I have not seen this complaint about Canon's models.

I'd also suggest applying some Unsharp Mask in post processing. Canon images tend to look a little softer than photos from some models. This is because they are not applying as much in camera sharpening. As you may know, sharpening is really an optical illusion. However, most cameras apply a higher amount "in camera" compared to the Canons. This can cause problems (halos around edges where sharpening was applied). So, many users appreciate the conservative approach than Canon takes.

Of course, your camera may simply be defective.

As far as sensor size, it's a complicated issue. I don't know of any "one" site that has all of the information in one spot, that a user may want to know about. If you look in each camera's specs, you'll see the size of the sensor used. The Sony DSC-F717 uses a Sony 2/3"5 Megapixel CCD. Cameras like the DiMAGE A1 that I mentioned also use a Sony 2/3" 5 Megapixel CCD.

Sony happens to be the largest manufacturer of the CCD sensors used in digital cameras. Even the Canon models I mentioned (G3, G5), use Sony Sensors (they're using smaller 1/1.8" CCD Sensors).

Panasonic is also a big provider of CCD Sensors, and Sharp produces some sensors, too (they're producing a 6MP 1/1.8" CCD).

Fuji makes their own, as does Kodak for most of their consumer models.

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Old Jul 14, 2004, 12:49 PM   #7
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One more thought... I do remember some complaints about soft focus from one of the A series models. I think it was the A40, but to be honest, I don't recall. If memory serves, it only impacted focus at longer focal lengths.

Anyway, if I were you, I'd probably updateyour camera to the lastest firmware from Canon. Chances are, they've made some improvements since the camera was introduced. Here is the link:

http://web.canon.jp/Imaging/PSA20/PSA20_Firmware-e.html


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Old Aug 2, 2004, 11:44 AM   #8
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8/02/04 UPDATE...

I bought a Sony F717 off Ebay last week to replace my Canon A20 that I used for product shots of the lamps I make.

WORKS GREAT!

Even using auto settings it takes DRAMATICALLY sharper shots than my Canon A20.

Considering my limited needs I'm completely satisfied with this camera and particularilly appreciate the intuitive (for me) controls, menus, etc.

What I don't appreciate is the PIXELLA capture/edit software that came with the camera. Luckily I can download/organize/minor edit with the Canon Image Browser software, although it provides minimal EXIF(?) info for the Sony (it does however provide extensive info for the Canon A20 shots).

Other than the EXIF/Sony problem Image Browser would be perfect for my needs as I'd do more advanced editing in PhotoShop.

My question ? Might there be some way to "trick" Image Browser to more fully "recognise" the Sony ... or ... can someone suggest some simple, basic, FAST (free?) software compatible with Mac 9.2 OS and Sony F717?

If you haven't already figured it out I have very minimal knowledge of digital cameras and software so please excuse my probable misuse of terms.

Thanks,
Frank AZ

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