Work that CCD!

Ok, I thought I would share some of the hard lessons I have learned about making your little consumer digital camera actually take good pictures. I have a little Canon A40 that has a 2 megapixel sensor. Not anything special. I have had it for about three and a half years, and have learned to push it to it’s limits, which I think are surprisingly few considering the age and cost. So, here are the things that I do to get the best out of my little pony of a camera:

  • Use the lowest ISO I can. I pretty much keep it at 50 at all times. This will give you the most detail, and clarity of picture, when your hands are stable enough not to blur the subject. It used to be that people did not use ISO 50 film in their cameras because the likelihood of blur is so high. Well, today we can take as many pictures as we want, and toss the blurry ones without thinking about the cost. So I just keep it at 50 as much as I can, hold real still, and take lots of pictures. Those that turn out can look great. The other thing about higher ISO on digital cameras is that you get tons of noise (digital equivalent of grain) as soon as you take it up to 200, a common speed for normal photos in film cameras. The exception is the dSLRs, which have better sensitivity without noise, but some still hit the usability ceiling at ISO 800. The dSLRs also have far more pixels so prints at smaller sizes can hide some of that noise more easily than our little consumer cameras.
  • Get to know my white balance settings. The automatic WB does not always do the best job in every situation, and there are usually several options. Both incandescent and florescent lighting indoors tend to look awful when you use auto WB. The tungsten setting is better usually for incandescent, and many cameras have a florescent option as well. Use them and see what they look like. If you are familiar with your WB settings, you drastically improve your ability to take pictures that look closer to real color.
  • Use my zoom for normal shots. When your camera is fully zoomed out, it is at wide angle and will cause some distortion in your subject. If you are taking portraits, you definitely will want to step back and zoom in so that your kid, or spouse, does not look like a chipmunk.
  • Use my program mode. Depending on your camera, you will have a program mode that lets you use either aperture priority, or shutter priority. This means you can set one or the other and the rest will be automatic. I have mine set to a constant ISO, and I can adjust the shutter to get more or less exposure. This makes it easy to bracket shots and pick the one that has the best exposure. Someday I also hope it will allow me to create HDR (High Dynamic Range) photos, but that is another post.
  • I get close. Most subjects look better if you can make them intimate. One of the great things about photography is that it allows you to capture scenes or subjects that we are not used to seeing. In our busy busy world we usually do not take the time to inspect the things around us. A photo can put you there immediately, and draw your eye to a special feature. Not everything looks better up close (the unshaven cheek of a man, for instance, looks pretty nasty).
  • I take lots of pictures. This is the biggest difference between film and digital. Unless photography is your career, or you have plenty of expendable income, you think about the cost of each film image you take, and the resulting prints. for a long time this paralyzed me, since I was not a photographer, nor did I have expendable income. We had rolls of film that had been in the camera for an entire year. So once I had a digital camera, I took pictures all the time. I still run into memory limits on my card, but it is not a cost issue. Once I felt freedom to capture everything, I was able to hone my 1337 s|{1||z.

Well, I think that is about it. I love taking pictures, and my little camera has done pretty well for me. I miss my SLR, but that can wait. I love my Canon A40 too.

13 thoughts on “Work that CCD!

  1. Luke

    Thanks for this information Daniel! My camera has not yet arrived, but I’ll be sure and take note of what you shared when trying it out. I posted a “h34R I-I3412″ on will’s blog but he must have mistook it for spam. l337 is pretty remarkable form.

  2. Nathan (brother)

    Great tips, Dan. From talking to you I have gleaned most of these tips. Most of them don’t cross over from the film world, so much of it is fresh for me. You have really done a lot with a little.

  3. Bethany

    I am so glad you wrote this stuff down! I am wondering if you were just tired of me asking the same questions over and over, and having your answers not register in my brain. Is it because you know I learn better through visual methods (even words on paper or computer monitor, as the case may be) so verbal instructions tend to be “in one ear and out the other.” Thanks for your help, and patience. And for taking great photos for me when I complain too much!

  4. daniel Post author

    Luke, I have been reading MegaTokyo lately and largo is a great 1337 character. I did see your post on Will’s blog, and could read it, while B thought it was giberish (she still does).

  5. Bethany

    That’s right! I still do! I don’t understand why geeks get such a kick out of confusing the rest of us. I thought communicating was something people were supposed to strive to be better at, not attempt to sabatage :-)

  6. Nathan (brother)

    I’ve seen leet stuff, but thought it was goofy. I didn’t realize it was a whole world of exclusive language. Now I know.
    I have experimented with many of your tips with Carol’s new camera and have found that they do indeed help to improve the photos a lot. White balance made the biggest difference in the images I just took. When the lights are incandescent, the auto WB makes them better, but still pinkish. With custom WB you can really get it right.
    On her camera the exposure compensation slider is a good helper too when you have uneven light.

  7. Nathan (brother)

    That’s the one I use from school. I got Carol the A410. It is smaller, but does a lot of the same things with less pixels. Since she’s mostly shooting for web it’s a good match.

  8. Amanda

    I have been looking at the Canon A610 for a few weeks now and am glad to see you think it is a good one. What do you think about the conversion lens adapter and telephoto lenses that they sell to attach to the A610? I am looking at getting something that has a decent zoom, but maybe 4x optical would be ample in itself.

  9. luke

    Well my T-7 came in the mail and I’m well happy with it. So far. This is really the first full day I’ve had it, so there’s much more experimenting to do. I appreciate the tips you’ve put here Daniel. My camera doesn’t have a WB adjustment (manual) but it does have options for different lighting environments as you have put, so will do that. Also a + is that it can be set to take bracketed pictures (varying exposure lengths) so to pick which one I like best. That’s rather clever. Got my gig card in the mail today as well, so I feel ALLLL set. (c:

  10. daniel Post author

    I have stumbled across ‘light field’ a few times, and I am just iching for that tech to make it into one of the dSLRs. It would bring depth of field into control… although I enjoy that aspect of using an SLR.

    Cool stuff…

  11. Pingback: Photocritic blog » Getting the most out of a compact digital

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