Continuing on from where I left off in the last article on things to do in researching a camera, I was using dpreview.com to go through a list of specifications and adding clarifications to what each spec means for the Lumix DMC-FX150 camera, manufactured by Panasonic. They make a fine camera, but my using it as an example is not a recommendation. We left off with ‘pixel density’, and continue with:
Sensor type: CCD – CCD means charge coupled device, and you will also commonly find the CMOS (complementary metal oxide semiconductor) image sensors. Both have had their disadvantages to overcome. The CCD chip was power hungry, made for a larger end product, and was more expensive; the CMOS chip enabled a smaller product and was more power efficient, but its image taking was not as sharp. Both now work well today.
Sensor manufacturer: Panasonic – I can’t speak for one manufactured chip being better than another.
ISO rating: Auto, Hi Auto (1600-6400), 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600 – Reading this suggests this function is always set automatically and there is no manual setting of the ISO. This function is the equivalent to film speed… the higher the number the ‘faster’ the film, the more sensitive it is too light, and so the more it is usable in low light.
This rating has many aspects related to it. Let me point out some generalities. You may think the more sensitive the better, but higher ISO settings come with higher noise in your captured image. When I can, when it is normal to bright daylight and when I’m not trying to capture a fast moving cigarette, I will likely have this camera set at ISO 100 for optimum exposures. When dusk and nighttime falls, I’ll try to keep the camera set to 400 ISO. Then again all the settings are available, and sometimes higher settings (and lower settings) can have some interesting results, so play around with these settings.
If this specification is as it states to be.. Auto, Hi Auto with no manual capacity to set an ISO I would not be keep to buy this camera. This is one setting I wish to have control over.
Zoom wide (W: 28 mm – This is music to my ears knowing this camera has a true wide angle, which begins with 28mm and can be lower. You all know how tight the quarters are on board ship, so a wide angle can often come in handy.
I haven’t noticed as often lately the added words “35mm equivalent” when talking about the widest focal length, but you may still find it expressed as W:37mm (35mm equivalent) or in other words it is not a wide angle lens. I strongly recommend you buy a camera able to take wide angle shots. (I will add going too wide, that is, lower than 24mm can get you into some serious distortions, but I’m not familiar with a pocket camera with that wide a lens).
Zoom tele (T): 100 mm (3.6 x) – Three point six times 28 gets you 100mm, which is the optical (real) zoom range of the lens on this camera. The 28mm wide angle is terrific for mariners in tight places, but the 100mm is lame for mariners in open spaces. Unfortunately it is always difficult to get the best of both worlds. Lenses with greater zoom ranges are heavier (with more parts to malfunction), more expensive, and may not maintain a great level of quality results throughout the zoom range. There are pocket cameras with longer zoom ranges and as a mariner I would be looking for a 5x, or a 28-140mm or better. The only other solution in getting some distant shots is moving the boat closer.
Digital zoom: Yes, 4 x – I ignore this specification. It let’s your camera zoom in closer through electronic enhancement, not true optical magnification. The results are heavily pixilated and poor. I’ve never used it.
Image stabilization: Yes, Lens – This, on the other hand is very useful. Image Stabilization (IS) can range from two to five stops of light. It would take a lot of digging to learn exactly how much IS a particular camera may offer, but closer to two stop is more likely for a pocket camera.
Recall, above when discussing ISO settings, I mentioned in full daylight I’d stay with 100 ISO and in the evening I’d switch to 400 ISO. This equals two stops, and with IS keeping my image steady the equivalent of two stops, I am more likely able to stay with 100 ISO, even when dusk falls and get a sharp photograph. In other words the camera less susceptible to camera shake at longer shutter speeds, more likely to occur in low light photography.
I guess they mention lens in specifying image stabilization for emphasis. I am not familiar with IS in camera bodies, even at a professional level. It is always engineered into the lens. There are still more camera specifications to cover, so I’ll see you on board with the next issue. In the meantime, I ask for permission to come ashore.