About Me

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Spofford, New Hampshire, United States
Jeff Newcomer has been a physician practicing in New Hampshire and Vermont for over 30 years. Over that time, as a member of the Conservation Commission in his home of Chesterfield New Hampshire, he has used his photography to promote the protection and appreciation of the town's wild lands. In recent years he has been transitioning his focus from medicine to photography, writing and teaching. Jeff enjoys photographing throughout New England, but has concentrated on the Monadnock Region and southern Vermont and has had a long term artistic relationship with Mount Monadnock. He is a featured artist in a number of local galleries and his work is often seen in regional print, web publications and in business installations throughout the country. For years Jeff has published a calendar celebrating the beauty of The New England country-side in all seasons. All of the proceeds from his New England Reflections Calendar have gone to support the Pulmonary Rehabilitation Program at the Cheshire Medical Center. Jeff has a strong commitment to sharing his excitement about the special beauty of our region and publishes a weekly blog about photography in New England.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

What Camera Should I Buy? (Part 1)


Canon SX50 HS

The question comes right after the usual "What camera did you take that with?".  "What camera should I buy?"  They usually don't let me get away with explaining that it isn't the camera that is important but the knowledge and soul of the person looking through the viewfinder, So then the conversation begins.




This week's blog will, I hope, be the first of a series of articles directed towards folks who 
Snowliage Canon 10 meg G11
are just beginning to explore the wonders of digital photography. I meet many people who are terribly intimidated by what seems to be an endlessly confusing whirl of technical issues that surround the mastering of today's digital cameras, but most of the issues have not changed from the days of film photography. The importance of f-stop, shutter speed, media sensitivity and color balance have not altered. There is really very little which is different about the process of taking a picture. What has changed, with digital photography, is that once the shutter has been clicked, we have a much broader range of options for processing the images. Still many of these options are only refinements of what we could do with film in the wet darkroom.

I greatly envy those people who are just getting into digital photography since they have an amazing adventure before them. There has never been so much exciting stuff to learn and learning has never been so easy. Today novices don't need to wait a couple of weeks for their pictures to come back from the lab to see what mistakes they've made. The feedback is right there on the LCD screen within a second of shooting and corrections can be immediately explored. Folks who never shot with film have no idea what a game changing advancement this is for professional as well as amateur photographers. Secondly the internet is saturated with immediately accessible answers to any questions you may have about photography. Photographers are remarkably generous with their knowledge and many sources, this site excepted, are quite reliable.

That is the end of my pep talk. There is much to learn, but the rewards are great and the potential for growth is boundless. Let’s start the journey with the essential first question, "What camera should I buy?". 

 




Range of choices:

It may seem obvious that the range of power and sophistication for digital cameras is massive. We can start by establishing the extremes of the available choices, but even these are changing monthly.


On the low end we have camera phones which are becoming increasingly sophisticated. The iPhone 5 has an 8 megapixel sensor and a world of apps to expand its capability. It probably should not be surprising that some studies have suggested that as many as 90% of those who take picture do so only with a camera phone. Of course a high percentage of those pictures are of their food. I will start by assuming that you are reading this because you are not satisfied with camera phone photography.




Nikon D800


There is no real limit for the upper end of photographic equipment, but for the consumer, or "prosumer" market we can limit our discussion to Digital Single Lens Reflex Cameras (DSLRs). A Nikon D800 with a nice 70-200mm zoom lens will cost you well over $5000. For that you get a 36 megapixel full frame sensor with low noise even at high ISO, 56 point precise auto focus and HD 1080p video. If you want a second battery, and you do, that will be extra.




So that's the range. How do you pick where you belong on the continuum. It really just comes down a few basic consideration; how much control you want over your images, how much you want to learn and what you want to do with your pictures.

I will not attempt a complete review of the dizzying array of choices. There are great discussions on the web covering all aspects of this difficult decision and all of them share one attribute; To the extent that they offer a detailed discussion of the current options, they will be out of date the day after they are published. So here are my random and incomplete thoughts about this process. With any luck they will be sufficiently vague to be relevant for perhaps a week or two. From the broadest perspective, I will focus my discussion on compact cameras and Digital SLRs, but I will also discuss the new guy in town, "Mirrorless" System cameras. There is a lot to cover and I will divide this topic into two articles, reserving DSLRs and Mirrorless for next week.
Check out DP Reviews for detailed and reliable reviews of all the new equipment. I used several of their camera images in this article



Compact Cameras



Canon SX50

Compact cameras are generally, well, compact, at least when compared to clunky standard DSLRs, but they vary greatly in size, portability and capability. Here is brief list of some of the important aspects to keep in mind as you consider your options. I recently bought a new "Carry Around" camera and in my blog about the process I discussed what I felt are some of most important attributes of a compact camera for my kind of shooting.



Sensor Size


Abe with my 10meg Canon G11
Compact cameras usually have smaller sensors which means that image quality will not be as good. They will have more noise especially at higher ISOs (sensor sensitivity). Compact Cameras are increasingly outfitted with high megapixel sensors, but all those pixels are good for marketing, but are not always a good thing when they are crammed on a tiny sensor. You can look for cameras equipped with larger sensors, but that usually means a bigger camera. The balance between sensor size and pocket-ability is just one of many decisions on the way to finding your perfect camera.






50X Zoom
Zoom:

Because compacts have fixed lens' you should look for a lens with a range of focal lengths to meet your imagined needs. Newer compacts are showing up with impressive zooms from 10x to my new Canon SX50, which at 50x ranges from 24mm to 1200mm. These long zoom are great for wildlife photography but, if your only goal is to take snap shots of the family, you can save money with a shorter lens and "Zoom" with your feet. Also don’t be fooled by advertising touting a camera’s “digital zoom”.  Digital zooms only crop the image in the camera to make it appear larger.  As you make a 2X digital zoom you will lose image quality, as your expensive 20meg sensor becomes a 10meg sensor.  The only that is important to look for the camera’s “optical Zoom.  

 
 




 

Control:
The extent to which Compacts allow control of the camera's settings varies widely. Many 


For Point and Shoots Color is All Important
are literally "point and shoots" designed for those who don't want anything to do with adjusting how the camera captures the scene. They want to be able to point the camera vaguely in the direction of the subject, and then softly intone the command, "Take a picture of that". They hope for the best, but don't expect much. As it turns out the automatic functions in even the most modest point and shoots are actually pretty sophisticated, and occasionally these casual shooter will capture a descent picture. Hopefully these few masterpieces will encourage the photographer to appreciate their high ratio of garbage to gold, and will trigger a desire to learn more and take control, and then they're hooked.







Accessible Controls on My Canon G11

I can safely assume that no one who has made it this far is of the point and shoot persuasion. For you, higher end compacts offer larger sensors with better image quality and access to the full complement of controls that you would find on a DSLR. The cost for these features is generally an increase in size, but many are still quite "compact". Many compacts now have the capability to shoot in shutter and aperture preferred modes as well as full manual. As you consider these cameras check out the ease of access to the controls. Physical dials and buttons on the camera body are much preferred over having to struggle your way through complicated multi-level menus.


Autumn Clock, Canon G11




RAW, Repeat after me, RAW!

If you plan to be serious about getting the most from your images through post-processing, then the capability to shoot in RAW is a must. A discussion of the advantages of RAW over JPG files is beyond the scope of this article, but trust me, if you care enough to get a higher end compact then you will eventually want to shoot in RAW.





Canon G11 with Hot Shoe
Flash:


Almost all compacts have built in flashes that are handy to use, and universally produce stark unflattering light. Consider getting a compact that has a hot shot to allow the addition of a much more capable external flash.






Video:
It is hard to find a compact camera that doesn't include the capability to shoot video. Better cameras can shoot high definition video at 1080p, but the sound capabilities are generally atrocious. Good sound is a necessary element of good videos and separate audio inputs would be great, but don't expect this in compacts, since many DSLRs lack this feature as well.





3 Bracketed Images HDR Canon SX50 HS
Bells and Whistles

It is an interesting fact that camera makers often debut neat new features in there compact consumer cameras long before they show up in their high end professional SLRs. Auto HDR, exposure and focus bracketing, Wi-Fi connectivity, and a bevy special shooting modes, including such challenging situations as night, sports, and fireworks are just some of the nifty features that are available. My new camera has a "Smart Shutter" that can trigger when a subject smiles or immediately following a blink (or so they claim?). Lots of fun stuff, but not the basis on which I would suggest that you make your buying decision.


A Variable Angle LCD is a Great Convenience


Compact cameras are no longer just pocket point and shoots. Many offer quite sophisticated capabilities and produce great images. The best approach is to consider which feature are most important for the kind of shooting you plan to do. Read the reviews and, if possible, get the cameras in your hands.  How a camera feels can be more important than all its glitzy bells and whistles.  In the right situations a compact can represent an excellent choice, but inevitably they impose compromises in terms of image quality and flexibility. When compact size is not an issue, it is worth considering the array of Digital Single Lens Reflex and the new Mirrorless cameras.

But that is for next week.


Part II of "What Camera Should I Buy?"

Jeff Newcomer
partridgebrookreflections.com



1 comment:

  1. Your website is really cool and this is a great inspiring article. Thank you so much.
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