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Should I upgrade?
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drowning in spam
(leaftye) - F

Locale: SoCal
Should I upgrade? on 06/02/2011 19:45:21 MDT Print View

Ah, the dilemma I'm sure we all face.

So I currently shoot with a Fujifilm S9000 most of the time. I've actually been pretty happy with my latest round of shots, but I'm wondering if improved image quality would make it worth upgrading. I've been using it to capture pictures of plants & wildlife while hiking, usually many hundred per day. Here are the specs of this camera:

1/1.6" CCD
10.7X zoom, 28-300mm, f2.8-5.6
Full manual modes
JPEG/RAW capable
Hot shoe
AA batteries
No image stabilization
230k pixel flip up screen



The first camera I'm thinking about is its successor, the Fujifilm HS20EXR. It should be an incredibly easy transition for me. The biggest gains would be image stabilization and the big zoom lens. The higher resolution screen might provide enough detail to know if it's actually focusing on the right thing. Other than image stabilization, I doubt this would increase my image quality due to its greater number of megapixels. Here are its specs:

1/1.6" CCD
30X zoom, 24-720 mm, f2.8-F5.6
Full manual modes
JPEG/RAW capable
Hot shoe
AA batteries
Image stabilization
460k pixel flip up screen



The other camera would be moving up to a DSLR, the Pentax K-r kit with 18-55 mm & 55-300 mm lenses. I would probably only carry the bigger lens while out hiking. Pentax has in-body image stabilization, which I really like for DSLR's, plus it also has AA batteries, which I also greatly love. The screen has even more pixels than the HS20EXR, enough that I could probably manually focus half decently with it. The bigger sensor should equate to higher quality images and lower shutter times. Being able to upgrade the lens later also presents an opportunity to increase image quality further. Here are its specs:

23.6 x 15.8 mm CMOS sensor
18-55 mm & 55-300 mm
Full manual modes
JPEG/RAW capable
Hot shoe
AA batteries
Image stabilization in-body
920k pixel fixed screen

Rick M
(rmjapan) - F

Locale: London, UK
upgrade on 06/03/2011 02:19:12 MDT Print View

I think an Olympus EPL-1 kit at its current sub-$400 price point would be my choice for a dslr-type hiking camera now. For a compact I like the new Fuji 550EXR.

On the otherhand, folks are taking Pulitzer Prize winning pics with an iPhone now so the camera does not make the pic but the skill of the person behind it. Perhaps you might be better off investing a light compact tripod and foldup light softbox and a reflector for the type of nature pics you are drawn too. Maybe a lens ring flash too if your camera is compatible.

Edited by rmjapan on 06/03/2011 02:25:22 MDT.

Ken Bennett
(ken_bennett) - F

Locale: southeastern usa
Re: upgrade on 06/03/2011 09:58:12 MDT Print View

I would also recommend looking at the Micro 4/3 system cameras. The Panasonic G3 with the 14-42 and the 45-200 would make a very nice, compact, reasonably light kit, with excellent image quality. It will be much smaller than even the smallest APS chip size DSLR cameras.

We have two m4/3 cameras and five lenses in our house, and use them for travel, hiking, and as an everyday carry camera. (And I have a wide selection of DSLR cameras at work, so when I need to step up, I can - but I'll save the weight and space when hiking.)

drowning in spam
(leaftye) - F

Locale: SoCal
Re: upgrade on 06/03/2011 10:22:26 MDT Print View

I'd really like to stick with AA batteries. I've been able to get tremendously long battery life with them--up to 2053 shots on Eneloops with a little juice left over. It can make charging less of a hassle when I get to an electrical outlet. On my next trip I'll be needing to charge a computer, cell phone, and then AA's for my headlamp and camera. At least with AA's I can make that a little easier by switching to lithium batteries. Those smaller DSLR's are nice though, just not for me.

I really do like the Fuji 550EXR, but that would be a secondary camera if I get it. I also like ring lights. I won't get a tripod or softbox since I don't have enough time to set them up. At best I'll try to get an extra bounce off the top of my Chrome Dome umbrella.

You are right about the person behind the lens, that's why I'm thinking I may not upgrade. My only good reasons for an upgrade are image stabilization and a longer zoom, and potentially faster shutter speed for the DSLR. Is that enough?

Rick M
(rmjapan) - F

Locale: London, UK
AA batteries on 06/03/2011 16:29:08 MDT Print View

You will be lucky to get 400 shots on the HS20 or Pentax, less if you use the flash. Stabilization and LCDs on newer cameras suck up more juice than older models. If photography was an important part of my hike, the type of battery used would be far down my list of needs.

I think you need to make up your mind about what you want to accomplish artisticlly with your photographs. A small tripod, light diffusers/reflectors and flash kit are tools of the trade for close-up nature photography. It will be very difficult to get consistently good shots without them. Do you make 8x10 or larger prints?

Maybe you should buy some how-to books that cover the subjects you are interested in. This guy is the leading close-up nature photographer today, http://www.mikemoatsblog.com/

Or are you doing scientific work and just want record shots of things you see?

Edited by rmjapan on 06/03/2011 16:36:15 MDT.

drowning in spam
(leaftye) - F

Locale: SoCal
Re: AA batteries on 06/03/2011 16:48:17 MDT Print View

My goal is to take a LOT of pictures. If that can happen in a few seconds, great, otherwise I get what a few seconds can offer.

I just found a thread reported getting 2700 shots on nimh batteries with his K-x. The newer K-r isn't going to suck that much more juice. I see many reports of people getting over 500 shots with Eneloops, and some people reporting 1600 shots with lithiums. I just found a guy that got 1375 shots with his HS20 using Eneloops, although he got less than 600 shots with his S9000 using different nimh batteries. My camera is 'rated' for something like 340 shots on nimh batteries, but I got 2053. Yeah, I'm sticking with AA batteries. There's no sway on that. While I do appreciate people trying to help by recommending other cameras, I'll only consider these three.

Edited by leaftye on 06/03/2011 17:02:18 MDT.

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Re: AA batteries on 06/03/2011 17:55:22 MDT Print View

"My goal is to take a LOT of pictures."

Interesting. I prefer to bring home a lot of GOOD pictures.

--B.G.--

drowning in spam
(leaftye) - F

Locale: SoCal
Re: Re: Re: AA batteries on 06/03/2011 18:02:53 MDT Print View

Can we put philosophy aside?

Rick M
(rmjapan) - F

Locale: London, UK
Stick with what you have on 06/03/2011 18:36:22 MDT Print View

Stick with what you have. Your style of "fast" shooting will not lead to consistently better pics no matter what camera you have. Anything worth displaying will be the result of luck. And if you are only looking at them on an HD-rez LCD screen, a $100 pocket/phone cam is all you really need anyway.

drowning in spam
(leaftye) - F

Locale: SoCal
Re: Stick with what you have on 06/03/2011 19:16:04 MDT Print View

The image is worth keeping for me if it's focused on the right thing. Exposure hasn't been a problem except for when I got excited trying to shoot a flying bird and forgot to make the appropriate manual settings, and got a white screen. I may crop, so detail is important. Part of that is sensitivity and glass, but the bigger sensor also helps sensitivity because it means getting less blur of plants moving/vibrating quickly in the wind. I thought that image stabilization and a bigger more sensitive sensor would help, but I don't know how much it would help. Are you saying that they don't contribute at all, or at least not nearly as much as luck?

Rick M
(rmjapan) - F

Locale: London, UK
Skills on 06/03/2011 19:37:37 MDT Print View

Really good close up nature photos are almost ALWAYS staged. They may appear to be taken matter-of-factly but the truth is lots of effort/time is put into keeping the subject from moving(pinning and/or wind blocks), shaping the light with diffusers/reflectors and flash, and setting up the shot for perspective, background, distance, etc.

If you are not doing at least some of these things then you are just taking snapshot records that prove you were there. Of course if you take alot of snapshots maybe you might get lucky and get an artistic pic worth displaying. Even a broken clock is right twice a day!

As for stabilization, it only corrects for camera shake and does nothing for a moving subject. Only faster shutter speeds can fix that and it comes at a cost in IQ (high ISO) or less DoF and more weight(larger aperture and/or lens). You can add cheap and easy stabilization to the camera you have now with a tripod. If you can't bear lugging one, then the old string trick among others can work in a pinch, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9vfu1BKqRQ4

Edited by rmjapan on 06/03/2011 19:43:59 MDT.

drowning in spam
(leaftye) - F

Locale: SoCal
Re: Skills on 06/03/2011 20:29:40 MDT Print View

I don't need my shots to be artistic, and I don't see how the camera choice matters. As you said, that's about other factors.

I need my shots to be clear. It's more about plant and wildlife identification. That's why I want detail and less blur. I'd like to be able to see the pollen on a flower in a frame filling shot. Filling the frame isn't a problem, but I seem to be missing some detail when I pixel peep. Let me see if I can examples...

These are some of the better shots in terms of detail and sharp focus:

flower 1
flower 2
flower 3

I think I said in my first post that I'm pretty happy with my last set of shots. I've been using the manual modes to maximize light to the sensor in order to have faster shutter speeds. I guess the thing that I'm struggling with is getting the autofocus to actually focus in the middle of the frame like I'm telling it to. It seems like it'll see some granite on the side of the frame and focus on that instead. Or if the things I'm photographing is very small and has smooth colors, it'll focus on something just behind it...like grass. I swear if I could set the camera to only focus on things within a certain distance, many more of my pictures would come out well. Here's one type of shot where I'm really struggling. Sometimes I can't get close, so I have to zoom. Nothing is sharp. I don't know if it's focused correctly and there's blur, or if it focused on nothing at all. I don't have the experience to tell. Many of my shots into the canopy of tall trees are like this, and unfortunately I don't always have the option to get close to the branches. I want these type of shots to work.

Pine cone

Also, isn't IS good for a stop or three? In reviews they always show it making a significant difference, but with faster shutter speeds and outdoor lighting, does it still matter? What kind of difference would it make with some of the more distant shots? How much difference will it make with the faster shutter speeds that should come with a better sensor? Many of the stabilization tricks require getting further away from the subject, which means less light gets to the sensor when I'm trying to get small plants to fill the frame, so there's a balancing act. I was thinking that IS and a better sensor would make that balancing act less precarious.

Rick M
(rmjapan) - F

Locale: London, UK
macro photography on 06/03/2011 21:08:52 MDT Print View

Have you read any tutorials on MACRO photography? This is a VERY specialized format.

Since you are not using a true macro lens/camera with 1:1 reproduction, I would guess your pics MIGHT be suffering from the subject or parts of it being inside the minimum focusing distance of your lens. This distance changes with focal length as you zoom. Also, it is best to use manual focus if your camera allows it.

DoF and the lack thereof is usually the problem in true close-up macro photography. The only way to mitigate it is to shoot small apertures, f11-16 for an APS-C sensor camera, and no more than f8 on a small sensor camera like yours. Because of the small aperture you MUST blast the subject with flash(s) to keep low ISO/fast shutter speeds. Direct flash is too harsh at macro distances so you need to place diffusers in front of the flash. This is part of the ART of STAGING the scene.

If you want good detail at the pixel level you are going to have to slow down and stage your shots. Knock that pine cone outta the tree and put it a lightbox once you get out in the sun or at home. USE A TRIPOD, multiple flashes, and a remote shutter release or timer. Only by doing staging will you take your macro shots to the next level.

BTW, when viewed at full screen your flower shots are quite nice with good sharpness. That is why I asked about your print size. If you insist on viewing your images at the pixel level you may never be able to achieve the sharpness you expect unless you move up to a full frame dslr and dedicated macro lens in the 200mm range that offers true 1:1 reproduction.

Edited by rmjapan on 06/03/2011 21:38:01 MDT.

drowning in spam
(leaftye) - F

Locale: SoCal
Re: macro photography on 06/03/2011 21:56:32 MDT Print View

I'm not within the minimum focusing distance of my camera. It's a very short distance that I can't exceed without getting parts of the plant inside of the lens hood.

My camera has manual focus, but the EVF and screen have such poor resolution that I can't focus finely with it. It's only good for things like a shot I took today of a feature on the inside of my tent fly, shooting through the netting. My camera insisted of focusing on the netting, but manual focus allowed me to get a better focus on the tent fly, although it wasn't great. Closing the aperture might have helped, but I totally forgot to try that, but that might have made for a confusing shot anyway.

I would love to use smaller apertures, but then I really run into the risk of blur due to my movement or the movement of the subject. Using lots of flash would kill battery life, which means carrying lots of batteries. Let me give you an idea of how many pictures I aim to take.

Along the course of a mile, I'd like to photograph at least five plants. Crown, base, bark, macro of the end of a branch, macro of side & end fruit, macro of top & side flowers, and sometimes multiples of each if there is variation within the plant. Let's say 5 shots per plant. On a 10 mile hike this would be 250 shots. Usually I take much more to document the wide variety of plants in transition zones and near water sources. And then there's the wildlife, which is usually bugs because animals have usually run pretty far away before I realize that they were there. If I took more time, I wouldn't go as far, and I wouldn't photograph as many plants.

You see how battery life could be important, and how I have to rely on the capabilities of the camera to make up for lack of tripod and lightbox?

So let's say that any camera accessories won't be used, and flash use will be extremely limited. I could get a brighter headlamp of 500 lumens and use that to supplement lighting for close-in macro shots.

In any case, how small can I get the aperture on a small sensor camera like mine and still have a shutter speed that's quick enough for hand shake not to be a problem? And then, what aperture would that equate to on a APC-C sensor camera? Is there a way to tell by looking at my photos if handshake was the problem?

drowning in spam
(leaftye) - F

Locale: SoCal
Re: Re: macro photography on 06/03/2011 21:59:08 MDT Print View

What I really should do, and might do, is buy a used DSLR, probably with a single lithium battery and bring it on my next trip to see how they compare. The problem is that I leave for my next trip on the 13th and it's a 3 month trip. That could be a lot of time to know I am carrying the wrong camera.

Rick M
(rmjapan) - F

Locale: London, UK
magic camera on 06/03/2011 22:20:25 MDT Print View

Sorry, I can't help you more. You seem to want gear with capability that doesn't exist yet. Unless you are willing to stage, nothing but luck will get you to the next level.

My macro kit looks something like this, http://imaging.nikon.com/lineup/speedlights/kits/ except I use 3 remote mini-flashes and a large flash in the camera hot shoe. Along with the tripod, dedicated 150mm f2.8 macro, TC1.4x, and assorted diffusers, reflectors and filters it fills a backpack with little room left over for camping gear. It is for short mileage, day hikes only, where photograpy is the only purpose for the trip.

Edited by rmjapan on 06/03/2011 22:24:10 MDT.

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: magic camera on 06/03/2011 22:34:20 MDT Print View

For flower macros in the field, I use about five tall wire stakes (made out of stiff wire) and with a sheet of white cloth about two feet wide and eight feet long. I build a cylindrical cloth frame around the flower this way. If the white cloth is thin enough, subdued sunlight will get through the sunny side and bounce around inside where the flower is. If there isn't enough sunlight, then a small fill flash will bounce around pretty good inside.

The good news is that this doesn't weigh much, and it takes only a minute or two to erect when you find the right specimen.

--B.G.--

drowning in spam
(leaftye) - F

Locale: SoCal
Re: magic camera on 06/03/2011 22:40:10 MDT Print View

Okay, if image stabilization won't help, and stopping down the lens to f8 produces macro images similar to a DSLR, then I agree that I shouldn't upgrade. I might upgrade later for other types of photography, but for now I just need something that works for outdoor daytime plants and wildlife shots, and it seems that I already have a good enough solution.

drowning in spam
(leaftye) - F

Locale: SoCal
Re: Re: magic camera on 06/03/2011 22:41:46 MDT Print View

Oh, and one thing I'm doing is geo tagging all my pictures. If I see something really interesting, I'll come back later with better photography gear and much more time.

And I apologize if I've been short. The pressure of preparing to leave in about a week for a 3 month trip plus the time issues of deciding on and receiving a new camera is putting me on edge. I really appreciate the help you've been offering.

Edited by leaftye on 06/03/2011 22:49:21 MDT.

Franco Darioli
(Franco) - M

Locale: Melbourne
Should I upgrade? on 06/03/2011 23:13:09 MDT Print View

Eugene
Keep in mind that your camera needs contrast to focus on. To simplify it is easier to focus on a black letter on white paper than just on white or black.
So set the focus on AF and the mode on Center focus.
Now if you point that Center square at something with contrast it will focus almost instantly even on Macro.
If you keep the shutter button half a way down you are activating "focus lock", the lens will remain focused at that distance regardless where you are pointing at.
So practice pointing the lens at something that is at the same distance as the subject, lock it in then recompose and shoot.
Franco