Casual digital photography?
Will be visiting for a few months this summer and just bought a Canon S3iS with a 12x optical zoom for some scenic and wildlife pics. Do the bean bags work in the vehicle window and would there be much if any need for a wide angle lens? Is there a noticeable difference between the different type of SD cards and if so which would be better? I'm pretty green at action shots, but I think that ISO setting and card speed would make a big difference in quality. Thanks for any suggestions or advice!
In general, that camera should be a pretty nice setup that is not too complicated, and can produce some really nice results. I have done a good bit of outdoors and wildlife photography, and owned a couple point and shoot digital cameras similar to the type you own, with similar focal length ranges.
For most general photography, the range of focal lengths provided by the 'standard lens' is adequate. Depending on how 'serious' you are about either getting good landscape or wildlife photos, I would recommend looking to shorten and lenghten the standard lens depending on what you like to shoot. Like I said, it all depends on how serious you are about getting results, and what your standards are as far as the quality of images you'd like to get.
For wildlife, with my Nikon P&S I got the 1.7x teleconverter that was available, which made the lens an equivalent of about 600mm in 35mm format, which is a great focal length for wildlife. I can PM you a link to some of the bear and other wildlife photos I've taken with a setup similar to that I am talking about for reference if you'd like.
For landscapes, a lot of folks like the super-wide angle look (which adds 'drama') and you might look into a telephoto converter for that. Personally, I have been perfectly happy with the wide-angle component of my standard lens; you can still capture some great landscapes with the camera completely as-is. I would recommend a circular polarizer for landscapes if anything.
For action photos - your best assets are good lighting and a stable shooting platform. The quality of light on many Alaska days can be pretty overcast and will produce slow shutter speeds = blurry/ unsharp photos. When handheld a lot of these issues become even more pronounced. The rule of thumb for shutter speeds is 1/focal length of lens. When your lens is at 12x, that's 425mm, or 1/400-1/500 second optimal shutter speed, maybe 1/250 acceptable with the IS. High ISO will help, but at the expense of more pixel noise in the image. Many P&S digital cameras are somewhat limited in ISO range too.
Regarding SD cards - buy a name brand. Beyond that, you won't notice an appreciable difference in performance between one or another. The limitation in most cameras is the camera's ability to write to the card rather than the card itself. Even many digital SLR cameras - including some pretty pricy ones - have a limitation on how many shots you can take continuously before the camera needs to stop recording and write pictures to the card.
Regarding the bean bags - I have heard a number of people use them and like them. Here is another product that I know works well - the window mounted camera bracket. It is a small tripod head that attaches to the window.
Here is an example I found:
Hope all this helps.
Thanks for the detailed response! I hadn't thought about a teleconverter to increase my 12x zoom. I know that I have a 4x digital; but, if I understand correctly, software on your computer will do the same thing.
My camera has up to an 800 ISO, but I think that is more of a digital setting (and pretty noisy) with a true ISO of only 400 which is probably all I need.
The SD card thing has been confusing because some offer "ultra" or "ultra ll" and probably "super ultra ultra". I have a 2GB card, but was thinking about a name brand 1GB card for backup.
I like the bean bag idea primarily because the opportunity for a wildlife shot is sometimes measured in seconds and I might not have time to install a bracket, but at that price it would be worth having for the more measured shots.
As I said, I'm a beginner so the simpler the better for me. What is the purpose of the "circular polarizer"? Is it a filter? I would like to see your shots so please PM a link to them. Thanks again!
I just realized I hadn't answered a couple of your questions, sorry about that.
The digital zooms that are offered are generally worthless, IMO. They enlarge the existing image by interpolating the pixels you've already captured. Personally, I have never been satisfied by the results of using a digital zoom, which is why I bought the optical teleconverter.
Even at 400 ISO there will be some exposure issues in low light and overcast skies, but it should generally cover most situations, as you mentioned.
As it relates to the bean bag, most of my "successful" wildlife shots have been a result of approaching an animal 'correctly', i.e. downwind, moving low and slow, etc. as opposed to being fast with the camera.
Most animals, when not feeling threatened, will provide you with as much time as you need to compose good quality shots.
I am not really explaining this very well, but circular polarizers do the same thing that polarized sunglasses do when they help you see fish in the water- ibut n the case of photos, they help a out lot as far as cutting through haze and clearing up the sky. The blue sky color becomes really pronounced/ saturated when using a circular polarizer.
I think I already PM'd you a link to some photos.
Hope all this was helpful to you, have a great trip up to Alaska!! If you are interested in seeing some bears, let me know. I can set you up with our place, or one of several others.