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Home PARENTING Trick, Tips & Tools How to Choose the Best Camera to Photograph Baby/Kids?
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Friends, clients and people I know frequently asks me which camera to buy to photograph their children or baby. This questions often comes after several unsuccessful attempts to photograph their new member of the house comes up blurry, dark or otherwise not looking as great as the memory they’d hope to create.

“Should I get a SLR?” is the question that is frequently asked as the potential solution to better and more ‘professional’ looking photographs of their pride and joy.

The short answer to the above questions is yes – if you are after the ultimate image quality. But wait…before you stop reading and jump out to get the latest and greatest SLR, there are some criteria that you should also consider and weigh carefully. There is no one answer for everyone, but hopefully this article can give you some guidance to considerations into your final decision.

Young babies and children don’t stop moving

KidsPhoto Babies and young kids don’t pose for you. You will find that their cutest looks and beautiful moments slip by you as you fiddle with your camera trying to get a focus. And when you finally press the shutter – you will usually find that the picture that you took did not capture that beautiful or cute look on their face that you saw on the viewfinder.

The problem here is because of two things. One of them is you, as the photographer you need to be able to anticipate and press the shutter before the anticipated moment. This takes practice – but it basically means that you have to press the shutter before he or she smiles because if you press the shutter when you see the smile, most likely you missed it already.

Second is is the speed of the camera that you are using – specifically the auto-focus speed and shutter-lag of your camera. When you half-press the shutter button, the camera will take some time to focus – this is the auto focus speed. Once you fully depressed the shutter, the camera will take some time to capture the picture – this is shutter lag. The combination of these two delays is the total time from the moment you press the shutter and finally the camera captures the photo.

That is why you always seems not to be able to capture the fleeting moment you see in the viewfinder. There is a delay between the shutter press and the photo capture – in which time, the moment could be missed, as much can change with a rapidly moving toddler in that timeframe.

For children photography, auto-focus speed should be less than half a second to give you the best chance of ‘capturing the moment’. Shutter lag is usually in the range of 0.15 seconds or less for modern cameras so auto-focusing speed is your primary delay. Also bear in mind that most camera will take longer to focus in low light conditions compared to published specifications – this can extend to several seconds when light is low.

In this aspect (shutter and focus speed), a digital SLR will generally outperform most compact cameras.

How much gear are you willing to carry – size and weight

b_600_0_0_0___images_stories_2011-10-12_image_fc89f798c1dfcb88397b5405762638a5.png When you have a young toddler or baby, you already have a lot to carry with you with diapers, wipes, toys, bottles, cups, water and the baby. Would you be willing to add another 1 or 2 pounds to all that with a SLR and another couple of pounds more if you have additional lenses, flashes etc – all the tools that you need with a SLR to capture the ‘pro’ looking pictures.

Also don’t forget that the additional weight gets significantly heavier the longer you are carrying them. So a 1 or 2 pound may not be much when you try it out at the shop but will become a real job when you are out there lugging it around (with all the other baby stuff)

In this case, the compact camera is a sure winner – small, nice and fits into your pocket.

Indoors or Outdoors

If you shoot mostly outdoors when it’s nice and bright, a decent point and shoot can take good pictures that you’d proud of.

However in indoors condition, even when it seems ‘bright’ to your eyes – it’s normally ‘low light’ for the camera. In this case, you will need to use high ISO, a fast lens (small f-stop) and possible a flash gun to capture your fast moving toddler.

Although SLR is worth considering in this case (indoors), there are also some very decent cameras compact point and shoot that boast a fast F2.0 lens, a decent size image sensor (bigger = lower noise normally) which allows higher ISO which can work well indoors as long as it’s not too dark (space lighted with a couple or incandescent or florescent lamps can be too dark for cameras) . An SLR here would allow you the option of using a flash gun to somewhat solve this issue and create better pictures than the build in flash of compact cameras.

Do you really want to spend time to ‘learn’ about the camera?

If you have never used an SLR and unfamiliar with photography, you will have a somewhat steep learning curve with a SLR kit. Also SLR has a slightly higher maintenance compared to a compact camera.

How much time you’d want to spend processing your pictures?

Be aware that the nice look ‘professional’ photos that seems to magically come out of an SLR camera – the photographer has probably spend some time in post processing (aka with tools such as photoshop or other photo editing software) to polish the picture to ‘professional’ looking.

SLR generally employs less processing to the pictures taken as it’s expected that the photographer will want to do additional processing. Compact cameras photos will be fully processed as the expectations here is that the user will use the picture right out of the camera.

Vibration Reduction

Most compact cameras comes with vibration reduction in the form of VR, Mega-OIS and whatever the manufacturer decide to name their system. Basically this system works to reduce the jitter in your hands (aka hand-shake) and compensating for it to produce better ‘shake-free’ photos.

Just remember that it compensates for your (the photographer) hand shake ONLY. When your target is a fast moving toddler, no vibration reduction will help. The only solution here is a fast lens, more sensitive sensor (higher ISO) and possibly a flash gun.

My take on vibration reduction is , great to have but should not be the primary factor in choosing a camera to take your kid’s photos.

‘Professional’ Image Quality – what are you really after

Image quality is the sum of image sharpness, beautiful bokeh (the nice blurry background) and low noise (lack of graininess and discoloration in low light). In all these the SLR wins, assuming you pair it up with a good quality lens.

SLR: Invest in a system, not a particular camera

Assuming you're buying an SLR you'll have to invest in lenses, flashes and other accessories to fully utilize the possibilities and capability of the SLR. The camera ends up being a fraction of the cost of all your subsequent purchases so avoid the temptation to buy the hottest or cheapest camera and look ahead to which system offers you what you most likely need long term. Get a decent body with a good, fast lens. F2.8 is a good fast lens. Also a zoom range in the range of 18-55mm (for a NON full frame SLR) is good enough for most kids photography. Also this combination gives you a setup that is relatively lightweight.

Go to the store – try it out!

Don’t just buy your camera based on reviews and specifications you read online. Get up and go to the store to try the camera out. This is the only way for you to find out if the camera fits well in your (and your spouse?) hands or is the menu and functional layout intuitive for you. Also if the store provides good service, I’d rather buy from the store than to go back online as prices are mostly competitive nowadays and I want to be able to go back to the store if I need additional help.

What’s my solution?

As you’d probably gathered from the above discussions, there is no single solution that will fit all your needs. What I do is I own a SLR as well as a decent compact camera.

I carry the compact with me all the time but bring along the SLR system if I am going specifically to a place to take pictures of my kid or we are going somewhere special or I know that I will not need to lug the SLR with me all the time (like leave it in the hotel until needed).

For photos I take of my kid indoors, I will use the SLR with a dedicated flash. The compact camera just don’t do a good enough job here for me.


 

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