Hobby snappers

Last weekend I and some colleagues from Hillcrest Camera Club did a spell of duty at the Hobby-X on the stand representing the camera clubs of KZN.

We were there to tell visitors to the stand about the benefits of camera clubs and to hand out brochures. It was Saturday morning and the show wasn’t all that busy but I was struck by the number of people who stopped at the stand to look at the photos on display and tell us how much they enjoyed taking pictures.

The arrival of digital photography has led to a great revival of interest and more people than ever are getting into the act. Many of the people coming to the stand told how they had, or were just about to buy themselves a digital camera.

That’s good news for the industry but quite a number of people told us they were intending to source their equipment from overseas, not from the local photo trade. I know that retailers here don’t make big mark-ups on photo goods but, somehow, prices are considerably higher than overseas, particularly in the USA.

I’m not necessarily advising getting your camera overseas but the fact that it can be much cheaper is something that the importers should look at. Who knows how many sales they’re missing out on but, from my own experience, it’s a lot.

Wherever you get your new camera from, however, there is a bewildering choice of models at many different price levels. There are two basic types which are the compact camera with a built-in lens, and the single lens reflex models with interchangeable lenses.

Compact cameras are normally for people who want to take pictures on holiday or of family and friends. Some enthusiasts own compacts and do very good work with them but enthusiasts and professionals generally opt for something with interchangeable lenses because these make it easier to get the picture in the first place, and the quality is greater.

When choosing a compact camera, I don’t think you can go too far wrong if you stick to the manufacturers which were already into photography before digital came along. I’m thinking mainly of Fuji, Olympus, Nikon, Canon, and I’d include Sony as well. The trick is then to choose your brand and the best model you can afford within their line-up.

By all means take things like size and weight and type of memory card into account when choosing the model you’re going to get, but don’t let a higher number of megapixels sway your choice. The sensor chips on compact cameras are pretty small and the picture actually degrades as more pixels are crammed onto them.

You don’t actually need that many pixels to get good results at ordinary enlargement sizes. The manufacturers know this very well but they add more pixels because you, the public, believes that more is better, and they’d lose sales if they didn’t.

Four or five megapixels is fine for jumbo prints and enlargements up to A4. To prove that pixels are not the most important thing, I have a 40x60cm enlargement of a photo which was taken on a 6 megapixel camera.

The real proof of the pudding is in the tasting and the way to check if a camera will suit your needs is to take a picture with it and see if you’re happy with the results.

People knowing enough to know that they want a camera with interchangeable lenses will have a better idea of what to choose but, in this case, I’d probably stick to Nikon or Canon because of the huge selection of lenses there are. The lens is the heart of any camera system and determines the quality of the picture you get.

I reckon its better to spend money there than on the latest camera body and a cheap lens with glass that’s been rejected by the makers of cool drink bottles. Even the famous brands have el-cheapo lenses for people who care most about price.

See www.dpreview.com for a wide selection of camera reviews. Why not leave a comment by clicking the link below?

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1 thought on “Hobby snappers

  1. Dear Allan, thank you for your column which I read every week.
    I use a 4mp Canon and the quality is adequate for my needs. I do think the manufacturers are holding back as the new models increase bit by bit in terms of their megapixels. Re: my computer(WinXP) I find it much slower after installing my new anti-virus package – Trend Micro PC-Cillin, free from Absa. Is there any way to avoid this slow down in performance?
    Also, a friend recommended Firefox browser which I downloaded free, but after a few weeks I found it also was slower than Internet Explorer which I have now gone back to using. You may wish to discuss the merits of these points. Thanks, Steven.

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