Sunday, February 7, 2010

How much camera do you need?

I used to work in the Film and Digital Media Department at U.C. Santa Cruz. When I was there, I would often have discussions with students and faculty on how much of a camera was needed to actually learn photography. My contention was that the principles are the same whether you are using high-definition cameras or standard-definition. A good film/video/photo doesn't necessarily require a high-end camera. Needless to say, they were not convinced. Many of the students believed that by using a high-definition camera, their films would be better. I argued that a good script, dialog, and plot were much more important. But, I'm an engineer, they are artists, and I no longer work there.

The photo shown (large version) was taken when I was driving home from work (I work as a computer engineer at Industrial Light and Magic) and was taken with a camera I carry around with me all the time. It is an Olympus FE-46 that I bought with some extra credit card points. It's basically the equivalent of a cell phone camera to me. But it does have several features that I count on:

  • Settable ISO so I can control the grain
  • Exposure compensation of + or - two stops
  • 5x optical zoom
  • 12 Mega pixels (which is nice but not really required)
Given the above, I can control the shutter speed (aperture on these cameras doesn't really count for much), the exposure from normal, and composition, three things that are critical to taking good photographs.

It would be nice to have bracketing as well, that way when the light is changing fast I can take several shots for HDR work, given it only takes JPEG images.

The fact that it is small, and I can easily carry it everywhere makes it a great camera. It will nor replace my SLR. But it does meet the requirement I recommend, buy a camera that you will use.