I am often asked to recommend a digital camera for orchid photography. Here are my
thoughts on what is important in a digital camera suitable for taking photos of
orchids. I must warn that this is only my opinion and your needs may vary from my
recommendations. In addition, these recommendations are for general home orchid
photography, not professional photography.
||Not relevant. The only thing you need to know about digital zoom is whether you
can disable it. Most cameras allow you to disable digital zoom.
Digital zoom is a
marketing tool which has little practical use in the real world. Should you wish to use
digital zoom, it is far easier and more flexible to alter the photo on your computer after
the photo is taken.
||Not relevant. Optical zoom is useful for general photography to get close to the
action, but is generally not that useful for orchid photography. It is sometimes
useful for getting in close to those orchids at the back of displays, but in practice,
other factors usually prevent this working.
||Not relevant. Many cameras now come with digital effects like titling, sepia
effect, etc. These features are not relevant for orchid photography and should be
ignored. If you should wish to use such effects, it is much easier and effective to
apply these effects on your computer, not in your camera.
||Not relevant. While most cameras now come with a video mode which can be useful in
general use to video the kids/grandkids, this is not useful for orchid photography.
||Extremely important. If you only wish to photograph large flowers such as
exhibition Cymbidiums, you can do without a good macro, but if you wish to photograph
small flowers, a good macro is essential. Ideally, the macro should be able to
photograph at distances up to 5cm or better to be able to successfully photograph those
||Essential. Many photos you will take will be inside or at night, so a flash is
essential. As you will generally photographing close to the flower, the power of the
flash is not particularly important. Virtually every camera now comes with a flash,
so this part of the requirement should not be a problem.
What is important is to be able
to use the flash with macro. ie. use the flash when very close to the flower. Most
cameras cannot do this. To be able to photograph inside or at night, you must be able
to use the flash with macro. Without this, your camera is only semi-useful.
To easily test the macro flash capability of a camera, take a photo of a ring on your
hand using macro and flash. (A camera will automatically use its flash inside a
camera shop, so just put the camera in macro mode.) Most cameras will wash out the skin to
totally white. A camera which can use flash with macro will photograph the skin tone
Example of good macro photo taken using flash
Example of washed out macro photo taken using flash.
If the camera you are testing cannot take a macro photo of your hand using the flash,
it will not be able to take macro photos of orchids with flash without washing out the
photos. A camera which cannot take macro photos with flash is not particularly useful
for photographing orchids.
||This topic is included more for completeness than necessity. A ring flash is
relatively expensive and used by serious/professional photographers who should know enough
about cameras not to be reading this article.
If you look at the good macro example
photo above, you will see that the hand is not evenly lit. The top of the photo is less
brightly illuminated than the bottom. This is due to this photo being taken with the
camera's inbuilt flash. A camera with a single point flash will always suffer from this
problem when taking macro photos. For home use this uneven illumination is not a problem,
but for serious/professional photographers, this uneven illumination is unacceptable.
To avoid this illumination problem, you require illumination from multiple points
around the lens. You can either use multiple flash units (too bulky for macro photography)
or use a ring flash.
||This is a typical ring flash. (This one, a Phoenix RL-59.)
The flash unit (lower
centre) mounts around the lens while the flash controller unit (upper left) mounts in the
camera hot shoe and is connected to the controller unit by a cable (upper right).
A ring flash mounts around the camera lens and illuminates around its entire
circumference. A ring flash will illuminate the subject evenly from all angles and avoid
the uneven illumination problem experienced with a single point flash. A ring flash,
however, is quite expensive and will only fit a limited range of digital cameras.
||As an alternative to a ring flash, Nikon make a Macro Cool-Light SL-1 (ring light)
which fits some of the Nikon digital cameras. This ring light performs the same
function as a ring flash in that it mounts around the camera lens and evenly illuminates
the macro photo subject. It is not a cheap option at around $300, but it will fix the
uneven illumination problem experienced with a single flash point.
In addition to
providing even illumination, this ring light will illuminate the macro photo subject
allowing the camera to autofocus in low light. Thus, using a ring light will
overcome the lack of autofocus light (see next item) on many Nikon cameras when taking
macro photos. It will not however, overcome the lack of an autofocus light for
If you are serious about your orchid photography, you will need to invest in either a
ring flash or a ring light to provide even illumination of your orchid flowers. Home
photographers should not worry however, as the improvement in illumination is not worth
the additional money.
(If you consider that the uneven illumination of the example macro photo above is a
problem, I do not consider you a typical home photographer and thus, you should not be
following this advice!)
||Essential. When photographing in low light conditions, the autofocus light
illuminates the subject allowing the automatic focus of the camera to operate. This
is an essential feature for photographing at night or in a dim hall as without an
autofocus light, your camera will not be able to focus in low light situations and thus,
you will not be able to take a photo. Most cameras now come with a autofocus light, so
steer clear of any cameras without this feature.
Even after stating an autofocus light
is essential, I add this exception. Most Nikon cameras do not have an autofocus light but
Nikon has done a very good job at allowing their cameras to autofocus in low light
situations. Although I still have some reservations about their autofocus ability in all
low light situations in general use, their low light autofocus ability seems to be
sufficient for use in normal orchid photography situations. Thus, I would not rule out a
Nikon camera (or any other camera without an autofocus light), but definitely check the
reviews closely and do some personal testing on their low light focus ability.
||Essential. An LCD screen to view the photo to be taken is essential. As you
will often be using the macro, you cannot use the viewfinder to align the photo due to
parallax error. You will also need the screen to check the photos after they taken.
Virtually all cameras now come with an LCD screen, so do not consider one which does not.
cameras now have screens which can be swivelled. These are very useful when taking
macro shots at strange angles, but certainly not essential. This is nice to have if
you can afford the extra cost.
||One of the major selling points of cameras today is resolution. Entry level
cameras are now 3 megapixel with 5 megapixel common in low end cameras. Apart from
the hype, resolution is not that important for home orchid photography.
A 2 megapixel
photo is larger that what most computer screens can display. Thus, a photo larger
than 2 megapixel is not required to display the image on the screen. A 2 megapixel
photo can print a normal postcard size photo at the best quality of a professional
printer. Higher megapixel photos cannot print a better quality postcard photo than a two
megapixel postcard photo as the printer is capable of no better.
If you wish to print larger photos, eg. 10 x 8 inch, then a higher megapixel photo is
required to use the maximum quality of a professional printer, 7 megapixel for a 10 x 8
print. (A 2 megapixel photo can be printed 10 x 8, but it will not be printed at the
maximum quality a professional printer is capable of printing. It will be acceptable, but
not quite as good as a 7 megapixel print.)
Thus is summary, for orchid photography, the resolution of the camera you require
depends on the maximum size of photo you wish to print. The formula to use is
Resolution = Photo width (inch) x Photo height (inch) x 0.09
For example, for a 6 by 4 inch print, you calculate
6 x 4 x 0.09 = 2.16
Thus a 2 megapixel camera is sufficient to print a 6 by 4 photo which is all most
people are likely to use for home use.
||Slightly off topic but relevant, is printer resolution. From the resolution discussion
above, it is clear the camera resolution you require depends on printer
resolution. Professional printers generally print at 300 dpi (Dots Per Inch). Home
printers print at around 200 dpi.
Many people will immediately say 'but my printer says
on the box that it prints at 2400 dpi'. This is true, but unfortunately, this is measuring
a different type of dot, so is not comparable. Professional printers print at 300 dpi with
2000 or more colours per dot. Home printers print at numbers like 2400 dpi, but generally
less than 64 colours per dot. Because home printers print much lower colours per
dot, this effectively reduces the real dpi they print, to generally around 200. This
obviously depends on the printer, but they are less than professional printers which print
at 300 dpi. Modern home printers are now getting close in quality to professional
printers, so if you assume 300dpi for all printer resolution, you won't go too far wrong.
||One aspect you might not consider is the strength of the battery door. As
digital camera consume batteries very quickly, you will be regularly removing the
batteries to recharge. Thus, the battery door will be opened and closed regularly.
many cameras have cheap fragile battery doors. If the door breaks, there is little
that can be done but buy another camera as most cameras are not worth repairing.
Have a good look at the battery door and steer clear of cheap flimsy door construction.
||As digital cameras use batteries very quickly, a spare set of batteries is very
useful. Rechargeable batteries are essential.
Many cameras use proprietary rechargeable
batteries but many use standard AA or AAA batteries. Standard batteries are more
convenient as they are cheaper to purchase than proprietary batteries and in an emergency,
you can use standard alkaline batteries purchased from almost any store to keep you
The use of NiMh or Li-Ion rechargeable batteries is strongly recommended. (Check you
camera battery compatibility in the manual before purchasing batteries.) Most digital
cameras either come with NiMh or Li-Ion or can use them. NiCad rechargeable
batteries are not recommended due to their memory effects, but very few cameras now come
with NiCad batteries.
DO NOT use rechargeable Alkaline batteries in your digital camera.
These are fine for many uses, but they are not suitable for digital cameras and you will
find that these batteries will only power your camera for a few seconds after being
||Virtually, all digital cameras store their photos on memory cards. Most cameras come
with memory when purchased, but this is usually only enough for 4 or 5 photos, not enough
for practical use. Thus, you will need to purchase additional memory with your camera.
are currently 3 popular memory standards, CF (Compact Flash), XD and Sony Memory Stick.
Each performs the same function as the others, but all are incompatible. You will need to
purchase the correct memory type to suit your camera. CF memory is about half the price of
XD and Memory Stick memory, so a camera using CF memory will have a price advantage when
purchasing memory. CF memory retails for about $1 per megabyte while XD and Sony Memory
stick retail for around $2 per megabyte. (Memory prices change regularly, so this is only
a very rough guide.)
Memory cards come in sizes in Megabytes of 8, 16, 32, 64, 128, 256 and 512. Memory
cards can be interchanged like film cassettes in a film camera, so you can use multiple
memory cards in the one camera if you wish.
To an estimate of how much memory is required, you need to use this formula.
Memory = Camera Resolution x Photo Count x 0.5
This formula is not exact as many factors affect the 0.5 factor, but this gives a rough
indication of the amount of memory required.
For example, for a 5 megapixel camera storing 100 photos will need approximately
5 x 100 x 0.5 = 250
Thus, a 5 megapixel camera needs approximately 250Mbytes of memory to store 100 photos.
You would need to purchase a 256Mbyte memory card for this camera to store 100 photos.
||Another aspect of concern is photo quality. Photo quality is due to lens quality,
CCD quality and electronic processing. There are many web sites devoted to camera
photo quality should you wish to do the research, but basically, all digital cameras now
take extremely good quality photos, so this should not be a major concern for home use.
||All other aspects of a digital cameras are basically personal preference.
Thus, in my opinion, the most important qualities of a digital camera for orchid
photography is a good macro and the ability to use flash with macro.
When I investigated cameras for my use, I only found one camera which meet these
criteria, the Canon A200. This camera is a bottom end (sub $300) 2 megapixel camera
from Canon, which is now unfortunately obsolete. Despite it's low cost, this is an
excellent camera taking good orchid photos in all conditions. If you should find one
of these cameras, I would highly recommend it for orchid photography.
Digital cameras are improving very quickly with new models released all the time, so
there are probably other cameras which can do the job by now, or soon will be. If you are
after a higher end camera, some of the Nikon cameras which take a Cool-Light look very
interesting. Frequent your local camera shop, ask lots of questions, read the reviews,
think seriously about what features you really want and don't be railroaded into
purchasing a top end camera if you only want bottom end features. (There is a lot to be
said for the modern point and click photography. Do not pay for high end manual
control overrides unless you are a serious photographer who wishes to use these manual
settings.) If you do your homework, you won't go wrong with your digital camera purchase.
For further information have a look at
these web sites.
||This excellent site includes the features of all digital cameras
available with indepth reviews of many cameras. This site tends to be very technical, but
the information is invaluable.
Even if you cannot understand the technical information,
the user feedback on each camera model is often very informative and definitely worth a
read before purchasing any digital camera.
||For serious photographers who should not be reading this article, this
site has quite a good discussion on why ring flashes should be used and the effects of not
using a ring flash.