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  • Member since
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  • From: Lancaster, NH
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Posted by B Rutherford on Sunday, January 29, 2012 9:39 PM

I am wondering what some of you are using for a camera. The posts on Photo Fun look so good! I finally posted myself but my photos look grainy. I am using the 8 mega pixel camera on my Android. Clearly megapixel size is not all that determines quality of picture. I am not 100% sure if it is camera issue or operator issue but I am starting to suspect camera. I just spent a bit of time on New Egg reading about digital cameras. I also read some about DSLR cameras. Not sure if a great camera in the hands of an amateur user will make that much of a difference. I have never been satisfied with pictures I take, railroad or otherwise but then I have never had a high quality camera.

- B Rutherford Lancaster, NH
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Posted by Steven S on Sunday, January 29, 2012 10:42 PM

B Rutherford
Clearly megapixel size is not all that determines quality of picture.

More megapixels often means more image noise.


Not sure if a great camera in the hands of an amateur user will make that much of a difference

You're right.  If you don't know what to do and what various settings mean, an SLR won't be any better than a point and shoot.   You need a good book (or website) about basic photography.   You also need a camera that will allow you to set the exposure manually.  You don't necessarily need an SLR for that.   Some point & shoots will do that.   There's also a class of cameras known as bridge cameras that combine the features of SLRs and Point & shoots.  They're less expensive than SLRs but more expensive than cheap Point & shoots.  Panasonic has a nice line of bridge cameras.   There's a link below to one of them.  They have quite a few others.


ETA: The reason for needing to set exposure manually is that when shooting models close up, the depth of field becomes very shallow.   In order to maximize the DoF, you need to be able to set the aperture manually.   You want to use the highest f-stop number.   But doing so will mean longer shutter speeds.  In order to avoid motion blur, you'll want to use a tripod or bean bag to steady the camera.  You can get an inexpensive table top tripod like the one below.


Steve S

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  • From: Vancouver Island, BC
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Posted by selector on Monday, January 30, 2012 12:42 AM

The vast majority of consumer cameras under $250 will allow you to set the image parameters manually.  The dial up top will have a macro setting maybe, or a panorama setting, manual, A for Aperture Priority, Auto, and maybe something else...the specs published will tell you.

For our close-up model images, we need lots of light, a high F-stop setting (8 is often all you get with cameras at that price), and set your shutter open time on M...manual.   From there, keeping the camera low and still, and not much closer than about 10 inches from the stuff you want best focused, use the shutter delay timer.  You focus, set the camera or depress the shutter release, and remove your hand.  It counts down, beeps, and then trips the shutter itself.  You fiddle with position, lighting incident on the scene, and the shutter open time until you find an image that pops.

A nifty way to get images highly detailed and tack sharp all the way through the depth of view is to use stacking software.  If you take five or more images with the camera aimed in the same place, but each one focused successively further into the scene by several inches, the software will convert all of the images to one completely focused image.  The software is free, and is called CombineZP.  Note that all of the images must first be 'batch converted' to the same size of tiff format because that allows the software to compare them all data-wise.  FastStone, another freeware, does batch conversions.  I would bet Gimp does as well, another good freeware.

Digital cameras are noisy if they are underexposed, and will suffer blooming from overexposure.  So, you must fiddle with the settings until you get minimum noise.  If you are still beset by noise, FastStone has a smoothing kit that will reduce the graininess somewhat, but all of them also reduce some of the fine detail in the smoothing's a trade-off.


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Posted by IRONROOSTER on Monday, January 30, 2012 2:48 AM

Yes, a great camera does make a difference.  I bought a Canon Rebel T3i last year and was immediately  taking much better pictures using the auto mode.  The nice thing about the camera is that I get good pictures now and it's loaded with controls that I can learn about and use as I have time. 

Not sure what camera is considered the best today since electronics change so fast, but at the time my research indicated this was a good way to go for an entry level DSLR.

Good luck


If you're having fun, you're doing it the right way.
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Posted by Scarpia on Monday, January 30, 2012 3:32 AM

I'd agree with all of the above comments.

Low light isn't your enemy with a good camera and some basic knowledge of photography.

For instance, this picture was combined from a couple of pictures using software, but each individual shot was taken at ISO 800, at f/22, with a six second exposure time and a custom white balance (on a tripod, of course). Understanding what those mean (if you don't know) can help you take better photos.

A better camera is part the body (sensor & electronics), but it's also mostly the glass.

I've had extensive personal experience with the Panasonics, from a SLR style to a pocket camera, all of which have fantastic glass (made by Leica, one of the best out there).

Switched to a Canon DLSR this past year (which took the above) and I am very happy with the choice. I feel a lot more enabled than I did with my Panasonics (which I still have and recommend).

If you have a friend who's into photography, ask their advice, but be sure to mention the bad lighting/miniature photography.

Photography in general can be a lot of fun, and as has been suggested, it can become a very rewarding hobby within a hobby.

I'm trying to model 1956, not live in it.

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Posted by Railphotog on Monday, January 30, 2012 5:10 AM

There are plenty of tips, suggestions and hints in my model railroad photography website in my signature.




Bob Boudreau


Visit my model railroad photography website:

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Posted by mlehman on Monday, January 30, 2012 7:54 AM

My Canon SX100 works well for me. It has manual settings and the advice given above is useful, as this gives you plenty of control, providing you have some experience with making such adjustments.

For most of my photography, I just use the macro setting. Crandell mentioned not getting closer than 10", but macro will let you do that and still give you great pics. Depth of field is somewhat limited in macro, but this works well for lots of model scenes.

If you do need more depth of field, then using the manual settings will give you that.

Mike Lehman

Urbana, IL

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Posted by jeffrey-wimberly on Monday, January 30, 2012 8:03 AM

Usually I use an old 3 megapixel Olympus D550Zoom but occasionally I'll use a 10 megapixel Nikon L20 set at 5 megapixels.

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Posted by B&O1952 on Monday, January 30, 2012 8:35 AM

After I went from the ENV phone to an Android, I thought the new phone would take close up pics as well as the ENV. I'm glad I kept the ENV anyway, and now I use it only for layout pics. It's only 2.0 megapixels, but the closeup shots are great. Here is a pic I took with the ENV:

And here is the same locomotive in the same location with the Android:

I never use a flash, and rarely use extra lighting with the ENV, but always with the Android. The most notable difference other than the color, is the way the ENV keeps the entire locomotive from pilot to the rear of the tender in focus. I'm not a camera expert by any means, but I use what I like, and that's what you should do.


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Posted by dstarr on Monday, January 30, 2012 9:11 AM

I use a Kodak Z1485 point&shoot I bought new a few years ago at the Littleton Staples.   It does good work for me.  The camera only cost $120, batteries not included.  A no name lithium battery and charger off the internet was another $25.   Kodak  has declared bankruptcy and by now they have changed the model numbers all around, so you probably can't get the Z1485 any more.  But there are plenty of others out there.  Any point and shoot from the well known Japanese makers Canon, Panasonic, Sony,Nikon ought to be fine.   The digital single lens reflexes are nice, I'd like to have one, but they are costly.

   Your computer monitor makes a fine 8 by 10 inch image with a mere 480,000 pixels.  (600 by 800 pixels in super VGA mode).    My Z1485 claims to have 14 megapixels but I set it down to about 5 megapixels to save memory and upload time, and I get very nice photos that way.  I'd say 4 or 5 megapixels ought to be enough.

    A battery charge indicator is nice to have.  The Kodak lacks one, when the battery gets low the camera just stops working, with no warning.  Also I wish I had ordered two batteries, so as to have a fully charged spare in the camera bag in case the battery in the camera runs down while I'm on a trip. 

    The auto-exposure/auto focus works well and I get properly exposed and focused shots in auto mode. Auto is really very good.  For real closeups on the layout you want to use the manual mode to set the lens opening as small as it will go (f stop number as big as it will go) and the shutter speed very slow to let in enough light.  Check that the camera HAS a manual mode.  

   You cannot hand hold for any shutter speed below 1/60th of a second, you need a tripod to keep the camera steady.  I picked up a nice one at a yard sale for $10.   When making a long esposure off the tripod use the camera's self timer to trip the shutter to avoid any camera shake induced by you hands.


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Posted by BroadwayLion on Monday, January 30, 2012 10:28 AM

A bigger lens brings in more light. But when you look at a camera lens, know what you are looking at: sometimes there is a little lens behind a big piece of glass. LION had a decent point and shoot, and while it could do lots of things, I could not for they ere hidden under layers of obtuse controls.

LION got a new Canon EOS camera, with interchangeable lenses, but him cannot afford more lenses. But the controls are where an experienced photographer expects them to be, and they do what he expects them to do. I can get much higher quality photos now. And I can manually focus the camera without difficulty. This means I can set the camera on a tripod, take a series of photos each with a different point of focus, and after five or maybe nine photos can run them through Helicon software to combine them into a single image that is sharp across the entire frame. I can also take RAW and or bracketed photos and process them with Photomatix software.

Very Good.


The Route of the Broadway Lion The Largest Subway Layout in North Dakota.

Here there be cats.                                LIONS with CAMERAS

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Posted by Eric97123 on Monday, January 30, 2012 10:56 AM

You can use a noisy crappy looking photo to your advantage as well.  Turn the photo to B&W and play around with the contrast and see what you get.  Some of my less than great photos have made great B&W pics. 

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Posted by howmus on Monday, January 30, 2012 11:02 AM

I am using a Canon Digital Rebel XSi 12 megapixal.  For hobby shots I always shoot in Manual or AP (Aperture Priority Mode).  I use ISO 100 or 200 and usually a tripod.  Lens is a most often a Canon 17 - 85.  Sometimes a Canon 100mm fixed lens or the 10 - 22mm for real wide angle close up shots.  good glass is an important factor.

Just as important is good lighting (I use 5000° k Full spectrum CFLs) and have several available additional lights to use.  position of the camera relative the object being photographed is also a priority.  Learning what your camera can do IS an important issue!  For hobby work I generally want to the highest f-stop available to get the longest depth of field, but not always.  An example:

It was shot in AP, ISO 200, f/25 using the 17mm - 85mm lens.  One the other hand  less depth of field can be very useful such as this one, shot using my 100mm fixed lens, ISO 200, f/4.0 in full manual mode.  Notice how the background is nicely blurred out.  Set up what you want and be willing to experiment a lot!

Noise....  If you don't want a lot of noise, shoot low ISO settings ( ISO 100, 200, 400. Slow film).  When you get up to ISO 800, 1200, 1600 etc., yes, your going to get crap.  Those settings have good uses, but hobby photography is usually not one of them.  There are some excellent Point and Shoot cameras out there that can give you fine results, BTW.  Look for one that can let you have complete control over the settings and one that has good glass!  Also, Bob's website is an absolute must read!!!



Ray Seneca Lake, Ontario, and Western R.R. (S.L.O.&W.) in HO

We'll get there sooner or later! 

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Posted by doctorwayne on Monday, January 30, 2012 2:14 PM

When I started taking digital photos, I borrowed my daughter's 2 mega pixel Kodak, basically a point-and-shoot camera.  There is no setting for F-stops, no white balance, and no exposure time setting.  There is an adjustment to allow more or less light, which is probably the equivalent of the latter, though.

With the right conditions, depth of field is not too bad, and it seems to deal with the Cool White fluorescents quite nicely:

Up close, depth of field is not so good, though:

A better camera can give you better pictures, but you need to know how to use it.


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Posted by UncBob on Tuesday, January 31, 2012 3:57 PM

I have a Panasonic Lumix

Click on my ARTICS link in my sig

Shot using AUTO in the basement with Florescent light

ASA 100

Camera held study on the table


I also used the Video mode to shoot my YOU TUBE Videos

51% share holder in the ME&O ( Wife owns the other 49% )


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Posted by RMax1 on Tuesday, January 31, 2012 11:37 PM

Nikon D70s.  5 Megapixels but works very well.  Works with all my Nikkor  lenses from my fim cameras with no problems.  Digital is handy but I still long for old Kodachrome.



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Posted by betamax on Wednesday, February 1, 2012 5:43 AM

I have a Nikon D3100, and a variety of lenses.  One is a 40mm which can focus to 6 inches...

I have taken pictures in poor light indoors, by setting the aperture mode to f22 and letting the camera calculate the shutter time. Six, ten, or even 15 seconds, so you really need a sturdy tripod.

The pictures turned out well, and if you walked in front of the camera it didn't even see you, because you were not there long enough.

Only problem was the operators had to stop their trains for a minute for the picture.  

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Posted by p_man on Wednesday, February 1, 2012 8:53 AM

IIRC there was an article on this in mrr last year.

I'd actually recommend a point and shoot over a DSLR unless you plan on adding photography to your hobby list.  The smaller sensors create a bigger depth of field, which can greatly help your photos look like 1:1.  You should just make sure that it has manual control of shutter speed an aperture.  The used market is a good place to find a deal.  You do not need a lot of megapixels.  Personally, I think it is the most overrated aspect of digital cameras.  You really don't need more than 6 MP max unless you need to majorly crop or print posters.  If you go to there is a camera database there that goes back years to find what suits.

Once you have the camera, you will need a tripod unless you plan on supplementing light with flashes.  I recommend the following settings:

Aperture set between f11 and f16.

Shutter speed will probably be between 1 and 3 seconds depending on you light.

ISO set at lowest (probably 100).


If you want some shots to show motion, you can either pan (track along the train as the shutter is open) or use flash to stop the motion.  When using flash set it to 2nd curtain sync so the fainter moving part of the image trails behind the train.  If the camera can't do 2nd curtain, I suppose you could run the loco in reverse to get the same effect.

If you haven't guessed photography is another hobby of mine.  When you have questions after you get your camera, there are great forums around with people very willing to help.

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Posted by delray1967 on Thursday, February 16, 2012 12:58 PM

Photography and model photography can turn into a separate hobby if you get  I took B&W classes years ago in high school and college, that taught me a lot of general things that I later adapted to railfanning and model (railroad) photography.  Maybe a local school offers a class?  That would be the best, hands-on, way to learn...and the grade you get doesn't even matter anymore (I'm assuming you already graduated?).  It's even better if you do this with a fellow modeler, or someone that isn't interested (to get them hooked) to help motivate you to complete assignments or keep going to class.

I have an older Canon A540 (6 megapixel) that works great for me, it's my first digital camera and I'm considering getting a better camera soon (Canon SX40, I think).  Digital cameras 'see' things differently than film does, you will have to adapt your lighting a bit, but it's not difficult (or expensive) to do.  Railfanning in your basement (or wherever your layout is) can be just as much fun; staging your own compositions, changing lighting (don't forget to light the background too!), and 'playing' with your camera.  One technique I use that I don't read too much about is: instead of getting close to your model and using the macro setting, back up several feet and zoom in to frame your shot.  I like the way the telephoto kind of compresses the distance and changes the perspective a bit, but you might need more intense lights while zoomed in.

One website I like to read before I buy anything is CNET.  They have nice reviews on just about any electronic device and I trust their feedback.  CameraLabs is another website (Australian, I believe) that has very helpful people on their website (forum).

I am not at all a professional photographer but find it's a great way to share my hobby with everyone.  So get out there, take some pics, share them with us and I'm sure someone will give 1 or 2 suggestions (probably hundreds! lol) to improve your skills.

I love Model Railroading! It combines so many facets that, if you're not careful, you can get sucked into a totally different hobby; or combine all your skills and have one heck of a Model Railroad!


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