New To Photography:Point and shoot compact cameras

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This page is a chapter in the book New To Photography Book.


If you are reading this, you are probably wanting to get more out of your
compact digital camera (often referred to as a point and shoot, or P&S).

Here is a comprehensivise guide (PDF) for people only wanting to use a compact camera.
This maybe useful to friends and family who don't want to go through the whole NTP book.

The difficult part about giving information out regarding P&S camera’s is that they
each have varying degrees of user selectable controls. Some work on full auto mode,
giving the user no way of changing the settings, others have ‘scene’ modes where you
can select from things like portrait, macro, landscape etc often using a small wheel on
the camera with icons to represent the various modes, and another group allow
full manual control as well, where the user can select their own shutter speed, ISO,
aperture. These variables make providing a good New To Photograph tutorial difficult.

First off you need to find out what your camera is capable of from the features outlined
above and then look at the sections below:

[top]Your camera is fully automatic and you have no control over the settings.

This is tricky, as it leaves you no freedom to select something for yourself,
your only real control will be over the composition of your photos.
But learning how to compose a shot well can give you some truly stunning results from
your camera.
For more information on composing your photos, have a look at this learning centre guide.

[top]Your camera allows you to select modes (like portrait, landscape, macro)

This gives you a good all round place to start out in photography and understanding how
each mode works means you could start getting very creative. Just because you are not
taking a portrait, doesn’t mean you cannot use the portrait mode.

Portrait mode, generally, sets an aperture that will nicely blur the background in your photo
and make the people in your shot the main focal point. Now you can use portrait mode for
other things to get the same result. Take a paddock of wheat, and you want to focus on
some of the foreground wheat but don’t want the whole paddock in focus, using portrait
mode could do that.

Your camera might have a night mode, that slows the shutter speed down, so that you can
get all the lights from the night time cityscape beautifully captured. This mode, using slower
shutter speeds could also them be used at your favourite waterfall or creek, to capture
some lovely slow water effects, and create the milky/silky effect so often seen.

It is just a matter of reading the manual for your camera, finding out what each scene mode
does (how it affects shutter speed and aperture), then using that mode with the knowledge
of what it does, to produce some creative and great photography. Experimenting is the best
way to learn; plus posting image here on AP for feedback.

[top]Your camera allows complete manual control

You are lucky! Your camera can sometimes be referred to as a ‘bridge’ or ‘pro-sumer’ camera
as it offers you the convenience of a P&S, with most of the features found on a digital SLR
camera. You can basically use the New To Photography learning centre guides and apply
each one to your P&S camera. A fully manual P&S can be a seriously good tool to producing
some amazing photographic results. So go ahead and read the Learning Centre guides
and we hope that it assists in your improved photography.

[top]Some other factors related to using a P&S camera.

Zoom – Often P&S cameras have both optical zoom and digital zoom. Turn digital
zoom off, unless you really need it. Optical zoom uses the glass lens to zoom in on your
scene, and the full image is captured by your camera’s sensor and saved. Digital zoom
captures the same scene, then zooms in ‘digitally’ to make it appear your photo was zoomed
more. Try this at home, get onto your PC and photo editing software, open one of your
photos and zoom in (usually a magnifying glass icon or a + sign). Keep zooming, eventually
you get so zoomed in that the photo looks all pixelated. This is exactly what digital zoom in
your camera is doing. Do you want nice crisp clean photos or do you want pixelated ones?
Turn digital zoom off, unless you really want/need to use it.

Photo quality
- Always use the largest (fine) setting for your photos. Look in the manual
and find out how to set the photo quality and use the highest(best) quality setting your
camera offers. It might seem like over-kill, but if you want to print one of your photos,
the more detail you have, the bigger it can be printed.

There is no reason you cannot produce a competition winning image using a P&S camera!

[top]Benefits of a Point and Shoot Camera

* A Point and Shoot camera is generally a lot smaller than a DSLR, so it can be very convenient to
carry with you at all times.
* You do not need to change lenses.
* As the unit is sealed, there is not an issue with dust appearing in your photos
* Most modern point and shoot camera's do an extremely good job, if you chose the right mode
* Often less time is needed to process your photos in your computer as Point and Shoot camera's
often do a lot of the processing when you take the photo.

[top]Disadvantages of a Point and Shoot Camera

A Point and Shoot camera can be restrictive to your overall photographic learning as they
  • automate so many of the tasks of taking a good photo.
  • It is to easy to leave it on Auto and let the camera do the work.
  • A Point and Shoot generally has a sensor many times smaller than even the smallest sensor
  • offered in a DSLR. This can cause issues with 'noise' in the resultant photos, amongst other things
  • The fixed lens of a point and shoot cannot compare to the quality of a DSLR lens.

There are other advantages and disadvantages of using a Point and Shoot camera.

The best possible outcome using a Point and Shoot camera is the same as using a DSLR, learn about
your camera, the settings that are possible and make them work for you. Learn about composing your
scene and take time to understand the limitations of your camera and work with those to create the
best possible photos you can. A professional photographer using a Point and Shoot camera can take
stunning photos, as they have the skills and knowledge to underpin the actual use of the camera.
A point and shoot camera is not an excuse to be lazy and leave it on Auto.

Read your camera manual, practice in the backyard, try the New To Photography Challenges, and
put your photos up on Ausphotography for members to give you advice, critique and guidance. Have fun!

Here is a more comprehensive comparison between the types of cameras.
There is an overlap of features. You may want both a DSLR and a P&S.

Benefits of compact digital cameras (P&S)
  • Easier to use and, for the most part, easier to learn
  • Quiet Operation
  • Comes in a variety of sizes but most are lightweight
  • Improved shutter lag in many newer models
  • Fully automatic shooting modes and pre-programmed scene modes for point-and-shoot simplicity
  • LCD provides live view. (Note: Many compacts do not have a viewfinder)
  • Some have semi-automatic and full manual controls
  • A few have raw mode
  • Variety of zoom lengths from wide to super zoom
  • High ISO performance is the weak spot for most compact cameras, which otherwise do fine in good light
  • Some compact digital cameras accept converter lenses and filters
  • No sensors to regularly clean
  • Price, Similarly equipped DSLR may cost hundreds/thousands of dollars more
  • Similarly equipped DSLR may weigh 2 or more kgs
  • Easier to travel with

Benefits of a DSLR camera
  • High degree of manual control
  • Accept a wide range of interchangeable lenses, though some are very expensive and heavy
  • Accept a wide variety of sophisticated accessories
  • Lenses are often high quality and produce images that are sharp and have a wide dynamic range
  • Minimal amount of purple fringing (CA) and other lens distortions
  • Excellent low light/high ISO performance due to larger sensors
  • Through-the-lens (TTL) optical viewfinder
  • Precise focus
  • No shutter lag
  • High performance, high frame rate
  • Raw mode
  • More control over depth of field
  • Latest models have HD video
  • Live view is available on many recent models
Previous: New To Photography:Camera Types - more information New To Photography Book Next: New To Photography:Practice your settings on this online camera demo

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