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Digital Cameras for Food Photography


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andiesenji Posted on Jun 13 2004, 12:16 PM

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.

WHOA! This thing is incredible--but yikes, the price!

Balmagowry, we could split one. :biggrin: But there would probably be a custody battle.

What's new at Mexico Cooks!?

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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.

handle in store, buy online

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What you might do is check with a computer club or users group in you area and see if they have information on digital photography groups near you.

Here in the Antelope Valley we have a very active Mac club (which I belong to) and we share speakers with the PC club and they have an active Digital photography group.

We take our cameras and accessory gadgets to the meetings and share information. That way you can get a hands-on feel for the camera in which you are interested because there probably is someone in the group that has what you want to see.

Usually the members get email bulletins about upcoming meetings and if you contact the person who maintains their website, they will give tell members to bring their photo equipment to the meeting.

I don't know of any clubs that do not have an open-door policy and welcome visitors. It is usually a nominal membership fee which you get back one way or another.

Our club maintains a website which includes some very useful links. Here is the page with links to FREE online Photoshop tips and tutorials.

http://www.cyesis.org/workshops/photoshop_websites.htm

we are an official Apple User Group.

Here is one list of user groups maintained by one organization.

http://www.apcug.net/APCUG/Member/user_sites.htm

This is probably way more information than you want but perhaps it can help.

"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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andiesenji Posted on Jun 13 2004, 12:16 PM

I have a FlashTrax with a 3.5 in screen which is much easier to view than

WHOA! This thing is incredible--but yikes, the price!

I can write it off as part of my business. I do pastel portraits of dogs (and some other animals) and have to know for sure that I have good photos to use as a reference when I start the painting.

I can show my clients several views of the dog from different angles and they can choose the one they think looks most like the dog. It saves a lot of problems later on.

"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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This is probably way more information than you want but perhaps it can help.

Are you kiddin' me? It's great information.

As for me, I'm willing to gamble that the Pro1 will feel every bit as substantial in my hands as its little cousin, the G1, did when I first held it.

In other words, I'm expecting my 22-ounce baby to arrive tomorrow.

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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.

handle in store, buy online

I second Mongo's advice :biggrin:

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

Nope - it's a half chicken - raw. The gators at the zoo eat chickens - the gators at the Alligator Farm eat nutria. They eat them bones and all - and you get an idea of their massive jaw strength when you hear them chomping down on the food. Robyn

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handle in store, buy online

I don't agree. When I bought my digital camera - I didn't know anything about digital cameras or photography. And I spent quite a few hours on multiple trips in Best Buy. The sales people there (who don't work on commission) took a lot of time explaining things to me - and answering dozens of questions. And they were pretty much correct in everything they told me.

So should I take up hours of a store's time and shop on line just to save a few dollars? No - because if I did that - and everyone else did that - then maybe 10 years down the road - there won't be any place for me to go where I can touch and feel something before I buy it - a place where I can have my questions about the next electronic gizmo I want to buy answered.

As someone who *has* to buy certain things on line (like shoes - because I wear a small size that isn't sold where I live) - I can tell you that being forced to buy things on line isn't any fun at all. Robyn

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

Nope - it's a half chicken - raw. The gators at the zoo eat chickens - the gators at the Alligator Farm eat nutria. They eat them bones and all - and you get an idea of their massive jaw strength when you hear them chomping down on the food. Robyn

Oh, Lord, I had hoped you'd know I was kidding.

But I'm glad to know its identity, regardless.

We haven't discussed adjunct software to use with digital photography, but I am a big fan of Photoshop.

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There's so much good information on this thread, I don't want to detract from it. Let me offer a few general observations, though. I've taken many, many photography courses (and plan to keep taking them forever), owned half a dozen digital cameras and many more film cameras than that, and have done all sorts of photography from photojournalism to portraiture to the kinds of documentary snapshots that are prevalent on eGullet, and there are a few things I've learned.

I find that many people tend to overemphasize equipment. One thing I can say for sure: if you are a careful photographer and have taken the time to learn the basics, you can take a good photograph with any camera, be it a disposable plastic camera from Rite-Aid, the little digital PenCam, a Canon D60 digital SLR, my Leica R7, or a Hasselblad. And if you are a sloppy photographer who stubbornly refuses to learn from your mistakes, you will never take a good photograph no matter how many tens of thousands of dollars of camera equipment you have. Much of the time, an uncaring photographer will in fact get better photos from a middle-market point-and-shoot than from a professional rig, because control is taken away and the computer chips are "smarter" than so many photographers.

I had a show in Florida last year where I displayed 24 photos from my various trips to Nepal. There was one photo that was clearly best in show. It was the one everybody gravitated to. Later, checking my notes, I found out that 23 of my photos had been taken with my Leica R7, and that the best one had been taken with my Yashica T4 Super-D, which is a cheap point-and-shoot camera with the world's tiniest built-in flash that costs about as much as a replacement shoulder strap for my Leica. I was talking to a National Geographic photographer down there who told me that in his photo essay on sailboats the best photo in the piece was taken not by him with his Hasselblad but rather by one of the sailboat crew with a disposable point-and-shoot. It happens.

The basics of composition and light are the same for all cameras, film or digital, regardless of price. You will be better served by learning those basics than by all the reading you can do in dpreview and cnet. There are many books and resources for that kind of learning though there is no substitute for review of your work by skilled instructors.

The intended purpose of photographs is relevant to the purchasing decision but not the be-all-end-all of photography. It's mostly about the comfort zone. You won't find many professional newspaper photojournalists these days using less than a Canon 10D with a 440EX flash and a 1.4 lens but that doesn't mean you can't take a newspaper-quality photo with a lot less camera, a lot less lens, and a lot less or no flash. Back before I (or most individuals without corporate backing) could afford a DSLR, I shot more than 50 newspaper photos with a 3.1 megapixel Kodak DC4800. Some of those were printed at half-page size on section front pages. Every single camera mentioned on this thread is better than my DC4800 was.

Something else I think is worth noting: in photography there are very few single right answers. There are some technical mistakes you can make so there are plenty of wrong answers. But when it comes to right answers you will usually find a range. In food photography you will find beautiful work done with natural light, with studio lights, and with flash. The quality of your work will come more from proper use of whatever light source you choose than from your choice of light source. Especially in the learning phase -- and aren't we all in that phase? -- don't lock yourself into rules. Instead, experiment.

And then conduct honest review of your work. It is the only way to learn. Be ruthless with yourself and have others be ruthless with you too. And then when you pick photos to share with an audience, share only your best.

But know where to draw the line. Those who are not full-time professionals and even most of those who are do not have infinite time to take each photograph. Once in awhile you get a shot that you can't think of any way to improve; it is a magic moment the first time it happens to you and those magic moments will be few and far between. Ten years later as you've learned more you'll probably find problems with 9/10 of those magic moment photos, but maybe with one of them you won't, and that will be an even more magical moment.

Most importantly, take lots and lots of photos, and have fun doing it.

Ellen Shapiro

www.byellen.com

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Good points Ellen. Even though I had a good deal of self-taught experience shooting, the best thing I ever did to improve my photography was to join a small (6) group class that met weekly: lecture, critique of last week's assignment, and new weekly shooting assignment (72 transparencies per week minimum). We did that for about 15 months. A friend who could not load film into a camera was winning contests by the time we were finished, and I had a winning entry in two of the three contests I entered.

Being your own tough critique is important, but it is very helpful to get feedback from others because you may miss something good of your own by being too perfectionistic. One of mine that appeared in American Photographer was one I had discounted because I thought to was technically lousy -- it was, but it still worked, something my instructor could see that I missed.

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Some people are really good at self-improvement. Others desperately need outside critiques to keep them moving forward. I can only do so much with my own work before I need someone else to look at it. That person doesn't always have to be an expert. Sometimes it's enough that the person just isn't me.

I have a friend who lives in my neighborhood who is one of those hopeless photographers who can't improve himself and won't accept input from anybody else. So like most people in his situation he blames his equipment. Boy does he buy a lot of equipment! He now has a Leica R8 film camera and three excellent digital cameras in the point and shoot, prosumer, and professional categories. Every photograph he takes is dreadful.

I have another acquaintance who is an amateur photographer who has never had any formal training and doesn't want any, and he shoots with a hilarious looking Pentax that is so old and crappy and dented and has no meter and a sucky lens and everything else wrong with it and he doesn't understand or care about film so he just puts in whatever is on sale at Costco. And this guy takes great photos. It's amazing. He has won something like 20 amateur photo contests. His photos are just great. Consistently so. He's got it.

I don't mean to say it's not important what camera you buy. For most people having a camera that's a good fit for them will be helpful. Especially for the diehards who take cameras to the tops of mountains and the bottoms of seas you need to have good equipment that won't crap out on you when you're a thousand miles from the nearest camera store. If you photograph sports you need a fast lens. The obvious things. But I see the camera purchase as just a small part of the big, uh, picture.

Ellen Shapiro

www.byellen.com

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Oh, Lord, I had hoped you'd know I was kidding.

But I'm glad to know its identity, regardless.

Of course I knew that :smile: . You think I'm getting anywhere near gators eating little kids :shock: ?

I take all my animal shots in places like the zoo - and my backyard. Photoshop works wonders - you can crop out everything that reminds you you aren't in the wild. Robyn

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eGullet food photography critique group, anybody?

Just a thought.

Obviously!

Edited to be slightly less glib and slightly more useful...This is a fantastic idea. What woud be a good forum? General Food Topics?

Edited by Behemoth (log)
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I like the idea a lot, and I think this forum would be the perfect place. As it says in the forum description,

"To help you get the most out of eGullet.com; please discuss tech support, tips, and usage techniques here."

IMHO, food photography and its improvement sure fits in that definition.

What's new at Mexico Cooks!?

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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?

Good point. I bought an Olympus D-520 2.1 megapixel camera for my daughter, identical to mine. I had made not prints or enlargements and though the quality was good but was stunned when I saw 11"x17" prints from hers. She took a digital photography class in college and did the prints on a high end printer in the campus media lab. Admittedly, most of us have no access to high qaulity printers of that type but the resolution, contrast, color fidelity etc. of her pics was stunning. Her instructor was a bit skeptical that the shots were taken on a 2 megapixel consumer grade camera until she showed it to him. It is all about the optics and also the internal image processing capability of the camera - megapixels help but they're only one part of the story.

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Everybody now has access to high quality photo printing via services like Ofoto and ImageStation. The resolutions required for prints that look like they came from a film camera, however, are usually much lower than people assume. For beautiful 300ppi prints 2 megapixels will get you a 5x7 and 4 megapixels will get you an 8x10. It is only when you get into posters and billboards that the 5-8 megapixel range becomes more important. But even with a 20x30 poster you can do well from a 4 megapixel image from a good consumer level camera.

However that is only a part of the story. One of the first things you learn when you start to explore digital photography, especially if you are transitioning from film, is that "not all megapixels are created equal." There is no comparison between the 6.1 megapixel sensor on my Canon D60 and the 5-8 megapixel sensors on the same manufacturer's consumer cameras. Why? Because my sensor is bigger. It is close to the size of a piece of 35mm film (smaller but approaching that scale) whereas the sensor on the consumer camera is the size of a tic tac. Every pixel on the bigger sensor is bigger, more accurate, less noisy, and more information-rich. If I dial down a professional-level DSLR to a 3.1 megapixel setting it will easily capture a better image than a "prosumer" camera at 5 or 8 megapixels. The type of sensor, the size of the sensor, and all the supporting electronics and internal software aka firmware on a pro camera are going to aid in producing richer, more nuanced and detailed images, assuming you took a good photo in the first place.

To mention another aspect of size that has come up here, one thing never to forget is the effect a camera's size has on the subject. This is separate from the schlepping factor. People are intimidated by cameras that look like they should be used by news photographers. Waiters get suspicious when you haul out a D60 and a 550EX (or two) and snap on a hooded lens. Kids run for cover. Cops ask you if you have a permit. Whereas if you pull out a little point-and-shoot, nobody cares. One great thing about digital cameras, and I know I'm rambling here, is also that you can show people the photos on the screen. When photographing people this really helps them to get into it. But it's also fun to show the waiter, the manager, the chef.

Last point on size: cropping. If you want to crop out say a quarter of an image and have it be print-quality you do need a bunch of resolution to make that happen. Even if you have 8 good professional megapixels your image quality geometrically degrades as you crop smaller and smaller parts of the image. So, better to compose well in the first place so all you have to do is trim a bit.

Ellen Shapiro

www.byellen.com

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Thank you to everyone who has contributed to this post. It couldn't be more timely as I am preparing to sell my 35mm equip on eBay and finally go digital. Tana, please keep us posted on how things go with your Powershot Pro1. I have it on my list as a prospective replacement for my SLR.

South Florida

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Ellen, you write wonderfully helpful posts about digital photography. Your writing is as clear, well thought-out, and deep as your photographs no doubt are.

I can't agree with you more about showing people the instant results of digital photography. Where I live, many people have never seen pictures of themselves at all and are completely thrilled (and sometimes horrified) to see their images on the LCD. It's fascinating to see how different the reaction to a picture is from the same subject's reaction to his or her likeness in a mirror.

Please, though, when you say that "Everybody now has access to high quality photo printing..."--not everybody. I live in a small village in central Mexico where we're very lucky just to have access to the Internet. There are no camera shops, and 'professional' printing is iffy at best. The nearest big-city print shops are over an hour away, and even there the personnel often doesn't understand what it is that's wanted. Nevertheless, we make do.

What's new at Mexico Cooks!?

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Point taken. Let me modify that to say the availability of good digital printing is rapidly approaching the availability of good printing from negatives.

I would love to get in on a food photography critique group. I'm not a food photographer. I sometimes get pressed into service as one because I'm married to a food writer, and also because I do so many documentary snapshots for eGullet, but what I really do is travel photography, mostly outdoors and mostly of people and places. So I would definitely be into participating in a group effort. I know we do have a couple of professional food photographers on the site, so maybe one of them would be willing to lead the group?

Ellen Shapiro

www.byellen.com

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Last point on size: cropping. If you want to crop out say a quarter of an image and have it be print-quality you do need a bunch of resolution to make that happen. Even if you have 8 good professional megapixels your image quality geometrically degrades as you crop smaller and smaller parts of the image.

Just to clarify: this is true asuming that you're going to enlarge the newly cropped image. If you're just cropping and not enlarging, there is no loss of quality. Put it another way: it's the enlarging that causes the problem, not the cropping.

Dave Scantland
Executive director
dscantland@eGstaff.org
eG Ethics signatory

Eat more chicken skin.

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I don't want to participate in any kind of a photography critique group until I've had some classes, as Ellen has. I am completely self-taught, don't know diddly about f-stops and apertures, and fly by the seat of my pants 100% of the time. I'd be way too self-conscious to have people pointing at my work, saying, "You could have used a slower film speed and a different [tech term here] and gotten a really good shot."

I'm like one of those hicks drawling, "Ah may not know art, but Ah know whut Ah like." The one thing, the only thing I've got, besides a decent camera and a smattering of knowledge about how to operate it, is an eye. And that, mostly, cannot be taught. It can be developed and supported, I think, with constant exposure to beauty and other good compositions, but I mostly consider that having "an eye" is innate.

There is a really good photography course online, if I could just remember the name of it. They're based locally (Watsonville), the owner's name is Gary, and I can't remember the link. But for $65 a year, you have access to tons of tutorials, and the material is world-class. Until I submit to the training of someone who knows how to work with the scope of features that my camera has (or any camera), I wouldn't be able to keep up with knowledgeable people. I need to learn the lingo.

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