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Extreme Digital Photography: Beyond Point-and-shoot

When my old Olympus digital camera got broke while caving during a family camping trip, I had mixed feelings. For quite some time I had felt that the quality of some of my pictures was hampered by the limitations of that camera, but I did not look forward to spending the money on a new one.

The old camera wasn't bad, but there were certain situations where it was difficult to get good pictures with it. When taking pictures at my son's basketball games, for example, the camera would slow the shutter down to try to improve the exposure, and this would cause the fast-moving players to just look like a blur. The flash was of no help, because it didn't work well from that distance. All I could do was change the ISO sensitiviy, and that made the pictures grainy. Also, the camera was slow, so I'd often miss a good picture by about half a second. At football games, I had another problem; the players were just so far away that the camera's zoom wasn't enough.

For a while, I tried using my old Yashica 35 mm film camera. I even bought a fairly large telephoto lens off ebay and managed to get some really nice football pictures that way. Unfortunately, though, I found that I wasn't saving any money by not buying a new digital as the photo processing was so expensive, especially by the time I added the extra cost of asking for cd's. Also, the Yashica had a manual focus, which allowed maximum control, but sometimes I wasn't quick enough with the focus and the shot was spoiled. Worst of all, since I couldn't see the pictures until I'd paid for the processing, a couple of times I found that there were few if any good shots on an entire roll. With digital, I would have simply taken a lot more shots and deleted the bad ones.

So, finally I decided I needed a new digital, but I was spoiled by the control that the Yashica gave me. Simple point-and-shoot was not good enough. I wanted a camera with good optical zoom (digital zoom is just a marketing gimic) that would give me the ability to take control of more of the camera's features. I also wanted a camera with a quality lens (an oft overlooked feature in consumer cameras), but I did not want to spend a lot of money. I finally settled on the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ3 3MP Digital Camera with 12x Image Stabilized Optical Zoom.

Everybody looking at digital cameras seem to look mainly at MP (megapixels), but 3MP is good enough for photo quality 8X10's if you don't do a lot of cropping and enlarging. So, that's a great area for potential cost savings. Personally, I'd rather spend my money on features that will actually help me take better pictures, not just bigger ones. And the Lumix is loaded with such features. Consider also that if you get a higher MP camera, you also need a bigger, more expensive memory card as well.

This camera is admittedly too large to be pocketable, which may be an issue for some people, and if you use the adapter for filters it makes it even more bulky. However, it's pretty light weight (due largely to the battery type) and I like a camera that fits into the hand nicely instead of feeling like a toy. Also, there is a reason why professionals lug around those big cameras. It's because they take better pictures... if you know how to use them properly. Most people don't realize that a telephoto lens is not just for taking pictures of things far away. They are also great for portraits. And for taking pictures of my son's football games, the more zoom the better.

One of the great thing about this camera for me is that my wife, who wants things to be simple, can use the camera in "simple mode". So, she can take great pictures of kids birthday parties and such without having to learn all the features of the camera. I have also used the "simple mode" sometimes, but for basketball games and other extreme situations, I have the option of using shutter-priority or manual modes, and have been able to achieve better results. And with the 12X optical zoom, the camera is great for football games too.

I've seen postings on the internet where people who have bought digital cameras are wondering why they can't seem to get good pictures in certain situations. The answer is simple. Most cameras are made for the average user who wants something small and simple. They aren't made to work well in extreme situations.

In this article, I have described what my needs were when buying my camera. Your needs may be entirely different, and may also change over time (as mine have). However, if you carefully evaluate your individual needs and take into consideration the pros and cons of different cameras before you buy, you will surely avoid some annoying surprises.

The author, Greg Bonney, is the owner of Bonney Information and E-Commerce and founder of Scoutcamping.com (http://www.scoutcamping.com).

Copyright 2005 Bonney Information and E-Commerce.

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