Reflections on 2014–Looking Forward…..

As the saying goes “Another one bites the dust”.  Wow!  Where did 2014 go anyway? 

I’ve got a couple of entries sort of done and they’ve kinda dead ended, so with XMAS wound down and with the New Year coming into play, I thought I would “reflect” a bit on this last year.

Generally, it was this combination of discovering, acquiring, building new stuff from the the photo standpoint.  Let’s not forgetting taking a pile of pics along the way.  Sooo… here we go Smile

For me, this year, the focus was more around what I wanted to do with DSLR’s and where I could use them.  I did start to do a bit of free lancing, but the big area was in simply trying to get better in the areas where I “played”.  These were new from my days of 35mm.  I’ve always done close up work, but I wanted to expand in that space. I started to do light box work.  Not as much in scenic space but a bit more with architecture. I wanted to “get back” Smile  Sort of …..  I also wanted to simply take more photos – lots more….. simply see where my interests would end up.

Base Equipment

Despite the fact that I did acquire a fair amount of stuff, it wasn’t in the area of cameras, but more in the accessories.  I actually didn’t go on a monster camera buying binges this year per se.  Not like the year before.  It was a little more planned Smile Equipment purchases fell around trying to get more efficient..  There were two areas that I focused on.  First was on some event work stuff.  I added a new body in the Nikon D5100 to complement my D3200.  I also added a bigger flash so I now have the SB400 ad SB700. 

Flash Units

Huge time saver having two cameras on a shoot Smile 

From a lens standpoint, for the DSLR’s, I was looking in two areas – one was for close up work, and I acquired a Micro Nikkor 40mm f2.8 for that to start.  This was a great addition for me and I also added a Tamron 28-200 which I ran into by accident and cheap.  This was for an FX type camera so everything about it was manual, but it did give me a little more flexibility.  In being manual though, it also meant longer set up times.  Works OK, though it is a big lens.   wanted to keep the lens count down too and use zooms as much as possible.

The other area evolved around the concept of taking a DSLR with me all the time, instead of my smaller cameras.  I did this a lot in my 35mm days, but this time around, I went a different route and had a bunch of small cameras.  I took the path to DSLR’s in very methodical and sort of progressive way and so in reality, the DSLR was the last thing I wanted for every day carry.  I had developed other ways and means around using gear during my daily commute.  Before continuing on I should make myself very clear about image objectives.  For starters, one of my main goals was to be mobile (as in gear small enough for my daypack), and still get good quality images for what I do.  In other words – I’m not fixated on DSLR’s Smile  I use DSLR’s obviously every chance I get, but at the same time, have no qualms about grabbing a pointy shooty or something else to get the shot either.

My current gear includes several pointy shooties that include some advanced units, some travel cameras, a bridge camera, two Compact System Cameras and my DSLR’s.  I think I have roughly 15 cameras or so. The end goal was DSLR’s and it took about 3 years to get there.

It was a little later in the year, roughly September’s  when I started to entertain the idea of moving outside of the daypack and seeing if it would be possible to commute easily with yet a second bag of sorts.  Sticking a DSLR in my daypack was totally out of the question as I already had too much work stuff in there.  I started to look at various types of bags and one that I ran into, was the Caden triangular sling.  Now, this one was an option and in trying it, it actually works well, but at the time, I didn’t have a lens that covered the range I wanted, so the bag sat in a corner for a while.

Caden_D5100

I did try it on weekends where I could get away with the 18-55 and as long as I didn’t do anything crazy, I was fine.  BUT, in saying that, I did want more range from one unit.  In the end, I found the 18-250 Sigma, but more on that in a bit. 

Another area that totally fascinates me, is in the area of super zoom type camera and I have a few of the travel cameras that are in that 20x zoom.  For me, this is a really fun area to exploit.  One of my co-workers at the time got a bridge camera and the more I thought about it, the more I figured it might be worth investigating.  In the end, I got one Smile  I didn’t want to drop big bucks and wanted it to actually cover off as much of what I do as possible.  I ended up with the Nikon P520.  It was on a clear out because it was last years model, so cheap at $300.  It had an articulating mirror so I could use it for close up work.  AND it was out at 42x zoom!  What caught me off guard on this unit was image quality.  I was REALLY impressed with it. 

Ninkon P520

Here’s a shot from my light box using the P520:

USB stuff

This unit actually had the range I was looking for, and so I tried using it for a few weeks with the Caden sling during my daily commute.  Two things popped up right away – I could pull a camera faster this way than trying to dig one out of my daypack.  It was actually not too bad lugging this bag along on my daily commute.  I actually taking the P520 AND the D5100 and found I could Smile  IF I really needed to.

The other issue was finding some sort of a lens I could put on one of my DSLR’s to give me the versatility I was looking for. In the end, I did acquire a lens for my DSLR’s – it was the Sigma 18-250.  It normally resides on my D5100.  Why the D5100?  It has that articulating LCD viewfinder.  Heavier than my D3200 but at the same time, gives me the functionality I want.  BTW – I got the D5100 instead of the 5200 due to a price point.  The extra functions the D5200 had were not worth the money to me.  The price difference in reality, got me the Sigma zoom.

D5100_Sigma_VFout

After researching a bit – the sensor size was about the same, and so the difference between 24 mp and 16mp wasn’t going to impact enough to make a difference.  I didn’t need GPS.  Metering was little better on the D5200, but not enough to make a difference. 

And then there was the issue of  bags Smile  I think that once one starts to accumulate more and  more gear, the question around storage and the question of  “What do I want to take?” and “What do I want to carry it all in?” rears it’s ugly head.  Sort of Smile  The quest for the perfect bag for that particular shoot, I think, is one that is always a hard one to solve.  Even for daypacks.  I’m a consultant, and my contracts vary anywhere from a few months to a couple of years.  Each one, so far has required me to have different pieces of equipment for both the job and for commuting. 

Getting back to bags.  I want to be able to have equipment “at the ready”.  I need to be able to store stuff at home.  I need to be able to take only certain pieces of gear with me in a given instance.  For home, I keep my gear set up so there is a bag for each system.  This is mostly for my Compact System Cameras and DSLR’s.  Sooo.. I keep all my stuff for the Panasonic GX1 and Nikon 1 J1 in separate bags.  I have lenses and spare batteries for each.  I have a larger LowePro bag to store my DSLR’s.   This one is the AW250

Big Bag - InsideBiig Bag - Front

I didn’t want to spend big bucks but there was no choice.

If I have a big event, and I have had a couple – I simply take this one.  Otherwise I have a bigger Kata sling where I can take my other cameras too.  I use these bags where I don’t need to set up quickly. 

The other side of this, is if I’m doing an “out and about”.  What I normally do, is take something with me on my weekend “chores”, like grocery shopping, banking, whatever.  Usually a camera or two with one of my tablets.  I have a Fossil Sling for that.

Fossil Sling and stuff

I actually have several of these “man purses”, and even though this one was expensive, it’s more than paid for itself over the last couple of years.  There’s a lesson in there about money vs quality Smile 

When I got the Sigma 18-250, it changed things.  When I stuck it on the D5100, I now had a unit that I could take just about anywhere and just deal with one lens.  I COULD still have my travel cams but I also wanted to have the Nikon P520 too.  Soooo…. I wanted a bag that would be easy to carry and at the same time, be able to retrieve any camera quickly.  One of the thing I’ve found with most bags, is that you can carry multiple cameras but one is always gong to take longer to get out.  What I found that works really well is this one I got from Amazon:

ohuhu frontohuhu inside

Cheaper than others at around $36, I think, but very well built.  It has a waterproof insert and enough room to carry spare batteries, a tablet or whatever and be accessible.  I have my D5100, P520 and SB700 as well as accessories.  A little big, but very manageable and can get a camera out quickly.  I can get either one out fast, which is something I wanted.   From the standpoint of having the gear for my “regular” stuff, I’m in a happy place Smile

Specialized Gear

One of the big things for me that was very different from my 35mm days, was the type of shooting I’m doing now compared to the 35mm days.  I did a fair amount of free-lancing and in the photo journalism side, so I did have tripods, but they were more for the the studio things I did.  Back then, everything was hand held. 

Away from the “usual” stuff of taking photos of social events, I love working with plants and doing small object photo stuff (light box work).  Sure, and  the other usual things like landscapes, etc.  I found myself doing a fair amount of  interior shots from the revenue property side of things and that’s  also one of the reasons for going with the smaller cameras.  And definitely more in the big zoom stuff. 

This time around, a tripod became more of a necessity.  I had an old tripod from the 35mm days, but it wasn’t what I wanted for what I was doing.  I started to hunt.  Talk about sticker shock!!!  I was looking for something that was mobile and at the same time be sturdy enough to hold a DSLR with a zoom.  AND I wanted a ball head so I could set up a little quicker.  The tripod I got was the ProMaster 2 carbon fibre one – 5 section. That set me back $250.  The first ball head I got was the Milano B-2 head.  It was fine to a point and for the most part it worked.  But in using anything bigger than the 18-55, it didn’t work that well.  I ended up having to go to something bigger.  I didn’t want to go to any sort of pan head because it would then be too bulky.  If I go bulky, it might as well be a BIG tripod at that point Smile  I got a Manfrotto head.  Another $130.

sManfrotto Head

 

This, for the moment, anyway, seems to handle everything I’m doing.  I find that I’m using a tripod more and more, but then most of the things I am doing, the tripod helps.

One of the things I started to look seriously at was lighting beyond what I had for my light box.  There were a couple of reasons.  For starters, this time of the year and this year in particular, for some reason, we haven’t gotten too much  sunlight here in Calgary.

My wife works in a garden centre and and it stands to reason we have XMAS cacti  at the house.  A great photo subject Smile

Xmas_cactus 

This year, in Calgary, we also haven’t had the snow we had last year either.  Over and above this I had been sort of studying lighting in a bit more depth.  Another project I was working on, was being able to back light some smaller stained glass pieces that my wife had commissioned.  More on that in a bit. 

I initially started with an Optex movie light and then added in a krog qudos .

Optex and Knog1

And then there was the issue of being able to use these lights.  What I mean by that, is things to attach the lights to so I can position them.  I had a GorillaPod that worked for certain things.

Baby Gpod

This one was the small one and I also have the larger one.  This was good when I could wrap the legs or perch it low.  The other issue I ran into, and it was mostly in the house, was being able to light from either underneath or from the top with distance beyond what the lights could enhance effectively.  What I got for this, was the articulating arms from Cowboy Studio.

Articulating arms

I ultimately ended up with an 11 inch and a 7 inch version.  Now these don’ t come cheap, but they are turning into handy little things and work extremely well.

Stained glass setup

TableTop_Stained glass

Once I got going on this stuff, I started to look further into other things that I could use to prop my lights and came up with these:

clamp_man_quodo

Because of our properties, we do a lot of renovation work, so I have quite a complete workshop.  I wanted to take some photos of some of the stained glass pieces that my wife got commissioned and that proved out to be a rather interesting project for taking photos of them.  I wanted to be able to backlight them.  Soooo… the first thing I did was build a small platform.

Lighting jig

Next, I needed to figure out a way to set up some sort of a backlighting jig.  I had a wire frame shelf that I had kicking around so I attached it with clamps.  I used one of my reflectors from my light box and some translucent fabric from the fabric store.

Back of frame

Little lighting added from the front

Stained glass setup

And here are a couple of shots

Stained glass2stained glass3Stained_glass1TableTop_Stained glass

These are actually quite small pieces that normally use Tea Lights on the back.

tea light view

In the end, this is a rig I can set up easily and works well, dining room table permitting Smile

Instead of using a conventional light box, I made my own.  Mine is a little different in that I don’t have a lot of space so I use direct lighting.  Simple enough using some bits and pieces I found. I have been looking at something where I can adjust my backdrop depth and what you see here is just sort of a jig.  I have something else in mind, but need to think on it a bit.

Light box

Other Accessories – There are always more accessories as you can imagine Smile  Spare memory cards for instance.  This is also a “depends” thing.  Just how many?  And what size?   I tend to go like this – my smaller cameras use the 4GB ones, more advanced one – 8 GB.  My DSLR’s will be 16GB or larger.  I offload after every project.  Filters – I try to have UV filters on my DSLR’s.  Polarizers for the shots where I need to reduce reflection.  I also have some close up filters.  Batteries – I have spare batteries for both cameras and flash.  For the camera side, I only have spares for the cameras that get used on long shooting sequences where I may run out of battery power.  DSLR’s of course.  I have at least one spare for each camera which gets me about 600 – 800 shots per camera.  My Panasonic GX1 and Fuji X10 as well – they are used a lot.  My travel cameras?  Well, no.  I haven’t used them to the point where I needed them.  I have multiple cameras, so no need Smile  

The Concept of Multiple Cameras

I’ve chatted a bit about this before in other entries.  Does one really need more than one camera?  I’ve gone the way of multiple cameras and probably taken it to an extreme Smile  I look at it perhaps in a bit of a different way, or not Smile  Most of the articles on selecting cameras emphasize the fact that one needs to evaluate what you want to do before picking the camera.  I fully agree with that.  There is also a bit of discussion around learning to use one camera to the point where you know it’s functions.  I agree with that as well.  BUT, what if one camera does something automatically that would take a lot of fiddling or post work with another?  More important – what if you were at the point where you knew those differences?  When I started to look at this, by acquiring certain cameras in something like the travel camera range, some differences showed up.  Granted – the reviews sometimes chat about this, but you know, until one takes comparative shots, its really hard to tell.  In fact, if one didn’t, one would probably never know.

Here’s an example.  I have found that in the smaller units up to the travel camera class anyway, that Fuji and Panasonics tend to shoot a little richer in things like flesh tones and plant life.  Nikons and Sony tend to shoot a little cooler but the image is brighter.  I have only one Canon, the SX270HD and it’s quite neutral.  By that I mean, it’s got a pretty good all around color.  Nothing spectacular about it, but just just does everything pretty well.  However, none of these cameras work particularly well in low light or available light.  I got the Fuji X10, XF1 and Panasonic LX7 for that.

My personal preferences go like this.  When I’m doing an “out and about”, my tendency us to take a Nikon S9400 and Fuji XF1.  The S9400 is very slim as is the XF1 being tiny.  Both fit easily into my Fossil bag.  My all around favourite camera is actually the Panasonic ZS25, but I lost it to my wife Smile  This gives me everything from low light to big zoom at any one moment in time.  IF I want to take bigger gear, my Ohuhu bag is set up with my Nikon D5100/18-250 Sigma and my Nikon P520.  What interesting here, to me, is that it’s quite easy to grab both bags on an outing.  If I am going to some sort of social event – it’ll be the X10 or LX7, usually.  For formal shoots, it’ll be both DSLR’s with appropriate gear and the Panasonic GX1 as backup.  My other cameras like the Sony HX30/FujiF800 and Canon SX270 sit on a shelf.

Now,for me, this is the framework I tend to use.  I’m not bound by it.  If I think I want the DSLR for something, I’ll use it.  When one looks at the technology we have today, especially in cameras, I’ve found that most the cameras today, take a pretty high quality image.  If one has some basic photo knowledge, it’s pretty easy to maintain high quality images. 

Why Nikon?  Well, it was pretty simple in one sense Smile  In my 35mm days, I used Canon but always wanted a Nikon – just couldn’t afford it.  Now I can Smile  For my DSLR’s, it will likely be one of these two brands anyway, despite the fact that there are lots of others out there. 

That “Post Processing” Discussion

My personal preference is to stay away from any post processing if possible.  By post processing, I mean using software to manipulate the image.  Software could be interpreted as the “darkroom” from the 35m days.  In todays world, it’s actually pretty easy to get software to “fix” your images.  Back in the day, it was expensive to get any changes made to your photo, so one set up correctly the first time.  That mean knowing pretty well everything and having the correct equipment to get the shot right the first time.  Composition, exposure – shoot.  AND working on the assumption one had the gear to get that shot.

Because of that philosophy back then, I try to do that in today’s world.  Granted – there are times when one does have to do post work, but I try to minimize as much as possible.  For me, it’s cropping more than anything when it comes from light box work.  Sometimes, the object simply doesn’t fill the frame.  Not that much for exposure compensation or color correcting.  The other side of this,for me, is that I simply am not prepared to spend huge amounts of time I don’t have for post work.  I’ve always worked on the principle of getting the shot right the first time.  That’s also one of the reasons I have several types of cameras.  Each one addresses certain things I want. 

Examples.  My DSLR’s are used when I need the absolute highest image quality.  Things like event shoots where I know I may have to do post work.  The image gives the most amount of data to work with.  I can crop like crazy and still maintain high image quality.  Smaller cameras can’t do that near as well due to their sensors.  My Panasonic GX1 is right in there as well.  I fill the frame with the shot I want.  Composition, in other words.  Some cameras work better in some situations better than others.  For instance – I use the X10 because the shutter is totally silent.  There are times and events where the noise of the shutter can be annoying.  Same with flash.  Equipment to suit the event.

I’ve actually been in more than a few discussions around the “you can fix it in software” topic Smile  I mean, there are times when you have no choice, but I’ve had times when there have been looks of shock when I reveal how I take a given shot and not have to worry about any post work Smile  I’ve found that a lot of folks tend to use automatic metering without understanding how the metering works in their cameras.  Many have multiple metering modes, and to me, if you understand those modes, you can get good exposures most of the time.  There’s also nothing like experience to get those shots. 

The “Home” Stuff

By this, I mean the “computer” stuff Smile  Most of us probably do have a computer to off load those photos.  Being an IT person, we have a small network at home and probably many folks do, though they may not necessarily view it that way.

For my wife and myself, we have several machines that include desktops, laptops and tablets.  Our home system is set up across two “offices”.  Our downstairs system is used for accounting and printing.  The upstairs one is a “convenience office” and it holds a spare printer and a another desktop plus a couple of notebooks.  Our system is setup around servers and external disks.  When I am doing image processing stuff, I use a desktop machine and save my work to an external disk.  Not the local hard disk.  Once the images are finished, I push them to our central server.  IF I’m working with larger images, I may use the local disk, but not usually.  I also have another server that holds our backups of our desktop machines and other disks.  Our upstairs office is totally wireless and also has a wireless printer for those quickie prints of emails, whatever.   I’ve had motherboards and disks fail over the years, so keeping data on a separate disk has become a habit Smile 

Due to space constraints in our upstairs office (converted bedroom), I have an HP All-In-One with a 27 inch screen.  It uses an AMD processor that is equivalent to an Intel i5 and 6 GB of RAM, so it can handle just about anything reasonably well.  We have a couple of desks that hold laptops, etc.  I have a laptop, actually, an ultrabook, that is dedicated just for consulting.  I also have another ultrabook that I use for my blogging and writing if I’m on a couch or something Smile 

Software – I use Paintshop Pro X7 and Photo Impact X3 from Corel.  What?  No Adobe stuff like PhotoShop or LightRoom?  The reason is quite simple – cost and user interface.  Both of these are very easy to use, and very inexpensive.  With software, I also have my moments.  As much as I would like to use LightRoom, I wouldn’t use it enough to justify the subscription service they went to recently.  And then there’s the time element.  I don’t have a lot of time to spend in post work.  I download as often as needed.  If I need to process – fine.  For web stuff, I use Faststone Resizer to reduce the image size.  I reduce to 640×480 for most shots.  It uploads quickly and at the same time, prevents anyone from “borrowing” my shots and enlarging them Smile 

Recently, I have been doing a fair amount of post work due to my blogs.  The upside on this – I actually do have some time available.  That’ll change in the New Year though. 

Bottom line for the home computer stuff – the technology today has gotten quite inexpensive, but then again, it’s up to you to determine what you need.  Our home system has evolved over a lot of years and expanded as the need arises.  Our system has been designed around our properties and consulting mostly.  My wife does scrapbooking as well as newsletter work, so we have a regular color inkjet, and commercial inkjet and an all-in-one scanner copier.  Across our servers and external disks, we have roughly 8 TB of storage. 

Into 2015

During the holiday season, I’ve had a bit of time to play with my gear and hopefully some of what I’ve found out will be of help to others.  For me – where am I going to land on the next contract?  It’s looking good – I have some very strong prospects and hopefully by January, I’ll be working.

What new gear do I have planned?  Well, I want to add another DSLR – it will be likely be a more advanced unit.  My current gear is in the Nikon DX area so likely a D7100.  IF something comes up where I really need to go full frame, so be it.  I’ll get something in that range, but until the work shows up where I really really need to go to the larger sensor – not likely.

I’ve also been toying with the idea of getting another bridge camera.  I love playing in that space but not sure which one yet – it will be in the 60x zoom range.  Just a thought at this point.

And then a kick ass tripod Smile   I’ll need to think on this one a bit more as it’s going to go beyond that.  This will be purchased in conjunction with some studio gear I have in mind. 

Onward for the moment.

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About gkamitomo
IT Busines Analyst

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