3 cameras and a chair

I haven’t talked about photography for a while!

I had been wanting a new camera for quite some time, debating back and forth with myself, so I asked some friends about the cameras they use and what they like. I was asked what a digital SLR could do that a good quality point and shoot couldn’t do. I think there are a lot of answers to that question, and some of them are not very relevant to the average enthusiast photographer. But this post explains some of the reasons I had for upgrading to a big camera.

Here’s what I wanted. I was excited to get a fast camera – both a camera that could take a shot right away when I pressed the shutter (not in a second or two or more, when the toddler had already spotted me and stopped being cute) and one that could give me a fast lens to shoot wide open with shallow depth of field. The sensors on the big cameras are bigger too, so they’re capturing more information, more light. There are other things too, because when you buy a dSLR you’re buying the basis of a system that can be expanded with lenses, accessories, flashes, etc, as much as your wallet will allow. And you have more control, perhaps more than an amateur knows to do with, which means the camera can grow with your skills.

So, I recently got myself a digital SLR, to learn and improve my camera skills. So now I have 3 digital cameras. I use my iPhone 4s camera for everyday things, for times when I don’t want to bother people with a camera in their face, for instagram and most of my Project Life shots. It’s always on me, so I use it more than any other camera I own. I use my Olympus XZ-1 when I’m traveling, when I want to catch faster movement (toddlers!) or when I want a bit more control. It is (just) pocketable, but has full manual controls. But that f/1.8 is not anything like an SLR 1.8 lens, and the sensor is small, and the shutter lag can be considerable. The Canon 60D (which has recently been superseded, so was priced around the same as a camera one full level below it) is my new baby. I have a nifty fifity (50mm f/1.8) lens on it right now, but I also got an 85mm lens which I was assured would be a nice focal length to take flattering portraits with (which I haven’t tried yet). I was on a budget so I decided to buy 2 really nice quality lenses instead of getting a lower quality kit zoom lens. I don’t expect this camera to be my everyday go to camera – it’s simply too big and heavy.

I thought it might be interesting to post pictures from each camera taken from the same spot in my house in the same light. Just as an experiment to see how each camera sees the world. I sat by the table in the living room and pointed towards the chair by the fireplace. There was a bit of light coming in from the windows above the mantle and from the dining room but the light was quite dim in the room. I didn’t mess with the settings much, and I didn’t match them up perfectly. (And I don’t really know how the details should be laid out under the photo – I’m just copying what I think is pertinent from the metadata).  This isn’t a perfect comparison. But here goes.

I only took one photo with the big camera. This is what it looked like:

Canon 60D, ISO 3200, 50mm, f/2.5, 1/60

Canon 60D, ISO 3200, 50mm, f/2.5, 1/60

I think I focused on the arm of the chair – not for any particular reason. I just snapped a shot. So yeah, not really exciting or anything. But it’s bright and pretty clear.

This is what the iPhone captured from the same spot without zooming in:

iPhone 4s, ISO 400, 4.3mm, f/2.4, 1/20

iPhone 4s, ISO 400, 4.3mm, f/2.4, 1/20

It’s a MUCH wider view!

(I used my dSLR a few times at Christmas and was amazed how much I had to back up to get my nephew in the shot. My BIL kept dodging out of the photo, as he always does. I kept telling him he didn’t need to – there was no way I was going to get him in the shot by accident with this camera – but of course he didn’t believe me.)

Here’s the same shot from the Olympus camera:

XZ-1, ISO 100, 6mm, f/1.8, 1/8

XZ-1, ISO 100, 6mm, f/1.8, 1/8

It is even wider! I may have shifted very slightly, but I think there’s more of the chairs visible at each side of the photo. The color is quite different too. All of the shots used auto white balance.

Once I had taken those shots I realized that I should zoom somewhat to try and get a similar view, but the annoying thing on the XZ-1 is that I have no way to measure the zoom while I’m shooting. If I decide that I like a certain amount of zoom I can’t reproduce that if I shut the camera off and turn it back on again. And the thing is that the wideness or zoom-ness of the shot changes the way the camera sees the thing it’s shooting. If you take a close-in shot of someone with a wide angle lens the picture will be quite unflattering. And every time I turn my XZ-1 on, it defaults to that wide angle view (as do all point and shoot cameras). That always bugged me. If only you could set a point and shoot to start at the 50mm equivalent focal length when you turn it on and then zoom in or widen out if you choose to. People would get better shots!

Here’s the zoomed in view from the Olympus XZ-1 :

XZ-1, ISO 100, 12.9mm, f/2, 1/5

XZ-1, ISO 100, 12.9mm, f/2, 1/5

And now the iPhone:

iPhone 4s, ISO 400, 4.3mm, f/2.4, 1/20

iPhone 4s, ISO 400, 4.3mm, f/2.4, 1/20

ugh, noisy! yuck!! I don’t zoom the iPhone if I can avoid it. It’s an optical zoom (the lens doesn’t actually zoom – you’re really just cropping the image) and it’s ugly. Good enough for instagram, or if you don’t have any other choice. But not pretty, especially not in crappy indoor light like this was.

I was playing with the new iPhones at an Aoi Wireless store the other day and the 5 has a nice camera… but I love my phone and don’t want a new one for a long time!

I hope this comparison was interesting. I don’t have any great message or moral to this story – each camera has its strengths and weaknesses. But maybe it helps to explain why your camera phone pictures don’t look like the shots your friend takes with their big camera. You can take great photos with any camera if you know how, but each camera also has its limitations, and even a skilled photographer can’t necessarily overcome them. The skilled person just knows not to try to make a camera do something it’s not good at.

If you’re interested, I would like to repeat this 3 camera experiment with a portrait. If I can find someone willing to model for me, I will take a series of photos that show how focal length and the kind of camera you’re using affects how your family snapshots turn out. I think that could be fun! And while I have my model around I can test out my new lenses and practice focusing and using shallow depth of field :)

To thank you for putting up with boring pictures of a chair, here’s a little cutie for you. This is my nephew, almost done unwrapping his many Christmas gifts. This was the moment when he turned to his Mama and quietly said “I have too many presents.” I loved the way he stands out from all the stuff behind him in this shot. There’s a lot going on, but (hopefully) you can see the quietness of this moment amongst the chaos.
This is why I wanted my new camera.


I’ll be back soon with my packing plans… just as soon as I can figure out how to make it interesting to normal people who don’t watch “packing my suitcase” videos for fun!

Bye for now,



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