Camera Utopia Ahoy! Row Harder Matey!!


Professional Camera Capabilities in Enthusiast Cameras?

For an enthusiast photographer like me, the digital camera has been a money-saver. Shoot as much and as frequently as you can. Discard the crap and keep the rare gem. As newer and better cameras have become available, I have upgraded my camera equipment at costs that can be considered nominal. My middle-class motto of ‘Value for money’ has remained with me and every new acquisition is deliberated before purchase, for requirement against cost.

Photography enthusiasts never had it so good. What we can buy today for Rs. 4K, cost Rs. 24K not 6 years back. Significant technology enhancements mean, more and more professional camera features are available in enthusiast cameras and the cameras are packed with functions that the ‘rest of us’ do not even bother exploring. Some of the emerging trends in digital camera technology promise to make better photographers out of us.

The Super-zooms:

Incontrovertible proof that my wife is addicted to her mobile phone.
Incontrovertible proof obtained using a mega-zoom that my wife is addicted to her mobile phone.

Already available in the enthusiast camera, is a Super Zoom lens. Practically every pocket camera today features a 3x – 5x optical zoom. The bigger models feature 10x – 30x zoom. A large optical zoom is very useful in photographing subjects in their natural behaviour. The Fujifilm HS10 features a 30x zoom, the Kodak Z981, Nikon P100 and Olympus SP-590UZ feature 26x zoom, the Canon SX20 features 20x zoom and the Panasonic FZ-35 features a respectable 18x zoom.

Tip: During outings, step away from your family for a short while and then photograph from a distance using the zoom lens. The candid images simply come out so much better than their posed ‘say cheese’ versions. The zoom lens allows you to photograph the family without them becoming conscious of the presence of the camera.

Double Digit Megapixels:

Well Cropped photos win awards
Well Cropped photos win awards

Also making in-roads in the enthusiast camera is a double-digit Mega Pixel (MP) number. No longer limited to a 3 – 8 MP sensor, today’s cameras feature 10 – 14 MP sensors. Good enough for a wall-poster that is 2 feet high. You can even print this image on a 4 feet high poster without any apparent loss in sharpness.

Cropping has long been a professional photographer’s skill. When shooting, you include a little extra area around your main subject in the photograph. Later on, you select the most interesting area of the photograph and then discard the rest. Done with imagination, well cropped photographs go on to win awards! Large Mega Pixel cameras allow you ever more room to play with cropping and the final images still retain enough detail to be fit for display at large sizes.

Larger Retinas:

The 4/3rd Sensor size is 9x larger than 1/2.5" sensor.
The 4/3rd Sensor size is 9x larger than 1/2.5" sensor.

Another important innovation in the enthusiast camera is the Sensor-size. This has been the main differentiating factor between enthusiast and professional digital cameras. Small-sensor cameras produce images that have soft edges when the images are viewed at 1:1 ratio on your computer monitor. Most enthusiast cameras still use a 1/2.5”, sensor that is around 5.76mm x 4.29mm in size. The new digital Four Thirds system, featuring a sensor around 17.3mm x 13mm in size is now becoming available in enthusiast cameras. The Four-Thirds system features a sensor area that is nine times larger than the 1/2.5” sensor, allowing more light to be captured with greater precision. The resulting images feature finer detail and display colours that are true-to-life.

EVIL (Electronic Viewfinder Interchangeable Lens):

An innovation that will become common-place in enthusiast cameras in the near future, is the Inter-changeable Lens system. The ability to change lens for specific photography requirements still remains in the domain of professional cameras. The Ricoh GXR system of enthusiast cameras introduces a new twist by integrating the lens and the sensor into one unit and making it swappable. Ricoh’s logic is that each lens and sensor combination is designed and tweaked to perfection for specific photographic situation and is completely dust-free. The body only contains the dials/buttons and the viewfinder LCD.

The Sony NEX, Samsung NX and Olympus E-PEN interchangeable-lens micro Four Thirds cameras are quite close to the capability of professional D-SLR cameras. These cameras use the considerably larger Four Thirds sensor (still smaller than the D-SLR’s APS-C and Full-Frame Sensors though), feature interchangeable lens systems, but omit the mirror-prism system used by professional D-SLR cameras that make them bulky and noisy. Needless to say, Sony and Olympus also make adaptor rings that allow you to use heavy D-SLR lenses with these compacts.

The marriage of inter-changeable lens systems with Four Third Sensors is definitely the next big-thing in enthusiast cameras.

Through the maze of technology, I still maintain that the best camera in the planet is your eye, and it is your imagination that results in a ‘Wow’ image; whether you shot it using your mobile phone or a dedicated digital camera.

This article originally appeared in The Hindu (Chennai, Bangalore & Hyderabad Editions) on Sep 15 / 18, 2010.

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