I’m not a camera guru, nor are my photos that great, but opinions are like anuses: everyone has one, and wants to show it off.
Mainly, I’m familiar with Nikon and Canon cameras, lower end to midrange, mainly point-and-shoots, but have also used DSLRs. I’ve also used rangefinders as well as p&s film cameras, both with automation, and before the computers got involved.
Ebay product photography’s a little different from product photography, and shooting regular photos, for the following reasons:
- You sometimes need to shoot a lot of photos. Like nearly 100 an hour. Nearly all of them will be used (rather than using all of them to compose a few “perfect” photos).
- You often need to shoot in lower light conditions, because you’re indoors. You need to use artificial light, and probably don’t have big studio lights with multiple bulbs.
- The photos need to be sharp, and the colors accurate.
What kind of camera do I like?
Here is what I like, from worst to best.
My third choice is a DSLR. They are all good, but I find they take too long to set up and shoot, suck down battery, and also cost a lot. I don’t know if they break, but you could be flipping that mirror 2,000 times a month. Maybe a mirrorless 3/4ths camera would be better – but expensive.
My second choice for photos is any iPhone, model 5 and up. They all work great, and take pictures correctly, and pretty quickly. They aren’t that expensive. The iPhone 5 costs around $100 used. My main gripe is that uploading the photos is kind of hard (impossible with Linux), so I use Dropbox, and that is also pretty slow.
My first choice is a point-and-shoot, but a specific kind, which tends to be somewhat expensive new, but pretty affordable used. These are the midrange models with manual mode. They have these features:
- A “fast” lens, meaning a lens that starts at f1.8 to f2.something when it’s wide open. Anything less than f3 is ok.
- Manual or partially manual mode.
The main camera line I know is the Canon S series, S95 S100 S110 etc. Similar are the Lumix LX3, LX5, LX7 series, Canon G5X and up series, Nikon Coolpix A. There are also Ricoh and Olympus models I forget. I just got a Fuji Film one and will review it when it arrives. Original sticker prices are $300 and up to the high 3-digits. Used cameras sell from $70 to around $200. Right now, the Canon S100 110 and 120 are popular, and a little overpriced.
These became trendy in the mid 2000s to around 2010, because they worked well in low light. Then, the phone took over.
I like the Canon S100, but don’t recommend it…
The Canon S100 has one fatal flaw: the button breaks. The plastic film under the button fails, and it becomes hard to use. Besides that, the price is pretty high right now. I would consider the S110 or S120, and haven’t read about button problems with these. (I’m looking at Lumix and other brands as well.)
Despite this problem, it has some important features that I really like.
- A “focus ring” that can be set to a different feature. I set mine to the “aspect ratio” feature, so I can “crop” the image during shooting, without going into a menu.
- Auto, program, and manual modes.
- Fine-tuned white balance: metered mode, plus a tweaking mode to fix the colors.
- A fast lens.
I’ll go into these features in a little more detail. They all help speed up shooting photos.
Changing Aspect Ratio On the Fly
The Canon S100 has a “focus ring” that’s just really a generic dial control. You can use it to focus, but I set mine to chose the aspect ratio. This lets me crop “in the camera,” without opening GIMP to photo-edit. Here’s what I use:
- 5:4 for letter size portrait layouts, magazines, books
- 1:1 for instagram-style photos, great for t-shirts and most hard products.
- 3:4 for regular photos, good for XL t-shirts, and magazines spread open.
- 16:9 widescreen is good for pants
Adjusting the aspect ratio in the camera helps reduce the number of times I need to crop images.
If you need to shoot a lot of similar items, like DVDs or books, or even clothes, you can use manual mode to speed the process. You use artificial lighting, set the white balance, focus length, shutter speed, all manually. Then, when you press the shutter, it shoots immediately, in around 1/10th of a second.
With a tripod, you can shoot photos of books once every 5 seconds or so. I even used the 2-second timer so I could avoid shaking the camera. Once you get into a rhythm, you can shoot an entire box of books in 10 minutes.
You can even do hand-held manual mode. You need to get used to moving the camera the correct distance away from the object. Instead of relying on the auto-focus, you just keep the camera the same distance, and use the zoom feature to go in and out a little bit (or not – you can also crop). This will feel weird at first, but it’s not hard.
Manual mode is hard to use, but it helps you avoid a lot of problems related to automatic modes. The benefits are:
- Shooting fast – no more waiting for autofocus.
- Predictable focus – again, no autofocus.
- Consistent colors – no auto white balance or auto exposure.
Fine Tuned White Balance
Colors are always a problem with any camera, film or digital.
We think photos look okay, but the colors are usually off, often way-way-way off. We just don’t notice it because our minds “color correct” for us all the time. Look at this photo:
We can see that there’s a bright yellow background on the left side, a bright red logo, and on the right side, a light blue bicycle. Our mind is correcting all the colors. Here are the actual colors:
It’s a rusty red color, a dark tan-yellow, and a blue-greenish gray. They’re like earth tones.
Somehow, these three colors got translated into the colors we perceived. Our minds fixed each of the colors based on the surrounding colors, and based on prior experience.
There are three things happening to the colors here.
- The paper is yellowing.
- There’s sunlight coming in from the left, it and it has a blue tint.
- There’s reflected colors and maybe artificial light on the right, and it has a green-yellow tint.
The normal way to deal with this is to fix the lighting. We can’t fix the paper, so we need to eliminate the other light. Shoot at night, and turn off all the lights except the ones you’re photographing with. I use $5 Cree brand LED lights with “high CRI”. They’re in 4-packs at Home Depot.
Then, in the photo, you try to get an accurate color that matches the actual object as much as possible.
To do this, we need to use manual white balance. This is a feature in all digital cameras (and video cameras), where you “sample” the artificial light by putting a white paper in the light, and then sampling it with the camera. The camera then subtracts out the deviations from “white” in subsequent photos.
The problem is, even this isn’t going to work correctly because the photo sensors also introduce their own biases to the color.
The S100 has a feature, taken from DSLRs, that allows you to adjust the white balance to increase or decrease any color.
This Canon is particularly bad at shooting reds and purples. It subtracts out too much red, leaving a bluish color. You notice it the most with purple items. So I add in more red (by subtracting out the non-red colors). A side effect is that the white colors in the background turn pink, but that’s what it takes to get an accurate color on the product.
You can make these color adjustments in GIMP as well, but being able to fix it in the camera is better, at least in theory, because the screen on the back of the camera should be calibrated to match the colors that get saved into the photo, which should match the colors that are recorded by the sensor. Once you get a monitor on a PC involved, that’s two more sources of bias: the video card and the monitor. (And ignore the lighting in the office, which introduces more sources of color.)
(You might be thinking this S100 sucks, because of these color problems, but that’s not the case. All cameras introduce color problems. The S100 allows you to correct some of the problems, with trade offs. Most cameras don’t allow this.)
The Effect of Color Correction
I didn’t mention it above, but this photo was taken without lighting or a flash. It was natural light, with my body casting a shadow over the comic book. A fast lens that is wide open doesn’t need a flash in many indoor conditions.
The colors, adjusted with GIMP, look like this:
This has the light from the right removed. It looks a little redder because the green is subtracted out. I might do this color correction, to make the paper yellowing of the paper more accurate.
This has the yellowing of the paper reduced – the reds and browns in the paper are reduced. Notice how the yellow ink on the left page has become almost white in the middle. I wouldn’t do this correction on a listing, because it’s deceptive. It makes the paper look a lot better than it actually is. The original printing may have looked a little like this. Also, notice that my hand now looks sickly, because the red is reduced.
I did these adjustments in the computer, but you can make similar adjustments in the camera.
Conclusion, S100 RIP
I really like the S100, especially for Ebay, because it has numerous features that make shooting faster, but given the button flaw, it’s hard to recommend. I’m going to look for newer models with similar features, and cameras from other companies, particularly the Panasonic Lumix LX3 and above line.