Using still cameras on vigils

Using still cameras on vigils
Category: Equipment /

Tips for using cameras

Surely, everyone knows how to use a camera, you may say. It’s certainly true that the still camera is a familiar piece of equipment that just about everyone will have used. It is also true that modern cameras are highly automated so that all you have to do, in most cases, is point and shoot.

Having said that, many photos that arrive at ASSAP for comment have minor problems that make analysing them difficult. The most common problem is using very low resolution (see ‘Use your megapixels’). This makes it difficult to see exactly what any ‘anomaly’ is. For the same reason, you should try to avoid compressing photos too much after exposure.

Flare is another common problem. This happens when you have a bright light source in the picture or just out of it so try to avoid that situation. In a low light situation, even a torch might produce flare.

Camera movement during long exposures is another common problem. You should try to avoid exposures longer than 1/25 second with hand-held shots. Alternatively, you could use a tripod. Long exposures can produce false ghost photos.

There are more hints and tips about taking paranormal photos in the column to the right and here.

What camera?

Some paranormal researchers advocate using film cameras rather than digital in vigils. If you particularly like film then please do so. However, the argument against digital appears to be mainly because they are associated with orbs! This is just because of their small sensor size compared to the conventional 35mm film frame. It has nothing to do with digital format as such and a film camera can be persuaded to produce orbs if you really want it to. So, it is hardly a good argument for giving up the huge advantages of digital. Comparing digital and film formats is like comparing DVDs with VHS video. Once you’ve changed over, you’d never go back. The advantages of digital are huge. For instance:
The list just goes on and on. The only significant downside is a lack of ‘latitude’ which means there is a tendency to lose details in under- and over-exposed areas. Most cameras will warn about this (showing highlights on the display at the back) - just reshoot from a different angle.

  • the ability to see pictures straight away and try again if they’re no good
  • only print or keep the photos you want
  • copy pictures around digital media without loss of quality
  • no need for negatives, development or chemicals (and the delays they entail)
  • EXIF data records your exposure settings and date and time
  • change light sensitivity, resolution and colour balance easily, as you go
  • you can play with your pictures at home on your own computer
  • colour reproduction is better

Resolution and megapixels

Some paranormal researchers prefer film because they believe it has a much better resolution. However, there is a lot of confusion about this subject. As with many technical matters, it isn’t as simple as that.

Some people observe, rightly, that the chemical grain in a film photo has many more ‘dots’ in it than in even the highest megapixel digital camera. However, this is not important when it comes to resolution. What matters is the circle of confusion (yes, the thing that, when expanded, appears as an orb). The circle of confusion is the smallest detail that a human eye can resolve. Film may have the physical ability to record finer detail than digital cameras in theory but it is limited by the same circle of confusion. Indeed, because digital cameras generally use smaller sensor chip sizes than film frame size, they actually use higher resolution lenses than film cameras!

If you take a picture of a scene with a digital camera (set to a 6 megapixels or above) and a film camera and print them both to the same physical size, most people would find them indistinguishable. High end megapixel cameras (above about 6 megapixels) actually have a better resolution than most 35mm colour film. In fact, with all high-end cameras, the biggest constraint on image resolution is the quality of the lens not the medium being used to record the image!

What features

If you are serious about taking paranormal photos then obviously you should go for the best equipment you can buy. You will, for instance, get superb results with digital single lens reflex (DSLRs) and superzoom cameras. You can’t change the lens on a superzoom but the results are often, nevertheless, comparable to a DSLR. Most people will probably get a cheaper compact digital camera. These can produce superb pictures as well but they vary a lot. Look at camera reviews to select the best one.

One feature to avoid is the ‘digital zoom’. You can replicate this effect on your photo software on your computer, so why pay for it in your camera? Even worse, when you use it your photo resolution is reduced.

If you want good resolution, go for at least 6 megapixels (so that it is as good as 35mm film). However, bear in mind that you also need a good lens to support that resolution. So a very high megapixel compact will probably not produce results as good as a DSLR with fewer megapixels! Going for a camera with an excellent lens is probably the best way to choose a camera for serious research.

Settings on vigils

It is probably best to leave digital cameras in normal settings for vigils. You might want to consider using ‘sport’ mode as a good general setting. This prioritises shutter speed (to catch fast action) which should help compensate for any camera shake. This is useful in vigils in low light.

There are some camera settings you definitely should avoid on vigils. For instance, a slow shutter flash synchronisation speed is an open invitation to spurious light trails.

One setting some people may consider is a high ISO for low light. ISO is effectively the sensitivity of the sensor chip and the higher the number, the higher its sensitivity. One problem with high ISO settings is, however, additional noise in the picture. This shows up as coloured specs all over the photo (which, obviously, are not real). This ‘high ISO noise’ can be mitigated with certain settings on some camera models (consult your manual). It can also be removed in photo processing software on a computer. However, picture detail will inevitably still be lost. No matter what software you use, detail can never be recovered if it wasn’t there in the original picture!

Author :© Maurice Townsend 2007

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