When the chips are down, measure them.

Camera Chip Size Chart

Comparative chart of imaging chip sizes.

A bit of a frivolous posting this, but I was putting a presentation together based around the camera systems that are available, the pros and cons of various options, and what some of the technical jargon means (geek speak, if you like).

As an exercise to demonstrate difference at the heart of various cameras, I made a chart comparing the imaging chip sizes of various types of camera. The boxes you see in the graphic are to scale relative to each other, so don’t go measuring them with a ruler and then complain that they’re not the right sizes. I make no claims to absolute accuracy, but they give some idea of the difference between (say) the iPhone 4 chip and the chip in the Canon 5D MKII (the full-frame example).

What surprised me was that the enthusiast compact (my measurement taken from the spec of the Canon G12) is actually larger than the chip found in a typical bridge camera. This might explain why the enthusiast compact is around £175 dearer than the bridge camera.

The chart also points up that although micro 4/3rds (MFT) camera manufacturers like to claim that you can now take pictures like a pro with their cute, retro-styled, interchangeable lens cameras (my measurement is based on the Olympus Pen), the chip size is still some way off the full-frame DSLR and remains smaller than the chip found in the average budget DSLR. And that same DSLR chip is found in more expensive SLRs too, like the Canon 7D.

It’s probably testament to quality of the chip found in budget DSLRs, aka APS-C size, that it is good enough to go into cameras like the Canon 7D which costs around £1,130. Personally I’ve been a little underwhelmed by the test images I’ve seen from the MFT cameras, and with the body and basic lens costing well over £700 it makes you wonder if you’re not paying as much for the retro cuteness as for the camera itself.

Panasonic also make MFT cameras without all the chic charms of the Olympus Pen, and their equivalent to the Pen, the GF2, is around £460. That’s quite a saving for eschewing the chic, and it’s not an ugly camera either.

But what the exercise drew my attention to, in looking at cameras like the Pen, was that photographers risk being lured not by what a camera is capable of, but how cool it looks around your neck. You only have to hear the starry-eyed droolings of photographers who lust after the Fuji X-100 to know what I mean. I should know; I’d like to try one too!

To me though, a camera is a tool which is necessary in the process of taking pictures. It’s obviously at the heart of what I do, but provided I can hold it properly and all the buttons are in sensible places, I’m not too concerned about what it looks like. The world would be a duller place without nicely designed objects, but I do think camera manufacturers risk luring people more with cute and clever design than with basic photographic quality.

DIY or Die Trying

If you’ve read my previous two posts (using stock and using commissioned photography for your website) you’ll have a fair idea where I stand when it comes to shooting your own photos or getting a friend or relative to do it for you.

To sum up the main pitfalls, perhaps the biggest risk with getting a friend/relative/pet to take a few snaps for you as a favour is that having put them to the trouble, if the shots turn out so terrible they make you want to tear out your eyes, you’ll still feel beholden to use them – to promote your business. Oh dear.

The problem with taking them yourself is you might feel they’re excellent shots, but you’re too close to the action to be your best critic. You know what was involved in taking the pictures and what hard work it was, and you’ll be terribly proud of the results, but no one else will see that. They’ll just see the photos for what they are, however good or bad.

Having said all that, some business owners will always opt for DIY to save the expense of using a professional, so I’ll set out some basic pointers to help you make the best of your efforts.

  • Plan ahead:

Work out what pictures are required, maybe talk to your web designer if you have one, rather than taking thousands of random shots and hoping for the best. Which people, services and processes are key? Don’t forget though that a photo of your office building/machinery/entire staff contingency isn’t necessarily going to make more business for you. This isn’t about what pleases you about your business, it’s about what attracts clients and customers.

  • Choose locations with care:
tim gander on telephone

The phone-cam look; not good.

So often you’ll see business portraits of people who have been lined up against a wall and shot Mafia-style. You can see the fear in their eyes! Or they’ve been surprised at their desk, mid-phone conversation, mouth gurning in an embarrassing contortion, or more likely miming a swear word. The flash has obliterated their features, and the red-eye is excruciating. Try taking them to a more relaxed location. Keep them distant from ugly or distracting backgrounds, use shaded daylight to avoid squinting and ugly shadows, and use the telephoto function to crop in close so their face fills the majority of the frame.

bath commercial photographer tim gander portrait.

Still not pretty, but a better photo.

  • Stay legal:

If you want to photograph people or locations not directly connected to your business, make sure you have either model releases or property releases where necessary.

  • Think quality:

As tempting as it might be to set your camera up so you can get 10,000 images on a single memory card, the quality will drop dramatically and this will show in the end result. You might also need the pictures for print publications too, and this will require even better quality than web use. Also, for the love of Sweet Jesus, don’t (DON’T!) take photos on your mobile phone with the hope of getting anything that resembles professional quality. It’s just not going to happen.

This short article can only cover the most basic of basics, but if you’re using non-professional photography in your business, perhaps another option would be to get a corporate photography trainer in (such as my good self) to at least train someone up to improve the results you’re getting. It could be a one-off session gets you on the right track, and at least when I leave the building, the skills stay with you. Drop me a line today to find out more.