‘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 environment.

             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 compose pictures).


I.)                 Basic Concepts.

II.)               Compact vs. SLR Cameras.

III.)            Resolution, File Formats & Compression.

IV.)            Prime vs. Macro. Vs. Telephoto vs. Zoom vs. Image-stabilized Zoom Lenses.

V.)              A Word About Storage Media.

VI.)            Tripods & Miscellaneous Equipment.

VII.)         Field Herping Photography; What You Need in a Setup.

VIII.)       Overview of Some Current Digital Cameras.

IX.)            Photo-editing Software.

X.)              Best Online Digital Photography Reviews & Forums.

XI.)            Where to Buy Digital Cameras & Equipment.

XII.)         Resources You May Find Useful.

XIII.)       Where to Buy Prints.

XIV.)      Conclusion.


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.


1.)    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.

2.)    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.

3.)    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.

4.)    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.

5.)    Viewfinder – 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 photo.s.

6.)    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 or sensor.

7.)    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!!!

8.)    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.

9.)    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 on occasion.

10.)            Macro lens – 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.

11.)            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.

12.)            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 stabilization.

13.)            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.

14.)            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 history, etc…).

15.)            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.

16.)            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.

17.)            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.

18.)            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).

19.)            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.

20.)            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 compacts do.

21.)            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 setting…).

22.)            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 method.

23.)            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.

Section Summary: 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 want.


II.) Compact 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.


1.)    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.


2.)    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.


3.) 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.

For that 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 saturation parameters.

DSLR lenses 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 exposure, etc…

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.


III.) Resolution, 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 pixel.’

             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 needful. 

            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:


a.)    2 Megapixels – Prints sharp photo.s up to 5x7” & reportedly decent 8x10’s.

b.)    3 Megapixels – Prints sharp 8x10’s & reportedly decent 11x14’s. Could probably make an okay 16x20.

c.)    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.

d.)    > 4 Megapixels – should make very sharp 16x20’s & fine 20x30’s as well.


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 Hopkinsville, KY.

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 reputation.


            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.

a.)    Light hits the sensor (how much depends on shutter speed & aperture).

b.)    Your sensor ‘reacts’ to this light radiation bombardment, creating a signal.

c.)    This signal is sent as raw data to the camera’s microprocessor (your camera is a computer, too).

d.)    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, BMP, etc…).

e.)    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!

f.)      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.

g.)    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.


Section Summary: 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 Zoom Lenses.


            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, NW TN

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


Wide-Angle – 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) = 577,600.

Nikon 5700:                             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 comparable zooms.


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.


1.)    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.

2.)    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.

3.)    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.

4.)    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.

5.)    Memory Stick Duo – A smaller memory stick that can be used via adapter with devices designed for the original memory stick specification.

6.)    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.

7.)    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…).

8.)    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.

9.)    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.

10.)                        Microdrive – 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.


Section Summary: 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 buck.


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 tripods eventually.


            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, etc…


            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 LowePro.


            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.


            a.) 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.

            b.) Tripper – Plastic case with LCD screen for operation but not photo display. Reasonable battery life & connects to your computer via USB 2 for fast downloads.

            c.) Super DigiBin – Plastic case with LCD screen for operation but not photo display. USB 1.1 for downloads.

            d.) 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 by 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.


VII.) Field Herping Photography; What You Need in a Setup.


            There are 2 main categories of field herp. photography; close up and telephoto.


1.)    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…).

2.)    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 requirement.

There are 2 main accessory lens types you may want.

3.)    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.

4.)    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.

5.)    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!).

6.)    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.

7.)    Rechargeable Batteries – 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.

8.)    Lens Cleaning Kit – Never know when you’ll feel for the lens cap & accidentally smudge your lens. Gotta have one handy.

9.)    Camera Bag – otherwise you’ll leave equipment at home, get dirt & mud on the camera, etc…

10.)                        Card Reader – Not required but convenient & worthwhile.

11.)                        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.


Section Summary: 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.


1.)    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.


Reviews: Steve’s Digicams.

Digital Photography Review Discussion Forum: Other Digicams.


2.)    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 ~$500.

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.


Reviews: Imaging Resource.

            Digital Camera Resource.

Digital Photography Review Discussion Forum: Olympus Talk.


3.)    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 rebate offer.


Reviews: Digital Photography Review.

                        Steve’s Digicams.

                        Digital Camera Resource.

                        Imaging Resource.

            Digital Photography Review Discussion Forum: Nikon Talk.


4.)    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.

Sample System.

            Components:                                                                Cost (Street Prices):

            1.) 10D camera                                                                        $1,500.

            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.


Reviews: 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.


IX.) Photo-Editing Software.


            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.


X.) Best 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.


1.)    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.

2.)    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.

3.)    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.

4.)    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.

5.)    The Filter Connection – an online vendor for lens filters, such as UV filters & circular polarizers. This site may appeal more to SLR owners.

6.)    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.


XII.) 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 Johnson.


2600 Tenth Street

Berkeley, California  94710



            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 article nicely.

            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.


XIII.)     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 permanent storage.


A.)  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.

B.)   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…).

C.)  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.

D.)  Snapfish – They’re happy to develop your film & scan it, too. They’ll send you a plastic mailer to send in your film.

E.)   Shutterfly – Another reputable online photo. service.

F.)   Wal-mart’s  Online Photo Center – Not content to own the retail world.

G.)  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…

H.)  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.

I.)     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.


XIV.)      Conclusion.


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.


Richard Lunsford.

Juvenile Midland Painted Turtle in NW Tennessee