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What to look for in a camera for miniature photography?

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#1
Exilyth

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I've got no camera.

Trying to fix that issue I went to several local electronics stores and looked through the digital camera aisles.

But now I'm completely overwhelmed by what's on offer. unsure.png

 

 

So, what should I look for when picking a (digital) camera for miniature photography?

 

 

I know I should probably go for something with a high resolution.

I also know I should go for optical zoom over digital zoom (since you just can not get more information from the same amount of sensor data).

 

Macro-mode seems to be a feature on some cameras for photographing small objects - is that usefull?

Different cams use different sensors, e.g. cmos vs ccd, what's the dis-/advantage of each sensor type?

 

 

What else is there I absolutely need to know before shopping around for a (digital) camera?


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#2
Subtle Discord

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Up front I'll just say that this is my subjective opinion and by no means gospel. I'm not a professional photographer but I've been taking pictures for decades including darkroom work, so I do have a strong working knowledge of the settings and process that will matter.

 

Key things I'd look for:

  • A good 'Manual' mode
  • A macro function
  • Ability to shoot in RAW image format
  • Built-in flash
  • Tripod mount
  • AA or AAA battery operation

 

I'm usually not a brand loyalist and use whatever brand provides the features and function I need, no matter what the product is. That said, I've preferred Canon cameras for decades because they've got the right feature set for small studio (aka: miniature) photography. I've tried other brands and was always disappointed where Canon just gets it right every time.

 

Notice that I didn't mention resolution. Put simply, it doesn't matter. Unless you're interested in blowing your images up to wall poster size any modern camera resolution will be more than enough. I guarantee if you're going to take some time to resize images and do a bit of cropping (highly recommended) you'll be shrinking the image down from the beginning resolution. Heck, save money and buy an older model if it's got all the practical features that are more important than resolution. I'd also say the same for getting too hung up on sensor technology or any major jargon intended to sell product and not really much else; unless you're a professional who will demand a crazy high standard the technology today of any reputable company should be more than enough for your needs.

 

The vast majority of cameras today will be powered by proprietary battery packs; they're easy profit for a company (markup on them is nuts!) and a simple way to create planned obsolescence in a product (discontinue the battery and the camera needs to be replaced as well, isn't that convenient) so companies are all doing it now. If possible, a camera that operates on AA or AAA batteries is very useful because it's so easy to have a large supply of batteries on hand and swap them out. Otherwise, do yourself a favor and get an extra battery if you don't want to be stuck as a battery dies at a bad time.

 

Check the images of the camera, be sure it has a tripod mounting screw hole in the bottom. Most cameras will have them, but some point-and-shoot cameras are meant to be kept in a pocket and never mounted on a tripod. Even if you don't use one now they are very easy to get at a low-cost so it's a logical piece of equipment to get and something I'd consider all-but mandatory really.

 

Having a flash isn't critical if you're willing to light your subject well, but if you can't get the best lighting they can compensate sometimes. Not as useful if you're getting in really close but a nice option to have if you're shooting a larger group of models. Even with good lighting sometimes a flash helps the contrast and/or colour with the minimal effort of turning it on.

 

Most modern cameras will have the option to take RAW images which will be larger but more colour accurate. I'm currently using an older camera that can't shoot RAW images and it really does tend to oversaturate and alter the tone of some colours and that's a known side-effect of the compression that's used. Again, this is subjective and depends on how hung up you are on colour accuracy, but having the option, even if you don't use it, is nice.

 

A Macro mode is a must in this case and zoom simply does not matter. Optical zoom is what you want in any case, but it's moot with miniature photographs; it's all about the macro. Without a Macro mode, the camera can't focus when you get in nice and close so you'll need to shoot from a distance and crop lots of dead space. Getting in to showcase details also becomes all but impossible without Macro.

 

The real key is if the camera has a Manual mode, and for me, this is where Canon leaves other cameras behind; even if they do offer a Manual mode, it's usually not as robust and functional as Canon cameras. Auto mode is still useful and you'll shoot with it all the time, but when you really want to put a camera on a tripod and get some lights around a model and get in close to really take some good photos, you want a good Manual mode so you can control the settings. It's not as intuitive as using a 35mm camera but Canon gives the user access to all the key settings that will offer you complete control, even in many/most of their point-and-shoot 'PowerShot' models. Note: it may seem daunting, but really it's just a few settings and a general understanding of a few concepts; I'll try to gloss over it quickly but anything I'm vague on can easily be added on with a Google search and a bit of research about photography.

 

The key functions that Canon cameras let the user control that matter to me are, the Auto Focus, ISO, Shutter Speed, and Aperture Size (F-Stop). There are other ones that are also nice but they're not as key as these four.

 

Auto Focus: AF is usually a great function and it get used most of the time. However, it's also stupid sometimes and simply refuses to focus correctly, especially at short ranges on in complex compositions. Being able to turn it off and adjust the Focus manually in those times that you want to is very useful.

 

ISO: This controls how much light is needed to create the image; this is a setting that the camera will change considerably when in Auto mode in order to take good photos in different lighting situations. A low ISO setting needs more light to create the image (important in conjunction with the next two settings) but it will also produce a better image that is noticeably sharper; high ISO lets you shoot in low light but the images become noticeably grainy for all sorts of reasons that don't matter here beyond the fact that you want to be able to manually adjust the ISO so it stays low. You will adjust the light with the other two settings to work with the chosen ISO, as well as control the depth of field, but more on that in a second.

 

Shutter Speed: How long the digital shutter stays open to expose the image. This is one of the key settings to have control over the Depth of Field in an image (read: how much of the image will be in focus); a small Depth of Field and the background and foreground are out of focus and a large Depth of Field will have the whole scene in focus - sometimes you'll want one and sometimes you'll want the other. When you get in close to miniatures it becomes a bit trickier to control the Depth of Field because of the short distances you're working with and slowing the shutter speed so you can let more light in is key.

 

Apature Size (F-Stop): Also a digital setting in today's cameras this is what the aperture used to do in mechanical cameras. It's a tug of war between this and Shutter Speed when photographing miniatures; you want a small aperture (read: less light) to get a nice large Depth of Field so all of the model (and maybe its companions) is in focus, but that means you need to slow the shutter speed down so much to let light in that any handshake will ruin every photograph. Solution: mount the camera on a tripod, push the F-Stop all the way up, and then use the Shutter Speed to get the right light level. A very slow shutter speed will be needed so a tripod becomes a necessity.

 

With the odd terminology and the sometimes not-so-obvious effects that some settings can have it can deem a bit daunting and hard to grasp, but once you take some test photos with a basic understanding of the settings and then experiment a little it quickly becomes obvious and simple to do. Make sure whatever camera you get lets you control these basic functions in Manual mode and you'll have the control you're looking for to take photos of this kind of subject matter. It doesn't need to be a high-end DSLR with a large price tag if you can control these settings manually and mount the camera on a tripod.


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#3
TheOneTrueZon

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Macro-mode seems to be a feature on some cameras for photographing small objects - is that usefull?

 

 

Be extremely careful with any kind of camera that has a built in lens claiming to have this function. Bottom line is you can't really put a good multi-purpose lens inside a compact camera, and the macro function is a software based zoom that will have some really crazy artifacts and image degredation. 

 

The Canon Rebel SL1 is a great camera, and there's a ton of after-market & used Marco lenses that will fit that body.


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#4
azn.gamer

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A lot of solid advice here, but my first question is what quality of photos are you looking to capture...?  I ask b/c the following is a photo that's scaled down and shown at actual image size from my iPhone SE and I don't use a light box or anything fancy.  I have a minor in photo journalism, and hate seeing people spend money on a camera when they don't have to.
 

Spoiler


Edited by azn.gamer, 01 August 2018 - 04:31 PM.

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#5
Exilyth

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Mhh - I seem to have run out of likes for today, so I'll like all your posts tomorrow. done.
 

  • A good 'Manual' mode
  • A macro function
  • Ability to shoot in RAW image format
  • Built-in flash
  • Tripod mount
  • AA or AAA battery operation

That's a good list to keep in mind and your explanations are really helpfull. Thank you. *takes notes*
 

It doesn't need to be a high-end DSLR with a large price tag if you can control these settings manually and mount the camera on a tripod.

Being a student, I'm rather limited in my finances, so every bit of information that helps keep the price down while keeping quality the same or higher is appreciated.
 

Be extremely careful with any kind of camera that has a built in lens claiming to have this function. Bottom line is you can't really put a good multi-purpose lens inside a compact camera, and the macro function is a software based zoom that will have some really crazy artifacts and image degredation. 
 
The Canon Rebel SL1 is a great camera, and there's a ton of after-market & used Marco lenses that will fit that body.

Indeed. So, a changeable objective could influence the quality of pictures taken. I'm not sure if such a feature is available in the low-mid prize segment, but it's definately something to look out for. *takes more notes*
 

A lot of solid advice here, but my first question is what quality of photos are you looking to capture...?  I ask b/c the following is a photo that's scaled down and shown at actual image size from my iPhone SE and I don't use a light box or anything fancy.  I have a minor in photo journalism, and hate seeing people spend money on a camera when they don't have to.

That image is 900px × 1.200px in size and looks great. What was the original resolution?
I could live with a quality similar to that, so if you could provide some more advice, please do.


Edited by Exilyth, 04 August 2018 - 08:48 PM.

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and if I had a camera, I'd post some pictures of them.


#6
azn.gamer

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I may have used my actual digital camera for that SM, but it's nothing fancy or pricey (Sony WX350).  However, the photos taken Here (scroll down to the Black Shield) were taken with my iPhone SE.  The lighting is poor b/c I didn't bother using a decent source.  I cannot stress enough that having a proper light source aka enough light is monumentally important.  I'm not sure what smartphone you have or if you do, but most of them are at least 10megapixel which is MORE than enough.
 
The iPhone SE isn't fancy, and to that point - smartphone camera quality varies a bit, but any flagship phone and/or major brand has a decent enough camera that generally suits most people's needs when used properly.
 
ALWAYS make sure you're resting your hand on something stable - I generally use my desk chair to steady myself.  If you've ever fired a gun before, you quickly see how much you move even when trying to remain still.
 
A few quick caveats:
  • Manual mode - great if you KNOW how to use it, if you never bother learning the basics to photography & your camera - it won't help
  • RAW images - I'm not disputing the image quality b/c there's no debate, but for miniatures - overkill even if you're entering them into photo contests
  • Built in flash - pretty standard, but I never use when when taking pictures of my minis b/c it's too easy to wash out the colors & creates harsh shadows
I'm not opposed to any of those suggestions, but unless you plan to take up photography as a hobby itself - I wouldn't worry about most of them.  IF your smartphone won't cut it, and you want to buy a camera for this, lmk your budget and I'll make a few recommendations.

Edited by azn.gamer, 02 August 2018 - 04:11 PM.

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#7
Captain_Krash

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What about a camera for filming? Do they hold the same constraints as a camera for just taking pictures?

 

Would an I phone SE be able to film just as well as a camera?

 

Krash


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#8
azn.gamer

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What about a camera for filming? Do they hold the same constraints as a camera for just taking pictures?

 

Would an I phone SE be able to film just as well as a camera?

 

Krash

Wish I could help here, but not something I have any experience with.


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#9
Guiltysparc

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Not to take away from all of the great advice regarding real-deal cameras, but I took this with my Galaxy S8 in auto mode:

https://photos.app.g...Wjqjg5nycQvjYG6

If you have good lighting and a stable base (ie, tripod, or other kind of base), the camera on your phone will take pretty great pics of minis.
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#10
NiceGuyAdi

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Krash, if you’re looking for a camera that shoots video and does stills, you’re better off with a stills camera. I use a Sony A6300 for work (shoots nice UHD video), but it’s mainly built as a stills camera. The more recent photos in my WiP are taken with it.

However you probably don’t want to be dropping thousands of pounds/dollars/euros on kit, so I’ll reiterate what others have said and say having a stable shooting base, good lighting setup and a will to learn how to photograph miniatures will get your further than a very expensive camera will on its own.
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#11
Exilyth

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 I'm not sure what smartphone you have or if you do

I've got no smartphone. A phone bill is one of the running costs I can live without. I usually meet people on the campus irl or communicate via instant messenger or e-mail. Also there are no studies on the long term effects of mobile device radiation on the human body yet. But back to topic - I can certainly see the appeal of having some pocket sized 'all-in-one' device.

 

ALWAYS make sure you're resting your hand on something stable - I generally use my desk chair to steady myself.

If you have good lighting and a stable base (ie, tripod, or other kind of base), the camera on your phone will take pretty great pics of minis.

having a stable shooting base, good lighting setup and a will to learn how to photograph miniatures will get your further than a very expensive camera will on its own.

I see. *takes notes*

 

With my (fairly limited) knowledge (and some online research), I'd probably be able to get a simple three-light lighting setup running.

I've got a large roll of paper lying around (and some ducktape), so a neutral background wouldn't be a problem.

I could use the open source program 'the gimp' for after-editing (e.g. white balance & color correction), but that's probably not as important as getting the lighting right.

 

What else would I need to know about photography?


Edited by Exilyth, 04 August 2018 - 09:24 PM.

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and if I had a camera, I'd post some pictures of them.


#12
NiceGuyAdi

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Here’s a few tips particular to photographing miniatures, from my perspective. Points 3 and 4 are more applicable to cameras with a manual option.

1. use a tripod. Failing that prop the camera up on books/a small beanbag.
2. shoot using the sweet spot on the zoom for the lens (you can look this up as it’s always different, but it won’t be at max wide or max zoom)
3. setting the sensor to minimum sensitivity (usually about ISO 100) to reduce noise
4. ‘stop down’ the aperture so you can get the whole miniature in focus. On a DSLR this would mean shooting about f/8 to f/11 which is normally what you would use for landscape photography. If you shot at, say f/4, you’d be able to get the face in focus, but not the weapon or backpack
5. Keep your lights at a distance from the miniatures will ‘soften’ their effect, creating a more even light on them and leaving fewer harsh shadows.
6. 3, 4 and 5 make 1 more important, A’s the camera will need to have a long exposure, and you won’t be able to hold the camera still enough to stop it blurring
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#13
Exilyth

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I just found out stackexchange has a subsite dedicated to photography:

https://photo.stacke...ions?sort=votes


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and if I had a camera, I'd post some pictures of them.


#14
Interrogator Stobz

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Here’s a few tips particular to photographing miniatures, from my perspective. Points 3 and 4 are more applicable to cameras with a manual option.

1. use a tripod. Failing that prop the camera up on books/a small beanbag.
2. shoot using the sweet spot on the zoom for the lens (you can look this up as it’s always different, but it won’t be at max wide or max zoom)
3. setting the sensor to minimum sensitivity (usually about ISO 100) to reduce noise
4. ‘stop down’ the aperture so you can get the whole miniature in focus. On a DSLR this would mean shooting about f/8 to f/11 which is normally what you would use for landscape photography. If you shot at, say f/4, you’d be able to get the face in focus, but not the weapon or backpack
5. Keep your lights at a distance from the miniatures will ‘soften’ their effect, creating a more even light on them and leaving fewer harsh shadows.
6. 3, 4 and 5 make 1 more important, A’s the camera will need to have a long exposure, and you won’t be able to hold the camera still enough to stop it blurring

 

This is good, as is much of the other Frater's advice.

 

-Get the camera low and aim upwards when possible

 

-ALWAYS USE THE CAMERA TIMER!!! ergo always use a camera support.

 

-My extra 2c would be to learn a bit about the AV and TV settings, Aperture Priority makes for fantastic moody pics, it's like telling the camera to focus on the good stuff and is a step easier than full manual.

https://expertphotog...-priority-mode/

 

 

But like they say: It's not what you've got, it's what you do with it...

 

 

 

 

...I'm a converted Canon fan now though.


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