Sunday, December 13, 2009

Please Stand By.....

....while this technophobe tries to get the hang of using a new camera. Yes, that boink onto the pavement that my lens took at the Crofton Christmas Parade did irreversible damage. I tried to put off buying a new camera while I gathered advice, read reviews, researched features, and checked my bank account, but my resolve to become more camera-knowledgeable before buying went down the tubes on a trip to Saltspring Island to do a homevisit for a rescue and a bit of Christmas shopping.

Camera-less, Else and I drove onto the pier-type ferry dock a block from my home. It was a gorgeous morning - crisp, cold, with clear blue sky and rising golden sun. And as we sat in the car waiting for the ferry, a seagull became my downfall. He hopped onto the wooden rail just a couple of feet from my car window. And he MOCKED me. He MOCKED me. He bobbed and stretched and cocked his head; he posed on one foot then did deep knee bends to show me how exquisitely balanced he is. He turned slightly sideways so the rising sun could reflect perfectly off his snow white feathers while simultaneously reflecting the bright red dot on his beak. I rolled down the window and he continued to pose. A man walked by, between car and rail, and The Mocking Seagull still continued to pose. Nothing was going to deter him from his role as the Mocker Of Camera-less Women. I could have had The Best Shots Ever. I could have taken Award Winning Shots. I could have written The Perfect Blog. But I had no camera. Waaaaaaaaaah!

And so the next day found me at the London Drugs Camera Counter, driving a poor salesclerk crazy with my list of eight cameras I wanted to see, touch, play with, test, and ask endless questions about. I had my list of "must-have" features: a good optical zoom, a small shutter lag time (time between pressing the button and snapping the shot) and small cycle time (time between shots) for action pictures, lightweight, user-friendly, seperate viewfinder. Two and a half hours later, I walked out with a Nikon P90. I'm sure Rolf, the clerk, was glad to see me go.

And I'm sure he was not happy to see me walk back in the next day, asking to return it in favour of the Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS3.

In the store, the Nikon felt like a great camera. It fit my hand well - nice shape and size for the "grip", lightweight, controls easily accessible. It has a viewfinder as well as the LCD display - a feature hard to find on new cameras but a distinct advantage in sunny weather. And the LCD display can be tipped in various directions to enable short sneaky photographers to photograph over barriers by holding the camera up high or down low, or to capture images surreptiously from the lap without camera-sensitive dogs being stopped dead in their tracks by the Box In Front of Mom's Face.

In practice, the Nikon P90 was a disappointment. The 24X Optical Zoom produced fuzzy images at anything over about 12X, and neither the print manual nor the LCD menu were user-friendly. I spent hours trying to figure out how to get sharp images, how to change the settings, how to use it more effectively. But the information either just wasn't there or wasn't accessible to a technophobic illiterate like me. Combined with the fact that this camera is NOT a pocket camera (the one strike against it when I bought it), it was a FAIL.

The Panasonic DMC ZS3 is pocket sized. It has a 12X optical zoom, a user-friendly LCD menu, a quick menu that allows you to access your favourite settings at the push of a button. But I'm not totally hooked on it - it does not have a seperate viewfinder, so I am waiting for a bright sunny day to see if the very clear, crisp images on the large LCD screen are still as clear and crisp. And, with use, I discovered two features that are very problematic: the position of the thingy you push to take a picture (senior's moment...what IS that thing called?), and the position of many of the other controls. The thingy you push to take a picture is the second button over on the top. My finger hardly stretches that far. A more natural position would be the first button, which is where a dial for changing programs is located. The second problematic feature is the placement of the buttons which flip you into movie mode and the buttons which control the menu. When held with one hand, which I am prone to do when leashes with dogs attached are in the other hand, the thumb rests on those buttons - and the slightest twitch activates them. I have countless movie shots that I thought were stills, and settings are continuously changed when I inadvertantly press the menu button.

The zoom on the Panasonic DMC-ZS3 is also disappointing - it doesn't seem to bring birds in any closer than my old 3x optical zoom did - perhaps because it has a much bigger wide angle ability. I don't know enough about that stuff to figure it out. I just figure 12X should be 4X better than 3X - and it's not.

I'm going to give it another few days (I have up to 14 days to return it) to see if these are insurrmountable problems or not. If not, poor Rolf at London Drugs may want to go into hiding.

Meanwhile, here's a few of my initial attempts.

First I walked around town, taking the dogs down to the seawalk:

Birds on a Roof

Busy Boat Scene

I wanted the zoom to bring this heron in closer - he wasn't that far out, but I still couldn't get a great shot:


On the other hand, I was happy with this close up picture of the winter cabbage in the planters near the ferry dock:

Winter Cabbage

I had to make a quick overnight trip to the mainland for a Family Christmas Dinner at my mom's seniors' facility. That gave me a chance to try out some indoor, large crowd pictures - with rather disappointing results. (That's my mom in the pink pants at Table 15).

And the return trip last night gave me a chance to try the "night scenery" setting:

Ferry lineup with - I think - Point Roberts in the background.

On the way home from Duke Point, I had to take a short detour through Ladysmith. This Christmas, Ladysmith should win the title of The Most Decorated Small Town in Canada. Ladysmith rises from the Trans Canada Highway like a miniature San Franscisco - hilly, hilly, hilly. When the main street (and much of the rest of the town) is decorated with more Christmas lights than I have ever seen in one place at one time, the effect is phenomenal. Take-your-breath-away phenomenal. The pictures don't do it justice.

And what's a blog entry on my life with the critters without a critter? This closeup of Oliver seems a bit fuzzy to me: to practice some more. And to write/revise some stories.....I've been invited to join a writers' group here, and my first meeting with the whole group is next week. What to share, what to share?

Edited to add: Hmmmmmm...seems to me the colour and sharpness of these photos definitely is not up to par once posted on the blog - the colours seem less brilliant than past photos taken with a less expensive, more basic camera. I would appreciate comments from readers - are you seeing what I'm seeing in these images? Recommendations for other cameras to consider gratefully accepted!


Anonymous said...

Congratulations on your new camera! I am a fan of Panasonics (I have one) albeit mine is FZ30 --definitley not pocket-sized and fairly complex to use, but it has an amazing Leica lens. I have to say I've been VERY pleased with it, but as with anything new, it did take a while to get the hang of it. I'm no expert, but here are a couple of things I've learned. I have found that when photographing animals, the "sports" setting works best because the shutter speed compensates for any slight movement - movement that is otherwise picked up by the "all-purpose" setting and can result in a blurry photo. And for close-ups, try standing a litter further back and use the lens to zoom in. It's true that over a certain distance, the 12x lens doesn't make much difference (you need a telephoto lens to bring distant things close), but you will notice a difference with objects that are less far away. The photos you took look pretty great on my screen. Have fun snapping! Let's see more dog pics.

Deb S.

EvenSong said...

Tho my better-[photographer]-half is a die-hard Nikon man (thank Paul Simon's "Kodachrome"), his old pocket point-and-shoot, that became my barn camera, is a Cannon PowerShot 60.

Pretty small display in this older 2.0 megapixel model, but separate eye-ball viewfinder, shutter release (that's what it's called!) is convenient, with the zoom control right there for adjustments, too. Pretty user friendly menu, as well.

Lots of my earlier blog photos were taken with the Cannon--until Al upgraded to the Nikon D200 last spring, and I inherited the D40, which is what most of the rest of the blog photos were taken with--hard to see much difference, except for actual pixel size of the images and the zoom capability of the D40 (with its detachable 18-200mm zoom lens!). And what videos I've posted of silly Jackson were all taken with the Canon, as well.

The Canon has recently gone kaput on me--not sure yet why (or if it's fixable), but I suspect it's from having been carried around in my barn jacket so much, with hay and shavings and other horse-related detritus.

I yet haven't decided whether to buy a replacement [it's so much more handy to taken on a trail ride], or to go for a real video camera, instead. Al says the current models are even better.

Black Jack's Carol said...

My input is to be taken with a grain of salt. As you know, I'm very much in a learning process. Still, a couple of thoughts:
1. Every new camera takes time to understand, so a day or two of shooting may not be enough to give a fair assessment.
2. If you were anywhere near Vancouver, I would very highly recommend you pay a visit to Henry Wong, of Broadway Camera, on West Broadway, just west of Oak. He would look at your blog, talk with you about the kind of results you are hoping to get, and come up with what he truly believes would be your best choice. He doesn't work on Tuesdays, and I think has one other day off, so best to call before going. He's definitely there on the weekends.
3. I have had two Lumix Panasonics and felt both were excellent cameras - the DZ18 gives you amazing zoom for the size, price and convenience. I used it a lot, and although I finally did it in, it took a lot of abuse, and worked beautifully. I think there's a new equivalent that is even sharper and with some added features. Shiprock swears by them (though he has gone to the big time now with Canon and telephoto lens for bird shooting). It's the Leica lens that he says makes all the difference.
4. Vibration control of some sort really helps, for sharp pictures. But, as I'm learning the hard way, a tripod is just about the only way to get truly sharp pictures. Like you, I resist that, simply because many of the spontaneous shots give us the most pleasure, and they don't lend themselves to set-up time.
5. Of the shots you posted, I agree the flower was the most successful. Indoor, and night shots take quite a bit of reading and experimenting, I think. I never did succeed with either. Oliver is beautiful, but you are right that the focus seems a bit fuzzy. I assume you are using autofocus, holding the shutter half way, and giving the camera time to focus before completing the shot. Do you have a vibration control?
6. All the best with your new camera, which ever one you finally choose!

Anonymous said...

Sorry, no advice about cameras for you Jean, but I'm with Deb - more dog pics please!

Even if the one of Oliver is slightly off-focus, he sure looks good to me!


Jean said...

Thanks you all for your thoughts, advice, feedback! Yes, it was the Leica lens on the panasonic that was a big selling factor for me - same lens as my various better-quality binoculars have been. But I'm still struggling with the lack of sharpness and waht seems like washed-out colour or incorrect colours on the photos I'm taking compared to previous cameras like my Fuji or the recently-deceased Nikon.

I tried doing some shots on the sports setting yesterday, but didn't really get anything worth posting - inactive dogs/birds and poor lighting. I shall work with it some more tomorrow when I take the dogs out in the SNOW.

I do have vibration control and have activated it. I tried some similar shots with it both on and off and couldn't see any difference. I'll play with it some more.

Evensong, I know all about the barn jacket pocket phenomena!! That made me laugh - I'm always stuffing my camera in my pocket, no case on it, and pulling it back out with bits of straw or dog cookie crumbs clinging to the lens. Oooooops.