Monday, April 25, 2011

A Look at My New Camera and Jewelry Photography Accessories

By on Monday, April 25, 2011 21 Comments

Experts say the average useful life of a point and shoot camera is about 3 years. My trusty old Sony Cybershot actually lasted longer than that despite heavy use. But it is now making the occasional shuddering noises as it struggles to focus in macro mode. Time for a new camera. 

The best cameras are the digital SLRs without a doubt. But the basic camera together with an additional macro lens would have set me back over $1000, an expense I could not afford justify. Yet, I do need decent pictures of the jewelry.

The good news is unless one is seriously into photography, many of today's point and shoots do take very good pictures and are sufficient for most jewelry artisans on a budget. We do want to leave some money over for more beads!

I did some research and came across a very good compact camera, the new Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS10 (around $400) which is ideal for lugging to workshops and for travel. No need to heave around some heavy camera bag either as it pops into my handbag.

It's a good compromise as it has both point and shoot and some digital SLR capabilities such as aperture priority and shutter priority. The bottom line is the images are not quite as perfect as camera buffs would like but they are still excellent for the kind of online pictures I need. There are additional bells and whistles like geo-tagging and 3-D photography which might be fun but are unnecessary. So if you are in the market for one, consider the earlier models like the ZS-5 or 7 which cost even less.

The Panasonic is noticeably larger and heavier than my old Sony but it is still a compact camera. Its size is largely due to the incredible 16x optical zoom Leica lens. The quality of pictures directly relates to the quality of the lens which is why the bigger digital SLRs take better pictures than point and shoots. 

Macro Photography
Here are some highlights of my first trials and comparison taken in natural light within a light tent. The light tent does cut down the glare from the sunlight coming through my kitchen window. Tip : never take pictures in natural light with indoor lights on - too confusing for the camera.

I kept as many conditions the same as possible - the same pair of earrings was photographed in the same place on the same day.  The photos were not corrected after in any way except for cropping and resizing for this post. Notice my home made reflector?  It's an old cork tile wrapped in aluminum foil. It helps brighten up the shadow side of the jewelry.

Using the iA or automatic mode makes things easy when I don't have time to fuss about.  It auto-focuses, auto-everything. I don't even need to select macro because it senses what I am about do. 

Without a doubt, the new camera does take sharper images even in the automatic mode- just compare the seed beads in the right foreground in both pictures. This section is a bit blurry with the old Sony.  This Panasonic can focus in more than one area.

Old Sony - White Balance adjusted (shady)
Panasonic in  iA or automatic mode
I actually like the above photo even though the background does not appear as brown as it should be. That's due to the camera's automatic white balance adjustment.

Moving on, I set the Panasonic to the program and aperture priority modes where I chose some of the settings to try and correct the color. Note there are only a limited number of settings for aperture priority unlike the bigger range for the digital SLRs. The resulting photos are truer in color but I actually prefer the grey background!

Panasonic in Program mode - multi-area focus, shady, iso100
Panasonic in Aperture Priority F3.3 (lowest); other settings similar to Program mode above
Camera Stand
Having made the decision not to spend $$$ on a top notch camera, I could then rationalize this wonderful miniature camera stand, the Modopocket from Manfrotto which was on sale in my local camera store.  I blogged about it a couple of years ago.

You can really get close in as the minimum macro distance of the Panasonic is a mere 3 cm! Using a stand meant I could set the delay timer at 2 seconds and let the camera take the shot thus avoiding the slight blur from when one depresses the take button.

The stand can be lowered in the front. I also found mounting it on a small box or book gives more angle options.

You can still use a full size tripod to take pictures of your jewelry placed at the edge of a table. Or raise the jewelry to some suitable height in order to use a regular mini-tripod as shown below. ( I also tried out the gorilla style tripod but I didn't like having to fiddle with the flexible legs).

For this earrings on a bowl shot, I tested out the zoom function and liked it!

But the Modopocket is tops for utter portability for my workshop use. It folds up neatly while still attached to the camera (see below) which then goes into the small camera bag. Even if one doesn't take jewelry pictures outside the home, this means the stand will never be misplaced! It also doesn't need to be removed when attaching to a full size tripod. Tip - make sure the stand was attached in such a way access to the battery is not blocked.

Pop-Up Light Tent
I also really liked the light tent I finally got at the same time as my camera. I tried making one (see tutorial links below) but this commercial item folds up so it doesn't take up much room when stored away.  It's also quick to set-up and take down so I will probably take it to workshops. The only hassle is folding it to fit into the little bag it comes in!  I just fold it until it's flat. Perhaps with more practice, I will be able to do it as easily as the instructor in this  useful video.

I am still taking pictures in natural light. But I plan to purchase inexpensive lights so I can do jewelry photography at night with the light tent and go for the very light background look.

One last picture to show. These highly reflective wavy and coated crystal coins would have been a challenge to photograph but the camera did a good job even in automatic mode with a slight zoom-in.

Earrings on grey background
If you have had great success with other camera makes, please do share your comments.

Before You Go:
For more tutorials check out my Jewelry Making Tips
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  1. Wow that was awesome Pearl! Thanks for doing all the research for me on an affordable camera! Just in this one post I've learned a lot of ways to improve my photos. Your new camera photos are very good. Thanks and have fun!

  2. That's what one of my Beadsisterhood friends said to me. She appreciated the research I did, went to the same camera shop and got the earlier model which was about $100 less than mine. She didn't need the aperture priority etc.

    I have another photography post coming up next month!

  3. Thanks for the info - I've been looking for a camera & this has helped a lot! By the way, your earrings are gorgeous!!

  4. You're welcome. Thanks for the compliment on the earrings. Some of the credit has to go to the camera!

  5. I have a Lumix also, the macros are fantastic! You take great pictures!

  6. Great to hear from another satisfied Lumix owner! Both photo places I checked out had good things to say about the Lumix cameras.

    BTW One couple I know who belong to a local photo guild enter their pictures in contests. The wife wins more prizes with just her point and shoot!

  7. love my canon s95 :) i dun have a stand though.... urs look awesome and easy to use!

  8. Great pictures and research! I want one of those Modopockets! I gifted myself with a Canon PowerShot SD4500 IS last year. It is compact enough that I can carry with me all the time and takes good photos in macro and also low light.

  9. This was an enormously helpful article! Thanks very much!

  10. I googled. If anyone is interested in the modopocket, it's on sale for about $22 on Amazon.

  11. WONDERFUL camera info -- thanks:-. I have last years version of the lumix, and am quite happy w it, altho unsophisticated in the finer points:-)

    I live in an apt. and have been taking pics on the balcony (or just inside the window in the winter). Do you think the light tent makes that much difference during the day?

    I didn't even know abt that small tripod, and will look for a good price on it bec my big one is a PITA to set up........especially for macro. I, too, find myself using telephoto instead of macro -- mainly because of the distortion (my paintings are no longer square).

    (via email)

  12. Yes, the light tent does indeed make a difference. It diffuses the light even when you are indoors. On really sunny days, the light is really too harsh.

    You can try making your own to save money. If you check my past post on making your own light tents, there is another way to diffuse the light using folded up white cards. I used to use this method until I got the light tent.

  13. THANKS Pearl!! I have been looking for a new camera. Mine is doing exactly as you described in the beginning of your post!! I will definitely look at this one.

  14. I like your work and i congratulate them
    have a good day
    tijeras y cuchara

  15. I just bought an entry level SLR, not that I know how to use it yet! And my daughter and fiance got me a light tent for my birthday so I'm all set - except for the learning curve part. Your photos are always great!

  16. Yes buying a camera involves a lot of research...I spent about a month reading manuals to buy my present camera Panasonic FH1 (its called something else abroad) but it works well.. now I looking fwd to buying a light tent and a mini and finding it hard to buy them here in India..(dont like the spider stand either)

  17. Try making a light tent of your own, Divya. The past post for this is

  18. OK, why didn't I think of this? Fix to my red camera reflection issue... I read on another blog that the photographer cuts a hole in cardstock and puts the lense through so that the camera is not reflected in the pieces. Pardon me while I go cut me a hole in some cardstock and test this brilliant idea!

  19. The hole in the cardstock idea is brilliant!

  20. Wonderful, I'm actually in the process of getting a new camera. I've been doing research for months on prices, picture quality, and what other jewely makers use. Obviously a point and shoot camera is what I want. The idea of using a DSLR confuses the heck out of me (along with its price). Hopefully by the end of this month I'll have enough money to buy one.

  21. Nissa, one other camera make I was impressed with is the Fuji EXR in this post :

    It has low light settings which is very useful if you take pictures in natural light indoors and don't like fiddling with ISO settings like I do with my Lumix.