Cameras for Art

Guest Blogger – My husband Rick:

How many cameras does an artist need?  We don’t know for sure, but the answer is “more than one.”  It’s not that we’re camera enthusiasts.  Far from it, in fact. But the reality lies in the old saying “the right tool for the right job.”

Last summer our old Sony Cybershot point-and-shoot died of old age.  After 9 years of service and thousands of photos from all over the world, we had no hard feelings for the Sony corporation.  It had provided great service.  We knew another great camera was even more important now that Ruth’s art business was going online. We were hoping to balance portability and quality – a great camera in a small format.

As we looked at cameras, it became apparent that complexity was also a factor to figure in.  Ruth’s requirement is for it to fit in her purse and be easy to operate. She’s not interested in adjusting the gadget so much as she is capturing a reference photo for later use in the studio.

The other requirement is to produce photos that are high enough quality for reproduction and publication.  In the past six months we’ve learned a great deal about image accuracy, true color reproduction, studio lighting, and density of image.  We’ve also learned that these factors are difficult – if not impossible – to achieve with a point-and-shoot.

Our purchase last summer was another Sony Cybershot.  We’re not really brand-loyal: we would have happily abandoned Sony for another high-quality camera, but the DSC-HX7V just happens to be a very good point-and-shoot.  Great features include a CMOS sensor, 16.2 megapixels, 10x optical zoom, and a f3.5 aperture. You can read a thorough review here.

Our New Point-and-Shoot: Sony DSC-HX7V
Sony DSC-HX7V Back

After a great deal of experimentation, we concluded that our new point-and-shoot was simply not going to reproduce art with accurate color or image density suitable for web publication or large-format prints.  However, as an on-site image capturer that is portable, flexible, and high quality, it’s perfect.  It will spend most of its life in Ruth’s purse, ready for service to capture images and ideas later to become paintings.  Or parts of paintings.  But the search was on for a studio camera…

We arrived at a quality compromise, of course.  At this point we can’t afford a $10k professional DSLR, and the subtleties of quality at that price might be lost on our amateur eyes anyway.  There is also the cost-vs-quality ratio to consider:  Up to a certain cost point, the quality curve rises sharply.  Beyond that, the curve flattens out considerably, and the gains made per thousand dollars diminish.  We needed to find the camera that meets the “sweet spot” in the curve.

Nikon D3100 seems to fill the bill.  The reviews I read, honestly, were over the top. I almost couldn’t find a review with anything negative – which really isn’t that helpful, of course.  These kind of consumer reviews tend to be anecdotal, emotional, enthusiasm-based, with some salient facts and comparisons sprinkled in.  This is not to say they aren’t without merit: anecdotal and experienced-based comments have their value.  However, I was looking for a lab-based review, and finally found this on imaging-resource.com which is very objective and evidence-based (I also referenced this site above for the Sony).

Turns out, the Nikon D3100 is a powerhouse in a consumer-friendly package, with many features of much more expensive cameras (14.2 CMOS sensor, ability to capture RAW images, ability to accept a prime lens for studio imaging) as you can read in the review.  Not without limitations and imperfections, but has the ability to easily deliver the service we need for art reproduction and web publication.

Nikon D3100 Front View
Nikon D3100 Top and Front
Nikon D3100 Back

So how many cameras does an artist need?  At least two for this artist.  And… thanks for letting me chime in as a guest!

4 thoughts on “Cameras for Art

  1. I bought a Nikon D90 about 2 years ago and have been very happy with it. Before I bought it I did quite a bit of reading—reviews and other literature on choosing a camera.
    I found a great site for camera reviews, http://www.dpreview.com. If you haven’t already made your purchase, you might want to read their review of the D3100 and compare t a couple other similar models.

    • Thanks for the resource, Terry. You’re right – this is a very good site for camera reviews. Very thorough review with an objective viewpoint. We did actually buy the camera and are aware of some of the limitations. Again, price vs quality vs budget – and our tolerance for “gadgetry” – seem to make the D3100 the camera for us right now. Nice to hear from you!

      Rick

  2. I felt a little jealous of your new camera… but then I realized that I’m really just envious that you have time to play with it! I’m happy with mine and look forward to having enough hands and enough moments free to really figure it out! 🙂

    Can’t wait to see how the new photos of Mom’s art turn out.

  3. Pingback: Photographing art with Nikon D3100 DSLR – 1 Year’s Experience « Ruth Bailey, artist

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