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Consumer digital camera questions

Discussion in 'Digital Photography' started by MarkCollette, Feb 1, 2006.

  1. macrumors 65816


    Hi there. I use an inexpensive 35mm film camera. I'd like to get a consumer level digital camera, but I have a few questions:

    1. Every digital camera I've tried has an annoyingly long delay from when I press the button until when it actually takes a picture. I read up on the web, and apparently Canon and Sony use special chips, and have a lesser delay. What about other camera manufacturers? If I wait another year, will this problem be gone, or will it remain?

    2. I heard that you have to have 4 mega pixels or more, to compare with film, if you print your pictures as 4x6. Is that true? Once in a blue moon I have to crop my pictures, and thus blow them up slightly, but that's still only to 4x6. How many mega pixels should I get?

    3. There seems to be two main options affecting final image quality: the resolution (I guess 5mp cameras can take pictures at 5mp, 4mp, 3mp, etc.), and the JPEG lossiness (crappy, good, great, lossless). Is it better to take pictures with the highest megapixels and good quality, or slightly less megapixels and great quality? I guess I'd like to archive my pictures at 10 MB or less, but have the best look.

    4. Most digital cameras support video, with some of them getting as high as 640x480 30 fps, complete with sound. Although most are around 320x240 15 fps with sound. Is there a point getting a video camera anymore?

    5. I read, years ago, that in some cameras the sensor is larger, so it catches more photons, so you can have a camera with less mega pixels, but better image quality. Also, I read about some sensors stack the red, green, and blue elements, while others have them next to each other. The stacked approach was supposed to be better. Are all these improvements mainstream now, or only in the high end, or was that all just tech vapour ware?

    6. Any recommendations for a small, thin, inexpensive (hahaha, yeah right) camera that meets all of these concerns? Or should I keep waiting?

    Thank you.
  2. Moderator


    Staff Member

    The Canon SD550 or even the SD450 sounds like a good fit.

    1. My Canon S45 was a big huge improvement in click to shutter time from my older Canon G1.

    2. 3 MP is fine, 4 MP is better and allows some cropping. I find you can get decent prints at ~200 dpi (1536x1024=1.5 MP) comparable to many P&S film cameras.

    3. RAW mode is a very nice option. Though I usually stay in JPEG Fine and get about 1.2 MB files from my 4 MP camera.

    4. I love mini-movie mode! This is one reason I'm looking at replacing/augmenting my S45 with an SD550 or similar this year.

    5. The sensor matter, the lens matters, the processing matters. Best choice is to try one out for your needs.

  3. macrumors G4


    The newer digital cameras have a very small delay between button and shutter - dpreview.com times the shutter lag as part of their reviews - the caveat to that is whether auto-focus etc is on since in low light, it might take slightly longer.

    A 4mp camera would happily do 4x6. I have 8x5 shots that I've taken with a 3MP camera that have been perfectly acceptable.

    The other issue that affects quality is the noise level of the sensor. If the sensor is susceptible to noise, then your shots will be grainer; particularly if you end up using the higher ISOs

    If you just want to take quick videos of your friends while at dinner etc, then a digital camera will take adequate shots. If you want to make a video of your vacation or an important event, then you'll still want a camcorder. The quality really doesn't compare - all digicams have to perform compression in the camera. DV camcorders do slightly less so you end up with a better quality picture. It's still true to say that videocameras don't take great stills and still cameras don't take great video although both can take adequate ones in a bind.

    Have a look on dpreview to see what's out there and meets your budget, preferences etc.

    I bought a Fuji F10 in September last year which I'm amazingly happy with - it's got very little shutter lag, very little noise, amazing battery life (over 300 shots easily) and has a 6MP sensor. There's a newer F11 now which adds a few more manual features in. I believe the F10 is $250 or less now

    You can see some of the shots I took of Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon (all handheld) with it in this post and in this one
  4. Moderator


    Staff Member

    Yeah, even with the S45 I've found that pre-focusing (hold the button down halfway until it focusses) helps quite a bit when trying to capture my kids in the act.

    Definitely the quality of video from still digicams is not at the same level as a "real" camcorder, but it is still infinitely better than what most mobile phones can do! ;)

  5. macrumors 65816


    Have you tried dSLRs? The comparison to 35 mm film resolution is around 8 MP. To get a 4x6-inch print, you need at least 540x360 pixels.
    A quality 4 MP picture is better than a cheap 12 MP picture, although consumers seem to only look at MP marketing like MHz marketing from Intel.
    Point-and-shoot cameras are useful for some video snapshots, but they are not video cameras.
    Larger image sensors have lower noise and better depth-of-field.
    Check out the Canon PowerShot SD units.
  6. Moderator


    Staff Member

    Not small, thin or inexpensive as the OP requested. ;) For me, I really like the compactness of my S45 as I can carry it on my belt or in a (big) pocket.
    Now you're talking ;), these threads always seem to come back to the SD units.

    At least AppleSpider recommended something else for once. ;)

  7. macrumors G4


    I looked hard at the SDs when I was buying (or rather Ixus as they are in the UK) but the 7MP one was just outside the budget I wanted to spend and the combination of lower noise and better battery life swung it in the F10's favour. It's not quite so small or sexy but being able to take shots at ISO1600 without a flash and still being able to print them at 4 x 6 was the biggest boon.

    I had a Canon before that - a Powershot S30 which I only replaced since it was really starting to show its age and become temperamental - so I'd still agree that they do take great pictures.
  8. macrumors 65816


    Thanks for all the info. I have a question though, the F10 has a CCD Size of 1/1.7", while the other cameras that people mentionned have 1/2.5". Which value is better?

    Also, your night shots look a bazillion times better than mine do. Did you just use the night mode in your camera, or did you tweak settings manually?
  9. Moderator


    Staff Member


    :confused: The Canon SD550 has a 1/1.8" sensor.

    Which is the better value depends primarily on you. e.g. Which do you value more a slightly smaller size or lower noise sensor. The latter is probably responsible for the gret night shots.

    One other recommendation. Never buy a camera sight unseen over the 'net. Make sure you try it out somewhere before you buy. e.g. Sony digital cameras drive me nuts, they never seem to fit my hands right, and the menus/controls make no sense to me.

  10. macrumors 65816


    Sorry, the Canon SD450, which was also mentionned, had 1/2.5. Plus, when I read a bunch of other reviews for other Canons, most of them seemed to have 1/2.5 as well.

    Err, but which is which? Is it a fraction, where 1/2.5" would mean smaller with more noise, or is it two figures, with 2.5" meaning bigger with less noise?

    Yeah, it seems like there's a lot of variation with controls. I'll definitely try the cameras out to see if I can understand them :)
  11. macrumors newbie

    If your first need is to use a practical camera maybe digital is a good choice but i'm not saying nothing new if i tell you that a decent film camera take better picture than a consumer digital camera! and if you are able to use it properly better than a pro digital camera.
  12. Moderator


    Staff Member

    It's a ratio, check the link I gave. The 1/1.8" defines the diameter of a ficticious TV tube. 1/2.5" is definitely smaller.

    What I really meant to say was that the Fuji appears to have a more sensitive sensor, even if the sizes are ultimately similar. The max ISO 1600 AppleSpider mentioned implies that the sensor is more sensitive than the Canon's max ISO 400 sensor.

    If that ultimately translates to better pictures for you, really depends on what conditions you will be using the camera under...

  13. macrumors G4


    Some were night mode. Some were just telling it to use a lower ISO (than the auto would have set), keeping it as still as possible and hitting the button.
    I'll check when I get home but I think most of them were taken at ISO200 or 400. The only one I know was less than that for sure was the Eiffel Tower/Fountains shots at night since I took that from the hotel room with the camera resting on the table - that one was at 80ISO. Not to oversell the thing, but, not being a DSLR owner and a rank amateur, I've taken better shots with the F10 than I have with any other camera I've ever owned!

    There's another thread here where I was talking about the F10. Here where you can see a picture taken at 1600ISO without flash (the one with the glass leaves in the mall) and a 100% crop of that picture so you can get some idea of what the noise level (or relative lack of it was at that speed)

    It does depend what you're looking for in a camera. I like photos with some ambience left in them rather than having a flash in certain instances - round dinner in a restaurant, in the pub etc. For that reason, the ability to take snapshops at 800 or 1600 that were usable was a good reason to get it.
  14. macrumors Penryn


    Dude, the 1/1.8" is a larger sensor. The " symbol is actually an indication of inches, and 1/1.8 is a fractional number. The size doesn't matter in terms of photo quality in most cases, but I guess it would matter if you were taking photos at night and at the higher ISO settings, since photos at high ISO taken at night are noisy using these small cameras.

    I have a Canon SD300 (4MP), and if you can pick up any Canon SD 4MP or 5MP, that'll give you great photos at an inexpensive price. You really don't need a 7 MP point-and-shoot camera. Not at all.

    Also, Sony digital cameras are quite good from my experience, but the LCDs are usually pretty lousy (although quite large). Casio, Pentax, and Fuji make some great small cameras as well. Casio's Exilim line is quite good. Nikon's Coolpix line from 2 years ago is very bad, but I'm not sure about their current small, inexpensive offerings (if they even offer them anymore).

    In fact, all these small cameras nowadays are quite good. It's usually the built-in software inside the camera that makes the difference (Sony makes a lot of the sensors used in these cameras). ;)

    One thing to think about: Get a digital camera with a viewfinder. If it only has an LCD, then what happens if your LCD stops working, or you accidentally break/damage it? You can't even use it anymore. I've seen people who had a broken LCD, and they couldn't aim it at all. At least if you have a viewfinder, you can always use that to zoom in/out, aim, etc. :)
  15. macrumors 6502a

    The number is a fraction, not a relationship between height and width like you might expect (made all the more confusing by the fact that HD, 16:9, is also about 1.8:1). The reason a fraction is used instead of a decimal is a somewhat esoteric curiosity probably out of the scope of this discussion.

    Put more simply, 1/1.8" = 0.56 inches; 1/2.7" (not sure where you got 1/2.5) = 0.37 inches. (Not the actual size of the sensor, but gives an idea of the relative size). Arranged from largest to smallest, sensors are 4/3 > 1" > 2/3 > 1/1.8 > 1/2.7. In general, the larger the sensor, the less noise. However, I've had problems with more noise on larger sensors that have higher resolutions. I.e., you get less noise with a 4MP camera with 1/2.7 sensor than 8MP at 1/1.8 (in my biased opinion). An interesting attempt to deal with this problem can be seen on some of the Olympus cameras, where multiple pixels are used to create one large pixel, lowering the resolution but improving sharpness.

    Most important thing in choosing a camera is going into the store and trying it out.

  16. Moderator


    Staff Member

    Hey, I provided a link that not only provides a table with various common sensor sizes in millimeters, SI units anyone should be able to understand, but also provides the esoteric discussion for anyone who cares. ;)

    ASIDE: The reason I said it was a ratio and not a fraction is that 1" and 4/3" are both valid sensor sizes according to the link I provided, but are not fractions of an inch since they are larger than 1. 4/3"=1.33"=33.87 mm. A 35 mm frame would correspond (roughly) to an 8/3"=2.66" CCD sensor. The 4:3 aspect ratio also corresponds to 1.33.

    Didn't I say that earlier. ;)

  17. macrumors 6502a

    It might seem like a lot of work, but if you are really keen take time to check out the information on dpreview. The site has links to other excellent camera and photography sites.
  18. macrumors G4

    You have been doing your homework. You are pretty much dead on.

    You can't get everything you want in one camera. You will need to move up to a DSLR (Nikon D50 or Canon 350D) to get rid of shutter lag and hava a large size CCD sensor. There is simply no way to put a 24mm wide sensor in a pocket camera and the small sensors ALL suffer from higher "noise" which looks to the eye like film grain.

    You CAN reduce shutter lag by using full manual setting for exposure and focus and turning off the "red eye" preflash. In this mode the little camera are very fast.

    Why buy a Video camera? Better image quality and longer recording times.

    About #3. No there are three main points. On most little P&S camera the quality of the lens is the weak link. It don't matter how many megapixels you have if the shot is burry or id there is color fridges around bright objects.

    You just have to look at your needs. If you are doing posed snapshots or landscape you can live with shutter lag but not if you are doing sports photography. You will get better image quality from a bigger camera but if it is so big you leave it at home you will get no image at all.
  19. macrumors 65816


    I'm sorry for these really really intro questions, but what factors determine which ISO to use?

    With my film camera, I can buy ISO 100,200,400,800. I haven't seen that much of a difference between them, but my pictures don't look nearly as good as yours, especially night shots. I heard that the lower numbers are better when it's brighter, but I also heard that higher numbers are better for motion. What would someone use for motion in daylight??? And doesn't lower ISO make things more grainy?
  20. macrumors 65816


    Damn. I always have to use red eye reduction, since I always have satan eyes in pictures.

    Camera size is definitely the #1 factor. It took me from Halloween until mid-January to finish a single roll of film, just because my camera is too large. There were so many times I wished I had a camera on me.

    I don't need to be able to capture sports per se, but realistically do need to capture people dancing, walking, jogging. With autofocus. Maybe I should only try the video feature, and forget about stills, in those cases.
  21. macrumors G4


    Yikes... I always get mildly confused at this point when thinking how to explain it, even to myself! You'll hopefully get a much better answer from a pro photographer... I'm a rank amateur! Much of the time, I keep it on 80 in sunshine, 200 most of the rest of the time and if it's darker, I put it up to 400 or 800.

    The lower the ISO 50/80/100, the finer the grain on the image. They work very well (with a fast shutter speed) in bright lights/sunshine. If you're using them in a darker place, you'll need a longer exposure time. If you're not using a tripod, or don't have somewhere steady to sit the camera, this means that using a low ISO in a darkish place will mean that your picture blurs since your hands will shake. But if you can take pictures in good light, or on a steady base, you'll have clear, fine pictures which are easier to crop/enlarge etc

    The higher the ISO 400/800/1600 the grainier the image will be and the noisier it can look. Some cameras seem to have a lot of noise at 400 and others don't. DPreview gives a great comparison of this in their camera reviews. If you're using a flash, you'll probably rarely have to go above ISO 200. If you're not using a flash and the light isn't great, that's when you tend to move up the ISOs. Since the higher ISOs take in more light in a shorter time, the shutter speed can be quicker so you can take handheld pictures that are clearer than you might otherwise get. The problem is that since the shots are likely to be grainier, you'll be more likely to be limited to 4x6 or 7x5 prints.
  22. macrumors Penryn


    In a nutshell: The ISO is the sensitivity of your film to light. At night, you want to use a higher ISO film (or setting as is the case with digital cameras) because there isn't much light. So for example, ISO 100 is much less sensitive than ISO 800 or ISO 1600. Since there isn't a lot of light, if you want to take photos that come out well, you can either increase the exposure time, or increase the ISO used. Increasing the ISO means that you can keep the exposure time the same (eg: 1/100 seconds) and still make the photo "brighter", because if you used a longer exposure time (eg: 1/20 seconds) and left the ISO unchanged, the chances of your camera shaking while you're taking the photo increases, and this movement makes your picture blurry.

    And I guess if you're taking a photo of a moving object, it's better to use a higher ISO for the same reason --- you can increase the ISO, decrease the exposure time, and still end up with a photo that's just as "bright" (ie: well exposed) as before. This is good for moving objects because if you take a photo of a moving object at even mid-level exposure times (eg: 1/1250 seconds), you'll end up with a blurry image. Increasing the sensitivity means you can use a shorter exposure time (eg: 1/2000 or 1/4000 seconds) and still get a decent photo.

    Your photo looks grainier at the higher ISOs, that's all. ;)
  23. macrumors 65816


    The amount of light and the desired shutter speed determine the required ISO. Using ISO 100 in some dim lighting conditions is good because the photo has lower noise, but not if you need a faster shutter speed. Use the highest ISO required for the shutter speed that you need. A noisy photo is better than a blurred photo with lower noise.
  24. macrumors 6502a

    Semantics. Ratio can be taken two ways - as an aspect ratio or a fraction. Was just trying to clarify. It's a problem, in that I would venture most digital camera buyers don't realize there is a sensor size to consider, and once they do, the sizes are something as confusing as 1/1.8". The fact that a high resolution (lots of megapixels) on a small sensor is not necessarily a good thing is not an easy point to understand, especially after people have been trained that more is better as far as resolution.

  25. macrumors 6502a

    ISO is essentially amplification. The easiest analogy to use is to sound amplification. If you're trying to hear a weak signal on say, a cassette tape recording, you turn up the volume control. Now you can better hear the soft voices but you also hear a hiss. The hiss is background noise. The same thing happens with light. You amplify the weak signal so you get a stronger image, but in the process you pickup noise (speckles) in the image. There are various techniques for reducing the noise, some of which are on certain cameras, and for others you have to do post-processing with software.

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