19 December 2010

Which camera

What I've learned

This is the first article in, possibly, a series about what I've learned about photography. It'll include information on equipment, technical stuff, techniques, useful information, and how I do things.

I have been asked a number of times for recommendations on cameras. My answer is, "It depends". Here are a number things you should be aware of:

Cameras don't take photos

A camera doesn't take good photos. It is you, the photographer, who makes all the critical decisions. The camera is a tool that provides you with options of what to do.
Sure, good gear makes it a lot easier and gives better quality (sharpness, less noise, control over settings, and so on), but simply buying expensive gear will not make you a good photographer.

The technical skills, the ability to "see" a photo, the understanding of composition and framing, these are all things that take time to develop and which you bring to the table. The camera doesn't do any of these things.

So, don't buy a camera because you want to take nice photos like a photographer you admire. Buy one because you want to take photos and the camera is the tool for doing so. The quality of your photos is something you'll work on for a long time.

Which camera?

There are lots of different types (compact cameras through to professional "full-image" digital cameras) and brands (from Aigo through to Vivitar) of cameras. The trick is to find a camera that:
  • Is in your price range. Have a look around at the prices and then decide how much you are willing to spend.
  • Does what you need. If you want convenience and simplicity, a compact digital is good. If you want to take photos of the kids playing sports, you'll need something with a good zoom on it. Do you want to take photos mainly and the occasional video? If it's the other way around, you are looking for a video camera.
  • If you don't know what you are looking for, start off buying a compact digital - they are good all-round cameras, very easy to use, and don't cost a lot. As you use it, you'll learn what you need and that will help you decide what your next camera will be.
  • Works well and reliably. I'd recommend one of the major brands as they've been around for a while and know how to make good quality equipment. Just remember, you get what you pay for, so don't expect high-end performance from a low-end camera.

Things to watch out for

Digital Zoom: you want a camera with optical zoom, not digital zoom. Digital zoom is just a way of taking a section of a photo and then blowing it up. You lose quality and detail when that happens. Optical zoom uses the lens of the camera to zoom in/out and maintains the quality and resolution of the image.

Be careful when you buy your first digital SLR (DSLR). Lenses are not interchangeable across brands. For example, if you buy a Canon DSLR and then switch to Nikon, you will not be able to use the Canon lenses on the new Nikon camera. Fortunately the top brands, like Canon and Nikon, are much the same in terms of functionality and quality.

My experience

My first camera was a 5 megapixel compact camera. I learned an enormous amount about taking photos from using this camera - things like contrast, saturation, white balance, exposure, need for a tripod, and so on. When I finally worked out that I wanted more control over the depth of field of my photos, I bought a Canon 350D with two lenses. Canon, that year, had the best entry-level DSLR on the market. If I had bought the camera 6 months later, it would have probably been a Nikon.

I eventually found out that I wanted better quality from my lenses - I especially wanted better sharpness and, to a lesser extent, faster lenses ("fast" = bigger maximum aperture). This started me on a journey that has locked me in to Canon. I have more money invested in my lenses that I do in the camera.

As Canon brought out newer versions of this line of cameras I upgraded to take advantage of more pixels - they let me print larger images. Then, after taking a long (1.5 hour) night photo that had terrible noise, I upgraded to the next level and bought a 40D.

I've been very happy with this latest camera and, after a lot of thinking, I've decided that I will stick with the APS-C sized camera because my lenses (did I say I have more money invested in lenses than my camera?) are sized to work best with this sensor size.

I keep thinking that I would like to buy the new Canon 7D (more pixels and better noise handling), but I just can't justify it at the moment. My 40D does everything I need!

1 comment:

  1. Hey Bill..

    Really keen to follow your blog! Your images are awesome!!

    Perhaps when you can make it down to Adelaide again, I'll be able to convert you to the 7d!