Digital photography is quickly becoming a very mainstream pastime. No longer do you need to faff about with darkrooms and expensive films; a simple household computer is all you need. The advantage of the technological revolution is that equipment drops rapidly in price over time (just look at widescreen televisions; you can pick up a 32” LCD TV for £500, a couple of years ago they were over double that!) whilst the quality of the goods increases (you can look at digital cameras this time). So, we are getting double benefits: prices for goods are dropping as the goods get better and better. It’s a great situation to be in, and with the current recession reducing demand for luxury goods (cars, for instance, have seen an unprecedented 35% drop in demand this year compared like for like to last year), if you can afford to buy a good digital camera, now is the time to do it!
In this series of blogs (yes I know, I should be following a trail of dead sheep, but the famer has moved them indoors for a while, so the cat has buggered of elsewhere), I will be looking at what to look for in a digital camera, if you are a naturalist. I could talk at great length about D-SLRs (digital single lens reflexes), but for the moment I am going to discuss more affordable options: entry level cameras.
In the above photo, the black dots are starlings.
A basic camera will set you back about £100 (roughly) and will probably have a 3x optical zoom, still and video modes, about 8.0 megapixels, a macro mode and a fairly large screen. A 3x zoom is not exactly superb, but all the other features are essential for a naturalist. Still and video modes gives you flexibility when shooting without needing two separate cameras, 8.0 megapixels allows you to produce a fairly large image which can be printed out at a later date up to about an A4 size, the large screen allows you to clearly focus on your subject, whilst the macro mode allows you to take clear photos of small flowers/invertebrates. These cameras are usually pocket sized, and are very easy to carry around in a pocket or handbag, and are aimed squarely at beginners, or people who don’t want to fuss around with photography.
Most of the settings are automatic, and there is usually a small manual override on some settings, but usually very little. A large memory card is essential to make sure that you have enough space for images, no matter what happens. So, if you do see that elusive big cat you have been chasing for ages, you want to be able to keep taking photographs for the full duration that you can see the animal and not have to worry that you are going to run out of space on the memory card, which will prevent you from taking any more photos. You don’t need expensive aftermarket image enhancer programs either. Windows XP/Vista (and I assume its equivalents) comes with a “fix” tab in the image viewing screen. It is not fancy, but if you are shooting at night you can enhance the brightness to pick out any figures in the gloom. You can crop the image in the same way.
Cropping cuts out a piece of the image to allow you to take out areas outside of the subject to enhance the look of the image. You can also use it to show a particular far away object in a better zoom, letting you, as I said earlier, determine between a bustard and a goose.
But why am I taking the time to talk to you about photography in a zoological blog? It is because I have a dream.