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Thursday, May 17, 2007


Camera comparison

Further to my recent blog discussing my new camera, I have decided to give some examples to show the difference between the fx3 and fz20.

For the sake of the discussion it might be appropriate to discuss the sort of photographs I was happy with when I was using my Kodak DC265. They were always sharp across the whole picture and at that time I was always happy with that. It could be said the camera gave good depth of field, ie everything near and far was in focus.

As I have progressed as a photographer I've become aware that it is at times desirable to show a subject in its setting but the setting is not as important as the subject. In these instances it is actually preferable to lose a bit of sharpness on the setting and to boost the sharpness on the main subject. This is known as short depth of field or perhaps narrow depth of field.

To do this, one opens the lens up as wide as possible, ie widens the aperture. This is measured in f stops and ironically the wider the aperture the lower the f stop number.

A few afternoons back I was walking home. It was about 5 pm, which means, in Malaysia, that the sun is still very bright, despite the rainy season. There were some nice yellow flowers growing on the side of the road. This is very common here. People in the Melaka suburbs love to grow flowers outside their house on the edge of the road. I wanted to capture this all in one photo, ie I wanted to get a good shot of the flower and show it in its setting. Now the streetscape in the distance is pretty boring. I didn't want to show it in detail. I just wanted to show that the flowers grow right on the edge of the street.

My fx3 was in a pouch on my belt so I simply had to pull it out and take the shot. I'll be honest. I didn't spend a lot of time on it. Just snapped a couple and put the camera back in its pouch. Even though the fx3 has a good LCD screen, I'm not really in the habit of checking them. Probably, to be honest, because the LCD on the fz20 is not all that great and that's how the habit formed. When I got back home and downloaded them I found that I had the street in perfect focus and the flower was blurred. Good one, John.

A few days later I decided that I should spend a bit of time becoming more familiar with what I can do with the manual settings on the fz20. I'm usually lazy. I use the scene modes far too often. This time, I set the aperture to f2.8, the widest possible, left it there and wandered the streets for an hour or more seeing what I could do. Altogether I took 77 shots. (Isn't digital wonderful.) I also went back to the same spot and took this photo of the flower in the street.

(Click on these photos to see a larger version.)

I'm not claiming it's the best photo I've ever taken but it achieves my objective. The flower is sharp; you can see what's in the street but it's not clear enough to take the attention off the flower.

BTW, I shot this in aperture priority, not full manual mode. The camera calculates the appropriate shutter speed. Because f2.8 lets in a lot of light and because it's very sunny, it took a fairly fast shot—1,000th of a second.

A few days later, I was walking past the same spot, about the same time, same lighting conditions and I had the fx3 in my belt pouch. I decided to see if this time I could get a better shot. Neither shutter priority nor full manual are available on the fx3 but there are two modes that will force the camera to widen the aperture: portrait and macro. I took a couple on each.

The photo in portrait mode did not achieve my goal. The street was in focus just as clearly as the flower. I did use a fairly narrow focus point and I thought I had it pointing at the flower but there you go.

Here's the one in macro mode.

As you can see the flower is fairly clear and the street is blurred but the flower looks a bit dark. Why? Well, because it is so sunny the camera has to compensate for all the light coming in. It chose to narrow the aperture to reduce the light coming in through the lens. It chose f5.6 with an exposure of 1/320 second.

I had not allowed the fz20 to do this, therefore it compensated by reducing the speed of the shot, which I believe gave me a better photo. Yes, I could work on the second photo in photo editing software. It would be very easy to use the sliders to lighten it. I do this sort of thing all the time. But the fz20 took a much better shot straight out of the camera. (Neither of these photos have been edited, except to reduce the file size.)

I've uploaded some of the other photos taken on my little excursion to my Flora page on flickr. See the link in the sidebar.

I would like to add that I am not an expert, I welcome any comments and suggestions.

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Tuesday, May 15, 2007


Why two cameras?

Last year, in Cambodia, almost every Saturday I would catch a bus from Kompong Chhnang to Phnom Penh. I've written about it here before. (August 2006) The journey took up to 2.5 hours each way, occasionally longer. The bus was not exactly comfortable but I still enjoyed the journey. I never got tired off making the trip. The countryside we passed through was beautiful, interesting and ever-changing.

In my mind I would take many photos but I rarely took my camera with me. The purpose of the trip was to connect to the internet in Phnom Penh. I already had my laptop in my bag and my camera is a handful on its own.

When I arrived in Phnom Penh, once again, there would be many interesting sights and I would think to myself, 'If only I had my camera.'

It was rare to see another Westerner on this bus trip. I was usually the only one, which made me an item of interest and it was very common that someone would start up a conversation. The second-last time I made this trip there were about five young Westerners on the bus. One had a really small camera with a very large LCD monitor. They were looking at pictures on the screen and even from several seats away I could see them quite clearly.

'That's what I want.' I decided.

So, when I came to Kuala Lumpur on this trip I did some comparison shopping. There were lots of promotions. I ended up buying myself a Panasonic Lumix fx3, quite similar to the one I saw on the bus.

I'm not saying this is the best camera for this purpose. I decided that, as it was to be my second camera, I didn't need one that did everything that my other camera, a Panasonic Lumix fz20, can do. When I want to do some serious photography I will take the fz20. But at all other times I carry the fx3 and if I see something that is photogenic then I grab a shot. It might not be the best shot but I've got something.

One of the reasons I chose this particular camera, apart from price, was that it uses an SD memory card which is the same as the fz20 and therefore interchangeable between cameras. The other reason is that I have been pretty happy with the fz20 and therefore feel positive about Panasonic cameras. Had I not had this feeling towards Panasonic I might have gone for a Pentax. They had a few models in the price range that looked pretty good and got good reviews. Some of the other brands were OK but didn't tempt me and a few, including some popular, well-respected brands, simply did not impress me at all. If you plan to buy any camera I highly recommend you read the reviews.

After all that, I guess I'm feeling a little frustrated with the fx3. It really is aimed at the beginner (perhaps not as much as some of the other brands), or someone who can't be bothered working at taking photos. It's great for people who literally want to just point and shoot. And for that purpose it gives a fairly good photo that most people would be happy with. But I can be a little fussy and want something just a little better. The fx3 has lots of features but does not allow me to control it manually. Perhaps if I had spent more money I could have got a camera that went a bit further. It wouldn't have come up to the fz20 but it would have given me a little more flexibility.

I've also become a little more enthusiastic about displaying my photos and I've gone 'pro' with the main one of my flickr accounts. There was another motive in doing this. Flickr pro users can upload as many photos as they like and at any size they want. I usually reduce the file size before I upload to flickr. Now I can upload all my photos in full file size. You won't get to see these. I'm doing this as a way of backing up. The photos are not displayed. The ones I choose to display to the world are edited, and also reduced in file size, before I upload.

The non-pro flickr user is limited to a maximum of 200 photos. When you upload your 201st the first one disappears and so on. They keep them on file but hidden. So now that I've gone pro they've all come back again. That's over 700 photos. They go back to when I first joined flickr in early 2005. In fact, back then I was using an earlier camera, a Kodak DC 265.

If you're interested to see if you can tell the difference in photos from these three cameras, or just interested to see a record of my last few years, you'll find a link to this (and my other flickr pages) in the sidebar.

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