Compact vs. SLR

Discussion in 'Beyond the Basics' started by Finnegan, Apr 24, 2004.

  1. Finnegan

    Finnegan TPF Noob!

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    Hi!
    I've used various compact cameras for many years and, for the most part, have been satisfied with the photographs, especially as the quality of the cameras have improved. However, recently I've wanted to venture into the SLR realm. With compacts, I'm dissatisfied with: a) occasional red-eye or glowing eyes (even when there's no red), even when I take all measures to avoid it; b) limited composition ability, especially with portraits. For example, I really like photographs from SLRs where the background is softened and/or blurred, and your subject stands out; c) the small size of compacts these days, and it seems they just keep getting smaller.

    So, I bought a Minolta Maxxum 70 with a Minolta 28-100 lens the other day. (The lens came with it. I've heard it's probably not as good as if I bought the body and lens separately, but I have 30 days to test everything.) This is an autofocus camera, which I need. Anyway, I've read the manual several times carefully.

    Here's where I need help: Focus issues. You see, one of the things I like about my compact is the focus toggle switch, which allows me to zoom in and out at will while standing in one place or moving around. If the lens is too close to the subject, a flashing light tells me, so either I move back or, more often, I quickly retract the lens a bit by pressing the toggle switch. Over the years, I've learned to focus on subjects very quickly and easily, resulting in some great action and pre-action shots (mainly of children and pets). However, there is no focus toggle switch on the SLR, and as far as I can see, no button that allows me to zoom in and out. Even when I put the SLR in close-up mode, it won't zoom in on a subject. I have to manually rotate the lens.

    Am I doing something wrong? Is this just how SLRs work?

    Thanks very much for info/help!
     
  2. markc

    markc TPF Noob!

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    Welcome!

    This is from using on-camera flash, and SLR cameras get the same if using their built-in flash. You need either to use an off-camera flash or have a camera that has red-eye reduction.

    You can blur backgrounds with large apertures (small f numbers). This is based on the lens you use, not the camera itself. Zooms have limited apertures, so a zoom on an SLR with be the same as a zoom on a rangefinder.

    Heh. That's why they call them compacts.

    Just to clear things up, SLR means Sing-Lens-Relex. All it means is that when you look through the viewfinder, you are looking through the lens. The ability to change lenses has nothing to do with that, although most SLRs do have interchangable lenses. There are a lot of rangefinder cameras that allow you to change lenses.

    Basically, if you put the average zoom lens on an SLR and shoot in auto mode, it will just be an expensive point-and-shoot and won't give you any better pictures.

    If you want to really blur out the background, you need to get a prime lens. A prime has only a single focal length (like 50mm or 85mm). The have apertures that open up to f1.8 or f1.4 or even bigger. Most zooms don't open up more than f3.5, and a some won't even go beyond f5.6.

    If you want to shoot portraits, get a prime between 85mm and 135mm, and make sure it has a max aperture of f1.8 or better (smaller number).

    That looks like it has a max aperture range of 3.5-5.6. That means that depending on how zoomed it is, you will have a max aperture somewhere between these numbers. That won't be enough to really blur the background much.

    Zoom and focus are two different things. Zoom determine the focal length. I don't know of any interchangable lens cameras that have an electronic zoom. All have to be adjusted by either a ring on the lens or by moving the end of the lens in and out by sliding. Some cameras have a focus indicator light. If you use autofocus, it will beep when it gets a lock. Some will even beep or flash if you get the focus correct manually.

    I would recommend reading up on how focal length impacts an image. Wide-angle will exagerate distances while telephotos will compress them. You should really decide which effect you want then then move to where the composition works, rather than using the zoom as a way to save you a walk.
     
  3. Finnegan

    Finnegan TPF Noob!

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    MarkC,

    Thanks for the welcome and also for taking the time and effort to give me such a detailed response. I really appreciate all the information.

    Both my compact and SLR have red-eye reduction features, which I've used pretty much constantly with the compact. I've not yet tested in with the SLR. I've also read (from other users) that red eye also has to do with the distance between the flash and the lens, and that if the distance is sufficient, a built-in flash is OK, and you don't necessarily have to use the red-eye reduction feature. Do you have an opinion on that?

    I was wondering if that was the case. As noted, I do need autofocus because I'm unable to get subjects in focus manually, even with my glasses on. I don't necessarily need other automatic functions and am willing to learn how to do more things manually in order to get better photos.

    Yeah, that's one thing I do know. :D Sorry, I didn't describe everything as well as I should have.

    I may have miscommunicated again. I'm not trying to "save myself walking." After such a nice post by you, that sounded a little, well, not nice. Anyway, when I remain in position to adjust the zoom on the compact, it's to avoid startling the subject (ornery kid, cat, dog, bird, etc.) The more I move around, the more my kids (and pets) tend to move.

    Again, thanks very much for the information. It's quite helpful.
     
  4. markc

    markc TPF Noob!

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    Yup. That's correct. That's why a lot of add-on flashes are rather tall. The further away the less likely you will get it. A compact's flash will be rather nasty, as it's almost directly in line with the lens. An SLR's built-in one will be better, but it's still fairly close. Personally I don't like the look of on camera flash anyway, as the lighting is all coming from the front and the subject tends to look rather flat because of it. It's good for taking snapshots of holidays and such, or as a fill when using another main source of light, but it's hard to get good looking images with it.

    I have a hard time with that too. That's another area that a prime lens will help with, though. Since you focus at the maximum aperture and the lens stops down only when the shutter is triggered, the really short DOF of a wide aperture makes it a lot easier to focus. Plus the image will be a lot brighter so you can see what you are focusing on better.

    Sorry about that. I definitely understand about not wanting to disturb the subject. I didn't mean for it to sound like you were lazy or anything. The thing is, focal length can have a bit impact on the image. I just found this great tutorial on it (but the head distortion would be that bad for a 50mm lens on a 35mm camera. 50mm is like as our eyes see.). One of the things that I think is important to moving beyond a snapshot stage is to avoid using wide-angles (<50mm) when shooting people unless you specifically want the distortion it gives. More here.
     
  5. Finnegan

    Finnegan TPF Noob!

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    MarkC,
    I read the info you linked to and found it very helpful. I also re-read both of your posts and decided to print them out. Basically my goal is simply to improve the quality of the photos I take. I'll have to learn as I go and keep reading as time allows. I'll be returning the Maxxum 70, as I think it's too much camera for me right now. Until I decide on a better "beginner's" SLR, I'll stick with the compact.

    Thanks again for your help!!
     
  6. markc

    markc TPF Noob!

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    No problem. What make/model compact is it?
     
  7. Finnegan

    Finnegan TPF Noob!

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    It's a Minolta Freedom Zoom 125. Overall, I think I've done well with this camera. When I compare my snapshots to those taken by friends, I feel that I have good design sense, patience and just generally put more effort into getting good shots. I pay attention to what I'm seeing through the viewfinder rather than just snapping away. For example, I try to remove things that I don't want in the background, etc. I've used this camera primarily for family portraits, for some close-ups (within the range limits of the camera) and outdoor shots of landscapes, buildings, monuments, etc. And by using instructions on how to minimize red-eye, I've been pretty successful in that area as well. Still, I guess what I'm trying to say is, I feel I've gotten the most I can out of this camera. I'm ready to learn more and grow, but at the same time, I don't want to be overwhelmed. A friend has recommended the Minolta Maxxum 3 as a good "beginner's" SLR, so I'll check it out. I'll always keep the little compact around as a backup, but I hope I can find an SLR that will suit me.

    Thanks for your interest!

    P.S. I forgot to mention that in addition to wanting to use the SLR for portraits, close-ups and landscapes, I'd also like to try my hand at action shots, which are impossible with the compact.
     
  8. markc

    markc TPF Noob!

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    Yeah, I just looked up the specs. Decent camera to start with, but it only has a max aperture of f5.4 and wide angle, and a miniscule 10.3 when telephoto. Not much point having manual exposure control on that one.

    One recommendation, since you already have a camera with a zoom, when you get an SLR, get a prime lens. A 50mm f1.8 would let you play with a wide aperture in a way you can't with the compact. If you get a zoom, the best you will have is probably 3.5 to 5.6. That's better than what's on the compact, but you won't see all that much of a difference. With the 28-100mm zoom, you would gain a little bit more of a wide angle, but I think the larger aperture of a prime lens will be more satisfying.
     
  9. Finnegan

    Finnegan TPF Noob!

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    Mark,
    I've been doing more reading and feel I understand better much of what you're talking about. (I checked out a couple of SLR photography books from the library and did some reading on the Web.)

    So many SLRs are sold with zoom lenses that it gave me, an SLR novice, the impression that a zoom was the way to go. It gave me the impression that the quality of zoom lenses had improved enough over the years that you weren't sacrificing a lot of image quality by using them. However, over the last few days, I've found several people like you recommending either prime lenses over zooms, or at least to get a prime lens in addition to a zoom.

    So, once again, it pays to do research before buying. At any rate, I wanted to show you one photo taken with my compact (shown smaller here than the original):

    [​IMG]

    This is a picture of one of my cats lying in a hammock high atop a cat tower that nearly touches the ceiling. I took it standing on a chair about 9-10 ft. away and zoomed in. I love this photo and hate it. Before I go on, let me just say again that all I really care about is satisfying myself and my family with my photos. I have no designs on being a professional. ;) Anyway, this photo shows some of my flaws as picture taker and some of the limitations of the camera.

    I love this photo mainly because I think it captures a lot of Luke's personality. (You'd have to know him. ;) ) The color is accurate, and the image is nice and sharp. Also, I deliberately snapped the photo when he wasn't looking directly at the camera to help avoid red-eye and was successful in that.

    I dislike this photo primarily because my husband's Batman animation art in the background is also in focus and competes with Luke for the viewer's attention and just kind of ruins the picture for me. There are other flaws (mine), but I mainly wanted to talk about the background issue.

    There's no way I'm going to get my husband to take down his Batman art. I've tried scanning such annoying images into my computer and then tried to "fix" them with Photoshop. Well, I realized I just don't want to do that constantly. I'd like the photos to be good enough to begin with.

    So, if I understand you correctly, if I get a 50mm f1.8 prime lens, I will have a much better chance at being satisfied with such portraits of animals and people, as I'll be able to somewhat blur or soften the background?

    Thanks again for all your help, I really appreciate it!
     
  10. markc

    markc TPF Noob!

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    Yeah, that can be misleading. It's mainly because people see that they have only one focal length with a prime and think that they are limiting themselves without realizing that it's really a compromise. You swap limiting focal length for limiting aperture.

    Correct. There is some bluring going on there. Considering that you are inside and using flash, the camera is probably opening up the aperture as far as it can go, so that's as blurred as you are going to get. Using a prime you would be able to blur the background much more.

    Here is an example.

    [​IMG]

    That's taken with an 85mm f1.8. Note how short the depth of field is, and how much the grass blurs out into the distance. The animations may still be somewhat recognizable depending on how close they are, but they won't be anywhere as "there" as they are in you pic. At f1.8, not even the whole cat will be in focus. This image was taken with the same lens also at f1.8. You can see that his ear is out, as well as the Gameboy.

    [​IMG]

    You might want to take a bunch of pictures at different focal lengths with the compact so you can get the feeling for how the image compresses at higher focal lengths. Make sure you only use the focal lengths of the lenses you are considering, that way you can get an idea of which you would use more. 50mm, 85mm, and 125 or 135mm are common choices.

    Not a problem. I hope you find something that works well for you.
     
  11. Finnegan

    Finnegan TPF Noob!

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    Mark,
    Stunningly beautiful photos! Thanks for sharing!

    It seems my image of my cat Luke is no longer showing up in this thread. I must be doing something wrong. I'm using pbase as a hosting site. Anyway, no big deal.

    OK, my questions now may be better suited for the "Equipment" forum, but if it's OK, I'll post them here. Other interested folks, please feel free to post your 2 cents.

    After much more reading, I'm thinking of giving my compact zoom to a family member and starting fresh.

    Fortunately, I have a large budget. I do think I'll follow your recommendation (and that of other pros) and get an SLR body and a 50 mm f1.8 lens. I'm also thinking of getting a 100mm lens, which I've read is best for portraits. I do want to still have a point-and-shoot for times when it's inconvenient to carry an SLR. However, I'm willing to get one without a zoom if I can be persuaded I don't need it. As noted above, the zoom helps prevent disturbing/startling subjects like pets and kids. However, I must admit that when photographing pets, if my movement doesn't startle them, sometimes the sound of the zoom does.

    OK, let me review the kind of photography I'm doing/plan to do:

    -- I'd say I take as many indoor photos as outdoor. I'm excited about the 50 mm f1.8, since I may be able to use available indoor light and not have to use the flash much on whatever body I get.

    -- I want to be able to take nice (acceptable to me -- I'll never be as good as you :) ) portraits of people and animals. This is probably most important to me.

    -- I like to take close-ups of living things like flowers, and inanimate objects, mainly family collectibles. With the Minolta Freedom Zoom I currently have, the flower shots are usually mediocre. The collectibles have turned out pretty good.

    -- I like to take outdoor photographs of anything that interests me -- buildings, graffiti, weird street signs, landscapes, sculpture, etc.

    -- I'd like to take action shots at baseball games or of my kids playing, but the compact I have isn't equipped to do that.

    OK, now, in terms of SLRs, the Nikon N65 with a Nikon 50mm/1.8 AF lens has been recommended. What do you think of that?

    In terms of a point-and-shoot, a variety of non-zooms have been recommended. Do you have a favorite?

    Do you think there are any worthwhile zoom lenses for an SLR?

    Photography has become more important to me over the years. Now, as parents and aunts and uncles are now elderly and not able to travel like they used to, they treasure photographs more than ever. And they like to see pictures of little details of our lives -- things they wouldn't have been interested in when they were younger. For example, I told my mom a new post office had been built in our town, and I thought it was a nice building, so she wanted a photo of it.

    So, if you (or anyone else) have any recommendations regarding specific brands or a good complete equipment set-up for my needs, I'd welcome your input.

    Thanks very much!
     
  12. Big Mike

    Big Mike I am Big, I am Mike Staff Member Supporting Member

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    I think you will do well with whatever you decide on...you are doing your research and you seem to have clear goals & expectations.

    You can't go wrong with any major brand...Canon, Nikon...even Minolta, Pentax etc. I always hear (read) people say that Nikon has the best lenses, Minolta has the best bodies and Canon is the best compromise.

    Prime lenses are great. They are sharp and fast. (fast meaning that they have large max aperture). Zooms are very convenient though. Just because they are not as good as prime lenses...don't discount them. If you don't plan on making enlargements...the cheap zoom lens that usually comes with any entry level SLR should be very useful. There are higher quality zoom lenses available but you have to shell out for them. Then there are pro level zooms...now we are talking thousands of dollars.

    You are on to a good idea to still have a point & shoot camera around. If you have the money...it sounds like you would really like a Leica. They are expensive but very smooth, quiet, durable, small and sharp.
     

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