IS AN SLR ALWAYS BETTER? – LIONEL BURGER
Below you can read a personal review by Lionel Burger, a long standing CODP student, on the benefits of using a compact camera while traveling:
by Lionel Burger
My wife and I spent last week in Copenhagen. I decided not to take my DSLR and we used a Nikon Coolpix AW 100 and Canon G12.
As a dyed-in-the-wool DSLR user I had come the belief that no other camera would ever be capable of producing images of DSLR quality. Last week changed my views on that. Overcoming the need to pack my Nikon DSLR, a selection of lenses and a Speedlite, I slipped a small Nikon Coolpix AW 100 into my bag for an overseas trip. My wife was armed with a Canon G12.
Both cameras have distinct advantages for the traveller – they are small, light and fit easily into a small handbag/carry bag. Small and unobtrusive the cameras took up no more space than a cell phone and could be quickly retrieved, switched on and be ready for shooting and put away just as quickly. This convenience added to the enjoyment of taking pictures. A handy advantage of the Nikon is that it is waterproof and I frequently used it (with apparently no ill effects) in the mist and rain. In short, I got the shot even though the conditions were not ideal.
The controls on both cameras are well laid out on the back of the camera and the zoom functions are well placed and quick to use. I found that after a short while the controls were quite intuitive – they were well placed for use by the thumb and index finger. More importantly they are both exceptionally easy to use – particularly the Nikon which for all intents and purposes really is a point-and-shoot. . I was impressed by the quick response of the Nikon with virtually no shutter lag enabling shots from a moving bus or boat.
An advantage of the Canon is that it automatically selects the shooting mode (landscape, indoors, low light) and that is a great help. By contrast the Nikon has a wide range of scene settings which, although a little cumbersome to use, work well. The Nikon “Museum” setting worked fantastically. I was concerned that with the low light levels in the museums and the fact that the flash was not firing, the pictures would, when viewed on a proper monitor, reveal camera shake. I was pleasantly surprised that (but for a few exceptions) the shots were good with no discernible blur even when viewed at 200%.
Indoors the Canon coped extremely well. I was worried that the flash would wash out the colours in the museums but it did not. Both cameras coped well in low light. On one evening we attended a function at Kronberg castle (also known as Hamlet’s Castle from Shakespeare play). The function took place in an enormous hall that was not well lit – again both cameras captured pictures with very true colours with very little noticeable noise. In all pictures the flash was disabled because I knew it would have little effect in an area that size with a very high ceiling.
An impressive feature of both cameras, despite being essentially point-and-shoot type cameras, was that both showed remarkably quick focus acquisition, even under some tricky conditions e.g. bland overcast skies or from a moving boat/bus.
I have never thought that the “facial recognition” ability of these cameras was an important feature. This last week has changed my view especially when shooting statutes and trying to get focus on the face – the system worked admirably on both cameras and produced well focused shots on both cameras.
I was most impressed by the performance of both cameras and am happy with the quality of the pictures taken. In particular both cameras rendered very crisp, sharp pictures with true colours with good tonality under almost all conditions. The Canon produces pictures that are slightly more saturated but that worked well in a city where the buildings are painted many different, and often very vibrant, colours. Both cameras coped well with shadows in high contrast shots. Probably one of the most impressive features of both cameras is the high level of detail they provide.
Viewing the histograms in Photoshop has revealed shots that, with few exceptions, show a full range of tones and that will need very little work to make some great pictures.
Battery life on the Nikon is outstanding. After 6 days of near-continuous and about 400 shots the icon showed a full battery. The Canon batteries needed re-charging after two days but it had taken about 100 more shots and its flash was being used more than the Nikon.
The one area where both cameras struggled to find the correct exposure was in very bright overcast and misty conditions as most are mornings in Copenhagen. This generally resulted in overexposed shots with a very grey cast. On the Canon this could be rectified quickly and easily by using either Aperture Priority or Manual mode and then dialling in between -1 and -2 EV exposure compensation and it then coped well. Unfortunately the Nikon has no setting for such conditions.
At its widest angle the Nikon does tend to produce vignettes but these are minor and only the most critical (or knowledgeable) viewer would probably even notice them.
As I said earlier I have always used a DSLR and resisted the use of point-and-shoots. I watched a number of other people really struggling with a DSLR, heavy camera bags and lenses while on a harbour cruise and a bus trip. In the museum I watched a man whose stress levels were rapidly increasing because his Nikon D7000, with 28 – 70 mm lens and SB 800 were producing some fairly dismal overexposed shots – the blinkies were clear from 3 metres away. These were not happy shooters.
The lesson for me in all of this is, I think threefold
- Point-and-shoot cameras have come a long way and are now remarkable pieces of equipment that produce excellent shots when used properly.
- That while there will always be a place for DSLR’s, the situation often dictates that that they not necessarily the ideal equipment to have
- Using a point-and-shoot is convenient, easy and above all great fun – and that’s what it should be about.