Advice needed, please, on zoom problems....

Graham Braithwaite

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Mar 17, 2021
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I have a Canon Powershot SX540 HS which I’m only just starting to use despite having for well over a year. Now, following retirement, I have more time to enjoy it, and I’d be grateful for any advice with this, starting with problems with the Zoom facility.

The main problem is the lack of ‘sharpness’ whenever I extend the zoom, which leads to a a slight blurring and loss of clarity whenever I transfer the photo to my computer.

It may well be that I’m not using the zoom with the appropriate setting being made on the main control dial, but as I’m a complete novice as far as using a camera goes, I’m struggling to figure out what I might be doing wrong. Could anyone advise me and help me on this one, please?
I don't know anything about your specific camera but...

It is not uncommon at all for a zoom lens to loose sharpness the more it is zoomed out. You will see this with lots of lenses.

It is also possible that you are may be shaking the camera a little, this would show up more when your camera was zoomed out. You could rule that out by using a tripod or simply bracing your camera on something while shooting.

Consider securing the camera either on a tripod if you have one or on something steady. Then take shots of the same thing as you zoom the camera more and more until you get to the maximum. I suspect what you will see is a loss of image quality as you approach max zoom.
I have found that those bridge type cameras work well on P, program auto. That setting does almost everything for you but let's you adjust the ISO. You can bump the ISO up to help increase the shutter speed to prevent camera shake. A good rule of thumb is your shutter speed should be double the focal length. Make sure the IS is on so you don't have to increase the ISO so high that it gives you an unpleasant amount of noise. I assume 800 ISO is probably the most you would want to go but not 100% sure because I don't own the camera. This info covers you in most good light situations, hand held, to probably 300mm. Once you start getting longer, its a crap shoot, especially if you get into the digital zoom range. When in digital zoom range, you will have to have a tripod and cable release, plus you'll need to turn off IS.

The bridge camera is capable of producing nice images but are limited due to the small sensor. It sounds like your getting into the digital zoom range and it is almost impossible to get a clean, sharp image in that range handbheld. Read the manual to find out when the digital range kicks in. My Nikon P950 is good to about 600mm hand held, with good sturdy hand hold technique but the hit rate is 50%. Its all about knowing your camera. Try your camera on a tripod and test it to learn about the digit zoom range and the limits of hand holding vs tripod. Experiment alternating hand held / tripod at various zoom lengths. You'll find it. Test ISO levels to find out how high you can go that gives YOU acceptable results.
A few things come to mind.

First, is the lack of sharpness due to camera movement. When you magnify the scene with optics, you also magnify any camera movement present when the shutter is open. Learning how to hold the camera steady, in addition to increasing the shutter speed, will alleviate this issue.

Second issue is (me not being familiar with that camera) is 'digital zoom'. When the optical zoom of the lens is reached, the camera may go into digital zoom mode. This simply means it starts to crop the center of the image and then enlarges it to the same size as an uncropped image. Since there's fewer pixels being used to create the same-sized image, sharpness drops off rapidly.

Lastly, zoom lenses, while much better today than they were 20-50 years ago, still are not perfect. Some zoom lenses are quite good, and some are so-so. Again, not being a Canon fanboy, I can't say whether the lens is good or bad. But even if it's generally a good lens, you may just have a 'bad copy'.
As experienced photographers we talk about camera shake on the long end of the zoom
As a demo of this I get people to hold a metre full or a walking stick out at arms lengh whilst trying to point at a fixed object
Then do the same with a fork or spoon
The amount of shake will differ and you will be able to see the effect of long zoom or no zoom
Thank you for all your replies. I think my feeling now is one of disappointment that the camera is far more limited than I thought. In all honesty, I was hoping the camera might have had the ability to close in on the thing I was trying to catch - ie a bird up in a tree or an insect on a plant - but I’m getting the impression that this might be beyond the scope of this particular model. Ah well, I’ll do my best with what I have and hope it might surprise me somewhere along the way.
I looked that camera up, and honestly,... any lens that's 50x (on a 300$ camera) isn't going to be making images for the cover of NatGeo.
IMHO, a large factor in cameras such as that, is camera movement.
You have to look at the rear screen to take the pic.
How do you hold the camera to look at the rear screen? Likely out at arms length.
Out at arms length is a VERY unstable position. The IS in the camera can only compensate so much for arm movement.
At the longer half of the range, you have to support the camera, to increase stability.

Upload a sample picture, so we can see it, and make a better diagnosis and recommendation.
I'd guess that your shutter speed isn't fast enough, it's one of the most common issues for novices when shooting at a long focal length, though it's difficult to tell from a description as there are a few things that could be going on here.

Can you post an example image where you've got the issue you describe?
I used to use a Powershot hs60sx, which I think is similar to your camera. I believe when you shoot JPEG's, you are able to use a digital zoom to go beyond the 50x optical zoom. The digital zoom just crops the image, which results in grainy and blurred images. The camera is capable of taking decent pictures, but I would recommend disabling the digital zoom. I included a couple of photos I took with my powershot. The one of the coyote used the digital zoom, the hawk photo never went beyond the optical zoom range.

Also, I found that I got best results using the fastest shutter speed I could get away with because image stabilization was almost non-existent.

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