Monday, 12 November 2012

New Cameras

I seem to be buying at least one new camera every year. The technology seems to be improving at a great rate, but some of the gains are illusory.
Last year's hot technology was backlit CMOS sensors. CMOS sensors have been used in expensive cameras for years, but recently manufacturers have been putting them into slightly cheaper cameras. Canon, Panasonic and Sony have several models to name some of the manufacturers. In the last 18 months I've bought one from each of these.
CMOS is the technology used in computer processors, so putting it into a camera allows all sorts of wizardry, that the older CCD chips weren;t capable of. CMOS also seems to be able to capture images at lower light levels without introducing too much noise.
The Canon SX40-HS and Sony HX5v both use multiple exposures to boost low light performance, which is useless for my needs. The boat and swimmer both move in the time it takes to capture multiple images, giving me perfectly exposed very blurred images. They also struggle to focus in very low light, so even flash images are unsatisfactory. My latest Panasonic is the DMC-FZ200 and it's very similar to its predecessors as it's able to focus in almost zero light, with the focus assist light.
The Canon SX40-HS has an incredible 35x zoom, but it really needs to be mounted on a tripod for best results. I strongly believe that 20x is about the maximum useful zoom, though it depends where it starts. Marketing people emphasise the zoom range of cameras, but 20x zoom means different things depending upon the widest angle in the range. A 20x zoom that starts at the 35mm equivalent of 24mm will have a very wide angle of view at the wide end and a medium range (480mm) at the telephoto end. One that starts at 28mm will not be as wide, but the 560mm telephoto is useful for bringing distant subjects closer.
When comparing zooms you should always find out the 35mm equivalent values. The Panasonic DMC-FZ200 lens shows a range from 4.5 to 108, which means nothing to me, but I do understand what 25-600mm means. Human eyes have a focal length of roughly 50mm, so a 25mm will enable the camera to capture an image about 1.75 as wide as you can see, the 600mm end of the zoom will magnify the image about 16 times (600/50), not the 24x shown in the adverts.

Monday, 28 March 2011

Panasonic again

In August 2009 I bought another Panasonic camera to replace the trusty old DMC-FZ20. I wanted something with more megapixels, to increase the saleability of my photos. The DMC-FZ38 is a 12 megapixel bridge camera with an 18 times zoom lens.
Bridge cameras are compact cameras with an electronic viewfinder, which makes them look like small SLRs. I like the way that I can adjust the focus of the viewfinder so that the image and menus are clear, without having to wear my spectacles. They are also easier to see under all conditions than the screen on the back of a compact camera, because one's head stops light hitting the screen.
The results are good, but the build quality is rubbish. In the first year it had to be repaired three times, unlike my previous two Panasonic cameras which have never been repaired.
One of the failures happened last July, which is at the beginning of the Cross-channel swimming season, so I looked for another camera. Panasonic were not top of the list of brands, because of the reliability issues with the DMC-FZ38.
The first thing I did was to look at a number of reviews on the internet, for example www.dpreview.com and www.trustedreviews.com, Cnet and various camera sellers.
That didn't help much, because most reviews were for digital SLRs and these are too bulky for me to use whilst observing swims. The next step was to visit some retailers and see what they had to offer. This may be a little more expensive than buying of the net, but proved to be worth its weight in gold. Currys and Jessops were both happy for me to buy a camera, try it for a few days, then return it for a full refund. Tescos will also usually allow this, but strangely Argos which built its reputation on its 30 day money back guarantee won't. Their small print specifically excludes digital cameras, amongst other electronics, from this guarantee.
I tried a couple of Canons, a Nikon and a Fuji, but the results from them were all disappointing. They all lacked features that I've come to expect, from years of using Samsung and Panasonic cameras.
After three weeks of testing I was fed up with trekking back to Canterbury to exchange yet another camera, so I ended up with a Panasonic TZ8.
This is a 12 megapixel 12x zoom compact camera, with lots of scene modes, which I don't use, and PASM (Program, Aperture priority, Shutter priority and Manual) which give me all the control I need. It also takes high definition 720p video, though it doesn't have a dedicated video button like the DMC-FZ38.
I takes good photos, which is the main thing, but it too developed a fault a month ago and had to be sent away for repair.
I suppose I really need one of those tough, waterproof, cameras that every manufacturer produces nowadays, but none of them meet my requirements. These are:
* 10-20 zoom;
* PASM modes;
* Optical, or Electronic, viewfinder;
* 12+ megapixels;
* Aperture range from f2.8 to f8, or more. Not just fully open, or closed, like Sony's cameras. a real range of apertures.
* Ideally f2.8, or better, throughout the zoom range, like the DMC-FZ20.

If any manufacturer produces a camera that meets this specification, I would love to hear about it.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

My photographs

I've placed my photos on many sites, but today I've added my own site to showcase my swim photos. www.channelswimphotos.talktalk.net doesn't exactly trip off the tongue, but it's free and it's a start.

New Camera

If you've read my other blog, you'll know that I spend the summer observing channel swims. These are quite challenging photographically, because:
The observer is on a small boat bobbing up and down in the English Channel.
The swimmer, who is the main subject is also bobbing up and down and usually moving forward too.
Swims often start in the middle of the night, so there is little light and the weather can change from one minute to the next.
My trust Panasonic cameras (DMC-FZ20 and LS80) have given good service, but neither gives good results at high ISO settings and the DMC-FZ20 is only 5 megapixels. I therefore started looking for a replacement and instead of just diving in and buying the first camera I saw I did lots of research.
I was looking for 12 megapixels, good high ISO/low light performance, 12x zoom, manual, or at least versatile controls.
The first candidate was a Fuji S8100fd, which I actually bought, because it seemed to have a good spec and the price was reasonable. Unfortunately both examples that I tried suffered from a weird fault. As soon as I pressed the shutter release the viewfinder (or the LCD screen) went blue and fuzzy, so that it was impossible to see whether the subject was in focus. The camera was returned to the shop and I went back onto the internet to carry out more research.
The Canon G10, or G11, are highly rated, but only have 5x zoom. That's less than half the range of the DMC-FZ20, which I felt was too limiting. The Nikon range has the P100, but the reviews I read didn't rate it very highly.
In the end I just had to buy another Panasonic, the DMC-FZ38 (FZ35 in the USA), which ticked most of the boxes. The only things that let it down are the low light performance, which blurs details at ISO 800, or more.
The biggest drawback is that all Panasonic camera number images from P100000, so I now have at least 3 files with the same file names. Panasonic please take note!

Monday, 15 December 2008

Panasonic DMC-LS80

The next camera I tried was a Panasonic DMC-LS80; it wasn't my first choice, but that one was only in stock in pink.
It's another 8megapixel camera with 3x optical zoom and loads of scene modes. I seldom use scene modes, because it's always possible to take a good photograph using aperture priority, shutter priority, or program mode. I would rather have a better lens or sensor, or quicker operation, than so many modes that it's difficult to know which one to use.
I certainly don't feel the need for Portrait, Soft Skin, Self Portrait, Scenery, Sports, Night Portrait, Night Scenery, Food, Party, Candle Light, 2 baby modes, Sunset, High Sensitivity, high-speed burst, Starry Sky, Fireworks, Beach, Snow and Aerial Photo modes. 1, or 2, of them may be useful, but I usually find that I can fool cameras into making the adjustments I want. Pointing the camera at an appropriate part of the scene can make it expose for the most important elements.
The Panasonic seems to be producing acceptable results. Not as good as my old DMC-FZ20, which has a Leica lens, but pretty good as this photo shows.

This is a 100% crop from it.

I think it's the best so far, it will do until I can afford a Nikon, or Leica.

Fuji J50

I returned the Samsung and looked to see what else Tesco offered at a similar price. The Fuji J50 was more expensive, but seemed to tick all the right boxes and it was a Fuji. I've previously owned two Fuji cameras the excellent S7000 and the dead F700, so I have mixed feelings.
The S7000 is brilliant, it has an advanced sensor that records double the number of pixels of other cameras. Each point on the sensor can record a similar range of brightness to other cameras and also much higher levels of brightness. This is excellent for outdoor photography as it shows much more detail in clouds, for example.
The J50 was another disappointment, it too did not match my expectations. Like many recent cameras it has a large variety of scene modes, including at least one for photographing babies???
Here's another photo of our Miniature British Spotted Pony, which is very similar to that in my last post.

I took the camera back and managed to obtain a refund. Full marks Tesco, that's what I call Customer Service.

Friday, 14 November 2008

Samsung L100

I have always tried to carry a camera in my pocket, since climbing over the dunes near here and seeing a beautiful tall ship. It was close to shore and would have made a photo to remember, if only I had taken my camera.
I made up my mind to always carry a camera after that incident and the Fuji F700 was small and light enough to accompany everywhere for 3 years, until it died in autumn 2007. Money was tight, since I have no job, so I looked for a cheap replacement. Tesco sell Technika cameras, which are really very cheap, so I thought I'd try the Technika SA-H366 a 10 megapixel model. The results were frankly appalling, so I soon returned it and upgraded to a Samsung S85 (N.B. the Samsung D85 is identical, except that it's black, instead of silver).
This has been my constant companion for the last 10 months, but it failed to close last week, so it was back to Tesco. The camera was still within Tesco's 1 year warranty, but no longer stocked, so they offered me a replacement.
I searched the meagre details displayed in store and eventually settled for the Samsung L100. This is available in Black, Silver and Pink, needless to say I did not chose pink.
It's a nice little camera, about the size of a packet of cigarettes, with many good features. Face detection, digital image stabiliser (anti-shake) and a good ISO range from 100 - 1600.
I thought that it was a bit too small, even though I don't have very big hands. It was easy to use, with a similar menu layout to the S85.
The aluminium body meant that felt solid despite its small size, but I was really unimpressed by the picture quality. I always set digital cameras to their highest quality setting. There's no point skimping, as memory cards are so cheap.
I think that the processor was too aggressive when creating the jpeg, or the lens is just not good enough for the 8 megapixel chip.
Here's an example photo:

And this is a 100% crop (I viewed the image at 100%, so that I could see the actual pixels recorded by the camera, then cut this out of the image and saved it).

To me it looks like an artist has lost his patience and painted some of the picture with a very large brush.