Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Possibly best camera ever for newspaper reporters?

If you came here looking for a technical report on why I picked this camera and not that one. You've come to the wrong place. I've never used a camera from a high-end manufacturer that had a lot of hidden surprises. A careful reading of the specs released by the camera maker is usually enough to let me know whether or not a camera will work for me. If I need confirmation, I find a few in-depth reviews on the Web. Every thing I know about the Panasonic Lumix FZ200 tells me that it will be my next super-zoom and I'm quite confident that I will be happy with my new camera. I've already stopped by a camera store and the FZ200 passed the 'how does it feel in my hands' test.

For a technical report go to Camera Debate 

A good technical look at the Panasonic FZ200 can be found on Camera Debate. Interestingly, they compared the FZ200 to the Canon SX50 HS and the Canon won. They went for high ISO quality over the constant f/2.8 aperture.

See images taken by with an FZ200 at CNET Reviews

If you want to see a good selection of images taken under a good mix of conditions, click the link to  CNET Reviews. Do you agree with Camera Debate that the digital grain ruins the images by ISO 800? Based on the photos posted by CNET, I believe I could live with the grain at ISO 800. But, I would find ISO 1600 getting a little too rough for some applications.

FZ200 quality at f/2.8 and 600mm equivalent lens length, posted by Panasonic.

My post 

I worked as a staff photographer for nearly four decades in the newspaper business. My first camera kit was based on a 1960s Pentax Spotmatic body mated with three lenses: A 28mm, a 135mm and a 300mm telephoto. The 300mm was the slowest lens of the bunch at f/4.0.

The Pentax wore out rather quickly, dying from way too much use. It wasn't designed to take a thousand pictures a week, fifty thousand a year. I replaced that first kit with a Nikon F2 plus another gaggle of prime lenses. I loved my Nikkor 28mm f/2.0. It was some piece of glass. The rest of my kit simply duplicated the Takumar (Pentax) lens based kit.

I stayed with Nikon for years, upgrading the lenses from prime to zooms as soon as zooms that held a constant aperture of f/2.8 hit the market. When the paper at which I worked offered to pay for our personal camera kits, I switched to the Canon EOS line of professional DSLRs. I got by with two zooms lenses plus a 200mm, f/1.8, telephoto which converted to 400mm, f/3.6, when used with a 2X teleconverter.

When I retired, the paper kept my gear. I found myself forced to embrace new cameras and tackle a new approach to photography in my senior years. Money and a bad back ruled out replacing my work gear with more Canon pro stuff. I decided to buy two cameras: A Canon S90 which offered a fast f/2.0 aperture when used at wide angle (28mm) and a Fujifilm HS10 superzoom with a lens capable of emulating a 24-720mm zoom on a 35mm camera.

Taken with my Fujifilm HS10 zoomed to the max, this is a great image.

I love the Canon S90. I have absolutely no complaints with that camera. I do not hesitate to recommend its latest incarnation, the Canon S110, to those looking for a compact point-and-shoot. It does have some competition today, there are other f/2.0 wide angles being offered, google the reviews. Maybe there is a better choice today but you can't go far too wrong with the Canon.

Orchid shot with Canon S90 at show in a school gym.
I've had great luck with my point-and-shoot camera kit. I haven't been thrust into any situation where I could not get an image. That said, it has been tough at times.

The biggest problem has been lens speed. Both cameras are damn slow when zoomed out to telephoto. f/5.6 is just not good enough. One can make do. One can get by. But in professional do-or-die situations, these cameras have serious limitations.

My Fujifilm HS10 has had a rough life. It has been dropped into coarse gravel and onto a hard tile floor. It keeps going, so I must give it an A- for solid build quality. It gets the minus because the camera back monitor blinks on and off at times and something else is amiss inside the camera. A colour cast is appearing in some images of late. It is time to think about a replacement for the HS10.

I've had good luck shooting with my HS10. I had very good luck.

My choice for the best all-around super-zoom available today is -- drum roll, please -- the Panasonic Lumix FZ200. This camera offer a 25mm to 600mm zoom with a constant f/2.8 aperture used wide open. This brings back memories of my beloved pro lenses.

My Fujifilm HS10 took this. The FZ200 will make it easier.
So, what claims does Panasonic make for the FZ200 that have convinced me it it the best super-zoom for me? Check out the Panasonic site for the answer. And look carefully at the posted images shot by some pros. Here is a link: The Breath of Nature Captured with FZ200.

If you are actually a working pro, the FZ200 will not replace your Nikon or Canon DSLR with assorted detachable lenses, but if you are anything less, say a reporter, I'd give the purchase of the FZ200 a lot of thought.

There are reviews on the Web of the FZ200. But in my experience, what is important is not the grain that appears at IS01600, or the number of lines per mm that can be captured with the lens zoomed all the way out, what's important are the moments that can be captured. Most of us are not looking for ultimate quality and quibbling over tonal range, most of us simply want a decent shot Bruce Cockburn in concert for our scrapbook. A large aperture (f/2.8) should make this easier. I liked what I was getting before, I can't wait to see what I'm going to be able to achieve with an FZ200.

An f/2.0 aperture made capturing this moment possible. Thank you Canon S90.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Why? What has happened to quality?

Click the image to see all the complete photo file.

Recently I was interviewed by a freelancer for one of Canada's biggest daily papers. I supplied some art for the article as requested. The above is the picture as it looked posted on the Web. I didn't see the image in the paper but I have to wonder how it reproduced in print. It sure looks poor here.

Was the photo file I moved to the paper soft and out-of-focus? I assure you, it was not. Check out the image below. This is a copy of the original transmitted to the paper, with the only difference being that I have shrunk the file for quicker loading. I am posting less quality than moved to the paper.)

Click the image to see all the complete photo file.

Which raises the question, why does the image look so poor on the paper's website? Why?

When I worked in the newspaper industry, only experienced staff touched images. I know a lot has changed at newspapers. I know reporters take pictures and photographers write stories. I'm left wondering "Who worked on my picture?" It wasn't someone with any training is my guess.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Don't teach 'em to say cheese

Kid pictures are best if the child isn't looking at the camera and sporting one of those awful say-cheese smiles.

Get down on their level and watch for an action moment. If you have trained your children to ignore the camera, you can get in close with a wide angle and capture an intimate moment unmarred by an eyes-toward-the-camera stare complete with a foolish say-cheese grin.

Fiona had been having a ride in her sled when she realized she should share the fun. She loaded her teddy bears in the sled, grabbed the rope and trudged through the deep snow with teddys in tow. This was the picture. This is the memory moment. Keep its uniqueness intact by not injecting yourself into the moment. 

I shot this with a Canon S90 set to 28mm and fully automatic. I could have brightened the image a little more in Photoshop, see below, but I hate reopening images that I have enhanced and saved. Each time that you open 'em, change 'em and save 'em, you degrade 'em. That's the rule.

If you may reopen an enhanced image later and modify it, save it as a TIFF or another file format that does not cause image degradation with multiple openings followed by changes before saving again.

What magic did I perform in Photoshop to brighten my first image? I moved the white endpoint in Levels taking care not to lose too many highlight tones. Using Levels makes this easy. Just note the tonal graph and don't cut out too deeply or eliminate too many. Then in Curves bend the tonal curve by grabbing it near the highlight end and giving it a smooth curve along its entire length. I prefer a smooth curve. I find it makes the tonal change appear natural and not forced over what we used to call at work "over worked."

Friday, February 1, 2013

My Canon S90: should I trade it or keep it?

My granddaughter and her mom scroll through photos on mom's iPhone.
I'm wondering about a new camera. My Canon S90 was state-of-the-art when I bought it a few years ago. Today's model, the Canon S110, has dropped back in the pack; It is no longer a leader but a follower, an also ran. I understand both the Sony Cyber-shot RX100 and the Fujifilm XF1 sport better sensors, the all-important heart of a digital camera.

Plus, both the Sony and the Fuji boast zoom lenses opening to f/1.8 when used at wide angle. Very nice. The Sony seems a bit expensive, and so I am leaning toward the Fuji if I should make the jump. But, and it is a big but, my S90 is still delivering. I still get the pictures with my present camera kit. I can wait, and save. And the rumour mill has it that the next generation of my beloved camera will have the much lusted after f/1.8 lens, and maybe an improved sensor, too.