Friday, November 08, 2013

What makes a good camera - and how to make yours better

In the last blog I posted three sets of pictures from three cameras, the Canon 550D, the Sony Nex-6 and the Olympus Tough TG-1, and Tillerman commented that in terms of blogging there didn't seem to be much of a difference.

It was a good point: there were some minor differences in that the resolution on the Canon (if you zoomed in) was a little better and it's colour was more accurate (the sky colour should say cold & November).

The problem was that none of the images challenged any of the cameras, so all were effectively ok.

But what about more difficult conditions? Alas I haven't more interesting scenes taken with all three but here's some examples of what I think they'd show.

Firstly above is Hammersmith Bridge at night taken from the Thames on the Olympus Tough TG-1. I had so many problems getting the camera to focus and zoom and was twirling round and round in the kayak struggling with settings and in the end it was out of focus and noisy.

Compare that to the scene below taken with the Sony Nex-6 in Geneva:
Despite being taken by hand on a whim it is sharp, in-focus and just as hoped.

This camera has a larger sensor than the Olympus and so there are more photons per pixel and better noise reduction - which means better night images.

So to take more challenging pictures you need a camera with more functions and abilities.

However there's no point having all those bells and whistles if it takes so long to configure each shot that by the time you are ready the moment has gone.

For the sailing photography course with Rick Tomlinson the key instructions were to set the exposure time to 1/1000th of a second and then watch, to be ready to pounce on the flighty image.

And the Canon 550D was ideal for that, as it was quick to zoom, focus and snap, capture the image:
I'm happy with this: the spray has been caught in mid-air, along with the action of the crew and foredecker reaching for the spinnaker pole.

At the other end of the time scale the Canon be set for exposures of 2.5 seconds and capture this celebration of the 5th of November, Guy Fawkes night:
So, yes, a basic camera will have no problem with most images but there's likely to be a time you'll reach its limits, while a more capable camera would have been able to take the shot.

But there's no point having the feature if it takes so long to activate that you miss out: user interfaces really do matter.

However, and this gets to the most important point, there's no point having a camera that can do fancy things if you don't know that it can.

My top tip is this: you can make your existing camera better without spending a dollar if you:


Then of course go out there and play.

Over on Windtraverler Brittany has been having some fun with the Dramatic settings on her Olympus camera. Apparently mine has that too - who knew? Well I guess if I'd read the manual I would have.

And if I'd read the Sony Nex-6 manual I would have known how to set the focus to manual when in the helicopter in Greenland.


But yes, some cameras really are better than others.

So, drum roll please, the JP's best camera awards go to.....



Tillerman said...

And of course the other issue is that a camera is no good at all unless you have it with you when you see something you want to photograph. That's the argument that says the camera on your smartphone is the best of all because you will always have it. Who in the real world carries their DLSR with them all the time?

Having said that I do feel very tempted to start branching out and buying some different cameras. A tough waterproof compact for when I'm on the Laser or kayaking etc. A DSLR with several lenses for those challenging shots you discuss in this post. Then I'll need one of those video cameras like the GoPro for the Laser too......


O Docker said...

I think you picked the Sony as best.

The image quality is nearly the same as the SLR while the camera and lenses are half the size. For travel, that's everything.

I made the switch to a 'mirrorless' system a few years ago and have never looked back. My DSLR is gathering dust. And the mirrorless camera bodies just keep getting smaller and smaller. I think you'll find the Sony can do almost anything the SLR can - it's just a question of learning where all the controls are.

Manual focusing is easier on the SLR, but you can make the autofocus on a mirrorless camera work almost as well. Turn off the multiple focus areas and use just the central one. Then, point that at what you want in focus, half press the shutter to hold focus, recompose and shoot. It's much quicker than letting the camera decide what to focus on and there's no delay at all when you shoot . I think that may have worked for you in the helicopter.

If you're looking for best quality from any digital camera, experiment with 'post-processing'. Don't worry what the image straight out of the camera looks like. You can actually get better final quality if you turn down the camera's contrast, saturation, and sharpening, and adjust those yourself in an image editing program.

For a take-anywhere camera, I still lean towards my compact camera (there are better ones than the weatherproof models), but for travel photography where you may want the versatility of interchangeable lenses, mirrorless is the way to go.

JP said...

Thanks both.

BTW O'Docker, what Windows software would you recommend to edit photos, read RAW images, include effects etc?

I don't want a photo journalist's all bells and whistles tool, just something that does the minimal job that I need.

Of course I'd also need Amazon to FINALLY deliver my new laptop and still don't have a date yet....