Monday, November 30, 2015

The last morning of November

All is right with my world for a few more minutes. The house is quiet and I'm sitting in my favorite place looking out at the dawn as well as our just decorated Christmas tree. However, I can hear the children stirring and Noah has some sort of flu bug; fever, head and body aches and sore throat. So the day will probably prove to be trying in the ways that days with sick needy children are, and yet, as much as I had planned and looked forward to a week full of school and crafting, I think a day of laying around by the tree and reading and knitting and babying my kids, won't be all that bad either.

Usually I can't think past Thanksgiving and find myself scrambling a couple days into December to get ready for advent. This year, I was determined not to get a late start on Advent, so I picked up a few Christmas books and a new calendar in advance. Then Dustin surprised us with an early tree. He likes to get rid of the tree as soon as possible after Christmas, whereas I enjoy looking at it as long as possible. So, I guess this is our compromise. I get to enjoy it earlier in the season. I've spent the past three days at home, cooking and cleaning and decorating for the season; which is why all is right with my world despite having potentially two sick kids.

I want to point out that there is now an email subscription gadget at the top right of the blog, so you can subscribe and get a heads up when there are new posts.

Also, for all you photographers out there, I could use a bit of camera advice. As you well know, I do not take very good pictures. It's all about content as opposed to quality. This is due in part to both the quality of my camera in addition to not making it a priority to learn the camera that I have. Taking pictures during our Alaskan winter months poses low light challenges. When I look back over our pictures of the last several years, especially baby pictures of the kids, I sure wish we had budgeted for a nicer camera. I have spent the last week googling low light point and shoots and comparing lens aperture and other details that influence the ability of cameras to take good low light photos. I've been reading camera reviews and watching camera videos and looking at pictures and we are getting down to some serious decision making. The camera at the top of my list right now is the Sony Cyber Shot DSC rx100 ii. It is an almost pocket size point and shoot. I like that it can shoot ten frames per second and that it has wifi for uploading capabilities. Most novices feel that it takes great pictures even on the auto setting. I have read a few conflicting reviews on how well it does in low light settings. Most say it does great in low light settings, but the pictures shared are night time still shots and not indoor pictures of moving children. I am not looking necessarily to take professional quality pictures, but I would like to take clear crisp pictures of my kids decorating the tree or opening presents and for them to not have to freeze like statues to try and get a clear shot. I have also looked at the 3rd version of this camera and it sounds like it has the capabilities to take even better low light pictures, but I don't know how big a difference are between the two cameras, and if it is significantly better enough to warrant the extra two hundred dollar difference.

My two questions are 1. Is this camera going to take the pics I want or is this asking too much of a point and shoot and do I want to give up the small convenient size and get a DSLR? 3. Is this camera more than I need and is there a less expensive camera that will do as well or better in low light? Well, any advice anyone can give me would be much appreciated. I've been reading reviews all week and may be more confused than ever at the mixed opinions. Bonus points for whoever leaves a comment noticing the higher quality photos that should be coming sometime soon!

Best wishes to you all as we enter the dark days of winter!


Matthew Babbs said...

Hello! Not many photographers here yet? I'm not a regular reader here, but I'll have a go. (I was sent here by a regular reader of yours, does that count?)
Low-light photography is a pain, isn't it! I'm in Wales, so not as far north as you. But we get quite enough grey winter days here to make good photos a challenge.

Some things a good new compact can handle very well; other things it will need help with. Compacts like the RX100 series are getting quite good at handling low-light situations by raising the ISO setting (equivalent to film sensitivity). You can try this on your current camera: look for the ISO setting and change it from auto to, say, 800. In a quick check with my own compact earlier, doing this on a shot of the garden in the dusk reduced the exposure time from 1/5th of a second to 1/15th. Trying higher, 1600 or 3200, will make the shot quite grainy in most compacts. It sounds like the RX100 series, with a larger sensor, does a better job avoiding grain. Try it with your own camera to get a feel for how shorter exposures will help.

Second, a new camera will still need help to tell what sort of light you're shooting in. Under artificial light, photos will likely still tint yellow, orange or green unless you change the white balance setting to match your type of lightbulbs! (The technical term persists, but it just means the colour of the light. The default setting usually appears as 'AWB.')

By the way, if you don't already use these settings, someone here may be able to point you in the right direction. Or you can usually find a PDF manual online!

Third - do you miss shots when you're trying to "catch the moment?" I know I do with my compact. You stand there waiting for the camera to focus... And when it does, the moment has gone by. Newer compact cameras get faster of course, but they still don't compare to an SLR that's ready as fast as you can aim and press the shutter. So of you have this problem, that would definitely point towards an SLR.

That said, though, "the best camera is the one you have with you," so don't invest in an SLR if it would be too big and heavy to carry around all the time. A good compact camera that you always have with you is much better than a bigger one left on a shelf!

Emily said...

Thank you Mathew, I tried finding the manual for my digital camera online recently and just wasn't sure about the programs trying to download things onto my computer in order to access it. I will tinker with it and try changing it from auto. I had a feeling there was something I could do to increase the quality of my current pictures. I have been wanting to invest in an SLR for several years now, but currently started looking at the smaller point and shoots. The newest RX100 iv takes 16 fps and sounds like it takes pretty good low light pictures. It does come at a hefty price tag (950$!) But that is less than I thought I'd pay at one time for an SLR. Well, thank you again, that is very helpful! Emily

Matthew Babbs said...

I'm sorry to hear you've had difficulty getting hold of your camera manual. I usually find them by looking on the manufacturer's customer support website. There's nearly always a plain PDF manual tucked away in a corner, they often don't make them easy to find!

The RX100 iv is a gorgeous piece of kit, but you're right, it's VERY expensive. Frankly, it's so expensive that I'd get a lightweight SLR and a "good enough" pocket-sized compact, and pay closer to half the price!

Speaking of SLRs - if you do invest in one at some point, look at a Nikon D3300 ($400). It's small, lightweight and can almost "see in the dark," using high iso sensitivity with very little degradation.

But you don't need an SLR to get great photos -- you just need to give the camera a little help. I can't tell you where to find settings as I don't know what your camera is. But the main options tend to have similar names.

If you get out of Auto into 'P' mode, it should give you access to +/- exposure controls, AWB (for Auto White Balance), and ISO (light sensitivity). It should also, if you hold the shutter at the first 'click' (before the second 'squeeze' which takes the photo), show you the exposure time it's going to use!

(The great thing about digital cameras is that you can see what you're going to get before even taking the photo, and these three settings will let you use that to the full. Tweak until it looks right, take, try again. The rule of thumb is that you can get great photos with any camera... provided you have time to set it up.)

Back to the settings: use +/- to brighten dim photos or dim overexposed ones. Some cameras tend to overexpose, other underexpose, some vary with the situation. My Samsung NV30 nearly always needs a couple of steps down. Just adjust until it looks right!

White balance (often appears as 'AWB') is about light colour. Check along the options until you find the right one for different artificial lighting. A great tip I found once is to try 'cloudy' for any natural light, rather than 'sunny' or 'AWB' - it makes colours much warmer.

As for ISO, in most light you can leave it on auto. But in dim light, use the first shutter-stop to see what the exposure length will be -- and then set the ISO as high as you need to get a short-enough exposure. For photographing kids, aim for 1/125th of a second or shorter! Left on auto, my Samsung happily stays at 200 ISO and takes hopelessly blurred 1-second exposures. But by putting ISO up to 3200, I can get that down to 1/125th under indoor lighting. Any RX100 series camera should do a good job at this even on auto ISO.

In fact - getting back to your original questions - the more I think about this, the more I'm convinced you'll be able to get good results with an RX100. As for mark ii versus mark iii: well, have a look at their respective maximum ISO settings, and see if you can find any reviews that show how high the ISO can go without too much noise in the image for comfort. A bit of experimenting with your current camera may give you an idea of how high you'll need ISO to get, to keep up with the kids under indoor lights and outside in the gloom!

Emily said...

Mathew, I just wanted to thank you again for all the advice. I am still working on figuring things out. But you have been more than helpful. My husband found the RX100 iii for around $550 or so on an after Black Friday special. So, I'm trying not to pester him to know if he ordered it, but (fingers crossed) I think he did. I think the pictures we take with it will be far superior to what we are use to. And hopefully, we will have no need for another camera for some time. I will be learning this other camera better to get us through the dark weeks to come. Well, sincerely, thank you so much again! Emily