The Rule of P’s fits well in the world of photography. Whether you are trying to get the right angle or position, background or fore ground, or camera settings… or you are looking to buy your first or fiftieth camera.
~ PRIOR PLANNING PREVENTS POOR PHOTOGRAPHIC PERFORMANCE ~
Impassivity and laziness will cost you more often than not, especially in photography. If you put some thought into it first, learn what the ‘exposure triangle’ is, and practice the basics of DOF (depth of field), and pay just as much attention to what is ‘around’ your subject as you do your subject, I promise you’ll save yourself a whole lot of headaches, heartaches, and money… and have significantly better images.
I learned a long time ago that while the differences between makes & models of cameras can be significant, and they really are not all that significant. Ultimately, it’s THE GLASS, settings chosen (used), and final presentation 99.999% of the time.
There are many times over the last 30 years I’ve been able to rock a point & shoot… especially if I can control the settings manually, and the lens is clean and even remotely descent. Could it have been a better image with a ‘better’ camera? Sure, it’s possible… even likely; HOWEVER, ultimately, it’s better to ‘get the shot’ than to miss it, and sometimes we just have to use the tools available to the best of our ability.
Over the years, I’ve seen amazing images from all types of cameras… and have a few friends that love Canon’s, Nikon’s, Sony’s, Fuji’s, Kodak’s, Panasonic’s, Olympus’s, and even the grossly expensive medium format Hasselblad’s and PhaseOne. I’ve owned & tried many different makes & models of cameras (and lenses)… different makes & models (and brands) are almost as meaningless as what brand of stove, refrigerator, microwave, or garbage disposal was used when sitting down to eat a meal. Ultimately, THEY HAVE A COMMON PURPOSE, and it’s all in where & how they are used… and what you are trying to accomplish with the tools available to you… and what the final results are that determine how well the tools were used, ingredients selected, and meal presented. Yes, some tools make some things easier, faster, better; but the basics are the basics… are the basics.
Personally, I believe the fundamental choice boils down to: do you want fixed (built-in) lens… or removable lens? There are some great options in both… but removable lens gives you more flexibility (but also will ultimately cost more)… but also means packing more gear, having to think more, but often capturing better images easier.
Consider this: cameras are ultimately like ‘the stove’ – the lenses are ‘the pots & pans’ – the choices (settings) are the ingredients, which are selected by the ‘cook’ (photographer) employing the assorted ingredient choices to achieve a meal (the finished photograph)… which will ultimately be consumed by the viewer, in a similar fashion, but with a different set of senses, as the final meal… which may or may not ‘feed the soul.’ ~ TerryMercer.com
Most professional photographers have at least 2 dSLR cameras… plus usually at least 1 point & shoot (that usually has a manual setting option).
Here are some tips you might want to consider when purchasing your camera.
BATTERIES: The problem with many cameras is that they don’t use ‘regular’ (AA or AAA) batteries, therefore are somewhat impractical for occasional use or traveling without power charging handy, or having massive extra batteries). If the batteries are proprietary (make and model specific), always plan on buying 2, 3, or more extra batteries (usually off eBay, where they are less expensive… and usually include an extra charger). Nothing is worse than traveling, not having power, having an awesome camera, a great opportunity for a unique shot, but no damn battery! And no way to get any within a timely manner. I highly suggest having at least one camera that takes STANDARD BATTERIES if you do much traveling. When I’m traveling, I take about a dozen pre-charged batteries, AND my vertical grip on my big cameras – which allows me to use AA’s in my dSLR, plus I take my point & shoot (usually with the underwater housing, because the kids & I tend to play in, on, or around the water a lot), just in case.
Next, Memory Card – try to stick with NORMAL – CF (Compact Flash) or SD (Secure Digital)… are common, inexpensive, powerful, and work well. Most computers these days have SD readers built in (especially laptops), and USB readers are common place & inexpensive. Try to pay attention to the ‘class’ (the higher the number, the faster the card’s ability to read & write (i.e., save & copy files, your photos from the camera to the card, thus freeing up the cameras buffer faster… and also impacts the speed at coping the files to the computer). Class 4 is slow & cheap, and will bottle neck many modern cameras. Class 8 is my minimum recommendation for most cameras, class 10 if you plan to shoot much video is the slowest I’d suggest. If money is no object, the class 12 is the fastest and hottest card on the market today, but over kill for the majority of cameras on the market today (but most standard SD memory cards can be used on your NEXT CAMERA, so it’s a wise investment). I’ve been playing with a SD to CF converter, which allows me to use a less expensive and faster SD card in my CF cameras. A few thousand images later, I LOVE IT! I recommend getting the fastest cardS you can afford! Yes, plural… have at least two, always, if for no other reason than as a backup.
Next is Megapixels… and censor size (crop factor inside camera). The larger the better, but more expensive. ASK what the crop factor is – or the capture ratio. IT MATTERS to photos that you print above 8×10, or plan to crop by 50% (or more). Try to stay away from the tiny sensors if you can. Personally, I wouldn’t waste my time with anything under 10mpx, and most of my cameras are 12 to 22mpx at this point. The majority of my sensors are either ‘full frame’ or a crop factor of 1.6 (I shoot mostly Canon bodies).
ISO – the higher potential the better, for low light (indoor) without flash or distance shooting. 3200 is pretty much a standard for low light indoor & evening photography; however, 6400 and higher has absolute benefits… and in some settings that flashes can’t be used is very necessary. Some cameras have much higher megapixels, one of the cell phone manufacturers boasts a 40mpx capture; however, the sensor size and processor determines the amount of noise (pixelation), sharpness, and detail within the finished print. Some makes & models are clearly better than others at the higher ISO’s. PAY ATTENTION, and see it you can see samples of the TYPE OF SHOTS you are most likely going to be shooting. Out door shooting from sun up to sun down, or environments you can usually use a flash, is completely different than those low light situations you lack those choices and options. The average person will likely never use, or think to use, 12,800 ISO or higher.
Shutter Speed is pretty meaningless unless you are shooting MOTION & MOVEMENT – like ‘sports action’ or other high speed stuff. However, being able to control the shutter speed will most definitely impact your photos. The average rule of thumb is the slowest shutter speed equals ‘one over the focal length’ before blur sets in. So, if you are at 150mm, then 1/160th of a second is the slowest recommended shutter speed (the aperture or ISO changes to add or subtract the needed lighting for the exposure). Few people can freehand shoot below 1/60th of a second without IS (Image Stabilization), and I only know a few professional photographers besides myself that can shoot slower than half a second consistently without a tripod. 99% of the ‘automatic’ point and shoot cameras try to keep the shutter speed between 1/80th and 1/2000th of a second (the higher the number, the faster).
Shutter lag (response time) is also important. How long does it take for the shutter to respond to your push of the button? The cheaper the camera, the slower the reaction time (the cameras, not necessarily yours). As I found out back in 2001, a slow reaction time meant that I had to ‘time’ my action shots by ANTICIPATING the action, and clicking 1/2 to 1 second BEFORE IT REALLY HAPPENED. Clearly not a good choice for sports action, and a higher ‘bad shot’ ratio than I usually have with a camera that clicks instantly (thousandths of milliseconds). The faster, the better in most situations, especially when movement is involved. Few things suck worse than saying smile, and having a delay for the photo of what seems like an eternity before the click happens. I can not say it enough, but this really matters to any type of motion & action photography.
Aperture – the lower the number the better (less light is required… and the ‘faster’ the glass (the lens) is consider to be). Aperture also directly effects the DoF (Depth of Field) or purposeful blur of the background, and background control. The lower the number (i.e., f1.4) the more light gets in, shallower the depth of field, and the less detail (to no detail) than shows in the background. There are times I use a DOF CALCULATOR… when I want Boken (blurred ‘dots’ in the background).
Next would be mm of Focal Length. Ideally, you’d want from 10mm to about 200mm to cover most normal family and vacation type snap shots & photos. In general, 50mm (full sensor size) is WHAT THE NORMAL EYE SEES (without moving); however, 31mm = 50mm on a Canon crop sensor camera (and they don’t make a straight up 31mm lens). The smaller this number, the wider the angle that can be captured. The higher, the more it zooms… the further you’ll be able to see through the lens. When dealing with point & shoots, and fixed lens cameras, this is the ultimate limitation; and often masked with a xtimes zoom factor. 10x is meaningless unless you know WHERE IT STARTS. If the majority of your shots will be within 30 feet of less (unless a landscape), then you’ll want about 10mm (or less) to about 100mm equivalency. Many of the less expensive cameras don’t have ‘exact’ mm listings, they have ‘zoom factors’ – in which case you need to determine what numbers are OPTICAL by figuring out the STARTING mm. Also, most P&S (Point & Shoots) have a ‘digital’ zoom, which looks great on the little screen, and in 4×6’s, but show a lot of noise in print sizes above 8×10 usually, or with big crops into the image. Optical is generally better, less noise, more sharp, higher quality, but usually a higher cost. Know that MANY P&S cameras allow the user to screw on EXTERNAL LENS adapters (and filters)… great feature if your budget is low.
IS – Image Stabilization, for less blurred photos. Usually only available on those cameras starting at the $300+ price tag. Depending on how the camera does it, determines if it’s going to lag (delay) the shutter reaction time. So, BE AWARE. Make sure the feature can be turned on & off… and that you can deal with the lag it might create.
Type of file the picture matters… jpg is most common, and best for 99% of the snap shots… but RAW is a great option as your photography skills improve and the shot matters more to you (but RAW DOES require post processing in another software program on your computer, whereas jpg doesn’t, which is something that most people don’t want to mess with).
Another point is EXTERNAL FLASH – if you think you’ll want or need one, make sure there is a hot shoe or cable connector possible. These are important for fill flashes, and more controlled shoots. Flashes do more than just ‘add light’ – especially ‘off-camera flashes.’ They are useful. allowing bounce & fill, more shadow control; and more creativity.
However, some venues (sports, concerts, live events) often ban the use of flashes (built in or external). Which means photographers have to work within the limitations of the environment, and in low light settings… with no lighting control, there are ONLY two options: a) high ISO (in camera – film speed or sensor sensitivity, which effectively allows a photo to be brighter BUT adds ‘noise’ and graininess usually), and b) ‘fast glass’ (low f/stop) is important; the lower the number (f/stop) the more light is allowed through the wider opening. However, fast glass isn’t cheap (with the exception of the ‘Nifty Fifty’ – the 50mm f1:1.8 – which is usually available for around $100 for most camera brands).
View Finder vs JUST a view screen – I know that more of the point & shoot cameras are shipping without any view finder, and if you only plan on taking a few snap shots, that is fine about 90% of the time. However, the view screen won’t allow you to focus as precisely, won’t work easily in bright sun light, and eats batteries. When ever possible, try to have a view finder… particularly one that demonstrates what you’ll see through the lens, so you can focus better, see in all types of lighting, and won’t waste battery life powering a large LCD or LED screen. PLUS, many view finders allow ‘fine tuning’ to YOUR EYE SIGHT, with a ‘diopter’ that allows for better focusing without glasses on.
REMOTE SHUTTER option – this is particularly important for low light (night, cave, fire works) type shots, and helpful for self-portraits (beats shooting in the bath room mirror). Most camera’s have self-timers, which help… but aren’t functional for ‘lightening’ and other types of necessary photography.
WiFi is another option on some of the cameras… BE AWARE, and make sure HOW this works, and determine if you will really use it. Because it can be a costly & challenging add-on (today). PLUS it has the potential to open your photos up to those that can ‘capture’ your signal.
GPS is available on some… and if you are a world traveler, is sweet, because it logs the longitude & latitude of your shot in the meta data of the photo. Down side, if you post immediately to your social networking, it tells people where you are, and that you are away from home. (OR where you were, which you might not want others knowing your ‘special’ shoot spots). So use it carefully and knowingly.
Ultimately, you need to determine the type of shooting (all of) that you’ll want to do, and how often you’ll do it, and what your budget is. Quality photos can be taken on $100 cameras, if one pays attention… to $2000 cameras… to $50,000 cameras (yes, they really exist – the 200Megapixel Medium Format Hasselblad with a couple fast lens used in high end fashion & portraits can easily top that cost). Some of my best, most widely distributed & published photographs were taken with point & shoots that cost under $400. So remember, it’s not the word processing software or computer that creates the best selling novel… it’s the creator! But having the right tools does make it easier.
Filters: In general, there are only two ‘should have’ filters – a UV (Ultraviolet) which helps protect the actual lens from dust, dirt, pollen, scratches, bumps, etc. And the CP (Circular Polarizer) which is like awesome fishing glasses, allowing you to reduce (or add) reflections (seeing through glare, or creating a ‘mirror’). The next most useful, for outdoors would be the NDG (Neutral Density Gradient). Plastic filters require more caution in the cleaning, as they scratch easier. Glass is good, multi-coated glass is much better. All of my expensive lens have a UV on them 99.999% of the time.
Flickr costs $25 per year… unlimited uploads… millions of photos uploaded every day, from total novice to OMG blow your socks off creations to long time traditional professional photographers. The benefit are the groups and feed back (constructive criticism) available PER PHOTO… it can really help you think & see your photography a bit differently (different perspectives & eye & skills). It’s kinda sorta like ‘facebook for photographers’ generally focused on photography… not religion, politics, relationships, or such.
Buy intelligently, buy with a plan, and buy what you really need to shoot what you are needing to shoot and that allows you to add to your equipment list, not constantly having to replace it. Take into consideration a persons ability, time, and desire TO LEARN. Some people ‘need’ (want) ‘auto-settings’ and will never take the time to transition to manual settings.
Same thing if you are buying a gift… get something that WILL GET USED, not just shelved out of frustration in a few days or weeks.
I can’t think of anything more at this point… any questions, suggestions, additions, or corrections…
Please feel free to comment or message me.