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October 26, 2001

Catch, Point and Shoot

Release that catch, but use a photograph to keep the memory -- and back up your story.

You'd never believe the size of the fish I released. I wish I'd had a camera." How many times have you heard this excuse - or used it yourself - when swapping fish stories with friends? Anglers suffer from such a bad (and sometimes undeserved) reputation as incurable truth-stretchers that every tale of an exceptional catch will be dismissed as yet another exaggerated account of our achievements - unless we have pictures to prove our story.

Idiot-Proof Operation
Technological advances over the past 10 years have made cameras smaller, smarter and easier to operate. Point-and-shoot models are as simple to use as the name implies, leaving so little room for operator error that they've been nicknamed "idiot-proof." About all you have to do is remember to keep your fingers out of the way when snapping a photo. The camera automatically focuses, determines the correct exposure, decides whether to use flash and advances the film for the next shot.
Point-and-shoot cameras rely on either passive or active autofocus mechanisms. Passive autofocus "reads" stationary objects, such as anglers posing with fish; active autofocus lets the camera "track" moving objects such as flying birds or kids chasing a soccer ball. Despite being automatic, focusing can still present problems for point-and-shoot photographers.
How many shots have you seen of blurry people against sharply focused, far-off backgrounds? This problem often occurs when people are placed to one side of the photo because most cameras focus on the center of the frame. Models featuring focus lock let you keep off-center subjects sharp by placing them in the middle of the frame and depressing the shutter release halfway. Holding down the button halfway locks the focus, allowing you to move the camera left or right and compose the shot without having the camera refocus on the distant background. The Canon Sure Shot 105 Zoom features "3-point Smart Autofocus," which the manufacturer claims delivers sharp images automatically, even when subjects are far from center.
Automatic features help amateurs take good pictures, but at times manual control results in better photos - especially when using flash. Most point-and-shoots allow the photographer to override the autoflash function by turning the flash on or off. Let's say you'd like to photograph an angler's dark outline against a pumpkin-orange sunrise. If left in auto mode, the flash may illuminate the angler and ruin the desired effect. Turn the flash off in order to silhouette your subject against the glowing sky.
As strange as it may seem, it's always a good idea to use flash when photographing people under a bright, midday sun. Called fill-flash, this trick cures the "anonymous angler" syndrome: Hats cast shadows over people's faces, making them unrecognizable in photos, and even when hats are removed, shadowy eye sockets transform people into masked raccoons. Turn the flash on to brighten these dark areas and let everyone see exactly who is smiling behind that trophy fish.
Check a camera's focusing range before buying if you plan to take extreme close-ups (macrophotography) of fish, lures or other details. While some point-and-shoots focus sharply on objects just 14 inches from the lens, other models require a minimum focusing distance of over two feet.

Weather or Not?
Perhaps the greatest advantage to today's pocket cameras lies in their use of 35mm film. Does anybody remember the fuzzy photos we used to get from 110 film? A basic rule of photography is the bigger the negative, the better the quality of the print. That's why wedding photographers use 2 1/4-inch film, and studio photographers often use even larger formats. But for fishermen and other amateur photographers, the 35mm format provides a perfect combination of picture quality and convenience: Go-anywhere cameras fit in a shirt pocket or tackle box, and they take sharp photos to vividly preserve memories of that prized catch. Enlargements from 35mm negatives retain image quality quite well, allowing you to make a wall-hanger from a trophy that's been released.
Camera manufacturers use the word "weatherproof" to describe certain models, but their definitions of the term vary. Pentax says the IQZoom105WR's weather-resistant capability makes it "possible to shoot under rain and to wash in water," and Olympus says, "Water splashed against the enclosure from any direction will have no harmful effect" on its All-Weather Stylus Epic camera. According to representative Don Bergy, Nikon no longer makes weatherproof models because problems arose when consumers interpreted certain concepts differently than the manufacturer intended. "For example, the specifications from headquarters in Japan may say a camera can withstand 45 minutes in a drizzling rain. But a drizzle in Japan is quite different from a drizzle in Florida," explains Bergy.
Consider a fully waterproof camera if you expect to be frequently clicking away in the face of hazards such as boat spray, heavy rain or clumsy friends. The Canon Sure Shot A1 and the Minolta Weathermatic Dual 35 are both waterproof to depths of 16 feet, so you can dive with them, hold them underwater for photos of hooked fish at boatside or simply use them confidently on your boat, knowing they'll survive accidental dunkings. Aquapac produces another option for angling photographers: plastic cases that provide waterproof protection for pocket cameras. Bergy says some of his customers keep their cameras dry by carrying them in Tupperware-like containers or resealable plastic bags.
Water is the most obvious threat to any camera you take fishing, but it's not the only one. Exposure to sunlight can damage cameras and film, as can sunscreen, insect repellent, gasoline and other chemicals. Although built to take some abuse, point-and-shoot cameras should be protected from boat vibrations. Wrap yours in a dry towel or T-shirt while running from one spot to another.