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Excellent for close-up nature photography
on April 26, 2011
Like it's Powershot siblings, the Canon A1200 is a heck of a nice piece of equipment for shooting nature close-ups. I've taken this camera out twice now, and so far it has taken wonderful photos. I've posted some samples from a single hike.
Although the A1200 can't squeeze in on a subject as closely as the A480 (one of my all-time favorite cameras), this new Canon camera is capable of focusing just an inch and a half away from the subject in "Macro" mode. I usually carry one or two Pentax DLSR cameras as I hike through miles of woodland trails every weekend, and although they're great cameras, they simply can't beat Canon Powershots for capturing the tiniest nature subjects, in my opinion. If a subject is smaller than a quarter, out come the Powershots.
This camera takes photos that easily match or beat the quality of images you'll find in typical nature guides by Peterson or Simon & Schuster. Spend a year on the trail with it, and you could easily have a full set of quality publishable photos. Unlike more expensive point-and-shoots or DSLRs, this Powershot doesn't have camera raw or enough pixels to fill a wall, but the image quality and output is suitable for small posters, so who cares? Frankly, counting pixels and foaming over camera raw are not admirable traits, and neither of those things produces good pictures.
Image noise seems to be a bit improved since the A480s and A490s came out, especially when shooting in lower light. This camera has 12 versus 10 megapixels of its predecessors, so in theory you can get a larger photo now and still retain sharpness and detail. The controls will be familiar to anyone who has used a Canon point-and-shoot. I like the general layout of buttons compared to other brands, but that may be just because I'm more familiar with Canon. The A1200 has a viewfinder, which I'll never use because the thing is usually shooting photos right on the ground, and although I like the outdoors, I'm not sticking my face in the dirt and squinting through a viewfinder when I don't have to. The LCD screen is good enough. I've banged and tortured the daylights out of one A480 and killed another one after multiple assaults due to clumsiness. So far, this camera has taken a little knocking around without a complaint.
The A1200 shoots HD video, which isn't nearly as good as even an inexpensive video camera, but nonetheless I was surprised that the movies looked as good as they did. When shooting video, you'll get the best results if you stabilize the camera on a tripod, the back of a chair, a railing, or tree branch, depending on where you are. Video compression is a little cleaner that way, and you can avoid making people sick from zinging the camera around like a roller coaster.
Here are some tips for taking good close-up nature photos with this camera. I usually shoot with the dial in "P" mode. Most importantly, always remember to set the camera on "Macro" (the flower icon button). That allows it to focus as close as 1.5 inches away. Since the camera resets when you turn it off, Arggh!, you have to turn "Macro" on each time you restart it. On this camera, macro focus becomes dysfunctional if you zoom in, so keep it zoomed all the way out. Next, go into the menu and change the general settings. AF Frame should be "Center" so you can pick the point to focus on, AF Frame Size should be "Small" so it doesn't get confused as to where it should focus, and the Digital Zoom is garbage and should be banished forever. Unlike the "Macro" setting, these settings will NOT go away when you turn the camera off, fortunately. Since this is not an image-stabilized camera model, find some way to keep it still when shooting. When you're focused on a close-up subject, even a tiny movement is enough to blur your photo. To keep my camera still, I swear by a monopod with an adjustable pivoting head. Basically it's a one-legged tripod. A monopod can remove the worst of your hand jitters, and it doesn't even need to be extended to the ground -- just having your camera mounted to a stick helps stabilize your shot. Practice photographing coins or small subjects in your yard to get a feeling for macro photography. You'll notice that the area of sharpest focus is not as deep as it is when subjects are father away. You have to make deliberate choices on the point of sharpest focus. Check the photos on a computer if possible, so you can really see how well you're doing. And finally, shoot a million pictures. This is the digital age. You don't have to pay for dud prints any more. Be vicious when culling out the duds, because believe me, nobody wants to see 75 views of the same buttercup flower.