13 February, 2010

Have camera, will snap

A new dawn

A few months ago, someone I knew was finishing a course, and I was invited to the leaving ceremony. That was fair enough, except his mother, with even more unsteady hands than me, wanted me to use her camera to take some pictures of the ceremony. It was at that stage that I found out how badly I sucked at photography, and how badly the camera did its job. It was a little point-and-shoot camera, but I don't remember it having any optical zoom.

I gave up in the end, only having taken about five shots. I've no idea how any of them turned out, nor have I asked since. It was way before then that I decided I wanted to get into digital photography, but it was at that leaving ceremony that I decided I was never going to pick up one of those little cameras again. At least, not without a much better idea of how to get the best out of it.

I finally entered the age of digital photography today, with the arrival yesterday of my first proper digital camera. No, I'm not talking about those hosey little webcams, that can barely reach 640x480 for motion, and maybe 1024x768 for still pictures. Nor the webcam that happens to be on my cellphone, at 1.3 Mpix, which only does 1280x1024 for a maximum size. Instead, this little camera (the Fujifilm Finepix S5600) which was first released five years ago, features 5 Megapixels on the CCD. That doesn't sound like a lot in these days of 10/11/12/14 Megapixel cameras, but it still manages to show a respectable 2592x1944 pixels in 4:3 mode, or 2736x1824 in 3:2 (the same format as 35mm film.) That allows for a full size print roughly A4 in size, and that's without enlarging it.

A picture of my cat.

I have a whole lot yet to learn about how exposure, aperture, shutter speed and ISO rating all interact to produce the perfect picture, but with this camera, I get to find all that out, as I'm able to tweak most of these settings by hand. Of course, the camera has a really good automated mode for those point-&-shooters that don't want to fiddle, but I decided early on that if I wanted to get into photography, I wanted what I see through the viewfinder to be exactly the same as the picture I get in the camera. Unfortunately, this camera doesn't provide that, though it's pretty darn close. There's two reasons. First, it's not a dSLR, though it looks like a baby brother of one. I have to admit though, that a lot of the reviewers that reviewed this camera when it came out said that it's pretty close in features to the bottom end dSLR cameras. The second reason is the failing that all cameras have: the viewfinder. In this case, it's a 115,000 pixel 1.8 inch display, and though it's crisp and clear, the resolution and its size really lets it down. The viewfinder is no better, though you at least have the advantage of sealing out the remainder of surrounding light, pretty useful when it's bright sunlight and you can't see the screen even with the brightness pushed up a bit.

Looking up the first review of the camera, with its impressive (for the time) optical zoom basically decided me on it. All the previous cameras I had looked at in the same price range featured 3x optical zoom and maybe a bit better digital zoom. There's plenty of things on the Internet already steering us away from digital zoom, as it typically reduces the number of pixels it initially captures. So I wanted high optical zoom, even with the need for something to stabilise the camera with. My only remaining problem was how much I was going to have to pay for it. Luckily, I stumbled across two things. One: somebody to sell it at a price I could afford. Two: something I could sell that would give me that much money. I sorted those both out, now I have the camera in my hot hands. I was exceptionally lucky, as the owner basically threw in everything with the camera that wasn't any use with other cameras they already owned. The fact that it is a second-hand camera helped to drop the price too. It's not ancient, which means that it has more of the modern technology inside of it to help out.

In addition to the camera unit, and the two cables that came with the camera, I also got a camera bag, a 2 Gb xD card, a 256 Mb xD card, a circular polarising lens, and a lens hood that also features a 52 mm thread and an additional 55 mm thread for adding other filters or lenses. All of this means that if I can find further lenses (whether 55 mm or 52 mm, or larger if I purchase step-up rings), I can actually make the S5600 the core of my own little optical warehouse. This comes with a qualifier though, they have to be suitable for digital cameras, and they have to work with the lens that's there already. The large 10x zoom can be expanded further by a 2x telephoto lens that can be added, which makes my total optical zoom ratio up in the low 20s. And that's before I kick in the digital zoom, not that I ought to be using that anyhow. If I want to go in the other direction, I can screw on a wide angle lens, which gives me a slightly wider field of view than the admittedly underpowered native 38 mm minimum focal length of the camera.

But first, I need to learn the ropes. That means getting to grips with all the features this camera has, before I start adding bits to it that I don't understand why I'm adding them for. So, needless to say, I'll be a happy snapper. No, there won't be too many pictures featured out of this camera that'll actually make it onto the Internet, but I hope you'll be happy with the ones I do show you all. And with that, I'm off to go get another shot.