How to capture fine detail with a simple camera?

I own an Olympus Stylus Epic Zoom 80 and am curious if my camera has any function that would allow it to capture fine detail (like, for example, the patterns in tree bark or brick).

It can zoom in and out and can take pictures as close as two and a half feet. Its functions are landscape, night mode, and flash/ no flash. The lens is a 38-80 mm.

What is it exactly that captures fine details - aperture, exposure time, or just quality of the lens?


  • tsarina, very amateur photographer

Everything you mentioned has something to do with it, but most important is to use the slowest film . ASA 100, or lower. If you like Black and White, a film called Technical Pan produces exceptional detail. Kodachrome slides, at ASA 64 is very good for detail.

  • Use a tripod. If you don’t have one, set the camera on a rock, and use a delayed exposure, or get a remote cable release if the camera will do it. The key is not to touch the camera at all while it’s taking a picture. If the camera will not do a delayed exposure, then set the camera on something very solid, and s-l-o-w-l-y press the shutter release.

  • Don’t get the film developed at a 1 Hour Processing place, go to a professional photography store. (It’s a crap shoot with 1 Hour Processing, some days it’ll be good, others bad.)

  • Use a UV filter if the camera will take one. (They’re cheap.) If you can affort one, buy a polarizer filter, for example from Hoya. Both will cut down glare.

  • Set the aperture to about midway between all the way open and all the way stopped down. Usually f 5.6 is good. Usually lenses produce their best pictures at about that setting.

  • Experiment with the zoom, take a set of 5 pictures, of something with very fine detail. (Like a page from a laser printer, with several size fonts). The detail will be better at some settings than at others.

  • If you get pictures you think are about right, ask them to print a larger size than the standard 4 x 6. Examine the result to see whether you’ve achieved what you want.

  • The next step is either to buy a larger format camera, or to take a photography class, where you can get your hands on a darkroom.

I am not familiar with that model camera, but if you have a macro mode or attachment, you might consider using it (digital cams typically go up to 3 inches from subject with a macro mode).

The better you can focus, the finer the detail. Exposure has no effect, but aperture(F-) settings will affect depth of field, that is, how much is in focus in front of and behind the true focal point. The higher the F- number, the more depth of field, which can help compensate for sloppy focus. Also, the closer you are to the subject, the shallower the depth of focus is (for macro pix, it can be only a fraction of an inch, so it’s pretty critical).

The quality of the lens is important, too. Better lenses will allow for more enlargement without getting fuzzy.

Use a tripod where possible, especially in low light situations. Nothing ruins a pic as quickly as a shaky camera.

Take lots of pictures, and critique every one.

Hope this helps!

Some of my amateur pictures, all taken with a cheap, 2.1 megapixel Fuji digital camera. Of course, they were processed & downsized for web display, and the originals have much more detail than you see here.

If you develop your own pictures, you could try experimenting with different filters…

Plus the larger the lens, the easier you can capture the fine details.

~ MC

I just checked the spec for the camera - it’s a 35mm p&s, auto-everything, no manual overrides.

A remote is listed as an option, but if you can’t vary anything but the use of flash and type of film, follow partly_warmer’s advice and experiment with the slowest films you can find.

That means going to a real photo store - while you’re there, look around…

photo is fun, but trying to shoot around equipment limitations is not.

Minimum requirements for a camera (IMHO):

35mm SLR. period. no discussion.
flash shoe
remote shutter release capability
tripod mount (this is a “file under ‘duh’”, but there are ones which don’t)
filter mount
interchangeable lenses
manual setting of shutter, aperature, and focus (sometimes autofocus gets you something you don’t want)
(manual setting of film speed is a nice-to-have, but not needed unless you want to get REAL creative)

happyheathen’s got good points.

Old, manual Nikon’s and Canons can be purchased for about what your camera cost, tsarina. With a standard 50mm lens it’s possible to take the pictures that appeared in National Geographic 20 years ago.

But speaking of one who has spent … considerable … sums of money on “better” cameras – the extra expense in almost every single case would have been better invested in film and photography courses. Do I ever wish I could undo some of those purchases, now.

Experiment with your camera for awhile. You should be able to take very good pictures with it.

I have a junky digital I bought in a bargain bin for $40, and sure enough, I’ve taken many pictures I like with it.

Oh, and I see I wasn’t quite clear about testing your zoom: zoom it all the way to 38mm and to 80mm and to a few places in between. Probably the best quality is about at 50mm.

Lotsa complicated advice for someone asking a simple question.

Let’s see…you can’t put filters on your camera, you have no macro setting, and you can’t select the f-stop. (Amazing the advice people give while knowing nothing about the equipment.)

The advice about slow film was good, but your camera is DX coded. That means the camera reads and sets the ISO (ASA) of the film for you, by reading the barcode on the film cassette.

So check your manual before you put anything slower than 100 ASA into it; if the camera can’t read the bar code it will default to 100. I don’t know what the Epic will read.
The lens is the most important part of getting fine detail in your photos. I use a Stylus Zoom (35-70) for my P&S stuff, and I’ve always been happy with the results. (I shoot professionally, though with a different camera.)

There’s nothing wrong with 1-hour shops; developing the negatives is a standard procedure that you’d have to work at to screw up. Printing the negatives is what’s critical, if your 1-hour shop does a lousy job, ask for a redo. Or take the negs somewhere else. (Dirty little secret: Just about all 1-hour labs will print your pictures by using the exposure (time, filters) for the first negative on ALL negatives on that roll. Taking one neg to a different shop for a reprint means they have to figure how to expose it, usually resulting in a better print.
Above all, have fun

IMHO the most important thing is lighting. The texture of a surface is mostly due to the pattern of tiny shadows, so lighting can dramatically change the appearence of the surface. If you want to emphasize the roughness of the surface you might a direct lighting at a shallow angle. If you want to emphasize subtle colors you might not want those shadows, and so choose a diffuse light.

You can get the right lighting by waiting for the right weather and time of day - e.g. a cloudy day if you want a diffuse light. Or you can create or modify the lighting with artificial lights and reflectors.

There are all sorts of things you can do with an off-camera flash. But with an on-camera flash like the one on the Sylus, usually the best thing is to turn it off (as opposed to auto mode). The on-camera flash is very close to the camera lens, so it creates no shadows which the camera can see.

In terms of equipment, the most important thing is to use a tripod. You can play around with different films and processing, but I think they are secondary concerns. Slide film is worth trying though - the color and contrast can be stunning.

If you are looking for drop-dead gorgeous detail, (like, say, diffraction in a drop of water). the simple answer is ‘lens and film’.

Both need to be really sharp to do the job.

Slide film is the standard for professional color photographers (or was a few years ago), and there are really great emulsions available, but the expense of printing from slides makes it a real good idea to practice with negative film.

So - buy a bunch of film, a couple of books, and see what happens.

(and yes, photo heads do tend to jump into trivia a the drop of hat - run! :slight_smile: )

I believe that camera does have a macro mode, at least my non-zoom Olympus Stylus Epic did.

Follow everyone’s advice about film speed and lighting. Using a tripod and the autotimer can eliminate nearly all vibrations, allowing you to use whatever exposure is necessary. I’ve taken many detailed close-ups with my P&S, not as good as with my SLR but you do what you can.

When criticizing is good to be either witty, or correct. And you were neither. It would also be nice not to confuse new photographers with contradictory information – but alas – it’s too late for that now.

She asked in the OP whether aperture was important. I answered her question.

One could take a mediocre lens and great film, and turn out a detailed shot (Which is what she asked for.) One could not take a superb lens and ASA 1600 film and do the same. So the lens is not the most important thing.

There’s nothing wrong with 1 Hour shops, eh? I constantly see rolls screwed up, you live in a different country? 1 Hour photo finishing is cheap for among these reasons:

  1. Chemicals are used past the point where they are developing properly.

  2. They don’t maintain their equipment, causing scratches. They don’t filter their air (dust all over negatives, anyone?)

  3. They hire minimum wage types who sometimes know little about photography. So: can’t recognize problems with their equipment, don’t know why photographs have gone wrong, can’t explain how to avoid problems.

Far from causing faults that can be fixed by “redoing the pictures” film underdevelopment cannot be fixed. Scratches cannot be erased.

Also, they only cater to common film types, and common paper types. Neither of the two films I recommended can be developed at a 1 hour photo finishing place. (Except by sending them elsewhere, to a real photo finishing company.)

Finally, they know nothing about options for printing (and precious little about digitizing), completing their mediocre service.

Pardon me, partly_warmer, for not amusing you. But you come down pretty hard on me.

You suggested the following:

Re-read the original post:

She’s talking about a point and shoot camera.

You suggest filters? Huh? It’s a point and shoot!

You suggest Tech Pan film? It’s a point and shoot! It’s ASA 100 or follow the DX cpoding. (Tech Pan is a variable speed, camera will default to 100.)

Sure apeture matters, but you can’t change it. Why? It’s a point and shoot!

Someone else mentioned a macro mode. Nope, 24 inch minimum focusing distance.

I say it’s the lens, and its ability to focus down. But with a point and shoot, you’re stuck with the lens, and it’s minimum focusing distance (2 feet).

Sorry you’d had such shitty experiences with 1-hour labs, or maybe I’m just lucky. I’ve also found that talking to the manager or owner is helpful, as well as being a regular client. Yeah, a lot of places have bad habits, but they don’t stay in business long.

The lab I use is owned by a guy who has a portrait studio in the back, and he’s there all the time. As for catering to ‘common film types’, well, I’ve had Kodak’s Porta film processed and printed there, and it’s beautiful. As for digitizing, they’ve burned negs to a CD for me, and can print directly from flashcards.

I probably should have replied by saying there’s no way to take macro pictures with a point and shoot, but I tried to be helpful, so my advice stands.