Thoughts on Equipment Acquisition

Right up front – I like my toys Smile  I also use my toys.  I’m also a technology sort of a person.

Over the last couple of years, I’ve made this “dive” back into photography.  From the equipment side, a pretty deep dive.  I’ve I guess always had a digital camera of sorts since 35mm film started to die away, but it was only recently (actually in the last two years) where I really started to get more serious about photography.  I used to eat, sleep, breath photography in the 35mm days.  Then life got in the way Smile  Tough times with the recession in the early 80’s, and taking photos suddenly didn’t fall into the equation any more.  We didn’t stop taking photos back then, just didn’t take as many.  When I got into digital, it took me a long time to get “back”.   But in the last few years and in particular the last two or so years, my interest has been increasing again to a pretty wild level.  I hit a point where I had to money to “play” a bit and get back into this. 

I’m NOT going into the tech spec stuff Smile  This post is more about usage or how a camera in it’s class is perceived by me and experience in photography. 

We had just gotten back from a short holiday in ‘Vegas and we took our pointy shooties.  Now my wife has a Panasonic FZ50, but we decided to leave it due to it’s sheer size (size will be discussed later..)  We got some great shots but I found I also found that I missed a lot of shots.  I found that the low lights were dismal at best and I guess that was the first trigger.  Once I got back, I started to research and the result of that search was the Fuji X10.  Two things, well, a few more things that were key.  It had an f2.0 lens.  It had this retro look about it that reminded me of Leica.  Most important – it was small enough to fit in my daypack with the rest of my tech gear for commuting.  Done deal.  It’s been downhill ever since Smile  After a few months with this unit, I got even more curious and started to research and decided to literally start playing with various pieces of gear.  So here we are today with several “layers” of photo gear across probably 10 cameras or more ranging from my pointy shooties all the way to my recently acquired Nikon D3200.  With my background in photo retail/wholesale (roughtly 10 years in photo alone) from the 35mm days, and now, some pretty serious work within digital, I feel I have a bit of  knowledge to impart Smile

It’s highly likely that most people do take photos.  Many are happy with what they have – others want to get better.  I’m going to try to clarify a statement I hear all the time.  “Your camera takes great pictures” Heard that one before?  Probably.  So… it makes one wonder what a person means by that Smile  Is it clearer – are the colors “better” – is it composition – is it subject matter? – all of the above.   Or what about this statement – “If you want the best, you SHOULD get a DSLR.”  That one in particular really raises the hairs on my neck!!  Or worse – “IF you want to look like a pro, you should get a DSLR”.  That one disturbs me even more.  Just ‘cause you own one, doesn’t mean you can shoot like one Smile 

One thing that I’ve found in my experience in retail and just generally, is that friends are huge influencers.  When you are with friends and you see a camera, one’s inquisitiveness kicks in and, of course, you ask about it.  This usually kicks off this thought process about either upgrading, or if you don’t own a digital camera – to think about buying one.  And then, of course, you might drop in to you local camera store or who ever sells cameras and start “snooping”.  Heck, you might even buy the same one your friend has.  A lot of my friends know of my background in photography and are absolutely shocked when they see me taking pics with some sort of pointy shooty Smile  “What!!”, they say – no DSLR??  My answer is usually “Why would I need one?”  The response is usually one of puzzlement Smile  I then, very calmly explain, that there really is no need for that sophisticated of a camera for starters, and then that it would be too heavy to carry around anyway.  Not that I’m against DSLR’s – just not a good choice for most folks.  Let’s put this in a financial light.  Why would I spend say $500 on a camera when I get one that can do more for under $200 AND stick it in my shirt pocket or coat pocket? 

I don’t disagree that something like a DSLR is a better unit.  BUT you also need to know how to use it, for starters and then be able to take advantage of what the thing is capable of doing to squeeze out that “better” part.  Then – you take that knowledge to apply against your photo knowledge to get that “great shot”.  That’s a lot of work for what you thought was going to be simple “snap” Smile  On the wild assumption that you will even get prints – they will also likely be 4×6 inches and at that size – it ain’t gonna matter folks Smile  Everyone has a different reason for getting one – many will also miss shots…..

A lot of the time, I think that influencers and ego both cloud making a rational decision on a camera purchase.  In fact, I’ve seen people make some pretty sound evaluations of what they want to do, and then out of the clear blue, will drop the money on a DSLR and a few lenses when they could have gotten by with a travel cameraSmile  It would be interesting to know if they actually use the stuff Smile Let’s get going on this a bit.

I don’t know if it’s the lifestyle we live, or what, but one the things I’ve noticed over the years, and I’m talking my city here (Calgary), it just seems like there is this “rush” to get stuff done.  I sometimes wonder if we bring some of this one ourselves.  I know that for me, even though I’ve been out of work for a few months, my days and evening are busy.  Mind you – looking for work is a full time job too.  I think one of the toughest things out there when you get ready to buy a new camera, is to determine what you are going to do with it – specifically.  In my years in retail, this has been the never ending story Smile  The answer when you ask is usually – just snapshots.  Then you go into 20 questions to narrow that down.  The issue I run into there, is that many people suddenly realize that they maybe don’t know or come back with “what can these things do?” or something equivalent.  We are also in such a rush, I think, that we sometimes don’t stop to use technology, i.e. the internet, to assist in making some sort of decision.  This also has it’s pitfalls – there’s almost too much information and if you aren’t even sure of what brand to buy, it’s very overwhelming.

So.. before we really get going, I should give you an idea of what I own:

Pointy Shooties – I have a Pentax P70, Nikon S3000, Nikon S3400

Advanced Pointy Shooties – I have a Fuji X10 and Panasonic LX7

Travel Cameras – I have a Panasonic SZ1, ZS15, ZS25, Canon SX270HD, Nikon S9400, Sony HX30V, Fuji F800EXR

Compact System Cameras – Panasonic GX1 with two zooms, Nikon 1 J1 with two zooms

DSLR – Nikon D3200 with kit zoom

Yes, I use them all Smile  The Nikon D3200 is quite new – more on this later.  Most recently, the advantages of having multiple cameras showed it’s worth.  My wife had an overseas trip – I sent her with two of my Panasonics.  At the same time, my son wanted to borrow one of my other cameras for an event that he was attending.  I wanted to do some light box stuff and do some comparing between cameras. All in a day’s work Smile 

A few of these were bought for very specific things, the rest were more or less on impulse or getting something extra that the others didn’t have.  I know that a lot of people profess having only one camera and using it before progressing to the next.  Been there, done that.  What I wanted to do, initially, to find a camera or cameras that I could use that could fit in my daypack and still get me some versatility.  Why daypack?  Commuting life – crowded buses don’t lend themselves to carrying a couple of things – inconvenient at best.  One item like a daypack is ideal.  PLUS this would give a great opportunity to see what the new technology had to offer.  I spent a bit of coin doing this, but for me, it got me “back in” and got me a hobby again.  This time, though, I don’t think I’ll turn it into a business Smile

Back to cameras and understanding.  I think there are a couple of things to consider when you look at getting a new camera.  Of course, the biggest thing is going to be what you are going to do with it.  AND where.  You see, to me and from my experience that “where” piece is very critical.  For instance – if you are a serious amateur, the sheer amount of equipment won’t really matter – they’ll take whatever they need,  They won’t necessarily take that gear to and from work, but then again, they might.  Their “shoots” are usually a very planned and concerted effort.  They may or may not necessarily have their cameras at “casual events” either.  On the other hand, if you want a camera with you all the time, it’s gonna have to be small or at least easily mobile, IMHO.  My wife keeps the Pentax P70 in her purse ALL THE TIME.  The FZ50 (Panasonic – “quasi DSLR” – 12x zoom)  goes with her on most of her volunteer efforts as well as the P70.  I have a sling bag, actually several slings with gear in them that I can just “pick up and go”.  The only thing that usually gets added is my iPad or Nexus 7.  AND it’s always close.  I look at this way.  Those captured memories with family and friends are priceless.  Having a camera always available is invaluableSmile  

The flip side of this – will you be taking photos for the sake of taking photos- snapshots to capture memories, we’ll say, OR to learn the craft ?Smile  Knowing that, can also change your “entry point”.  To put your mind at ease, there’s literally a camera out there than can fit whatever you might want to do.  It’s also a tough call because of the sheer amount of product out there.  This is where a bit of research isn’t going to hurt.  Snapshots are part of the learning, don’t forget.  Learning the craft also means going beyond the picture taking side – there’s a lot out there.

A thing about picture quality.  A lot of the reviews will show certain “flaws” if you will, about image quality and where it breaks down, etc.  Something to remember about this – a lot of this may not even apply to you Smile  One needs to have an understanding of what they are saying for starters and then figure out if this even applies to what you expect.  Without getting too technical, if you are interested in just taking photos, this may not impact you.  These flaws or deficiencies won’t show up until you REALLY enlarge a photo.  Even then, it might not be that big of a deal.  It will be the very serious amateur or pro, but for the average consumer public – probably not Smile  Seeing prints from various types of cameras is always nice but not always available.  Reviews have examples and those are great if they fit what you want to do, but then again, each circumstance is different and despite the fact they show a pretty wide variety of shots, there’s nothing like your own either.

Now, when it comes down to the crunch, any camera you get is going to work coming out of the box.  Sort of – you’ll have to likely charge up the battery and probably buy some sort of memory card for it.  Most of today’s cameras are also capable taking movies – another topic altogether, but not for me, as I don’t do too many of those.  From a quality standpoint, even the least expensive of the bunch is going to take a good quality photo.  Most of the cameras will have a bit of a zoom, probably in the 3x to 4x range.  Many have some effects things if you are so inclined and they are all quite small.  They can be had for $100 or less.  Interestingly enough, for the “snapshot” crowd anything in this category will probably do Smile  It’s reached a point where brands become a bit of a blurred issue.  One thing you will see here is this thing about megapixels.  In reality, it’s the sensor that counts but for the sake of discussion……  Most cameras in this class will state 10 megapixels or more.  So what the heck does that mean?  Well, it will give you a shot that if you printed it at 8×10 inches or perhaps 11×14 inches, you’ll end up with a pretty high quality print.  Little or no grain.  AND assuming there was no camera shakeSmile  If you are a little computer minded, it’ll also generate a fairly large file.  Probably a megabyte or two.  Or more….. Disk space is cheap, but in reality, if you are just doing the snapshot thing, one could easily get away with a lower setting.  Even 3 or 5 megapixel.  This is a “depends” thing.  If you are going to upload to a social media site and you know this ahead of time, you could probably get away with even a lower setting.  BUT, in saying that – I’ve found that staying at the highest possible quality on the initial shot and then converting down to a “web size”, ultimately produces a better quality photo in the end for “web stuff”, but then that’s just me.  For me I tend to use the the highest resolution available.  I also shoot in JPEG format for just about everything – not RAW.  I may eventually, but for now….  JPEG formats have changed a bit – there is FINE mode that started to show up – larger file but can ultimately produce a better image under the right conditions.  RAW formats are good if you need to use software to manipulate the photo.  BUT you also need the software and knowledge around it.  Depending on the camera, it can also slow down your shooting as the camera captures the image if you are doing sequence things. 

For me, so far, I’ve made a very deliberate move to stay away from the RAW format.  It’s a time thing in reality.  I simply don’t have the time to put into learn the software at this point.  I do, however, have enough knowledge to “get the shot right” too Smile 

When looking at purchasing one, I’ve heard several opinions on getting one camera using it until it doesn’t do what you want it to before stepping up.  I sort of agree with this, but then again, to me this would fit more if you are working your way up Smile  The other one I hear a lot of is – “Should I get a camera that does more than what I want to do and “grow” into it?  I got a lot of that when I was retail.  I feel that IF you are trying to get better, that’s a reasonable option.  There’s a caveat to complexity though – it will take longer to take advantage of what the new unit has to offer.  Now I say this tongue and cheek to a certain degree as a lot of these cameras do pretty darn well in just their auto modes. 

Point and Shoots.  These are designed for the snapshot crowd.  When you are hunting for a camera in this range, I almost think it’s going to come down to literally how it looks to you, how it feels.  Really.  If you are new to this range, any choice you make probably won’t be bad one.  When I got into this, I stayed with brands that were familiar to me.  Pentax, Nikon, Fuji, Canon, Olympus are all well known brands.  Sony and Panasonic also have good standing in digital photography.  So…. whatever.  I’ve gotten good results with just about all my units.  They will give you a surprisingly high quality photo for the money.  Considering all the gear I own, I use mine a surprising amount.  I got a Nikon S3400 this summer that was bragging 20 megapixels – unheard of in this class.  Pretty nice, but what I liked about it was that it fits into a shirt pocket AND delivers a high quality image.  Don’t see it at normal size, but at the larger sizes….  Little longer zoom at 7x, but reasonably priced all things considered.

Point and shoots

I’m going to stop here and chat about reviews.  Reviews….  I tend to take reviews with a grain of salt Smile  What I do with reviews is try to take away the things that matter to me.  I also look at multiple reviews to try to get a a better perspective in general.  Sometimes they don’t necessarily tell the whole story.  Here’s one – the Canon SX270HS.  The previous model of this was rated as one of the top picks out there for a travel camera.  In this range of cameras (travel cameras), I bought this one last and more to find out “what the fuss was about”.  Don’t get me wrong – this is a sweet camera, but for me, I thought that the Panasonic ZS25 was a better choice.  Why?  It was simply easier to use.  One thing that annoys the crap out of me on the Canon is that pop up flash.  You can’t just push it down easily in some cases.  From a quality standpoint – it does take a high quality photo in a very general sense.  What I mean by that, is that you can leave it in auto and simply go for it in most instances.  It actually does give you what I would call a good “neutral” shot.  So what do I mean by that?  Well, it gets you pretty close to “what you saw”.  When you look at something like the Nikon S9400 or Sony HX30 in this class, the pictures tend to be what I would call “bright”.  The Fuji and Panasonics tend to be “richer” in certain colors.  Blues and greens stand out a bit more.  The Canon, though, renders flesh tones in it’s flash a little truer than the others.  Not that the others are bad, they aren’t, just if you now where to lookSmile   If you are looking for quite a full featured camera against the price – well, it’s a pretty good unit.  Couple of quirky things, but all things considered, I would say reasonably priced for what you get. Which brings us to travel cameras.

Should you even bother with reviews?  You know, that’s an interesting question.  To me, reviews give you a bit of a foundation to jump from.  That little bit of extra knowledge that may provide a bit of direction toward a buying choice. I read a bunch of reviews on the Nikon S9400.  The brunt of the comments were that for the money it was high priced for what it did.  OK – fine.  NIKON has always been like that.  It’s like saying SONY is high priced for what they do – they’ve always been like that.  BUT sometimes they go on sale too Smile  I got my S9400 on sale and actually quite cheap compared to some of my others.  Guess what – it’s actually a pretty nice unit.  To coin a phrase – “It takes a great picture”  Smile  It’s also very thin compared to the others – if size matters, it’s a little hard to ignore this one.

Travel Cameras

There must be a huge demand for this class based on the models that are available.  They range from the pocketable ones to the DSLR type.  One of the key factors in this class is their zooms.  Depending on the type of unit, they can go from about 10x to 60 times zoom!!  Wild stuff.  When you look at this class, as the name implies, it’s for the person that travels and likely takes a fair number of photos and something more advanced than a pointy shooty.  When I looked at this class of camera, I initially looked at from the perspective of small and wide angle.  My Panasonic SZ1 was purchased mostly for it’s wide angle lens – it was the equivalent of 24mm in 35mm talk.  It does have a 10x zoom and is very high resolution for it’s size.  I got it mostly for my real estate stuff. Interiors… ‘nuff said.  I then jumped to a Panasonic ZS15 to get both the wide angle AND a bigger zoom coupled with good resolution.  Then I ran into the Fuji F800 which was designed as a very advanced camera.  AND it is!  This one, I got as a mate to my Fuji X10 due to it’s menu system and it’s EXR capability, but more later.  And then, I bought more……

So… the travel cameras.  As I mentioned, they are targeted at what a person does when traveling.  So what does a person really need, you say?  When I look at my travel experience recently, I looked at it this way: Landscapes, close ups, nite life/flash & available light, “tourist” shots, sunsets and sunrises.  Sometimes big zoom stuff.  As portable as possible with as much functionality as possible.  Also, perhaps some enhanced functionality.  Now… most of these units do offer a bit more functionality than the standard pointy shooty, so a little learning might be involved here to get at some of the extras but at the same time, they do pretty good in pure auto too Smile  Oh.. and they do movies too… 

I looked at this class from a pure functionality point.  I mean, really, these things pack a lot of features into a pretty small package.  Over and above their wildly large zooms, they have a lot of “Scene” modes, effects capabilities to mention a few things.  PLUS, some of them can go full manual to boot. They also tend to have slightly larger sensors, so all things considered, you get a pretty high quality photo.  They aren’t quite pocketable, but they can sure fit into a larger pocket or into a daypack easily.  Even on your belt if so inclined with a case.  For the things that I wanted to do, this class is provides some great photo opportunities.  One of things that is really neat about this class are the big zooms.  Granted, you should have a tripod or equivalent, the big zoom area opens up a whole new space.  If the camera has a manual setting AND you have a tripod, for instance – you can get a full frame shot of a full moon!!!  Or wildlife!!  Way cool stuff in this area.  I used mine for some building demolition stuff that was happening across the street from a site I was consulting on.  I could stand across the street and get some pretty neat pics of a building being demolished. 

In this class, though, I think it’s very important to understand what you are planning to do.  The reviews hint at it, but each one has it’s “quirks”.  For instance – the Fuji F800 and Sony HX30 are more advanced and as a result, you need to learn the menu system.  The Nikon S9400 is at the other end of the spectrum, in that it’s a little more automatic than the others.  The rest sort of fall in between.  If you are advanced enough to utilize the presets in the Scene mode, they are pretty handy.  When looking at this class, I think it’s important to understand what you are doing and ensuring that the feature set meets what you are planning.  I was actually surprised how few cameras had a “snow” setting, for instance.  BUT, in saying that – all of them take a pretty high quality pic.  It’s also for the person that wants to go a bit beyond the point and shoot.  Look at the feature sets and see if they have what you want to do or may want to do.  Here are some interesting feature points:

The Sony HX30 has a slightly higher powered flash but has a complex menu system.  The Canon’s flash is quirky and doesn’t have certain scene modes that I want, but it works really well in auto.  The Panasonic has a flash that DOESN’T pop up and has an easy menu system – one of my favourite all around units.  The Fuji F800 is designed to be used in full manual.  Metering is centre weighted and not adjustable like the others.  The EXR mode is awesome if you know how to take advantage of it. The Nikon is nice and thin and just simply works well.  These are just the highlights.  I don’t even think about which one to use if they are all sitting there, actually – I just pick one up and go for it Smile   

travel camsCanon SX270

Advanced Pointy Shooties 

I have two cameras in this class.  The Fuji X10 and Panasonic LX7.  The X10 was actually the first camera that I got when this all got going.  In this class, they typically have larger sensors and as a result, will ultimately deliver a higher quality photo.  This class of camera is actually designed for the advanced user, and also as potential companion cameras to DSLR’s.  That means they are meant to be use more in their manual modes than auto modes.  Metering is more accurate and flexible.  They are slightly larger.  I actually got both of these units for their high speed lenses.  Are the pictures that different to look at?  Normally, I would say no.  Again, the larger sensor means higher quality as you enlarge the photo.  From this class up, this is where the quality starts to make itself apparent –  when you enlarge the photo.  At the larger sizes, a great photo becomes stunning!!!  The detail doesn’t change irregardless of the size for the most part.  Colors stay rich.  I think, if there was one thing when you start in this class of camera, is that by default, the colors seem more “richer” on landscapes, flesh tones seem more natural,   At normal size though, if you put pics side by side, it would be hard to tell.  Even with the higher end cameras.  Even though the lens is faster on the LX7, my go to camera is typically the X10.  The LX7 is actually easier to use from the menu side, and it has certain things a lot easier, I’m simply more comfortable with the X10.  The LX7, on the other hand, is quite small comparatively speaking.  I got the LX7 because of a couple of things – wider angle and faster lens.  Both of these have relatively common zooms at about 3x or 4x but they are pretty dedicated units.  On a holiday or trip, I would probably take one of these plus a travel camera.  These aren’t for everybody – they run in that $500+ range usually, and do require a bit of learning to squeeze out that extra functionality. 

I was really really tempted to get at least one more in this class to get a better comparison, but in the end I didn’t.  At this stage of the game, I knew I would be getting closer to “not so mobile”, so I stopped here. 

X10 and LX7

Compact System Cameras

Now – these are a fairly new breed of cat out there.  A system with interchangeable lenses but typically not a DSLR.  Result –  a smaller interchangeable lens camera.  Based on their sensor sizes, they are pretty close to the size of most DSLR type cameras.  Very niche driven and not for everyone.  They are targeted for the advanced user.  I have two in this class – the Panasonic GX1 and Nikon 1 J1.  Both were acquired with two zooms.  Do I like them – YES.  BUT I say that tongue and cheek to a certain degree.  You see, from the zoom side, they don’t have even close to the capability of a travel zoom.  What they do have is better metering, and larger sensors.  At the larger image sizes, again, you get what you pay for.  The Nikon 1 J1 was purchased on a whim Smile  Really – the price for the camera and two lenses was too good not to try it.  This guy is actually pretty tiny for this class of camera.  BUT… it’s pretty close to being a fully automatic type camera.  It’s for a specific type of user, actually – it was designed for the family with active kids for the person who wants higher quality photos and movies.  Not expensive by any stretch for this class.  Models are at J3 now.  What do I like about this guy?  It’s a great camera to use in it’s auto mode.  It actually does a good job with it’s metering in most situations.  The kit zoom is actually quite a nice zoom for general purpose stuff.  Cameras in this class have multiple metering modes and this one is great that way.  I started using this one for some of my light box shots and was really surprised at how good it was in full auto.

The Panasonic GX1, when I got it, was literally the latest and greatest.  THIS is a serious amateur’s camera and also one of the highest resolving ones in it’s class with 16 megapixel and Micro Four Thirds sensor.  It’s quite a bit larger than the Nikon 1 J1, but then again, this is a VERY serious unit designed to compete with the DSLR’s.  I LOVE using this camera for the most part.   Where it falls down for me, is the close up stuff.  It’s a little finicky there and it’s due to the kit lens I find.  I can’t get close like my other cameras – I need to step back a bit.  Not that it’s a bad thing, just something to keep in mind.  The results with this camera are amazing.  I was initially going to get a prime lens for this unit but decided against it until I get a little more definitive in what direction I want to go.

With both of these cameras, the one thing I don’t use a lot of, are the longer zooms.  I’ve used both of these, and for the things I do, there just isn’t that requirement for the bigger zoom.  Now in saying that, they haven’t been on trips either Smile  For general purpose shooting, though – nice units to use.  The GX1 is really designed to be used in manual.  One shortcoming with both is their battery power especially when you are using flahs.  I think for the average user, they could easily get by a day or two but for heavier shooting, it’s a good idea to have two batteries.  Using the GX1, really got me thinking about DSLR’s…… 

When I got these even though it was several months apart, the intent here was to start moving away from the mobility aspect of things.  Sure they are still mobile type units in that they don’t take up a lot space, but at the same time, it paved the way for my more “serious” moments.  More “dedicated” type shoots- like fashion shows, social events, etc.  where one need not only the control side of things, but top notch quality as well.  I’ve had several of this type of event, and it’s usually the GX1 and Fuji X10 plus a travel cam.  I’ve found this combination to be wonderful.

Again, an I can’t emphasize this enough.  This class is not for everyone.  Pricewise, they border the DSLR’s.  Heck my GX1 actually cost more than my Nikon D3200.  I got the GX1 on Sale for $600.  The D3200 – $500 on sale.  The upside – reasonably portable.  Now that I also have the Nikon D3200, there won’t be too much I won’t be able to do.  We’ll see as time goes on.  BUT for the person that wants the capability in a smaller package than a DSLR, this is an option.  For me, I initially thought it would stop here, but it didn’t Smile 

So….. how do I use these?  I used the GX1 in particular over the summer a fair amount.  Mostly when I was “out and about”.  Mostly in conjunction with a travel camera or two.  I used it in as many ways as I could think of to get a feel for any limitations it might have.  Aside from the macro thing, not too much else. 

Pansonic GX1 and SZ25

DSLR’s

Man- I thought long and hard about this.  I mentioned my options in a previous post of the options, I just remembered, that I didn’t mention was going to one of the Sony NEX series.  It’s a Compact System Camera but the sensor is equivalent to what you would find in a DSLR.  BUT, the reviews showed that there wasn’t really extra battery power there which was something that was key for what I was wanting.  For all intents and purposes, for me, a deal breaker.

So why would someone want to get a DSLR over any of the other cameras out there?  Well, for the most part, DSLR’s tend to be associated with the pros.  Pros typically tend to have the best gear and the usually, the results speak for themselves.  DSLR’s are basically “king of the heap”.  People will always want the best if they can afford it and in my city, that’s very much so.  They will go out and get a DSLR, a whack of lenses and not even blink at it.  Heck, even for me, how bad do I need multiple cameras?  Smile  Perhaps there’s ego also coming into play – they want to “look” like a pro. 

Back in the days of 35mm, the pros didn’t use 35mm film.  They used larger format cameras like the 2 1/4 x 2 1/4 inch or 6×7.  For them, 35mm wasn’t even a format Smile  Nikon was among the first to break that barrier in 35mm.  Then it was Canon with the F1. In todays world, its the DSLR.  What a lot don’t know, I’m guessing, is that the pro versions utilize a bigger sensor.  And they are terrifyingly expensive to boot running several thousand dollars.  Interestingly enough, I haven’t run into to that many amateurs that utilize the full frame sensor cameras – mostly something called the APS-C sensor, which is slightly smaller.  A common comment that I do hear, though, is that IF you are a pro, you NEED to own a DSLR.  I’m not so sure I would totally agree with that, but I don’t have enough information to argue that.  I do have friends who are pros though, and they do have multiple bodies, but usually it’s a full frame sensor one with an APS-C sensor one as a backup. 

I’ve encountered some interesting perspectives in this area. I’ve encountered the DSLR types who think if you don’t own a DSLR,  one is not “in the game”.  I LOVE these types when I show off a photo taken with a pointy shooty Smile  AND it’s better than anything they’ve got.  I’ve run into types who would have been better off with anything other than a DSLR – they don’t take enough pictures for starters and the reasoning being that it’s too bulky.  I’ve also run into the ones who ARE really really good at what they do, and it’s really a joy chatting with them about techniques, etc.  I’ve also had some VERY interesting discussions around DSLR’s vs the “rest” and read some discussions around this as well.  To me, to each his own.  My preference as it sits as I write this, was to have “something” available at any moment that I wanted to take a photo. To have a camera with me constantly.  Considering that I do a lot of different things, a DSLR isn’t always the best option.  The rest were, and they delivered an above average quality photo. 

So… why did I get one and the get the one I ended up with?

I actually had more than a few options here, but my heart was really set on a Nikon.  From my 35mm days, I’ve used just about all of them EXCEPT Nikon.  I simply couldn’t afford one back then.  My system hinged around the Canon F1 and FTB.  I had just about every lens that Canon made under 200mm.  It was a tough call to say the least, but the one that I settled on, was the D3200.  It was an entry level camera but it had the latest engine and was at 24 megapixel!  Even though the kit lens lens couldn’t take full advantage of the sensor capability, and didn’t have the manual capability, when I looked at the gear I already had, this would be a good starting point for ME.  The reasoning – I wanted a few things:  Battery power for starters – more shots per charge.  Higher quality than I had before, though the “where I would use it” was a bit more selective, and finally – better controls.  By better controls, I wanted to be able to access settings faster.  AND having a viewfinder Smile  Indirectly, I also wanted to be more knowledgeable in this space.  It’s one thing reading about them, another thing to actually go out and use one.

Am I happy with it?  ABSOLUTELY!!!  A couple of things really surprised me with this one.  One was startup.  Wow!  I thought my GX1 was fast – this is faster.  Literally an instant on.  The LCD panel gets me at controls very quickly.  The kit zoom that came with it – an 18-55mm/f 3.5-5.6.  So far, it’s been more than adequate. It’s been a bit of a challenge getting used to the viewfinder, but nothing too serious.  I’ve played with the resolution a bit to get a feel for where I can take my “normal” photos.  Most of my shots have been JPEG, 24 megapixel, Normal.  There is a Fine setting plus of course, the ability to shoot RAW.  My GX1 can do RAW as my X10 plus a couple of my travel cameras.  For me, not there yet and probably won’t be for a while.  A lot of my shots have been around snow conditions and I’ve found the metering to be pretty spot on.  My GX1 is also very good with this.  That’s one of the things I’ve noticed – metering is getting better and better as you advance in models. I’ve also been using the D3200 for light box stuff.  Loving it.  Better than my other units?  Well, in reality, about the same.  Certain types of light box shots I’ve taken show a definite improvement, especially where there’s varied colors – they are generally a little more true than some of my other units.  One thing that I noticed as well with the advanced processor – I was shooting a flash sequence to test how fast the flash recycles.  Amazing – it didn’t hesitate between shots and I was taking them sequentially – only 3 or 4 at a time in single frame mode, but still, pretty impressive.  My GX1 takes about 1/2  sec to cycle between shots.

It should b interesting to see how much I end up using the D3200. It’s definitely heavier than my GX1 but at the same time, I bought it knowing this was going to be a specific use camera.  The most important piece here – it’s a stepping stone for me.  Will I be adding lenses?  Too early to say at this point.  Perhaps a slightly larger zoom and maybe a wide angle lens at some point, but definitely a separate flash unit, for sure. 

Other Considerations.  OK – there are some other things I thought of:

Where to Buy This Stuff

OK – this can get ugly Smile  This has always been what I would call a “value driven” proposition to coin a Business Analyst phrase (I am one….).  And there are some gotchas.  Let’s look at a few things. 

Basics – One of my very first thoughts is about service and our perception of it.  The bigger question is – what price are you prepared to pay for service?  When I look at the average consumer today, I almost think they have no concept of service for the most part Smile  AND retailers especially the big box stores have really kind of driven that fact home.  Go in – buy – leave.  If it’s defective, bring it back we’ll give you a new one.  Maybe….  AND to make it worse, the big box stores, I feel have pushed or forced the smaller retailers to specialize because they can’t compete price wise.  Big retailers also only carry high volume items.  They work on low profit high turnover to make their money.  IF you need anything beyond that – specialty store and you pay a premium.  Not a lot of choice here.  Even then, it can be a stretch.

Does that mean one should buy a camera there?  You know, this is a BIG depends.  I’ve been a few speciality stores and for me, they know less than me for the most part Smile  BUT they have “pieces” I need. For others, it may help, but then there’s also the internet Smile  I bought my X10, for instance at a camera speciality store BECAUSE I could all the pieces I wanted in one place.  Other stores simply couldn’t do that.  The X10 had a custom leather case that I wanted.  Spare battery and an SD card.  Yes, I paid top dollar for this but you know what – I didn’t have to trundle all over town either.  In this case – the premium was worth it.

I think a lot hinges around your knowledge and personal tastes.  Specialty stores are pretty awesome in that they do have the things you normally wouldn’t find in a big box store.  A serious amateur or pro would likely end up in these stores.  I’ve been in a few now, and had varying experiences ranging from good to bad.  That’s just me and I’m picky.  

Cameras today work pretty well out of the box.  A lot of the cameras are available everywhere – literally.  If you know WHAT you want to buy, coupled with the knowledge, should you care where you get it?  AND, how fast do you need it? Smile  For me, for most  pieces of gear, like cameras, I’m not necessarily going to a specialty store.  I’m going to follow the sale Smile  I say this a little tongue and cheek – for instance, when I got my Nikon D3200 – It was on sale everywhere – literally.  I happened to be by a Future Shop and they had stock so I bought it there.  Purely convenience – I was up there anyway.  Sure they tried to sell me that “Service Package” and pushed hard, believe me.  To me, for the $100-200 extra, well…. NO.  Sure it was a direct replacement, but for me, totally useless.  You see, if I drop it and break it, I can’t get it replaced.  It’s related to manufacturing defects – sorry, not going to happen.  That’s me though.  When I got my Panasonic LX7 – it wasn’t on sale, but I got it a Black’s, it was convenient.  I’ve seen a little better service in the speciality shops, but where photography is concerned, I’m not so sure that the service provided will justify me being a “regular”. 

Would I buy a technology piece from a place like WalMart?  Or Costco? Or any other big box stores?  Well, yes.  This is a depends thing as well.  The big box stores don’t always have the latest and greatest, but sometimes they do.  Sometimes, they have a bundle that simply can’t be beat anywhere.  The Nikon D5100 was a good example where you got the Nikon case, SD card and few other goodies at the same price it was on sale everywhere else for a single unit.  One could save about $100 by going this way.  I gave this a pretty hard thought as the D5100 is last years model, but at the same time, it had more functionality.  Why didn’t I buy this?  Two reasons – first was simply greedy – I wanted the new processor and the 24 megapixel Smile  Second – As nice as it would have been to get more functionality, I really didn’t need it or even perceive needing it.  In reality, it probably would have been a good choice, but in the end, the D3200 is plenty for what I’m doing. 

IF you have the knowledge and know what you want, for me, I quite simply go for price in most instances.  This is a bit judgmental but I look at it from the point of knowing what I want to do and what I’m prepared to pay to get what I want.  Usually I do.  I’m not scared to research – in fact – a lot of my purchases are triggered around research Smile

The Internet – Buying from the internet. You know, I’ve hit a point on the photography side, that there are a few items that I do get via the internet.  I’m sure a lot of us do this.  I’m finding that the more advanced I get, and wanting some of those specialty things, I simply can’t get them locally.  The internet it is.  I’ve gotten some batteries for my cameras via the ‘net. Some other small things.  Amazon to be precise. I happened to do some comparison shopping locally before I built my light tent/box – it was way less via the ‘net, but in the end, I ended up making my own.  I may still get one eventually, but the one I made gives me a few more options.  Quite simply – I don’t have a lot of space to work.  This is also one of those “depends” things.  I highly doubt I would buy a camera for instance via the ‘net.  Accessories, yes.  Tripods – maybe.  I didn’t, for instance, when I got my Carbon Fibre Pro Master – I wanted to touch and fiddle with it before buying and I needed one for a shoot the next day.  It didn’t have a ball head, so I bought one as well.  I’ve since upgraded to a stronger ball head to accommodate the D3200, but I bought that locally as well.  Bottom line – if I can wait and get a better price, probably.  I try to buy locally, but I say that cautiously.  For a camera or lense or major accessory like a flash, I’m not going to get it off the net.  If I go to a place to touch and feel, I’m probably going to get it there.  Or locally, in any event.  Same with a bag – especially a bag.  This is very much so a personal thing, but being able to visualize physically about your gear and how it’s going to fit, is important to me.  BUT other accessories – batteries for instance.  I’m just amazed by the difference in price!!  I got some back up batteries for my wife’s FZ50 – two batteries plus charger for less than a single battery.  They weren’t the brand name ones but work every bit as well.  Again, we’ll see as I advance….

I also find that “need” drives a lot of things.  Price can also go out the window if you need something right awaySmile  I had a wedding shoot and KNEW I was going to run out of battery power so I simply went out and bought a new battery.  This was for my X10 – which I now have 3 batteries for.  I paid $80 for that sucker – I could have that off Amazon a LOT cheaper.  Have I hit that level of requirement since then – yes.  I’ve had several instances where I’ve needed multiple batteries.  On one shoot this summer, I drained two batteries on the GX1 and two on the X10!!  It was pretty well all flash.  Dedicated flash – here I come Smile 

DIY or Do It Yourself – If one is the least bit handy AND depending on what you take photos of, there are some things that you can make.  I’m constantly fiddling with different things to try.  I made my own light box and made a series of jigs and stands for backdrops for small objects.  And then there’s “props”.  I enjoy doing light box stuff Smile  BUT, in saying that, I also like to use props the odd time to make photos a little more interesting.  Cataloguing is one thing, taking photos of small objects can be a lot of fun.  There’s a lot to be learned about lighting. and matching backdrops, props and objects.  Here’s one that’s cute Smile

 

Cute

Now that I have a fairly permanent light box set up, I’m constantly looking for different back drop materials, props, stands that I can convert, etc.  For instance – I found this cookbook stand for a couple of bucks at one of those dollar type stores.  I undid the lower shelf and now use it as a backdrop holder for taking photos of small stuff.  Backdrop material – now there’s an interesting one.  For smaller objects – place matsSmile  There’s a bunch of them out there and most are cheap!!  Lights for the light box – I bought those ones with clamps and got daylight balanced bulbs – the fluorescent ones.  Ended up with 3 lights that cost less than one studio light. 

Tripods and Such. 

To me, it’s a bit of an oxymoron in travel cameras to have such a nice big zoom in a tiny package and then have to lug around a tripod Smile   I got around this by getting a Gorilla Pod – the medium one. It’s small enough to put in my bag, but sturdy enough to hold the majority of my units.  It isn’t quite enough for my GX1.  I even got an better ball head, but it looks like I may ultimately have to get the SLR one.  Deal with that when I get to it.

With mobility in mind, especially when I got the GX1, I also wanted a tripod that was sturdy enough to hold it.  I bought a Carbon Fibre ProMaster, 5 section one with a ProMaster 2 ball head.  It was good enough for the GX1 with the short zoom, but not enough for the big zoom, so recently, I got a bigger Milano Ball Head.  This one holds the D3200 really good as well.  Will I take this tripod with me on a trip?  Not likely – shorter outings for sure, but if I’m on a holiday, it’ll be the travel cams, Fuji X10 and the Gorilla pod.  I want to stay as light as possible.  In saying that though, it is a light tripod.  Light and strong comes at a price – this one cost over $250 and the Milano head ran another $100.  IF I decided to take something like the D3200, I would piggy back with my travel cameras as well.

I’m a bag/pack  person.  I have several bags and packs to carry around my gear.  I’m sure most serious amateurs do.  I have my iPad or Nexus 7 with me most times, so usually, it’s a sling bag of sorts.  My favourite one most recently is the Fossil one.  This one was not cheap by any stretch at $130 CDN, but you know – it’s a NICE sling bag.  I used this one mostly for my noon hour jaunts when I was consulting – iPad, a couple of cameras, an ereader and it’s comfortable to boot.  I have a Tracker Security one for holidays – it’s also a sling but it’s also theft proof – easily carry some gear all day or long without getting killed by weight. 

For my Compact System Cameras – I’ve gotten a couple of slings that are closer to a narrow daypack.  One is the National Geographic one – small one.  Just large enough to hold camera and both zooms, couple of smaller cameras and I’m set.  Chargers as well, so I don’t lose them in my other “stuff” Smile  These though, won’t hold the tablets, but then again, I haven’t needed my tablets either when I’m “here”.

For the D3200 – I went out and got a Nikon bag that held the DSLR and just enough room for a couple of cameras and accessories.  I wanted to lay the camera out flat instead of vertical, but if I decide to add lenses, that’ll change.

I haven’t hit that point yet where I’m going to need take a lot of gear on a given shoot – I’ll cross that one when I get to it.  Most likely, it’ll be a bag though, not a daypack type. 

Onward and get those shots!!!

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About gkamitomo
IT Busines Analyst

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