Forgotten in its old age

by Aditya

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My favorite shots are:

  1. Reflections
  2. Shadows
  3. Water droplets and flowing water
  4. Clouds and fog
  5. Burning tubelight and running fan
  6. Macro shots of food and plants

I am not much interested in portrait shots and still life (though it doesn't mean that I will never ever shoot them).

Neither I do know whether a SLR suits for this or a DSLR. What properties should I look in the camera w.r.t the above shots?

The current camera I have is: Canon PowerShot SX210

EDIT 1:

I have tried the photographs of dark cloudy skies, they didn't look as my eyes could see them, of course I know the difference between the eyes and the camera, but still the photos were not worth the money I have spent on the camera.

I can't achieve the macro shots as I have seen on National Geography channel.

I shot a water puddle once whose one part was under the sunlight and the other under a shadow, the shadowed part became black as I increased the shutter speed.

The minimum aperture I have is f3.1, that too when no zoom is used.

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Any notes on why you're planning on upgrading from Canon PowerShot SX210? –  fahad.hasan Jun 16 '11 at 9:13
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Hi Anisha. Your question of "what properties should I look for" is a great way to ask on Stack Exchange. But, many of the things in your list are very different from each other. That makes it hard to give it a unique title, and pulls the answers in different directions. It might work better if you edit this question down to a few similar things and ask them all separately. (Asking multiple, smaller questions never hurts!) –  mattdm Jun 16 '11 at 10:55
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For food photos, see this earlier QA — but then, that's different from plant/flower macros. There's other good getting-started questions and answers here if you search, but I know it's hard to look when you're new and don't know exactly what you're looking for. The diversity of your interests suggest a camera with interchangeable lenses (a dSLR or mirrorless). And a number of your concerns center around dynamic range — dark and light in the same photo — so that's something to learn about. –  mattdm Jun 16 '11 at 12:00
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I deleted it because it was apparently poorly researched on my part - I was unaware that the SX210 has many features I'd ascribed to DSLRs such as manual aperture and shutter speed control. With that in mind, it might be worth looking into the manual settings of your camera more to make sure you're getting the very best out of it, Anisha, before investing in a new camera. –  ElendilTheTall Jun 16 '11 at 20:11
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Dynamic range is an issue with most cameras, but there are perhaps more options to deal with it with a DSLR. Massive depth of field is definitely a problem with all point and shoots, and phone cameras; it's a function of a smaller sensor, I believe. –  ElendilTheTall Jun 19 '11 at 18:30

3 Answers 3

up vote 1 down vote accepted

In all honesty, a lot of the work you like to do depends a lot on technique, though when it comes to macro work, it is definitely good to have top-notch equipment.

If you really want to do some fantastic macro work, I suggest any of the following (+ Canon DSLR):

  • Canon Macro lenses (50mm, 100mm, etc.); if you want to get really close, the MPE5 is amazing -- up to 5x magnification, with a ridiculously close focusing distance.
  • Tamron 180mm Macro (I have this one, love it to pieces), but they have others that are great too
  • Sigma should have a good one too
  • Extension tubes for existing lenses (to reduce focusing distance and increase magnification)

Next, you need to realize that a big sensor = tiny depth of field, which means that unless you can shut down to f/99 with a ton of light, you're only going to have a little bit in focus. The way around that is to do focus-stacking: this is a method where you take a series of images with different focus, and then you join them together to get an image with the subject entirely in focus. Not the easiest of work, but in a way, it's similar to HDR or other stacking techniques.

Second, a ring flash would be a great idea for macro work as it enables you to get light up-close to your subject that is nicely distributed. (Don't go for the really cheapies, you want a quality flash that won't harm your camera...)

As to some of your other likes:

  • Reflections
    • (Assuming in water) A circular polarizer helps here because you can turn it to a point that you will either see the reflection on the water, or you will see through the water. Very useful to have.
  • Shadows
  • Water Drops
    • Macro lens is great for this
  • Water (Flowing)
    • a long exposure is the best option, something your camera can already do. If there is too much light, a polarizer or ND filter can be used to further darken the camera's view to allow for longer exposures without blowing out the scene.
  • Clouds and Fog
    • Remember, your camera exposes for the middle (so white often becomes gray). Try switching your metering mode (spot, evaluative, etc.) but also adjust exposure compensation. Better yet, go full-on manual and set the exposure yourself.
    • Side note: unless you have something well-defined in the clouds/fog, any camera will have difficulty focusing. You may have to focus manually.
  • Burning Tubelight / Running Fan
    • Long exposure, again, something your camera can do. Although a DSLR has a bigger sensor, so it should have reduced noise vs. your existing camera.

Hope that helps. Can your current camera do a lot of what you're looking for, yes, to a certain degree, but it is most limited in the macro arena where you can't get a lot of magnification out of the lens. Noise is also going to be a limiting factor, in that it isn't long until the ISO causes unbearable grain. DSLRs get around this by having that big sensor, but they are also more flexible with regard to the interchangeable lens, letting you pick what really, really, really will work best for the scene.

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I'll go one-by-one here: First, the larger the sensor, the shorter your depth of field, which is essentially the part of the image that is in focus. Your aperture (F/#) also has a part to play in this, but f/8 on a large sensor will still have a bit of background blur, whereas f/8 on a compact camera sensor will have everything in sharp focus. So f/1 will blur your background, but a larger sensor will blur the background more (and leave less in focus). This can be a good or bad thing, depending on your creative needs. For Macro work, it's hard to balance aperture (DoF) vs. light vs. focus. –  Kerri Shotts Jun 19 '11 at 18:34
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A circular polarizer is a lens attachment (and you may find some that work on compact bodies) that deflects light coming in at certain angles. This can mean bluer skies and such, but also works wonders with reflections in water or glass where you may wish to see through the glass (but not see your reflection), or with water where you want to see the reflection, but not what's underneath the water. Depending on your camera, there may be filter adapters that you could get. –  Kerri Shotts Jun 19 '11 at 18:35
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Manual Focus is wonderful, if you have decent eyes and if your camera permits accurate viewing of your focus. Some cameras will zoom in automatically so you can focus better, but manual focus is far better with an optical viewfinder (IMO) -- except that you have to trust your eyes that you can see when focus is achieved. –  Kerri Shotts Jun 19 '11 at 18:37
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For your dark background problem, you could either let the exposure sit for a while longer with no other lights, or you could "paint" the background with flashes/lights which would cause the background to become visible (assuming a bright enough light), OR, you could use two exposures -- one for your tubelight and another taken without it, exposed for the background and then merge the two in post. –  Kerri Shotts Jun 19 '11 at 18:38
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@Anisha, the reason your aperture changes to f/4.5 as you zoom to the maximum is because your lens isn't capable of a constant aperture throughout the zoom range. This is a feature of many lenses, including various professional lenses, because it is easier to make a lens that has a variable aperture than a constant one. (The lenses also tend to be lighter and cheaper.) There's no way around it, unfortunately, except to grab a lens that has a constant aperture (which means that as you zoom your exposure don't change), but these are typically expensive. –  Kerri Shotts Jun 20 '11 at 15:03

Anisha, your camera is capable of taking photos of all of those subjects quite well.

You can do better in the macro department with a camera that can focus closer such as the SX200 or SX130, but that is about it. The SX200 for example has a 0cm (zero) minimum focus-distance so it can focus on the dust on its lens!

DSLR macro lenses can get close but none that close and they actually lose substantial depth-of-field compared to your camera. You do not seem to need a camera with fast-response time or low-light performance which are the primary reasons people go with a DSLR.

The best way you can improve your photography is to learn more. You cannot buy your way out of bad photos. Additionally, when you learn more you will know better what to look for in a camera so that it suits your needs.

I would suggest a photography course or at least a book covering all the basic principles. Reader's Digest Complete Photography Manual is a classic and easily available in libraries.

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Thanks Itai, I'd like to know what do you mean by "fast-response time", in what context? My problem is "high dynamic range" which I have mentioned in the OP. Definitely I need more practice, I ve just started the search for the future camera. Can "HDR" be also solved somehow with this camera? –  TheIndependentAquarius Jun 19 '11 at 16:06
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Response time is the time it takes for the camera to take a shot once you press the shutter. DSLRs currently lead by far in this respect but it makes no practical difference if you are shooting still subjects. All cameras have a limited dynamic range, so there will be always be circumstances (as you describe) where ANY camera will fail. Going to a camera with a larger sensor will help up to a limit. Beyond that, then you have to go with HDR which works best with still subjects. –  Itai Jun 19 '11 at 16:43

In your comment on ElendilTheTall's answer you say:

They say DSLR is too heavy, you can't carry it all along, so what to do in these situations?

That was a significant factor in my decision not to get a DSLR when looking to upgrade from a compact camera. I would probably be able to take better photographs with a DSLR than my current camera, but I would have less opportunity to take them because the size and weight would mean I wouldn't take it with me.

My camera is one of the micro 4/3rds range (Olympus Pen E-PL1 to be precise). It's basically a decent lens with a biggish sensor stuck on the end. The idea is to take a DSLR and remove the mirror. It has interchangeable lenses, fully manual mode, larger sensor than a compact, and - relevant to your comment - I can easily take photographs one-handed (whilst using the other arm to ensure that the shot I'm taking doesn't include a small child jumping in to the lake). Possibly the major disadvantage is the lack of optical viewfinder so seeing what's on the screen in extremely bright light can be difficult (though you can buy electronic viewfinders that, I've heard, partially make up for that lack).

Whilst probably not of professional quality, I'd say that I've gotten good photographs and significantly better ones than I did with my old compact camera (which was itself a pretty good one - for its age!). Specifically, with the shutter-priority mode I got some good shots of running water (had a lot of that recently here in Norway!), and I've also gotten some nice insect photos with "macro" mode (not actually anything other than focussing really close up), and with bracketing I've been able to get better cloud shots than I used to (I use bracketing because I haven't a clue what settings are best to use).

There'll probably be lots of advice about getting a DSLR, and I write this knowing that it'll be countered by that so you'll get a balanced opinion overall! In short, if getting a better camera means that you leave it behind most of the time, then it wasn't the right camera to get, and knowing that there is a halfway house (something I only found out about by chance) may be useful to you in making your decision.

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Thanks for your reply, Andrew. What is the maximum and minimum 'f' in your compact camera, I'll like to know. My camera doesn't have a viewfinder too, I haven't even felt the need to use it till now. If you can change lenses too, then why would you need the DSLR? I'll look up the camera you mentioned, but also the point is, that whatever camera I purchase next, will be final for my rest of the life, unfortunately. –  TheIndependentAquarius Jun 19 '11 at 15:52
    
Here's a link to a review of this camera: dpreview.com/products/olympus/slrs/oly_epl1 (that site seems popular on this site for reviews). The 'f' depends on the lens. I seem to be able to get between 3.5 and 22 depending on the lens and the zoom. I'm very happy with this camera. –  Loop Space Jun 19 '11 at 16:14
    
I have the 3.1 when there is zero zoom, the maximum is f8.0. I just read your camera supports RAW :) and it looks promising! I would like to ask on what basis do you decide that you'll be purchasing Olympus or some other brand? I ve heard the cannon is the best? And there is Nikon too? Too many choices! –  TheIndependentAquarius Jun 19 '11 at 16:35
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@Anisha: When I was thinking about getting a new camera, I wanted something with more control than my compact, but when I tried a friend's DSLR I was amazed at how big and heavy it was. Then I saw an advert for the Sony NEX5 and thought, "That's the sort of thing I need.". But then I compared the various available cameras on that dpreview site and the Olympus came out best for the things that I thought important. There are more of these cameras available now so it may not be the best anymore. –  Loop Space Jun 19 '11 at 17:40
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@Anisha: I wouldn't go quite that far. There are certain brands that I feel have been in the game long enough that they know what the issues are, so I'll look carefully at what they produce. So my instinct would be to prefer an Olympus over a Sony, say. But I also know that my instinct isn't based on very much experience so I don't trust it all that much. It's all about gathering evidence until you have enough evidence to make a decision. Some factors count a lot, some factors don't. But very few factors don't count at all. –  Loop Space Jun 20 '11 at 7:48

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