Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Single-use camera

Christmas, December 25, 2011. (But I think we're really up to at least 2015.)

We dropped in to London Drugs this afternoon, hoping to pick up a pack of TP, and a cheap new phone for the entrance intercom. But we had to stop at the camera counter, and attracted the attention of our friendly salesperson. He had a camera he'd given his brother-in-law for Christmas, he said. His b-i-l loved it, and he was positive it was perfect for us. (I have to admit that my answer to, "How are you doing today?", which was, "Drooling," -- I was looking at the shelf of DSLRs -- may have encouraged him.)

It was a cheap Sony CyberShot, on sale, because a new lot is coming in. What he had to tell us, and show us, was how good it was at macros. He knows my weakness. It has a minimum of other functions; can't handle kids running, or sports, can't handle rough treatment, can't handle dust, or cold, or heat. But it switched to macro automatically when he pointed it at Laurie's sleeve from a couple of inches away, and took a photo that showed the texture of the individual threads, more accurately than my big old Olympus would.

What sold it, though, was that he held it flat against scratched, dusty glass, and took a photo through it. That's what I'm doing all the time with my aquarium; no matter how I clean the outside of the glass, there's always algae and other specks on the inside. The photo he took had no flaws, even zoomed in to its maximum. Wow!

Before I'd finished checking it over, Laurie said he'd buy it for me, for next year's Christmas. He's done that before. I think his calendar is off.

I brought it home and headed to the aquarium without even reading the manual. Here's the first shot I took, directly through the glass, on automatic everything.

Backside of a hermit, and the shrimp in the background.

This photo is as shot; cropped, resized for the blog, and sharpened, as usual, but not adjusted any other way. No need to fix the colour balance, nor the exposure, nor clone out the spots. Nothing to brag about, and the hermit wasn't co-operating, but better than I have been getting.

After a bit of experimentation, figuring out the optimal distances, I got the clearest photo of my big shrimp yet.

Coonstripe, now showing his stripes.

The pump was going for this photo, so the water was full of moving bubbles, and the sea lettuce he's sitting on was waving about. It still came out fairly clear, and with much more detail than I have gotten before, even in ideal conditions. Again, the camera was pressed flat against the glass. And the only adjustments I have made are the cropping, resizing, a slight increase in the contrast, and sharpening.

And I had never seen, before, that my shrimp has a toothed "sawblade" along the top of the rostrum. (From just behind the eyes to almost the tip of the front apppendages.) Right-click on the photo (open link, not image, in new tab) to see it full-size.

After all that, I went on to start reading the manual. I'm barely through the first part, and finding ways to improve already.

So, so far, I am pleased with the camera. I don't think it's going to the beach with me (sand and cold), nor will it be shoved in my purse (banging about), but except for extreme close-ups, it probably will replace the old Olympus, my preferred macro camera. I'll still use that for 1 mm. bugs, though. This one has a range of 2 inches or more; with the Olympus 55, I can get as close as 1/2 an inch away.

Thanks, Laurie!


  1. just found your blog, and am thoroughly enjoying it. You have inspired me to add some shrimp and snails to our fish tank.

  2. Congratulations on the new camera. I can't wait to see more what you do with it.

  3. Oh fun, a new toy. Pictures are lookin' good.

  4. Fantastic - and a bargian too no doubt. Shrip shot is fantastic

  5. Anonymous2:00 pm

    I'm all intrigued... Do you know what components or features or whatever make it superior for macro shots?

  6. I experienced the same thing with a Lumix camera I got last year--it excelled at features my dslr would've required over $1000 in lenses to handle: macro, wide-angle and zoom (comparible to 70-300mm sigma). Plus it had HD video.
    I'll still bring along the DSLR for the control, but I'm really enjoying the capability of these newer point and shoots.

  7. Sara; snails are a great addition, especially the ones that eat algae or detritus; they help with the cleaning. With shrimp, it depends on the fish. Some will eat them right away.

    Anonymous, I'm not too sure what features are the most important. One thing is the good stabilizing power, so camera shake isn't quite so much an issue. And the salesperson was talking about the good wide-angle zoom, which takes in more light.

    Partly is that each generation of cameras gets better than the previous one, so even the same size sensor and lens work better than before.

    It's a bit tricky, though, zooming in on small critters; the control is so small that it is difficult to zoom in just so much and no more or less. I may find a fix for this, though.

  8. Anonymous4:38 pm

    Thanks... I'd heard a little about the cheap cameras getting image stabilization capabilities in recent years, but they usually talk about it in the context of, say, zooming way in on a distant bird.

  9. Anonymous: yes, the salesperson is correct. The further in you're zooming, the more apparent camera-shake would be. Your hands shake typically in degrees (think high-school trigonometry). When zoomed out, a camera shake of one degree would amount to about 2% of the image being blurred, but zooming in might mean 15% of the image is blurred.
    Whether camera shake affects macro depends on whether your camera needs to be zoomed-in or not. Some digital SLR zoom lenses do require zooming-in to achieve this macro ability, in which case image stabilization is quite important. For all of the point-and-shoots that I've seen, zooming-in is not necessary; macro can be achieved at zoom-out (wide-angle), which makes image stabilization less necessary (though still helpful in low-light situations)
    The other features that I'd mark as important for macro are:
    - low light ability...lighting small objects is typically difficult to do with a built-in flash that comes with point-and-shoots. You'd get strong shadows, or even the shadow of the lens itself, in macro mode.
    - short focusing ability...as mentioned above, the closer you can focus, the less effect camera-shake will have on your photo. For instance, Susannah's Olympus with its half-inch focus may do better for this reason.
    - (optional) manual focus...I like being able to know that I'm focused as close as I can. With auto-focus, it's a bit of a guessing game how close you can get, since you have to activate auto-focus, and visually test to see whether the object is really in focus or whether it's focused on something in the background, or worse, at infinity

    Sorry for blabbing on...hope this helps


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