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Old Dec 19, 2004, 9:16 PM   #1
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Hi to all...

I'm desperate to get some advice before I head out to buy a new digicam today. I was using the Nikon Coolpix 880 (it fell off the bench at a rate of knots) and was reasonably happy with it except had problems with depth of field - I like my pics to have blurry backgrounds and could only seem to achieve this with Adobe..

I probably would have gone for the Nikon 4200 as a replacement but found out it doesn't have manual settings like my old 880 did so today I've been looking at the Canon A95 which does have manual settings. I'm still learning about photography but would ultimately love to take great pics of my children (not action but more like the image I've posted below - taken with a Fujifilm Finepix 3800). I would love some advice as to what camera I should get - do I stick to a compact (maybe the Canon) or go for a DSLR which I know I would find a bit overwhelming right now but in time I hope to get a good grasp of? What gives the blurry background - is it using a manual setting or is it more the lens? (Sorry if I seem so ignorant..)

Thanks in advance...

Sheye


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Old Dec 19, 2004, 11:11 PM   #2
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Blurry background is caused by the depth of field being shallow, so close up is in focus and behind not. For that you need a very good lens, F2.8 preferably, and while there are some prosumer cameras around that have that the portraiture effect you seek is mostly achieved by using an SLR with interchangeable lens. For portraiture you really need between an 85mm and 135mm lens, but given your needs there are one or two good prosumer cameras out there. I had the Nikon 880, and you will be amazed at the difference in quality of the newer cameras. More importantly, whatevey camera, you will need manual override to allow you to control the aperture for portraits. I would suggest you look at the Canon G6 which has a reasonable lens for portraiture (F2.0 up to F3.0 at the long end), aperture and shutter priority, a 2" screen for framing the shot, a zoom 35mm to 140mm, 7mp, and all in all seems what you need without going to the expense of a digital SLR. Incidentally, the camera also has pictbridge, allowing you to plug directly into the printer and avoid using the computer.
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Old Dec 20, 2004, 3:13 AM   #3
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Thankyou so much for that...the G6 is in my price range - around $1100 here in Australia. It would be an extra $400 to go to a decent DSLR so I think I'll probably take your advice. Steve certainly gave it a good wrap...

Thanks again

Sheye:-)
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Old Dec 20, 2004, 3:23 AM   #4
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Casio P-600. I've had mine for less than four weeks and I have sold 28 images so far, It is always in my coat pocket.

Cheers,

Bob
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Old Dec 20, 2004, 4:21 AM   #5
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$400 extra for the DSLR plus a good lens at another $800 plus a flash, plus, plus, plus............................. It never ends!



Enjoy your Xmas with your new G6!
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Old Dec 20, 2004, 7:48 AM   #6
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Something like the G6 would be a little better than most models, since it has larger available apertures (represented by smaller f/stop numbers).

However, with any of the non-DSLR models, you'll have dramatically more depth of field for any given focus distance, aperture, and 35mm equivalent focal length.

This is because the sensors are very small on the non-DSLR models, so a much shorter focal length lens can be used for any given 35mm equivalent focal length. Unfortunately (if you want a shallower DOF), Depth of Field is based on the actual (versus 35mm equivalent) Focal Length of the Lens.

The G6 you're looking at as a lens with an actual focal range of only 7.2-28.8mm (to give it a 35mm equivalent focal range of 35-140mm). As a result of the shorter focal length lens, shooting at f/2.8 on the Canon (which is probably about where you'd be alonger focal lengths), would be more like shooting at around f/14 with a 35mm camera.

As a result, you have much greater depth of field than is desired for professional type portrait photos.

To see how this works, use this handy Depth of Field Calculator. Plug in a camera model,the actual focal lengthof the lens, a focus distance and an aperture.

http://www.dofmaster.com/dofjs.html

When looking at a Depth of Field Calculator, keep in mind that they are designed to let you where you'll find an acceptable level of sharpness (not where you'll get a lot of blur). So, for a lot of background blur, you'll need the background positioned further away from your subject.

With a non-DSLR model, your best bet for a lot of background blur is to use software to simulate a shallow depth of field (gaussian blur is a common technique). If you have a smaller subject (for example,a sitting child that you can get closer to, so that they're occupying a greater percentage of the frame), with a background that is further away, you may be able to "get by" with a non-DSLR model. But, you'll still have a lot of Depth of Field in comparison to a DSLR.

Using more zoom won't really help from a Depth of Field perspective (because each time you double the focal length, you'll need to shoot from twice as far away for your subject to occupy the same percentage of the frame, cancelling out any benefit of the longer focal length). Using some zoom is desirable for the correct perspective for portraits, though.

Basically, if you are serious about needing a shallow depth of field for portraits (not just a slightly out of focus background), you'll need to go with DSLR. If you're on a budget, I'd consider something like a Canon Digital Rebel, then buy a 50mm f/1.8 to go with it (very inexpensive lens). This lens would give you a 35mm equivalent focal length of 80mm on this model (you need to multiply the actual focal length of the lens by 1.6x to get the 35mm equivalent focal length on the Digital Rebel). Although it's not considered to be the "perfect" portrait lens by some users (i.e, 85mm), it's close enough for most purposes, so that your perspective is not too far off,and has larger apertures available to get the desired shallow depth of field for portraits.




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Old Dec 20, 2004, 7:54 AM   #7
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Before I got my DSLR I had a G3 and I got some very nice portrait shots with the blurry background you speak of, I'd go with the G6 too.
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Old Dec 20, 2004, 9:43 AM   #8
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There are 3 factors to blurring the background:

Focal length is the biggest problem with digicams with small sensors – JimC covered the reason. Traditional thinking has always been that you want to zoom out as far as possible to maximize the background blur. If you have one of your kids with bushes 15 feet behind them and shoot at wider angle 5 feet from the child, the background is 4X as far away from the camera. If you back off to 15 feet and zoom to get the same picture, the background is only twice as far. Jim feels that the greater ratio outweighs the focal length factor. Jim does his homework and I assume he wouldn't go against traditional thinking without knowing what he is talking about. But one of my small sensor camera manuals stays with traditional thinking and says to back off and use the zoom. Traditional portrait lens range is 70-90mm in 35mm equivalent. I've always liked a little longer myself, but the Rebel would give portraits in the traditional range.

Aperture has also been covered. The larger the aperture the more you blur the background. Most major brands give you maximum aperture in portrait mode and action mode. Jim pointed out in another thread that the Sony portrait mode is backassward in that it closes the aperture in portrait. I presume you could still use action mode. Aperture priority leaves no doubt you have the lens all the way open, but if action and portrait modes are on the mode dial it is faster and more convenient to use them and the end result is the same.

Where you focus is important. If you are standing 6 feet from your subject and focus at 6 feet, everything from 3.5 feet to 20 feet might be in focus with a small sensor digicam at widest aperture. If you refocus at say 3 feet you might get everything from 2.3 feet to 7 feet in focus – or what is considered sharp enough to be considered in focus. So your target is still sharp but the background is much more blurred. Advanced photographers often use the depth of field indicator on many SLR/DSLR lenses to increase the background blur. They can also accomplish the same thing with the high resolution viewfinders on those cameras by focusing closer and keeping the subject sharp. Unfortunately there isn't DOF information on consumer digicams, and with the possible exception of the Minolta A2, viewfinders aren't good enough for that kind of critical work – even those that zoom. But the advantage of being able to take a lot of pictures at no cost lets you take several pictures with each focused a little closer to the camera. You can actually get some decent background blur with a digicam with manual focus that way. You need a camera with manual focus and a viewfinder indication of the distance you are focused at to make that work though.

I find that blurring the background in Photoshop doesn't look natural unless I can get a little blurring with distance from the camera. Blurring with Photoshop is fine if the background is at about a constant distance or is all near infinity. But if you have background elements at varying distance a straight blur doesn't look exactly right. And a good photograph often has those elements.

I agree you would do best with a DSLR.

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Old Dec 20, 2004, 3:58 PM   #9
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Thankyou so much for all the great advice here, I truly appreciate it. I am now thinking a DSLR is probably worth considering...I know if I get non-DSLR I'll always be thinking I got a poor second but of course price is a big factor...I'll take a few days of research before making the decision. I feel so lost without a camera that I wanted to run down and get a replacement right away but the more I read the more time I realise I need to take.


I do have another question and, again, I feel stupid so please bear with me..

I have an old Minolta SLR (like about 15 years old) and it has some additional lenses - what looks to be an el cheapo ("Star" brand 70-210) and the Minolta M-AF 2X teleplus MC7 along with a Minolta 35-80 mm. My first question is can I use these lenses with a DSLR and if so,does it have to be a Minolta to use them? Also, would the age mean they are probably not worth keeping or are they inexpensive to repair if needed? Please excuse my complete ignorance. :?



Cheers

Sheye
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Old Dec 20, 2004, 5:38 PM   #10
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slipe wrote:
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Jim feels that the greater ratio outweighs the focal length factor. Jim does his homework and I assume he wouldn't go against traditional thinking without knowing what he is talking about. But one of my small sensor camera manuals stays with traditional thinking and says to back off and use the zoom. Traditional portrait lens range is 70-90mm in 35mm equivalent. I've always liked a little longer myself, but the Rebel would give portraits in the traditional range.
A longer lens gives you a different perspective, which can be desirable for portraits. For example, if you use a wider lens, this can make facial features look like they are not properly proportioned.

As far as actual depth of field, if your subject occupies the same percentage of the frame, and you're using the same aperture, then focal length has no bearing on DOF in most shooting conditions. Michael Reichmann has an article on it here:

http://www.luminous-landscape.com/tutorials/dof2.shtml

What you do get from a longer lens is a different perspective. So, this may enhance the apperance of blur (because out of focus objects in the scene behind your focus point appear larger and closer than they would with a shorter lens). But, Depth of Field (acceptable sharpness, as a measurement in feet/meters in front of and behind the focus point) remains constant between focal lengths, as long as your subject occupies the same percentage of the frame and you're using the same aperture.

Here is an example of results using a depth of field calcualtor for a 35mm camera

You are shooting with a 50mm lens using an aperture of f/4 at a focus distance of 10 feet. In this case, the range of acceptable sharpness would be from around 8.74 to 11.7 feet (almost 3 feet of acceptable sharpness).

Now, you switch to a 100mm lens using the same f/4 aperture. So, in order for your subject to occupy the same percentage of the image, you need to shoot from 20 feet away (versus from 10 feet away, as you did with the 50mm lens).

In this case, the range of acceptable sharpness would be from around 18.7 feet to 21.6 feet. (again, almost 3 feet of acceptable sharpness).

So, we try a 200mm lens now using the same f/4 aperture. So, in order for your subject to occupy the same percentage of the frame, you'll need to shoot from 40 feet away (versus from 20 feet, as you did with the 100mm lens).

In this case, the range of acceptable sharpness would be from around 38.6 feet to 41.5 feet (again almost 3 feet of acceptable sharpness).

Quote:
Jim pointed out in another thread that the Sony portrait mode is backassward in that it closes the aperture in portrait. I presume you could still use action mode. Aperture priority leaves no doubt you have the lens all the way open, but if action and portrait modes are on the mode dial it is faster and more convenient to use them and the end result is the same.
Actually, it's the Sports Mode that's backwards on some Sony models (selecting a smaller aperture). Portrait mode actually does select a larger aperture on models like the P100 equipped this way (until shutter speed reaches approx. 1/500 second, then it closes the aperture). I guess you could use it for both Sports and Portraits in low to moderate light. ;-)


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