Sunday, November 4, 2012

Cameras: An Incomplete Introduction

A few days back, a friend asked me for a bit of advice on selecting a new camera as a means to get into the art of photography. In my opinion, it was a question that could not be answered without (obviously!) asking a few questions of my own. I've had similar requests before, and I think it is about time I write down a basic introduction to cameras and related gear, so that I can use it for my own reference, as well as point others to it.

Please note that this article is simply the way I view the different cameras out there and how I would possibly use them. Also note that this is written from an enthusiast photographer's perspective. I'll keep updating this post from time to time. Feel free to point out any corrections. If you have anything to contribute to this post, let me know and I'll consider adding it in.

Some terms used in this article may not make sense unless the reader is acquainted with photography terminology. Questions are more than welcome, ask in the comments section!

So without further ado, let us get started...


Cameras can be classified into two main groups, Fixed-Lens cameras and Interchangeable-Lens cameras. The former group, as the name implies, have lenses that cannot be detached/changed/replaced, while the latter group enjoys the flexibility of using a variety of lenses for different purposes.

The Fixed-Lens group can be divided into three further groups: Basic Point & Shoot, Bridge/Prosumer and Advanced Compact.

Basic Point & Shoot Cameras

These cameras offer the user the most basic of photo-taking features. Most are small, light, and easily pocketable. Besides a number of effects presets and scene modes, these cameras offer the user few manual options, if any. A few are outfitted with special features, such as water and shock proofing.

P&S cameras are usually equipped with a zoom lens within a 24-150mm (35mm equivalent) range. They may have a minimum focus distance as low as 2cm (5cm seems to be the norm, according to the random camera specs I checked). Prices are usually $65 and above, depending on features.

If you have a decent camera-phone, a Point & Shoot can potentially give you a better lens with optical zoom, but does not offer major image quality improvements (unless you start pixel peeping). I used to be a firm believer in the idea that camera-phones could not match dedicated cameras - until I got an HTC One S. Now my Panasonic Lumix FX150 barely sees any use, unless I need it for some of its special talents.

There is a rather large variety of P&S cameras to choose from. Examples would include the budget Sony Cybershot WX50 and the water-and-shock-proof Olympus Tough TG-1 iHS. There are also other cameras which sit on the fence and may have enough features to stray into the bridge camera or the advanced compact territory (such as the Panasonic Lumix DMC-SZ1 or the Canon Powershot S110).

Bridge (aka Prosumer) Cameras

Bridge (also known as prosumer) cameras occupy the ground between P&S cameras and interchangeable lens systems (hence the name, bridge). They are sized accordingly; most are smaller than traditional DSLRs. Generally, these cameras offer the user more than a fair bit of manual control over exposure (aperture, shutter, ISO), and higher-end models may offer extra customization options and controls.

Bridge cameras usually offer an all-rounder lens with both wide-angle and telephoto features. Some are known as "ultra-zooms" since they are equipped with lenses having a very wide focal length range (optical zoom). To my knowledge, the Canon Powershot SX50 HS currently offers the highest zoom ratio; a 24-1200mm (35mm equivalent) lens, 50X. Such high zoom ratios are achieved by using smaller sensors (the digital equivalent of film) compared to most interchangeable lens systems.

In my opinion, bridge cameras were more relevant in the days when there was little variety among DSLRs (not to mention that they were super expensive). However, with the advent of cheap entry-level DSLRs (and lenses), I would recommend bridge cameras for people not interested in investing in a system and want a camera that can (in general) cater to all occasions.

A few bridge cameras in the market today: Sony Cybershot HX200VPanasonic Lumix LZ20Nikon Coolpix P510.

Advanced Compacts

Of all the fixed lens cameras, advanced compacts are my personal favorite. What makes them so enticing is their (often) larger sensors, abundant manual controls, and, relatively fast lenses, all inside a compact and flat package. Most (if not all) can shoot in a RAW format, which allows for more flexibility and control in the editing process.

Advanced compacts are mostly equipped with a fast zoom lens, such as the Canon Powershot G15 with its (35mm equivalent) 28-140mm f/1.8-2.8 lens. A few specialized cameras have fixed focal length lenses, like the new Sony Cybershot RX1 or the Sigma DP1 Merrill. Some of them are also equipped with a hotshoe for accessories such as flash units or wireless flash triggers.

When looking for an advanced compact, the main feature I would ponder over is the size of the sensor. To give an idea, here's a picture of sensor sizes overlaid, courtesy of Wikipedia. To put things in a bit of a perspective, most P&S and bridge cameras have a 1/2.3" sensor.

Sensor Size Comparison - Courtesy of Wikipedia

Some time ago, the advanced compact category was dominated by the Canon G-Series, with the only other option (as I recall) being one of the Panasonic LX cameras. However, the past couple of years have seen more manufacturers jumping in the fray, so now, there are quite a few options to choose from Some advanced compacts and their sensor sizes (sorted by ascending Sensor Size):

Canon Powershot S110 - 1/1.7"
Canon Powershot G15 - 1/1.7"
Nikon Coolpix P7700 - 1/1.7"
Panasonic Lumix LX7 - 1/1.7"
Olympus XZ-2 iHS - 1/1.7"
Fujifilm X10 - 2/3"
Sony Cybershot RX100 - 1"
Canon Powershot G1X - APS-C
Fujifilm X100 - APS-C
Sigma DP1 Merrill - APS-C
Sony Cybershot RX1 - Full Frame

With the plethora of features available to them, advanced compacts can generally handle most photographic scenarios within the "normal" focal length range. In my opinion, they are best for enthusiasts looking for high-end features in a compact package, or system camera users looking for a backup camera (for those events where you just can't lug around your camera gear!)

(Coming Soon)

Mirrorless Cameras
(Coming Soon)

Keep reading ...

Sunday, October 21, 2012

What's up? Not Much

Hello there folks! It's been quite a while since my last post, hasn't it? Didn't really have much on my hands today, so felt like it was a good time for an update...

You may have noticed a few changes to the general layout of the blog. Added in some extra stuff, such as being able to account for multiple screen resolutions, and a newer social media widget (still needs a bit of tweaking). Post summaries (snippets) are now on the main page for easier scanning. Removed some stuff from the sidebar that didn't add much to the blog. Hoping to add some dedicated photography-based content to the main flow of things.

I am still in the redesign process, so expect to see some changes in the upcoming days. Like it, hate it? Let me know in the comments.

So... on with the story of my life within the past 3 months...

The last few weeks of Spring 2012 were pretty crazy. Hot weather, assignments, projects and finally, the exams. Particularly the final exams. In terms of academics, there are few feelings worse than getting bulldozed by an exam of a course that was your best/favorite of the term. Anyways, I pulled through, though my overall average definitely took a hit...

An Excerpt from CS246 Course Notes. And a Kinder Rhino © Osama Sidat

After the exhausting term, I definitely needed a vacation. I was able to fly back home for Eid-ul-Fitr! Never has a two-week break been that welcome...

Got back to Canada on September 2, started work at Loblaw 2 days later. It was kind of same, yet way too different at the same time. I was able to hit the ground running due to my past experience, but because of all the ongoing action in my project, at times it feels like being airdropped in the midst of battle... Nevertheless, I like my work life way more than my academic life...

My Project 365 is still going pretty strong... I may have stated earlier, the HTC One S produces pretty good results, as far as lighting is good. My Panasonic Lumix compact is rarely seeing any action these days...

Here are some of my Project 365 shots. Check out the rest here.

The Banks of Laurel Creek  © Osama Sidat
Mom's Marzipan Cake  © Osama Sidat
Rubik's Cube © Osama Sidat
Loblaw Inc. © Osama Sidat
Speaking of photography, I recently upgraded my camera system, since my beloved 5-year old Sony Alpha was starting to show its age. Will do a write-up about this in a later post... probably... Here's a sneak peek:

The New Star © Osama Sidat
... and a link of photos: The New Star.

I guess thats all for now. Until next time...

Take Care.

Keep reading ...

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Summer in Waterloo

In my last post, I detailed my life during the my work term. I just realized that almost two months have passed by since then, and I am roughly 4 weeks away from the end of lectures for the Spring 2012 term.

Since I have already arranged to go back to Loblaw for my next work term, this term I did not have to go through the usual pain endured by UWaterloo co-op students, commonly known as JobMine. That move, I believe, was for the best, since my current courses do not appear to be pulling back any punches.

Academically speaking, this term might turn out to be my most turbulent yet. Started off with a standard set of five courses, Linear Algebra II (that I had been trying to avoid so far), Intro to Actuarial Mathematics, Intro to Combinatorics, and two computer science courses covering Logic & Computation and Software Abstraction and Specification.

The actuarial science course started off well. The instructor pointed out that only those who find this course interesting should ideally continue on the path of an actuary. Truth be told, the content in the first couple of weeks or so was fairly interesting. However, the number of formulas kept increasing and the content steadily started becoming more boring...

Meanwhile, Linear Algebra II... now this one was a constant thorn in my side. I wouldn't blame the instructor... the content just flew way over my head. Went into the midterm having little to no idea about I would fare in the exam... Saw the math adviser afterwards, and agreed with his idea that the best course of action would be to drop the course, to avoid taking any hits to my average...

Combinatorics has some neat applications (especially when thinking in terms of CS), interesting enough that the proofs and computations were bearable. The Logic course was something that I had been dreading (due to nightmarish stories by former students of the course) but it turned out to be better than the others, mostly because we have an excellent instructor (compared to profs who usually teach this course). The programming course remains my favorite to date. I accept that it has its high-stress moments, but there is this unique sense of achievement when you complete a CS246 assignment, unlike my other courses...

The way I saw it, CS steadily became more appealing to me while my interest in actuarial science declined. Not the best idea to pursue a career in which I am not interested. Therefore I decided that some important decisions were in order.

Here's how it goes: I started off pursuing Actuarial Science. In the 2A term, I turned towards a Joint ActSci-CS. Finally, 2B, I decided to let go of ActSci, and put my efforts into pursuing CS. Let's see how things go from this point forward.

Enough about academics. On to happier stuff.

Recently (well, not really recently) I have started actively following all sorts of tech developments, especially in terms of consumer products (phones, tablets, PCs and the like). I've found that Twitter is an excellent platform for this type of thing. I've been following a Canadian tech blog, Techvibes, which held a giveaway for an HTC One S. And I won!

Here are some pictures of my new phone (close-up shots since I have no inclination to show off the clutter on my desk!)

HTC One S - The Box
HTC One S - The Front I
HTC One S - The Front II
HTC One S - The Back I
HTC One S - The Back II
The HTC One S currently has Android 4.0.x Ice Cream Sandwich installed, with HTC's Sense 4.0 UI. Initially, the phone was locked to Telus (I am on contract with Fido). Took me a few hours to root it and extract the unlock code (didn't feel like paying for it), thanks to a few excellent tutorials online. See the end of post for links to the tutorials I used.

So far, using Android has been a rather enjoyable experience, especially compared to my older BlackBerry Curve. Compared to iOS, it is highly customizable, but I feel that there is a certain "roughness" about it, something not really present in iOS. Currently, I have multiple operating systems co-existing across different devices... really enjoying the variety.

The camera on the HTC One S is awesome! Plus, it has a pretty decent built-in photo editing app. I recently started a Project 365 with the phone.

Here a few shots from the project, the rest of which can be followed here

Biology Buildings, UWaterloo © Osama Sidat
Apple Stabbed © Osama Sidat
I just hope that HTC provides an Android 4.1 Jelly Bean update for the One S soon.

Went to Canada's Wonderland last Saturday. Had a awesome time! Rode the Leviathan, Canada's tallest and fastest roller-coaster

The Leviathan at Canada's Wonderland © Osama Sidat

The weather is pretty hot these days (I know, I know, 36 degrees isn't exactly that hot, but still, coming from a negative 20, it is). Recently replaced my stand fan... the new one's much more powerful, and blows around every bit of paper (or any lightweight thing, for that matter) in the room. Fun...

Well, I guess that's all I have for this post. Can't think of anything else to write here.

Until next time...

Take Care.

Links for HTC One S Rooting and Unlocking:

Thanks to all of the authors of the instructions in the links above!

I used a combination of all of the above instructions, additionally Googling whenever I got stuck (or when something did not appear to work). Bear in mind that you risk bricking your phone.
Note 1: For some reason, I had to root the phone twice before it was properly rooted.
Note 2: In the last link, the author uses the Terminal Emulator within the phone. I was not able to use that, so I used an alternative method which involved connecting the phone via USB to my netbook, and executing the relevant commands through the Linux shell terminal. Unfortunately, I did not document the exact procedure.
Keep reading ...

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Life during the Winter 2012 Work Term

It's been quite a while since my last post. Not that I was totally busy or anything... just far too lazy to sit down and write something!

Last time, I mentioned that I would be starting work in the following week. Started off in Loblaw on January 3 (from what i remember). Honestly, in the beginning, I was unsure of the role I would be playing in the team I was part of. In the early days, I moved around quite bit. First week, frequently changed seats on the main floor, next few weeks in the basement, and then back up again. To most, this would be an annoyance, as it would require moving your stuff to a new place every other day. I kinda liked it, since it gave me the chance to meet different people on the project, and also kept my work from getting monotonous... Over time, things became clearer, and I was able to see how the stuff I worked on impacted others within and outside my team.

Working in such an environment felt quite new to me. No more fretting about course assignments or midterms on a 24 hours a day, 7 days a week basis. Sure, some tasks at work were more grilling than others. But the best part was being able to leave work at the workplace at the end of the day, and being free of anything to do with work until the next morning.

A Mug of Hot Chocolate © Osama Sidat
A significant part of my experience was that I was blessed with an awesome boss and a great team! They were able to challenge my skills, and help me improve upon them, each in their own way. I learned a lot! If they are reading this (they know who they are), this is for all of them: I really appreciate all you did :)

Whenever I was during a thinking process at work (or feeling a bit bored), I worked on this doodle. It grew over time...

My Epic Doodle! © Osama Sidat
Got a pretty decent place to live in Brampton. Nice house-mates, and by far, the cleanest place I've lived in, in my four terms here in Canada.

Since I had a greater arsenal of cooking utensils available at my disposal, I was able to experiment a bit...

Cutting Up a Green Pepper  © Osama Sidat

Penne Pasta with Meat Sauce © Osama Sidat 
Finally restarted gaming on my PC by getting myself Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3. Got through the single-player within 12 hours of buying the game... now just working my way through the multiplayer... (Though it seems that my gaming hours will be drastically cut short, now that I'm back in university.)

COD MW3 © Osama Sidat
Photography during the term was not as frequent. I did experiment with water splashing in a glass. This was made possible by using the glass table-top of my writing table, and borrowing a couple of glasses from the kitchen...

Glass in Water © Osama Sidat
Also got a chance to visit the Toronto AUTO Show. Really wanted to see a Porsche, which unfortunately wasn't there. Of the whole lot, my favorite was the concept showed off by BMW:

BMW Concept Car © Osama Sidat
Lately, I've been experimenting with low angle shots with my Panasonic FX-150...

Steeles Avenue, Near Shoppers World, Brampton © Osama Sidat
Returning from Work © Osama Sidat
Oh, and did I mention I was sharing the house with not one, but two cats? Never expected that to happen, I thought I had to bury my love of cats for a long time when I left the ones back home...

Am © Osama Sidat
Ludwig © Osama Sidat
Ludwig was lots of fun... Quite often, I'd find him curled up on my room's windowsill, soaking up the evening rays of sunlight.

Last night I was there, the cats held a meowing competition outside my door at 1.30 a.m., presumably to say goodbye or something...

All in all, it was a wonderful term... Can't wait to go back in September...

As of now, I'm back in Waterloo. Just moved in on Sunday. Had my first classes of the term today. So far, the weather has been a bit rainy and overcast. Will put up a post about my new place and classes and all in a couple of weeks... probably once I've taken some pictures of the room and house, and had a better feel of all my current courses...

I guess this is all for now. Hopefully, I'll have another post up here in a few days (or weeks, hopefully not months this time).

Good Night (or Day)

More of my cooking here
For more photos of the water in glass project, check this
To check out other shots from my low-perspective photo project, see this
Toronto AUTO Show pictures here

More pictures of Ludwig will be up as soon as I'm done with the processing. Keep an eye out on my Facebook photos (or my Twitter feed)

Update: Ludwig's photos have been uploaded! See them here or here.

Keep reading ...