Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Choosing a Digital Camera

Choosing a  Digital Camera

As trip hosts and photographers for  Frontiers International, www.frontierstravel.com, we're often asked about cameras and lenses and what's a person to do when it comes to selecting a camera or camera system. Considering the investment involved, we offer these tips and pointers to keep in mind if you're in the market for a new camera.

Remember when you went back to your film lab and waited for the prints to come back from processing and then waited again for reprints to send to family members and friends? Well, those days are gone, thank goodness. With digital we now preview the images in the camera and delete any that we don't like. The memory card in the camera stores the photos that we later download to our computer. The card is reformatted and ready to be used again and again. We can easily share photos by email or online galleries or choose photos we want to print, and with one or two clicks, print them at home! With easy-to-use software editing programs, we can have our own digital darkroom right in our computer. This software can brighten, straighten, get rid of red eye and crop with minimal effort. And, if we don’t want to print at home, there are online print labs ready to help.

We are frequently asked which to consider, a point-and-shoot or an SLR? This question is almost always followed with how many pixels are needed? A point-and-shoot has a fixed lens. With an SLR (single lens reflex) you have the flexibility to interchange lenses. We use both in our travels. Many  point-and-shoot models are the size of a cell phone yet produce stunning images - and shoot video. These cameras are perfect to keep handy in a pocket, purse, fishing vest,  or fanny pack It's a perfect camera to use for instantaneous or impromptu shots

If you want to take it to the next level and are serious about landscapes, portraits, wildlife or bird images, then the flexibility of being able to switch back and forth from a wide-angle lens to a longer focal length (80-200mm or more) to pull in your subject becomes very important. When photographing people it's nice to have the option of a longer lens at times so you don't have to get in their face. On the other hand, if it's your grandson's first birthday, you do want to get close. In wildlife photography, you wouldn't want to walk up to a black mane lion - you'd want a longer focal length. So, we have choices.

Our choice in a point-and-shoot camera today is a Nikon COOLPIX S8000. This slim, handsome camera sports a 3-inch high resolution color display which makes previewing easy, is extremely fast for a point-and-shoot (ISO settings of 1600 are possible) and it offers a 10X zoom with VR (vibration reduction) image stabilization which equates to a 28-280 lens. Also included is Nikon D lighting for better exposures and a High Definition movie mode with stereo sound. The S8000 offers an advanced on board flash and a macro setting that allows focusing as close as 1cm or 0.4 inches. All of this and 14.2 mega pixels gives you a incredible point-and-shoot camera.

When it comes to an SLR for the more serious photographer, take a look at the Nikon D90. Add a 18-200 DX Nikor zoom lens with ED glass and Vibration Reduction and you have an affordable combination that you can travel the world with. The D90 offers 12.3 mega pixels (not as many pixels as the S8000 but bigger), high ISO (200-3200), HD Video with live view, Nikon D lighting and advanced scene modes that automatically adjust exposure for superior picture quality. The D90 comes with NikonView NX Software that makes image browsing and organizing easy.

On a pro level the Nikon D300s is the real deal, offering a 12.3 effective megapixel camera that
fires 8 frames per second in a durable magnesium body. The 300s D-movie function includes an external microphone input for clear stereo sound recordings while the large bright view finder is easy to see for previewing. We own three D300s Nikon cameras. It's our go-to camera. It's probably obvious by now that we are loyal Nikon fans and there is good reason. Nikon helps us make great images and they never let us down. You may agree that money can't buy happiness, but it can buy quality. With our Nikon cameras and Sage fly rods, we know the rest is up to us.

 If you want to photograph wildlife then you’ll need a longer lens (300 mm or longer) for your SLR. There are a lot of choices in lenses and good glass is on the expensive side. Our 200-400 comes in at about $7,000 and our 80-400 at $1,650. But a lens that is a real sleeper is the Nikon 70-300 VR at $590. This is an extremely sharp lens and although it’s slower than the big glass in the 200-400, with the higher ISO’s on the D90 and the D300s, it will give you magazine quality images. Get all the technical information on these cameras and lenses at http://imaging.nikon.com/products/imaging/index.htm. 

On another note, a good, personal, hands-on camera store is getting hard to find and most of the
big box stores are great on price but lack the kind of service we all long for. We have used
Roberts Distributors in Indianapolis for all of our photographic needs for the past seven or
eight years and we highly recommend them. Our contact there is Jody Grober at jgrober@robertsimaging.com or 800-726-5544. Roberts is price competitive with all the New York and California dealers but their personal service is simply golden. Jody is also a fly fisherman and just a great guy who is always there to help us with our camera questions. If you have a local dealer that you’re happy with that’s great; but if you don’t, please feel free to use our name and give Jody a call.

Good pictures generally have three basic ingredients: Good light, good composition, and capturing
the moment. Think about all the times that we have looked at something and thought,
“Wow, that would make a great picture” or “I wish I had a photo of that to show my friends
and family.” We’ll have that treasured moment if we remember to take our camera along on
our next trip and, of course, if we take time to make the shot.