February 08, 2006

Curious George: moving past point-and-click I own a Canon A40 Powershot and I'm thinking about spending some money to take a greater variety of photos.

However, I know sod-all about photography (which is why I'm not interested in blowing a wad of cash on a Nikon D50 just yet) and I'm going to take a course to, you know, get good and stuff. I want to be able to wander out to the garden and get nice snaps of the jungle out there, and to catch all those candid moments with my kids and make them look like a professional took them with studio lighting. I think I'd like a macro lens (the A40 can fit a lens adapter) for the garden stuff. What else may be a worthwhile investment -- without going too far -- to make my photos look good? If it helps, here's a link to my flickr page, to see the type and quality of photos I currently take. Critique also accepted.

  • How about moving up further in the range of the Powershot? Say to a PowerShot Pro 1? (review) I know sod-all about photography Well even with taking a course, I think the main thing is practice, practice, practice. If the camera is too tricky to use you won't. For candid shots something light and compact is needed so you can whip it out and flick it on quickly. make them look like a professional took them with studio lighting Lighting is tricky - and Photoshop is your friend. However I noticed just how much more satisfying using a camera with more megapixels can be! I would definitely try for one with at least 5 megapixels - and quite a few around now are 8. However unless it is one of those one-in-thousands shots - no camera will really give you studio lighting quality. I guess you really need to make a simple checklist of your needs: - Do I need the camera to be lightweight and compact? - Should it be fixed lens, or one I can use different lenses with (more learning curve with 2nd type)? - What is my price range? - Should it be easy to use? (for starters) Also shoot 3-5 as many pics at a time than you normally would. That is what is so fabby about digital cameras. Carry an extra memory card with you, and delete the inevitable heads cut off blurry ones.
  • Hmm re-reading this I may have missed the original point a bit (gomene). As opposed to upgrading your camera, how can you improve your pics with your current camera? Well let's have a lookie at the Canon A40 Powershot. You are working with 2 megapixels now. So you'll be needing to make sure that there is a lot of light when you take the pic. Otherwise you'll get the "noise" factor in low light. (This is for those quick snapshots). This review discusses some of the features, and what you can do, although of course there is also reading the manual. (This review may also be useful). As I haven't used this camera I am now feeling about as useful as tits on a bull, however my above rambling still stands - practice and experimentation rather than accessories is still the best game plan.
  • Just from looking at the flickr set, I'd advise against new equipment until you've soaked the current one for what it's worth. What I'm seeing is that you'd benefit from sepia tones, some photoshop manipulation to get what you want. You've got a great eye for subject, but you could do things to get it to "come out", for lack of a better phrase. I think you could take whats up on flickr, for example, and come back with a whole different set of prints based on simple filtering, crop, and simple things like that - I'm not suggesting anything radical. Try taking out color, enhancing contrast, things like that. On the other hand, a few of the landscape / still life shots could benefit from some light use of the artistic filters - gauze it up, or brush patterns maybe. My photography teachers would help with composition but the most important thing they would say is have.your.camera.with.you.always. The awesome shots go by quick, so have it at the ready. Personally, my stuff is very angular and a little abstracted, so I'd also suggest trying different camera angles v. your subject, but that's just me and may not be what you want. $0.02!
  • I find having a good lens is very important. The cheapest way to do that is to buy and old Nikon SLR from the 70s and use the standard lens that comes with it. However i know absolutely nothing about digital cameras.
  • This Curious George is a blatant attempt to disguise a self link. Monkeybashi should come down hard on this "tracicle" person and bring the banhammer down. Hard.
  • Some time ago, I upgraded from a point-and-shoot to an "advanced digicam" type camera with lots of manual controls, one notch below a DSLR. I don't think it's made my pictures any better. If my pictures have improved, it's mostly because I've put more effort into taking them, not because the equipment is different. My favorite shots are rarely snapshots - I've generally invested at least 15 minutes, sometimes an hour into each of them. The composition stuff (figuring out what to include, what to exclude, and what angle to use) is most of the trick to taking good pictures. Better equipment doesn't change any of that. Your flickr pictures are not bad at all. One thing I'd suggest is to turn off the on-camera flash, it flattens and overexposes the subject, makes harsh shadows behind the subject, and can cause redeye too. It's true that without the flash you will often find you need to get a ton of light from ... somewhere. But the nasty point-source on-camera flash is probably the single biggest thing that separates the average snapshot from a more professional look. Virtually any other light source is more diffuse and more flattering. Overcast skies and not-facing-the-sun windows can be very good, and cheap too.
  • Thanks guys. I seldom use the flash for exactly the reasons Lagged2Death says -- often I'll deliberately take one photo with flash and one without and almost 100% of the time it's the flashless one that looks best. Our house has great light so indoor photos in the summer (which it is now) never require a flash. petebest, your advice is, I think, exactly what I was hoping for -- ways to tweak the photos I take now. I'm learning to play around with The Gimp (it's a steep learning curve but free) but I haven't spent enough time on real photos yet experimenting. Obviously more time is required. One of the major things I need to do is always have rechargable batteries at the ready, obviously. I keep fighting my kids for the batteries in their toys. :) Thanks all!
  • I dunno, I own a full pro 35mm SLR system, and also a large format Linhof and find myself moving towards something simple and lightweight. I just upgraded my old and trusty Canon G1 to get a Panasonic Lumix LX1. It has a great quality Leica lens and manual controls aplenty. It is the perfect size to fit in a pocket and beats lugging around 50lbs of body and lenses, flash, etc. While there are still times when I want the ultimate in high quality that film offers, I enjoy shooting much more with something this compact. And most of photography is about enjoyment.
  • i also just picked up a lumix, the dmc-fz30. altho it doesnt have interchangeable lenses, and it's bigger than the LX1 it has every other adjustment known to humankind, 8 MPx, and a dadgum LEICA lens.... coupled with an epson r1800 printer, all of the sudden, all my large format color dreams are coming true.
  • Stone the crows!
  • If you want to experiment with professional-type photography, old-school SLR cameras are very cheap right now. I just picked up two new lenses for 100 bucks CDN each because they were of an obsolete mounting system no good for DSLRs. (Olympus OM series mounts). The camera body was also less than 200 bucks. Film still looks nicer than digital irrespective of the megapixels involved because film has a deep tone-curve. Or something like that. A friend of mine explained it at some point. Anyway, for point-and-shoot digital I'm very impressed with iPhoto and its magical "Enhance" button, plus its easy to use color adjustment panel. Of course you have to buy a Mac for that to work. And of course, practice your composition and all that. Also, portraits of people always look nicer with the zoom on a bit (ie. with a telephoto lens) because it reduces distortion. The wider the angle, the more warped the image is.
  • Three easy steps to being a better photographer: 1) Take lots of photos, all the time in different light conditions with different camera settings. 2) Note what works and what doesn't, and try to take note of what settings the camera had at the time (keeping a notebook is one way, but if your camera writes EXIF information into the file, that's another) 3) Rinse and repeat. Understand also that even professional photographers get 1 good shot out of dozens.
  • One of the major things I need to do is always have rechargable batteries at the ready, obviously. Tracicle- you have Secret of NiMH rechargeables, right? I have the same camera as yours, and the NiMH batteries last a good long time.
  • I have considered buying a non-digital SLR -- we used to own one that we bought in a garage sale for $40 (the brand was Miranda, which I never heard of before and have never heard of since). We gave the camera away when we went overseas. The photos I still have off that camera have the best clarity and use of focus I've seen, and I imagine I can't get that from the Powershot without adding a lens. There is some ability to focus on odd areas of the composition but I can't get that perfect clarity. But if I want to be able to play around with P-Shop and iPhoto then I may as well stick with the digicam. That was pretty much my reason for sticking with what I've got for now. Maybe when I've learned what makes a good photo (both at the time of taking the picture and on the computer), I'll upgrade to a DSLR.
  • I have the secret of NiMH and get plenty of use out of them, but when they run out I tend to put the camera away for days, even weeks, until I get round to charging the batteries. I need to get into the habit of always have a spare set charged and ready, if I want to carry the camera around always. Mmmm, nickel-metal hydrides... /drools
  • staticred: flickr is a wonderful thing. The notebook is also a great idea, though. Note to self: PREVIEW!
  • But if you are keen to lash out with some moola then Photoshop can become your best friend. I gasp at the thought of being deprived of my curves adjustment and unsharp mask!
  • tracicle - I took a quick look at your flickr set. In addition to the comments here I would add -it looks like you are mostly taking (or at least presenting) candid snapshot style photos. For this, there are few things better than a small point and shoot, such as you have. - flash sucks (mentioned above) but is sometimes a necessary evil. According to this page the A40 will go up to ISO400, and with the aperture max. open it's F2.8 (at the wide end). For a reasonably well lit indoors scene that's kinda borderline for no flash but might be worth trying occasionally. Especially if you can do a lot of post-processing in software. -have you had a look at photo.net tutorials? Several of these are well worth a look. I'd start with this one. -more megapixels is not necessarily better. All other things being equal, more sensors in a given space = more noise. You can find a lot of complaints about low light performance with the latest release of 6MP point and shoot cameras. More if I think of anything......
  • I also just found this link via the EXIF data on that photo I linked to a couple comments up: Digicamhelp in case anyone else is interested. I read that light tutorial, polychrome, and it's great.
  • Your pics are pretty good, monkeybashi, so whatever you're doing, keep it up. Me, I went the other way, and went seriously Old Skool, collecting a few Lomo cameras. I'm up to three -- a Supersampler (four stacked sequential panoramas), an Actionsampler with Flash (four sequential quarters), and my fav, the Octomat (eight sequential shots, two rows of four). I couldn't be more pleased with the results. The results are amazing -- everything has this temporal element added to it. Plus, there are some really neat accidental effects. Using them for vacation shots is the best, since you avoid the old cliched shots, and come up with something totally unique. However, when wanting a photographic record of growing kids, I can see how you might want the high-tech, extra detailly approach. Which I can't help you with at all. Sorry. Oh -- if Santa's listening, I'd still like the fisheye Lomo that I didn't get last Christmas. I promise to be extra good this year. Thanks in advance!
  • Well, you have a Powershot. That's good for a couple of reasons:
    1. It uses Compact Flash. These are not only the cheapest flash memory, but also the biggest form factor. Why is this good? Because you can trade it for a microdrive. I picked up a 4 gb Hitachi microdrive for my Canon, which means the 2000+ photos and videos I shot on my last vacation fill less than half the thing at full resolution. A 4 gb flash drive would have cost me 3x as much per megabyte.
    2. It uses AA batteries. AA batteries are freaking awesome because you can easily buy replacements. A four-pack of Energizer NiMH 2500+ lasts me all day in my Canon, even if I'm taking video or continuous shooting. If they crap out, I have a spare set - for much cheaper than the extra proprietary battery pack most cameras use.
    I thought I wanted a digital SLR. I realized that my camera is bulky enough as it is, and I don't have a good enough handle on my photo skills to really need anything more complicated yet. Focus on learning to use what you want - play with some of the manual settings if you can. Once you have mastered the camera you have, you may want to upgrade, but don't upgrade just to see if you can do better. Do better first, by doing in the first place. Using the ease of battery replacement and massive storage opportunities you already have, you can take tremendous amounts of pictures with a minimal investment in extra battery sets and a microdrive. Taking more is the only way to get better. (PS - cute kids!)
  • I hope Santa will bring me a Canon Kiss N/Rebel XT this year.
  • PPS - If you do go SLR, remember that every lens Canon makes will fit every SLR they sell. Your old garage-sale lens set is just as useful with your used 35mm SLR as it is with your new $3000 10 megapixel DSLR. With other manufacturers you may not have the same ease of transfer. Also - spoke with a professional photographer a while back, she said when it comes to pro digital photography Canon leads and everyone else copies them...
  • Mostly what PeteBest said. Your pictures are good. You are getting in close enough to your subjects, which very hard for some people. Your images are somewhat flat-if your camera has a hot shoe, you can buy a flash, like a Vivitar 283, and someone can show you how to do bounce flash, which makes softer light and shallower depth of field. Try not to use the in-camera flash unless you are outdoors and want to fill in shadows. Also, just pointers-look in all four corners of the frame before you shoot, Move if you don't like a thing in frame or move the thing. Take pictures everyday and look at them-on your computer, not on the camera because the camera monitor is real contrasty. Learn on digital. As much as I love film, I have become much better at my trade since I started shooting digital-its virtually free and you can see if you have made a mistake immediately.
  • caution live frogs: PPS - If you do go SLR, remember that every lens Canon makes will fit every SLR they sell. Your old garage-sale lens set is just as useful with your used 35mm SLR as it is with your new $3000 10 megapixel DSLR. With other manufacturers you may not have the same ease of transfer. No you are thinking of the Nikons. Canon manual focus cameras use an entirely different lens mount than auto focus. There is an adapter but it is crappy and not worth buying. I have both the Canon F1 manual focus and the EOS 1n auto focus with a different set of lenses for both unfortunately. Canon is a great system but don't knock Nikon. They offer a range of pro accessories that puts Canon to shame.
  • Not knocking Nikon but Canon claims that lenses are compatible between cameras in their range (I guess to a certain extent). Mind you there may be a difference on their performance levels between cameras and lenses.
  • I've heard good things about Photoshop Elements which has a lot of the features of the full-blown Photoshop but is waaaaaay cheaper. I haven't used it yet, but some friends like it. (From what I hear, if you shop around you can get it in the US$60-70 range.)
  • I can highly recommend Paint Shop Pro. A lot cheaper than Photoshop, but still alows a lot of photo tweaking. Also, to get you started, there's an auto photo enhance that attempts to clear up your pictures (adjust lighting, tone, etc.) You can download a free demo to play with as well.
  • allows it too
  • I've used PSP before and found it more user-friendly than PhotoShop. I'm quite happy with The Gimp as I slowly learn how to use the myriad functions, but I might get all three together and compare for a bit, then decide whether it's worth the expense.
  • gomichild: Not knocking Nikon but Canon claims that lenses are compatible between cameras in their range (I guess to a certain extent). Mind you there may be a difference on their performance levels between cameras and lenses. Well, yeah, when Canon says "compatible between cameras in their range" ,that means all EF lenses will work will all EOS cameras. There is full compatibility there. But non EF, manual focus lenses are totally incompatible. Granted, few people would want to use FD manual focus lenses in this day and age, or even know how to use them. But this is a major difference between Nikon cameras that offer full compataibility with all their old lenses. So remember that not all lenses with the Canon name are made for all cameras with the Canon name. Just clarifying so you don't come to the wrong conclusion and buy things that won't work. The only real performance difference on Canon lenses is between L and non-L auto focus lenses. There are other variations but I'll keep it simple.
  • Another vote for the Lumix. I bought one in Auckland just before Christmas on the strength of this BoingBoing item and am still in love with it. The zoom is very good. Eg, I was across the road from this guy. It's good indoors with no flash. And it just works when you point and click. (All those images have been scaled down, which gives you some idea how good the image quality can be). I'm just starting to learn how to drive it - you can do a lot to specify exposure time, f-stop, light sensitivity etc if you want to step up from fully automated.
  • I'd stay on the other side of the road from that guy, too.
  • Huh, I thought I'd linked it here previously: Monkey Photos, a page I set up on the wiki for posting photos, themed or not. I thought I'd try and set it up again. I'm detecting a trend between spring blossoms and urge to take photos.
  • oh, there 'tis spring, and here 'tis fall while here's all's sunny, yonder's a squall these local weathers makes no sense at all uness we concede the earth's a round ball
  • =unless but wot the 'ell
  • You otherworlders do have funny names for things.