Have you ever wondered whether you could get away with using a point-and-click camera for vacation photos? The answer is simple: you can make do with a decent point and click camera, as long as you choose it carefully, know the camera, understand its limitations and accept the image quality sacrifices you must make.


Have you ever wondered whether you could get away with using a point-and-click camera for vacation photos? The answer is simple: you can make do with a decent point and click camera, as long as you choose it carefully, know the camera, understand its limitations and accept the image quality sacrifices you must make.

I work as photographer, printmaker and educator. My wife and I recently took a vacation to Newfoundland. This was my first vacation in more than six years, and it was to celebrate her milestone birthday and our 25th wedding anniversary.

She said: “No DSLRs allowed on this vacation!” So I promised I would leave my DSLR equipment at home and limit myself to using her point-and-click camera, a little Kodak EasyShare C875. I don’t intend to review this camera or write a travel monologue but rather to pass on a few pointers about how I ‘made do’ with it.

At first, I was aghast when I realised I would be visiting one of the most picturesque locations in Canada, knowing I would be using such a simple camera. My wife said, “You’ll do fine…figure it out! Don’t think of it as doing without – think of it as a challenge!”

After many hours contemplating how I could sneak my equipment into my luggage then visualising how my camera bag would look after it got tossed into the North Atlantic, I finally accepted that I would have to use this camera or forget about taking photos on my vacation. (This required no lengthy consideration. No photos – no way!)

Tip 1: Get to Know the Camera
My first obstacle was discovering Kodak does not provide a printed manual for this camera. (Fortunately, I was able to get it on-line.) To be frank, the manual wasn’t much help, but it did at least familiarise me with the camera’s features.

After a quick read through, I was off and running to shoot test images and answer the age-old question: What is simple – the camera or the photographer? A quick look at the top of the camera and the mode dial confirmed it offered a point-and-click Auto mode, Scene modes and P, A, S, M settings.

At least I had some control over how this camera takes a photo. Despite its limitations and image and lens quality issues, it provided many of the controls my SLR cameras offered and produced good images for its price. (Not DSLR-quality images, though.) I suspect many other point-and-click digicams would be similar.

Tip 2: Take Test Shots Before you Leave
I decided to play tourist and take some photos in and around where I live, using each of the camera’s functions. A visit to a local tourist attraction provided the raw material I needed to shoot a few dozen different kinds of photos, exploring the shooting and scene modes and playing with the ISO and white balance settings.

The objective was to find out how the camera would behave and how to switch from camera feature to camera feature. This is where I admit I could have done a better job. My test conditions should have simulated the conditions my vacation photos would be shot under. (This created a few surprises for me later.) When practising with your camera, think about what you may see when you are away and look for similar types of scenes and picture taking conditions. (Think sun and think weather!)

I also overlooked barrelling and pincushioning at the extremes of the camera’s zoom. Although the lens characteristics were a given, I would have been better prepared if I had paid more attention to these details. I also ignored the lack of a viewfinder.

Another thing I had to learn in advance was how well the camera’s white balance worked under various lighting conditions and which pre-set white balance settings provided the right colour balance. Some digicams also have preset colour options like Vivid, Natural and Portrait, which should be tried out under different conditions to see which one produces the colour balance you prefer.


The local airport provided a good place to test white balance performance and provided a starting shot for the holiday ‘story’.

Tip 3: Know the Camera’s Limits
Find out how long batteries last in the camera and bring enough batteries. And make sure you have enough storage card capacity. Test ISO settings for a tolerable noise ceiling. Know before you start your vacation the maximum usable ISO that is fairly noise free.

Good photography is good photography! I tell my students this all the time. But, does your audience care about image quality or do they want to see a WOW image? As photographers we care about both, but our vacation photo audience only wants to see wonderful photos that allow them to share our vacation experience. This became my mantra for the trip.

The Journey Begins
I decided to shoot pictures that would look like postcards and the images we see in travel brochures, so I could put together a personal printed photo travel log and slide show of the vacation. However, what you see on the LCD isn’t necessarily what you get. The camera’s LCD was almost useless for reviewing photos and verifying colour in bright lighting conditions. I learned to use the histogram to verify exposure after each frame.

The dynamic range of this point-and-click camera was only about 4.5 f-stops. This posed a real challenge with higher contrast scenes, so I had to be diligent about proper exposure to ensure the highlights and shadows I wanted to record were preserved. I cheated by smuggling a small three-tone grey card along with me on the trip. This card allowed me to obtain more accurate exposures.

I found the evaluative metering with the grey card produced an image that was about one f-stop overexposed but the centre-weighted and spot metering options produced correct exposures. Armed with this knowledge, I could properly compensate for exposure, based on the shadow or highlight details I wanted to capture. For most shooting situations, I found the camera’s auto white balance suitable but included a test photo of the three-tone card for each change in lighting conditions, so I had a grey reference to work with later.


The grey card was also useful for dealing with changing light conditions, such as sunsets.

Shutter lag was much longer than my DSLRs and took a fair amount of getting used to. I had to get better at anticipating action to capture moving subjects, especially wildlife. (I never did quite get the hang of it on this trip.)

The lens on this point-and-click camera had five times optical zoom and two times digital zoom (which I prefer not to use). Although I couldn’t turn off the digital zoom, the camera did stop zooming before it went into digital zoom so it was avoidable. Most times I can create a higher quality cropped and enlarged section of a digital image than the in-camera digital zoom produces.

Another thing I noticed was how different lens flare was with this camera. The metallic housing around the lens produced an obvious pattern that I was unable to eliminate when shooting directly into the sun.

A few of the scene modes were useful; specifically the sunset, landscape, panorama and night portrait modes. However, care was required with lens distortion when shooting panoramas, as the camera displayed a fair bit of barrelling and pincushioning at the extremes of the optical zoom.

I’ll conclude by passing on two additional hints. Always test the Scene modes before you go on your trip to satisfy yourself that they behave the way you expect them to. Only use the Scene modes that you understand and that you are sure work.

Most point-and-click cameras only save images in JPEG format, with a fair amount of compression, so even high-resolution images can show compression artefacts. To avoid problems, use the largest image size and best quality mode your camera offers.

Canadian correspondent, Chris Wade, is the Master Giclø©e Printmaker at The Pixel Place in Hamilton, Ontario (www.pixelplace.ca), and an instructor at Mohawk College, Fennel Campus in Hamilton. He is also the developer of the PerfectPixs digital calibration card system.