Take a camera

by Alec Scaresbrook

As a professional photographer, I’ve used a wide variety of equipment (single lens reflex cameras and lenses) on my travels, and the most important lesson I’ve learned during those travels (mostly cycling and walking) is that it all becomes a burden after a while. In fact, the effort of carting it around stifles creativity. At the moment I have did have a 10.2 megapixel Nikon D80 SLR with an all-singing, all-dancing image-stabilised 18-200mm zoom lens. Just the one lens covers all my needs. It is an amazing piece of camera technology, but it’s still simply too big and heavy for my cycling and walking activities, which is why I now have a compact – a Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3 to be exact. More of that later.

Choosing a camera

Compact or single lens reflex (SLR)?

No contest – compacts are lightweight, fit in your pocket, have quick-shooting ‘i’ settings (for idiot or intelligence, you choose…) and don’t shout ‘rich tourist’ either.

Megapixels

Has all the choice given you the megapixel blues? Should you buy an 10 or 12 megapixel camera? Bigger must be better, right? Well no, you probably won’t need this high sensitivity, unless you’re selling to publishers and the like, when you’ll need a camera that produces files in a RAW file format. These mean you can make far larger files in the required format with a colour space of your choice.

So don’t think big is best, think about the end-use. For most people, that’s use on the web, or prints, or both.

Pics on the web

For displaying images on the internet or in digital photo frames, you only need a 1+ megapixel camera.

Prints

What are the biggest prints that you’ll want?

The table below shows clearly that a 4+ megapixel camera is plenty for a 30 inch print (with 2 megapixels minimum and 4 megapixels preferred). This info comes from PhotoBoxone of several companies that provide prints of your digital images (you upload your image files to their server, order your prints, then wait for them to come through the post). And, as you can see, you can also order your pics on mugs, mousemats and more.

Product/longest side Minimum no. of pixels across (m=megapixels) Preferred no. of pixels across (m=megapixels)
Passport prints, mini-prints 200 pixels (< 1m) 400+ pixels (< 1m)
5″ 300 pixels (< 1m) 800+ pixels (< 1m)
6″, cards, coasters, mugs, mousemats, T-shirts 600 pixels (< 1m) 1200+ pixels (2m +)
7″ 600 pixels (1m) 1200+ pixels (2m +)
Large and medium calendars 800 pixels (1m) 1600+ pixels (3m +)
8″ prints, bags, cushions 900 pixels (1m) 1600+ pixels (3m +)
10″ placemats 900 pixels (1m) 1600+ pixels (3m +)
A4 12″ 900 pixels (1m) 1600+ pixels (3m +)
15″ 1000 pixels (1.3m) 2000+ pixels (4m +)
A3 posters 1200 pixels ( 1.3m ) 2000+ pixels (4m +)
40x30cm and 40cmx40cm canvases 1250 pixels (1.5m) 2000+ pixels (4m +)
A2 poster 1500 pixels (2m) 2400+ pixels (4m +)
30″ 1500 pixels (2m) 3000+ pixels (4m +)

Lens quality

Having decided the size of camera to suit you, lens quality is the most important thing to consider. Super zoom cameras look very attractive, but the closer you bring the subject to the camera the more steady you have to hold it, so built-in image stabilisation is a must-have feature. Also be aware that a lot of cameras will automatically boost the sensitivity (ISO) of the chip when light levels fall, in order to increase the shutter speed to reduce camera shake. Another thing to beware of with do-everything lenses is aberration (visible on the image as a blue/mauve tinge around the edge of objects).

Look for cameras and accessories from Jessops.

Need a tripod?

Now that image stabilisation lenses are available, you only really need a tripod to set up a precise view when you’re photographing yourself and there’s nothing else to place the camera on. So the lightweight mini-tripods can do this for you.

A tripod is also useful when setting up shots from awkward angles where it’s tiring to hold the position for long, such as in garden and plant shots.

Look for tripods from Jessops.

Compact Digital Camera: Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3

I now have a Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3, or in other words a Leica (because it has a Leica lens) – a lovely lightweight compact professional quality digital camera with image stabilisation that will fit in a pocket and do all (no, more!) than the great big Nikon D80 with image-stabilised zoom lens that I had been using.

I have reviewed the Lumix in more detail, but suffice to say that the lens is so good that, combined with the high ISO rating settings on the camera, the pictures are always good – you cannot fail.