Being Realistic – Thinking it Through

So this morning, I get up to this…….


As I’ve made my back into photography over the last couple of years or so, I’ve been moving closer and closer to the level I was at back in the 35mm days.  If one has been following, you’ll have read this “climb” but for the rest of you out there, a little background.

When I started back in, the “path”, if you want to call it that, started in what I would call a fairly “normal” progression.  You know – you have the pointy shoot, need more functionality and so “buy up”.  Probably, compared to most others out there, I bought up very fast.  Could I have got a DSLR right away?  Absolutely.  BUT I didn’t – time constraints was one of the parameters and mobility was the other (commuting, in other words) but I still wanted good quality photos, so my world evolved around smaller and more advanced cameras.  In the more advanced units at this stage, I have the FUJI X10, XF1 and Panasonic LX7.  Travel Cameras – one of my favourites for mobility against functionality, I have a few :-)  Two primary use ones are the Panasonic ZS25 and Nikon S9400, but I also have the Canon SX270 HD, Fuji F800, Panasonic ZS15, Sony HX30V.  No, I didn’t really need to get all of those, but when I hit this range, I found out some things along the way.

This depends on the level you are at but here we go.  Interestingly, my first jump into this was the Fuji X10.  For starter, this is a camera that produces a very high quality photo, works well in low light and “reasonably” portable.  I could fit it into my daypack easily at the time.  It has about a 4x zoom which is fine for “most things”. Looking for a better camera was the result of a trip my wife and I took and we had our pointy shooties and when I tried to get certain shots, they simply couldn’t pull them off how I wanted.  Once I got back home, that’s when the “hunt” started.

I started to take photos during noon hours as that was the only free time I had, per se.  Coupled to this, was a building they were tearing down to make room for a skyscraper (typical to Calgary….. :-()  I started to take photos of the building coming down.  This was what started the travel camera thing to a certain degree.  Because I couldn’t get any closer than across the street, 4x zoom became inadequate.  I initially started researching and started to drop into camera stores and my first larger zoom unit was the Panasonic SZ1 at 10x.  Nice thing about this one – it had the equivalent to a 24mm lens (about 74 deg angle of view) and filled a rather interesting gap.  I have revenue properties, and this wide angle put me in a place where I could capture interiors easily.  We still have this camera, BTW, and it’s still working great.  Couple that with a 10x zoom and it’s actually quite a versatile unit in its own right.  BUT in taking photos of that building going down, I found that 10x didn’t quite cut it, so it was on the to ZS15 at 15x zoom.  It was better, but as one knows – if you start to play in the big zoom stuff, a whole new world opens up :-)  Anyway, I have photos of this building coming down over the course of a year, and took photos from two spots as my primary every week or so at the beginning, and every couple of days as the demolition came to its end.  One big thing this accomplished, was re-kindle the interest after 20 years or so.

My contract (I’m a consultant) came to an end, and then the constraints of mobility came to an end to a certain degree.  During the job hunt, I could actually go out and take photos as I did our grocery shopping, etc.  I was also involved in doing some renovation work, so the opportunity was there.  I decided to kick it up a notch.  I happened to “cruising” one day and there was a Nikon 1 J1 with two lenses on sale!!!  They were clearing out the white ones only but the pricing was too much to resist and this was an opportunity to play in the Compact System Camera area and see what this was about.  Now, a lot of more serious folks kind of run this one down a bit as it’s kind of a targeted camera.  It’s more automatic than it is manual and is targeted at the people who want to upscale, but don’t necessarily want anything to do with manual.  Just a better quality photo with not a lot of hassle.  My opinion on this – don’t underestimate what this camera can do :-)  I found that it works remarkably well in its auto mode – no manual in the sense that the more advanced amateur would want, and it does movies easily (well… most of them do now…),  Do I use this on1e?  Not near as much as I should.  What it did do though, was shed some light on this class of camera.  I liked what I saw and wanted more functionality, and along came the Panasonic GX-1.  I got this with the kit zoom and the larger zoom.  16 Megapixel and Micro Four Thirds, typical to Panasonic – great auto mode as well as full manual capability. 

Now, more in the background side of things.  Aside from the usual photo “stuff” I was doing from the hobby aspect, because of my wife’s involvement in volunteer work, I started to get asked to do a bit of event work (for free of course :-)) and I actually looked at it as an opportunity to stick my toe back in to see if I wanted to go to this level again.  Up to this point, I was using the Fuji X10 for a lot of this type of work.  I actually have done enough here, that I have a couple of spare batteries for the X10.  Even today, it’s still my backup and does get used a surprising amount.  Where the GX1 came into play was a when I got asked to be a back up for a fashion event.  I had gotten the GX1 a few weeks prior so by the time this show came up, I was comfortable with it.  My task on this – some of the ramp stuff, and candid shots.  The professional would handle the main stage and formal shots. 

Now… for those who have NOT done any fashion photography that includes ramp.  Ramp basically means that there are certain points at which a model will stop to pose.  They are moving at a pretty quick speed, so a couple of things need to happen.  You need the “spot”.  Depending on the stage lights, you may/will need flash.  You may or may not be able to get in more than one shot, and if you do take that extra or safety, the flash has to cycle fast.  You may have two to 3 seconds before the model moves.  Depending on where you are, you may be able to get a shot as they come to the “pose” point so if you take a flash shot, you need to reach 20 to 30 ft.  More important – you can’t miss the “pose” shot, or you shouldn’t.  I’ve done more than a few of these, and I try to get both an approach shot and a posed shot for any one given model or models.  Depending…, the moving shot might be better but having both is best. . Sound stressful?  Absolutely.  Was I scrambling – YES!  This was one place where having a DSLR with a dedicated flash becomes “essential gear”.  It wasn’t that I couldn’t get the shots, I did, and when we compared shots later, the pro had heard about the GX1 but had never seen one and was pretty impressed with what I produced.  It came at a price though.  I was able to get about 80 flash shots with the GX1 before the cycle time time became unacceptable.  There was not way I could shoot continuous frame and have that flash keep up.  I used the Fuji X10 when my GX1 battery  went low, and then swapped batteries when time permitted.  What I DID notice was what the pro was doing and with her shots, she was shooting in continuous frame mode and her flash was keeping up AND she wasn’t swapping batteries!

At this point, I really couldn’t foresee doing too much of this, so it was an observation only but enough that it got me thinking DSLR.  Not that long ago, I made the jump.  I ended up with a Nikon D3200.  It was a tough call for me.  I was really torn between getting the next model up, but last year’s model, the D5100 with two lenses, or the D3200 with the kit lenses for slightly less.  The tipping point was actually in a couple of areas – The D3200 had a larger sensor and better process at 24 megapixel.  The larger zoom for me, wasn’t going to get me anything.  Now by that, one thing that I found with my Compact System Cameras, is that I was very rarely in that 55-200mm range – my shots were more with the standard kit zoom and if I needed more than that, I would simply grab one of my travel cameras and problem solved :-)   All the reviews were showing that the older model was actually a better choice, but the scenarios they were talking about didn’t fit me.  They didn’t have all those extra cameras – the intent was targeted more for a dedicated camera user, not someone who had a lot gear previously across a wide usage range.  Sooo… D3200 it was.  Am I happy with it?  YES.

Now, coming up to present day.  A week or so ago, my wife asked me to do the fashion show event again.  Last year, it was across a noon hour, roughly 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and I was in the position that I could get away.  On this new contract, that’s impossible for me to do, but then I found out that this time, it was going to be an evening event, and the location was totally different.  I initially said no, but because my consulting company contributes via volunteer side with my wife being on several boards there, I started to look at this a little differently.  I am known very well there, and from the PR standpoint, there just might be an opportunity there make a vital connection there that could move me closer to the world of free lance (AGAIN….). 

My first reaction was to upscale gear – get a D7100 with the 18-140 and an SB700 Speedlight.  And then reality stepped in!!!  I initially “thought” the event was a couple or three weeks out – IF I got this gear, I would have time to learn and be comfortable enough to use the new gear with my D3200 and GX1 to back up.  It tuned out that this show was only going to be a few days out!!!  I needed a Plan B really fast!  OK – I knew I could get a way with the built in flash on the D3200 and from past experience here, it works well, BUT for something like this upcoming shoot, an external flash, to me was still going to be the ticket.  So… now it came down to “What could I do or need to do with the 3200?  Ok – first up – spare battery.  I was going to need one anyway.  Then I got thinking – how was I going to carry this stuff?  What I wanted to do was take both the D3200 and the GX1 and none of my bags were going to be big enough.  Easy enough – find a bigger bag. As much as I wanted the SB700, my thoughts were that I don’t need something like this for this event.  I started to snoop to see if the SB400 was available locally.  Trip to pick up a bag and battery.  Lady looked it up and one of their stores had one!!  AND actually it was on for about $130.  Off I went and got it :-) 


Now – it wasn’t that I couldn’t have gotten the bigger flash.  Mentally, I was trying to think this thru.  This event was probably only going to be only one of very few where I might need an external flash.  I have Sanyo Eneloop AA’s and despite the fact the SB400 only takes 2 batteries, swapping them out wouldn’t be THAT big of a deal.  With the spare battery AND the external flash, I probably wouldn’t need to tap that extra one if I could let the flash bear the load instead of the camera.  With the Panasonic GX1 as a backup, I had the “oomph”.  Last time I did this, it worked, just scrambly.  This time, I had the D3200 which had more muscle so all will be good.

Next piece – figuring out the SB400 and how it works with the D3200.  When I started to take shots, to say I was impressed, is an understatement.  The reviews were all saying this is a pretty nice unit for the money.  Is there a niggler in there?  Yes – one of the things I noticed, was that in TTL mode, the ISO would switch.  In Auto, a couple of the test shots were showing ISO 1100.  Not acceptable – so much for auto.  Programmed Auto and Aperture priority showed ISO 400 for the most part.  It looked like the sensor was determining how the ISO was being driven.  My preference usually, is to be at either ISO 100 or 200, but then again, the D3200 isn’t so shabby at 400 or even 800 for most shots.  For what I”m looking for, more than adequate. I’m going to be doing a bit of ramp, but mostly candid stuff so I think I’m good.   The upside?  This sucker cycles pretty fast!!  It’s going to be interesting to see how it performs as an event flash.  The other factor that is now creeping into the equation – from my 35mm days, I never really did a huge amount of flash work.  I did some and yes, I had some pretty big flash units but a lot of my work was around available light and studio.  Fill flash – yes, I did a lot of that.  The big thing here, is that it’s now twigged my interest in this area, and over the next couple of days, the plan will be to “test” so I can get the flash figured out and how it works with the D3200.

Sooooo… in the end, I ended up spending about $300 for bag, battery and flash as opposed to potentially around $2000, had I gone the D7100 and SB700 way.  In retrospect, though, I”m thinking this was actually a good move going this way.  I’m not doing enough yet to really be able to use the extra functionality that the D7100 has to offer.  Soon though – it’s on the path.    This will also be a good chance to put the D3200 thru its paces.  My Panasonic GX1 is simply awesome to use in event work, though I do prefer the Fuji X10 for this.  My next level backup will be the Panasonic XF1 instead of the X10 for this event, plus perhaps one of the travel cams.

Onward…. time to find find time to play with my flash:-)



About gkamitomo
IT Busines Analyst

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