CHOOSING THE PURR-FECT CAMERA

By Mary Kolenick

LCD vs, the Viewfinder

An advantage of digital cameras over film is the ability to see the picture quickly. With a film camera, you have to develop and print the film to see the photos. Many digital cameras have a small screen called an LCD which you can use to see the photo as soon as you take it. You can also use this LCD to frame your shot rather than squinting through the tiny viewfinder. If you are like me and need reading glasses, be sure to handle any model you are considering in a store before you buy it to make sure you can see the images in the LCD.

There are some tradeoffs to having an LCD display. Some cameras that have 2.7" to 3" LCDs have no room for a viewfinder, yet in bright light outdoors the LCD can be difficult to see. If you do buy a camera that does not have a viewfinder, make sure the LCD can be adjusted for use in bright sunlight. Another tradeoff to using the LCD to frame the shot is that you have to hold the camera away from you to see the LCD, and this makes your hold on the camera just a little less stable. This may not be significant with the lightweight P&S cameras, but it is serious with the heavy SLRs. Using the LCD to frame a shot with an SLR is just asking for camera shake.

ISO and Scene Modes

In the good old days of using film, each roll of film had a special number indicating the speed of the film, or the amount of light that was needed to use that film. The speed rating applied to the whole roll of film. There were terms like fast film, slow film, indoor film, and outdoor film. The most recent series of numbers used in the U.S. was the ISO or ASA system. A film rated as ISO 100 needed more light than a film rated as ISO 400; the 100 speed film was best used for outdoor subjects while speeds of 400 to 1600 were great for indoor subjects in situations where flash was not useful. Different speeds of film allowed the photographer to pick the best film for a particular lighting situation.

Digital ISO settings work the same way as they did with film. A low number means the scene needs more light and may need a flash; a high number means less light and possibly no flash. This setting is very important to the cat photographer because flash causes red-eye and has spoiled many otherwise fine pictures of cats. Flash can also frighten your subject. Unless you have a setup like a professional photographer with remote flash bouncing off umbrellas and other devices, you need to avoid flash with cats which you can do by raising the ISO setting on your camera.

Many digital cameras have an adjustable ISO setting, but the cheaper P&S cameras do not and instead have only scene modes. A scene mode is a collection of parameters that your camera sets automatically based on what is best for a particular scene. For example, the sports scene mode of a camera will set the fastest shutter speed possible to capture movement in focus while the landscape mode will instead set the smallest aperture possible to have most of the scene in focus (depth of field). Some scene modes will change the ISO setting as well, such as night mode or indoor mode. This means that even a camera that does not have an adjustable ISO setting does change the light sensitivity of the camera's sensors if it has adjustable scene settings.

The best choice for the cat fancier is a camera that has an adjustable ISO setting that goes to at least 800. An ISO of 800 will allow you to take photos in a show hall without a flash and will allow you to take photos of moving kittens at home with regular lighting. If you can afford it, a camera with ISO settings up to 1600 is best. ISO settings higher than 1600 just increase the noise in images and most of us will never need those high settings. If the camera you are considering does not have an adjustable ISO setting, make sure it has scene modes for sports, indoor, and if possible kids and pets. Those scene modes should be enough to allow you to take indoor photos without flash.

Red-Eye Reducing Flash

Almost every camera today has a flash mode to combat the dreaded red-eye. Red-eye is a significant problem in feline photography, especially with pointed cats. Since all I have are pointed cats (Siamese and Colorpoint Shorthairs), I have yet to be able to take a flash photo of my cats without some hint of red in the eyes. I usually turn the flash off and try to use some other light source. Even for non-pointed cats, the flash can scare the cat enough to make your life slightly miserable.

Red-eye reducing flash works on the premise that if the pupils of the subject's eyes are small, there will be less red in the eyes. The flash fires one or two times before firing in sync with the shutter. Those first flashes are supposed to shrink the subject's pupils, resulting in less red. But light reflected in the pupil of the eye is only one factor that contributes to red-eye. The distance between the lens and the flash is another component. This is why we see professional photographers with flashes remote from the camera and bouncing off umbrellas. They are trying to get as much distance between the lens and flash as possible, and trying to spread the light around the scene so that it does not come from just one source.

If your prime subjects are cats, the P&S is not going to give you good results any time your cat is looking directly into the lens and the flash fires. Red-eye reducing flash and pop-up flash units will not help, and they can scare the subject. If you have a low light situation, you need to think about bumping up the ISO of the camera as discussed above or using some other lighting source. Look for P&S cameras that have adjustable ISO that can go up to at least 800 ISO, preferably 1600, and don't be sucked in by claims of red-eye reducing flash. It might be useful with people, but not so much with cats.

Photos Copyright ŠKaren Lawrence 2010

Continued ...

Reprinted with permission, CFA Online Almanac, September 2009; December 2009

 


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