Insect Photography 101: Part 1, Point and Shoot Cameras

So you’re an aspiring photographer interested in taking pictures of insects? Don’t want to break the bank? Wondering what cameras fit the bill?

Most of us out there are familiar with point and shoot cameras – these are you everyday digital cameras, used for everything from shots of the kids to casual vacation photos. Unfortunately, your average point and shoot cameras are often jacks of all trades, but master of none – they can take decent shots of large wildlife, OK underwater pictures, and acceptable landscape shots. They rarely match even the consumer grade DSLR cameras in either quality or versatility.

For the amateur insect photographer or collector just interested casually recording their finds, a higher end point and shoot camera is a reasonable choice. They can also be paired with an accessory close up lens for increased magnification.

Shutter lag, the delay between the time the shutter triggered and the time camera actually records the image, can be an issue. This can cause you to miss shots of skittish or fast moving insects, such as dragonflies.

Most importantly, many point and shoot cameras have very poor manual controls – this alone is reason enough for the serious amateur photographer to avoid these cameras.

One other major drawback of point and shoot cameras is their limited compatibility with external flash units – only some cameras have the hot shoe needed to attach the flash unit. However, there are good third party ring flashes and LED lights out there which do not need a hot shoe.

Pros:
Light, compact – easy to use
Cost $100’s to $1,000’s less than DSLRs
Good depth of field due to smaller sensor
Cheap close up lens – can be combined for higher magnifications
Flip out LCD – good for shots at ground level or in tight spaces
Some higher end P&S cameras have hot shoes, so a proper macro flash can be attached.

Cons:
Poor manual controls, including manual focusing
Virtually useless built in flash – good third party LED or traditional lights/flashes available
Shutter lag sometimes an issue
Lower optical quality – more likely to suffer from image distortion and chromatic aberrations
Lower image quality – getting better all the time, though

In summary, point and shoot cameras are generally good for live insects ranging from, say large butterflies down to maybe 1-2 cm with a quality close up lens  – not the way to go for serious insect photographers, however.

Stay tuned for Part 2, DSLR cameras!

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7 comments
  1. Ted – great point about the habitat shots, so much easier than changing lenses

  2. Hi Chris,

    I have to agree that built in flash and lack of manual controls are the biggest drawbacks I’ve found in using a P&S for closeup photography. I’ve learned to deal with it – wish for bright overcast days, and if I don’t get that then adjust the shadows/highlights in PhotoShop. While I’ve wished for some time now that I could afford a dSLR (soon, I think!), I’m still amazed at what P&S cameras these days can do compared to days past.

    The one real advantage of P&S is for quick habitat/landscape shots – when I do get a dSLR, I’ll still keep a P&S in the pocket for just such things rather than getting out the big camera.

    I’ll be REALLY anxious to see part 2.

    regards–ted

  3. I am with Ted. I use a P&S for story telling. I often travel and hike a lot to get to a place I wish to photograph. For years I have neglected the to tell complete stories with my photographs. Stories of the trip, the little details along the way and the minor things that distinguish a good story from a random collection of things. P&S are perfect tools to accomplish this.

  4. I agree with you – point and shoot cameras are great for most uses; I was just pointing out the fact that point and shoot cameras are generally not the best for insect photography

  5. Leonard Elliott said:

    For me, 75% of getting compelling images is having a camera when a shot presents itself. I’m far more likely to have a p&s with me and available when I see that interesting bug (or bird). Flick of the switch and I can go 2 cm to 12x, no lens changing. Still, most of my pictures suck. But at least I have a picture.

  6. Marcus said:

    This is a really interesting post. Very informative. Yes, there’s always going to be a place in this world for handy point-and-shoot cameras.

  7. A good brief review of PnS cameras for amateurs. I am using a Sony H7, mostly to shoot insects, and really helps as far as recording/ documenting is concerned. Thanks for the write-up.

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