Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Good article on issues faced when photographing art at a museum

I was organizing some of my photos up at Flickr and noticed this link to a very good article about photographing art in museums. I would take exception with some of the technical comments made about suggested equipment and settings, however.

It begins by recommending the Canon 40D DSLR. I would not argue about image quality, precision lens, and good image stabilization. However, I definitely disagree that you cannot obtain the same features from a quality point and shoot camera as I think I have demonstrated during my photo shoots in a number of the world's most famous museums.

My reason for using point and shoot cameras over DSLRs is weight, cost, and ease-of-use. My High-ISO camera of choice is the Fujifilm Finepix F30. It produces very acceptable images (considering relatively low noise level) shooting with the ISO preset to the maximum of 3200. It is also a compact 3X zoom that fits nicely in my purse without carrying around a large camera bag full of extra lenses. Although the Fujifilm does not have image stabilization, it's high ISO makes it possible to use higher shutter speeds to minimize camera shake. I also recommend using the Macro setting when shooting in museums because it provides images with finely detailed texture.

My Panasonic FZ8 also shoots relatively low noise images up to ISO 400 (It advertises ISO of 1600 but images are much too noisy at that level. I initially tried ISO 800 but didn't find the noise level acceptable at that level either) It has a 12X zoom and is also small and lightweight for a superzoom camera. The Panasonic has an excellent image stabilization system so I can work with slower shutter speed settings than the Fuji which I need to do since the ISO setting is not as high as the Fuji. I also set my Panasonic to the Auto-Focus with Macro setting for texture detail.

I was quite honestly dumbfounded when the article mentioned shooting without flash or tripod at a shutterspeed setting of 1/20 of a second. Way too slow even with excellent image stabilization for an older photographer like me who must compensate for a familial tremor. I read that you can try to use the time delay function to compensate for pressing the shutter and even burst mode to try to increase your chances of getting a "tack sharp" shot but I personally would not risk it at less than 1/60 of a second without flash or tripod.

As for cost, I prefer to save my money to afford traveling to world class museums instead of spending over $1200 for a camera (body only in the case of the Canon) instead of less than $300 for either the Panasonic or the Fuji. Perhaps this decision makes me less of a "professional" but I think it is the most practical for me.
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