Thursday, August 15, 2013

Better fishing photos - 4

Choosing a camera

If you have read the previous articles in this series you should know by now that the camera is the least important thing to consider when aiming to improve your fishing photographs. These days most cameras (even those in phones) are 'good enough' (or can be if used carefully) for most people's purposes - sharing on the internet and making small prints - and even for sending to the weeklies should you so wish.

All that aside, many people want a bit more in a camera, and if you are thinking of using your photos to accompany articles for print based media you might want something more advanced. A discussion on the PAC forum on this subject prompted the following from Eric Edwards:
At the end of the day I'm an angler first and whatever camera I buy has to fit in with that. It has to be light and it has to be compact and I have to be able to do self-takes. They're all essential and I can't compromise on them, the other bits are all negotiable.
All very reasonable requirements, pretty much what any 'serious' angler would want a camera to do.

There is lots of info on the web to do your research on camera specifications, DPReview is the first port of call. You can even compare camera sizes at! I'd still advise taking a look at cameras in the real world as pictures don't give you a true impression of bulk or weight - which can be important considerations if you want to travel light.

So, how do you decide what camera to choose? First of all make a list of the factors which are most important to you, like Eric did. These are likely to include: price, size/weight, ease of use, ability to do self-takes, ruggedness/weatherproofing, picture quality, flexibility, and what you intend doing with the pictures. Put the list in order of importance to you and start your search.

If price is a major concern then it's well worth buying secondhand - particularly if you are considering a more 'advanced' camera. Camera geeks change their gear more often than carp anglers change their rods and reels. As soon as a new model is released there will be people selling off perfectly good (and often lightly used) cameras. (See further down the page for more about buying pre-owned cameras.)

Such is the pace of change in camera technology I'll not be mentioning specific models, but more general types of cameras in this article.The article may also be subject to change over time.

If you need a camera that will withstand the elements then you have two options - a weather, water and shockproof compact, or a top of the range DSLR ( Digital Single Lens Reflex) or compact system camera (CSC). The compact will probably work under water while the other two will be merely weather and water resistant, will require expensive casings to work underwater and won't take too kindly to being dropped! That said, so long as you don't absolutely soak your camera a few drops of rain won't ruin it.

Olympus waterproof compact camera
I used the Olympus on the right as my all-weather camera for a number of years. Even if you have a 'better' camera something small and quick to use like this is handy for keeping in a pocket to snap action shots of your friends or use when the rain is torrential. It's close up facility was handy, and it worked underwater too. The downsides were that it was limited in what it could do other than point and shoot and the flash was particularly useless in the dark. In decent daylight it was an okay camera though.

More versatile compact cameras are available which allow you more control over exposure and focusing. The most popular of these for fishing are the Canon G series. Some of the Canon G cameras have flip out screens, but not all. Check the specifications before purchasing. The G series are almost the same as Canon's bridge cameras. The main differences being the viewfinders and the zoom range. Viewfinders are useful in bright sunlight when screens can be difficult, or impossible, to see clearly.

'Bridge' cameras look a little like DSLRs but are often (not always) smaller and lighter than DSLRs. The viewfinder of a bridge camera is electronic, it's a tiny screen, whereas the viewfinder of a DSLR is optical - all done by mirrors. Both types allow you to see what you are pointing the camera at when the screen on teh back of the camera is overpowered by sunlight.

Bridge cameras don't have interchangeable lenses, but they do have wide ranging zooms. These let you do close up shots and take pictures of distant wildlife without the expense and bulk of extra lenses.

Canon bridge camera
For many years all my photos on this blog and those which appeared in Pike and Predators were taken with the bridge camera on the left. Technology has improved, and today's models offer better resolution and image quality. If you want a flexible camera that is easy to use (it will have an auto setting!) a bridge camera is a good choice. Fuji and Canon are makes I have used and can recommend.

Not much larger than a bridge camera and smaller than a small DSLR, are compact system cameras. CSCs have larger sensors than bridge and compact cameras, interchangeable lenses and some have electronic viewfinders as well as rear screens like bridge cameras do. The larger sensor will make for pictures that are less 'noisy' than those from compacts when light levels are low and flash isn't used. Noise is those speckles of random colour that appear in photos taken in poor light.

There are a few types of CSCs around these days. The most common is the Olympus/Panasonic Micro Four Thirds system which has a smaller sensor than those from Sony (NEX series), Canon (M series) and Samsung which have larger APS size sensors the same as 'consumer' and 'pro-sumer' DSLR cameras, while Nikon's V series has smaller sensor.

Interchangeable lenses are of most benefit when you want to do something specific such as take really close up macro photos or use a fisheye lens. However if you want to get closer than your lens will let you the close up lenses which attach to the front of a lens can be quite useful. They won't be quite as sharp as a dedicated macro lens, but for occasional use they are a cheap option for a camera which doesn't have an inbuilt macro function.

I've found the big advantage CSCs have over bridge cameras are mostly in the sensor - although by swapping the zoom lens for a compact lens of one focal length makes for an even more compact set up. It is the size and weight which gives a CSC the advantage over a DSLR. A CSC with a small lens attached will fit in the pocket of a fishing jacket, a DSLR might - if the pocket is large! Flip out screens are not a feature of many DSLRs, and only some CSCs, bridge and compact cameras. They make self-takes much easier though, so could be a deciding factor in choosing a camera.

Nikon (APS) DSLR  with zoom lens (left) and Panasonic (Micro Four Thirds) CSC with single focal length lens
One very important point, which applies to all camera types, is to carry a spare battery or batteries. This is particularly the case with small cameras which have small batteries that  don't hold a charge for long, and in the cold all batteries run down more quickly than in warm conditions. If it's really cold carry the spare battery inside your clothing to keep it warm.

Selecting a camera to take fishing is a matter of compromise. Listed below are some pros and cons of the various camera types. Please bear in mind that as technology improves the gaps between the various cameras continue blur and close, and that the gap between the top of one range and the bottom of the next will not be as great as that between the top of a range and the top of the next range.

Some Pros.
Compact Cameras:
  • Small and light.
  • Simple controls.
  • Often good for close ups.
  • Some are shock and waterproof.
Bridge Cameras:
  • Reasonably small and light.
  • Electronic viewfinders.
  • Good image quality.
  • Often good for close ups.
  • Many have wide range zoom lenses.
  • Some use AA batteries.
Compact System Cameras:
  • Reasonably small and light.
  • Some have electronic viewfinders - or have one available as an accessory.
  • Good image quality.
  • Reasonable performance in low light.
  • Interchangeable lenses.
  • Flexibility of controls.

DSLR Cameras:
  • Excellent image quality.
  • Good low light performance without flash.
  • Excellent viewfinders.
  • Interchangeable lenses.
  • Flexibility of controls.
  • Long battery life.

Some Cons.
Compact Cameras:
  • Limited in low light.
  • Limited zoom range.
  • Flash power often weak.
  • Control options limited.
  • Often lack viewfinders.
  • Battery life is short.
Bridge Cameras:
  • Limited in low light.
  • Battery life can be limited.
Compact System Cameras:
  • Poor to middling battery life.
DSLR Cameras:
  • Size and weight.
  • Price.
Tips for buying camera gear
If you have a camera shop locally that deals in used gear that would be the first place to look. You'll get to handle the camera and also be able to ask advice. My local camera shop, Wilkinson's, also sells on-line. If you know for sure what you want in a used camera then on-line shopping is an option, but I'd recommend dealing with a retailer as you will get a limited warranty and the items may well be in better condition than described. Two shops I have dealt with for purchasing used gear on-line are Ffordes and MPB.

If you are going to buy new it is worth shopping around. A good price comparison site is Camera Price Buster. There is also the option of importing - but bear in mind customs duty and VAT might bump the price up from that advertised, and warranties might be void on imported items.

Thanks to Wilkinson's for allowing me to take photos for this article in their Southport branch.

NB Camera models and designs change rapidly these days, so this page will quickly become deficient in that respect. Also as time passes, and as technology improves, the gaps between each camera type's image quality and performance narrows.  So if this is being read a couple of years after being written the pros and cons might not be so marked!