Yesterday, as I was getting ready for a casual Sunday drive and sunset watch with my wife to a picturesque location, I was once again faced with the question many photographers face every day. Do I really need to bring my SLR and lenses? Then comes the usual back and forth: “but I might miss a great picture…”, followed by “but it’s so heavy”, and so on. The choice is entirely the photographer’s. In my opinion, whether or not to bring your full rig on a trip is a matter of purpose. Obviously, if you are going out to shoot pictures to sell or put in a magazine, then by all means bring the big guns. However, if it’s a trip with your wife or kids, you might want to think twice. I wouldn’t want to miss a memorable family moment or have another discussion with the wife because I was fiddling with my camera, changing lenses, or clicking away at 8 frames per second at some seagull that wouldn’t stay still (not that I would do that anyway, at least not for a seagull). On the same note, I wouldn’t want to miss any photo opportunities because I didn’t want to climb up the mountain with my big, heavy camera bag.
That’s where I think a decent compact camera shines. I personally carry a compact Canon Powershot G10 around in my bag wherever I go. It has helped me a great deal. I’m always ready in case a photo opportunity comes up and I enjoy family trips a lot more while still getting good pictures, some even rivaling that of a DSLR.
This positive experience has inspired me to write this post. I would like to share my experiences with my compact camera, and show a small gallery of images taken only with my Canon G10, to hopefully show that a compact camera is indeed a good option. So, let’s get things rolling:
1. Know your photography and know your camera. Exposure, shutter speed, aperture, composition, rule of thirds, focal length, etc. Brushing up on your photography skills is the first step in getting better pictures, no matter what camera you have. Like my photography teacher said before, “it’s the Indian, not the arrow”. Your $100 compact has the potential to make better pictures than an $8,000 DSLR in the hands of someone who doesn’t know how to use it. And once you select that camera. Read the manual. Know how to operate it and how to get the most out of it.
2. Choose a capable compact. Compact cameras were invented to make it easy for anyone to shoot pictures. Therefore, most compacts have limited manual controls. Basically, the more settings you can control, the more you can change how your photos will look. Over the last few years, higher-end compact cameras have come out that offer the full range of manual controls that an SLR would offer. In fact, many professional photojournalists have printed editorial photos taken with compact cameras. Another important thing to look at is ISO capability. Compacts usually produce grainier, noisier images when you crank up the ISO. Higher-end compacts are better at overcoming this noise, making it easier to get usable images in low light conditions. At the time of writing this article, the most popular high-end compacts are Canon’s Powershot G12, Panasonic’s Lumix LX-5, and Nikon’s P7000 (UPDATE: In 2013, mirrorless cameras have become better than ever! My weapon of choice is now a Fujifilm X100s.). I would personally prefer a compact that at least offers white balance and exposure value controls to manually darken or lighten an image.
In the photo above, I shifted the white balance to TUNGSTEN mode. That gave everything a bluish feel, which makes the photo unique. Fun fact: this was one of the photos taken yesterday during the aforementioned Sunday drive with my wife.
3. Know your limits. If you want to take high quality pictures with your compact, be sure you stay within it’s capabilities. If a camera produces the cleanest images from ISO 80 to 200, try your best to stay within those settings. Knowing what your camera can and cannot to will help you make better pictures.
4. Push your limits. There are ways to get around your camera’s limitations. If you want to push ISO, software like Noise Ninja or Neat Image are good options to clean up noisy photos after uploading to your PC. Alternatively, you may also shoot RAW (if your camera supports it) and clean up the image during RAW conversion.
Another common limitation with compact cameras is distortion. Straight lines such as horizons appear bent or curved, which is not very appealing. Fortunately, you may use software like PTLens or Adobe Lightroom to correct distortion automatically.
This photo above, taken at Myeongdong Cathedral, initially had huge problems with distortion, especially with the building’s lines. PTLens software took care of that quickly and easily. Additionally, walking around Seoul on foot is a lot more fun and convenient when you’re carrying a compact camera, and the small size of a compact camera isn’t as intimidating to street subjects (and in some cases, the authorities).
The photo above is an example of knowing and pushing your camera. My Canon G10 has an Image Stabilization (IS) system, which helps avoid blurry photos at slow shutter speeds. I wanted the slow shutter silky water effect, but didn’t have a tripod. So I propped my arms onto the railing, pressed the camera against my face and took several shots to be sure I’d get some sharp ones. Without IS, it would have been very hard to get usable photos. Alternatively, my Slik compact tripod or Gorilla Pod would have helped in this situation as well, but I hadn’t bought them yet.
5. Finally, just have your camera with you. Top photographer Chase Jarvis said it best: “The best camera is the one you have with you”. You never know when a photo opportunity will come up. Mobile phone photos are cool, but sometimes you just want that extra quality. You’ve got a small, light camera. Bring it. Use it. Create amazing photos with it.
The boat photo above was taken one morning as I was driving to work. There was mist rolling in and the light was just beautiful. I pulled over, took my camera out of the bag, zoomed in to 140mm and clicked. This photo would not have been possible if I didn’t have my camera ready all the time.
Here are some more photos that I really enjoyed taking due to the light weight and small size of the Canon G10:
Well, there you have it folks. I hope you found my insights helpful and enjoyed the photos. The point is, you don’t need an expensive SLR to make good, high quality photos. In some ways, a big, bulky SLR might even get in the way. Personally, having a compact camera has helped me to enjoy traveling with my family more. Having a capable compact camera in my bag instills me with the confidence that I can take quality photos anytime, anywhere. And it’s always exciting to know that a simple drive to work or a walk in the park could result in photos that might end up as fine art prints or editorial images.
*By the way, just in case you were wondering the first heart photo was taken. I laid the G10 down in front of a frosted window and used my iPad running Photo Softbox Symbols HD as a product table.
Till next blog post. Cheers!