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Getting the best out of your point and shoot digital camera

Aka: Is that a rocket in your pocket or the new Canon 12mp SD950is? - tips for using your digital camera.
11 years ago, February 7th 2008 No: 1 Msg: #26934  
B Posts: 5,186

Getting the best out of your point and shoot digital camera

Aka: Is that a rocket in your pocket or the new Canon 12mp SD950is?

Nowadays pretty much every traveller has a digital camera - the preferred type being those small point and shoot digitals about the size of a cigarette box. By and large the cameras are excellent! - The newest point and shoot I've played with was a Canon 12mp SD950 IS - it is a fantastic camera - and costs only $350 (from Amazon in the US - $450 in Paraguay, South America)

The majority of the photographs on travelblog are from similar cameras - the photo at the top of this page was taken with a point and shoot Canon Ixus 850 IS and underwater case - even the majority of the ones included in the Amazing Travel Photos section of the site are from point and shoots. But how do you get the best out of these cameras? - here are my top tips for doing this - hope you'll be able to add some more 😊

Tip 1 - Read the Manual!

Unless you've owned a similar camera before - it really can't be understated how much benefit you'll gain from reading the manual. Some of the tips I give here will also be in the manual, some of the tips you'll need to be familiar with the functions to get them to work.

Tip 2 - Turn off the date time stamp!

It should be the first thing you do 😊 - the date and time will be stored with the image in a section of the image file called the Exif data (Exchangeable Image File Format) - so you won't lose that information - but you do lose the information in the image under the date stamp if you leave it on!

Mini-tip: Set the time and date - I set to GMT - and just leave it when moving through time-zones.

Tip 3 - Use flash correctly!

How many times have you seen someone take a shot of a distant building at night with flash? - they honestly will not get anything in the photograph - and probably get a lot of snow (dust reflected flash light)

The flash on these point and shoots is most effective at a 2-5m range - closer - too much flash and overexposure - further and the light is too weak to be effective - more than 15m - there is no point!

So - turn off the flash and use either the night setting or increase the ISO setting (more later).

Tip 4 - Half press to focus!

Make sure you half press, pause a second, then fully press the shoot button. It allows the auto focus time to actually focus.

Tip 5 - Use the pre-sets

The quickest easiest way to improve your shots is to use these pre-sets, you know the icons of parties, people, buildings etc. Usually they are good - try them out they - can make a great difference to the shots.

Tip 6 - distance settings - macro (flower), auto, infinity (mountains)

Again these settings on modern digital point and shoots work really well. Anything within 30cm (1 ft) use the macro setting - for distant scenery use the infinity setting - everything else is auto. The macro is where you'll see the greatest difference - one thing with macro is that generally the zoom and macro are incompatible - test your camera to make sure - so leave all the way zoomed out, and get close to the creepy crawly.

Tip 7 - Sunsets.

Switch to either the sunset setting or underwater setting - both enhance the quality of the reds.

Tip 8 - Clean the lens!

Check your lens occasionally - a layer of grim and dirt will gradually build up no matter how careful you are - taking photos through a layer of dirt will reduce the vibrancy of the colours, put lots of flaws on the image, and lead to an out of focus feeling to every single shot.

Use an antistatic microfibre cloth to gently clean the lens occasionally - the same type as you use for cleaning glasses is fine. I breath very gently on the lens, allowing it to steam slightly and then gently wipe with the cloth. Be very careful in sandy situations! - the last thing you want to do is move sand around on the lens scratching it.

(Disclaimer: manufacturers recommend all sorts of fancy crap for doing this - and probably wouldn't endorse this recommendation!)

I hope these tips help people capture better memories! Please add your own and ask for any expansion where needed. Reply to this

11 years ago, February 9th 2008 No: 2 Msg: #27056  
Ali, you are certainly correct that "point-and-shoot" cameras have come a long way and can often produce pictures that are indistinguishable from SLR cameras. Knowing your camera is one of the most important things you can do to improve your photos. If you have manual settings, such as aperture or shutter speed settings, you have almost as much capability as some of the higher end pro cameras.

Ultimately, there is more flexibility and ultimately higher quality parts to a DSLR but, if you don't have the space to carry one, don't care to learn how to use all the functions or are just beginning then a "point-and-shoot" is certainly the way to go.

Check out the newer Canon G9...some pro photographers have won contests with this camera and beat out people shooting with $12k (US) camera rigs. (Its not the equipment, its knowing how to use it!! )
Reply to this

11 years ago, February 9th 2008 No: 3 Msg: #27072  
B Posts: 5,186
I should prefix the above article with "for beginners" 😉 - it was written in response to all the times I've gone through my photos on the little point and shoot and someone has said - "wow - how did you get those shots with that?" - then I've discovered that their little camera is more feature packed than mine - they just didn't know how to use it or had a really dirty lens!

I dug around a little in regards to the Canon G9 - very very nice little camera.

The real test was to see if my stock agents would accept the G9 files. I made a submission including a mixture of images from the G9, the Canon 1Ds Mark II, and medium format film scans. To be sure that the agency would not be unduly influenced by the camera model, I stripped out the camera EXIF data. To my surprise, they happily accepted the G9 files! For me as a professional, there is no point making photos if they can’t be published.

From The Canon G9 - A Point And Shoot For Professionals? by Darwin Wiggett

Any more tips for the beginners? Reply to this

11 years ago, February 9th 2008 No: 4 Msg: #27100  
B Posts: 460
On most cameras these days you can put a grid up on the display that splits the screen into 3 equal parts vertically and horizontally. This is useful for (at least) 2 reasons:

i. You can line up straight edges in your shot (where appropriate) with the grid so that you don't run the risk that your picture is lopsided.

ii. You can easily make use of the Rule of Thirds when composing your pictures. This rule states that you can* end up with a more aesthetically pleasing picture if the main subjects of your shot appear on an imaginary horizontal or vertical line either a third or two thirds of the way across the screen - better yet, if you position the subject at a meeting point of these trisection lines.

As for decent point and shoots, I'd recommend the Panasonic DMC-TZ3. Its stand-out feature is a x10 optical zoom though if you're planning on taking shots at maximum zoom you need either good lighting or something on which to steady the camera (e.g. a tripod, guidebook, etc). The low light ability isn't the greatest (as with most of the Panasonic superzooms) but otherwise it's an excellent camera, with the large display worthy of mention. I don't actually have this model but I've used a friend's on many occasions as well as seen the results she gets with it. Panasonic tend to be pooh-poohed as they don't have exactly the longest history in photography but, from the umpteen reviews of cameras in the superzoom digital category that I've read, they appear to be vying with Canon for the top spot (I've owned both the Panasonic FZ20 and Canon S3iS and preferred the Panasonic, but neither are exactly pocket-sized and they've both been superseded by better models).

* Of course, there are numerous situations in which this rule is not appropriate ... Reply to this

11 years ago, February 21st 2008 No: 5 Msg: #28101  
I have recently bought a panasonic camera and am really surprised at the results.

Technically mine is a 'bridge' camera - the FZ18; it is a great option for those that like the ease of a point and shoot but also want a certain degree of control. Unfortunately money and space dictated that I couldn't get a DSLR but when I told the guy in the shop what I was doing he recommended the panasonic. (even though i was being a bit snobby and looking for a canon or nikon, as i had always had good results from my little 4mp point and shoot nikon in the past.) It has a great Leica lense and the 18x optical zoom means it can basically double as binoculars!

Anyone can get some really great results without spending a fortune on equipment; i'm sure it's been said a thousand times but, read the manual, there will be loads of features you never even realised were there and watch out for lighting, it is so important and can make or break a shot regardless of what camera you're using. (the pic i use for my profile is a result from the tesco value disposable camera I took to Glastonbury!) Reply to this

8 years ago, July 7th 2011 No: 6 Msg: #139794  

In response to: Msg #26934 Hi Ali, I would just add to the sunset photos. Instead of using the sunset settings, I would adjust the exposure compensation, making the image under exposed will give a bolder colour to the sky.

Also when shooting sunsets, turn away from the sun to look back at your images to see if you've got it too light still. It's amazing how low you can take your exposure compensation and get amazing results. Oh and of course, always, always wear sunglasses when you are doing sunrise or sunset photography. Reply to this

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