Now that I've started adding posters of my photographs to the KnowProSE Zazzle Store, I've been finding the limits of my camera and, honestly, my ability as it progressed over the 16,000+ images I presently have on Flickr. It's not that I expect to get rich - I just want to get better images overall, and my true test is whether it can be printed at poster size (24"x36"). Those I have posted came out really well with a 16 megapixel camera.
Every photographer, amateur or professional, has different needs and different budgets, and I have had the pleasure of interacting with some great photographers. I'm a geek when it comes to designing and writing software, but I would still consider myself an amateur when it comes to my photography.
So I started asking myself what I needed. Since I started shooting wildlife, I've been a big fan of point and shoots with very high optical zoom. I've been in the HDR trap for some time (hat tip to Mark Lyndersay for gently and reasonably pointing out the stages of photographers).
If You're Reading This, You're Probably Not A Professional
I'm not a professional photographer - with some images sold, I'd call myself a semi-professional or more accurately, a hobbyist who gets an image sold now and then. I am, however, a photographer who is interested in becoming better and who truly enjoys capturing images. This blog entry assumes both you and I, gentle reader, have that common goal.
Key Things To Ask Yourself
- What don't you like about your images now?
For me, at this time, it's that I want more DPI for printing, and that I'm a little frustrated with the shutter speed of my present camera. Let's not forget the pain of low lighting, which I have been beating (sometimes) with HDR processing.
- What are your limits as a photographer? This is a hard question, requiring a level of honesty with yourself. For me, it's that no matter how much optical zoom I have, I haven't been able to catch a bird in flight in detail yet. In fact, I've found that I only use about 50% of the optical zoom on my camera. So maybe optical zoom isn't such a big deal for me, and maybe I am not in the market for the 60x optical zooms on the market.
- What and Why Do You Actually Shoot?
For a long time, while I was traveling, I shot wildlife as I found it - particularly birds. Before that, and the reason I actually started digital photography, was so that I had my own images for my blog(s) rather than licensing the images of others. Creative Commons has made that easier for me now on Flickr, so that's not why. Why do I shoot now? My present challenge is to make more posters I would like on my own walls, and by proxy increasing the overall quality of my photographs for prints.
- What's Your Budget?
I could probably afford under $300 right now. I could lie to myself and say that all the images I take with the camera will help subsidize the purchase, but the reality is that to pay for a $300 camera I'd probably have to sell 150 posters. So it's not about making money as much as creating better images - so below $300 is reasonable.
The Harsh Mirror
After looking through the harsh mirror and seeing what I actually shoot, and what I have tried and failed to shoot, I know I still have some work to do myself that the equipment won't help. Tracking a moving bird, for example, is hard at 1x, but at 30x it's much more difficult (30x?) - and that's something I do need to work on. The top end 60x point and shoots, while drool-worthy, are not something I see myself growing into anytime soon except for tripod stills - and if it's that far away, maybe I should get closer (old photographer trick - moving closer).
In the end, as I look at the old Canon I bought in 2011, the only issue I see with it now is the raw amount of DPI that I get out of a print - and that's a factor of sensor quality and the number of megapixels.
As I wrote this, Mark Lyndersay mentioned to me in a comment, "You'll also want to consider pixel cramming on the sensor. 16MP on a four-thirds sensor won't give you the same result as the same resolution on full-frame or an old medium format camera." To balance that with cost effectiveness, this opinion is also worth reading.
Armed with this knowledge, I headed to Amazon's Point and Shoot Cameras and poked around. I found some promising things, but as you should know the manufacturers are more interested in selling cameras than actually telling you how their product compares to others. Before you click and buy a camera, go to Google or your search engine of choice and paste in the camera model number accompanied by 'review'. Read the reviews, even if you don't understand everything, and read at least 2 reviews before buying.
I didn't find anything worth gambling my money on, but you might. I then looked through Flickr's Camera Finder to see what was popular, and the most popular are well out of my budget.
Speaking for myself, after a long and arduous search for what I wanted, I saved myself a few hundred dollars... by not upgrading and sticking with what I have. This may not be an option for you if you're buying a gift, so just pick the best option you can.
Why I Chose Not To Buy Now.
There were a few factors involved. First of all, my Canon SX30 IS is still versatile and gives me really good bang for dollars already spent. While I'd like more megapixels (it's 14.1 megapixel), I've been able to squeeze poster prints out of it - something that, given the amount of reading I've done today, makes me feel a bit better about my level of ability.
The reviews of the cameras I was interested in were less than stellar. The noise on them was reported high on reviews consistently, and I don't want to buy noise. I have enough.
Frankly, I haven't seen anything that warrants an upgrade. There are so many variables involved and manufacturer's haven't really been knocking my socks off with their 'upgrades'. The way the high end point and shoot market seems stationary. It may be time for me to save and go to a DSLR and get out of point and shoot hell, but I just don't want to spend all that money and lug around all that gear.
Your mileage may vary.