Shoot Like a Pro: Getting Great Results from a Pocket Camera
CREDIT: Michael Schoenfeld Studio, Inc.
All cameras work in essentially the same way — by using a shutter to expose light on a light-sensitive sensor or surface. The quality of an image can vary with the equipment used, but that difference is shrinking as technology advances.
If you haven't looked at lower-priced digital compact cameras lately, you are in for a pleasant surprise. This spring will see the introduction of name-brand point-and-shoot digital cameras priced well under $200 with more features than a camera that costs twice as much just a few years ago.
"In 1998, I paid $14,000 for a 12-megapixel camera," Michael Schoenfeld, an advertising photographer based in Salt Lake City, said. "Now you can get 12 megapixels for under $200."
Most compact cameras in the $120 to $250 range — including those from Canon, Samsung and Sony — shoot high-quality video and photos, he said.
They're all good, so how do you choose?
Walk into any electronics or big box retailer to see the latest camera models, and they might look interchangeable: black or silver, fit in your hand, big lens on the front, screen on the back.
A good choice will include built-in optical image stabilization, an optical zoom lens rather than a "fake" digital zoom that often results in loss of sharpness, and a large LCD screen for viewing and composing images.
Schoenfeld said the most important thing to look for is an interface that makes sense. He urges shoppers to pick up a camera, turn it on and start working with the menus.
"It's like buying a pair of shoes ― you wouldn't buy shoes without trying them on and walking around to see if they're comfortable," he said. "What Sony thinks fits you may be different than what Panasonic thinks."
A camera that can wirelessly transmit photos to a computer earns "an extra star" in Schoenfeld's book. Next month, Samsung will release its SH100 Wi-Fi-enabled digital camera, with which photographers can upload photos to their computer without cables. This 14.2-megapixel camera has a large touch-screen on the back for accessing menus and viewing shots before they're taken and can also record HD video. The price: just under $200.
If you'd like to add wireless capability to a camera you own, consider an Eye-Fi wireless memory card. This is a removable storage card that replaces your camera's SDHC (Secure Digital High-Capacity) card. Once set up, Eye-Fi will detect your computer when you enter the room and automatically upload new photos to it. A $50 4-gigabyte card will hold around 2,000 photos or 90 minutes of video.
The camera in your pocket
The smartphone has become the easiest point-and-shoot camera in most people's lives. And in the last several years, phone cameras have improved.
"I worked professionally in the mid-'90s with a 5-megapixel camera and it took really good pictures," Schoenfeld said. "Today, my iPhone 4 has a 5-megapixel camera."
How to take better photos
Whether you're using a compact digital camera or your phone's camera, the most important thing you can do is to keep the camera still. Find something solid and rest the camera on it.
"I was in the U.S. Treasury building and had my camera on a strap over my shoulder. I wanted to take a picture of the beautiful lobby. Most people would hold up their camera and shoot and get an inevitable wiggle," he said. "I put it on the balustrade and got great pictures."
It's especially important to anchor your camera in dim conditions; otherwise the picture will look grainy. Another tip: Don't use the camera's flash, Schoenfeld said.
"Using a flash is like making a deal with the devil," he said. "All of the magic in the light that you wanted to capture in the first place is scrubbed out by the flash. Now the picture has more in common with a police interrogation than a thing of beauty."
Try this quick photographer's tip when shooting an object up close: take a white piece of paper and hold that in one hand to reflect light back on to the object. You'll see a difference in the play of light and shadow.
Finally, if you want to be a good photographer, you have to shoot, and shoot often. The new crop of digital cameras on the market make that easier than ever.
“Which of my photographs is my favorite?" Imogen Cunningham, renowned American photographer, said. "The one I’m going to take tomorrow."