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Stephen Ingraham

Up Close with Stephen Ingraham, Master of the “Point-and-Shoot”

Up Close with Stephen Ingraham, Master of the “Point-and-Shoot”

May 13, 2021|Photography| by Holbrook Travel
Why you should take this tiny, powerful camera on your next adventure

Holbrook Zoomed with our friend and experienced photo trip leader, Stephen Ingraham, to get tips and insights into travel photography. What our conversation revealed was the advantage of the often-overlooked point-and-shoot camera for cost, ease of use, and yes, quality. Improved technology has made the photographs from these small devices almost indistinguishable from their professional equipment counterparts. Read on….

Q: When did you develop an interest in photography?

Stephen: My great-aunt was the photographer in the family, and she was the type of photographer who bought a new camera every two years in the continual search for one that didn't cut people's heads off. So she had a whole drawer full of cameras, starting with Kodak Brownies, Kodak folding cameras, and on up. Eventually she was shooting with an Instamatic. When I went to visit, she would pull out the drawer full of cameras and let me play with them. When I was 12, she took me to Don Frank's cigar and record store and bought me my first camera, a fixed-lens plastic box camera, and one roll of film. So that's how I started in photography. And I've gone on to shoot with every kind of camera you can possibly imagine, finally settling on the point-and-shoot superzoom camera.

Q: What made you decide to specialize in “point-and-shoot” photography?

Stephen: I've always been interested in nature and wildlife, and I've always attempted to take pictures of wildlife, and in particular, birds. But with most of the equipment out there, you're going to invest a huge amount of money and it's going to weigh a huge amount too. Bird photography in particular was not really possible for your average person until point-and-shoot superzoom cameras came out. When they started to reach 1000 millimeter and 2000 millimeter equivalent, well then bird and insect macro and all kinds of nature photography opened up to a much wider range of people, including me.

With the point-and-shoot camera, I could get similar results to a serious wildlife photographer with expensive equipment. And I could certainly have a lot of fun in the field while taking satisfying pictures of birds and wildlife on a regular basis. And that's it, that's the whole thing.

Q: Can point-and-shoot cameras provide high-quality (professional) results?

Stephen: The quality of the point-and-shoot cameras is pretty amazing for what they offer. The images are high enough quality where you can't distinguish them from a photo taken with a conventional DSLR, at least when used on the internet. If you're going to make huge enlargements, or you're going to use your images in print media, then yes, there are some limitations.

Point-and-shoot cameras have certain advantages that you don't think of when you first start. One is that it has an equivalent depth of field as a much shorter lens. This helps with focus and composition. Whereas if you were to use a conventional 600 millimeter telephoto lens with a 2x extender, you literally would have to decide whether to focus on the eye of the bird or the wing. Not so with a point-and-shoot camera. You can compose on the bird as a whole and get the entire bird in focus.

Q: What about the ability to shoot with low-level lighting?

Stephen: The larger sensors for SLR and mirrorless cameras do have an advantage in low light conditions. But you know, I just put a photo up on the web today that I took at ISO 2000 with point-and-shoot and it's fine. Most people would not be able to tell it from any other photo taken in similar light conditions. So the low light performance of the small sensors has improved dramatically, mainly driven by phones. The processing power that's available in the phone has allowed point-and-shoot companies to produce cameras that work really well, in a huge variety of situations.

Q: What about cost? What’s the approximate cost of a point-and-shoot camera vs. professional cameras?

Stephen: The Nikon P950, which is still fairly recent, costs less than $800. Maybe $600 now and it's top of the line. You're getting a camera that covers the range from 24 mm to 2000 mm. Point-and-shoot is going to be much more economical, much easier to carry in the field because you're not carrying a whole kit full of lenses. It's much lighter, and you can get a good, less expensive point-and-shoot camera. If you even think you might be interested in nature photography, you should invest $500 or less. You could get even a Panasonic for $200 that will work fine for point-and-shoot photography.

Q: What about video? How does a point-and-shoot do with video?

Stephen: The video is going to be exactly the same quality. There is no advantage to a larger sensor when you're shooting video.

Q: Tell us a little about your workshops that you do in the field.

Stephen: The overseas workshops I do are primarily practice workshops. We cover a little bit of the basics the first few days. I employ a method which involves setting the camera up beforehand to give you the best results in the widest range of situations. Generally, that means setting it up for birds and wildlife, setting it up for landscapes, maybe setting up for macro, maybe setting it up for birds in flight. These cameras have memories. So you can set one program for your general birds and wildlife, one for landscapes, one for birds in flight, and once you have the camera set, then you rely on the camera to do the work of exposure and focus. You can then concentrate on capturing the behavior that you want to capture, the pose that you want to capture, and you let the camera take care of all the technical stuff.

Q: What type of person typically joins your travel workshops? What level of experience?

Stephen: The type of person is somebody who is interested in nature and wildlife as a whole—flowers, butterflies, dragonflies, and landscapes. They generally have an interest in birds in particular, because they're the hardest thing to photograph. And they might have some interest in photography but they’ve never been that serious about it. For the type of photography they really want to do, they're not going to invest the money or the time to learn the latest pro-tech cameras or be willing to carry the extra weight. So the point-and-shoot superzoom is ideal for them.

Q: What does Costa Rica have to offer for photography?

Stephen: There's no place in the Americas that is better than Costa Rica. Costa Rica has a unique position. It has a ton of birds, lots of primates, all kinds of wildlife, and beautiful scenery. It has an incredibly well-developed infrastructure. The guides are excellent. They have to pass a college-level course before they're allowed to be out in the field guiding, and they know all the hotspots. So you're guaranteed to have an excellent guide who also knows more than you could ever want to know about the natural history of Costa Rica wherever you go. Again, I can think of nowhere else where you would get the same kind of variety.  

Q: What do you see as the future of the point-and-shoot camera? Will phones replace them?

Stephen: Right now for wildlife and bird photography, phones have their limits. I expect the next generation of point-and-shoot cameras to employ the same technology that have advanced phones so they will continue to have fantastic results. But, to be honest, no company has introduced a new point-and-shoot superzoom camera for close to four years now. Are we at the end of the point-and-shoot era? Maybe, because phones have taken over all other aspects except wildlife, and because professionals are now moving from full-size DSLRs to mirrorless cameras. It’s an interesting time in camera technology development. And some company could surprise me. Next week, they could introduce a new, a new small sensor point-and-shoot. But it remains to be seen what will happen.

Q: Any parting words of advice?

Stephen: With the point-and-shoot, there's nothing stopping anybody who wants to do wildlife photography and bird photography today. So you should just do it!

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