Limitations of Compact Cameras
Monday, May 22nd, 2006 by Reed Hoffmann
I recently received an email from a participant in a workshop our company taught. It was a question we often hear that involved some of the limitations of compact cameras, and one I thought worth sharing.
“The problem is with my Nikon Coolpix 8800. When indoors while taking Arena football photos, I can’t use a flash so I set my ISO to 400, I use either Sunlight or Fluorescent white balance and put it in full Manual mode. Here’s where my problem is – I set the shutter to 1/125 to stop action and I want to set the aperture to F2.3 where I can get lighter images. When I zoom out it will go to F2.3 and the images are lighter. The problem lies in when I go to zoom in for some close-up shots my aperture changes on its own. Well, this makes the images just too dark for what I want and I really want to force the aperture to remain at 2.3. How can I get this camera to do what I want?”
The short answer is you can’t. Most zoom lenses are designed to give you a wider aperture at the wide-angle end than they can give you at the telephoto. That’s what you’ve got. Zoomed out it’s probably at something like f/5.6, which is about two stops darker than 2.3, and since you’re in manual exposure, the photos will be darker. You could set the camera to Aperture Priority, in which case as you zoom out and the aperture closes down, the shutter speed will drop to maintain accurate exposure. Unfortunately, for action sports, that will likely mean blurry photos, as the shutter speed will be somewhere around 1/30 second.
To shoot faster with that camera, you’d need to push the ISO higher, perhaps to 800. The real problem, though, is you’re trying to do something that’s outside of what that camera’s designed to do. The Coolpix 8800 is really meant for family, vacation and casual photography in good light (without flash that means outdoors), and does a great job in those areas.
Indoor sports photography requires a combination of high ISO (800-1600 generally) and fast telephoto lenses (like f/2.8 or faster fixed focal length, or more expensive fixed aperture zooms). That’s really the area of digital SLR cameras, and why the consumer digital SLR cameras (for Nikon that would be the D50 and D70S) are so popular. The larger sensors they use allow you to shoot up to 1600 ISO and get good quality, and since the lenses are interchangeable, you can buy a telephoto to do the job you want.
Cheers – Reed
“Thank you for your quick response and I also want to compliment you on having such a great staff at Blue Pixel. Michael Swcharz and Bill Durrence were wonderful instructors and I would definitely come back for more classes.
I hate to hear the news about my camera but I still love it anyway. I just have to accept its limitations.