Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Camera Help Wanted!

Okay, so I'm either terrible at taking pictures with my digital camera or there's something wrong with my digital camera. Please tell me which based on the following symptoms and also, how to improve my situation:

1) 90% of the time when I take a picture, it comes out blurry. Slightly blurry. Just blurry enough to be an annoyance. This happens both indoors and out. And I wait for the camera to focus. You know, I hold the button down until it flashes green (instead of yellow) before taking the shot. But even then...blur occurs.

2) I am simply unable to take pictures of small things, like my geckos or the wood frog from the other day (that picture was scavenged from the intertubes). I would love to show you guys my geckos in high-definition, but my camera won't cooperate. The more I zoom in, the worse the picture comes out.

3) When I use the auto-flash, the picture turns out really bright. When I don't use the auto-flash, the picture comes out very dark, unless there's lots of natural lighting, as in a window is behind me and the sun is shining.

Should I just get a new camera? I need to know these things for my potential trip to the Galapagos in January...and for the gecko pictures. Help meeee!

11 comments:

Will Baird said...

Me too! Me too! What's going on?

Traumador said...

Two causes that occur to me immediately is your cameras shutter could be slow, or (not meant as a diss against you just a potential cause) the photographer is a little shacky in holding the camera while snapping.

If it's 90% sounds more likely it is the shutter. To test this rest your camera on a table or solid stable surface, make sure it doesn't slide, and take a few pictures of things.

If their still blurry I'd say take it to a camera store and see if they can fix it.

Julia said...

My digicam often goes a bit blurry too. As with you, just enough to be annoying.

I agree with Traumador. I try to stop the blur by taking important shots on timer (admittedly this is easier with plants than animals!). That way I don't move the camera at all to press the button. I also got myself a Gorillapod, which is amazing. The quality of my photographs improves greatly if I use it, especially in low light or macro.

As for the zoom, this is what my brother told me (hey, maybe I can get him to comment as he has a degree in the photographic image...). Digital cameras have optical zooms and/or digital zooms. When you use the digital zoom, the camera is selecting the middle block of pixels and bumping them up to full screen. So your resolution is screwed. The best example of this that I can find is from a holiday I had in AZ and UT a few years ago. Compare the Mittens in this photo with the digitally zoomed in ones in this photo. You see how it looks a bit dodgy? I could have got exactly the same quality picture by just cropping around the Mittens in the long shot and increasing the image size in PhotoShop.

So wherever possible you need to be using only the optical zoom (if you have one) - zoom using the lenses. On my Nikon, the zoom bar on the screen shows me when I get to the limit of what optical zoom can do. You'll also notice because on optical zoom things go in and out of focus as you zoom, but with digital it just gets bigger on the screen in jumps.

And this is probably obvious, but if you have a macro or close-up setting on your digicam, then use it. It does make all the difference.

I'll see if my bro has time to add anything more technical, with his "copious free time".

Nathan said...

Get one of those tiny-tiny tripods and leave it screwed into the bottom. Tie a length of cord to it, with a loop at the end. Stiffen the loop with some tape or something so it's easy to get your foot in. Then, when you take a picture standing up, put your foot in the loop and tauten the string. That helps you keep the camera steady.

Ben said...

I resent the 'copious free time' comment - despite being on annual leave, I appear to be experiencing husband syndrome. Suddenly there's a multitude of tasks for me to do...

Anyway, onto the problems. Blurring is probably caused by user error, in that the camera will be shaking ever so slightly. Happens to me all the time. If you can adjust your shutter speed, try speeding it up. This should help, but will obviously reduce the amount of light entering the lens. You would therefore need to adjust your f stop to compensate and get the correct exposure. Or you could use a tripod with a remote shutter release. Or a timer.

Julia's spot on with the zooming issue. Depending upon your camera's resolution, you will find digital zoom to be rubbish. If you have a macro setting, it is your friend. Use it wisely. Failing that, zoom in as much as you can using optical zoom, set your camera to the highest resolution picture you can, and then use Photoshop to do a digital zoom in post-production. It's much more powerful, and you have the original high quality image to work with. You can't polish a turd, so if you have a poor, pixelated image to start with, it's only going to get worse.

Similarly with the flash, it's probably not a brilliant flash. That's not a slight on your camera, it's just that anything below an auxiliary flash unit costing about a grand is 'probably not a brilliant flash'. That's why pros invariably have separate units. Depending upon the make of camera you may have an adjustable flash (it will be an option from a menu somewhere), so you could play around with those settings. If not, you would need to try and make the most of natural light and then do what you can in Photoshop to adjust levels.

If you've got any more info about the model of camera that would help, as I could find the specs on t'interweb and have a better idea what's going on. That would also help with the 'should I get a new camera' question... (though, being a certified gearhead, the answer will almost always be "yes, buy this one, it has flashing lights and a tin opener!" - you have been warned)

Nick Gardner said...

You forgot to post what make/model of camera you have. :-)

Jerry D. Harris said...

I agree with other posters that the slight blurriness, and the inability to take good close-ups or zoom-ins of small objects, is due to a probably otherwise unnoticeable tremor on the part of the photographer. I too have this exact same problem and it bugs the HELL outta me!!! My next digital camera will be one with a built-in vibration eliminator; from what I've read, these things can work so well that you can take a picture out the window of a fast-moving car of buildings zooming past and they come out about as well as if you weren't moving at all. ...but anyway, until that time, use a tripod! They work VERY well for me on all but the most extreme close-ups of small objects, and that's almost certainly because the camera and lens I'm using aren't meant for that anyway.

As for the flash issue, this is something I've found with a number of different cameras, so I don't think it's camera-specific. But flashes don't mediate how bright they are or how much light they generate depending on how much is actually needed to effectively illuminate a subject; they just spew out the same number of photons every time. But not every subject needs all that, and if you're getting glare and overexposure, it's because there's too much light for the situation. Unfortunately, unless you have the luxury of toting around your own lights and having the time to set them up, there's no good solution to this that I've found. A couple of things can help a bit, though: (1) don't take the photos straight on to the object; try taking them at an angle. This way, less light will reflect directly back off the object and into the camera. This strategy works particularly well for taking pictures of things behind glass, but only when there aren't other light sources also reflecting in the glass. (2) On rare occasiona, I've had some moderate success using a finger to partially, but not completely, cover the flash when it goes off -- this eliminates some of the light and does reduce brightness somewhat. But pictures still aren't terrific...

Amanda said...

Yeah...what everyone else said. Are you going to be at the annual meeting? Let's toy with the camera then.

ScottE said...

1. Tripods are good!

2. I avoid using the flash, unless it's absolutely necessary (and with a tripod and a static subject, it's never necessary).

3. A decent DSLR could never hurt. And might be worth spending a few months eating at home to save up for. (Even the lowest-end Nikon DSLR would be miles better than what you're using now.)

Zach said...

Thanks for all the suggestions, folks! Sounds like, at the very least, I should invest in a tripod. For the curious, my camera is a Kodak Easyshare C330. It's probably four years old by now.

And yes, Amanda, I will be coming to SVP. :-) Actually...see the next post for more on that...

Jerry D. Harris said...

Let me add one thing to what scotte said: it is true that you can avoid many flash issues with a tripod. Instead of using the flash, set the camera to overexpose the shot (keeping the shutter open longer to let more light in in dim situations). The resulting shots can be very bright and show much detail without ever needing the flash; the downside is that they can occasionally be grainy and usually have some color shifting (toward the red, I've found). Some of that may be how individual cameras handle the digital processing under low light conditions, I don't know, but it can be alleviated somewhat in Photoshop later.