Camera help

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Dec 5th, 2005, 03:36 PM
  #1
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Camera help

Hi,

I'm after some help, I'm planning a trip to East Africa next year, one that takes in the big national parks in Kenya and Tanzania as well as the Mountain Gorilla's in Rwanda.
My question is this, what type of digital camera would you suggest I get for this trip? I know the Gorilla's will need a high ISO, but how high, and what sort of zoom whould be best for places like the Masai Mara and the Serengeti?
I don't know much about digital cameras, or photography for that matter, so any help you can give me will be appreciated.

Thanks
Trish
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Dec 5th, 2005, 05:57 PM
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Trish -- if you run a search for my comments on this board, you will find many suggestions regarding digital photography that might be useful to you.

Phil Douglis
The Douglis Visual Workshops
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Dec 5th, 2005, 07:24 PM
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I'll do that, thanks a lot.

Cheers
Trish
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Dec 5th, 2005, 11:37 PM
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Actually photographing the mountain gorillas isn't all that difficult, as you will get up close, and the gorillas will either be stationary or moving slowly. You may even be lucky, like me, and encounter them in a clearing on a bright, sunny day. If conditions aren't that good, however, a 400 ISO setting will probably be enough. Sometimes branches and leaves between you and the gorilla will fool the autofocus, so it is helpful to have a camera with manual focus capability.

For the safari segment of your trip you will need a camera with telephoto equivalent of around 300mm or better.

Now, what camera? That depends on your budget. Since my trip to Rwanda I have purchased a Nikon D70 SLR and a 70-300mm zoom lens (105-450mm on a digital camera). That would be a very good combination for safari. If you don't want to spend that much, There are some good fixed lens digital cameras with 10X and 12X zooms, eg Panasonic Z30. Check some of the other threads on this branch for discussion on these cameras.
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Dec 7th, 2005, 08:05 PM
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Heimdall,

Thanks for the info, that helps me alot. Now I have a rough idea of where to start, so the tough parts going to be working out how to use it!

Cheers
Trish
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Dec 8th, 2005, 03:24 AM
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Trish, you are right about the tough part being learning how to use a digital camera. For most photographs, leaving the camera on "auto" will do just fine. Digital cameras give you the capability to change ISO, white balance, and many other settings that will make your shots that much better when faced with difficult conditions. It takes time to learn how to use those extra settings, and it is easy to forget when you haven't used your camera for a while.


The best thing to do, after reading the manual, is practice, practice, practice. Download your photos to a computer, and study the results. At least with digital you can delete your practice photos from the memory card, and it won't cost you a cent.
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Dec 9th, 2005, 11:09 AM
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Trish-

I think you're right that photographing gorillas in thick forest provides special challenges. There's an excellent thread started by wanderlust123 titled 'Photographing Mountain Gorilla.' Try this link:

http://www.fodors.com/forums/threads...4&tid=34647769

The caveat with that thread is that the poster's are very serious photographers and the constant f/2.8 lenses they recommend start around $1000 and weigh three pounds or more.

You're right on about high ISO, but I hope you understand that 99.9% of fixed lens digital cameras are so noisy at ISO 200 that they're barely acceptable. They tend to be worthless at ISO 400 and above. To get good pictures at those ISOs, you need a big CCD sensor. That means dSLR or the new Sony R1 (which costs as much as an entry dSLR).

I wouldn't want you to fall into the problem I find myself in. I bought an Fz20 last year. At longer zooms, it is even faster than its successor, the Fz30. Many people also feel that cramming 8 million pixels onto the smallish Fz30 sensor makes the pics noisier than the Fz20. I say all this to make the point that you can't find a better lens on an ultra-zoom digicam than the Fz10/15/20.

I've taken some wonderful pictures with the camera in good light, but I've quit even trying to use anything higher than ISO 100. In Alaska last August, I tried to take a picture of a porcupine sitting in a tree about 15 feet from the trail. Although the guy wasn't moving and forest canopy wasn't very dense, I had a terrible time getting a decent picture of him (the best were actually taken by my wife with our ancient 3 megapixel point and short w/ 3x zoom).

I know a bit more about the camera now and could probably do a better job, but I think the limitation remains. I will be visiting gorillas in Bwindi next August and feel I will need to upgrade to dSLR. So I may be selling the Fz20 which I've owned less than a year.

-Matt
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Dec 9th, 2005, 12:15 PM
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Trish,

I agree with Matt's comments and suggestions. However I use the Panasonic FZ-30 to make teaching examples on my web site, and I find that I can use this camera at ISO 80 or 100 even in low light because of the camera's image stabilization feature. I very seldom have to go to ISO 200 or 400, which do, as Matt says, show noise because 8MP of pixel sites are crammed on to a tiny sensor.

But such noise is minimized if you are posting your pictures on the web or making normal sized prints. The only time noise can be come a major distraction is if you choose to make very large prints of your work.

You will have to weigh the virtually noise free, fast focusing advantages of a DSLR with its very expensive and heavy lenses, vs a fixed lens digital camera such as the Panasonic FZ-30, which gives you all the telephoto reach you need, a Leica image stabilized lens, and in a lighter and much less expensive package, however with a sensor that shows noise in pictures shot at higher ISOs and printed in large sizes.

Good luck on your choice,

Phil
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Dec 9th, 2005, 01:29 PM
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Trish, you have gotten some mixed advice on this thread regarding what type of camera you should choose. You said "I don't know much about digital cameras, or photography for that matter...", so I'm not sure whether you are ready or willing to make the jump to a digital SLR with interchangeable lenses.

I had used film SLRs for many years, but when dipping my toes into digital photography for the first time, chose the Nikon 5700, a fixed lens camera with 8X zoom. This is the camera I used for gorilla photography in Rwanda, and was very pleased with the results. Nevertheless, I missed the response and flexibility of SLR, and have upgraded to the Nikon D70 since then.

If you are an enthusiast, and willing to spend $1000+, then SLR is the way to go. Both Nikon, with its new D50, and Canon, with the Digital Rebel (EOS 350D), offer a camera with kit lens for under $1000. Remember, though, that in addition to the camera you will need at least one more (telephoto) lens, memory cards, spare batteries, etc.

The other option is to choose a fixed lens point & shoot camera, which will be less expensive and probably easier to use. It will be lighter, which is a real advantage in the long trek up steep mountain trails. You won't need a long zoom for gorillas, but will need one for the Masai Mara/Serengeti part of your trip.

Recommend you visit www.dpreview.com and check out the reviews of the cameras you have shortlisted.
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Dec 9th, 2005, 07:41 PM
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Trish, Heimdall makes an excellent point. A lot of beginners feel that they can "buy" productive images by purchasing expensive DSLRs and lenses. But it is always the photographer that makes the picture -- not the camera itself. I teach photographic expression, and I advise my own students, when looking for a camera, to consider the nature of the learning curve involved in DSLR photography. The manuals alone can run over 400 pages long. Are you ready for that kind of intensive study?

Of course you can always buy such a camera and not study -- just put the camera on Auto and shoot. But to do that would be to deny yourself the use of its full capabilities.

It makes more sense to pay much less and buy a much more user friendly, fixed lens, camera, and live with the potential noise at higher ISOs. It is a small price to pay for all of those other advantages I pointed out in my earlier post.

Phil
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Dec 10th, 2005, 12:18 AM
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DSLRs are very easy to use in the "point and click" sense. The Pentax series you just "set everything to green". But then you can start to be more experimental with things like depth of field, apeture priority etc. DSLR is more flexible. You don't have to start by reading the whole 400 pages. And the fleibility to change lenses, add a better flash... just makes a DSLR a better option. I have both and use the DSLR for things like wildlife, weddings... the compact digital for scuba diving and office parties. The response of the fixed lens/Compact can be really frustrating... I am a DSLR convert.

Of course you can always buy such a camera and not study -- just put the camera on Auto and shoot. But to do that would be to deny yourself the use of its full capabilities.

It makes more sense to pay much less and buy a much more user friendly, fixed lens, camera, and live with the potential noise at higher ISOs. It is a small price to pay for all of those other advantages I pointed out in my earlier post.

Phil
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Dec 10th, 2005, 08:31 AM
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Trish-

The primary purpose of my post was to point out the ISO limitations of point and shoot digicams. I also want to share my experience of some buyer's remorse with those who have similar needs and expectations as I did coming into my purchase.

Phil D's point is very well taken that cameras don't take pictures, photographers do. My porcupine problem was largely a function of having the camera in auto mode, where it chose an exposure of 1/4 sec. Even with stabilization, it was almost impossible to get a sharp image. I have since gotten much better results by setting the shutter speed to an exposure I can reasonably hand-hold.

I would like to make a final suggestion for Trish. If you don't consider yourself a serious photographer and don't want to spend a ton on equipment, think very seriously about a Panasonic Fz5 or Canon S2 IS instead of an Fz30. As I've mentioned in other threads, the size of my Fz20 makes it a 'special occasion' camera that I wouldn't bring with me in most cases. The Fz30 is even bigger, so you could wind up spending $500 on a camera you only use a few times a year. Both the Fz5 and Canon S2 are more 'take anywhere' cameras. Also, think about waiting until February in case Panasonic releases the Fz5 successor which may incorporate some of the Fz30's improved features (though not the manual zoom, I'm sure). I discussed this a bit on this thread:

http://www.fodors.com/forums/threads...4&tid=34717029

Good luck and enjoy your trip!

-Matt
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