Edit: Since coming back from Australia, I had my eye on a Sony a5100 for a while, and I bought it in the Amazon lightning deals. I have to say, the Sony takes much better pictures in terms of detail as well as colour, as I would have expected with a bigger sensor. It has done me very well.

So I recently came back from Australia, I took my Panasonic TZ40 P&S camera, supposedly one of the best all-round compact cameras.

I took quite a few photos at the Blue Mountains, and I compared them to 1 shot taken from a friend on a DSLR. I do not know if the DSLR image was post-processed or edited in anyway (except I've down sized both images).

I think it's pretty obvious which picture was taken by a DSLR. What I'm wondering is, could I have done anything to get a better shot? Or do I simply just need a better camera? I've been looking at a new camera, but I figured I should ask first.

Most of the other scenes turned out pretty well in my eyes.


enter image description here

  • 4
    \$\begingroup\$ You've put a lot of tags here, including exposure, depth of field, and manual mode. Could you elaborate a bit more and explain what you are concerned with regarding each of these things? \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Commented Jan 6, 2015 at 22:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ @mattdm It's quite an open ended question. I have a very basic understanding of photography, which I'm slowly learning - I thought maybe some manual exposure control could have resulted in a better image? I was using one of the scene modes at the time of taking the image. \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael
    Commented Jan 6, 2015 at 22:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ Personally the one on the bottom looks better to me in the area of dynamic range. The DSLR photo just had superior composition, and more contrast/saturation (added?), making it more appealing to the eye. Your point and shoot is quite impressive. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 7, 2015 at 16:20
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ I'd try a polarising filter on a shot like this - it will bring out the blue in the sky and might reduce the haze a little (you wouldn't want to get rid of it completely. This is definitely in addition to the advice in some of the answers you have. Many years ago I had a polariser that fitted my 35mm zoom-compact, maybe they're still made. \$\endgroup\$
    – Chris H
    Commented Jan 7, 2015 at 19:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ I can scarcely tell them apart. \$\endgroup\$
    – Ornello
    Commented Jan 7, 2015 at 22:23

6 Answers 6


I gather from the aspect ratios (top one is 3:2, bottom one is 4:3), that the top image is the dSLR one, and the bottom image is the one from your TZ40. And at web sizes, while there's some improvement in image quality with the dSLR, it's not a huge amount better, and some could be compensated for with post-processing, rather than using straight-from-the-camera JPEGs. While your camera doesn't do RAW, that doesn't mean you can't make adjustments in post.

The main problems you have are slight overexposure (probably from the sky), and the fact that you're shooting a high dynamic range scene--that is, a scene where the range of values from white to black is larger than your camera's sensor can record. While a larger sensor can capture a larger dynamic range, it, too, will have difficulty with this kind of scene: notice how in both shots, detail has been "blown out" (overexposed) in the clouds. Having a dSLR would not necessarily have helped you here as much as technique.

Things you could have tried:

  1. Your camera has an iHDR mode as well as a High Dynamic processing setting. You could use those, or you could have bracketed exposures and then combined them in an HDR or exposure fusion package in post to cover the dynamic range your camera's sensor cannot. A dSLR user would probably have to do this as well.

  2. Your camera has PSAM modes and a histogram. A histogram charts the number of times a value from black (left) to white (right) occurs in the image. This will let you judge the exposure another way, and you can see if you've blown highlights or lost shadow detail and adjust at the time you're shooting. The PSAM modes give you the same control over exposure that a dSLR typically can. This is the histogram from your image:

    enter image description here

    That peak at the right side, and the flatness on the left together indicate overexposure. You had some wiggle room to bring the exposure down. Your friend's histogram looks like this:

    enter image description here

    He used a lower exposure, and filled in more of the range, but still had overexposure in the clouds, indicated by that peak on the right. When values get jammed up at either end (or both) of the histogram, this indicates you're looking at a high-dynamic range scene. You may have to make a choice between the highlights or the shadows, or shoot bracketed shots and merge them in post.

  3. Your camera can do post-processing in-camera. While not ideal, and yielding far less control that doing post-processing in a dedicated computer application like Photoshop or the Gimp, you can still mess about with how the image is going to look in-camera. Even something as simple as boosting saturation (Your camera has a "Happy" Color mode that does this) can make a large difference in how the final image looks.

But probably learning to post-process is your best bet, and here, you may eventually want to move to a camera with RAW capability. However, I don't think a new camera is called for yet. Just more practice, knowledge, and gaining some post processing skills.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Really appreciate the extra effort in looking up the features for my camera! For some reason I forgot about HDR mode, it's enabled on my phone majority of the time. I've tried HDR in night shots on my P&S, but just did not think of using it at the Blue Mountains. Doh. \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael
    Commented Jan 7, 2015 at 9:44
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Mike My sympathies with the d'oh!. I know how many features Panasonic's packed into my GX-7 that I still haven't got a clue how to use... \$\endgroup\$
    – inkista
    Commented Jan 7, 2015 at 17:26

Like the other answerers have noted, it's not at all obvious which picture is taken with a DSLR — both have some pretty obvious issues, like blown highlights and poor contrast.

Rather than enumerating the problems, let me offer a few tips for you and your friend on shooting scenes like this:

  1. If in doubt, always underexpose. This goes especially for scenes with a high contrast between the background and the foreground. It's easy to brighten a slightly dark image in post-processing, but burned-out highlights are lost forever.

    A -1 EV exposure adjustment, partially compensated for in post, would've done wonders for both pictures. Personally, I tend to leave my camera set for -1 EV by default — if I ever need to snap a picture quickly, and don't have time to adjust the exposure, I'd rather have it a bit too dark than risk losing detail in bright areas.

    Using a non-linear curve to brighten the image can also give you nice soft film-like highlights, instead of the ugly clipped highlights that most digital cameras produce (as seen in both images, but especially in the upper one). You can do this easily in most image editors, like Photoshop or GIMP, by selecting the Curves tool and pulling up the middle of the curve; you have a lot of freedom to tweak the curve to make the image look nice, but for soft highlights, you generally want to have it meet the top of the box smoothly, rather than at an angle.

  2. The picture you get from the camera is not the final picture. In fact, the fancier the camera, the more true this generally is. But even if you're using a plain old point-and-shoot camera, any pictures you care about should be post-processed to bring out their best qualities.

    Some "standard" adjustments, that you'll almost always want to make (or at least check) are:

    • exposure
    • white balance
    • black point
    • color saturation
    • midtone contrast
    • noise and dust
    • tilt
    • barrel distortion
    • chromatic aberration
    • crop

    For example, both of your images really need black point adjustment, which will dramatically improve their contrast and fix the "hazy" look they have. There's also a lot you can do with subtle Curves adjustments to tweak the contrast, although, alas, there's not much that can be done about the highlights. A slight color saturation boost could also help, although it's very easy to overdo that.

    The top image also has some noticeable distortion, resulting in the horizon looking somewhat curved (this is rather common with wide-angle zoom lenses), and also has a few obvious dust specks (visible as dark blobs). The lower image, on the other hand, appears to be simply tilted by a few degrees.

  3. If possible, shoot in RAW. This is simply because a RAW image has a higher dynamic range and less noise than JPEG, and thus gives you more to work with in post-processing.

    In particular, with a JPEG image, pushing up the exposure by several EV tends to bring out visible noise and compression artifact in dark areas; shooting in RAW avoids this problem, and so effectively lets you pick the optimum exposure after you've taken the picture. Many cameras also automatically apply some amount of unsharp masking to JPEG images, to compensate for the inherent blurriness of the Bayer demosaicing; this may not always be desirable, and you can often get much better results by using a good RAW decoder with a high-quality demosaicing algorithm.

    The ability to shoot in RAW format is one way in which DSLRs tend to be superior to most point-and-shoot cameras. That said, some high-end compact cameras do let you use RAW, and in some cases (e.g. with CHDK for Canon cameras), it's possible to enable this feature even for low-end models.

Ps. I tried to see what I could get out of your photo, using nothing but Curves adjustments (and fixing the tilted horizon). Here's the result:


and screenshots of the the curves I used (for Value and Blue channels):

Curves 1 Curves 2

The first screenshot is the main adjustment, the second is a slight contrast boost I made after taking a second look at the result. I could've gone for even more dramatic results, but I tried to stick to something fairly close to the original. Notice how, in the second screenshot, the histogram looks a lot flatter; that's often (though not always) a sign of a successful curves adjustment.

I would've liked to darken the clouds a bit, to bring out some more detail there, but alas, there's simply nothing to be done there — most of those clouds are pure solid 100% white, and there's no magic that will pull detail out of that.

  • 5
    \$\begingroup\$ As an Australian, your edit is very green shifted. The Gum trees in the blue mountains literally give the mountains a blue hue. (not a criticism, just a note) \$\endgroup\$
    – floodpants
    Commented Jan 7, 2015 at 5:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ @drinxy: Hmm, that's what I get for trying to color-correct a scene I haven't seen myself. I really just assumed the blue cast was all haze. Let me see if I can make a more natural-looking version... \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 7, 2015 at 6:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ the trees are green but from a distance the forests look blue because of the eucalyptus oil evaporating out of the leaves. The 2nd photo in the original question is pretty accurate for colour, it is just lacking a bit of saturation :) Just thought I would share some fun facts about Australia's unique landscape... we like to be different it seems. \$\endgroup\$
    – floodpants
    Commented Jan 7, 2015 at 10:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ @IlmariKaronen Thanks for the S Curve example, it's not something I've tried or come across yet, but it does seem to make the picture come 'alive' a bit more. Out of interest, what software do you use? I know there are free software like GIMP or even Paint.NET. \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael
    Commented Jan 7, 2015 at 11:53
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Mike: I generally shoot RAW, and use UFRaw for the initial adjustments, with GIMP as the backup if I need to do any extra tweaks to UFRaw's output. I don't claim that those are optimal tools for the job, though, just what I'm used to. In particular, GIMP currently still lacks one important feature for high-quality photo editing: proper support for 16-bit color depth and/or HDR images. It may happen some day soon, though. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 7, 2015 at 16:41

To be honest, I couldn't easily guess which is which when viewed at the default 600-pixel-wide size above. Both handle the dynamic range of the clouds pretty poorly, with the lower image being a little less bad. Looking more closely, the top image has significantly more detail in the trees — but still isn't astounding. (Both are subject to very high JPEG compression, probably due to the image upload service here, so a lot is lost there in any case.) The first image also has a lower black point, making it "pop" more — this is easily adjusted in the second image in any decent editing program with an "s curve", making it more like this:

enter image description here

I don't mean to be negative, but, I don't think this really helps much. The cliff face looks more dramatic, but the sky is still blown out beyond repair. This is a really hard situation for any camera — the bright sky and cloud-shadowed valley don't match. And those trees on the ridgeline to the left — ouch. So, as with most landscape photography, the number one thing you could do with either camera is to learn the light of the area, and the weather, and come back when it's right.

Probably the easiest thing you could have done here is to reduce the dynamic range by making a detail shot excluding the sky. You could also bracket your shots — make one exposed for the sky, one exposed for the sunlight trees, and one exposed for the shadows — and blend them for a final "HDR" image. (Most ideally, you'd use a tripod, so the images are well-aligned.)

Manual mode might have helped, but it's reasonable to assume that the scene mode picked pretty good settings here. Specifically, within the limits of the scene (again, basically impossible), the exposure looks correct, and the appropriate scene mode (on a P&S or on an entry-level DSLR) is going to pick a reasonable high aperture for depth of field, which is basically what you'd do manually too.

And you could milk more dynamic range from a single image with RAW, but fundamentally in-camera JPEG can be just fine — RAW is neither necessary nor a magic bullet. It just gives you more flexibility, and that can't always fix a photo that has a lot of technical problems to begin with.

  • \$\begingroup\$ The top image is taken by the DSLR. I guess I underestimated the difficulty of this type of scenery! Lots of info to consider, thanks! \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael
    Commented Jan 6, 2015 at 23:28
  • 9
    \$\begingroup\$ @Mike You should definitely commend yourself for stepping back and trying to figure out if a better camera will help. So many people go out and drop $1000 or more expecting that will solve everything with no need to do anything differently, and of course end up disappointed. \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Commented Jan 6, 2015 at 23:33

Both of those images could easily have been taken by a modern smartphone. To get a better image regardless of format what needs to be done is control of the wide dynamic range in this scene. The sky is very bright and blown out in both images. The ground is much darker. Techniques like HDR, Exposure Fusion, and Graduated Neutral Density filters will all help in this area.

Of course a nicer camera will manual controls will help, but it is more important to learn the fundamental reasons why this scene is difficult to capture first; because spending money won't necessarily result in a better image. I would go so far as saying that spending money on a DSLR typically results in worse images for most users who don't know what they are doing with it. I'm not saying at all that you would be in that situation but it is very common I've found.


I'm going out on a limb and saying the DSLR is first. The most obvious difference is the difference in post processing. If your friend was shooting on RAW on the DSLR, it allows for far better adjustment of contrast in post.

Additionally, the larger sensor and better quality optics on the DSLR allowed for some additional sharpness for the trees and also resulted in a shallower depth of field which cause the background to become more blurry than the foreground.

So, ultimately it is a combination of factors between what the camera is optically capable of capturing and also how the image was post produced. Both images would likely have benefited by tripod stabilization as there seems to be some motion blur in both as well.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks, could I have achieved a better image if I had used manual controls? At the time, I was using one of the scene modes. I guess ultimately, I do need a camera with a bigger sensor with RAW output if I want to achieve higher quality images? \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael
    Commented Jan 6, 2015 at 22:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ Manual controls probably could have improved it some if it supported some adjustment to the contrast rather than just your normal exposure triangle. High resolution, large sensor and quality optics do make life a lot easier, but you still have to know how to use them. (For example, the DSLR shot could have been much better if it was better stabilized.) \$\endgroup\$
    – AJ Henderson
    Commented Jan 7, 2015 at 6:26

Such scenes need either to be bracketed (that is shot varying exposure), or exposed according to spotmeter - measure the brightest part where you want to keep details and add 3 stops to exposure. With landscapes, a graduated neutral density filter is very helpful. Polarizing filter may help sometimes too. And of course set your camera to record raw.

You have some excessive flare in the image, consider using a lens hood.

  • \$\begingroup\$ The Panasonic TZ40 is a compact fixed-lens (P&S) camera. Lens hood and filters aren't really a solution here. \$\endgroup\$
    – inkista
    Commented Jan 7, 2015 at 21:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ "The Panasonic TZ40 is a compact fixed-lens (P&S) camera".Yes. "Lens hood and filters aren't really a solution here" Why? \$\endgroup\$
    – Iliah Borg
    Commented Jan 7, 2015 at 23:12

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