Author Topic: Looking for the "perfect" camera (for my needs)  (Read 2987 times)

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Cajonpassfan

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Looking for the "perfect" camera (for my needs)
« on: October 18, 2016, 06:18:13 PM »
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I'm in the market for a new camera. I thought I knew what I wanted, but now realize that technology has dramatically changed over the last few years and I need to bring myself up to date. Model railroad photography (especially in N scale, which is why I'm posting it here) is a relatively obscure subject for your typical camera store sales person, so I thought I'd try this learned group :P

Before you recommend the "perfect" camera for you, let me describe what I need:

It needs to be used for both model railroad and personal family/travel/scenic photography.

It has to be very compact, preferably compact enough to fit in a pocket; we do hikes and some climbing and exploring and I can't have the camera get in the way of enjoying the moment (I have a perfectly capable SLR with multiple lenses that never goes anywhere anymore because I don't like to lug it around).

It doesn't need interchangeable lenses, just a good quality built-in zoom lens. A 30x would be great but not necessary.

It needs to have great depth of field capability for N scale photography, but doesn't need a large sensor; I do not intend to use it for large enlargements or cover photographs, nor do I need it for sports or other "action" pics. It doesn't need to be particularly fast or work with little light.

It does need to allow manual aperture control, focus fairly close, and have an autofocus mechanism that permits manual selection of the focal point.

It needs to have a remote shutter release, tripod mount, and minimum resolution of say 10 megapixels.

That's it I think.
Some years ago, the answer was a Superzoom like Fujifilm HS30EXR or Panasonic Lumix FZ47, although they were not quite compact enough for my taste. Today, I don't know.

Thoughtful advice would be much appreciated, so I can take better pics than the one below :?
Otto K.


« Last Edit: October 18, 2016, 06:26:07 PM by Cajonpassfan »

Philip H

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Re: Looking for the "perfect" camera (for my needs)
« Reply #1 on: October 18, 2016, 06:32:04 PM »
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Look at the modern generation of Nikon point and shoots. Most will be more the. Adequate for you needs. Macro functions are now digital standards and the built in zoom can be dramatic. Plus the images are way bigger too 10 mp is no longer uncommon.
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Missaberoad

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Re: Looking for the "perfect" camera (for my needs)
« Reply #2 on: October 18, 2016, 06:36:13 PM »
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Look at the modern generation of Nikon point and shoots. Most will be more the. Adequate for you needs. Macro functions are now digital standards and the built in zoom can be dramatic. Plus the images are way bigger too 10 mp is no longer uncommon.

This or an equivalent Sony Point and shoot, they share the same image sensors and make beautiful images...
Edit: get the biggest/best one that fits your price/size needs. Likely you will be happy with any Nikon/Sony/Canon product available today

**and that's coming from a Canon fanboy lol  :D
« Last Edit: October 18, 2016, 06:39:36 PM by Missaberoad »
Ryan in Alberta

Cajonpassfan

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Re: Looking for the "perfect" camera (for my needs)
« Reply #3 on: October 18, 2016, 11:03:12 PM »
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Thanks guys for the advice, much appreciated.

The thing I'm struggling with is the depth of field capabilities of various models. Looking at multiple better quality point'n'shoots on line, I see all kinds of information on wifi, gps, nfc communications, lcd, but not much on the basics like optics and lens aperture relative to sensor size....

One option I like the Nikon Coolpics S9900, but maybe I just need to buy it, try it, and return it if I do not like the depth of field...? (Wonder what kind of restocking charge there'll be...)

Does anyone here have experience with this or a similar camera for model photography?
Thanks again, Otto

rickb773

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Re: Looking for the "perfect" camera (for my needs)
« Reply #4 on: October 18, 2016, 11:18:14 PM »
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Not an expert in this field but as I understand it the biggest component in the depth of field capability is how large (smaller) an f stop you have.
Mine is f8 and my photography friends tell me I should have at least f16.

peteski

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Re: Looking for the "perfect" camera (for my needs)
« Reply #5 on: October 19, 2016, 12:02:40 AM »
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The smaller the lens diameter is (and that also means the image sensor is small) the greater depth of field will be.  For similar reasons that pinhole cameras produce photos with great depth of field. Small apertures will of course also augment the depth of field.  I don't know how many small point-and-shoot cameras have adjustable apertures. But small lenses are "dark" (don't let much light pass to the image sensor, and small image sensors have lower resolutions (Megapixels).
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Cajonpassfan

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Re: Looking for the "perfect" camera (for my needs)
« Reply #6 on: October 19, 2016, 01:49:20 AM »
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Ah, therein is the dilemma; the smaller the aperture opening, the greater the DOF. BUT, smaller sensors provide better DOF, everything else being equal. It's the ratio of sensor size to aperture that matters, right? A smaller sensor provides a better DOF even with a larger lens opening, but may not have adequate resolution. So the question is, what's the optimal sensor size/aperture opening for N scale photography? How small can the sensor be while providing enough definition? I can't believe I'm the only guy asking these questions..
Thoughts appreciated.
Otto K.

havingfuntoo

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Re: Looking for the "perfect" camera (for my needs)
« Reply #7 on: October 19, 2016, 03:24:36 AM »
-1
You might be looking at the point and shoot camera's and also an action camera. Some of the point and shoots from Sony, Canon and Panasonic offer hard to beat features and for the model trains, have a look at the SJCam range.

I know you asked for one magic box to do it all, I not sure that getting your wish will give you the best results. Also consider the offerings available from some mobile telephones to fill one of your requirements.   

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Re: Looking for the "perfect" camera (for my needs)
« Reply #8 on: October 19, 2016, 03:25:47 AM »
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I don't know the specific equations or calculations of the lens diameter and sensor sizes. But a 5Mp photo is plenty good for being published in a magazine.  For online forums a 1Mp or 2Mp is plenty.  Smaller lenses and image sensors will require more light (or longer open-shutter speed) for good exposure, or their ISO rating will have to be raised (which means more grainy image).
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Ron McF

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Re: Looking for the "perfect" camera (for my needs)
« Reply #9 on: October 19, 2016, 08:39:52 AM »
-1
I own a Canon DSLR, a Fuji Superzoom and a phone camera.

The one that I use for most of my layout photography is my phone camera, because:
(i) it has excellent depth of field,
(ii) its compact size makes it very easy to get in amongst the scenery and get photos that I could never take with a larger camera,
(iii) it has excellent depth of field,
(iv) it fits in my pocket, which allows me to carry it around while I'm running trains, so it's always handy; and
(v) it has excellent depth of field.

Some examples of photos taken with my phone camera, without using the flash:







If I want to get pics of the guys operating in my train room I'm more inclined to use the DSLR, basically because of its faster shutter speed.  In fact, my DSLR gets used for most of my non-layout photography.

My poor superzoom doesn't get used much simply because it has no viewfinder, which makes it difficult to use on bright days (I wrongly thought I could live without a viewfinder.) However, it does have some capabilities that my 6 year old DSLR doesn't have.

I guess that what I'm saying is this - don't try to use the one camera for everything.  Work out what you can't do with your phone camera, and then buy a camera to fill that gap.

Regards,
Ron
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nscaleSPF2

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Re: Looking for the "perfect" camera (for my needs)
« Reply #10 on: October 19, 2016, 08:55:31 AM »
+1
Ah, therein is the dilemma; the smaller the aperture opening, the greater the DOF. BUT, smaller sensors provide better DOF, everything else being equal. It's the ratio of sensor size to aperture that matters, right? A smaller sensor provides a better DOF even with a larger lens opening, but may not have adequate resolution. So the question is, what's the optimal sensor size/aperture opening for N scale photography? How small can the sensor be while providing enough definition? I can't believe I'm the only guy asking these questions..
Thoughts appreciated.
Otto K.


If you really want to get technical about this issue, Otto, here is an excellent article from dpreview.com:

https://www.dpreview.com/articles/2666934640/what-is-equivalence-and-why-should-i-care

The bottom line, if you can't sort thru all of the details, is that a smaller image sensor requires a shorter focal length lens to take the same picture.  The shorter focal length (not diameter) results in a greater depth of field.  The above article demonstrates this effect.  Most of the point-and-shoots today have at least 12 megapixels, which will allow very good prints up to about 11x14 inches.  The problem with cramming that many pixels into these tiny sensors is that it creates some other problems, so if you are after the best possible image, you will need a larger sensor, and will suffer with a larger, heavier camera and lens.

Most of the images that I have shot on this forum were taken with a $100 Nikon point-and-shoot.  Check them out and see if that is what you are after.  The same camera will also take perfectly acceptable 8x10 inch landscape photos.

Hope this helps.  Oh, one other thing.  There are some online retailers (including Amazon) who offer trade-in value for
used cameras.  So if you buy a camera, use it for a year and decide that you want something else, you can get about 1/2 of the original cost back.
Jim Hale

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robert3985

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Re: Looking for the "perfect" camera (for my needs)
« Reply #11 on: October 19, 2016, 09:14:04 AM »
+1
I'm in the market for a new camera. I thought I knew what I wanted, but now realize that technology has dramatically changed over the last few years and I need to bring myself up to date. Model railroad photography (especially in N scale, which is why I'm posting it here) is a relatively obscure subject for your typical camera store sales person, so I thought I'd try this learned group :P

Before you recommend the "perfect" camera for you, let me describe what I need:

It needs to be used for both model railroad and personal family/travel/scenic photography.

It has to be very compact, preferably compact enough to fit in a pocket; we do hikes and some climbing and exploring and I can't have the camera get in the way of enjoying the moment (I have a perfectly capable SLR with multiple lenses that never goes anywhere anymore because I don't like to lug it around).

It doesn't need interchangeable lenses, just a good quality built-in zoom lens. A 30x would be great but not necessary.

It needs to have great depth of field capability for N scale photography, but doesn't need a large sensor; I do not intend to use it for large enlargements or cover photographs, nor do I need it for sports or other "action" pics. It doesn't need to be particularly fast or work with little light.

It does need to allow manual aperture control, focus fairly close, and have an autofocus mechanism that permits manual selection of the focal point.

It needs to have a remote shutter release, tripod mount, and minimum resolution of say 10 megapixels.

That's it I think.
Some years ago, the answer was a Superzoom like Fujifilm HS30EXR or Panasonic Lumix FZ47, although they were not quite compact enough for my taste. Today, I don't know.

Thoughtful advice would be much appreciated, so I can take better pics than the one below :?
Otto K.

Otto, I did a little research using your specifications as criteria, and then looked at additional features that you didn't think about that will enhance a camera's macro and close-up capabilities.

The first place I looked of course (for me) being a Nikon fanboy, was on the NikonUSA site.  Nikon has a new premium compact camera that comes in three lens types.  First, an ultra wide-angle to normal zoom, second a nice wide-angle to
medium telephoto zoom, and third a nice wide-angle to super-zoom.  All are built on similar bodies with similar features, but the most compact one is the Nikon DL 24-85 Premium Compact Camera.

The good points are (1) that it is compact enough at 4.2" wide X 2.5" tall X 2" thick to fit in a pocket (2) 20.8 Mp 1" sensor (3) Manual Mode (4) Large, high resolution OLED touch screen (5) three macro modes with 1:1 image magnification capability. (6)  It also shoots Nikon RAW, which will allow you to really manipulate your photos for maximum dynamic range and (7) it's got a tripod screw mount on the bottom.

Nope, the optical zoom is pretty meager at 3.7X, and there is no electronic viewfinder (EVF), but you can buy an auxiliary EVF that sits up on top of it, held by the flash hotshoe.  It's got built-in Wifi and I believe you can control it with your cell phone remotely, which would also act as a remote shutter release.  Maximum f-stop on the lens is f1.8 for throwing backgrounds out of focus when you want.  I can't find what the lens stops down to, but it's got to be at least f16 I would think (I may be wrong).

Bad news is that it only takes slightly less than 300 shots per battery charge and has a "plasticky" feel to it.  Some reviewers didn't like the idea of an auxilliary EVF either.

Here's my take on model train photography.  Extreme DOF is not always needed or wanted.  This camera gives you a choice with its close-focusing capabilities and its generous f1.8 max lens aperture.  It has a "macro mode" but I can't tell you what that means exactly even though it has excellent close-focusing capabilities and remote long-exposure capabilities also so you can manually stop the lens down as far as it will go and still get a shot without cranking up the ISO which will give you more noise.

All that said, focus stacking programs such as Helicon Focus or that found in Adobe Photoshop make the whole idea of having to stop down to increase DOF virtually obsolete...particularly taking photos of subjects that are stationary, like model railroad layout scenes.  Lenses have a "sweet spot" where their color rendition is best, where their aberrations are less and their sharpness and contrast the best.  Usually, that's about f5.6 or f8.  When you stop the lenses way down, like to f32 or further, your images start to become fuzzier due to diffraction, even though your DOF increases.  That's why photos taken with pinhole cameras always suffer from fuzziness.

So, the idea is to use focus stacking to increase your DOF to precisely where you want it, including to infinity if you wish using software, and shoot your scene at your camera's ideal "sweet spot" aperture.

To do this, you'll need a tripod, a remote release and a camera that will go fully manual and allow you to progressively focus on as many as more than 100 shots to combine when focus stacking.

Point of view is also essential in model railroad photography.  Sure, you can always get that scenic, poster look by backing off of a scene, but if you want to get right down at track level, doing that with a big DSLR, no matter what its capabilities are, is virtually impossible, unless your layout is designed to allow the big camera to be close-focused from in front of the layout's front fascia. 

This means that small cameras, such as a good cell phone camera can allow you to get eye-level N-scale views and shots!  This is really great, but you give up a lot with a cell phone camera such as essential things like manual focus, manual shutter speed...manual anything.  High-end compact cameras however, give you full manual control, and they are fairly compact so you can get those N-scale eyeball level views.

Eyeball level views...how do you focus??  On the Nikon DL series of premium compact cameras, you pull the touch screen out of the body and tilt it so you can both see it and touch it.  My $2,000 DSLR/lens combination won't allow me to do this, which is why I am considering going up one level to purchase a pro body that has a tilt-touch screen...perfect for model railroad photography.  You get the tilting high-res touch screen already for 1/4 the price with the DL 24-85 Premium Compact.

The price at Adorama (where I buy my camera equipment) is $646.95.  Take a look here: http://www.adorama.com/inkdl2485.html  You'll have to buy a filter for the lens and an SD card (32Gb at least) and maybe an extra battery to carry around just in case you shoot more than 300 shots.

Only bad thing is that it's not available yet.  Adorama is taking pre-orders right now, so it is coming shortly.

Photo (1) - Scan from a 35mm Fujichrome Slide - Nikon F4, Micro Nikkor 60mm f2.8 Micro Lens, Aperture f16, 30 seconds, studio lighting:


Photo (2) - Nikon D7200, Nikon 18-200mm f3.5-f5.6 at f8, 37 exposures stacked in Helicon Focus Pro, Enhanced with Adobe Photoshop CS4:



Because of the way my layout is designed, both as a working model railroad and a photo setting, at this signature scene at Echo Curve, I can get my DSLR pretty low, but this photo is about as low as I can get for photos of trains on the mainlines.

Photo (3) - Samsung Galaxy S5 which allows me to combine two focal points using the phone-cameras "selective focus" feature.  Unfortunately, the phone selects the focus points automatically as well as the f-stop and aperture:



The above shot illustrates the advantage of a small camera as the USRA Light Mike appears to be very massive and close.  However, as you come closer to the subject, your DOF becomes less and less.  A Nikon DL24-85 Premium Compact camera would have allowed me to take as many selectively chosen focal point shots as I needed to get everything in focus from the grass in front of the lens to the last visible car in the curve...and still retain this point of view, or better since my Samsung Galaxy S5 is considerably longer and taller than the DL 24-85.  Another advantage the Nikon Premium Compact has is its close-focusing ability, which I cannot control on my phone camera...the camera just decides where to focus in these close-up shots.

The DL 24-85 also has a digital zoom, and because the sensor is a high density sensor, digital zooming will be less detrimental to file resolution than a lesser sensor would be.

That's my reasoning and my recommendation for your use Otto. 

Cheerio!
Bob Gilmore
« Last Edit: October 19, 2016, 09:27:53 AM by robert3985 »

randgust

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Re: Looking for the "perfect" camera (for my needs)
« Reply #12 on: October 19, 2016, 09:21:42 AM »
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This is really interesting.

I've stuck with an older Olympus C4000 zoom because it has lots and lots of oddball settings (some of which I keep discovering) along with a macro setting, digital zoom, and an "F11" aperture.

It doesn't have the highest megapixel by a long shot but nearly everything I use online is posted in 1024x768 anyway, so if you shoot it higher res you have to resized it anyway.

I'd replace it in a heartbeat with something newer and am open to suggestion but I have yet to find anything else with that combination of aperture, macro, etc.    It's all beat up and I got another one just as a backup.   I'm also using the Iphone camera, and it certainly kicks for video, but it can't do the depth of field stunts that the Olympus can.   The Olympus, however, is a complete throwback, and is anything but a pocket camera.  It is sized, and looks like, a regular camera, and is pretty much obsolete by now.

Photography has never been my strongest point, I'm lucky I can do what I can do, but what I get out of this old baby is still pretty good.  I always use a tripod and a key light, it does a good job of color balancing.
« Last Edit: October 19, 2016, 09:24:41 AM by randgust »

Denver Road Doug

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Re: Looking for the "perfect" camera (for my needs)
« Reply #13 on: October 19, 2016, 09:34:20 AM »
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I guess that what I'm saying is this - don't try to use the one camera for everything.  Work out what you can't do with your phone camera, and then buy a camera to fill that gap.

I'm hesitant to post in a "what camera" topic since the last one yielded me about 20 downvotes because my opinion didn't fit everyone else's.    But I pretty much agree with what Ron says so I figure this is a safe play. (and I'll avoid suggesting what NOT to buy this time)

I echo the use of the phone camera...the last few generations take incredible photos for the most part.  And it is always with you.

I still like the DSLR for railfanning, but mine is long in the tooth.  I want another but cannot afford it right now.   I have a decent Canon P&S that's nice to have in some cases but mostly has been replaced by the phone.  I got the Canon as it was suggested as one that would eventually be on the "hackable" list for allowing more precise manual focus capabilities than the software allows natively.   I haven't checked to see if it has made the list yet but again my phone tends to make that less of an issue.

I'm really thinking of getting something like the Sony a6000 and have that and my phone and that's it.  (well I do have a GoPro too)   I've always loved the Sony/Zeiss glass since I had an early Prosumer Sony digital that took unbelievable photos consistently.   So for any negatives of the a6000 versus a new Canon DSLR, I think I might be able to live with it for railfanning.
NOTE: I'm no longer active on this forum.   If you need to contact me, use the e-mail address (or visit the website link) attached to this username.  Thanks.

peteski

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Re: Looking for the "perfect" camera (for my needs)
« Reply #14 on: October 19, 2016, 01:16:49 PM »
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Jim, thanks for the explanation of the greater DOF with small image senors (and smaller diameter lenses which are normally part of the equation).  The focal lenght makes perfect sense.

I also agree that the focus-stacking software is a game-changer for infinite DOF photos (using any camera).  But it also makes the process much more labor-intensive. Instead of one photo you have take multiple shots without moving the camera.  Here is an example of a single macro-shot of Kato N scale GG1 taken with my Nikon CoolPix 8700 using its smallest available aperture (f8).  The camera can focus as close as 1" from the subject. I focused on the cab area, but the front and the far away parts of the loco are blurry.
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This is a composite stack of 12 photos taken of the same loco, each focused ad a slightly different area of the model.   The results are impressive, but it takes time to do this.
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