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Friday, August 27, 2010

TO POINT AND SHOOT THAT IS THE QUESTION- COMPACT CAMERA FIELD TEST



INTRODUCTION

To Point and Shoot, that is the question! As Digital Camera Adventures hopes to reach a wide audience of photographers, the subject of what camera should one take to a shoot or a travel experience comes to our minds.

Professional and serious amateurs will recommend DSRLs and in turn, they would look at a little point and shoot, as a Porsche owner would look at one who owns a ford. This arrogance and snobbish behavior dates back to film cameras when an Instamatic would never be found in the hands of a pro. Well, I was one of those snobs and NOOOO! I do not own a Porsche. In fact, I do not own a top of the line full frame camera, but this is a matter for a later post.

For those of you who are into numbers, I’ve read on Internet that camera shipments reached 109 million in 2009. Out of that number 88% were compact cameras and the rest…DSLRs and larger format digital cameras.

Pros and advanced amateurs may view the little compact cameras as toys. They may be right to look in disdain at these small cameras, which currently have become a craze, as you can find them on children, teens, their moms and the elderly. Most of them carry a little camera around in their pockets and purses and are ready to shoot anything they want. Furthermore, insurance companies, police agencies and many other public services in the world include the P&S as part of their worker’s gear. As for the pros, we have a certain prejudice that goes as far as been embarrassed by been seen with one in public. However, let me quote a celebrity body guard, who I met during one of my travels, when I asked him: what big caliber handgun would he recommend for self-defense? He said: “Why would you need a big gun, if you cannot hit the door of a church when you use it? Stick to something you can learn to use well and defend yourself with it”. These wise words stayed with me forever and I never bought a gun! Target practice against church doors is not my cup of tea!

However, to make pictures and to take pictures are two different ways to approach photography. If you are into taking pictures, you could not be happier with a point and shoot compact camera, but if you are into making pictures…Well, you should look into a point and shoot as well! It’s a lot of fun as THIRD camera! And a great way to go stealth in places where a DSLR would make you stand out.

So before one looks down on a P&S, try one, and see if your discrimination against them is justified. A week ago, a girlfriend of mine gave me a P&S as a gift and a challenge. She knew I had part of my gear stolen and she said “no serious photographer should be without a camera at all times” so here! She gave me a P&S saying, I know it will give you some very good times. Well, I guess, I had to become a point and shoot user! So first things first, I put my DSLR away. Then, I unpacked the P&S, charged its battery and forgot the manual at my friend’s house. Well, I told myself, who needs a manual for this little thing (does this sound familiar). Once the battery was charged, I was ready to proof to my friend that the toy camera, TC for short, would not match the fun of a DSLR. I placed the TC in my shirts pocket and…hmmm, I thought, try doing this with your DSLR! I could imagine my friend telling me: one point for me, ZERO points for you.

Well, its true, one can really hide this toy cameras. However, can they do the walk? And I mean, can one use them for some serious shooting in order to document things properly? My friend insisted, it’s not the quality of the bow and arrows man, its “THE” archer! So I went out for a shoot with the “TOY CAMERA (TC)”, and I took my DSLR “just in case”. I am sure that everyone knows, that if you do not carry your camera most of the time, a great picture opportunity will occur, and you will curse yourself for not having a camera. If she gave me the camera for fun, I had to switch from stock and documentary photography state of mind, to fun picture taking and leave work at home…however, unknowingly, I was in for a surprise.

As this blog is called Digital Camera Adventures, I planned to carry the TC for a whole day, and I had to work in an urban setting. So I would point and shoot anything that called my attention and put this little TC through the obstacle course that is living in a big city. As for my nature test, a private botanical garden was chosen for the location.

As I am a tripod fan, I needed a tripod for the TC. I remembered that back in my college days, when Neil Young was young, I had purchased a minitripod from the German tripod maker BILORA a Stabilet 1011. It was a self-contained table tripod with a ball head that I could place anywhere. Now, it is clean and it travels with the P&S everywhere I take it.

Thinking about security, the P&S is a great choice, especially, since I had my 5D MKII, the 70-200 f/4 and the 580 IIX stolen from me at a fashion show, which I still have to pay to the bank every month. I know, that one cannot do fashion with a P&S, however, what makes a photographer is picture taking. So, if I can shoot every day without the fear of loosing expensive gear, the “TOY CAMERA” has suddenly become an asset. Furthermore, the stealth provided by a P&S hidden in the palm of your hand will enable the photographer to do some photographic mischief, and get away with it. So in order to do scouting of locations, experimenting with new ideas or honing one’s skills, this may be the way to go. As far as quality is concerned, it all depends on your goals, as low resolution great pictures can be used for Internet or small prints one can justify owning one. This is due to the fact that the resolution requirements for the web are set at 72 DPIs. So one could still be able to document a lot of your work with a P&S and place it in the web.

But what about the toy camera? What brand is it? Well, as it turns out, the little camera is a Fujifilm JV 100. Its body is made up of metal, so it does not feel like a toy, as other P&S cameras do. It weights less than 4 AA batteries and it’s the size of a credit card. My DSLR has an APS censor placing it between the P&S and the full frame pro cameras. However, my JV 100 is a 12 megapixel camera, and even though the censor is small, it was its performance what concerned me. Actually, I was not expecting much.

How many of you have been told, “Wow! That camera really takes good pictures” Well, when I went out to test my JV100, no one told me anything…the fact was, that people could not see me with the camera. I had become a stealth shooter! The JV100 Chameleon!

As for those people who say that only pro cameras make good pictures, well I tell them: if someone gave you an Stradivarius violin would you play Vivaldi? Or if I gave you a Fender Stratocaster guitar, would you play like Eric Clapton, NO? I did not think so.

Enough justifications about the P&S, its about time for the field trip. First, as in all cameras, the little camera has the same workflow that cameras have had throughout their history. One has to prepare for the shoot, do the shoot and process the results; yes, it’s the same amount of work as a larger camera. Therefore, I took the pictures, sorted the files, photoshoped (New verb of the digital age) them for the net, and filed them to their corresponding folder in the hard drive. This workflow should be taken into consideration when one takes the step to buy a digital camera. You will need a computer, the respective software, the camera drivers and programs, archival space, and a printer if you want to do your own printing.

THE FIELD TEST

I loaded my P&S and its tripod into my fanny pack and the DSLR, its strobe, lenses, extra batteries, cable release and radio triggers into my backpack. Then, I added my tripod and I was ready for that one picture that would get me famous. Soon as I lifted the DSLR gear and the tripod, I had forgotten that my fanny pack was loaded with the P&S (camera, battery charger, and minitripod) I guess one load makes one forget the other. So I assumed my Sherpa attitude and walked out stoically for my point and shoot adventure.

My first stop was a botanical garden, yes I know, everyone shoots flowers. Well, I shoot pollination systems (flower- bug relationships), now, how cool is that, for one who photographs FLOWERS! No one would dare calling me a “Flower Child”.

The night before we had a tropical storm pour several inches of rain for about 6 hours. So the rose garden was wet. Great for water on rose stock, but a test for the P&S resolution, neatness, noise and handling capabilities.




These pictures were taken in fully automatic (this model does not have a manual mode) and I was very pleased with the fact that I could stretch my arm close to the flowers without damaging the display. Doing a one handed shot is unthinkable for a pro, however, for fun, well; one can push the rules as far as you want. I had become one of those people, that one sees everywhere, taking pictures of themselves and having a great time with their P&S. The overcast day was perfect for this kind of setting. The pros rules were in for some heavy profanation. I often wonder how full automatic settings deal with most of the events and why is it a scandal to make pictures that way. The paradigm is set over hands on control of every action the camera does MAKE a picture! Thus, as we all know, hell is in the detail, therefore, shooting the P&S can be heavenly (For fun of course).

Well, as I work in the outdoors, one may ask, how would this toy camera work in a forest setting? Within a small detour, I was in the middle of a cloud forest. It was wet, water was dripping from the canopy, and it was dark and slippery. So the conditions were for an all terrain P&S photographer.

One wonders, will this be the demise for the toy camera? I did not want it to die, however, I had to place it in real work conditions. So the cloud forest it was.



Shooting a backlit elephant ear vine against the canopy, in fully automatic mode, really surprised me. The camera adjusted the ISO, the aperture and the shutter to come out with the picture on the left. The outcome was a picture with some noise, but the noise levels were low and photo was accomplished. Then, I used the fill in flash and the exposure was great.

Next, I tried a photo in the darkness of the forest; again in full auto, and the picture came out OK. In full daylight there were no surprises, the little camera fared well, as the picture above shows. How did I work in a super-wet forest? Well, my hands covered the whole body of the P&S camera and my shirt cleaned the water drops off its body. My DSLR was covered with a rain sleeve and the rest of the gear was inside in two plastic bags per lens inside de backpack, which was covered with plastic as well.

NOTE: I hardly ever use a backpack during the rainy season in the tropics, as the gear will get wet! I prefer a weather proofed small hard case to insure that the gear will be save. They are, literally, a pain to carry in a sling, but in extreme conditions, this is where a few hundred dollars save thousands in expensive equipment.

Macrophotography

Macrophotography is one of the waahooo niches in nature photography, as it gets the most admiring exclamations from people (biased opinion). Macro is where nature makes the unseen, a wonder theme for most photographers. This is the nature photographer’s ultimate realm. One knows that most little creatures, when magnified have the “Alien Touch” for most viewers. As our egos need an occasional boost, macro turns admirers, from the most unmotivated people one may have in photography. So does the JV100 meet the challenge…see for yourself.

The following pictures show the set up I used in the cloud forest. One may need a macro lens to photograph the set itself, as the P&S was little enough to justify it. I found quite remarkable that the little camera could gives us an output as the one obtained during this field test.



The results are very satisfying for a camera its size. We know it won’t turn NATGEO material, but it does a good job for Internet publications and for the type of print material, the general public wants, which was the segment compact cameras are built for.



I found a female velvet ant in the field and as I knew it was a wingless wasp, I wanted have a good photo for my insects of the forest collection. I placed in my holding jar and took it home to photograph it. I wanted to practice using a mini studio for little critters and I used the JV100 to photograph the setup. As you can see, the JV100 flash was not up to par with a pro set up, however, it did record the scene well, and I was surprised when I enlarged the wasp’s picture up to 66.6 % magnification and it did so well. Mind you the photo was taken almost 4 feet away from the subject! I could see how far technology has progressed to make a little P&S do all this things.

The Stealth JV 100

The segment title may sound like a secret weapon's catalogue name. If you are tempted to become a mini paparazzi, then, the P&Ss are definitely a weapon of choice.

The P&S’s size was great for candid pictures, in fact, people do not mind to be photographed by the little camera. If I would have used a DSLR, people could feel threatened about it. It most be a psychological issue, but little cameras do not make people suspicious. To be an unseen person in the crowds is great. Street corners, subways, buses, malls, slow traffic, and crowded places are perfect sets to become a street photo chameleon. You are there with your camera but people do not see you and this is really cool.

Now lets see how the P&S works in the urban jungle. In this new challenge, I came upon a film crew filming a street kiosk where a man had to purchase cigarettes. Here are some of the Pictures of the student film crew which was working with a 5D MKII. Before taking the pictures, I asked the crew for permission to photograph them and they were happy to get their pictures in this article. As for the quality of the pictures, there is no doubt, that they were as good as a little censor camera would deliver. My friend was right, I was having a lot of fun and the pos processing was as much fun as it was taking the pictures.



To add a bit of nostalgia of my 70’s journalistic work, the pictures were pos processed in black and white. The result was just fine. The shadows, midtones and highlights were right on.

So, what else could one photograph? Well, there was something I have never worked on before, still lifes and product pictures.

As I am a sweet tooth, I drove no my favorite bakery and I took this shot of fruit tarts. The photo was taken through the glass of the exhibit. Once again the P&S did great. And yes, I have to admit, that owning a P&S can be a lot of fun and the chocoholic photographer had a feast!



EXTREME LANDSCAPES = PANORAMICS

I am a panoramic fan. In fact I use panoramics and stacking to increase the information one can get by making a high definition composite or mosaic. With these techniques, one can take a series of high definition pictures of parts of a whole scene and fuse them together to make a huge photograph. I love to show you, but this is a future publication that I have in the works.



The JV 100 comes with a panoramic mode, but I did not have the manual with me, Thus, I made the sequence as I would with the DSLR. Then, I processed the two pictures of a wind fallen tree and the results were ok.

To conclude:

Question: Which is the best camera in the world?
Answer: The one you own.

Question: Can a P&S give its owner satisfaction?
Answer: Without a doubt

Question: If I want to learn photography, could I begin with a point and shoot?
Answer: For basic photography, any camera would do. My advice is to buy the best camera you budget will allow, and if you are not sure…buy a P&S!

Question: Do you like the Fujifilm JV100?
Answer: I carry it everywhere I go and at night, I sleep with it under my pillow! ;-)

I hope you enjoyed this point and shoot adventure, and believe me, there will be more to come. So stop by and we will be on the screen for you.

Regards

Leopoldo"Leo"García



3 comments:

Sara J said...

I love this post Leo. I've always used a P&S and only recently finally splurged on a DSLR. I am trying to break down my instinct and learn about photography, so it's great to be able to read and understand what you're posting. love the sneak preview photos, look forward to seeing more. Sara J

Leopoldo said...

Hellooo Saraaa!

I am so happy to see you here. I feel that it is very important that you've got my invitation.

You are welcome to contribute with pictures, artcles and questions it will be an asset to the Blog.

Please encourage others to visit.

Regards

Leo

MArc said...

Hi Leo,

the mailadresse you left when contacting us at fototv.com was wrong, drop me another one please.

Here's my reply:

Hi Leo,

thanks for the contact! Your site looks nice! What kind of contributions did you have in mind?

There are a lot of things we could do together. Are you on Skype? Then we could just chat about that directly.

Best regards Marc