In The Desert
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Buying a New Camera
Where to start?
You need to decide how and what you're going to use this new camera for in the desert? Take on a trip in your vehicle? Maybe for a hike into nowhere? For family outings and camping trips? Or all of the above? What do you expect from the camera? A long telephoto, either built in or a lens for that purpose? A lot of megapixels for large prints, or are you just going to post photos on Facebook? It is a lot to think about. In some cases you may be better off with a camera phone, at least that way you'll probably always have it with you.
We can't tell you what to buy as your preferences are probably different than ours. But we can help with your decision. We've had a lot of cameras. From professional ones down to cheap Point & Shoot cameras the size of a credit card, they all have their advantages. We wanted something with more detail, better high ISO capability, and something that would give us large crisp detailed images with good color. Ones we wouldn't have to "photoshop". It may be hard to find exactly what you're looking for, but here's some pointers.
First don't hesitate to go to Wal-mart and take one home and then return it. Same goes for Sam's Club and Costco or any place, even on-line, that has a decent return policy. On-line purchases will probably require you to pay for return shipping, so be aware. When you do purchase on line, don't get any accessories until your sure you'll be keeping the camera. Like extra batteries, memory cards, lens hoods, carrying cases, etc. We just tried several different cameras and finally came up with one we liked. So how did we test it?
Let the testing begin. You'll need shots that test it's ability to show fine detail clearly at 100%. This is called pixel peeping. Good for being critical of the cameras potential. This is a junk shelf in the garage and an image at this size doesn't tell you much, except the flash metered okay and the colors are pretty accurate. Look at the enlarged crop for more detail.
How many lenses did you get?
Testing a New Camera, Wide Angle Lens
If you're testing a camera with a fixed lens then this still applies to you. If you're testing a camera with more then one lens then you need to test the camera with both lenses. Usually the kit lenses (18-55mm) are not very good, so keep this in mind. If you have better lenses and you're just upgrading the body, this will be easier.
Wide angle lens tests.
Telephoto Zoom Lens
Often one or both lenses will leave a lot to be desired, in which case it'll be hard to tell if the camera body or the lenses are any good. They should both be decent, and in this case the Pentax really shines. At full zoom the detail is there. This was taken at quite a distance The rabbit image below was taken at full telephoto, 200mm. See the enlargements.
Just before sunset when the light is getting low a shot like this will tell you a lot. How much detail can it retain in low light, how well do the colors stand up to the lack of lighting. And will it meter the scene correctly? Nice place to eat. Look at the enlarged crop for more detail.
Night shots like this won't tell you much about detail, neither will sunsets as they both lack detail anyway. But look how the camera rendered the sky, a nice blue. Also the lights came out nice. Good camera for night shots? So far good.
If your camera has a built in flash, many don't, you'll want to test the strength of the flash to see what to expect. This one will light up a small room with no problem. Our last SLR camera and another point & shoot we have, both struggled to even come close to this. It also gave us a good exposure with no dark spots or blown out highlights.
We never cared much about shooting at a high ISO setting. Why, because none of the cameras ever went above 800 and were still usable. Now, it's a different story and Pentax has a reputation of being one of the best. You may or may not need this ability, but you should test it to see how far you can go. The enlargement will show you how much noise is in the photo.
You and everyone at one time or another has had to shoot towards the sun and the result was a washed out sky, flares and grossly underexposed images. This one is underexposed, but could easily be saved in an imaging program, which is not always the case. The flares are held down to a minimum and the sky has retained it's blue color.
Take a landscape shot for 3 reasons. One, you'll want to see if the colors are true to the eye. Two, see if the detail is there. Three, check the metering system. A look at the larger image here shows what you need to look at. These are all simple tests you should try to see what the camera is capable of. None of them are 100%, just see if it will do what you need it to do.
This shot could have gone really bad very easily. The white snow could have fooled the camera and made the scene very dark. The bush to the right of the rabbit could fooled the camera in thinking it was the point of focus. Take a look at this one. This surprised us, as very few cameras will give these results without manual input from the user - like manual focus and manually setting the exposure.
Telephotos are fun, but remember at times you'll also want to use the widest setting for a shot. Here's a test of the focus, detail, and distortion of the lens at it's widest setting. See the enlargement.
This is not a sales pitch for Pentax, you may already have Canon, Nikon, Sony, or Olympus lenses. And they also make great cameras. Or you may want a lighter P&S camera, maybe one of the new super zooms to carry hiking or in your vehicle. This is just to help you decide if the camera you're considering is the right one for you. See if it will do what you need a camera to do? This is just a list of things you may not have thought of to test your new purchase. We still need to test ours for night shots of the stars. If it fails, it's not something that would make us return the camera. If it works, it will just add to the fun.
Try these tests yourself, it's fun and you'll get more familiar with your camera and find out what you can expect from it.
ISO tests for your camera HERE
Photography Basics HERE