The dSLR Lovers Point & Shoot

If you’ve been using a digital SLR for a while, you know how frustrating it can be to pick up a point and shoot camera and get good shots. For that matter, if you use a point and shoot, you might be just as frustrated. A point and shoot, for all its ease of size and automation, makes all kinds of decisions for you in what makes a good photo, and while often it is right, it is just a piece of hardware and can’t read your mind about exactly what you want. When you photograph food, this becomes particularly clear.

The settings in most point and shoots are geared toward what most people take photos of most of the time. People. And, to be specific, people in decent, bright lighting conditions. All of those automatic settings on your camera do what they can to make the best choices to get great shots of people in the park or at the zoo or at graduation. They get all confused when you make them take a photo of a plate of food in a dimly lit restaurant. The beauty of the digital SLR is that you can tell the camera exactly what you want… that the front edge of your panna cotta should be in focus, not some random point in the middle; that the napkin sitting next to the plate is white even though the candle light is making it look pretty yellow; that you want all the background noise to fade away into a nice blur. Most point and shoot cameras give you a little feature here and there… a macro button to let you focus on a subject within a few inches or maybe a setting for daylight versus candle light or shade… but still keep most of the decisions away from you. And, because of that, I usually just give up, and decide to forgo taking any photos while dining out.

Canon PowerShot G7

Enter the Canon Powershot G7, or the foodie photographers new best friend. This camera does everything your standard point and shoot does and does it well. With 10 megapixels, it’s even more powerful than my old dSLR, the Canon 20D (yes, I said old… I upgraded to the Canon 5D a few weeks ago, and am loving it!) while still fitting easily within a purse or a jacket pocket. While it’s not as small as many digital point and shoots– it’s much bigger than my phone, for example– it also lets you do things that few other P&S cameras let you do… switch into complete manual mode. And I mean complete. You can manually adjust focus, aperture and shutter speed, so you get to make decisions when the camera isn’t automatically doing the right thing. And, with built in image stabilization, ISO of up to 1600 you can get some pretty incredible shots in dimly lit rooms. I still will always recommend a tripod for dark room shots, but this camera will work really well with one of the super small tripods, like the Joby Gorillapod.

Here’s a quick test I did comparing the automatic mode of the G7 to the manual mode as well as shooting with my Canon 5D dSLR. Now, this isn’t a particularly scientific test… the focal length of the shots is different so that throws a bit of a wrench in the whole thing. I could have made the focal length of the G7 match, but as I said, this was a quick test. Still I think you can get a pretty good idea of how close you can get to a digital SLR with this camera once you start to learn how to use it.

Each of these photos was taken in the same lighting conditions, as well as using a tripod. I should have been using a remote for the G7, but just tried to be as steady as I could with the shutter, to a pretty good result. I shot with the 5D first, and then used the same camera settings on the G7 for manual mode.

You’ll notice first of all that the automatic shot, doesn’t look very good. It’s too dark because the camera didn’t know what tone should be the mid-tone… so it decided that the white should be… hence the dingy grey. The point of focus is also just a tiny bit off… it’s behind the first couple of currants. The automatic mode actually gave a shallower depth of field as well… the aperture was f4.0, exposure time was 1/50s. On the 5D photo, I got an even narrower DOF – this is a byproduct of the focal length not the aperture – so just try to ignore that. All in all, the quality of the G7 image, especially for blogging or other web-use is pretty darn good.

If you are looking for a new camera, and are torn between a point and shoot & stepping up to a digital SLR, this just might be the right step.

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