Today’s digital cameras differ from the film cameras of yesteryear in that they contain a very powerful computer. The computer in today’s camera is able to analyze the picture you are about to take select the best settings. If it is too dark the computer will turn on the flash. To take maximum benefit of the computer use the control dial on the top of the camera (I will call it the PASM dial) and select iA (for intelligent Automatic). Some things to be careful about: Set your camera to take the best quality JPG. When saving the picture on your computer (any time, not just after editing) be sure to adjust the quality of the JPG compression to less compression – better quality. In Paintshop Pro the setting is under options in the “Save as” dialog. The program you use may be different.
Beyond iAuto the camera will have a multitude of advanced features that will allow you to take your photography to the next level. To begin using the advanced features switch to the “P” Programmed mode (on the top dial). In the “P” mode the camera uses (mostly) the same automatic settings but it allows the photographer to override certain settings. For instance, if your subject is backlit you might want to set the exposure compensation to over expose a little. That will lighten the entire picture making the shadow part properly exposed even though the rest of the picture will be too light. The thing to do is to just play with the camera and experiment with what settings can be changed – before you go out for that special picture. If in doubt take the picture two (or three or four…) ways, with different settings.
The A setting is APERTURE priority – which means you “insist” that the camera use the aperture you specify – but the camera’s computer can choose the shutter speed (and the ISO). I recommend you go into the menu and set the ISO limit to 800 – before letting the computer manipulate it, higher settings may cause photos taken in low light to show noise (freckles of dark spots). The S setting means you to “insist” that the camera use a specific shutter speed but you will allow the computer to choose the aperture (to get the correct exposure) and of course the ISO. The M setting is for manual and it means you will specify shutter and aperture – but let the computer select the ISO (within the range you have previously set in the menu). You can also use the menu dial on the back to set a specific ISO.
A significant advanced feature of the ZS40 is the manual focus. Say, for example, you want to take a picture of a bird in a tree – but there are some twigs and leaves in the way so the camera mistakenly focuses on them instead of the bird. Switch to manual focus (on the menu dial on the back) and then focus using the large ring that surrounds the lens in the front of the camera. As you begin to turn the knob the LCD (and viewfinder) shows an enlarged picture of the subject to assist in the focus.
For years the top of the line image stabilization was called Power OIS (Optical Image Stabilization – done within the lens). Now, cameras are providing Power OIS plus Hybrid stabilization. What that means for us is that when use the camera it will try to compensate for any camera movement. Look carefully at your photos taken using the zoom lens at its fully zoomed setting. If the pictures look fuzzy or out of focus the cause may be camera movement. As you zoom to the maximum setting the image stabilization has to work harder to steady the image until at some point (depending on how steady you hold the camera) it can’t keep up with the lens and the picture is “fuzzy”. I find I can only hold steady up to about 20x (400-500mm equivalent). You may be able to hold steady longer, but it is a good idea to experiment so you know your limits.
If you find you can’t hold the camera steady set the camera down onto something. A tripod would be nice if you have one with you. If you set the camera on a table, or fence post (or rock or anything) you can use the 2 second (or 10 second) timer to take the picture without holding or moving the camera. The ZS40 gives the option of controlling the camera with a phone or tablet. Once your phone or tablet has the Panasonic application you can change zoom, focus point and aperture or shutter settings on the touch screen of your phone before activating the shutter. That amounts to wireless remote from hundreds of feet away – great for wildlife.
The viewfinder is great for aiming the camera, especially for things like birds in flight. Because the viewfinder allows for optical correction it should be a favorite for folks who wear glasses. Shooting through the viewfinder makes for a steady camera (rather than holding the camera out front to look at the LCD) – a real boon for a long telephoto lens. For shooting birds in flight set the camera to use multiple focus points, rather than a single point. That way it will be easier for the camera to detect and focus on the bird.
Depth of field refers to the area of the picture that is in focus. Various camera adjustments make the depth of field greater and some make it less. If you wanted, for example, to take a picture of a flower and have the flower sharply in focus while the background is blurry back up and use the telephoto to zoom. The greater the zoom (greater focal length) the shallower the depth of field. Take the first shot using iA, then switch to aperture priority. Adjust the aperture to the smallest number (larger aperture) and take the picture again. The larger the aperture the smaller the depth of field.
Now say you wanted to take a picture of a baseball bat, at just the moment the bat hits the baseball. Most current cameras have the ability to take many shots in rapid sequence. Use the menu dial on the back of the camera to set the camera to take 40 shots per second (reduced to 5MP images). The speed adjustment is activated by pressing the display button after choosing burst mode from the menu control. Pre-focus the camera at the spot where the impact will take place (by half pressing the shutter or switching to manual focus) then JUST before impact hold the shutter button down.
Enjoy your photography and HAVE FUN.