Point and Shoot at the Bronx Zoo

I work with big cameras. Big honkin’ cameras with a multitude of inputs, buttons and switches; professional audio inputs and often interchangeable lenses. But sometimes it’s nice to bring things back down to manageable proportions.  So this past weekend I grabbed our household’s trusty point-and-shoot camera and headed for the Bronx Zoo to see what it could do. As they say, it’s not how sophisticated your camera is, it’s what you do with it. (Although, obviously there is more you can do with a fancy camera.)

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Canon Powershot A4000 IS (Credit: Canon, Inc.)

The camera I brought with, the Canon PowerShot A4000 IS, is the top camera in Canon’s A-Series consumer line. The MSRP is $179, but I picked one up for around $100 at a well-known New York retailer. I chose this camera for features like a 16 megapixel sensor, 8x optical zoom,  image stabilization and 720p video. But it also needed to be simple to operate, so that anyone could grab it and start shooting. It also didn’t hurt that it has Canon glass–which is generally great, even on their cheaper cameras.

Compared to larger DSLR-style cameras, the stills from this camera aren’t anything spectacular. Here’s a shot of a Gelada, a baboon-like monkey that lives in the highlands of Ethiopian. It’s thick coat protects it from cool mountain temperatures.

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Gelada at the Bronx Zoo (Credit: Eric R. Olson)

It’s not a bad photo pe rse, but I would have liked more separation between the Gelada and its background with shallower depth of field. With the A4000’s relatively small sensor and f/3.0-5.9 aperture this just isn’t possible. Where this camera really shines is image processing. Pictures have rich color and maintain the dynamic range between the highlights and shadows. In this picture of my son Alex, you can see the bright cyan color of the water.

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Credit: Eric R. Olson

The fish in the photo are for tiger’s to snack on. Oh, and here’s one now, grabbing a drink of water. This image really shows off the camera’s dynamic range, perfectly recreating the subtleties of light and shadow.

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Credit: Eric R. Olson

The tiger is a Siberian, the largest species of tiger alive today. The big cat inhabits the Sikhote-Amin mountain range north of the seaport Vladivostik in Russia’s far east.  Their diet consists of mostly deer and wild boar, but it’s estimated that black bears–yes, bears!–make up about 5-8 percent of their caloric intake.

Video is where the A4000 IS really wows. For a $100 camera, it out performs a $3000 dollar video camera from five years ago.  And with an 8x optical zoom and image stabilization, I was able to get surprisingly close shots of the animals on exhibit. Here’s a close up of a common snapping turtle zipping around its pond (well, “zipping” might be a relative term):

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AWNbM5Vaj_4

And I’ve saved the best for last–the Bronx Zoo’s fossa. If you haven’t heard of a fossa, I’m not surprised. It is a relative of the mongoose that lives only in Madagascar and makes a living hunting lemurs throughout the island’s many forest habitats. I only knew of them from a PBS documentary and had no idea they were part of the zoo’s collection. Bonus!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5qi1HWcnrTM

The fossa exhibit had low light and you can see that in the darker images the camera is cranking up the automatic gain , creating the all-to-familiar electronic noise that accompanies an improperly exposed image. But the video still looks crisp and, as with the stills, it’s rich in color and dynamics.

Is this post a review or a chance to show off photos and video from my trip to the zoo? Well, kind of both. I really do like the A4000 as a grab-and-go camera. The stills looks pretty good and the video is spectacular for $100 camera.  Would a more expensive DSLR have taken better images? Sure. But as I get older, I’ve learned that the camera you use is the one you take with you and you wouldn’t do poorly to bring this one along on your next multimedia adventure.

(Full disclosure: I have no financial stake in Canon cameras.)