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Whole Plate or Compact Camera



I've been reading the thread started recently by Robin2 on "Why have moving trains on layouts?" - ( http://www.rmweb.co.uk/community/index.php?/topic/78169-why-have-moving-trains-on-layouts/ )


There've been lots of interesting and thoughtful replies and it has made me think. On the one hand, I couldn't build an engine without wanting to make it work satisfactorily and, on the other, I don't run trains very much but do enjoy setting up various static scenes for photography. I do find it relaxing, however, to run trains round and round a bit, after a hard evening's modelling, though the relaxation can be spoiled if some sort of fault appears :(


Here's an example of one of my static scenes:




I've added a bit of smoke and steam with Photoshop but, looking at it now, it desperately needs some people to give it a bit of 'life' and it's only when I looked at the photo that I noticed that the pigs had fallen over!. There's no doubt that taking photos is a great way to see all the mistakes and the unrealistic bits, so it can be a stimulus to improvement.


I find that a small compact camera is often better for 'realistic' scenes than, for example, a more sophisticated DSLR, for a number of reasons.


The compact is, of course, smaller and can be put into those places that a DSLR cannot reach. A more technical reason is that both the lens and sensor in the compact are much smaller, which results in a greater depth of field (more in focus) at equivalent camera settings. The compact can be thought of as, in effect, a 'scale model' of the sort of camera that might have been used during my chosen pre-Grouping period. Out of interest, I did a few calculations:


The sensor in a typical compact measures about 6.2 x 4.6mm, whereas a 'whole plate' camera, as might have been used in the 19th century, had a sensitive area of 8½" x 6½" (216 x 165mm). From these figures, the compact represents a 1/35 scale model - not too far removed from 0-gauge! So, you can expect to get similar perspective and depth-of-field when using a compact to photograph an 0-gauge layout from 'realistic' locations.


I took the photo of my GWR 'Siphon' that appeared in a recent post with a DSLR camera and it is obvious that only a small part of the image is in focus. I've repeated the shot below, using a compact camera, to show how much more of the scene can easily be kept in focus :) (the background sky is by Photoshop)




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A DSLR will do pretty much anything a compact can do, you just have to show it who's the boss! It needs setting to aperture priority mode and the smallest aperture (largest number), dialed in. Down side here is that it cuts light so exposure time goes up so a tripod is pretty essential. The other factor is distance from the subject - you will get a greater depth of field by being further away and zooming in as much as possible.

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A DSLR will do pretty much anything a compact can do

Generally true - except it won't fit into such small spaces!  To get equivalent depth of field, a DSLR must be stopped down much more, hence the need for more light.


Changing the distance from the subject alters perspective so, for a 'realistic' shot, I like to take up a 'lineside' position.


I frequently use a monopod as a camera support - more manoeuvrable than a tripod but with sufficient steadying effect for many situations.  With a compact, I sometimes simply stand it on the track, or scenery, and use the self-timer to avoid shake.


For the record, the settings for the shots I referred to were:


a.  post in "Cleminson to the Rescue" - Nikon D300s with Tamron 90mm macro lens, 1/[email protected]/8, ISO400


b.  this post - Panasonic TZ25 with 7mm focal length, 1/[email protected]/6.3, ISO400



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Generally true - except it won't fit into such small spaces!  To get equivalent depth of field, a DSLR must be stopped down much more, hence the need for more light.

OTOH, and I cannot speak for the Nikon D300s, a DSLR will have a larger sensor and lower noise at higher ISO, so you can compensate for the higher f-stop with faster ISO.

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Thank you for commenting, Truffy.  My aim was really to point out that you don't need a sophisticated (and expensive) camera for good model railway photography.  The small camera even has some advantages :)

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