Choose a Point-and-Shoot Camera to Photograph Nature
Point-and-shoot cameras can be used to photograph nature. The type of nature photography you intend to pursue will dictate the type of camera you purchase. Point-and-shoot cameras have smaller sensors than digital SLRs and are more susceptible to generating digital noise that is noticeable in rendered images. The optics of point-and-shoot cameras are smaller and are not as good as digital SLR lenses.
Depth of field is also an issue with point-and-shoot cameras. Because of the small sensor size, they have a much greater depth of field than digital SLRs. This is fine when photographing landscapes, but not when you’re photographing something like a bird, when you’d rather have a shallow depth of field.
If you have your heart set on a point-and-shoot camera, you need one with a zoom lens with a range from wide-angle to telephoto. Remember, digital point-and-shoot cameras have much smaller sensors than digital SLRs. Because of the small sensor size, these cameras use a much smaller focal length but get the same field of view as a digital SLR lens.
Most point-and-shoot camera manufacturers show the 35mm equivalent focal length. When you use a point-and-shoot camera to photograph landscapes, you need a camera with a lens that is the 35mm equivalent of 28mm or wider.
Most point-and-shoot cameras feature a 3X or 4X optical zoom. This gives you a 35mm equivalent range from 28mm to 105mm or 140mm. This is a good range for photographing landscapes and relatively tame birds. However, this won’t get you close enough when you need to maintain a safe distance between you and potentially dangerous wildlife.
Some cameras have 12X to 18X optical zoom, which will enable you to zoom in even closer. However, a point-and-shoot camera with that large of a focal length range may not deliver images that are as sharp as images taken on cameras with a less optimistic focal length range, due to the amount of glass elements they’re packaging in a relatively small area.
The best advice is to visit your local retailer or do some research online to find models that you may consider purchasing. Armed with that list, visit a camera review site such as Digital Photography Review. You may also find customer reviews at major camera retail sites like B&H Photo.
After reading reviews, your list of candidates will be shorter. Then, visit a local camera retailer and trying one or two of the top candidates on your list. Note how the camera feels in your hands. Can you find all the controls easily? Are the menus easy to read? If possible, take a couple of pictures and review the results on the camera LCD monitor.
Many point-and-shoot cameras offer digital zoom, which is designed to zoom in even closer than the optics are capable of. The problem with digital zoom is the camera crops to a smaller portion of the sensor and then enlarges the image to the standard size. This almost always results in image degradation and increases the noise. Digital zoom is not an acceptable option if you want sharp images.