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Best mid-range camera for colored stones?

Discussion in 'Colored Gemstones' started by blingbunny10, Oct 6, 2013.

  1. blingbunny10
    Brilliant_Rock

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    by blingbunny10 » Oct 6, 2013
    I'm looking to buy a new camera, and thought I should find one that will best photograph three things which I'm obsessed with, but have the most trouble capturing:
    -food
    -my dog
    -and of course, gems/jewelry ::)

    My budget is flexible, but preferably around $600-900. I don't have much preference between models, as we already have a point-and-shoot and don't need do consider portability.
    Any advice? Kenny and others who get such gorgeous shots, please help!

    I found this thread full of great advice, but need some more current recs.
    https://www.pricescope.com/community/threads/best-point-and-shoot-camera-options-for-colored-stones.184896/
     
    


    


  2. kenny
    Super_Ideal_Rock

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    by kenny » Oct 6, 2013
    Thanks for the compliment.
    In your price range I'd seriously consider one of the new mirror-less cameras with the largest sensor you can afford.
    They give you the huge benefit of interchangeable lenses without the size or cost of a DSLR with a mirror.
    As with cameras of all types and in all price ranges the sensor size is the most important thing but the least-understood thing ... kind of like good cut in diamonds.
    Also sensor size is not how many pixels it has, which people pay too much attention to these days since most new cameras have plenty of pixels.

    I'll look into them and post more, especially concerning macro capability.

    BTW, how would you describe yourself?
    Are you a geek who loves to dive in a learn all you can, experiment and relish in lots of features?
    Or are you a, "Just show me what button to push?" kind of person who dreads complexity?
    Neither is better, but it may influence camera choice.
     
  3. kenny
    Super_Ideal_Rock

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    by kenny » Oct 6, 2013
    The bigger the sensor the better.
    Unfortunately they are not easy to compare because of goofy names.
    Instead of naming the sizes something that makes sense, like 1" x 2", many go by trade names.

    Here's a helpful chart from Wikipedia that compares many of the sizes and has their names.
    Cellphone sensors are the little ones in the lower left corner.
    To get the largest sensor, 35mm full frame, you have to pay $2,000 just for the camera body.
    There are sensors even larger in cameras costing $30,000+. :-o


    In your price range you should be getting at least a "Four Thirds System" sensor, better yet shoot for a APS-C sensor.
    That is the same size as in most Nikon and Canon DSLRs.

    sensor_sizes_overlaid_inside_-_updated.png
     
  4. kenny
    Super_Ideal_Rock

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    by kenny » Oct 6, 2013
    Gems are tiny so you need optics that can magnify them to fill up as much of the sensor as possible.
    Cropping in closer after you take the pic is bad because that uses fewer of the pixels and resolution your camera is capable of.
    It results in a more blurry pic than if you had a lens that can fill up the sensor with the gem.

    Macro is a broad term and not all cameras or lenses that tout 'macro' are equal.
    Two things matter, magnification and working distance.
    You want high magnification but at the greatest working distance possible.

    Unfortunately many affordable cameras/lenses with macro capability have to be practically kissing the gem.
    This is bad because gems reflect, so in the picture the gem will have lots of black reflections of the lens. :nono:
    If you could back the camera away a foot or two you'd get fewer black reflections AND you'd be able to get light into the front of the gem.
    Nikons best macro dream lens, the 200 mm, gives maximum magnification while 19" away from the gem, but it costs $1,800 and then you have to buy a camera body to put it on. :knockout:
    Clearly that's not in the cards, for you or I, but it demonstrates what specs to reach for in what we can afford.

    True macro is called 1:1.
    That means the image of a penny on the sensor is the same size as the penny itself.
    I'm looking at the new mirror-less camera/lenses and am very :knockout: disappointed with their macro specs.

    Frankly, if you'd consider used gear you will get MUCH better gem pics.
    I'd never buy used gear from the public via eBay or Craigslist, too risky.
    I like and have used www.KEH.com because they are competent to inspect the gear and rate it.
    They are very reputable.
    They are the go-to site for many pros.

    I'd recommend this Nikon D300 and the same macro lens I use, micro Nikkor 105mm f2.8.
    http://www.keh.com/camera/Nikon-Digital-Camera-Bodies/1/sku-DN029991024630?r=FE
    http://www.keh.com/camera/Nikon-Manual-Focus-Fixed-Focal-Length-Lenses/1/sku-NK060102007910?r=FE
    $569 + $364 = $933

    I'd pick the ones that KEH rated at least Excellent condition preferably EX+

    This is very high end gear that squeezes in near your budget.
    You can also add a bellows to get ASTOOOOONISHING macro results.
    Bellows has no glass; it just moves the lens further away from the gem to fill up the frame with the gem to use all your pixels.
    http://www.keh.com/camera/Nikon-Manual-Focus-Bellows/1/sku-NK190074999990?r=FE
    Actually to get ultra-sharp high magnification pics like the ones I take you need a bellows.
    Almost nobody has a bellows, so they have to crop in closer after they take the pic.
    Many people here have comment my macro pics stand out; using a bellows is probably 90% of the reason why, and it only costs $172.
    If you want a bellows you'll also need this to go between the body and the bellows: http://www.adorama.com/NKPK13.html
     
    


    


  5. kenny
    Super_Ideal_Rock

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    by kenny » Oct 6, 2013
    Correction (too late to edit)
    I wrote:
    Bellows has no glass; it just moves the lens further away from the gem to fill up the frame with the gem to use all your pixels.

    It should be:
    Bellows has no glass; it just moves the lens further away from the camera body to fill up the frame with the gem to use all your pixels.

    Sorry I geek out so much on this topic.
    I'm sure many of you just roll your eyes.
    That's okay ... it's not for everyone.
    There are many layers to photography to fit every budget and personality, and they're all good.
     
  6. minousbijoux
    Super_Ideal_Rock

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    by minousbijoux » Oct 6, 2013
    Kenny, for further clarification, if we are searching for a camera, and there is not a real standardization for what good sensors are called do we characterize it as the biggest sensor, or the greatest dimension sensor, or the most sensitive sensor? TIA
     
  7. kenny
    Super_Ideal_Rock

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    by kenny » Oct 6, 2013
    Good question.
    You want the sensor with the largest area, aka the biggest sensor, largest sensor.
    Again it's got nothing to do with MB or megabytes or megapixels.
    IOW a 20 MB camera can have a large sensor or a small one.
    Similarly two cameras with the same sensor size can have very different number of pixels.

    Imagine crates and oranges.
    Into one size of crate you can fit more small oranges than large oranges.
    For one size of orange, you can fit more into a larger crate than into a smaller crate.
    Pixels are like oranges and the sensor is the crate.

    The answer is not quick and easy because manufactures like ambiguity to confuse you and make it hard to compare.
    The best strategy is to learn more, instead of trying to memorize something.

    Sensors are flat and rectangular.
    Rectangles have a long side and a short side.
    The area of a sensor is the long side times the short side.
    Usually the side will be usually expressed in mm aka millimeters, and the area in mm squared.
    The higher the number the better.

    Thankfully Wiki has another helpful graphic.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image_sensor_format
    Go to this link, scroll down and look for this chart, which has many more sensor sizes than the above one.
    Refer to this chart as you shop for cameras.

    screen_shot_2013-10-06_at_2.png
     
  8. kenny
    Super_Ideal_Rock

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    by kenny » Oct 6, 2013
    Also keep in mind viewing pics on PS is a VERY low bar for comparing cameras/lenses.

    A skilled operator with an average point and shoot can post a pic here that looks nearly as good (when viewed on PS) as one taken by the most expensive gear in the world.
    PS's software compresses every pic down into a relatively blurry rectangle only about 4 inches long depending on your monitor and settings.
    Higher resolution pics are smashed down much more than other pics that were lower resolution to begin with.
    What you see on PS looks okay if you are never exposed to anything better.

    The benefit of better gear is profound when the pic is viewed, uncompressed, full-screen on a good monitor.
    Next, even better gear earns its keep when cropping or zooming in, and then viewing it full-screen or printing a poster-sized pic.

    Some people never see pics this way any more, content with their iPhones and iPads.
    For them anything beyond a point and shoot may be arguably unnecessary.
     
  9. colorchange
    Shiny_Rock
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    by colorchange » Oct 7, 2013
    I'm shooting with a NEX-3 + 30mm NEX Macro lens and the results are absolutely great. I think an Olympus pen + macro lens would be fine too.

    That, for instance, is a crop of a 2 Ct star ruby under strong & close fluorescent light. You can see the rutile needles, inclusions and a cavity, as well as finger marks. I photograph everything over a cream paper (background), as it allows to "get" the level of lighting easily when looking at it. Not it does take a bit of technique to reach that.

    (I hope the photo ok with the moderators as this is not really the sort of photo one would use for a sale, it's a partial crop of the stone)
    http://img546.imageshack.us/img546/183/x8c4.png
     
  10. blingbunny10
    Brilliant_Rock

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    by blingbunny10 » Oct 7, 2013
    Kenny

    Thank you so much for the detailed info! The tip about sensor size is very helpful. To answer your question about how I'd describe myself, I am very much a "Just show me which button" WHILE I'm shopping (I look at reviews and shop around for price, but hate doing a lot of research!). But once the overwhelming task of CHOOSING is done, I fully expect to geek out and learn all I can about my chosen camera. I hope to have this camera for years, and it will be my first non point-and-shoot! So, to sum up: I know NOTHING about photography or cameras, but I'd like to finally learn. :)) I see myself using it to photograph gems, and finally being able to catch the sort of action shots and "weather" shots we've never been able to with our tiny Canon PowerShot.

    Because you've given so much great info, I also have a lot of questions. ::)

    -Why the D300 specifically? I've never bought any tech equipment used, and I see this model has been out for a few years. Would it be better to buy new camera (or a used version of a newer model) or does that not matter much in this price range?

    -I know I said portability is not an issue, but I'm barely 5 feet tall and would like to keep it a bit lighter (closer to 1-1.2 pounds) if I can. Is there a lighter system with similar specs? I looked at both Nikon and Canon models, but there are of course a ton of different models and I don't really know enough to decide which elements to prioritize besides sensor size.

    -I'm open to spending the bulk of my budget on the camera body, and adding lenses over the next couple of months. Would that change your recommendation for either a used or new camera? Could the bigger budget allow me to buy a nice new system? Or does that extra $300-400 not do much? I think I'd rather get a "very nice" new system than a "top-of-the-line" used system. Am I being unfairly prejudiced against buying used? I do like that with the used system, I'm getting more camera for my money, and KEH does provide a 6 month warranty.... The bellows set up also sounds really cool, and I'd probably experiment with that down the line, so I definitely want to get a camera body that is compatible with that.

    Lol, this is what I mean about hating the research part!! I hate shopping, and mostly just want to receive my camera and start fiddling around with it! :bigsmile: I was really tempted last night to just visit the KEH link and click "Add to Cart," but I know I should poke around a bit more before spending $1000 on a system I'll be using for at least the next 5 years.
     
    


    


  11. blingbunny10
    Brilliant_Rock

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    by blingbunny10 » Oct 7, 2013
    Also, any thoughts on these?
    -Nikon D7000 (used) - seems to have good reviews...
    -Nikon D5200 (used) - I know nothing about this one, but seems like a good general "all-purpose" sort of camera.
    -D90 (new) - lighter, with plastic body
     
  12. minousbijoux
    Super_Ideal_Rock

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    by minousbijoux » Oct 7, 2013
    This is sooo me! BB: thanks for asking these questions. :))

    I also suggest, that if you are serious about a camera and gem photos, that if and when you start thinking about a light tent and studio lighting (I say that because its such a slippery slope and folks like Kenny and Gene have such beautiful photos and make it look so easy with the right equipment, lol), you research it carefully. I thought I had, and started with a brown cardboard box that I meticulously
    covered on the inside with white paper, cutting a hole in the end for the camera lens. But then I needed a tripod, so I bought that, and something to diffuse the lighting, so I bought that, and then a better tent, so I bought that, and better lighting, so I bought that! About $150 in and I still cannot get Gene pics (Kenny's are beyond photos; they're works of art so I won't even put them in the same category). Mine come out grainy with a lack of contrast. I say this not so anyone will diagnose my issues, but to warn you that if you are serious, figure out what size light tent you need (mine is too big so waste of money), figure out a good tripod for the camera (mine is flimsy so tips over easily), and get the right lighting (mine says its "daylight equivalent" with the right Kelvin-whatever-they-ares, but its not full spectrum and does not look right imo). Moral of the story: if I hadn't been in such a hurry, I would've invested perhaps a little more (perhaps not though) and gotten a better set up. Listen to anyone here who's photos you admire, cuz $150 in on the studio and I'm still outside waiting for the bright days, lol...
     
  13. kenny
    Super_Ideal_Rock

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    by kenny » Oct 7, 2013
    Why D300?
    Because IMO it is a good balance of new enough, but old enough.
    New enough to have a relatively modern feature set and won't be as old the older D200, but old enough to be priced in your budget.
    Also the D300 has a magnesium metal body, better water/dust resistant sealing, the more professional Compact Flash card.
    The D7000 is a newer body, so it can do live view and even do it tethered to an external monitor, a god-send for macro work.
    The D7000 is really their top-end amateur body, while the D300 is a low end pro body, but the both have the same sensor size, DX.
    If you are willing to pay more to get the D7000 I would actually recomend it over a D300, if only for the live view feature.

    Nikon makes DSLRs from around $550 to $8,000, for all kinds of users.
    Pro users tend to cherish and use Nikon lenses for decades but think of the camera bodies of being 'perishable' as they often value the features of the latest bodies ... but you don't need the latest body to get super macro results.

    Naturally the more expensive bodies can do some things the cheaper ones can't.
    The D300 and the D7000 DO work with the old lens I recommended above ... I have a bag of several 30-year old nikkon lenses and they all work with Nikon's better bodies.
    These older lenses do not work with the cheaper Nikon bodies such as the D90, D50, D70 D5100, D5200, D3100, D3200.
    When I say they won't work together I mean these cheaper bodies just freeze up when an old lens is put on it.
    When these cheaper bodies can't talk to the lens they give you an error message like 'PLEASE PUT A LENS ON."

    Why?
    Lets talk about lenses ...
    Most new lenses have a motor for autofocus and a motor to control the aperture (the adjustable-sized hole that controls how much light gets in, and some lenses have a vibration reduction feature.
    Old lenses have a manual aperture ring (essential for macro work with bellows or extension tubes) and no focus motor or vibration reduction.
    The new lenses have electrical contacts through which the body and lens communicate about those 3 things.

    Unlike the cheaper bodies, the D300 and D7000 ARE capable of functioning with old lenses which don't have electrical contacts.
    This is especially essential if you ever decide to move up to buy that $172 bellows because bellows do not have those electrical contacts.
    So even if you wanted to spend $984 for Nikon's new 105mm F2.8 macro lens you could not use it with extension tubes or bellows. :knockout:
     
  14. kenny
    Super_Ideal_Rock

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    by kenny » Oct 7, 2013
    Well I'm a bit torn here.
    You say you are a "just show me which button to push" but you expect to geek out and learn all you can.
    Kudos to you but you are wading into a pool that can get very deep and you will need patience and ingenuity to extract the astonishing results it is capable of.
    Good gear is just a start.
    There is tons of learning and work ahead of you, and I'm afraid you must abandon a "just show me which button to press" perspective.
    Learn to understand, not to memorize.

    Since you're willing to up the budget I'd get a new D7100 body, but still get that used lens.
    http://www.keh.com/camera/Nikon-Manual-Focus-Fixed-Focal-Length-Lenses/1/sku-NK060102007910?r=FE
    Nikon's new macro lenses cannot be used with a bellows.
     
  15. kenny
    Super_Ideal_Rock

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    by kenny » Oct 7, 2013
    Here is a comparison of what you can expect with and without a bellows to help you decide whether you feel a bellows is worth the trouble and expense.
    I have posted two full frame pics and tightly-cropped duplicates.

    The camera is a Nikon D600, 24 MP full-frame sensor, with a 30-year old micro Nikkor 105 mm f2.8 mm lens, ISO was 320 and the aperture was f8.
    For the first pic only the camera and the lens was used, no bellows.
    The entire area you see is exactly what I saw in the viewfinder.
    IOW there was no cropping (aka zooming) in using software after the pic was taken.
    To give a sense of scale, the green diamond is .026 carat and has a diameter of 3.85 mm.



    In the pic above the bellows was between the camera body and the lens and the bellows was fully extended for max enlargement.
    Notice how the gems now almost fill up the frame, and therefore use many more pixels.
    Again this is a full frame pic of what I saw in the viewfinder.

    Next, using software I cropped both of the above pics to move in on the gems themselves.
    The first pic below is a blow-up of the first one above.
    Notice how grainy and fuzzy it is since only a few of the pixels of the sensor got used, and this is with one of the lowest-grain cameras on the market today.


    The pic above is a blow up of pic number 2 taken with the bellows.
    Notice how sharp and clear it is because more pixels got used because the bellows greatly enlarged the image before it even got into the camera.

    1_no_bellows__full_frame.png

    2_with_bellows_full__frame.png

    3_no_bellows__cropped.png

    4_with_bellows__cropped.png
     
    


    



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