Thoughts Around Mobility with a DSLR

So what the heck do I mean by this?  A little background.  I’m a Business Analyst in the IT space.  I also commute and over the last few years, I’ve renewed my interest in a long lost passion – photography.  I come from the world of 35mm film and have roughly 15 years under my belt – everything from doing free lance work to owning my own camera store.  When I thought about jumping back into photography two or three years ago, my world had changed – commuting was a major part of my life and if I wanted to take photos, my schedule was such that I didn’t have all that much time to actually take photos and my best opportunity would be during my noon hours. In planning a “path”, I ultimately knew that I would end up  with DSLR’s. 

I rolled off my contract a couple of weeks ago, and one of the things that this “down” time has allowed me to do, is give a little thought about where I want to go with my photography.  Its not that I have that much time, as job hunting is a pretty full time job in itself, but at least I’m home and when I take a break, I can at least think about non-work stuff  Smile 

I’ve mentioned this in previous posts – I like high quality photos but I’m not a “pixel peeper” either.  I have something like 12+ cameras ranging from pointy shooties to DSLR’s and the one thing I’ve found with these is that all of them do take high quality pics.  Along the journey, I ended up with DSLR’s.  PLUS all my other gear and I use pretty well all of it. The big reason for going to DSLRs, for me, went beyond the quality and control thing.  One of the key drivers for me was battery power and flash power.  Something that the Compact System Cameras have yet to achieve in my research so far.  I do have two systems in Compact System area – a Panasonic GX1 and Nikon 1 J1 – both have two zooms and recently, I got a Sigma 60mm f2.8 for the GX1.  I have advanced cameras in the Fuji X10 as well as a Panasonic LX7.  Both of these are used as backups where low light or available light is needed.  I do take a lot of photos and some of the work I do involves event work.  Everything from social events to fashion shows.  When I first started to do these, the very first thing I did notice was that in order to use my cameras, I had to work in fairly close to stay within range of the in-built flash.  The problem was that by using the in-built flash was that I was swapping batteries constantly, and that there were more and more instances where the flash was coming up short.. 

Those problems went away when I invested in my Nikons.  On the last shoot I did, I had my Nikon D3200 and D5100 with two zooms and two flash units a Nikon SB400 and SB700.   I was able to take roughly 450 shots without having to swap lenses or change batteries. In other words – it went fine.

The flip side of this had to do with my work life and commuting.  As a consulting Business Analyst and commuting I tend to carry all my work things in my daypack.  Also, as a consultant, I don’t like to keep too much at the office either.  My office resides in my daypack.  Soooo… in order to also be able to take photos, that meant my camera had to also reside in my daypack if I wanted to keep everything in one place.  From an equipment standpoint, that meant literally two “systems” – one for mobile and one for not so mobile.  The acquisition of a bridge camera got me re-thinking mobile with larger cameras.  In particular a DSLR with a single zoom that could cover off most things.  I wasn’t too worried about using a DSLR in low light – they do that better than the other cameras by default.

To me, and likely many others, we get into DSLR’s for not only the quality that the unit is capable of, but for the extra functionality.  This comes at the cost of weight.  If one wants to carry one all the time, especially if you want to have a camera handy all the time, this can be a bit of a hassle.  To make it worse and add even more bulk, the more advanced users want to carry even more extra gear.  So here’s a line of thought that ran through my mind trying to rationalize this out a bit.

One of the things with commuting, especially on a crowded bus, is that anything past a daypack can become a bit of  a hassle.  An average style bag even gets in the way a lot and heaven help you trying to pack both on your lap Sad smile   When I got the Nikon P520, this got me really thinking about a couple of things.  I had purchased one of those Caden triangular bags to experiment with.  It actually worked quite well and could hold a DSLR with the kit zoom plus another one including some base accessories.  Enough to get by for the day.  


BUT to me, there was still the set up issue where depending on the photo op, one might have to swap lenses.  You see, the kit lens that came with my D3200 was the 18-55mm.  In full frame “talk” that would be 27mm to 110mm – reasonable wide angle to roughly portrait length.  This is actually a well thought out zoom length as the majority of photos would probably be taken within this range.  When I got the D3200, I was surprised at how functional it was.  As I did more and more though, that zoom range became a bit short, so I got the 55-200.  That gave me a range of 110mm to 300mm. BUT it was two lenses, which meant a swap.  OK as long as I didn’t commute with them Smile Something that I didn’t want to do.  I wanted to be able to pull the camera and pretty well shoot.  My travel cams and Nikon P520 allowed me to do that.  What perhaps might do the trick would be a zoom that covered roughly 28mm to 200mm.  This got me thinking about a zoom that covered range.

The other option that I really considered was getting another DSLR with a zoom in that range.  A D7100 with an 18-140 OR a D7000 with the 18-105.  This was going to set me back at least a grand, which was more than what I wanted to spend. A D7100 with the 180140 would be around $1500!! 

What I found was an 18-250 from Sigma for around $400’ish and in thinking a bit more about this, was probably a good choice Smile 

Sigma Zoom_front_editedSigma Zoom_left sideSigma Zoom_left side

From my standpoint – the wide angle is “just “ wide enough.  the 18mm correlates to 27mm (in 35mm talk..), and my personal preference is to be at 24mm.  BUT, for general purpose stuff , this is fine.  At the telephoto end, 250 correlates to 375mm – almost too much for hand held.  Smile  My personal “working” long length in the 35mm days was 200mm.  But, all things considered, quite a usable lens for “booting around”.  I have no doubt that this lens is going to see a lot of use over the course of it’s life.  So far, it’s been sweet to use.  It’s likely going to stay on my D5100 because of the articulating screen on the 5100 – this gives me the most flexibility. 

Sigma_wide angleSigma_zoomed

The bonus with this one, is that it’s also a macro Smile  A couple of light box shots


Macro enabled on my D5100 and zoomed in daylight:  One of the big things around macro or portrait work, is having the ability to get that background blurred out.  The issue around this, is that one usually needs a super fast lens like an 85 f1.8 or equivalent to achieve that “bokeh” or blurred background effect.  I found that a good workaround for this, is to step back a bit and use a longer lens.  I’ll chat about workarounds  in another entry.  The following shot was simply shot in Programmed Auto.

Solar Light


Any drawbacks?  About the only one, but it’s not a real deal breaker is that fact that when I’m doing close up work, or in lower light, the autofocus tends to “wander” and not lock in.  This, however, is the same with most of my gear – there are times when it does lock in and times when it doesn’t. 

Lens performance?  You know – so far, I’m pretty pleased with what I’m seeing.  I’ll put it this way – for what I’m doing, I’m going to have to pixel peep a lot to see intrinsic differences between my primes and zooms Smile  Right now, for my event shoots, I’m using two bodies with two different zooms.  This could potentially allow me to shoot with one of the bodies using a portrait prime.   Lens speed at f3.5 is fine.   One of the advantages of a DSLR, is that larger sensor.  I can go easily to ISO 1600 with literally no loss of quality.  Pretty neat stuff, this journey I’m on… Almost forgot – color rendition.  Third party lenses can sometimes render color differently compared to the factory lenses.  It’s not noticeable for the most part, but in certain circumstances, one may have to “tweak” a but.  I actually have another third party zoom, a 28-200 Tamron but it’s for a full frame Nikon.  It’s a fully manual one with my DX units, but I got it brand new for $95!!  Where I use this one, is when I DO have the time to set up.  I’m not so worried about sharpness dropping on edges as that is common with most zooms.  From what I’m seeing so far, this is a non-issue.  OR at least for the time being – you never know – I may ultimately get fussy enough to go to more primes Smile 

As much as a wanted a 7000 series DSLR, I’m not using my current ones enough to really warrant 3 bodies.  AND one of the objectives here was to see if it would be possible to carry a DSLR easily and with little or not accessories.  The plan will be to test this theory sometime next week when I take a jaunt downtown and trek the +15 walkway. 

To elaborate a bit – the +15 walkway is this walkway above ground that interlinks the downtown corridor.  You can technically go from one end of downtown to the other without ever being on the street.  It does go everywhere but because it interlinks so much of downtown, it’s actually a fascinating walk.  It puts you thru buildings and shopping centres.  I have spent many a noon hour walking during noon hours to get a bit of exercise.  Despite how many meetings I do, my work tends to be very brain intensive and those noon hour walks are wonderful for clearing your head and avoiding the “2 o’clock sag” Smile  Soooo… the plan is to do a bit of a sightseeing entry about my adventure.  Besides that – I need to find a location for a potential future assignment.

One of the more fascinating things about doing these  noon hour walks, is that it give one a chance to “people watch”.  One of the things with downtown is noon hours – a lot of people head out for lunch during noon hours and the thing that I’ve found out, is that if you don’t grab your lunch before 11:30 a.m. you could be in line for a while.  There are food courts everywhere too, so a little walk can yield a surprising variety of food.  Where the +15 really excels, is in winter.  You don’t need a coat if you work in a building that is along the +15.  For these noon hour jaunts, my gear comprises of a Nikon S9400 (Travel Camera) and a Fuji XF1 in a Fossil Sling bag.  That way I have both the big zoom and low pieces covered off.  Of course, there’s also my iPad and/or ereader in the mix if I want to stop along the way. 

Fossil Sling and stuff

Now – I didn’t use this bag on my last assignment, and that was unfortunate, but there was really no place to lock this up after hours.  We were in this open environment so it was daypack or nothing.

Some observations as they pertain to photography Smile  I’ve done a couple of consulting assignments in the downtown core.  About 4 or 5 years worth.  So what have I seen?  Maybe it’s me but I have seen little or no photo gear during the noon hour!!!  Maybe they simply use their phones and are happy with that Smile  I don’t always takes pics during my noon hour, but I do tend to take my cameras with me.

There’s this saying about familiarity breeding contempt and when you look around, this does ring true to me.  Also, the big thing that I’ve noticed about downtown in general, is this sense of “busy”.  Almost like a sub-culture. People rush around, grab lunch and then back to work.  Being in IT, I see a surprising amount of this.  Interestingly, on assignments outside of the downtown core, it wasn’t nearly as rushed.  Things have change over the years and it’s not so “formal” as it used to be.  A little more casual than suits and ties/formal business ware that used to be so prevalent.  So… this rushing around…. doesn’t anyone ever stop and “smell the roses?”.  I see pockets of that, but generally speaking, it rush rush rush everywhere.  Our city (Calgary), in general, to me has this “rushed” feeling.  I’ve done a lot of traveling over the years and Calgary is a bit unique in that sense.  Of course, the bigger cities are busy, but this “rushed” thing is different.  When we were on vacation in Honolulu – Waikiki was busy, but not rushed if you know what I mean.  Anyway… the one thing (and I hate to admit this Smile) is that I haven’t really done anything about taking photos along the +15 all that much.  There is so much there, but like most, I just walk by.  This last assignment put me right in the downtown core, and I was there 6 months and hardly took that many pics.  How bad is that?  Comin.g soon though……….  I was thinking this would be a great test of my DSLR with the new zoom and see just how easy its going to be.  Situation will be slightly different – the plan is go down just with my photo gear and as light as possible.  Caden sling plus DSLR and perhaps a few accessories. 

In my own experience in photography, I’ve found that as one gets more and more advanced, we tend to want to capture as much as possible, learn as much as we can along the way.  I don’t necessarily see that with other folks who aren’t as serious, but still, it’s one of those observations.  I guess it’s like any hobby – there are those who are “into it” and those who are not.  To each their own.  For me, I find that photography is one of those things that everyone should endeavour to get reasonably good at.  I gotta hand it to smartphones and social media – it’s not about the quality of photos so much as what the technology did for photography.  Almost like a resurgence in the art, if you want to call it that Smile  Social media in particular has made it easy to go global for lack of a better term. 

From the aspect of being a serious amateur with visions of grandeur, the internet has now become a pretty normal thing and with the wealth of information out there on the topic, its much easier to learn, get your name out there.  For those of us who use technology, its all about mobility and being connected. Maybe I’m missing something here but then maybe not Smile  Back in the day, I wasn’t worried about lugging a bunch of photo gear with me.  In today’s world, I’m not so fussy about doing that. 

Now, something that I haven’t tried too much of, is using the Panasonic GX1 or even the Nikon 1 J1 with me.  They are both very capable units.  Something else on the list Smile 



About gkamitomo
IT Busines Analyst

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