‘Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but
footprints, kill nothing but time.’ This old adage is shared with cave tourists
but high-lights the advantages of field herping photography as well; 1.)
Enjoying the scenic outdoors. 2.) The achievement of finding species. 3.)
Enjoying diverse animals & flora without the bother of maintaining them at home.
4.) Observing animals in their natural environment, including time of day/night,
season and climate. 5.) Enhancing your understanding of your own
For many of us, a big part of that is
photography; bringing home memories to share with others, review ourselves,
adorn walls & computer monitors, identify onscreen what we could not in the
field & document unusual findings. Phil moderates the Field Herping Forum
section of the Turtle Forum where a usually solitary activity has become an
educational social activity. Much of that is through photography.
Many forum members shopping for digital
cameras want to use them for field herping, whether that’s a 5-lined skink on a
brush pile in the back yard, a RES in your grandparents’ pond or specimens from
Kentucky’s 2 isolated corn snake populations. Some are new to photography and
digital cameras, and the rapidly progressive highly technical & competitive
state of digital photography today makes for a confusing marketplace.
I hope you find this general guide to digital
photography helpful. In the interest of staying within a reasonable focus & my
own knowledge & skill limits, I’ll focus on the equipment aspect of the hobby,
not the applied skill of photography (in other words, the cameras, not how to
Compact vs. SLR Cameras.
File Formats & Compression.
Prime vs. Macro. Vs. Telephoto vs. Zoom vs. Image-stabilized Zoom Lenses.
A Word About Storage Media.
Field Herping Photography; What You Need in a Setup.
of Some Current Digital Cameras.
Online Digital Photography Reviews & Forums.
Where to Buy
Digital Cameras & Equipment.
Resources You May Find
to Buy Prints.
I.) Basic Concepts.
Let’s cover some of the basic terminology of
general photography & digital cameras. This will help you make sense of reviews
and advertisements. This is a dense section, and not all applies to any one
camera. It’s written as a reference when you need to look things up. Most of you
will get compact cameras, but a few may have an interest in digital SLRs so I
will cover related concepts like prime lenses.
Camera – The device that creates a still image depiction of a
scene. Most people are familiar with 35 mm film cameras, but there are others,
such as medium format cameras, video cameras (camcorders), etc… Digital cameras
are modeled off 35 mm film cameras & so come in 2 types; the compact camera and
the single-lens-reflex (SLR) camera.
Compact Camera – A camera with a viewfinder separate from the lens
system. When you look into the viewfinder, you are NOT looking out of the camera
lens. Most have LCD screens on the rear of the camera that show you what the
camera lens sees. Compacts are indeed more compact than SLR cameras, and most
digital cameras fall into this category (Nikon Coolpix, Canon G3, Olympus 5050,
etc…). The Canon Elph line (both digital & film versions) are about the size of
a deck of cards. These cameras do NOT feature interchangeable lenses; the lens
is built-in and cannot be removed. Most have zoom lenses with a range of around
2 to 4x, with 3x a very common offering. Most compact’s zooms are controlled
electronically in response to a switch you move (whereas SLR’s have manual
zoom). Some allow you to add special lenses such as tele-extenders or filters
onto the end of the lens.
Single-Lens-Reflex Camera – a camera with a viewfinder integrated
with the lens system so that when you look into the viewfinder, you actually
look out of the camera’s lens & see exactly what the camera sees. This makes
photo composition & manual focusing easier. Most have interchangeable lens
systems so you can own several lenses for one camera (note: the Olympus E-10 and
E-20 are exceptions, and have a single built-in high-quality lens). In fact,
lens collections often cost more than the camera body itself. Many SLR’s use a
moving mirror to enable light through the lens to go first to your eye, then the
sensor when you take the picture, but the Olympus E-10 and E-20 use a special
light-splitting prism. Most SLR zoom lenses are manual zoom; you put your hand
on the lens zoom ring & turn it to zoom in & out; this is more comfortable &
precise than a compact’s system. In the film world, the Canon EOS Rebel G and
Rebel 2000 are popular amateur SLR cameras.
EVF Cameras – Some digital cameras use an Electronic View Finder,
or EVF. In fact, most high-powered zoom (>5x) digital cameras use EVF’s.
Examples include the Olympus 2100uz, C-750 Ultra Zoom, Canon Pro 90 IS & Minolta
Dimage 7. In this system, you don’t have a separate optical viewfinder like a
compact camera, or an optical through-the-lens (TTL) viewfinder
like an SLR. Instead, the camera has an interior LCD screen that shows what the
lens is seeing. When you look in the viewfinder, it’s like you’re a giant
looking into a tiny doll house theater & seeing the image on a little movie
screen. EVF’s use an LCD image so the view’s not as crisp & detailed as an
optical viewfinder, but you can see exactly what the camera’s lens & sensor see
to more precisely compose shots (like an SLR). I classify EVF cameras as a
sub-category of compact cameras, not SLR’s.
– what you look through on the back of the camera to
see what you’re taking a picture of. There are separate optical viewfinders
(most compact cameras), optical through-the-lens viewfinders (SLRs), electronic
viewfinders (EVF’s) and a very few digital cameras don’t even have a viewfinder
but make you use the LCD on the camera back as your only option to compose
Lens – The component that lets light into the camera. Compact
cameras and the E-10 and E-20 SLR’s come with one built-in, and that’s the only
one you can use. The other SLR’s allow interchangeable lenses. Lenses come in 3
types; 1.) Prime. 2.) Zoom. 3.) Macro. These will be discussed later. The lens
will have a focal length (prime lens) or range of focal lengths (zoom lens). It
will also have a maximum aperture. Lenses with large maximum apertures (like
f1.8) tend to focus fast & perform well in low-light because that large aperture
lets a lot of light in, letting the camera focus fast & rapidly expose the film
Focal Length – the degree to which a given camera lens magnifies
an image. This is determined by both the lens and the film or sensor size. In
film cameras, we measure this in millimeters; a 35 mm lens, for instance. In
digital cameras, we often refer to 2x zoom, 3x zoom, 4x zoom, etc…although for
any camera a mm range in ’35 mm equivalent’ will be given. I believe the human
eye sees at around 70mm (~2.5x), so focal lengths less than that are
progressively ‘wide-angle’ and greater than that are ‘tele-photo.’ Because
digital camera sensors are smaller than 35 mm film frames, most digital SLR’s
have a focal length modifier whereby they increase the focal length of a lens
(i.e.: The Canon 10D SLR has 1.6 focal length multiplier). In English, if you
stick a 100 mm lens on a 10D, it becomes a 160 mm lens!!!
Prime lens – a lens with a single focal length (in other words, no
optical zoom). For example, a Canon 50 mm 1.4 lens. The 50 mm is a focal length.
Do be aware many digital SLR’s have focal length modifiers that increase the
effective focal length of lenses. That 50 mm lens is 50 mm on a 35 mm film
camera like a Rebel G. On a Canon 10D digital SLR with a 1.6x focal length
multiplier, it’s an 80 mm lens. Well-made prime lenses give the sharpest photo.s
of all. Everything about the lens design can be tailored to that one focal
length. However, only SLR owners will want these. The only compact digital
cameras with prime lenses are low end consumer units; they may try to gloss over
the lack of optical zoom by advertising digital zoom instead.
Zoom lens – a lens with a range of focal lengths (in other words,
optical zoom). On compact cameras, they typically range from moderately
wide-angle (~35 mm) to moderate telephoto (3x or 4x, around 100 mm to 140 mm).
You can use Zoom to zoom in & out from your subject while standing still, making
it easier to compose shots. Modern day zoom lenses have come a long way over
their ancestors & are the standard for most amateur photographers today. On a
compact camera, you must have true optical zoom. On an SLR, you will want
a zoom ‘walkabout’ lens but may want a prime to get the sharpest shots possible
– a lens specially made to let you take photo.s of
objects very close to the lens. Many compacts are quite good at macro shots in
their macro mode (the Nikon Coolpix 9x0 series are famous for this), so you may
not need a separate lens for this. SLR owners, on the other hand, very well way
need a separate macro lens. When you want to take a close-up photo of a bug &
make it look like something out of a Godzilla movie, you want macro.
Tele-extender lens (a.k.a. Telephoto Converter) – A special lens
attached to the end of a compact camera’s lens that magnifies the image
(increases the telephoto power). For example, the (now discontinued) Olympus
B-300 1.7x lens, when screwed onto my 10x 380 mm Canon Pro 90, gave me 17x 640
mm telephoto power. Olympus is releasing a new version, the TCON 17. If the tele-extender
& your camera lens have different thread sizes, you’ll need a step ring
(step up or step down) to act as an adapter between the two.
Optical Zoom – Zoom that’s a product of the lens. When the lens
takes the central portion of an image and blows it up to fill the frame, that’s
optical zoom. Although optical zoom does lower the concentration of light
reaching your lens when you zoom in, in good lighting (say, sunny outdoors)
there’s so much extra light you can zoom in & capture close-ups, no problem.
Note that optical zoom past 200 mm (around 5x) makes a photograph vulnerable to
camera shake & resultant blur, especially if the camera lacks image
Digital Zoom – This is not true zoom. The camera
(not the lens) takes the center of a photo. and blows it up. So you’re capturing
less detail. And you get more pixilated shots. You can do the same thing
by taking a photo., downloading it to your computer, opening it with a graphics
program & using your software to ‘Zoom In.’ The camera lens isn’t zooming in on
the subject at all; the camera is just magnifying the image much larger than it
was meant to be. There’s no point. I recommend you ignore digital zoom & turn it
off on your camera.
Mode: Digital Cameras often have pre-set operating ‘modes.’ These
let you do things like manually set one parameter while having the camera
automatically do the rest, force the flash to fire to fill in shadows or keep it
from firing, set the camera to take macro shots, etc…(i.e.: aperture priority
mode, shutter priority mode, full manual mode, etc…). Some cameras have Scene
modes, in which the camera adjusts such parameters as aperture and shutter speed
for certain types of photography (landscape, portrait, sports/action, natural
Megapixels – This is the resolution of the image, the product of
vertical & horizontal resolution. A pixel is the smallest unit of the photo,
basically a speck of color. ‘Mega’ is a prefix meaning ‘million.’ They fudge on
this 2 ways. First, they often report the megapixels on the imager, not the
‘effective’ megapixels (i.e.: my Olympus E-10 is a 4 megapixel digicam; it has a
4 megapixel sensor but only 3.8 ‘active’ megapixels). They also fudge on the
count; 1024x768 resolution is really 0.786432 megapixels, but has historically
often been regarded as ‘one megapixel.’ Megapixels measure your photo.’s
resolution, which determines how large a print you can make, and how well you
can crop out part of the photo, blow it up & have it still look good.
Shutter Speed – Inside your lens is a shutter; it’s a wall that
keeps light entering the lens from getting into the camera. When you take a
picture, it snaps open briefly. How long it’s open is the shutter speed. The
shutter has to open long enough to let enough light through to expose the film
or sensor. But it must close quickly enough to prevent too much light
over-exposing the photo. or camera shake from blurring it. So, the faster the
shutter speed, the less trouble you have with blurry pictures. In fact, to use
slow shutter speeds (for things like photographing a city by night from across a
river), you have to use a tripod. The situations where shutter speed is critical
are in low light and at long telephoto (high zoom). Since telephoto works by
taking the center of an image & blowing it up, it lowers the concentration of
light. Worse, the further out you zoom, the more exaggerated is camera shake!
Not all digital cameras have a true mechanical shutter, but for practical
purposes that’s irrelevant.
Aperture – In the lens there’s a wall (diaphragm) with an
adjustable hole in it; this is the opening light passes through to hit the
shutter made when you take a photo. It is measured in f-stops, which are
inversely proportional to its size. So an aperture of f-1.8 (or 1.8 for short)
is a large open hole, and an aperture of 22 is a tiny little hole. Large
apertures lets lots of light in for fast focus & exposure so the camera works
‘fast’ and also in low-light settings. With a large aperture the shutter speed
is very fast & camera shake almost a non-issue. But there’s a down-side; large
apertures produce shallow depth-of-field. This lets you photograph a person &
blur the background to emphasize the person, but for a landscape photo. with
everything in focus that’s not good. Small apertures let less light through &
require slower shutter speeds or increased film or sensor sensitivity (ISO) but
give much greater depth-of-field.
Depth-Of-Field (DOF) – The front-to-back range of sharp focus in a
photo.; think of it as a narrow or broad wall of sharpness surrounding you with
a wall on your subject. If you photograph me at 20 feet out, DOF determines how
far something can be in front of or behind your subject and still be in focus.
DOF is greater in wide angle shots & with distant subjects, like a sunset or
mountain range. It’s much less in macro shots, telephoto shots & with large
apertures (i.e.: f-2).
ISO – International Standards Organization. It s a rating system
for the sensitivity of photo. film to light. Films made for sunny outdoor
photography tend to have ISO 100. Those for darker indoor setups tend to run ISO
400. There are many different ISO options. This doesn’t mean you can’t use 400
outdoors or 100 indoors. A lower ISO film requires either longer (slower shutter
speed) or more intense (larger aperture) light exposure to properly expose the
film & make a photo. Higher ISO film lets you keep smaller apertures & faster
shutter speeds in lower light environments, retaining sharp no-blur shots with
good DOF. But higher ISO film produces grainier photo.s. Digital cameras use a
sensor, not film, but that sensor has an adjustable sensitivity to light rated
in ISO, too. Sensor components & interfere with each other during an exposure,
causing grainy images or blotchy-looking color; that’s called noise. Noise goes
up radically on digital cameras as you raise the ISO. Where ISO 400 film prints
don’t look much different than ISO 100, on a digital noise is so bad you
probably won’t set ISO over 100 unless you use a digital SLR.
Noise – When light strikes a digital camera’s sensor, it
‘activates’ that sensor to a degree determined by intensity and wavelength
(color). When one part of the sensor is activated, it has the potential to
activate surrounding areas, make them register stimulus where there is none.
This can cause grainy looking photo.s &/or splotchy color. And it’s called
noise. Different digital camera lines have different predispositions to this.
The higher you set the ISO (the more sensitive you make the sensor to light),
the greater your picture noise will be. With a compact you seldom need to set
ISO higher than the default (usually 50 to 100), & settings of 400 or 800 can
seriously degrade photo quality. SLR’s often handle high ISO’s far better than
White Balance – the human mind automatically compensates for
different quality lighting, so you don’t notice things looking much different
when you see them indoors under fluorescent lighting vs. outdoors under
sunlight. But your mind won’t make those compensations when someone shows you a
photo. taken indoors under that same fluorescent lighting. All lighting sources
are not equal & your pics can suffer for it. Your camera has what is called
White Balance; your camera uses this to adjust itself to the situation’s
lighting. Most of you will use your camera’s automatic white balancing, but many
digital cameras let you custom set white balance if you wish (say, a Cloudy Day
LCD (Liquid Crystal Display)
– Most digital camera backs have an
LCD. This can be used as a viewfinder in most; it shows exactly what the
camera’s sensor sees & can compose shots well. They usually aren’t quite at 100%
of what the final photo will be, so your photo.s usually have a slightly larger
frame than what you saw in the LCD. Many compact cameras rely on extensive menu
systems to adjust settings like resolution, compression, white balance, mode
(macro, landscape, etc...) so this is part of your camera’s user interface.
LCD’s are often hard to read outdoors in bright sunlight & often placed so your
nose smudges them up when you look through the viewfinder. In a very few
cameras, they ARE the viewfinder. The Canon G1, G2 & G3 have flip out swivel
LCD’s you can use to compose photo.s when you can’t look through the viewfinder,
like holding the camera up to shoot parade shots over a crowd, or low to the
ground to photograph a snake or turtle at eye level. The Nikon Coolpix 9x0
swivel-body line (950, 990, 995) offer similar functionality by a different
Hot Shoe – most cameras have built-in flash but a hot shoe lets
you add an add-on flash unit much larger & capable of producing a lot more
light. SLR’s and some compacts have hot shoes. You need a hot shoe & add-on
flash for work in large low-light areas like indoor public aquariums (like
Tennessee Public Aquarium in Chattanooga), large exhibits in natural history
museums (i.e.: Dinosaur skeletons) or on cave tours. Many compact owners will
never use it and flashes are only good out to a given range, so a hot shoe isn’t
critical for most but it’s a nice ‘if you ever need it’ feature.
Most of you will buy a digital compact camera, at least 2 megapixels, with
built-in flash and likely a hot shoe in case you want to add a larger dedicated
flash later, with an optical zoom lens (at least 2x, and for field herping 10x+
is the sweet spot) and your viewfinder will be either an optical but separate
from the lens one (most digicams) or an EVF (most any digicam with over 5x
zoom). SLR people will use different lenses to obtain the functionality they
vs. SLR Cameras.
Most cameras fall into these 2 groups, with
some hybrids straddling the fence (I consider those compacts with SLR-like
features). Most of you can skip this section; digital SLRs typically cost
hundreds more than compact cameras and require more knowledge of photographic
technique to take strong advantage of, whereas compacts are cheaper & made for
point and shoot work (though many allow much manual control & any camera does
better work in the hands of a skilled photographer). On the other hand, many of
you own film SLR’s like the Canon Rebel G or Rebel 2000 & are used to the SLR
‘look & feel,’ or have some SLR lenses. Or maybe you just know there are reasons
people pay all that money for the big boys & you want to know why… So
let’s take a look at them.
Compact Cameras – Typically fairly compact but vary widely (the
Canon Elph is card deck sized; the Nikon Coolpix 990 is large & bulky). The
single built-in lens is not interchangeable. The viewfinder is usually an
optical viewfinder that does not look through the camera lens; it
looks out the front of the camera beside the lens. Usually that’s ‘close enough’
but for close-in macro work where parallax may cause errors (the camera lens &
viewfinder don’t see the same thing), use the LCD to compose your shot. Those
with long zoom (over 5x) often have EVF viewfinders. Compact cameras have a few
external controls but rely heavily on their LCD menus to let users make manual
settings (mode, ISO, resolution, compression, etc…). Most compact digital
cameras as of this writing use a contrast detection-based autofocus system that
is decent but inferior to the phase detection AF of an SLR. Their zoom usually
works electronically; you manipulate a rocker button or swiveling lever, and the
camera changes the zoom. It works fine, but isn’t as ‘spiffy feeling’ as manual
zoom on an SLR. Compacts tend to have smaller sensors than SLR’s, so they have
much greater DOF at a given aperture.
Single-Lens-Reflex (SLR) Cameras – Typically larger cameras (the
Canon EOS Rebel G is a good film example). Most have interchangeable lenses; you
can choose from a huge number of options to cover different situations. The
standard SLR uses a moving mirror to enable the lens to direct light to the
viewfinder, then suddenly shift it to the film or sensor when you take a photo.
The upshot is that when you look through the viewfinder, you actually look
straight out the camera’s lens. So you can see clearly to manually focus if the
camera’s autofocus can’t lock on. SLR zooms have a manual zoom and focus rings;
you put your hand on the lens & turn that ring to zoom & change focus. This
feels good & works well. SLR cameras have more external controls on the camera
body so you can manually set custom parameters without going into menu systems
as often as on compacts, but you still use an LCD-based menu system for some
work, like setting resolution, compression & saved image file type. An exception
to the standard SLR design is the Olympus line of fixed lens SLR’s, the E-10 and
E-20; they use a prism to split light, not a mirror, and the lens is not
removable or interchangeable.
Digital SLR Special Issues – So, an SLR is larger than a compact, lets you
look through the lens, most models let you swap lenses & they cost a few hundred
extra. In the digital world, there are some other issues. Since interchangeable
lens Digital SLR’s (DSLR’s) tend to run from $1,500 up, they are outside the
usual casual hobbyist’s price range. Those in the $1,500 to $2,500 range tend to
be labeled ‘prosumer’ cameras, partway behind amateur & pro photography product
lines (true pro DSLR’s tend to run $5,000 & up). And they are targeted for ‘prosumers;’
amateur enthusiasts with more knowledge of photography than average, and
professional photographers who don’t need features specific to the higher end
DSLR’s (tank-like construction, the fastest autofocus, the greatest number of
photo.s in a rapid burst, etc…). DSLR’s have larger sensors than compacts so
they have less DOF at a given aperture; this is great if you like blurring
backgrounds to emphasize portrait subjects but awful if you love DOF. You can
use smaller apertures & higher ISO to compensate. When you change lenses you may
let dust into the camera, & you’ll occasionally have to clean the sensor.
reason, many DSLR users make a lot of manual adjustments of their cameras
(aperture, shutter speed, exposure, picking a light metering option, etc…). And
many do a lot of image editing on their computers, customizing sharpness,
contrast, color saturation and other parameters of each photo (this is called
post-processing). For this reason, SLR photo.s do not necessarily come out of
the camera looking better than a compact’s. In fact, they may look worse. Canon
is known to minimize in-camera sharpening & leave it to the user in
post-processing. This is because sharpening can introduce artifacts &
deteriorate photo quality, & some people want to do it themselves, not just
apply a camera’s sharpening algorhythm to every pic they take on a blanket
basis. On the other hand, some people do want the camera to do that work and
cameras like the Canon 10D DSLR may have adjustable sharpness, contrast & color
are often expensive, especially the good ones. The best cost several thousand
apiece. Generally, a good brand name ‘walkabout’ lens like Canon 24-85 mm or the
28-135 mm IS will run you $300 - $500. A Canon 100-400 mm IS or Nikon 80-400 mm
VR (both large well-made image-stabilized lenses) run around $1,400 - $1,500
online (more at your camera store). And those are street prices, not MSRP.
Many compacts have built-in lenses with better zoom range (wide to telephoto)
ranges than most affordable SLR lenses. But with the SLR, you can pick a lens
that’s just right for a given situation…if you can afford it.
Due to their
cost & target audience, DSLR’s often have higher end features; phase
detection-based autofocus, higher resolution, better light metering to improve
Section Summary: Digital SLR’s are great for knowledgeable photographers
but of much higher cost & limited benefit to casual photographers just not
interested in acquiring the knowledge & skill to take advantage of them. Most of
you will get compact digital cameras, at least to start with.
File Formats and Compression.
Every digital camera has a photo. resolution
rated in megapixels. A pixel is a tiny speck of color; a large group of varied
colored pixels used to depict a graphic is a picture. If that group of pixels
was created with a camera to depict an actual scene (possibly with custom
adjustments meant to enhance or create ‘art,’) you have a photograph. ‘Mega’ is
a prefix meaning ‘million.’ So megapixel literally translates to ‘million
Most cameras list resolution as 2, 3, 4, 5 or
(for some digital SLR’s) 6 megapixels. Note that the megapixel rating is usually
that of the sensor, not the slightly lower number of pixels actually used to
make the image. So my Olympus E-10 with a 4 megapixel sensor & 3.8 active
megapixels is rated as a 4 megapixel digital camera. Most cameras have the
option to take photo.s at lower than maximum resolution, although this is seldom
Resolution determines how large your photo.
appears on-screen & how large of a sharp print you can make from it. Let’s take
a look at what you can do with some sizes:
2 Megapixels – Prints sharp photo.s up to 5x7” & reportedly decent
3 Megapixels – Prints sharp 8x10’s & reportedly decent 11x14’s.
Could probably make an okay 16x20.
4 Megapixels – Make sharp 11x14” & I’ve had 16x20’s made that look
just fine to me. A 20x30” I had made does have a slight ‘soft’ look; still looks
fine on the wall but that size stretches the limits.
> 4 Megapixels – should make very sharp 16x20’s & fine 20x30’s as
Note: If you have a higher
resolution photo. than needed to make a print, you can open your photo in a
photo editor (i.e.: Picture It!, Photo Elements, Photo Shop, etc…), select a
smaller part of the pic, crop out the rest & enlarge your chosen section, making
a print of it. This is good for ‘digitally’ zooming in on your main subject,
excluding distracting scene clutter or enlarging something for a better look.
Here’s a photo of a slider on the Little River in
Here’s a crop showing it’s likely a YBS/RES
Hybrid, & we’re not in the YBS range…
Publishing Photo.s on the
Web: Photo.s on the web can be very low res (640x480) & highly
compressed (down to file sizes 60k & under) & still look fine. This is a
phenomenon of computer monitors, which have far lower resolution than a print.
In the above example the original photo. was 2.6 megapixels. The crop is blown
up considerably yet looks fine on screen.
Genuine Fractals –
this software program will enlarge a digital photo well beyond what its original
resolution would’ve allowed. I have not used it’s affordable & enjoys a fine
File Formats & Compression.
Photo.s can be saved in many formats but you
need to know 3; JPEG (most common), TIFF (a seldom-used option) & RAW (a
high-end option the experts use). We’ll hit them looking at how your camera
makes a photo.
Light hits the sensor (how much depends on shutter speed & aperture).
Your sensor ‘reacts’ to this light radiation bombardment, creating a
This signal is sent as raw data to the camera’s microprocessor (your
camera is a computer, too).
At this point the camera has not sharpened, adjusted contrast or color
saturation, or otherwise altered the raw sensor data. And some cameras
(especially SLR’s, but also higher end compacts) can save this as a RAW file. A
RAW file can only be viewed with special software, until the photographer
processes it (sets sharpness, contrast, color saturation, file type,
compression, etc…) & saves it as something besides a RAW file (JPEG, TIFF, GIF,
The camera now uses its own standard internal processing routines, called
algorhythms, to process the RAW data into a standard final image format such as
a TIFF file. So the camera determines sharpness, contrast, color saturation and
such automatically, although some cameras let you adjust the degree to which
these things are done (neutral vs. vibrant color, sharp vs. soft images, etc…).
These processes also ‘contaminate’ the photo.s, introducing changes (i.e. JPEG
artifacts) that alter the photo. in irreversible ways. The resulting photo. can
be saved as a TIFF file ‘as is.’ TIFF files are ready to use & retain good
detail, but single TIFF photo.s are often 5 or 6 megabytes each! That’s awfully
large & fills memory cards (and computer hard drives after download) too fast.
We need to shrink that sucker!
The camera can choose to save the file as a JPEG (a.k.a. JPG) photo. JPEG
is famous for allowing a great deal of compression with minimal loss of visible
detail; the same basic idea you use converting an audio CD song into an MP3
file. And, just like with MP3’s, JPEG quality drops as compression increases.
You can fine-tune it on your software, but your camera will offer you about 3
default settings such as small, moderate & super-fine quality. The highest
quality JPEGS are still far smaller than TIFF files (1 – 2.5 megabyltes on 3 & 4
megapixel cameras) yet the difference is very hard to distinguish. You should
start out with the highest quality least compressed JPEG setting.
Now the camera saves the JPEG or TIFF onto your camera’s storage medium
(i.e. Compact flash card). If you are shooting in RAW mode, your camera saved
the RAW file to it without going through e.) and f.), above.
Set your new camera to take the highest resolution highest quality (least
compressed) JPEG setting it offers. This gives the best compromise between
quality (almost TIFF) & size (far smaller than TIFF). Shoot TIFF when you have
plenty of storage but require the absolute best quality image ‘ready to use out
of the camera’ possible; you can make a JPEG from it on your computer later.
Shoot RAW when you want to fully customize your images.
IV.) Prime vs. Macro. Vs. Telephoto vs. Zoom vs. Image-stabilized
Lenses come in 3 main styles. Macro is a mode
on most cameras, rather than a lens, but macro extender lenses are available for
compacts & true macro lenses can be had for SLR’s, so it’s worth recognizing.
Macro. – Close-up photography. Just what’s
considered ‘close’ varies with the camera. On my E-10, it’s within about 1.5
feet. With a Nikon CoolPix 990, you might take a photo of a katydid 2 inches
from the lens & make an 8x10 that looks like a giant ‘monster bug’ from an old
B-grade Horror Movie. The field herper will use macro. to photograph herp.s he’s
captured or fairly sedentary herp.s, such as ringneck snakes & some salamanders,
after turning over rocks or logs. Macro. is a great way to show a large photo.
of a small animal with good detail. Macro. capability varies widely between
cameras. It has very shallow DOF.
Telephoto – Far out photography! This is when your
lens’ focal length magnifies the subject larger than your eye sees it. So if the
image is much smaller than your eye sees, it’s wide-angle (a slightly
different concept from macro.), and if it’s larger (‘zoomed in’) than your eye
sees, it’s telephoto. Figure the human eye is roughly equivalent to a
70mm lens (per
Keith Dodson), and focal lengths greater than that are telephoto. B&H
Photo-Video-Pro Audio lists lenses 70 – 600mm as telephoto, & >600mm as super
telephoto. Telephoto shots have less depth of field & once you get past 200 mm
are very vulnerable to image blur from camera shake. Some enhance their compact
camera’s built-in telephoto power with a tele-extender (a.k.a. telephoto
converter) lens, which magnifies the image (i.e.: a 1.5x tele-extender will make
an 8x telephoto lens into a 12x telephoto lens). You may need a step ring to
attach the tele-extender to your camera (if the thread sizes are different).
Telephoto gets you in ‘too close for comfort’ so you can
get those wild animal shots.
Basking Female & Male RES – Little River,
Hopkinsville, SW KY
Basking Common Snapper – Little River,
Hopkinsville, SW KY
Basking Juvenile RES – Swan Lake, Clarksville,
Bull Frog – Little River, Hopkinsville, SW KY
Telephoto can get you in for close-ups at home, too. This
is my young stinkpot, Ben. Note the soft focus on that Aponogeton crispus
plant behind him; that’s due to shallow DOF.
Ben – My Juvenile Stinkpot
– B&H Photo-Video-Pro Audio’s Site lists
lenses in the 24 – 35mm range as ‘wide-angle,’ 8 – 21mm as ‘super wide-angle,’
and 40-65 mm as ‘standard.’ Wide-angle lenses compress a broad view into your
frame, very useful for landscapes, group shots & whenever you want to show the
‘big picture.’ One wide-angle enthusiast expressed frustration with the
telephoto-emphasis in digital photography (small digicam sensors move a given
lens toward the telephoto range), likening it to photographing the world through
a microscope. A general use digital camera needs some wide-angle capability,
particularly if you’re a ‘people person.’
Figure Of Merit – When comparing cameras of
different resolutions & zooms for expected resolution at maximum telephoto
length, you can use the ‘Figure Of Merit.’ I learned of this in a
DPReview Olympus Talk Forum posting by David Marasco. Let’s say you want to
compare the Nikon 5700 (280 mm telephoto, 5 megapixel resolution) and Olympus
C-750 Ultra Zoom (380 mm telephoto, 4 megapixel). Imagine you take photo.s of a
basking turtle at 50 feet with both cameras at full zoom. The 5700’s photo isn’t
‘zoomed in’ as much (8x vs. 10x) but you want to take the same section of that
photo. the 750 captured & blow it up to fill the frame (in other words, in a
graphics editor use your mouse to select the smaller area of the photo.
comparable to what the 750 got, use ‘Crop’ to get rid of the outer margin around
that area, then blow the pic up to fill the frame). So now you have an enlarged
5700 photo side-by-side with a 750 photo, and the turtle looks the same size in
each. Which gives you a higher resolution of that turtle now?
When you use telephoto to bring a
subject closer to you, the subject looks larger in 2 dimensions (horizontal
and vertical). Therefore, the added resolution benefit is the square
of the telephoto, not additive. So if you take a camera’s 2x telephoto
photo., cut out the center & blow it up to match a 4x photo from that same
camera, the latter photo will have 4 times the resolution, not twice.
So let’s compare:
Olympus C-750 Ultra Zoom: 380mmx380mmx4 (megapixels)
280mmx280mmx5 (megapixels) = 392,000.
The 750 gets you a higher resolution photo of
the turtle, even though it’s only 2x more telephoto & the 5700 is a whole
megapixel higher in resolution! As you can see, extra telephoto can trump extra
resolution! But add a Nikon Telephoto Converter TC-E15ED (1.5x) to the 5700, &
you take it to 12x telephoto power, trumping either of the above.
Zoom – Zoom lenses let you change the focal length,
in effect moving closer or further form the subject, from wide angle (way back)
to telephoto (long-distance close-up). Zoom lens are quite good but don’t quite
equal a prime lens for sharpness, since their design has to compromise & deliver
a good shot at many focal lengths, not just concentrate on one.
Prime lens (a.k.a. ‘fixed’ lens) – a lens made with
one focal length, & specifically designed to take the best, sharpest shot
possible at that focal length. Require you to step back & forth to compose the
shot, but deliver higher photo quality than zooms & are much cheaper than
Image Stabilization – Once you zoom out past 5x
(around 200 mm), your pictures will blur very easily due to camera shake. Minor
hand tremors have an exaggerated effect at long telephoto; to see why this is
so, hold a yard stick outstretched. Notice how the part near your hand quivers
slightly, but the distant end swings around? Well, the further out your focal
point (the end of your stick) is, the more exaggerated that gets. You can put
your camera on a tripod & trigger the shutter by remote control or cable release
on some cameras, but who wants to carry that stuff around? How many basking
turtles will watch you do all this without diving in? Image stabilization is a
technology that compensates for camera shake, helping hold the scene steady so
you can take a sharp picture. It’s a lens technology & adds to the cost & weight
of a camera. People will argue day & night over how much difference this makes,
how good it is, etc, but it’s a definite benefit when you can get it. A
minority of compact cameras have this feature; the discontinued Olympus 2100uz &
Canon Pro 90 IS, and the recently released Panasonic DMC-FZ 1.
Section Summary: A good compact camera has a
high quality zoom lens and a macro mode to let the camera focus in on close-up
objects. Never buy a compact digital camera with a fixed lens (no optical zoom).
Do buy a prime (say, 50 mm) if you have an SLR, because it is handy. Image
stabilization is a great perk on cameras with zoom power over 5x (200 mm).
V.) A Word
About Storage Media.
Your digital camera stores photo.s on storage
media, just like your computer uses a hard drive, floppy disk, Zip disk or CD-R.
The larger your media, the more photo.s you can take before ‘emptying’ it onto
your computer so you can clear the card & reuse it. There are several types of
storage media, & most cameras only accept one.
Compact Flash – the first media & still the most common. Similar
in size to a book of matches; rigid like an old 3.5 inch floppy disk or a Zip
disk. CF cards are solid state, reliable, available in sizes from 8 megabytes to
1 gigabyte+, & usually the cheapest option. There are 2 types; most CF cards are
type I, but there is a larger, thicker Type II. Most any digicam using CF can
use Type I, and a few can also use Type II, usually only important if you use a
microdrive. CF cards contain their own controller chips. CF cards over 1
gigabyte use the FAT 32 file system & only work in cameras that can handle that.
Smart Media – Similar 2-Dimensional size to a CF card, but far
thinner & the metal contacts are exposed. Flexible like an old 5.25” floppy
disk. Usually trail CF cards in size capacity (badly; I think they top out at
128 megabytes & larger aren’t expected). Do not contain a controller chip, so
the camera must. Older Olympus & Fuji digicams use this standard. Although
replaced by xD Picture Card, Smart Media should be around for a long time.
xD Picture Card – The sequel to smart media. Do not contain a
controller chip (the camera does). Created by Olympus & Fuji & used in some of
their newer digicams. Initially released in capacities up to 128 megabytes, &
256 meg are out now. The Olympus 730 can read smart media or xD, but the newer
7x0 Oly’s are xD-only.
Memory Stick – About the size of a stick of gum & made by Sony;
used in many Sony cameras. Much less common than CF & not available in such
large capacity, but Sony’s backing is a huge advantage & both capacity & value
for money have made great strides.
Memory Stick Duo
– A smaller memory stick that can be used via
adapter with devices designed for the original memory stick specification.
Memory Stick Pro
– Same physical size & shape as memory stick, yet
expected to be more reliable with some advanced security features. Developed by
SanDisk & Sony. Not compatible with cameras designed for the original memory
stick specification, except the Sony Cyber-shot F717.
Multimedia Card/Secure Digital Media Card – MMC & SD are
the same size but internally different & not all devices can use both. Very
small (postage stamp) & now available up to 512 meg. Not only is the MMC tiny,
but the MultiMediaCard Association approved a new RS-MMC (Reduced Size
MultiMediaCard) standard. SD supposedly provides enhanced cryptographic security
protection for copyrighted data, which sounds more like a benefit to the
recording industry than to camera owners. In fact, SD complies with all three
levels of the Secure Digital Music Industry (SDMI) security
requirements (I’m so thrilled…).
Floppy Disk – the old Sony Mavica series included several models
with a built-in floppy drive, back when photo. resolution was lower & file sizes
small enough to fit a few pics on a floppy. These days many individual pics
won’t fit on a floppy unless excessively compressed, so steer clear of
floppy-based storage options.
CD-R/CD-RW – a few cameras include built-in CD-R/CD-RW drives for
burning your photo.s onto small (3 inch) CD-R or CD-RW discs that none-the-less
play in standard CD-ROM drives. This technology has not gone mainstream but does
give you immediate long-term archival (a.k.a. ‘permanent’) storage in large
volume; just carry a pack of those little CD’s. Cameras with this technology are
larger than comparable competitors.
– a tiny hard drive (so with moving parts, not solid
state) made in the form-factor of a Type II Compact Flash card. Most cameras
that can accept CF Type II can use Microdrives (exception: Olympus E-10’s can be
erratic with microdrives) although the microdrive drains more electricity than a
standard CF card. Because they have moving parts, some theorize they are more
prone to fail & there are concerns about using microdrives at very high
altitudes. There was a time when microdrive capacity (generally 340 or 512
megabytes or 1 gigabyte) was so much cheaper than CF & they usually worked fine
so few people worried. CF prices fell so much that these days the difference is
less, but still there.
Storage media will be determined by the camera you buy & it’s unlikely to be a
serious limiting factor, so get the camera you want & whatever storage media it
requires. The exception is the photographer who needs very high storage capacity
(i.e.: wants to carry 2 or 3 cards on a vacation & shoot hundreds of pics with
no backup), who will find CF still the biggest, cheapest & best bang for the
VI.) Tripods & Miscellaneous Equipment.
Tripods are 3-legged stands that support
a pole on which you screw your camera’s base; this holds the camera steady in
position so you can take photo.’s without camera shake, & lets you precisely
position the camera (some tripods include built-in level indicators). Many use a
cable release to trigger the shutter when the camera’s on a tripod, to further
reduce camera shake. They typically fold up to stick in a case & carry with you.
Tripods are often used to carefully set up landscape photo.s or take
high-powered telephoto shots (to avoid blur from camera shake). They are also
used to take several photo.s from the same position, such as when you take
side-by-side photo.s of a long scene, say a city shoreline from across a river,
to put on your computer & combine into a panorama photo. Many of you will want
Monopods are like tripods but only have
one leg. They are much less steady but smaller, lighter & more convenient to
carry around & still have substantial steadying power.
Cable Release – a cable that connects to
your camera; the end you hold has a shutter trigger button so you can take
photo.s without touching the camera. This lets a camera on a tripod photograph
without quivering ( it would if you poked the button on your camera).
Accessory Flash – for cameras with hot
shoes, these are wonderful for large indoor scenes with subdued lighting. Large
indoor public aquariums like the Tennessee Aquarium at Chattanooga benefit
greatly. Nikon, Canon & Olympus each market flashes or lines of flashes for
their own cameras, and these will tend to run from $200-$500. Some cameras will
tolerate ‘generic’ flashes.
Filters – Small glass ‘lenses’ that
screw onto your camera’s lens to do things like protect the lens (UV filter),
reduce reflections (circular polarizer), enhance some colors, warm skin tones,
UV Filter – a.k.a. ‘lens armor.’ Many
SLR camera lenses are expensive enough to justify adding a UV filter onto the
end, just to protect the main lens. High quality UV filters like B+H & Hoya’s
super multi-coated line tend to run $50-100; cheap ones may be under $15. Many
compact cameras pull the lens into the body or cover it when the camera’s off,
so most owners of such don’t use them.
Circular Polarizer – a filter the
screens out light except that coming in a certain direction. From a practical
standpoint, it reduces reflections on glass or the water’s surface in your shots
(you turn the filter to get the effect you want). However, since it works by
screening out light, it reduces the amount of light reaching your lens, so you
will need higher ISO, slower shutter speed or larger aperture while you use one.
Note that a linear polarizer is different so be careful which you buy.
Camera Bags – Many brands & models
available. Buy one that holds everything you plan to carry; camera, spare
rechargeable batteries, a manual, a camera lens cleaning kit/tool of some type,
your cable release (if you have one), etc… A widely lauded name brand is
Lens Cleaning Kits – sooner or later
you’ll need one. You may accidentally touch your camera’s lens during a trip, or
water may splash & get on it. Always nice to have a cleaning kit handy.
Card Reader – Most cameras can be hooked
to your computer with a special proprietary USB cable (brand or model-specific)
to download pics from camera to computer. A better way is to buy a card reader;
you take the card out of the camera, stick it in the card reader, punch the
reader into a USB port & download that way, then stick the card back in the
camera. This avoids running down the camera’s batteries or relying on a
proprietary cable. Some card readers require drivers, but some are automatically
recognized by your computer as generic mass storage devices. You can usually
download drivers free from manufacturer web pages so don’t freak out if you lose
your drivers disk. If you use a notebook computer, compact flash in your camera,
and have a PCMCIA adapter, you can stick the CF card into the adapter, stick it
in your notebook’s PCMCIA card slot, and ‘Bam,’ you can use it like a
floppy disk & get your photo.s.
Portable Photo. Storage – storage media
fill up often when you’re away from the computer, especially at ‘once in a
lifetime’ events like trips to large public aquariums. Notebook computers tend
to be too heavy to carry along. A number of battery-powered hard drive-based
products are available; you take the CF card (or smart media, etc…) from your
camera, plug it into the product, the product copies the photo.s onto its own
internal hard drive, and then you put the CF card back in your camera, tell the
camera to Delete All Pictures, and you keep shooting. The original product was
the Minds @ Work Digital Wallet (followed by the MindStor), but that company is
gone. The first competitor was Nixvue, with the Digital Album, and now the Vista
model (and a couple of ‘light’ variations) – the Vista has an LCD screen for
viewing, & a remote so you can hook it to a t.v. & do slide-shows. The Delkin
Picture Pad is basically a repackaged Nixvue Vista. The Image Bank was very
popular but was recently discontinued. Other current offerings include the
Tripper, Super DigiBin & X-Drive II. Click on the hyperlinked device names to
open pages about them.
Nixvue Vista – A small plastic case with an LCD screen for viewing
pictures; contains an internal hard drive for storage. Runs on rechargeable
battery power but from what I’ve read that battery runs down after a few uses so
for extended trips buy an extra & keep the charger handy.
Tripper – Plastic case with LCD screen for operation but not photo
display. Reasonable battery life & connects to your computer via USB 2 for fast
Super DigiBin – Plastic case with LCD screen for operation but not photo
display. USB 1.1 for downloads.
X-Drive II – Plastic case with LCD screen for operation but not photo
display. USB 2 for fast downloads.
e.) Image Tank G2 – the second
generation of the very popular & fairly long-lived (but discontinued) original
Image Tank. At this writing it’s expected soon but not in customers’ hands yet.
The original made a name for itself because you could buy an ‘empty’ one &
install your own notebook hard drive (saving money). Original had a good track
record & great battery life.
Tripper, Super DigiBin and X-Drive II are sold
Inside Computer, whose web site has this helpful
comparison chart. You can check out
Digital Photography’s Storage & Media Forum for user experiences with these.
As of 4-15-03, I’d probably get a Tripper.
Notebook computer – some people use these to
empty their storage cards onto. Beware that a notebook & peripherals (external
floppy drive, manuals, system disks, AC Adaptor, etc…) in a large shoulder bag
weighs several pounds more than the notebook alone & carrying it around a major
public exhibit gets very painful.
Field Herping Photography; What You Need in a Setup.
There are 2 main categories of field herp.
photography; close up and telephoto.
Close Up - covers macro. (very close up) up to a few feet of
distance, and applies to fairly stationary subjects (coiled pit vipers, ring
neck snakes, hognose snakes playing dead, box turtles, toads, some salamanders)
or those in-hand or otherwise subdued. It may cover the more tolerant basking
lizards (some green anoles, Northern fence lizards & 5-lined skinks). If you
plan to photograph your captures, this is how. Unless you need to fill the
picture frame with very small specimens (worm snakes, baby snakes, very close up
turtle hatchlings, etc…), most any camera will do. Some of the Nikon CoolPix
line are legendary for macro capability. (Note: if you try using macro.
on a coiled pit viper & get bitten, don’t even think about blaming me…).
Telephoto - for non-wide angle shots of anything over a few feet
away, or tight close ups of those a few feet away (‘in your face’ shots of
coiled pit vipers, frame-filling shots of basking lizards, etc…). This is how
you photograph basking turtles. In my experience, 10x Zoom (around 380 mm in 35
mm equivalents on most 10x cameras) is the minimum, although a higher resolution
camera like the 5 megapixel Nikon CoolPix 5700 with 8x zoom might do (especially
with a tele-converter). Image stabilization is a plus but not an absolute
There are 2 main accessory lens
types you may want.
Tele-converter – a magnifying lens added onto the end of compact
camera lenses (via screw in threads on the main lens, or clamp/screw on adapters
that attach to the camera) to offer a zoom modifier like 1.7x, 2x or 3x. They
vary widely in optical quality; the best ever so slightly degrade photo.
quality, the worst cause color cast, aren’t evenly sharp across the whole shot,
etc… My now discontinued Olympus B-300 is a 1.7x tele-extender that, added to my
380mm 10x zoom Pro 90 IS camera, let’s me shoot at 640mm 17x zoom. You may need
a step ring (thread adapter) to attach a given lens to a specific camera.
Macro extender lenses – if your camera lacks good macro capability
you may have the option buy a macro-enhancing add-on lens. Most won’t need this.
Resolution – At least a 2 megapixel camera, & more is better. If
you like to crop out a smaller section of your picture to print, you benefit
more. Try for at least a 3 megapixel camera, unless a 2 m. model has otherwise
unattainable benefits (the Panasonic DMC-FZ 1 is 2 megapixel but the only
current image-stabilized compact with 12x zoom I know of!).
Storage – Get at the least a 64 megabyte memory card, & if money’s
not tight 512 megabytes is a real price/performance sweet spot. Your highest
quality JPEG images will be 1 to 2.5 megabytes each.
– digital cameras eat batteries like M&M’s.
You MUST use rechargeable batteries or go in the poor house. Carry at least one
extra set. While battery life varies widely & also with LCD & flash usage, your
camera will probably get between 100 and 500 photo.s per set of batteries.
Lens Cleaning Kit
– Never know when you’ll feel for the lens cap &
accidentally smudge your lens. Gotta have one handy.
– otherwise you’ll leave equipment at home, get dirt &
mud on the camera, etc…
Card Reader – Not required but convenient & worthwhile.
Portable Storage Device
– Covered previously. If you’re on
vacation or at a large public exhibit taking several hundred photo.s far from
your computer, you need a small, lightweight battery-operated device to store
photo.s so you can clear & reuse your storage cards.
For field herping close-up most any mid-range brand-name recent-model 2+
megapixel digital camera will do just fine. For field herping at a distance, you
additionally need at least 8x zoom & image stabilization would be very nice for
hand-held telephoto work. Note that compact cameras with zoom over 5x will
generally have electronic viewfinders (EVF’s). Get a large storage media card so
you can take several photo.s of each subject, hoping for a good one.
This is the sort of photo. you
get with a 4x zoom.
Basking Sliders, Swan Lake in Northwestern TN
These are the sort of photo.s
you get with a 17x zoom.
Basking Sliders, Swan Lake in Northwestern TN
Basking Male Stinkpot, Little River in
Hopkinsville, Southwestern KY
Care to see a 1:1 comparison of a midland
painted I photographed first with my E-10 (4x - 140mm) and my Canon Pro 90 IS
with B-300 1.7x tele-extender (17x - 380mm)? See if you can tell which is which.
I don’t remember if I got a few steps closer with the Canon or not, but still…
VIII.) Overview of
Some Current Digital Cameras.
As of April 2003, here are the available (or
soon to be) key contenders. The digital camera industry moves forward very fast
& this section will be dated fast. Still, these selections should be good for
this Spring & Summer, and their ‘worthy successors’ in the future will build on
their strengths. Review Section IV.), Figure of Merit if you want to
compare their relative ability to bring in a high-res telephoto shot.
Panasonic DMC-FZ 1.
2 megapixel 12x (35mm – 420 mm)
image-stabilized optical zoom compact camera. Fast F2.8 Leica lens. EVF
Viewfinder. Rather a point-and-shoot; lacks aperture priority & shutter priority
modes. Users rave about the wonderful telephoto power of its lens (& say it
makes really good 8x10 prints). Macro focus down to 1.9 inches. Flash reportedly
good up to about 7 feet, so not the camera for large dimly lit indoor settings
(public aquariums, etc…). No hot shoe! You cannot add an accessory flash! Lens
is threaded to allow add-on lenses & filters. One of the best tele-extender
candidates is the soon-to-be-released Olympus TCON-17, a 1.7x extender that’ll
give you 20.4x telephoto power! Storage media is Secure Digital (SD/MMC) card –
only comes with an 8 megabyte card. ~ $450 online.
My take: Sounds
like a great sunny outdoor telephoto field herping camera; can be a general use
camera but not optimal for it. Would make a great field herping second camera,
if you already have a general use digital camera.
Digital Photography Review
Olympus C-750 Ultra Zoom.
4 megapixel 10x (38mm – 380 mm)
optical zoom compact camera. No image-stabilization. EVF Viewfinder. Does have a
hot shoe so you can add an accessory flash. Plenty of manual control (i.e.:
aperture & shutter priority modes). Uses xD-Picture Card storage & includes only
a 16 megabyte card (note: the 730 could read both smart media & xD, but the 750
can only read xD). Although the famous B-300 1.7x tele-extender lens was
discontinued, it seems Olympus is introducing a new version, the
Olympus TCON-17, a 1.7x tele-extender (55 mm thread). I found a site that
expects to sell it for only $115! This would give you 17x telephoto on the 750…
Note: The 750 is the latest in a
series of non-image stabilized compacts, preceded by the 700, 720, 730 and
released along with the 740 (which is 3.2 megapixel, has no hot shoe, & records
movies but with no sound (750 does movies with sound).
Note quite released yet (due
5/03): MRSP nearly $600, so I figure street price will be
My take: Quite
likely the best ‘all around value’ currently available. 4 megapixel resolution
is fine, 10x zoom beats out the 5700 & gets close to the FZ 1, manual control is
there should you want to learn more technique, and it’s the latest in a series
so by now Olympus should’ve worked out any real problems. Sure could’ve used
image-stabilization, though. Avoid its subordinates, the 720, 730 & 740; the
price drop won’t justify the feature loss.
Digital Camera Resource.
Digital Photography Review
Nikon CoolPix 5700.
5 megapixel 8x (35mm – 280mm)
optical zoom compact camera. No image-stabilization. EVF viewfinder. Does have a
hot shoe for accessory flash. Plenty of manual control & said to have a somewhat
‘SLR-like’ feel by some. Digital Photography Review’s review notes there’s a
1.5x tele-convertor available for it (which would give you 12x telephoto); the
camera’s lens is threaded to allow add-ons. That tele-convertor is the Nikon
TC-E15ED for around $200.
Uses Compact Flash Type I and II (including microdrive) storage.
This one is expensive; sells
online around $1,000 – $1,100. At this writing Nikon has released a $100
Digital Photography Review.
Digital Camera Resource.
Digital Photography Review Discussion Forum:
Canon 10D DSLR.
3’rd generation prosumer
interchangeable lens digital SLR by Canon. 6 megapixel CMOS sensor (good higher
ISO performance with low noise), strong largely metal body, built-in flash, hot
shoe & option for an add-on battery grip. It has a 1.6x focal length multiplier,
so a 100 – 400 mm zoom lens actually works as a 160 – 640 mm lens. Uses compact
flash & can use microdrives. Autofocus is much improved over its predecessors,
the D30 and D60. Nikon’s closest current offering is the Nikon D100; note that
Nikon markets an 80-400 mm VR (Vibration Reduction) lens that’s held to be very
comparable to the Canon 100-400mm IS lens.
2.) 24-85 mm lens
(for general use) $310.
3.) 50 mm 1.8 prime
lens (sharper close work) $70.
4.) 100-400 IS lens
(zoom & image stabilized) $1,500.
5.) Speedlite 420EX
accessory flash $180.
I’d also get high
quality UV filters (around $90) for the 24-85 & 100-400 mm lenses. Don’t forget
a LowePro (or other brand) camera bag. Note that the 100-400 mm IS lens gives
you hand-held telephoto power to about 640 mm; of all the varied Canon lenses
this one is held to offer ‘high enough’ quality at a ‘low enough’ price. (To put
it in perspective, some Canon Telephoto Prime lenses are a few to several
thousand dollars). There are far cheaper zoom lenses rated for 300mm plus, but
your photo quality will suffer (which sounds petty, but for what you pay for a
DSLR setup, are you willing to lose that quality?). The 550EX is a more powerful
& manually programmable lens. For the setup listed above, plus a bag & UV
filters, I might pay around $3,700. Throw in a 512 meg CF card & a battery grip,
and you’ll hit $4,000 easily.
Digital Photography Review.
Steves Digicams Review.
Digital Camera Resource Page’s Review.
Go Inside’s Review by Guy Lerner.
Digital Photography Review Discussion Forum:
Canon SLR Talk.
Whatever camera you choose, you’ll need
software to work with your photo.s online. At the most basic level, Windows XP
can display your photo.s, print, copy to CD, create slide-shows onscreen & even
has an option to order prints online. The Macintosh now includes iPhoto, which
I’ve not used. Online services such as Ofoto and ClubPhoto offer software & web
site features to let you upload photo.s to get prints & products. But most
people will want an ‘image editor,’ graphics software that lets you alter the
photo. (i.e. fix red eye, crop out the section you want, adjust sharpness,
contrast and color saturation, etc…).
At the basic level are sub-$50 programs like
Microsoft Picture It! (comes in varied versions (Publishing, Photo)) that cover
most needs & have ease-of-use design with simple interfaces, wizards, etc.... At
the highly advanced level is PhotoShop, an over $500 high-powered graphics
manipulation package with an unintuitive interface requiring formidable
knowledge & skill to use, though if you’re capable it has no equal. What’s more,
additional functionality is programmed into software called ‘plug ins,’ which
plug into PhotoShop to give it new capabilities. In between are mid-range
products like the new PhotoShop Elements (very powerful, reportedly a bit
less complex, lacks some of the high-end PhotoShop features you’ll likely never
miss). Another product is Paint Shop Pro.
You can find a good listing of image editors &
reviews of them at
CNet’s Imaging Editing Software Section. Note that there’s more than one
page of reviews.
I do minimal graphics manipulation, mostly
reducing resolution & increasing JPEG compression to convert pics. for web use
(like an E-10 4 megapixel 2240x1680 2.41 megabyte JPEG to a 560x420 77.0
kilobyte JPEG that looks fine online, where it loads far faster). Picture It!
works fine for me.
Your camera may come with image editing
software, your scanner may include it, and it’s often sold bundled with other
software. You may well have 3 or 4 image editing software packages already on
your hard drive.
Online Digital Photography Reviews & Forums.
Digital Photography Review – The greatest digital photography web site I
know. Excellent up-to-date news, reviews and forums. Phil. Askey provides very
extensive product reviews of the leading cameras & often gets product to work
with before it’s even announced, so his reviews on major new cameras tend to be
fast. This site has easily navigated extensive discussion forums on nearly all
things related to digital photography, many knowledgeable users & an incredible
database of searchable old forum postings. If you really want to find out what
the new Canon 10D DSLR is like or how people like the new Panasonic DMC-FZ 1 or
the Tripper, this site is the one. Based in the U.K.
Steve’s Digicams – A great U.S.A.-based site for news & reviews; they have a
forum system that’s okay but I prefer DPReview’s. Steve’s reviews are thorough &
extensive, perhaps a bit less so than Phil.’s, but a smooth read. It’s a toss-up
whether Phil. or Steve will be the first to review a new camera, and this is my
favorite ‘second opinion’ site. The more high-caliber reviews I see on a camera,
the more comfortable I am discussing it.
Digital Camera Resource Page – Jeff Keller’s site. Good reviews, less
extensive than Phil.s or Steve’s but a much easier read (actually fit on one web
page instead of a series!!!) and Jeff has a ‘straight talk’ style I like. They
have forums. In the trade-off between exhaustively extensive vs. brief and
informative, I’ve listed the top 3 sites in order.
Imaging Resource – A fine site for reviews & they post notification of some
great ‘limited time’ deals on their main page. Their reviews are multi-page but
include an ‘Executive Summary’ that neatly wraps up the relevant points.
CNet’s Digital Camera Section – I occasionally use their site like a
‘Consumer Reports,’ because when they review a product, they enable customer
feedback & you can read brief reviews from owners.
If you’re considering buying a digital camera,
print out reviews from as many of these sites as have them (with DPReview and
Steve’s Digicams, just print out the Conclusions Page of their reviews). Read
them. Download sample images if you wish. Then go to DPReview’s Forums, join
(free), and research actual user experience with that camera.
XI.) Where to
Buy Digital Cameras & Equipment.
Sites like Digital Photography Review and
Steve’s Digicams often include clickable links to shop for a camera. Some sites
link to their sponsor’s website. Some link to search engines that show you
prices from many vendors. There are many resellers and varied experiences with
them. I would like to point out a couple of well-regarded sources.
B&H Photo-Video-Pro Audio – a big name & popular site for a huge range of
film & digital photography equipment. This is a great place to find DSLR lenses.
CKC Power – this guy is a top-notch provider of tele-extenders & other
compact digital camera-enhancing add-ons, in some cases offering product
available nowhere else. This is the first place I’d go if I wanted to attach a
spotting scope or telescope to my camera. I have dealt with him personally,
found him candid & straight-forward about his wares, and read many positive
postings about him.
Thomas Distributing – Digital cameras eat batteries like M&M’s and you need
to check out the product line at Thomas Distributing, an excellent low-cost
rechargeable equipment vendor likely to have what you need at a good price. I’ve
bought from them.
New Egg – A reputable online provider of great deals in storage cards like
compact flash (although they don’t always have the largest capacity cards). They
sell a wide variety of merchandise. Navigating their site to find the memory
cards is another story;
here’s the link for that.
The Filter Connection – an online vendor for lens filters, such as UV
filters & circular polarizers. This site may appeal more to SLR owners.
Inside Computing – A source for portable storage options such as the Tripper
& Super DigiBin. At this writing they don’t sell the Nixvue Vista.
When you consider purchasing
from an online vendor, check’em out in advance at
Reseller Ratings, the place to go for vendor ratings from their own prior
customers! This site was recommended a number of times in DPReview’s forums.
Resources You May Find Useful.
Sections X.) & XI.) laid out
online resources, but if you’d like to learn more about photographic technique &
enjoy a printed book, check out:
How To Do Everything With Your Digital Camera, 2’nd Ed. – by Dave
The camera models referenced are slightly
dated, but the book emphasizes how to use your camera (the skill of photography)
rather than how to shop for cutting edge equipment, which complements this
You can also check out Kodak’s free online
Guide To Taking Great Pictures, which covers technique (unlike my article).
They have such an extensive list of topics that whatever you want to do with a
camera, it’s probably there.
Where to Buy Prints.
Sooner or later, you’ll want
prints. No problem. Many online photo services will provide free temporary
accounts to upload photo.s to, & you can order prints in several standard sizes
(limited by your camera’s resolution), as well as photo. products like mugs,
teddy bears, notepads, even cakes… Some of these sights offer to scan your film
negatives to make digital pictures; most only create about a 1.5 megabyte file
(it looks better than you’d think at that size). I’ll list a few sites here.
Larger accounts with permanent storage tend to require a paid subscription.
Remember they are businesses & can do belly-up, so don’t count on them for
Ofoto – A time-honored veteran of online print-making. Now owned by Kodak.
As of this writing your online albums won’t be useful to link to forum posts to
share photo.s on our forums.
Club Photo – Another long-time veteran with many products to choose from.
And your albums can be used to link photo.s for sharing on our forums. You can
submit albums to the public galleries section to share. They offer an Album CD
product (up to 60 photo.s from an album on a CD); they do shrink your files (my
E-10 2.3 meg. JPEG’s down to about 500 k…).
EZPrints – One of the first to offer poster-sized prints, although others
have caught up. They made great poster-sized (16x20 and 20x30”) prints for me &
shipped them to me very fast.
Snapfish – They’re happy to develop your film & scan it, too. They’ll send
you a plastic mailer to send in your film.
Shutterfly – Another reputable online photo. service.
Wal-mart’s Online Photo Center – Not content to own the retail world.
Wal-mart Retail – Wal-mart will make prints from film & can make a
Picture CD; Picture CD JPEG’s are fairly low resolution but image quality is
better than you’d expect for the size. I miss the old days when they offered
Kodak PhotoCD, which provided about 4 megabyte TIFF files; I have a nice 20x30”
wall photo. of the Painted Desert made from one…
Microsoft – In Windows XP Home Edition when you open the My Pictures
Folder & its subfolders, one of your options in the left-hand menu is to order
prints online. But wait, there’s more! The marketing leader also offers a
Microsoft Network Photo.s Section.
Yahoo! Photos – Do you Yahoo?
Section Summary: I
recommend opening a paid Gold or Platinum Membership at Club Photo. They make
good prints, offer a good range of photo-based products & you can link to album
photo.s & display them in your Turtle Forum posts.
Digital Photography is an
empowering hobby that can let you preserve memories, share findings & learn new
skills. A great adjunct to field herping, going ‘bring’em back alive’ one better
by ‘leaving’em well enough alone.’ There’s no one best camera setup for
everyone. I hope this article helps you make the best decision for you.
Juvenile Midland Painted Turtle in NW Tennessee