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Camera upgrade - advice please

PostPosted: Mon Aug 24, 2009 10:31 pm
by Maris UK
I must start by stating that my primary interest (and knowledge) is not in photography, but the wildlife itself. I turned to photography primarily to assist with the identification of butterflies, moths and other insects, but have no background photographic knowledge. I currently use an ageing Canon Powershot Pro1 camera (28-200mm, 7x optical, 3x digital zoom).

I currently get quite good (though definitely not award winning!) photographs using the 'supermacro' setting when I am within 30cm of the subject. I have a 'dead zone' between 30cm and 1m where I seem incapable of getting any decent photos at all, and at distances further than 1m I use the zoom facility, often needing to resort to digital zoom (giving me up to x20) to get sufficiently large sized images for identification, though they are usually of quite poor quality. Another apparent disadvantage of my camera is that it takes a long time to focus, by which time my subject has often moved elsewhere! Apart from setting exposure, I usually shoot on 'auto' leaving the camera to optimise the shooting parameters.

I would like to upgrade my camera and aspire to shoot better quality images, but I'm unsure what camera to buy - I'm often overwhelmed by all of the technical specifications. User reviews are often quite contradictory and also revIewers usually seem to me to be photographing static close-up subjects rather than insects which are usually active!

I have considered staying in the same compact camera range and upgrading to the Canon Powershot X1 IS (or X10 IS) which have the range 28-560mm incorporating a new x20 optical superzoom. Is anyone familiar with this camera and would it be suitable?

I have also considered buying a Digital SLR camera instead, although I have no experience whatsoever with this camera type. If I buy DSLR, what lenses would I need to buy for use in the field for primarily photographing butterflies and over what distances from the subject would the proposed lenses function? Would I need to be constantly changing lenses in the field?

I am seeking a relatively 'easy to use' camera suitable for a novice photographer and would welcome any advice.

Thank you

Re: Camera upgrade - advice please

PostPosted: Tue Aug 25, 2009 12:20 am
by green baron
First I must say you take great photos with your existing camera. However, there is so much you can achieve with a P&S.

I was in the exact same position 4 years ago. In short, you should get a DSLR. The main advantages of a DSLR are :

- TTL Flash : This allows you to take pictures in conditions that are not possible with P&S, e.g. low light and windy conditions. As a result, you are not constraint by existing light thus you can control both the speed and aperture even in low light condition.

- Working distance : Dedicated macro lens allows you to take picture farther away from the subject. The Zoom in P&S are not macro so you can't get good magnification hen you use the zoom.

A good dedicated macro lens to start is a 100mm macro lens, which has a min focusing distance of about 1ft. A longer macro lens e.g. 180mm will have longer working distance but the trade offs are the lens is heavier and you need to shoot at faster speed to prevent hand shake.

I think Richard uses a Sigma 70-300 macro which give 1:2 magnification at 300mm. He take great photos and he can elaborate more on his setup.

The main challenge you will find switching from non-DSLR to DSLR is the bulk and weight. To take full advantage of a DSLR, you really need a TTL flash and a good macro lens to go with it. The setup is much more bulky and heavier than you are used to. It took me about 6 months to get used to it. The other inconvenient is you are stuck with a fixed focal length lens, assuming you are using a 100mm lens, if you want to take a wide angle shot or something far away, you have to switch lens ! :rant:

Re: Camera upgrade - advice please

PostPosted: Tue Aug 25, 2009 5:39 pm
by Maris UK

Many thanks for your comments. I take very few wide angle photos (mainly of my garden!), so I could continue to use my existing camera for that.

Assuming I go for a DSLR, I think I'm unlikely to opt for a longer focal length lens, such as that Richard uses because of it's extra weight. Please can you advise what is the approximate maximum distance over which a 100mm lens is suitable for butterfly photography? (I know this depends whether I'm looking at a hairstreak or a swallowtail!).



Re: Camera upgrade - advice please

PostPosted: Tue Aug 25, 2009 5:51 pm
by green baron
The distance depends on the size of the subject. 1:1 means subject appears live size on the film (sensor in this case). So for a large Arhopala such as A centaurus, you have ~12" of working distance to get a full frame shot. For larger butterfly such as the Birdwing, you have 3~4 ft working distance. With dedicated macro lens, you get very good and sharp photos even if the subject fills only 1/4 of the frame so the actual working distance can be even farther. I usually allow some space around the subject so that i have some flexibility in cropping.

Re: Camera upgrade - advice please

PostPosted: Tue Aug 25, 2009 8:54 pm
by richardlbong
Maris, another suggestion is to get a close-up filter, the Canon 500D and get the filter attachent accessory for the Canon Pro 1 and use that to attach this filter. Now you can move in closer to shoot using the maximum zoom of the Pro 1 which is 200mm and still able to get a close to 1:1 macro shot. I have tried this with the Pro 1 and find the result very acceptable. One problem is autofocus is quite slow compared to those of the DSLR using a macro lens. My experiment shows that you should be able to autofocus between 8 to 12 inches from the subject.

Re: Camera upgrade - advice please

PostPosted: Mon Aug 31, 2009 3:36 pm
by Maris UK
Gan and Richard

Thank you both for your comments. I have decided to follow Gan's advice and upgrade to a DSLR. I've decided to remain with Canon and have opted for the entry level DSLR, the 1000D (which reviews well for the novice and is lightweight) and for the 100mm Canon macro USM lens which has excellent reviews. I'm looking forward to getting started with the new kit as soon as it arrives!

Thanks again


Re: Camera upgrade - advice please

PostPosted: Mon Sep 07, 2009 10:45 am
by green baron
1000D with the Canon macro lens is a good setup. You might want to also consider getting a flash. A good compact flash for the Canon DSLR is the Speedlight 270EX

Re: Camera upgrade - advice please

PostPosted: Sat Oct 17, 2009 12:07 pm
by BotakWong
Hi everybody,

One thing to note - all entry level and "cheap" DSLR sensors are 2/3 size of a full frame DSLR. Full Frame DSLR being having a sensor size of 36mm x 24mm. Only a few DSLR cameras have that sized sensor - and they are not cheap nor entry level. So - those APS sized sensors (24mm x 18mm) are found on 99% of the DSLR's today - including Canon. For 99% of the applications, you can forget about the size difference between full frame and APS sensors. EXCEPT macro. Because only one macro lens today (Nikon 85mm) is specifically created for the APS sized sensor. All other macro lenses are calibrated for full frame sized sensor.

The reason why you should bother - if the macro lens state the reproduction ratio is 1:1 (life size) - that is only true if you mount the lens on a full frame DSLR. If you mount that macro lens on a APS sized DSLR, the lens is not giving you 1:1 anymore, but - 1:1.5 (1.5 times larger than life size). This is important if you want to measure the size of the object (butterfly, insect, etc) from the image you take. You need to multiply the lens reproduction ratio by 1.5 times.

Hope I don't confuse you guys?


Re: Camera upgrade - advice please

PostPosted: Sat Oct 17, 2009 8:47 pm
by green baron
Ting Sern,
Thanks for sharing this. I have always wonder how one can figure out the size of the subject from photo.

I am using Nikon D90 with the 105mm macro lens and photos are captured in 2136x3216 pixels. If I have a subject that fills half the frame, how do I work out the size of the subject ?