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£250 to spend on camera to help me learn, please help

Discussion in 'General Equipment Chat & Advice' started by tozey, Oct 24, 2007.

  1. tozey

    tozey Active Member

    Hi guys

    I have been taking photo's of my friends, family, holidays, pets etc for a long time now.

    Looking back over my photo's I feel its time that I take a step up from just pointing and shooting with the auto settings and take a dip into the world of photography.

    I am keen to make use of camera's manual settings and learning what it takes to take a "picture" rather than just a photo.

    I am now ready to spend a bit of money on a camera and get learning. I have a maximum of £250 to spend and what im really after is some advice about which camera to get.

    I suppose I am getting myself all confused with the amount of camera's there are on the market. I have been visiting all the review sites I can but I always seem to go back to the same cameras and these are the ones I keep looking at

    canon powershot a640/a650IS,

    canon powershot a710/720IS,

    Nikon coolpix p5000,

    Panasonic DMC FZ8/FZ18,

    Fuji Finepix S9600

    If there is an obvious option I have missed here please let me know, basically I want to get the best camera that is going to be easy to get on with but at the same time give me the ability to learn and see results with. I understand that image stability will be important to me.

    And hows this for a thought of someone unexperienced, I cant help but think that the canon's listed here will not be as good as the others as they dont look like slr's as the others do. I'm guessing this is the wrong thing to be thinking but for some reason I cant help thinking it. Some reassurance would be nice

    Thanks all for looking and I apologise for the long post but I really am getting confused and I am not one for just going out and buying something until I know its "the one". I know I will have to go and try a few out but I am looking to see what you guys think, any advice you can provide will help me immensly.

    Alex :D
     
  2. AlexMonro

    AlexMonro Old Grand Part Deux

    Hi Alex! Welcome from another Alex! :)

    Difficult question to give a simple answer to, really, it depends, at least in part, on the sort of pictures you want to take.

    Do you want landscape pictures of sweeping vistas, or interior shots showing all of a room? If yes, you need a wide angle lens. Do you want wildlife shots of a bird sitting on the nest, or a deer the far side of a field? If so, you need a long telephoto, and probaly a tripod or image stabilisation. Do you want action shots of football or cricket? If so, you need a long telephoto, and probably high ISO sensitivity to enable a fast shutter speed to freeze the action.

    Or do you just want pictures with a "normal" perspective, looking like you perceive the scene with your own eyes? If so, a standard zoom range would probably suit you.

    The Canons and Nikon you list are fairly capable compacts, with a standard 3-4x zoom range. They won't give you the wide angle or the long telephoto, but they'll probably fit in a (large) pocket.

    The FZ8 / FZ18 and the S9600 are ultrazoom bridge cameras, a bit bigger and heavier than the compacts, but with far greater zoom range (the fact that they're styled to look a bit like DSLRs is almost coincidental). The FZ18 and S9600 zoom out to fairly wide angle (28mm equivalent), the Panasonics have image stabilisation, but tend to get noisy at high ISO, and the S9600 is better for noise, and has a lovely manual zoom ring, and generally better controls (more buttons & dials means less fiddling with menus) but doesn't have as much reach at the long end of the zoom (300mm equiv versus 500mm for the FZ18)

    However, they're all good cameras, with good controls that will enable you to learn a lot. For what it's worth, when I upgraded from a basic compact, I went for the Fuji S9500 (predecessor to the S9600), mainly because it was about the only bridge camera at that time that went as wide as 28mm equiv (and it had that lovely manual zoom).
     
  3. tozey

    tozey Active Member

    Thanks for the great response Alex.

    I am a fisherman, so I spend alot of time outdoors. I am planning to use it for sunrise, sunset shots (for those night sessions), with fishing comes wildlife and I have had so many oppertunities in the past to snap that robin stealing my bait (snap I mean take a photo) lol. Also, I enjoy city breaks and my next destination is Amsterdam for christmas, I have been a few times and have so many ideas in my head for shots so something that will be able to handle detailed shots of buildings but at the same time night time shots of those canals with the christmas lights.

    I guess I need it to do these things, pretty varied really.

    I am still not sure what the whole ISO deal is all about. I read many review sites and it gives examples of shots taken with high ISO, these shots are then cropped and then shown with the amount of noise, but if the higher you go the higher the noise whats the point of raising the ISO if the pictures are going to look bad?

    Im sure there is an obvious reason for that buti just havent looked into it enough yet.

    I have got to the point now where im looking at the FZ18 but the high ISO problem is putting me off as I have read that alot but I just am not sure if that is going to be that much of a problem for me.

    As you can tell im a tad confused by it all, Im just after a good all round camera which is going to assist me in learning to hopefully take some great pictures.

    thanks again, I look forward to you responses.

    Alex :D
     
  4. IvorETower

    IvorETower Little Buttercup

    Not sure of the sensor size of the Panasonics, but what I can say is that the Fuji 9500/9600 and the 6500 use a sensor far larger than in most compact cameras (typically around 1/1.6th of an inch in these Fujis) and they offer manual control of zoom and focus by rotating a ring with your hand, similar to an SLR rather than pressing the ends of an electrical rocker switch. If you are looking for a pseudo SLR, I'd go for one of these. However if you are thinking of developing your skills even more as time progresses, have a look at the cheaper Pentax SLR's and the Nikon D40. With a bit of luck you should be able to pick them up for around £250 and they offer greater prospects for the future than a non-interchangeable lens "bridge" camera
     
  5. Lounge Lizard

    Lounge Lizard Well-Known Member

    What the camera looks like has little bearing on its capabilities and the quality of images it can produce. In fact, a manufacturer might spend more on making it look like an SLR wannabe than on the actual internals. You know the saying - never judge a book by its cover?

    I have three Canon compacts right now - an A95, a G3 and an S70 and they can all produce superb pictures when their limitations are understood and you work within them. In fact, I have had pictures accepted for display in exhibitions taken with these cameras. The important thing is to find the camera that suits you and that is probably more important than analysing their specification in fine detail.

    Also take a look at the 'sticky' posts at the top of the Help Team forum.
     
  6. beejaybee

    beejaybee Marvin

    Well you are bound to get digital noise. The smaller the individual pixel sensors, the more you will get. (This naturally implies that high pixel counts combined with small sensors are not necessarily a Good Thing). The higher the ISO rating you set, the more electronic amplification is needed, again this causes more noise.

    Software can reduce the apparent effect of the noise, but in doing so it can mask small detail. Some cameras use aggressive noise reduction, some leave the noise in but leave small detail detectable; it's a matter of taste; I think that's what the comparative reviews are trying to show.

    Obviously the trick is to use the lowest ISO rating you can get away with, without using a shutter speed so slow that camera shake will blur the image. There is also an issue in that lens definition tends to improve when stopped down a bit. Some cameras have an "auto ISO" option, if yours does it might be a good idea to play around with this option set, then examine the shutter speed/aperture/ISO combinations in the EXIF data to see what the camera is doing - its rules may not be optimal but they will be a sensible place to start from.

    Don't forget that some of us still think 100 ASA is fast ;)

    Seriously, though, if you're thinking of taking lots of shots with poor illumination, a camera with a bigger sensor than the tiny one in most (almost all) compact & bridge designs would be a Good Idea. As others have pointed out, a second-hand budget SLR might well be a better bet.

    But if you really want to learn, I think you would do better buying a second-hand manual film SLR. You should be able to get a serviceable one, buy 10 films and have them processed, learn a lot that will stand you in good stead later and still be £100 under budget.
     
  7. Woolliscroft

    Woolliscroft Well-Known Member

    Beejaybee forgot to tell you what the ISO actually is. It's the sensitivity to light of the sensor. With a film camera, film can be made to be physically more sensitive, but with digital cameras the sensor signal is just amplified. With film, higher ISO figures produce more grain. With digital they produce more noise. The point is that in dimmer light a higher sensitivity might be the only way to get a picture at all, whilst in bright light you can use a lower speed setting/film for higher quality.

    It is also worth saying that getting more grain/noise is not necessarily worse. It can give pictures a certain atmosphere that a grain/noiseless, razor sharp image might not and which you might want for some shots. It can also blank out fine detail that might be unwanted, such as skin blemishes in a portrait.
     
  8. tozey

    tozey Active Member

    Thanks for all of your help guys.

    All of the advice given has been a great help.

    The Panasonic FZ18 seems to be a winner for me, I popped up curry’s last night and had a test against some others models. Basically now it has come down to what I want from the camera. I have looked at the digital SLR option but that fact of the size of them and the fact they don’t have a movie mode puts me off.

    The noise issue in the Panasonic is something that I can live with and more reviews than not don’t really make a big deal of it (including this site).

    And thank you for explaining about ISO to me, to tell you the truth I finally got it all last night while reading a website they showed the fact that the picture had lots of noise but the picture also contained a lot more details then those with a lower ISO. Getting the balance right is making sense to me now. Just a bit more to read up on aperture.

    So the Panasonic it is, I may wait until just before my Christmas trip to the dam before I get it, hopefully I will get it a bit cheaper but also leave myself enough time to get some practice in. until then I will read, read and maybe read a bit more and practice on my compact.

    Thanks guys, if anyone else wants to try and change my mind about my purchase please feel free to throw a spanner in the works, it’s great to hear everyone’s opinions and recommendations.

    Alex
     
  9. AlexMonro

    AlexMonro Old Grand Part Deux

    Don't forget to come back and post your results on the Appraisal Gallery! :)
     
  10. tozey

    tozey Active Member

    Ok ill check it out now.

    Thanks
     
  11. Woolliscroft

    Woolliscroft Well-Known Member

    Lower ISO had less detail? Are you sure? It shouldn't, at least assuming the same camera was being used.
     
  12. AlexMonro

    AlexMonro Old Grand Part Deux

    Alex, I don't mean to teach my Grandad to suck eggs, but I get the feeling that you might find a brief intro to the fundamentals of photography useful.

    To get a correctly exposed photo, you need chose an appropriate combination of aperture, shutter speed, and ISO sensitivity. There are usually several possible combinations that give the right exposure, depending on how brightly the scene is illuminated, and, since each variable has secondary effects, the best combination depends on the effect you're looking for in the picture.

    Aperture, or f/stop affects the depth of field (how much of the scene is in sharp focus - a wider aperture (lower f/ stop number) gives less depth of field, a smaller aperture (bigger f/stop number) gives more. Obviously, wider apertures let in more light than smaller ones, and each f/stop in the standard series (f/2.8, f/4, f/5.6, f/8, f/11 etc.) lets in half as much light as the previous one. Zoom also affects DoF - wide angle (short focal length) gives more DoF, telephoto (long FL) gives less. You might want a large DoF to get everything looking sharp in a landscape picture, and shallow DoF to isolate a face from the background in a portrait. The small sensor size of the FZ18 makes it relatively easy to get large DoF, and harder to get shallow DoF.

    Shutter speed controls the time that light is allowed to fall on the sensor to form the image. If the subject is moving during the time the shutter is open, it will look blured, which sometimes gives a feel of motion to the picture, but at other times you might want to freeze the motion with a fast shutter speed. Faster shutter speeds obviously let in less light than slower ones.

    In addition, there's a limit to how steadily anyone can hold a camera, and with slower speeds your hands might shake while the shutter is open, leading to the whole picture being blurred (called camera shake). As a rough guide, most people can hold a camera steady enough for a sharp picture at speeds faster than the equivalent focal length, so for the FZ18, about 1/30s at full wide angle (28mm equiv FL) or 1/500s at full telephoto (504mm equiv FL). The image stabilisation (OIS) allows you to slow the shutter speed by a factor of 4 to 8, so perhaps 1/4s at wide angle and 1/60s at full telephoto. If you beed slower shutter speeds than that, perhaps to capture light trails of cars at night, you need a tripod (or some way of ensuring the camera can't move, perhaps wedged on a wall).

    ISO is the third variable, where you trade off noise (or noise reduction smearing) against light sensitivity. Low ISO means less noise, but needs more light (aperture times shutter speed) on the sensor. High ISO means more noise, but needs less light. I believe the FZ18 alows you to control the level of noise reduction, so you might want full NR for a picture of a sunset reflected in water, where the smearing wouldn't be noticeable, and NR off for a landscape of a distant hillside (without sky) where the noise speccles would tend to be lost in the grass and trees.

    Hope that isn't too much to get your head around all at once, and again, hope I'm not teaching grandad to suck eggs.

    You might also want to look at a good book, such as Langford's Basic Photography, or look at some of the tutorial articles here.
     
  13. ftotheu

    ftotheu New Member

    Hey tozey, I don't suppose you know if the fz18 has full zoom controls active during movie mode? I read you tested it and would like to know this!
     
  14. tozey

    tozey Active Member

    Thanks everyone you are all being a great help.

    wolliscroft here is the website I found with the ISO examples on,

    http://www.megapixel.net/html/articles/article-iso.php

    I guess I said the wrong thing, I need to read into aperture more.

    ftotheu, strangly enough no where no mentions the zoom in movie mode option?

    Thanks

    Alex
     
  15. tozey

    tozey Active Member

    Well I have had the camera for just under a week now and I am so happy with it.

    I went for the Panasonic FZ18.

    after using it for a few days I have been lucky enough to take some shots in some great locations and the difference in pictures being produce compared to my little compact are amazing. Plenty of auto settings for me to mess with and then the full Manual mode is going to keep me busy for a while.

    Thanks for everyone's help. Hopefully I will be able to share some pictures I have taken with you all.

    Thanks again
     
  16. AlexMonro

    AlexMonro Old Grand Part Deux

    The FZ18 is probably the best of the bunch of current 18x ultrazooms - glad you're happy with it! :)

    Looking forward to seeing some of your shots on the Appraisal Gallery.
     
  17. tozey

    tozey Active Member

    Either I am being extremely blind or just plain silly, but where is this appraisal gallery?

    Thanks again

    Alex
     
  18. tozey

    tozey Active Member

    Found it, yes I was being a "typical bloke" as my wife would tell me.

    It was right in front of me all along!
     

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