Feb 01 2011

Afloat With the Canon PowerShot SD1200 IS Digital ELPH:
A Photomontage by Pat McKay

Those of us who’ve been bitten by the photo bug have a regrettable tendency to look down upon inexpensive, point‑and‑shoot cameras. This is understandable, I suppose. Having sunk many hundreds (or thousands) of dollars into our equipment, we don’t warm to the notion that part of this investment was unnecessary. (It’s not just shutterbugs who are so inclined, of course. Serious cyclists are equally prone to belittling “bike-shaped objects”—the inexpensive bikes sold in places like Walmart. But that’s a subject for another time.) So it’s good to be reminded occasionally that the camera doesn’t make the shot. The photographer does. The best camera in the world won’t yield world-class photos unless the person framing the shot and squeezing the shutter knows what he (or she) is doing. Conversely, a skillful photographer can capture beautiful images with the most inexpensive of tools. Does this mean that the technical quality of the images from the inexpensive camera will equal that of images from professional equipment? Of course not. But good numbers aren’t the same thing as good shots. It’s a matter of making the most of what you’ve got.

Here’s a for‑instance. Pat McKay’s work has appeared on these pages before. An enthusiastic cyclist and paddler, he’s also a keen photographer. But when family business took him to Florida not long ago, he didn’t pack his digital SLR. In fact, he even left his compact point‑and‑shoot Canon G11 behind. Then he had an unexpected opportunity to take a short paddle through Florida’s Trout Creek Park on the Hillsborough River. He jumped at the chance, of course, and not wanting to miss any opportunity for a shot, he borrowed his wife Kitty’s inexpensive Canon PowerShot SD1200 IS Digital ELPH, just in case.

As things turned out, he was glad he did. So was I. And so will you be, too. Here’s a sample of Pat’s photos from the trip, beginning with three shots of a foraging little blue heron:

Pat McKay Little Blue Heron

Pat McKay Little Blue Heron

Pat McKay Little Blue Heron

Want a closer look? Just right-click on any photo. Now here’s what Pat has to say about his borrowed camera:

I have to tell you that I’ve gained a whole new level of respect for point‑and‑shoot cameras. Kitty’s Canon PowerShot SD1200 is a very basic point-and-shoot, but I was quite impressed with the quality of the images when I finally had an opportunity to view them on my PC. The only real downside was the lack of reach with just a 3x optical zoom. Still, the little Heritage FeatherLite kayak that I was paddling was quite stealthy, and I was able to drift close enough to wildlife without alarming them, and to catch several nice shots.

Did he notice any other downside? Just one:

The cycle time between shots was a bit frustrating, especially when I was drifting up on a bird or animal. The camera has 3x optical zoom as well as an additional 4x digital zoom. I used the optical zoom several times—as when I took [a] photo of [an] alligator—but I never bothered with the digital zoom. In my experience the images resulting from the use of digital zoom are just too poor to even bother with, and I assumed that it would be the same for this camera.

So… You have to wait a bit between shots, and the optical zoom isn’t the equivalent of a birder’s telephoto. Those are pretty easy limitations to work around, at least in skilled hands. And here’s Pat’s ‘gator shot to prove it:

Pat McKay Alligator

Now here’s a photo where the limitations of the SD1200′s optical zoom loom larger. (Or should that be smaller?) This snowy egret prospecting along the cypress strand is almost, but not quite, lost to sight:

Pat McKay Snowy Egret on the Edge

But the photo still works. It’s well composed and perfectly framed, and the white egret stands out brilliantly against the dark wood and shadowed water. Now here are some larger subjects for comparison:

Pat McKay Sand Hill Crane

Pat McKay Sand Hill Crane

Pat McKay Sand Hill Crane

These sandhill cranes weren’t shy, and Pat was able to get close enough to them to capture every detail of their plumage. Pretty striking, eh?

An old saying has it that only a poor workman blames his tools. A skilled craftsman never needs to apologize, however. He can do good work with almost anything. And Pat McKay has shown us just what can be accomplished with a simple, inexpensive point‑and‑shoot camera. A pro will want more, of course. But for web publication and documentary work, a pocket camera like the Canon PowerShot SD1200 IS Digital ELPH is more than adequate. In skilled hands, that is…

Pat McKay Canon Elph

Thanks, Pat! Your Florida photos make restful viewing for my sore, snow‑blind eyes. Spring can’t come too soon.

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