University of Vermont Extension 
Department of Plant and Soil Science

Anytime News Article


Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
University of Vermont

Taking photographs is a great way to remember your garden details through the winter, and from year to year. It also is a great way to remember and share gardens you visit. Whether you are just considering beginning to take photos, take slides and prints already but are considering going digital, or take digital photos and are considering a better or newer camera, there are a few basics to keep in mind.

It seems the majority of people with cameras have switched from film to digital in recent years. Advantages include the ability to take all the pictures you want and delete the bad ones without spending money on film, the ability to share in emails and online with others, the ability to edit them as you wish, and with proper handling an almost limitless photo life. A disadvantage might be the fact that a majority of photos are made better by editing with computer software, which can take much time, and you’ll need a computer and the software for this.

Digital cameras also are “battery hogs”, both from the motorized parts and display screen, something to keep in mind when shopping. Some brands have proprietary batteries only available at photo shops, and with special rechargers. Others use standard AA batteries available anywhere. This may be important if you are traveling and don’t want to, or can’t, bring a recharger. If using a camera with AA batteries, it is often cost effective to buy long-life rechargeable batteries and a recharger for them.

One term you need to know right up front is one you see in all digital camera descriptions—megapixels, or one million pixels. Pixels, short for picture element, are small squares that make up digital photos. For each of these millions of little squares, the camera and computer software assign values for color and brightness. So in essence, digital photography is a computer painting by numbers.

The more pixels, the more detail and resolution, and the higher the cost. If you are going to make enlargements of photos, larger than 8 by 10 inches for instance, then you should go for a high number of megapixels (over five). If using photos just on the computer or for smaller prints, the lower megapixels on lower end cameras will work fine.

So what equipment you get, or should have, depends on two main decisions— what you desire and want to do with your photos, and your budget. Cameras can run from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars. The three main digital camera types are point and shoot, digicams, and single lens reflex (SLR).

Point and Shoot cameras are compact, provide photos with 2 to 5 megapixels, often are strictly automatic with most features for ease of use, and have motorized zoom lens that are non-interchangeable. Most have a “macro” capability for close-up photos, closer than about 12 inches to the camera. Some also take video, but many of these will not capture sound, just the motion. A flash is built in or is pop-up. Although they have viewfinders, these are small and don’t accurately represent what the camera photographs. Most people just use the LCD (liquid crystal display) screens.

On the other end are the SLRs, similar to the 35mm film cameras. Their photos range from 6 to 16 megapixels, and have interchangeable zoom and non-zoom lens. Many lens from the 35mm cameras may not work on even the same brand of digital camera, or only with adapters, so check with your photoshop if this is a desire. Many SLR cameras now have image stabilization—software help to keep your photos from being blurry if you shake or move slightly. These cameras also have LCD screens, but better viewfinders as well if you are like me and used to looking through these. These cameras also provide many more features such as file storage types.

In between the point and shoot and SLRS are the digicams. They are a good compromise, having many features of the SLRS except for interchangeable lens, and are more compact and less expensive. They often provide photos from 5 to 10 megapixels. Like the SLRs, they often allow you to manually adjust shutter and aperture settings for more advanced photography. Yet like both other camera types, they have settings for certain situations as beaches or action. Most people just use the automatic settings which have become quite advanced in properly assessing lighting and other details.

One feature I look for on any digital camera is user-friendly buttons and software. Try them out and see if you can easily find the features (such as changing settings, and how to delete photos) using the buttons and menu screens.

In addition to a camera, you might consider a tripod. This is especially useful for photos taken in lower light or night, shots with the zoom lens as of wildlife in the garden, and shots you want to enlarge.

Cameras store all the photos on memory cards. These may vary with brand of camera, and can be expensive particularly for those that hold many hundred photos. If you are away from a computer for any time, or take lots of photos, you might consider a second memory card or more. Many of these can be plugged directly into new computers, or adapters purchased separately, to download photos quickly.

Cameras come with the software to put on your computer, and cable, if you want to download photos this way. Some cameras can even use wireless software to download photos to special printers and computers without any wires or removing the memory card. Or you can just take the memory card to a photo store to print for you.

There are many more features and related items you might want to consider, but a good idea is a camera case. Many cameras come with them, and this may be sufficient for point and shoot cameras, but you may want a larger bag for carrying extra batteries, notepads and other personal items.

Since all these cameras are basically mini computers, which have a limited life, keep in mind when buying them they likely will not last as the previous 35mm ones often did. Being electronic they are susceptible to the typical “electronic issues”, so if your store offers a service plan this may be worth considering.

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