Author Topic: Cameras for coin photos  (Read 24114 times)

0 Members and 1 Guest are viewing this topic.

Offline badon

  • Trade Count: (0)
  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 4487
  • Karma: -81
Cameras for coin photos
« on: July 31, 2010, 07:30:41 PM »
I'm looking at getting a new camera, and one thing I will want to do with it is take photos of coins. Aside from the normal reviews at Amazon and around the web, I've found the following two websites to be particularly useful.

http://snapsort.com/
http://www.imaging-resource.com/DIGCAM01.HTM

I've been looking at the Canon S90 and the G11. Both cameras are top quality, and will serve me well for more than just taking pictures of coins. The have the some digital sensor, so perform quite similarly. The difference is in the optics of the G11, which makes it better for really close macro shots. They're so close that I'd use to photograph tiny features in a coins details.

The S90 is can't get as close as the G11, but it has the advantage of being much smaller, so I can take it with me to use for more everyday stuff too. The G11 is pretty small, but it's just barely small enough to be considered compact. Some reviewers call it a mid sized "prosumer" camera.

Neither camera does HD video, which is unfortunate, but I might decide that it's a worthy sacrifice to get the premium image quality that each camera can do. The thought has crossed my mind that I could get two cameras, but I hate having tons of stuff I rarely use.

So, what kind of cameras do you all use for photographing coins? Am I putting more thought into this than I need to? What do you like or dislike about the camera you use? Keep in mind that I'm probably never going to be very serious about photography, and I don't want a big SLR camera, even if it's cheaper and higher quality. I travel, and so I need to luggage light.

Online PandaCollector

  • Supporter
  • Trade Count: (+5)
  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 2529
  • Karma: 82
  • Gender: Male
    • Pandacollector.com
Re: Cameras for coin photos
« Reply #1 on: July 31, 2010, 11:01:43 PM »
Both of your proposed cameras ought to take nice photos BUT since you asked what other people are using I'll describe a different approach to coin picture taking. My experience with a Canon DSLR is that a dedicated macro lens (not a zoom with a macro setting) will beat the pants off other lenses in sharpness and contrast when photographing coins. I'm using an old manual focus Canon FD 50mm f/3.5 Macro lens on my camera (a D7, but any Canon DSLR with interchangeable lenses and 8 megapixels and above should do the job). These old lenses are pretty cheap because they won't focus to infinity on the new cameras. In fact, with a non-optical adapter on it, my lens won't focus past 12 or so inches. So what? For coins that's perfect!

I have tried a very Fuji nice point and shoot as well as a nice modern Canon zoom lens with a macro range on the D7 for coins, and there really is no comparison to the results  that old 50mm macro lens delivers. It's downright amazing, really. A new autofocus 50mm Canon macro is over $300. I paid about $35 for my FD lens because it showed some barrel wear. As far as I know the old and new lenses have essentially the same optics.

If you are seriously interested in HD Video from your camera the Canon T2i is pretty capable, albeit several hundred dollars more than the two you mention. Anyway, as I'm sure you already know, the key to great coin photos is lighting, not the camera. A nice lens sure is fun, though...

Best wishes,
Peter Anthony
http://www.pandacollector.com/


Offline badon

  • Trade Count: (0)
  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 4487
  • Karma: -81
Re: Cameras for coin photos
« Reply #2 on: August 01, 2010, 12:16:43 AM »
I also wonder if I'm unnecessarily fixating on this since all of my coins are slabbed. No chance for a stunning photo while the coin is in a holder. I'm thinking now that I might just settle for an older SD940, and save myself some time and money - at least until I become seriously dissatisfied with it for some specific application. I want a tiny camera anyway, so if I can get useful results out of it for the coins, then I can wait for the 2011 product line. The rumors say I'll get HD video and even better image quality out of the upcoming S95 and G12 cameras.

This has been really handy for comparing image quality of different cameras:

http://www.imaging-resource.com/IMCOMP/COMPS01.HTM

I checked out the Canon Rebel T2i, and it has some funky moire thing going on with the hair near the forehead. Probably a problem with noise reduction accidentally removing non-noise along the edges of the hairs.

Offline badon

  • Trade Count: (0)
  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 4487
  • Karma: -81
Re: Cameras for coin photos
« Reply #3 on: August 01, 2010, 01:45:32 PM »
Try using the photo comparator with the G11 and the SD780! It's pretty amazing, the super tiny and cheap SD780 does better macro shots than the many times larger and more expensive G11:

http://www.imaging-resource.com/IMCOMP/COMPS01.HTM

Unfortunately, the SD940 gives better all-around photography, but poorer macro shots, and the SD780 is really awful for everything except macro shots (but it's older and cheaper). If I need to buy two cameras, one for coins and one for general use, I'd be happier if both of them were tiny. The SD940 and the SD780 are almost exactly the same size, and together they weigh less than the G11.

The macro shots on the SD940 aren't terrible, so it might be good enough, especially if I get lucky with a good unit, or I use some tricks. I can try using my flat bed scanner too, but I don't think it'll work very well with slabbed coins.

Notice how easy it is to find coin photos taken with the SD780 on Flickr:

http://www.flickr.com/search/?cm=canon%2Fpowershot_sd780_is&w=all&q=coin&m=text#page=0

There's virtually nothing for the SD940:

http://www.flickr.com/search/?cm=canon%2Fpowershot_sd940_is&w=all&q=coin&m=text

Online PandaCollector

  • Supporter
  • Trade Count: (+5)
  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 2529
  • Karma: 82
  • Gender: Male
    • Pandacollector.com
Re: Cameras for coin photos
« Reply #4 on: August 01, 2010, 05:26:16 PM »
The SD780 does seem more popular. This shot http://www.flickr.com/photos/davel59/4373466700/ taken with it looks nice and sharp. If you look at the lines of text along the edges there seems to be some barrel distortion but I suspect that all the little zoom lenses that come on similarly-sized cameras have it, too. The SD780 looks like a nifty, cost-effective tool for shooting coins.

Slabbed coins do present a challenge to light. Scanning them on a flatbed usually gives decent, kind of flat-looking results. I find that mirrored fields often go black and show no detail, but a coin with fully matte surface comes out better. If lit well, a coin — even in its slab — will look considerably more 3-dimensional when shot with a camera. The trick is to light it in a way that avoids reflections off the slab's flat plastic surface.

Just for the fun of it, here's a photo I snapped last night to help answer a question about Pandas on PCGS Collector's Universe (http://forums.collectors.com/messageview.cfm?catid=6&threadid=783334). It was done with the old macro lens. The original is many times larger and remains sharp as it is enlarged all the way up to where the image breaks up into pixels.



Good luck with your camera search — that photo comparator is pixel-peeper's delight. Thanks for telling us about it.

Best wishes,
Peter Anthony
http://www.pandacollector.com/
« Last Edit: August 01, 2010, 05:31:28 PM by PandaCollector »

Offline larrydreher

  • Supporter
  • Trade Count: (0)
  • Sr. Member
  • ****
  • Posts: 455
  • Karma: 7
Re: Cameras for coin photos
« Reply #5 on: August 02, 2010, 04:32:51 PM »
Slabs compicate photos but don't ruin them.  I use a dSLR too with a macro lens but I find that the camera and lens combination is not as important as good lighting.   More info:

http://coinimaging.com/photography.html 

KonaJim

  • Guest
  • Trade Count: (0)
Re: Cameras for coin photos
« Reply #6 on: August 03, 2010, 02:29:09 AM »
Peter is much more knowledgable in this field than I am.  I bought a new Olympus with a nice macro lens a few months ago.  It works great but Peter's last words I found to be the most significant, "lighting".  I've tried some indoor lighting set ups but for me what has worked best is natural light, and especially when the light is a little filtered by clouds the photos come out great.  If the light is too bright it's shadowy, with too much contrast.  I'm sure pros can make the lighting work, but the sun for me on a cloudy day is perfect.

Offline badon

  • Trade Count: (0)
  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 4487
  • Karma: -81
Re: Cameras for coin photos
« Reply #7 on: August 06, 2010, 04:31:06 PM »
I got my SD940, but I forgot to get an SD memory card to go with it. But, just looking at the LCD, it seems to be decent for macro shots of coins. Once I get an SD card, I'll try it out and do some show and tell.

Not only was I suprised to discover that the old SD780 produces the finest macro images of all the inexpensive point and shoot style cameras, even when compared to professional point and shoots like the Canon G11, I also discovered yesterday that the Sony NEX-5 has vastly superior performance than all the point and shoot cameras, and is equal to or better than most of the DSLR cameras on the market, but it's actually SMALLER than the "compact" Canon G11. The trade off is that it's quite a bit more expensive (same as an entry level DSLR), but you get more than just smaller size. It's a fanstastic video camera, and has interchangeable lenses (if you want them).

I haven't tested out my tiny SD940 much yet, but if I decide I want to do higher quality photography, I think I'll be giving the Sony NEX-5 a close look. I normally don't like Sony. They're talented at writing lengthy feature lists to go with their pretty marketing, but the features usually seem to be mediocre in quality. Sometimes it is actually pretty good quality, but then I get stuck with some stupid situation where I have to lug around special proprietary Sony USB cables and Memory Stick storage. I'm peeved enough that I have to needlessly pay extra for such common things as cables an storage, but the deal breaker is the fact that being forced to carry around those things more than wipes out any size advantage I get from Sony products.

That's why I decided against the Sony DSC-WX1, which was superior to my Canon SD940 in every way except price. It costs almost twice as much as my refurbished SD940 costed, but I would have paid it if it weren't for the fact that the size advantages were negated by the requirement that I buy and carry around incompatible Sony cables and memory just for this one gadget.

So, Canon gets my money, and less of it too :)

For reference, the Sony NEX-5 shows up on snapsort under the "mirrorless" camera category because it's not an SLR:

http://snapsort.com/explore/best-mirrorless
« Last Edit: August 06, 2010, 04:34:51 PM by qwasty »

Online PandaCollector

  • Supporter
  • Trade Count: (+5)
  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 2529
  • Karma: 82
  • Gender: Male
    • Pandacollector.com
Re: Cameras for coin photos
« Reply #8 on: August 07, 2010, 01:18:20 AM »

Not only was I suprised to discover that the old SD780 produces the finest macro images of all the inexpensive point and shoot style cameras, even when compared to professional point and shoots like the Canon G11, I also discovered yesterday that the Sony NEX-5 has vastly superior performance than all the point and shoot cameras, and is equal to or better than most of the DSLR cameras on the market, but it's actually SMALLER than the "compact" Canon G11. The trade off is that it's quite a bit more expensive (same as an entry level DSLR), but you get more than just smaller size. It's a fanstastic video camera, and has interchangeable lenses (if you want them).

http://snapsort.com/explore/best-mirrorless

The NEX-5 looks quite fantastic for what it does and its diminutive size. Because it's so thin I suspect there will soon be adapters to allow the use of other manufacturer's lenses on it. Beyond coins, I can think of several outstanding uses for a camera like this. For coins, I remain leery of zoom lenses due to distortion issues, but that's really a fairly minor factor in most situations.

As noted before, nothing is more important than lighting for excellent coin photography. KonaJim is correct that indirect window light fills the bill for a nice light source for coin pictures. It takes a fair amount of experience with artificial lights to improve on what Mother Nature provides for free. On cloudy days you get a great, big diffuser thrown into the bargain, too.

Best wishes,
Peter Anthony
http://www.pandacollector.com/

Offline badon

  • Trade Count: (0)
  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 4487
  • Karma: -81
Re: Cameras for coin photos
« Reply #9 on: August 07, 2010, 01:37:58 AM »
The NEX-5 looks quite fantastic for what it does and its diminutive size...Beyond coins, I can think of several outstanding uses for a camera like this.

Care to mention a few outstanding uses? If one of them rings my bell, I might have to start looking closer at the NEX-5. One thing that turned me off was that it doesn't have Sony's latest version of Panoramic Sweep (called Intelligent Panoramic Sweep). I really like the panorama features of the Sony's, and when I think of a scene I'd like to capture, more often than not it requires a panoramic field of view. Sony can do it!

About lighting, I'm aware how important it is from all the coin photography I've done in the past. The Canon G11 have light ring gadgets available for it that would probably work wonders. I used to have a small collection of gooseneck USB powered LED lights that could be positioned wherever you want them. I never tried them for coin photography, but I suspect they could produce good lighting results inexpensively, with any camera.
« Last Edit: August 07, 2010, 01:40:50 AM by qwasty »

Offline badon

  • Trade Count: (0)
  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 4487
  • Karma: -81
Re: Cameras for coin photos
« Reply #10 on: August 07, 2010, 11:55:25 AM »
I had trouble finding the Sony NEX-5 on the image comparator, but it's there under "Sony Alpha NEX-5". The macro shots are horrible. My cheap and tiny Canon SD940 does a much better job, in comparison. I took some photos with the SD940, and although the pictures aren't perfect, I think they are very good, and more than adequate for most purposes. The cropped photo here was my first attempt at taking a picture of a coin with the SD940, using fully automatic settings. You can easily tell that this coin is fake :)

So, in short, I think I made a good choice for photographing coins to get an inexpensive SD940, that can fulfill most of my other needs also. A new one is $199. Mine was a refurbished unit for only $149.95 from Adorama:

http://www.adorama.com/searchsite/default.aspx?searchinfo=Canon%20SD940

They have a few different colors to choose from, but the black one looks great, and since reflections from the coins will show the camera's colors, I think black is the only good choice for coin photos. I'm also considering getting a Joby GP1 GorillaPod flexible tripod:

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B000EVSLRO/ref=ord_cart_shr?ie=UTF8&m=ATVPDKIKX0DER

The SD940 has a timer that will take a photo a few seconds after you push the button. That greatly reduces movement and gives you much sharper images. I hadn't figured out how to do that yet when I took the panda photo here, so I guess the details would be a bit sharper if I had used that feature. If I use the Gorillapod, I suspect I would have sharper images and better lighting, since I won't have to hold the camera while I fiddle with lighting, as the timer counts down to take a photo for me.

Does everyone else use a tripod and the timer features of their cameras? Do you notice a significant improvement in photo quality, or is it not worth the expense and the trouble?

KonaJim

  • Guest
  • Trade Count: (0)
Re: Cameras for coin photos
« Reply #11 on: August 08, 2010, 02:37:28 AM »
I bought a camera copy stand on Ebay for about $25.00 that adjusts from 6-12 inches, it has about a 12 x 12 inch base.  I set my camera on the 2 second delayed timer so my pressing the button does not impact the photo with movement.

Offline badon

  • Trade Count: (0)
  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 4487
  • Karma: -81
Re: Cameras for coin photos
« Reply #12 on: August 08, 2010, 03:07:28 AM »
It looks like Joby, the makers of the Gorillapod, have the Gorillatorch for lighting also:

http://joby.com/gorillatorch

It looks like you can have a portable mini-studio, complete with lighting, all from Joby.

Online PandaCollector

  • Supporter
  • Trade Count: (+5)
  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 2529
  • Karma: 82
  • Gender: Male
    • Pandacollector.com
Re: Cameras for coin photos
« Reply #13 on: August 08, 2010, 07:34:54 PM »
I use both a tripod and the time release for coin photos – couldn't live without them.

Some other uses for the NRX-5: any photography where very long or wide lenses are needed in a small, light package. This would be a fantastic camera to tote along when traveling and you want to take more than snapshots. It has the potential to be a high quality videocam, too. As for horrible macro shots of coins, the way to go with this camera is to find an adapter and put a true macro lens on it. With its high density, high quality imaging system it ought to shine. It would be a lot of fun to try out for coins under those circumstances.

Finally, a general comment on light sources. It's my experience (and bias) that the most interesting coin photos are those that look the most three-dimensional. To approach this condition the photo needs to have deep, black shadows + bright specular highlights that aren't overexposed + nice clean, sharp midtones. Lighting a small object to achieve this is the trick.

Best wishes,
Peter Anthony
http://www.pandacollector.com/

Offline badon

  • Trade Count: (0)
  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 4487
  • Karma: -81
Re: Cameras for coin photos
« Reply #14 on: August 08, 2010, 07:51:23 PM »
I've seen Heritage use videos where someone tilts a coin in the light to show all the details and flaws. Maybe that's the ultimate best we can do without 3D, and even that is coming with the next generation of Sony cameras. I might try using both photos and videos of a coin, and see how it turns out. I think it does a much better job of giving a buyer confidence that he knows where every glint of light is coming from.

I just bought the Joby Gorillapod, so when it arrives, I'll give it a spin. It'll be handy when trying to make videos of coins because then I can use my hands to tilt the coin in the light, instead of holding the camera.