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Old Oct 31, 2005, 11:01 PM   #1
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I have a 2 mp, 3x optical Nikon Coolpix 2000, and I'm wanting to upgrade. Before I ask the famous "what camera should I buy?" question, I want to know what is it about a camera that makes it good?

First, I thought it was the megapixels, everyone says, "get the highest you can afford", but I think that has more to do with how big your pictures can come out.

Then, I hear, "It's the optical zoom, get the highest you can afford", but I don't understand how that could make the picture better when I'm not using very much of the zoom....but maybe I'm wrong.

So here's the situation. I'm not going to be trying to catch action pics, and I'm not that interested in fooling around with a lot of manual adjustments, although I'd like the option to try a few things as I go along and learn. I might want to take some nice nature pics outside, and I'd like to get in really close - like flowers and butterflies and stuff.

But the main thing I take pictures of is my baby doll collection (they are about the size of a 3 month old baby). It's a big deal for doll collectors to show off their dolls, and I want my dolls to look as clear and sharp and colorful as possible. Most of the ladies I know don't know anything about cameras so I'm sure they leave everything on auto most of the time. But a few of them have more money to spend on a camera, and their shots are just GORGEOUS! I mean, you can see the eyelashes on those dolls! You can see the pattern of the lace on their clothes! I want that!

So I know there is something about their cameras that can produce great shots on auto settings, but what is it? Just the combination of megapixels and optical zooms? Or something else?

I need to be able to get in close, take pics of small things, have super detail, and since they are mostly indoor in low light, something that has some kind of anti-shake or something, so the pics don't come out blurry.

I'm thinking about a 5 mp, 10x optical - around the $500 range or so.... I've read reviews on all the current cameras with those specs, and they all seem like great cameras. I don't know how to tell the difference between one and another. I'd like to get a camera that is a little "more" than what I need so I can learn to do more professional stuff down the road. I just want crisp, detailed pics of medium to small objects.

Is it the quality of the lens? If so, which manufacturers make good ones?

Is it the lighting? Should I invest in a camera and a big, attached flash?

Is there a specific category in the tech specs that I need to be looking at? I don't understand all the buzz words, although I'm trying and reading everything I can.

Any help would be very appreciated!

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Old Oct 31, 2005, 11:35 PM   #2
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Mostly what makes a camera good, is the person using it. For the kinds of pictures you want to take, I would say that your best investment would not necessarily be a new camera, but a tripod. Indoor shots using available light mean slow shutter speeds, which means motion blur from camera shake if you are hand holding it. Putting your camera on a tripod. and using the self-timer so you aren't touching it when the picture is taken, should clear up your pictures a lot. Camera shake can make a picture look really blurry, or can be very subtle, and just make it seem not as sharp as it should be.

For best results, you should use a camera that lets you focus manually, and lock in the focus and exposure settings.

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Old Nov 1, 2005, 1:57 AM   #3
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I like what VTphotog says about learning how to use your existing camera better.

By all means, keep studying the new equipment, but try to do better with what you have, first. The lessons you learn -- what works, what doesn't -- will not only improve your current results, but the practise will help you with any camera you buy in the future. This experiance will also help you choose a new camera (should you decide to go that way) by highlighting what your present camera just can't do. By learning the limits of your camera, you will have a better handle on the features that want on a new camera.

Your doll photography could likely benefit from a tripod and the use of three point lighting. You don't have to invest in expensive lights, either. You can start out with regular 100-200 watt bulbs in cheap aluminum bowl reflectors with a clamp. They have those at Home Depot. If you aren't familiar with studio lighting techniques, there are plenty of free web resources that will tell you more than you need to know.

For close-up work with flowers and butterflies you need a camera with a long zoom range and a macro setting. You probably don't need the long zoom range just for flowers, but butterflies don't usually stick around when someone tries to take their picture from three inches away.

With 2 megapixels, you should be able to print great 5 x 7's and maybe even acceptable 8 x 10's. If you want the best results from any camera, you have to be willing to spend a bit of quality time with your computer and learn about histograms, levels, curves, color balance and unsharp masking.

If you try this stuff first, you might find your own doll's eyelashes on your prints without a new camera. If not, like I said earlier, what you learn will make you better able to use your next camera.


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Old Nov 1, 2005, 6:04 AM   #4
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I know this sounds silly, but my mother used to have a doll company.

Lighting is going to make the biggest difference in how your dolls will look.

If you want your dolls to look great, you will have to light them as if you were doing "product photography".

The trick is to light the dolls from each side, at an angle that won't reflect directly back into the lens.

A flash can help, but direct, head on light is only going to look "so so".

As for cameras, you don't need a 10x zoom.

As for quality, the number of megapixels and the quality of the sensor isgoing to make a big difference.

I would stick with at least a 5 meg sensor, and maybe look at a Canon as they have the best image quality in my opinion.

I can give you more advice, but perhaps private message me. There's some pretty inexpensive ways to set up "pro" lighting for your dolls.

-- Terry

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Old Nov 1, 2005, 7:25 AM   #5
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Thank you all so much for your help. Everyone seems like such a pro here, I wasn't sure if I'd be laughed at for my newbie questions. Thank you for the thoughtful responses!

The plans are already in the works to get me a new camera, my mom is footing the bill as a Christmas present and I'm giving my Nikon 2000 to my teenaged nephew. However, what you've all said about practice and lighting and learning retouching techniques is highly valuable, and I've already begun doing some of those things with my Nikon. I have a good two months to practice and then I'll get a new camera and the practice will continue!

Brian, thanks for the idea of using the tripod! I'm definitely going to get one with my new camera (or are tripods universal? Could I get one now to work with my Nikon and use it with my new one, too?)

Grant, can you give me one of those web addys to start looking at lighting techniques? I've got no clue at all, but I'm ready to learn! I'll search too, of course, but if you have one handy, I'd sure appreciate it! And thank you for all the other valuable information you gave me!

Wow, Terry, it's a small world, huh? So you know what I mean about photographing dolls - yes, I guess it IS like "product photography"! Thanks for the word, I didn't know what to call it. I would love to hear more about lighting techniques, and how I can set up some inexpensive lighting. I'll give you a holler in private!


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Old Nov 1, 2005, 9:11 AM   #6
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Jana wrote:
... Brian, thanks for the idea of using the tripod! I'm definitely going to get one with my new camera (or are tripods universal? Could I get one now to work with my Nikon and use it with my new one, too?)
Tripods are univeral until you get to very large cameras - those that weigh something like 20 pounds and up. But don't think that because your camera is small and light you can get away with a flimsy tripod. One of the issues that determines the price of a tripod is its weight - all else equal, the heavier the cheaper. The weight of the tripod also adds to the stabilty. Sort of like a cast iron frying pan - arguably the best for the job, but you wouldn't take it on along hiking trip.

If your camera has a remote shutter release, use it with the tripod. If it doesn't, use the self-timer. You don't want to bump the tripod while the shutter is open.

As others have said, lighting is the other key issue. Artificial light is just fine, but stay away from florecent. watch out for mixed lighting, e.g., one side lit with daylight and artificial light on the other side. Do some reading in your camera manual about white balance.
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Old Nov 1, 2005, 10:36 AM   #7
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For lighting techniques, try here:

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Old Nov 1, 2005, 8:46 PM   #8
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Lots of great stuff here (Kalypso, that link to the lighting is great! Thanks for starting that!) I'll just add a few more things.

Since you can set up the dolls any way you want, use that to your advantage. Setup an area which is conducive to good photography. Maybe the corner of a table, as that would let you easily setup lights on either side with you in the middle pointing at the doll. Build up the scene behind/around them. No one has to know where you took it, or what it looks like. Don't constrain yourself to what you see with your eyes, you can limit what the camera shows so it could be in a tropical green house, an iglo in the arctic, or in your living room. But pick a spot that doesn't have any appliances on it. For example, a fridge has a compressor and it will shake the floor enough that you'll loose detail. If possible, shooting in your basement, away from the heater (oil is worse than gas for this) and air conditioners.

Lighting is key, I agree completely. And make sure you heed that advice about using the same lights everywhere. Lights of different types can have subtle color casts to them which your eye won't pick up but the camera will. And the Doll's skin color will be all wrong.

For macro work, they are right that a longer power lens will help with living things. Macro photography is a lot of fun, but its hard. Search around on the web for macro resources and read about it. You'll quickly learn about things like "depth of field" and "aperture" and how they work against you to make macro work harder than you might think. But try it, its fun (its not like you have to develop the film!)

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Old Nov 8, 2005, 4:48 PM   #9
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Welcome, Jana, to the forum

Given that you want to take great photos of your dolls, you will not need much optical zoom.

If possible, what I suggest that you do is take one of your dolls to a photo store and take lots of photos of your doll with DIFFERENT cameras.

Then, look at howeach piclooks on the LCD screen in back of each camera. Though it is only a gross approximation compared to the lens, it will give you an idea.

Better would be to have have some digital media (Compact Flash and/or Secure Digital - the two most common kinds) so you can take your photos home and see how they look on your PC and/or printed out.

Also, you may also want to talk to the woman who does take gorgeous pics of her dolls and ask her if she will share her settings and her tips.

Remember, you do not need a very large file size to view photos on the web

Good luck, Jana


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Old Nov 8, 2005, 11:50 PM   #10
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Many, many thanks to eric and digcamfan for their recent replies to my post! Everything you are telling me makes very good sense - I will definitely be following your advice!

I really appreciate all the super comments I've received on this thread. I'm learning SO much!

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