Dredging Up the Past and Looking at Today

With my latest acquisition of my Nikon SB700 flash unit, and with me learning about it, I thought I would put down a few thoughts from the past and relate a few things from then to nowSmile  I’ve done a bit of this in past posts, but it might be helpful for some starting down this path.

In the Beginning….

When I started in this wonderful hobby, I was in the world of 35mm film, Instamatics and Polaroids – whew!  Goes back a ways eh?  (Yes, I’m Canadian Smile)  From a quality standpoint, 35mm was “it”, and compared to today, there really wasn’t that big of a selection.  Oh yes, and there the “large format” cameras out there too.  Hasselblad, Pentax 6X7, Mamiya 645 and 2 1/4.  The “pros” used the larger format cameras and the rest of the world used the rest.   In thinking about this, I sort of went through the same “pattern”, if you will, today that I did back then.  Started a little small and progress my way to 35mm.  No.. I didn’t get any of the “big stuff”, but I did a bit of free lance work, decided it wasn’t for me and continued on until the recession of the early 80’s, coupled with a radical change in career direction forced me to dump all my gear.  I shouldn’t say all my gear, but I did have some “small stuff” and kept taking photos.  When digital era came into play, we did keep a camera around for casual shots.  And now we have software…. later on this.  Unfortunately, life got in the way and other hobbies intercepted and it’s only been in the last few years that I’ve dived back in.  The “pattern” is re-emerging, but in a slightly different manner.

Moving Along with the “Hobby”

I’m not sure about anyone else, but I’m amazed at what’s out there.  Today’s technology offers so much more than before – there are cameras in phones, we have GoPro, and the technology is at a point where a pretty good camera can be got for very little money.  Who woulda thunk?   And now, we have social media.  I don’t know all the sites, etc. but ones like Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest come immediately to mind, The last thing I would ever have of me doing is blogging.  Suddenly (well, not so suddenly, perhaps) it’s easy to take a picture and share if you like, or it’s just easy to take a picture.  It doesn’t cost anything in the big picture (no pun intended )  Compared to the good ol’ days, if anything, I find it encouraging that photography has become more embedded in our lives.

The cameras in the phone, to me, I think was a bit of tipping point in some respects but it was a good thing to a point.  With technology bumping us along, the other side of this, is that everyone thinks they’re a photographer…. A select few will take this to the next level and start to get a little more serious about photography.  Many think this is a “new” thing, but in reality, it’s not.  I’m going thru this the second time…. For many of us, I think we have a camera and at some point we decide we need something better.  A few more will actually study the craft and start to take a more serious look at things.  Let’s get one thing straight though – a better camera doesn’t necessarily equate to better photos Smile  One key thing to note here – the camera is the tool that captures the better photo.  You can have the best gear out there, but if you don’t have the “eye”, it isn’t going to help.  Learning the craft will.

To a certain degree, I think many of us also have “gear lust”.  Guilty as charged.  I’m a technology and gear junky, and it isn’t just photo stuff…..  As one progresses thru this though, most of us want that extra “thing” that will allow us to do that thing.  Guilty as charged.  Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.  I see a lot of the same things today, that I saw back in my 35mm days.  We get so obsessed with the “quality” of photo, we forget about the photo Smile  We want super sharp, super color, super everything.  I look at review on review on some of this gear where something does or doesn’t do something right and there’s this tendency to “diss” everyone who doesn’t own a DLSR.  Well folks, look at it this way – sure it might be a grainy shot – composition is down the tubes (selfies come to mind…), color – don’t go there…., blurry …..but you know what?  THEY GOT THE SHOT!!!!!!

Getting the Shot

When I was in the world of 35mm, “getting the shot” was one of the first lessons I learned.  I had a lot friends who were photo journalists, my camera store was very close to an educational facility that had Photo Journalism as a major course back then, and they told me many things around this Smile.  In it’s most rudimentary form, the camera is simply the tool that allows you capture what you “see”.  Software has also changed the game.  This is todays version of the darkroom only more people have accessSmile  Man, the number of discussions I’ve had around this topic….  To me, digital has allowed us to take a bunch of photos at little or no cost and software is a mechanism that allows us to “improve” the shot.  In other words – get A shot and fix it in software.  In one sense, I feel that digital has made us “lazy” to a degree.

Now don’t get me wrong here – digital has made it easier than ever to get that shot, but at the same time, going the software route is maybe a crutch that many start to lean on, when they shouldn’t – perhaps.  I come from the school of “getting the shot right the first time”.  So for the uninformed… what the heck does that mean?  My take on this is that you know how to use your gear to get the shot.  To get a bit more detailed about this – understanding exposure and how to use the settings on your camera for starters.  Understanding enough about composition to be able to “see” the shot.  In other words, as little dependency on software as possible, if at all aside from transferring stuff to your computer, or wherever…. forgot… cloud is in there now Smile  I hear the term “forget auto” more times than you can imagine from the more serious folks but you know what, Auto can sometimes get you the shot too Smile  My preference for most things is actually Programmed Auto.  Even on my Nikon D3200.  There is a bit of hitch though – I have my presets already in place.  For my more serious things, I will use Manual, Shutter or Aperture Priority modes as needed.  Same for my other gear that have these functions. 

The other one I hear a lot about is squeezing the most out of your camera before getting the next one.  I do agree to a certain point.  To me, this is a progressive thing and it goes between the learning aspect vs the equipment aspect.  AND perspective.  Look at it this way – what good is a camera if you don’t have it with you when the opportunity for the shot shows up?  Many of my shots have come from times when I had the camera handy.  I’ve missed even more because I didn’t have the camera too.  Considering that I own something like 12 or so cameras (don’t go there….), for me and its on me – it’s stupid I missed the shot.  Or even worse – I DO have the camera on me and I didn’t pull it out even though I saw the shot coming Smile  I know so many people who have been told that they “should” go out and get a DSLR because you will get the best shots with it Smile  Soooo… they go out and get the camera only find that it’s too complicated or it’s too bulky to take everywhere.  In reality, some sort of pointy shooty would probably have been a better choice.  And then there’s the ego side of things – DSLR’s portray the image of the serious amateur or “pro”.  If you can’t use it – no point….

Understanding Yourself

To me, with the sheer amount of equipment that available to almost everyone, I feel it’s more important than ever to understand what you want to when it comes to photography.  This, to me, equates to work life and a planning a career path.  Where do you ultimately want to be?  I can’t emphasize enough about the learning aspect.  I respect opinions, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I have to follow their advice either. For me, I have my own path – I ultimately knew I would be using a DSLR and did the same as I did back in the 35mm days.  An entry point one.  Mine is the Nikon D3200 with the kit zoom (18-55), and recently I added a prime lens, and more recently a couple of flash units.  BUT… as much as I could have bought the DSLR very early in the game I didn’t.  The reason was actually very simple – I couldn’t have it on me or close to me all the time.  Up until the acquisition of my Fuji X10, I was using pointy shooties – good enough for what I was doing at the time.  Let’s follow my progression thru this a bit.

The reason for the Fuji X10 came as a result of what my pointy shooties were NOT doing.  I actually stumbled on a review of this camera and to coin a phrase “tip of the iceberg”…..  There were two  very key things about the X10 that really caught my attention.  The high speed lens – at f2.0 it would get me into the low light space, which I loved doing.  It had “controls” –  in other words, I could go full manual if needed so there was room to “grow”.  It was also portable – small enough that it would fit in my daypack.  AND most important as it “hooked me” – It also looked like a Leica Smile  A bit of nostalgia from the old days. Backup a little bit – where this came from was a sort of travel cam – the Panasonic SZ1 with 10x zoom and a 24mm lens.  I got this one for it’s wide angle capability as it’s a sweetheart for real estate type shots.  We have revenue properties and are constantly doing renovation work and taking photos of progression of work.  Both my wife and I do take a lot of photos in general, but most for reference or social stuff.  So… in ‘Vegas we took a Nikon S3000 (4x zoom), the Panasonic SZ1. This was where the shortcomings of pointy shooties and low light started to rear its ugly head.  Otherwise, we were good.  Flash shots were OK.  Once we got back the hunt began that ended up with the Fuji X10.  One thing that the Panasonic did though, was peak my interest in big zoom.

Once I got the X10 and started to figure it out, I started to get REALLY interested.  Fast forward about 6 months – Hawaii – Honolulu – Waikiki – our first vacation in years!!  The X10 worked fabulously, the Panasonic and Nikon worked well  in their respective spots.  The shortcoming I ran into – well, there were a couple but the big one was that I found that 10x zoom wasn’t enough for some shots.  I did get a GorillaPod for this trip – the mid sized one and it for a few shots it paid it’s way Smile  Low light with the X10 – amazing….  We took something like 2500 photos.  We weren’t sure if we could get back there Smile  It looks like – soon… at this point.  This was November’ish.  About that time, they were knocking down a building across from where I worked in the downtown core.  This was to make room for a new office tower.  THAT’s where I found that 10x wasn’t enough.  I had to shoot from across the street, and at first, between my X10 and the Panasonic ZS1 was fine.  When the walls started to come down and expose the interior, that’s when the 10x wasn’t enough for me.  Sure I could have cropped, but I found that cropping didn’t keep the image sharp – lesson on sensors…… 

So… the hunt began over the next little while.  I went and got the the Panasonic ZS15 which gave me 16x times zoom – much better.   Then my interest in Travel Cameras kicked in.  Downhill from there Smile  Next stop – Fuji F800 – 20x zoom and similar controls to the Fuji X10.  Good pairing actually.  Then I ran into the Panasonic LX7 – smaller and faster lens than my X10.  Use the X10 for weekends, and make more room in my daypack.  The big difference between the X10 and the Pansonic LX7 was not the speed of the lens so much as the zoom.  The Fuji X10 has a manual zoom and for event photography it’s outstanding compared to the motorized zoom in most cameras.  The drawback to the X10 for event work is that if you use the on board flash, you kill batteries at around 100 shots.  I have two spares for the X10 and to this day, it’s a key piece of gear for most events.  Anyway – I then went a little nuts here – got the Panasonic ZS25, Sony HX30V, Nikon S9400 and finally the Canon SX270.  Yes, they were on sale Smile  Speaking of sales – right around this time, Nikon had introduced the Nikon 1 J1.  It’s target market was the crowd who wanted something a little more advanced and had good movie capability and easy to use.  The J2 got announced and suddenly the J1 went on sale.  For $500, I could get a J1 and 2 lenses – done.  Good chance to  look at this class and see what it had to offer. 

Compact System Cameras – now this proved out to be an interesting area.  The Nikon J1 was a lot more automatic than I liked but for what it did automatically, it did it well.  REALLY well.  I don’t do movies, so no comment there, but, if you don’t mind the lens change thing, moving into the larger sensor arena got me richer colors right off the bat.  It’s not the other cameras are bad, but it just had that “something”.  So now, I’m really interested in this class!  The hunt began.  Nikon went to the J2 as well as the V1/v2 but I as I researched more and more, it was looking like the Panasonic GX1.  I found one, bought  it, used it for about a week and then went and got the 55-200 for it.  Now, it was also at this time that mobility wasn’t near as important as it used to be.  Even if it was, I had other cameras so not an issue.  I don’t know this camera as near as well I should, but I do love this camera.  16 Megapixel/Micro Four Thirds sensor and amazing results for what I do.  At this stage, the GX1 is now my primary backup to my D3200.

DSLR’s – This was the sequence of events that got me here.  I did a post about this recently.  Bottom line – fashion show shoot, swapping batteries and cameras like crazy – noticed the pro wasn’t Sad smile  I didn’t immediately get a DSLR – that came a few months ago actually, but that was after a lot of thinking and rationalizing.  Thinking was along these lines.  I wanted Nikon  this time.  The big issue – the D3200 and 5200 had recently come out but had upscaled resolution and faster processors.  Last years models were offering two lenses at about the same price.

The question that was nagging at me – that extra zoom.  On my Compact System cameras, I simply didn’t use the longer zoom all that much.  DSLR’s were new to me – if I jumped in and I liked it, I’m one that does want the latest and greatest and in this space, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  The real bottom line here though, was battery power first, then the controls and viewfinder.  And then, it was  – which one in the new stuff.  The D3200 or D5200.  D7100 was simply too expensive and complex for me at the time.  I just wanted to stick my toe in.  The D3200 it was.  Was it a good choice?  You know what, for me, I felt it was a great choice.  It gave me the start point I was looking for.  I read the reviews and many said that getting last years D5100 at the same price was actually a better buy but the reasons they gave simply didn’t apply for what I wanted to do.  Yes, they were valid, but really didn’t over ride what I wanted.  One key reason that they mentioned referred more to glass than anything.  Both sensors resolved higher than the kit lens but from my side of the fence, I wasn’t going to see the difference anyway Smile  Now that I have a prime lens, though, on certain shots, I can detect the difference.

Reviews – Reviews have their place – believe me.  I use reviews a LOT for most of my decisions.  Sooo… what do I look for in a review.  One of the first things I do, is look at the author and what their background is – important to understand the perspective from where they speak.  An important takeaway for me, is in their final opinion. They will typically say something to the effect of “For the person that……”  and see if what they say fits what I’m planning.  I look at multiple reviews and articles.  The manufacturer web pages also give target audiences.  There are other tidbits that hid in those reviews and other articles.  They also get very technical.  The pieces in the technical area do have gems in them and sometimes hard to understand, but its important to remember what they are telling you too.  The MOST IMPORTANT things to correlate – Do these things, will these things impact what you are doing? 

Look at it this way – you may read something that says that the image breaks down at a certain point.  That’s fine but will you see that for what you do?  Say you are going to put the pic on an iPad – you probably won’t see that.  Understanding white balance is important – some cameras don’t handle it well, BUT if it’s going to handle it better than what you have now, might be a factor.  But then again – WOULD YOU EVEN CARE?  Smile  What I would be looking for would be, what the camera does for the things YOU do.  I’ll give you an example.  The Nikon S9400.  The reviews said that the S9400 has trouble with brightly lit scenes.  Actually, it’s in the area where you have a bright sunny day with clouds.  It tends to render the sky quite light to the point where the sky and clouds aren’t quite discernable or not what you thought you saw.  A washed out effect.  There’s a work around Smile  A bit geeky, but if you set one of the settings to vivid, and set you EV to –1 or greater, guess what  ?  Problem solved.  You would have t know to do that, but then again, compared to the features that the camera has to offer, for me, not an issue.  It’s thinner – it has a great metering system and as a general rule a pretty good camera.

I think it’s important to look at reviews for several manufacturers as well – comparisons are good as they show key differences between cameras.  Some of these differences may be a key factor in what you ultimately choose.  My personal preferences go along these lines:

Fuji and Panasonics – from my 35mm days, Fuji film has been known for it’s rich colors – blues, greens, reds and golds.  Panasonic also does sort of the same thing.  Very similar results.  In the travel cam category, though, the Panasonic wins as it’s menu system is easier to navigate. The Fuji F800, to me, is really not targeted at the average person.  It’s quite an advanced unit.  At the GX1 level – the Panasonic GX1 does justice to fall photos Smile  I love it for what it does.  If you want to get a little more technical on this – I find that the Fujis and Panasonics tend to be ever so slighty “warm” on flesh tones.  For snapshots – it probably won’t matter.  I’m fairly advanced and for what I do – it’s not a concern either Smile

Nikon and Sony – I put these two together, like the Fuji and Panasonic because of certain characteristics – mostly for general “snapshots” – that’s what these are going to probably get used for anyway….  Nikon and Sony tend to render their photos a little “brighter”, for lack of a better term.  To me, they do this to give the “appearance’ of sharper photos but at the same time, I find them not quite as rich on certain shots as the Fuji or Panasonic.  Sony does have one advantage in this class and that’s it’s flash.  It’s got a noticeable difference in output.  The kicker here, is that using the flash close in will blow out images big time.  Ask me how I know this ?  Smile  Sony is also expensive for what it does and it might be worth it if you need those features.  One thing that disturbed me about the HX30 was that for a Sony, it felt cheap compared to the rest.  Sony’s build is typically amazing but on this one….  Not that its broken or anything, but just feels cheap by comparison.  This also correlates to a bit of a “cooler” look on flesh tones – ever so slightly lighter.  Again, not noticeable unless you know this Smile

Canon – the Canon SX270 HD, actually the 260 model won an award for best travel camera.  I can sort of see why.  IF you looked at it from the perspective of the person who wants something a bit past pointy shooty and doesn’t need to much cute and fancy, this does a lot of things right.  It’s got good color and for those sun and cloud shots, it does render things pretty good.  Again, a little fiddling to make the shot closer to what you are expecting, but then again, this camera does a good job in it’s base Auto mode.  If I didn’t have the other cameras, this would be a good all around choice, though my preference if I had to only take one camera, mine would be the Panasonic ZS25, but then again, I have a good set to choose from too Smile  They are the only one that I’ve seen that actually come with a case.  It’s a nice leather one, but at the same time, it’s very tight fitting and a bit annoying if you are in a hurry as you need to thread that wrist band through the hole, but then again, it’s only a minor annoyance – when you are on holidays, you shouldn’t be in a hurry anyway.  There are others in this class, but I don’t have opinions.

It’s also important, I feel to go touch and feel if you can.  For photo equipment, BTW, I buy locally at every chance. Sometimes,  I’m lucky enough to catch sales, and depending…. I’ll wait for one. but I’m also not scared to pay full price if I need something rather immediate either.  Camera batteries if I need it for some event.   Accessories – well, if I know what I want, online I go – I can save tons of cash and I don’t have to hunt all over town.  It’s always nice to “snoop”, but I’m not going to run all over town either.  When it comes to cameras and lenses, I really want to be sure of what I’m getting.  Other stuff – well…. 

DSLR’s – The burning question here.  Why Nikon?  AND why the D3200?  One big thing here, and it came down to this touchy feely thing.  Compared to say Canon and Sony, the D3200 felt “right” as soon as I picked it up.  I have fairly small hands and others simply felt either too big or too small.  The controls were located well.  The D3200 is slightly smaller than the 5xxx or 7xxx series, but in reality, it just felt right for me.  It’s slightly heavy with the SB700 flash unit, but not unmanageable.  All the reviews said this was one of the best entry level DLSR’s to get, though a little on the pricey side.  I don’t know where that came from Smile  In my experience, Nikon was always “up there”, Canon was right behind.  Doesn’t look like that’s changed too much, though there are more players now.

In today’s world, in reality, I think this is a pretty specialized space and it isn’t for everyone.  With the amount of gear available, and how good it really is, I can’t help but think that one would have to get pretty serious to even be here.  There are also those hybrids that look like a DSLR but don’t have a fixed lens and a BIG zoom.  My wife has a Panasonic FZ50 with a 12x zoom and 12 Megapixel. It’s a few years old, and it’s been used a lot but it’s still going strong.    Going into DSLR turf gets you into more specialized “stuff”.  One thing with the D3200 is, that makes it easy for someone to get a “taste” of this space without  breaking the bank.  I actually spent more on my GX1 than I did the D3200 Smile 

Lenses – I got a prime lens recently. A 50mm f1.8D – equivalent to 75mm in 35mm terms, or portrait size.  That used to be one of my favourite lenses back then.  85mm f1.8 from Canon was simply one of the best lenses I’ve every used.  It took a bit to get used to manual focus lens again, but the 50mm f1.8 is a pretty neat lens, gotta admit.  Still lots of exploring to do here. 

Flash – Up to a short while ago, I had never really thought all that much about getting an external flash.  For most of the things I’ve done, the on board flash was more than adequate for most things.  Where the “hiccups” came into play were the bigger events where I needed more “reach” and be able to take a lot of shots.  It only happened a couple of times a year and usually, spare batteries took care of that.  One of big reasons for me for moving into DLSR’s was to be able to get more shots on a single battery.  Going to an external flash would only enhance that.  In the end, I managed to find the SB400 which was discontinued last year, and was actually very surprised at it’s performance.  It was also a bit of surprise at how it took over the camera.  It took a bit of testing to see just what it was doing, but it does work well. 

My initial thoughts on this was to get the bigger unit, the SB700 but the other side of it was that I didn’t do enough to justify dropping the bucks on it.  The SB400 actually does a lot for a little flash that’s for sure.  I was actually really amazed, and am still amazed by it.  When it’s coupled to the D3200 it definitely works well.  It cycles like crazy and made it through my fashion shoot on one set of batteries.  While we are on the subject of batteries – a while ago, one of my photography friends told my about the Sanyo Eneloops.  I got some but didn’t use them for flash, but for my mice and other techy toys.  They worked well until my contracts shifted around.  Enter the SB400 and now I have a use for them againSmile  Anyway… at the fashion shoot, I took something like 350 shots on a single set of batteries. I was shocked at how they worked as well as the SB400.  Mind you, the majority of shots were at ISO400 and at around 20 ft so nothing that required full power.  Examples coming in a future post. 

In the last few days, I’ve been monkeying with the unit on more different shots, including some interior shots that required some “big” bounces and that’s where it really got me thinking about flash and what I might be able to accomplish if I did get a more versatile unit.  A little more research and it became a done deal.  As I suspected, it makes the D3200 a little top heavy, but the offset in what it does.  I’ve only taken around 200 test shots so far with it, but now it’s got my interest really upSmile  Lots to learn yet.  I really hadn’t planned it this way, but a plan is starting to take place – I think.  My first order of the day was to get more batteries for backup – not that I needed them but then again, it wouldn’t hurt either. 

Accessories – Now this is an interesting space in it’s own right.  Each person adds pieces as they move along.  I’ve always put filters on my cameras.  On the more critical pieces of gear for me is spare batteries for my cameras.  Then there’s lens keepers.  A BIG soft spot for me, is bags.  I’m starting to accumulate them Smile  The plan – depending on where I go, I’ll have a camera and “something” to carry my cameras in.  One of my favourite bags is a Fossil sling.  Pretty serious coin, but it’s my noon hour jaunt bag and I love the thing to death.  Not using it that way yet, but for weekends, it carries my Fuji XF1 and a travel cam plus either my iPad or Nexus 7 tablet.  And then there’s my Gorrilla Pod – unbelievably useful for my smaller cameras.  When I started building my light box and doing some still shots, I found that my old tripod was severely inadequate when I stuck my GX1 on it.  Back to the hunt.  I actually wanted something small but sturdy but strong enough to hold a DSLR if I got there, and at the same time, light in case I took it travelling.  Ugh…. the only thing close was a carbon fibre one.  I went snooping, and $250 later I got the 5 section Pro Master 2, in carbon fibre.  Then there was another $80 or so for a head.  I got a ball head so I could attach and detach cameras easily.

So… there we go.  It’s getting late and I’ve been chipping away at this off and on most of the day….


About gkamitomo
IT Busines Analyst

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