DigitalCameraReview.com
DCR Workshop: Getting the most from your ultrazoom
by Allison Johnson -  9/23/2009

You completed the daunting task of choosing the perfect ultrazoom from a competitive field of very capable high-zoom, fixed lens cameras. Now that you've made your purchase and you're ready to take it to the streets, consider a few of our tips on how to get the best images from your camera before you set out.

Get Close
Follow the advice of your grade school soccer coach and get in there! Take full advantage of that crazy zoom range. Rather than take in an entire scene, get into the action even if it feels too close for comfort. Bring out details that would be out of reach for a standard lens. The worst that can happen is that you'll turn out some images that don't work.

Olympus SP-590 UZ

Olympus SP-590 UZ

Fight camera shake
Every ultrazoom on the market features some form of mechanical or optical image stabilization - at 26x, the slightest bit of camera shake would produce some pretty ugly blurring without it. While these image stabilization systems are successful most of the time, extreme close-ups and nature photography demand a steadier hand. Consider a tripod or monopod if you plan on doing any shooting that will require a very steady shot at full telephoto.

It's sort of a dilemma - you bought an ultrazoom so you wouldn't be carrying around a lot of bulky equipment, so why weigh yourself down with a heavy tripod? If you do plan to take your ultrazoom out for some serious shooting, a tripod or monopod might rescue a lot of images from a blurry death. And if you have just one chance to get the perfect shot, then you'll be glad you took the extra step to carry another piece of equipment.

Another way to combat shaky images is to set your camera to burst shooting mode and take a series of images in quick succession. You'll increase your chances of grabbing that one, blur-free shot that you were looking for. Just be mindful that your camera will lock up for a few seconds to clear the memory buffer as those rapid fire images are processed. Shooting at a lower resolution can sometimes produce more frames at a faster rate.

Crop
The current class of ultrazooms feature a 12 megapixel sensor across the board. A high resolution sensor lends itself to cropping images to isolate certain elements or eliminate unwanted aspects of your original image. Pulling back from a full telephoto zoom and leaving some room to crop the final image will allow for some creative control once the shot has been taken. Pushing your lens to full telephoto will tend to introduce more distortion and aberrations to your photos as well, so bringing the focal length back just a bit can also help maximize image quality.

Olympus SP-590 UZ
Original

Olympus SP-590 UZ
Cropped

Be careful, though. Low light images shot at mid to high ISO sensitivities will usually display some noise in the form of unwanted colorful grain. This noise is only amplified as the image is cropped and enlarged. Sharply focused images recorded in bright daylight are the best candidates for cropping.

Go wide
Don't forget about your wide angle opportunities just because you've got upwards of 20x optical zoom power sitting in your hand. A wide angle shot can go the distance (sorry) in conveying the broad space and depth that a close-up from across a stadium doesn't capture.

Olympus SP-590 UZ

One of the great advantages of the ultrazoom model is the flexibility it affords without the need to change lenses. Weigh all of your photographic opportunities, wide and telephoto, when you bring your ultrazoom on a trip.

Go forth and zoom
As always, a great way to get acquainted with any new camera is to read the owner's manual, familiarize yourself with the controls, then go forth and start shooting.

*Editor's Note: For this DCR Workshop, we used the Olympus SP-590UZ.