Monday, November 15, 2010

The Strange Truth About Those "Simple" Cameras


I use lots of different cameras. Film cameras—a Hasselblad 503cx and SWC, and a Leica M6; and for most digital work, a Nikon D200. But by far, the most difficult camera to use that I own, and the one I've worked the longest trying to figure out the mysteries of, is my "simple" Canon SD880 point & shoot.


Taking a good photo with the point-and-shoot is infinitely more difficult and infinitely more complicated than with any of the so-called "professional" cameras. (By the way, I don't mean to imply that this is a "Canon" problem. Canon makes the best point-and-shoots out there, imho.)


And of all the tricks to taking better photos with a point-and-shoot, the number-one, most important thing to know is this: turn off the flash and leave it off. The flash on those cameras is useful about 10% of the time; the rest of the time it's there to ruin your photos and to make everyone and everything in those photos look like crap.


© Joseph Gerhard. All rights reserved.

12 comments:

  1. You are so right. Those little point and shoot cameras are confusing and have a million menus. I hate when someone hands me one and says " you're a professional, how do I work this ?"

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  2. Yeah, I always think of that old Groucho Marx line: "Why a child of five could understand this. Someone go fetch me a child of five."

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  3. Funny. Sad. True.

    Just give me something I can load film into - a meter - and a decent lens. I'll be happy.

    I have a LX3 I just had to have. I thought it would make such a great 'stroller' camera - easy to take photos. I'll say it's easy to take photos, but hard to take GOOD photos with...

    So, I carry my 30 year old German camera and do just fine.

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  4. I just can't be doing with all the damn menus with digital. Camera, film, meter = sorted!

    If it's gonna be digital then my phone is fine.

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  5. Bob: Agreed. Easy to take photos, but very difficult to take *good* photos.

    Phil: Yeah, the *menus* thing is just bewildering.

    But it makes me wonder, why won't someone make a *simple*, straightforward point-and-shoot? I know it could be done.

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  6. Theresa O'BrienNovember 16, 2010 at 8:01 AM

    Joe - I don't even own one and never will. You have to keep them incredibly still and one false move the photo is blurry or focused on the wrong subject. It's definitely worth a little more investment in a camera that will give you a great quality photo. That's what it's all about.

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  7. Theresa - I have to admit that, despite shooting film most of the time, I still find I have a place for a point-and-shoot—especially when traveling—if for no other reason than it fits right in the pocket of my jeans, so I always have it with me. (It still takes better quality photos and video than my iPhone—which I also use a lot.) And it *is* possible to take compelling photos with one, except that you basically have learn how to undermine the camera's default settings in order to do it—which is why most people's photos with those things look horrible. Thanks for commenting. Joe

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  8. Btw, the photo above was taken with my iPhone.

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  9. Yes, quite agree - turn off the flash. There are some point and shoots out there with the options of shutter or aperture priority semi-auto operation. For instance the Canon S90 which I use (in fact I have full manual control of aperture and shutter if I want it). It takes pretty good pictures. However I've been taking photos for nearly 40 years and I don't understand HALF the functions on all the wretched menus! How is a genuine novice supposed to use this 'point and shoot' camera?

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  10. Have owned several ‘point-and-shoot’ cameras, the better ones allowed me to save settings to a custom menu, basically bypassing all those dumb menu choices. I think it is possible to produce decent work with these tiny cameras once you get to know them. My biggest problem is that I have large hands, and those buttons - they are soooo tiny, apparently designed for midgets …

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  11. Amen, brother. I can date my beginning to explore the vast potential of my Canon SD900 to the moment someone showed me how to turn off the flash and play with the ISO. All my satisfying experiences with this camera followed from that one realization that what had seemed mindless and immutably mediocre was actually open to quite a lot of manipulation and even transcendence. And I think I told you how, on my last Grand Canyon trip, the professional photographer who carries HIS big-gun Canon in a big pelican case on all the hikes, was jealous of a number of shots I got simply by virtue of having my camera in my pocket, ready on impulse...

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  12. I would add "spot focus" and "auto white balance off" to your "flash off".

    By the way, I have a little Canon P&S similar to that, and I thought it was missing a ton of features I thought it should have until I accidentally pressed the "OK" button when I was taking pictures....

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