Pictures: So How Does He Do It?

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When I bought my camera (Canon Powershot A40) in Spring 2002 I also bought a 128Mb Compact Flash card. This means I can store about 130 photos at maximum resolution (1600x1200) and quality. This maximises the amount by which I can 'digitally zoom' by cropping, and minimises any .jpg artifacts. I can take multiple pictures without worrying about lack of storage space, which is particularly nifty in low light conditions or if the subject (or even me) keeps moving. The most obviously out of focus shots can be dumped straight away, and the rest sorted out later on my PC. This so beats expensive 35mm film, where you are always reluctant to take multiple shots, as they all have to be developed, whether they are in focus or not. As for the camera features, the macro mode is how I manage to get so close to many of the subjects. It also has a 3x zoom, panorama mode and can be run in automatic, semi-manual or fully manual depending on how much control you want over the shot. I find semi-manual (or programmed) mode the most useful. The shutter speed is automatic, but I can set things like ISO myself.

I then went for an upgrade in Spring 2004. I bought the Canon Powershot A80 and a 256Mb Compact Flash card. Being a 4 megapixel camera the maximum resolution was upped to 2272x1704 and the picture size doubled, so I can still get about 120-130 pictures on the card. Now I can crop in even closer to small targets. The other most immediately useful improvement is that the screen can flip out and be twisted, allowing for some unusual (and maybe arty) angles. Other new features were things like manual focus, and separate manual aperture and exposure controls. The performance of the camera, and its menu system, and much more, is also a lot better than the old camera. This simply means I can now do more, and be more inventive. Already I have been able to get closer to butterflies than ever before, and view some objects from unusual and interesting angles. I expect a lot more of that to come.

After 4 years of faithful service and great pictures despite the abuse that left it looking rather dog eared and tatty (but still works fine) I decided once again to upgrade. This time I bought a Canon Powershot A650IS at end of January 2008. Compared to the A80 I have triple the megapixels (up tp 12) and twice the zoom. The lens and CCD are both slightly bigger as a result. I also have a bigger screen (still flip out and twist) and a number of new features such as image stabilization, and better videos. I bought a 4Gb SDHC card to use with it. Now pictures are 4000x3000 and with the 6x zoom on top of that I can take much better shots of distant objects. It is also much faster again to focus and operate. 4 years is a long time in digital photography. Suddenly the A80 looks atleast as outdated as the A40 did when I bought the A80. Straight away I have started producing some interesting new shots. The only downsize is that file sizes are now up to 5 megs, so the data I was producing was getting ever more in size. I eventually moved from the old CD's (which I have been using for photo storage) to DVD+R's, and then abandoned them for larger external hard drives (multiple backups so that it one fails I still have another copy elsewhere) as my storage solution for an every increasing data amount moved with the times and the cost of new hard drives continued to fall and capacities increase.

I had previously bought a Canon Scanner (CanoScan N67OU). This came with the photo editor called Arcsoft Photo Studio 2000. I particularly like the Auto Enhance feature in this software, and is the main reason why I use this instead of Paint Shop Pro. This combined with the light sharpening to overcome the sometimes soft focus of the camera produces a nice sharp image. I use this software to crop and resize the image to position the area of interest in the centre of a 640x480 image, and then apply the auto enhance and (if necessary) the light sharpening to finish the job off. I remember one image in particular that was off focus, but I was able to rescue it enough to be good enough for the website (OrangeTip2.jpg; General; 23/04/2003 for those who want to see). Even for in-focus shots, and scanned in 35mm prints, the sharpening sometimes improves the picture significantly.

In October 2010 I obtained my first smart phone, the iPhone 4. The 5Mp camera while not as good as the A650, was still handy and great for snapshots if the main camera wasn't handy at the time. In January 2014 I bought a new camera, the Panasonic Lumix FZ200. I also had started using Photoshop Elements. The camera was a timely purchase as the A650's screen was failing and soon into 2014 became unusable. (The older A80 also still works but seems to have developed what might be a light leak causing discolourations on some pictures.) The FZ200, despite having a slightly poorer sensor, has fantastic optics, with F2.8 all the way to 600mm (24x) zoom, and a wider view (24mm) at the wide end than the A650's 35mm. This bridge camera is bigger but still quite light and is very versatile. It's great in the air and while not quite as good at macro photography, the macro zoom allows me to get a larger butterfly full frame from a meter away. This means I am much less likely to disturb it and lose the shot. A 16Gb class 10 SD card was used initially before upgrading to a 32Gb class 10 FlashAir SD card with WIFI built into it. Photoshop Elements makes editing and processing the pics for the web much easier. The cropping is much quicker as I can lock it to a particular aspect ratio. The lighting adjustment also makes a big difference to the hazier shots as I can dial out a lot of that haze while keeping the picture true to the original view. I still use Photo Studio 2000 though as that generates smaller files and the sharpening works better than Photoshop. I also started to use 1024x768 as my standard rather than 640x480 as screen resolutions increase.

In November 2015 I upgraded to an iPhone 6S Plus which had a much improved camera. Then in December 2015 for my 40th birthday I obtained a GoPro Hero 4 action video camera. This added another new dimension to the gliding photography especially. With it being so small I can mount it in the glider easily and get shots that I would otherwise have missed (or in the case of landing and takeoff, be impossible). My first experiments with it in the air actually made a half decent first attempt at a gliding video too.

I hope in 2016 to make forays into gliding videos as I continue to experiment with it. By 2016 I had also obtained a 3Tb drive for general backups as well as a new additional source to archive and backup my photos. I was also starting to move to USB3 (handy when transferring large video files or many photos). In the future I may even consider getting a RAID array with a couple of large hard drives in a RAID 1 configuration (which means the second drive is a mirror of the first - if one drive fails the data is still safe on the other drive) but this is not planned yet. I still dream of owning an SLR one day too but that is not planned yet either. For now the FZ200, iPhone 6S Plus and the GoPro work well for me.

With that done, the obvious next step is to get them on this website of course! Now stop reading my ramblings and check them piccies out. ;)