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Digital Cameras for Food Photography


Rachel Perlow
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My current camera is an Olympus D-340L, an old war horse that is about to bite the dust, and I'm ready to do a big upgrade.

I hope my old warhorse doesn't bite the dust any time soon, but I am in the same school as esperanza, when I do get a new one, I want a big upgrade. I have been a canon person since I was a teenager when my dad got me one of the last manual focus mainstream SLRs, a T70. I knew that camera inside and out, and it never let me down for the 20 years I used it. It died just before I got my digital camera (Canon Powershop A30).

What I miss is not being able to exactly control my focus and depth of field, even though the digital Canon I have does a really good job in following the Canon logic with the various programmed settings. But that lack of full control is enough for me to want to get a camera that resembles more a manual SLR.

My only problem with this is the weight and bulk issue. It has been a few years since I have lugged around a larger, bulkier camera, and yes, it was heavy and big enough not to be able to carry it around all the time. But now that I'd be more likely to have my camera in my purse than a lipstick, I will have to upgrade my purse as well as my camera, and worry a bit about the weight and bulk, and being able to be discreet. One of my main requirements is being able to see a shot, and quickly and unobtrusively take it while I have the chance.

For those who use larger setups, do you carry it everywhere? Have you been more apt, due to weight and buk issues, to leave your camera at home? Or do you have your SLR for special events and carry a small discreet pocket type for ease of use in daily situations?

Edited by bleudauvergne (log)
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bleudauvergne: For those who use larger setups, do you carry it everywhere? Have you been more apt, due to weight and buk issues, to leave your camera at home? Or do you have your SLR for special events and carry a small discreet pocket type for ease of use in daily situations?

I have a canon d60 slr and its four lenses accompany it everywhere. its heavy, but i dont believe a 'multipurpose' lens exists...i dont recall the last time i used my film slr...but i do use it for special films like IR, ilfords, techpan etc...but very rarely..my 'light' digital is a canon powershot g1..the very first of the powershot series..which i think is superior to all the other later avatars of the powershots..even with their higher resolutions...3mp is high enough and RAW works beautifully..i have printed upto 20x30 inches with my 3mp...i use it with an assortment of very specialised filters that works just fine and dandy...i also have a medium format tlr that i very rarely use...my tripod is a monfrotto that weighs a ton....but imo no camera is worth anything without a sturdy tripod...its not the camera thats heavy for me..usually, its the tripod...but its soooo worth it..

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Sorry esperanza, I don't have any experience with the a1.

Lalitha, I actually have thought about trying a light tent -- but haven't really seen the need for it (just because the light in my house is really nice)....I also have the canon macro 2.8, and use it alot, with good results. Stick with it, it is a good lens.

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Heidi Swanson

101 Cookbooks

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What I miss is not being able to exactly control my focus and depth of field, even though the digital Canon I have does a really good job in following the Canon logic with the various programmed settings.  But that lack of full control is enough for me to want to get a camera that resembles more a manual SLR.

Which Canon do you have? I'm in much the same boat as you - the lack of control does make me miss my old Olympus SLR. OTOH, as an ex-dancer with severe dance-bag syndrome, I'm obsessed with form factor (as you may have guessed, this was also one of my chief criteria in buying Shtinky!). So buying a digital camera is inevitably a compromise. Although the Olympus has been out of commission for some years, it could be repaired, I'm pretty sure; so I sort of play a mental trick on myself. When I got the digital camera I told myself that because I wasn't ever going to use it for "serious" work, for convenience's sake I could afford to live without the manual features I was used to. The idea was that if I ever wanted to do anything really "serious" I still had the Olympus. Actually, The Boy has a collection of cameras, both digital and film, that could make you weep - everything from the sublime to the ridiculous. So if I wanted to do anything "serious" I could borrow from him as I did in Morocco. OTOH, with one really serious photographer in the family I also figured I could get lazy and fall back into being an official point-&-shoot hack. Nonetheless, the thought of features and control is always seductive.

Anyway, when I took the digital plunge I surprised myself by compromising on form factor: the S-20, though compact, isn't as adorably portably tiny as the Elph line, but at the time it sported higher resolution and a better lens and was in every way superior.

Now, of course, form factor has caught up with technology: the newer cameras in the Elph line have the good optical zoom lens and the higher resolution and the one thing I keep ranting about, much better flash control. In fact, IIRC, there's even some manual aperture control. For me there's no point in upgrading to a proper (i.e. big, clunky) digital SLR - as above, if I ever need to get that serious I can borrow from The perpetually state-of-the-art Boy - so now for day-to-day use the tiny form factor is more tempting than ever, and those Canon S400s have me drooling. Shooting mostly for the web, I can't see where I'd need more than the 4MP it boasts - as it is, 3.2 has been plenty adequate. A little more depth of field would be awfully nice, though.

A little more money would be nice, too. Of course, then I might actually have to make this decision, whereas now I can dither and drool without having to commit. So maybe it's just as well.

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I ended up with a Pentax Optio with 4mp and 3x optical zoom. The 3 1/2 X 2 1/4 size allows me to carry it in a shirt pocket or wear it not too bulkily in a pouch on my belt. It has sufficient macro (flea's whiskers?) and is easy to use. I chose it partly because of the end results, but also because I will actually take it with me more often. I still have not made full use of it's features, but here are my first posted shots.

I have a 35mm, too, but it is going to continue to not get much use. The cost savings in (not) processing are no small potatoes. Actually, not processing film and printing contact sheets for a couple of years would probably pay for a Nikon or Canon slr digital and a few lens if you were shooting only 72 frames a week on average. It makes a $1,000 digital body a disposable camera if you shoot enough.

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Actually, not processing film and printing contact sheets for a couple of years would probably pay for a Nikon or Canon slr digital and a few lens if you were shooting only 72 frames a week on average. It makes a $1,000 digital body a disposable camera if you shoot enough.

Oh-oh. Trouble ahead. :cool:

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I have the predecessor to that Canon PowerShot S series camera and I'm quite happy with it. The next series up in cameras, which my dad has (A80 I believe), has many more features if you want to play around with the manual features a lot. But the PowerShot S series is small, it's reliable, the compact flash cards it uses are easy to find and the readers for them are cheap. (I recommend a 128 or 256 MB card...I have one of each and a reader for those cards instead of plugging your camera into the computer--much much better uploading, especially on a Mac.)

SML

I second your nomination sml311...it's a great camera and couldn't be happier with it...we will upgrade to another Canon in a year or so I'm sure.

Some people weave burlap into the fabric of our lives, and some weave gold thread. Both contribute to make the whole picture beautiful and unique."-Anon

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In general a 256 card is a good idea, because it will encourage you to shoot without worrying about conserving images. I got a slow charger (overnight) and a faster charger (two to three hours) with an auto adapter to cover all situations. My understanding is that the long charge is better, but I could see that I would be in some situations where waiting overnight would not be useful. I end up with three sets of AA batteries this way, so the camera and two sets of spares fit in a very small Lowe's belt case, with the charging equipment in a second somewhat larger bag. I also added a fourth tripod to my equipment, thinking it's small size will be useful for tabletop, as well as other shooting --- on the premise that the best tripod is the one you will actually carry.

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For those who use larger setups, do you carry it everywhere? Have you been more apt, due to weight and buk issues, to leave your camera at home? Or do you have your SLR for special events and carry a small discreet pocket type for ease of use in daily situations?

Since I only just got mine, I am not sure how that will pan out. It's not all that heavy for me (I usually carry around a messenger bag full o' books anyway) but when you pull it out people definitely notice. I think when I travel, if I am wandering around by myself and don't want too much attention, I would take my husband's sony cybershot somethingorother. Pretty good little camera, great for photographing little personal vignettes, and unobtrusive so long as you don't need the (very annoying!) flash. For anything I really care about though, I will probably take the SLR. (e.g., this July we have a major birthday party and a wedding in a beautiful part of northern Germany -- definitely SLR time. We will also be in Seoul for a while -- SLR for the fish market, temples, and trip to the DMZ w/ my husband, and the little camera for when I'm walking around town by myself.)

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I'd still like to hear from anyone who's used (or even knows anyone who's used) the Konika Minolta Dimage A1.  Unfortunately I'm not in a location where I can test drive any of these cameras, but I am going to the United States in a few weeks and would like to order one shipped to my destination so that I can pick it up there when I arrive.  My current camera is an Olympus D-340L, an old war horse that is about to bite the dust, and I'm ready to do a big upgrade.

I compared that camera with a couple more at DPReview.com, based on an article in this month's Outdoor Photography magazine (p. 64). It did not fare as well as the Canon Powershot Pro1 eight megapixel or the Nikon Coolpix 8700--for my needs and desires. (I am thrilled to report that my chef/client for the farm dinners bought the Canon Pro1 for me. I expect it to arrive on Monday. Be still, my beating heart.)

The obvious superiority is that the Minolta is only five megapixels, and both Canon and Nikon are eight.

In addition to the exquisite lens, it's got a macro of 3 centimeters. So I can photograph lobster nostrils, if I want. It'll be great for food photography.

I also purchased an extra 512MB extra fast memory card. I will accessorize gradually with filters and such; the next piece of business is a new hard drive for extra storage.

One thing I know: I never want to own a camera that doesn't have (as the Canon and Nikon both do) the viewfinder that flips open and twists around. It's invaluable for candid shots.

Other things about the Canon that are great:

1) Record voice annotation: allows for a voice annotation, like a verbal caption, with each photo, of a WAV file up to 60 seconds long.

2) Like all Powershot cameras, it has a "stitch assist" mode that enables panoramic shots. Sample panorama of UCSC's Life Labs garden classroom taken last weekend. (Note: that was taken on my Canon G1 Powershot. It's 2780x645 pixels, which is greatly reduced from the original size.) Canon has superior software, I think.

3) ISO of 50, 100, 200 and 400. (The Minolta has 800, but only goes down to 100.)

4) Wireless remote.

5) 235,000 LCD pixels on its 2" screen (double that of the Minolta).

6) Playback zoom up to 10x

I will be keeping my G1, too. It's a great camera for web work. The Pro1 is going to be used to produce a book, I think.

And as far as using a flash on food goes: I won't do it. I think it's unattractive and unnatural-looking. Before I had my tabletop tripod, I would get very creative about using things to stabilize the camera. That's how I got the shots at Amma that Suvir liked so much.

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Robyn, the detail in the pot looks really wonderful.  One thing I might have done is try a few more shots while I was at it, adjusting the camera position to see if I could eliminate the reflection of the flourescent light.  If I could not, I would have slightly rotated the handle to follow the same line as the reflection, to give the whole a formal continuity.  But really the food looks simply amazing, a great shot.  I'm sure he'll be pleased with that too. 

------------------------------------------------------------------------

For this one, using the close up setting is really key because it affects the depth of field.  The edge of the glass was in focus, but the food was not.  Turn off the flash, if you can, it just does not add to a close up photo because the light meter that reads for intensity in your camera isn't sensitive enough.  If it's just too dark, you might try putting a napkin over the flash or taping over it to soften the glare and reflections.  Compositionally, the crease of the tablecloth is distracting in this photo.  It is a detail you can try and eliminate by positioning the dish.  If your plate had a regular shape, the sharp crease of the cloth might  not be as much as an issue, or even add to the overall composition.  But that dish is all about the shape of the plate in that photo.  You might as well cut the noise as much as possible. 

Hope that helps for next time.

Thanks for the advice. I wasn't aware of the "Omenesque" quality of the light reflection when I was shooting :smile: . Guess I was concentrating too much on the food. I think the general quality (apart from the composition) was high because I was staging the shoots in daylight.

As for the second shot - I think it's just really hard shooting in a dark restaurant with a flash. I think your suggestions are good ones for shooting in that type of environment - but apart from remembering to use the "close-up" feature - I'm not sure I could handle doing everything necessary to get a good shot without feeling very self-conscious in a fine dining setting (that's just me - the mileage of other people may vary - as may the mileage of the people eating next to them!). So perhaps I had best leave most of this work to the professionals - who generally photograph food under the conditions I had for the first photo.

I'll note that the chef for the first photo was wonderful when I asked about taking pictures at some time other than the dinner hour. I doubt a 3 star Michelin chef would be as generous with his time - but I think that leaves plenty of chefs in the world who would be willing to work even with an amateur if the photos will be published anywhere.

By the way - I agree about getting a big memory card (not necessarily the maximum - just a big one) - so you can shoot photos the way pros do - click click click click click. Although I wouldn't feel comfortable doing that at dinner - I'm entirely comfortable doing it in other settings. I really like to do animals - and my specialty these days is gators :biggrin: :

i8278.jpg

Robyn

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Is that a baby's leg in that gator's mouth?! :shock:

Word of advice to those seeking digital cameras: shop carefully for accessories. You may find a great price at, say, MySimon or PriceGrabber, but the unethical creeps who own the joint might be really sticking you with the packages they offer, as well as the shipping. Beware the bad reputations as listed at PriceGrabber. It can really make a difference.

And I wouldn't do business with BuyDig.com with a gun to my head. The lying salesman tried to tell me that the camera didn't come with a warranty, but that it cost extra. I called his manager and told him, "That liar needs a public, bare-bottomed spanking." He asked me to repeat that. I did. The roaring laughter told me that he'd put me on speaker phone in a roomful of people.

Be very very wary of being upsold unnecessary or exorbitantly-priced items.

I bought the Pro1 at one store, and the carrying case and extra memory at another. All told, I got everything for around $950, which is a spectacular value.

Edited by tanabutler (log)
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Glad you brought up warranties. I got conflicting information from two dealers (both brick & mortar), and ended up buying an add-on warantee. My understanding from both is that most digital camera problems are due to dropping it...and the manufacturer's warantee doesn't cover that. So I spent the extra bucks to protect me from myself.

I don't know that I will use them, but the dealer I bought from also offers a fairly good selection of free courses after the sale (something they didn't even bother to tell me until they were putting everything in a bag for me to walk out the door). So it's worth looking carefully at your needs and the whole customer service package that comes with the camera. I may have saved a couple of bucks on the memory card by shopping around, but I didn't consider that to be a terribly big deal and didn't want to spend more time on it at that point.

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Another good reason for having a couple of good-size memory cards and a reader - makes a dandy little data schlepping kit. I used to spend a lot of time at other people's computers, and it's years since I stopped carrying data on disk. I always have a 128MB CF card in my camera (hey, back then that was as big as they made 'em), but I have a couple more that live in my bag or my pocket where they can be drafted into service at a moment's notice to hold either more photos or (via one of those tiny USB readers) whatever other big chunk of data I may need to copy from point A to point B. Way more versatile and practical than those little USB drives.

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I compared that camera with a couple more at DPReview.com, based on an article in this month's Outdoor Photography magazine (p. 64). It did not fare as well as the Canon Powershot Pro1 eight megapixel or the Nikon Coolpix 8700--for my needs and desires.

All the information you posted has been really helpful--thanks a lot. I went to several online reviewers and investigated the pros and cons of the Canon Powershot Pro1 as compared to the Minolta Dimage A1. For my needs and desires I think it's still going to be the Minolta, but I can sure see why you picked the Canon. I don't need the extra 3 megapixels in the Canon, and I can pick out some great accessories or another big chunk of memory with the money I'd be spending on the Canon vs the Minolta.

Now on the other hand, if you could get your client to pop for two cameras... :biggrin:

Edited by esperanza (log)

What's new at Mexico Cooks!?

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I just thought of something.

When taking pictures in a restaurant, has anyone ever thought about adding light via one of those little LED flashlights? I have a single LED one on my key ring and a purse size flashlight with two LEDs. The light is very white and color temperature could probably be handled with the white balance. That would certainly be less intrusinve than a flash.

Another subject...

My dream camera is similar to an SLR in that I can change lenses. I want quite a bit of optical zoom for my "nature" shots. 4 or so mp is probably all I would need. It would have an internal memory sufficient so that I could take ten or so shots before I would have to write to the little CD. (Expensive storage devices need not apply.) I want a macro mode that lets me look down the lobster's nostrils. And it has to be capable of amazing low light shots.

Let me know.

Linda LaRose aka "fifi"

"Having spent most of my life searching for truth in the excitement of science, I am now in search of the perfectly seared foie gras without any sweet glop." Linda LaRose

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I compared that camera with a couple more at DPReview.com, based on an article in this month's Outdoor Photography magazine (p. 64). It did not fare as well as the Canon Powershot Pro1 eight megapixel or the Nikon Coolpix 8700--for my needs and desires.

All the information you posted has been really helpful--thanks a lot. I went to several online reviewers and investigated the pros and cons of the Canon Powershot Pro1 as compared to the Minolta Dimage A1. For my needs and desires I think it's still going to be the Minolta, but I can sure see why you picked the Canon. I don't need the extra 3 megapixels in the Canon, and I can pick out some great accessories or another big chunk of memory with the money I'd be spending on the Canon vs the Minolta.

Now on the other hand, if you could get your client to pop for two cameras... :biggrin:

Canon Pro1(i'd get this if i can cough up the cash) is much better than minolta..the 'pro' in the pro1 is significant...it has a L-series lens..which is much superior glass than the other canon lenses...truly PRO lens...as good as it gets in the p&s range...and very very reasonable price

you cant beat the prices at b&h..b&h store in nyc or at their online store @ www.bhphotovideo.com ....if you buy online, there is no tax..but you kinda pay for the shipping and handling costs..it comes up to about the same amount...if you live outside the us..well..you are just screwed...b&h prices are cheaper than even hong kong or japanese camera outlets, afaik

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Another good reason for having a couple of good-size memory cards and a reader - makes a dandy little data schlepping kit. I used to spend a lot of time at other people's computers, and it's years since I stopped carrying data on disk. I always have a 128MB CF card in my camera (hey, back then that was as big as they made 'em), but I have a couple more that live in my bag or my pocket where they can be drafted into service at a moment's notice to hold either more photos or (via one of those tiny USB readers) whatever other big chunk of data I may need to copy from point A to point B. Way more versatile and practical than those little USB drives.

You hit the nail on the head. If I am going to be away for some time and do not want to haul around my powerbook, I need to download the pics so I can review them without going blind.

I have a FlashTrax with a 3.5 in screen which is much easier to view than the one in the camera.

I have a Mac and this one is plug and play with it.

i8387.jpg

It makes it unnecessary to carry a bunch of cards around, this fits in my pocket and it takes just a few seconds to download the pics from the card.

It also means that other people can look at the photos I have downloaded while I continue shooting.

Edited by andiesenji (log)

"There are, it has been said, two types of people in the world. There are those who say: this glass is half full. And then there are those who say: this glass is half empty. The world belongs, however, to those who can look at the glass and say: What's up with this glass? Excuse me? Excuse me? This is my glass? I don't think so. My glass was full! And it was a bigger glass!" Terry Pratchett

 

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I have the predecessor to that Canon PowerShot S series camera and I'm quite happy with it. The next series up in cameras, which my dad has (A80 I believe), has many more features if you want to play around with the manual features a lot. But the PowerShot S series is small, it's reliable, the compact flash cards it uses are easy to find and the readers for them are cheap. (I recommend a 128 or 256 MB card...I have one of each and a reader for those cards instead of plugging your camera into the computer--much much better uploading, especially on a Mac.)

SML

Now this is our Garden Railroad in our backyard that WAS taken with the Canon PowerShot series...A70.

http://images.egullet.com/u15738/i8386.jpg

Pretty good if I say so myself...I'm wondering now why we bought the upgrade...

Some people weave burlap into the fabric of our lives, and some weave gold thread. Both contribute to make the whole picture beautiful and unique."-Anon

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You hit the nail on the head.  If I am going to be away for some time and do not want to haul around my powerbook, I need to download the pics so I can review them without going blind.

Yes - but not just photos! I use a CF card to carry and/or back up ALL my current data. I do database design and web design for some of my clients; I can carry all that work-in-progress stuff, plus software upgrades, plus the entire MS of (and research materials for) whatever book or series of articles or... whatever... I happen to be writing, on one little CF card. All this AND it's compatible with my camera. One data standard, no moving parts, no Mac vs PC issues, no which-thing-works-with-which to worry about. Life is good.

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Another good reason for having a couple of good-size memory cards and a reader - makes a dandy little data schlepping kit. I used to spend a lot of time at other people's computers, and it's years since I stopped carrying data on disk. I always have a 128MB CF card in my camera (hey, back then that was as big as they made 'em), but I have a couple more that live in my bag or my pocket where they can be drafted into service at a moment's notice to hold either more photos or (via one of those tiny USB readers) whatever other big chunk of data I may need to copy from point A to point B. Way more versatile and practical than those little USB drives.

You hit the nail on the head. If I am going to be away for some time and do not want to haul around my powerbook, I need to download the pics so I can review them without going blind.

I have a FlashTrax with a 3.5 in screen which is much easier to view than the one in the camera.

I have a Mac and this one is plug and play with it.

i8387.jpg

It makes it unnecessary to carry a bunch of cards around, this fits in my pocket and it takes just a few seconds to download the pics from the card.

It also means that other people can look at the photos I have downloaded while I continue shooting.

How much did that little FlashTrac dooflotchit cost?

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Resist the urge to buy a camera based solely [or primarily] on megapixel rating. It's a system: if the optics are crap what you'll have are awful-looking photos with enough resolution to make great 16 x 20s. Great. Consider how you'll use the camera -- will you be making large prints (greater than 4 x 6")? Deploying on websites?

Choose a camera that fits your hands. I've played with some great digital cameras that took nice, sharp photos -- but were quite difficult to use simply because they were too small (I feel the same way about tiny phones).

Internet pricing is likely to be better than retail shop -- but consider the value of being able to handle the camera, take a few photos, decide whether the way it works is intuitive to you. Like a good Chef's knife, others' recommendations are helpful... but it is going to live in your hand, ultimately.

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