Fit for Purpose…”Stuff” for “Stuff”

Sooo… what the heck do I mean by that?  Smile  From previous posts, I guess you do know that I’m a gear junkie. Actually, I’m like that beyond photo gear too……  If you didn’t know, I’m also a person that is a firm believer in the correct tool for the job.  When I started my “passion revival” in digital photography from 35mm film days, as I advanced in the gear I was obtaining, there was this realization that set in.  These smaller cameras actually did a pretty job.  Once I hit DSLR’s though, I really didn’t stop using them.  AND, I have more than few Smile

I guess there are a few trains of thought around this and to a certain degree, there’s merit to both.  Here’s sort of my take on this.

I’m a fan of high quality images just as much as the next serious amateur.  Perhaps the biggest difference for me, is that I’m very conscious of what the end image needs to look like in high quality for a specific purpose.  Here’s a take for you.  I have revenue properties.  I need to take reference photos constantly for inspections, potential investments, repairs, etc.  I do need a good quality image, but I sure the heck don’t need RAW.  A pointy shooty of sorts more than fits that bill.  Does that mean I DON”T use my DSLR’s?  Not really, if I am putting up a property for rent, THAT will be shot on my DLSR’s.  Maybe…. Smile  It’s going to be web sized photo.  Content is more important – image quality should be good.  Look at it this way.  Why would I spend time doing image processing on something that may or may not even get looked at more than once? 

Family events, or social events with friends.  You know – for the most part, if it’s convenient, I’ll take my DSLR’s, but one of my more advanced pointy shooties like a travel camera is more than adequate.

The DSLR perspective.  I guess one of the key differentiators of when I do use my DSLR’s tend to be this “end purpose” thing.  Anything that says “formal” or even resembles formal – it’ll be DSLR’s first and Micro Four Thirds. IF image quality is paramount – it’ll be the “big stuff”.  Event shoots, landscapes that I may show, my close up work all will be done with my DSLR’s.  RAW, of course Smile  BUT… there are those “compromise” moments too.

Have I gotten great photos with stuff other than my DSLR’s?  Absolutely.  It all breaks down to being able to squeeze out the best in each unit I have.  My travel cameras and hybrids have big zooms.  My Fuji X10 gets me into low light where my DLSR’s don’t always do that great.  Well, they do, but sometimes….. I shoot with Nikons with APS-C sensors.  Not fully “pro” but more than adequate for what I do.  Yes, I do paid gigs Smile  There’s also budget Smile  Staying here, allows me to get experience with gear I wouldn’t be able to afford. 

One area that I’m exploring is available light, or lower lighting conditions don’t always merit a flash.  I attend networking sessions where I’m simply too far away to use flash and even with the travel cameras there’s a limit to how high I can kick up ISO and still get a decent image.  Not a high quality image, per se, but a good working image.  AND, at these events, I rarely bring my DSLR’s anyway – simply too bulky.  They are my reference photos for other things.  What I was looking for, was something that didn’t break the bank, had a fast lens AND a pretty big zoom.  That solution turned out to be the new Panasonic LUMIX FZ200.  24x zoom and f2.8 thru the zoom range!  I recently acquired this and did my first “tests” at a recent networking event.  I was able to shoot at ISO 1600 quite easily and got some pretty usable shots for what I needed.  I’ll show some of my results once I do more testing and get a little more familiar with the camera.  I’ve only had it a week or so, but I’m pretty pleased so far.   More a little later.

For me, I like to have a camera with me all the time.  My normal “truck around” type camera will be something like the Nikon S9400 or S9900 – both are quite small and easy to chuck into my “man purse” or brief case.  I will also take my Fuji XF1 – quite a bit smaller than my X10 – as well.  That gives the versatility of both big zoom and low light.  BTW – that S9400 or S9900 has gotten me some pretty great shots Smile  IF I have a bit more time in tasks, I will take my DSLR’s. 

Does it sound like I have a lot of cameras?  I do Smile  As I progress over the last few years, I’ve acquired cameras to suit my changing needs. Compared to many, I didn’t sell any of them – in fact, I do use them a LOT.  There are a few that I don’t use a lot of – my Panasonic GX1 – it’s a Micro Four Thirds unit.  AND I really should use it more as I have several lenses for it and it does give me a great image.  BUT with the advent of me acquiring more DSLR gear, especially bodies, it’s getting lonely, I think Smile  It used to be my backup unit as was my Fuji X10 for a while, but with each progression, they get used less and less.   And then there’s planning for the future.

Up until recently, my “top end” DSLR was the D7100.  Before that, I had a D3200 and D5100.  I got the D3200 to get me “into the space” and as a learning tool.  Then I got the D5100 for it’s articulating LCD viewer to allow me to do close ups and portraits easier.  High speed synch was the motivator for getting the D7100 as the other two couldn’t manage that.  One of the key things here though, is that there’s a bit of a difference in controls and under certain conditions, the other two, don’t quite have the functionality of the D7100.  I decided to get the D7200 to offset that and stay consistent. 

When it comes to lenses – there are tons of articles that talk about all those lenses that one SHOULD have.  Again, this is something that should be taken a little tongue and cheek.  So here’s the thing.  IF you get a DSLR, that kit lens isn’t such a dumb thing.  Images are more than adequate and it’s a pretty good starting point to boot.  The Nikon one is an 18-55mm and it covers short wide angle to medium telephoto.  Where most photos are generally  taken.  The other thing and I guess it depends on where you are coming from, but there will be a bit of a learning curve in figuring out those controls.  The metering is different to those smaller ones.  DSLR’s, I think, are a but reverse in that you do need to understand controls to achieve the “art” or at least the vision.  Or to put a little different – you can now get closer to the vision Smile  Everyone “sees” a photo different and as you advance in the art, getting the camera to reflect the “vision” is the trick.  Software can get you even close if the camera can’t though getting it right in camera is where it’s at to me.  I’ve had instances where things like polarizers and ND filters still don’t quite reflect what I see so LightRoom it is.  Getting the exposure to the point where you can do that however – new issue Smile  To me, it’s very critical to know the limits of the camera.

Back a bit to lenses.  I’ll give you a but of insight into my “working lenses”  The brunt f my work is based around mobility and efficiency.  What that means, is that I want to work with as few lenses as possible while being able to be mobile and not lug tons of gear.  For me, I like landscapes so rather than restrict myself to prime lenses, I have a Tamron 10-24mm super wide to wide angle zoom.  My other lens is a Sigma 18-250mm which give me a bit of overlap on the wide side and a fairly significant zoom on the other.  This lens also has macro, so it covers some of my close up work capability.  Now – to stay even more flexible – I have two bodies.  That way – no swaps.  Does that mean I don’t have primes?  NO – I do have primes around the things I do.  I do have a Nikkor 50mm f1.8, Micro Nikkor 40mm f2.8 and a Tamron 60mm f2.8.  The 40mm and 60mm cover off my close up work.  The 60mm sits right in my “portrait” focal length and the 50mm is my general purpose lens.  And then there’s the accessories Smile

A tripod is a given – I have two, actually.  One heavy duty one for portraits and close ups.  The other for portable.  For my close up work, I use flash a lot so have an extension cord for remote flash work, focusing rails, extensions tubes and close up lenses.  For my portrait work, I use strobes, electronic flash so have those, plus backdrop stands, umbrellas, reflectors, radio triggers, etc. to accommodate how I do “stuff”.

I’m going to chat about workflows vs equipment acquisition for a bit as I feel it’s relevant. 

I’m sure most have read about the pros and cons of acquiring gear.  There’s a lot of merit to this.  One of the pitfalls of just going out and buying gear for the sake of buying gear isn’t always a good thing and it definitely doesn’t make you a better photographer.  I’m just as impulsive as the next person for getting stuff, but despite all that, I do plan a lot before acquiring gear.  It’s also a matter of balancing usage vs budget.  I can’t emphasize enough about researching before you buy.  Researching includes the internet, of course.  BUT that also means heading “out there” and taking those photos – chatting with other photographers (photo meetups are a great way of learning, BTW), and even assisting a pro if opportunity shows up.  Even with the amount of experience I have, I’m constantly learning new stuff.   And the heart of things – taking photos……

I go about it like this.  I do take a lot of photos – I do a lot of experimenting in the areas I’m interested in.  I’m also VERY cognizant of what my cameras are capable of and so if I need to use software after, I also take that into account if I can’t get my cameras to do what I “see”.  I’m also game for trying out new areas that I normally don’t consider if the opportunity arises.  For instance – I may be out with the express intent of landscapes (I recently did this, actually….), but along the way, I found some flowers, I had an opportunity for some street photography and candid work – we were in a curio shop or two and I got some pics of some furniture for a future woodworking project – reference photos.  Bottom line here – LOOK AROUND!!! 

I guess a lot has to do with your interest level.  I’m quite passionate about several hobbies – photo being one.  I’m not so fussy about others.  I’ve run into so many folks who have quite sophisticated gear but simply don’t “see” stuff.  They will take the odd photo, maybe some vacation pics or family events and that’s that.  They are not interested in capturing the “moment”, I guess.  PLUS, they don’t use their cameras all that often, as you can imagine.  I use my cameras at every opportunity – I like to have a camera with me all the time as well.  Do I have moments where I don’t take photos?  ABSOLUTELY!!  Do I have moments where I can’t find a thing to take a photo of?  Yes.  Do I force myself to take photos?  NO!  What I will do though, is read or do something else.  I am very busy, so for me, when I do get the chance to take photos, I’m usually ready Smile 

I also find that researching stuff around photography gives me inspiration to try other things.  I see a pic and think “How did they do that?” – research, experiment to see if I can duplicate that, and then if I can’t, try to decide if it’s something I want to do on a more regular basis.  For instance.  I was at a job fair and saw a pro taking photos.  He had a rather unique reflector on his flash.  I inquired about it.  It turned to by a Gary Fong LightSphere.  Our discussion prompted me to investigate further.  That conversation resulted in me totally changing certain techniques for events and certain types of outdoor things.  It also launched me into a whole new level of photography.  There was a ripple effect – one thing that one of  the videos showed, was using the LightSphere in conjunction with High Speed Synch to achieve an effect I was trying to do Smile  The issue – the cameras I had at the time didn’t support it.  At the time, I had a D3200 and D5100, which were more than adequate for what I was doing at the time.  I got the LightSphere and started to experiment like crazy to figure out the nuances.  I was also contemplating getting another body – the choices being a D7100 or D7200 both of which would support high speed synch.  I happened to hit a sale and got the D7100 for a very good price.  I looked at it also as an opportunity to find out what the next level was for gear.

From what I thought to what I found out, were totally different – believe me.  Even knowing the extra capabilities didn’t prepare me for the learning curve!  Operational was easy – taking advantage of extra controls was a whole new issue!  The big thing was, was where it’s taken me.  When I was deciding to get the D7100, there were a couple of things that were going to make my life easier.  More battery power, dual card slots for starters.  Learning all the external controls away from menus and a larger buffer were some of the benefits.  Battery power was a key thing for me – certain events I had done still required me to swap batteries.  The D7100 did away with that with it’s extra capability.  Despite all that – I was ecstatic about getting it.  It ultimately prompted me to acquire a D7200 body as well.  It’s also driven me to take even more photos and try even more things!  Bottom line here, for me, is that it’s starting to define certain areas of photography a little more clearly for the long term.  Very important for me as I’m considering it as a sideline, not a hobby.

The bottom line here, is that I do research and experiment a lot before making an equipment acquisition.  I also will try to DIY first to see if something can be done that way.  In the case of the LightSphere, before, I was using several different flash attachments – the LightSphere did away with that.  The other reflectors weren’t that expensive compared to the LightSphere but the efficiency of the LightSphere more than offset the cost.  I actually have two with a complete accessory kit, so if needed, I have a super portable indoor/outdoor studio.  For what I do, this was a worthwhile investment.  For me, I will look for a DIY  solution first, and then decide if the commercial solution will be easier and more convenient.  To me, speed and efficiency in setup in certain environments is critical.  For close-ups, another example.  I could have done some DIY things to achieve a lot my results but it was simply more efficient to get extension tubes or a focusing rail.  For my studio – I’ve researched a ton here to see how to get the best results with the least amount of equipment.  Yes, I’m still learning, but I’ve hit a point where I can get some pretty great results without getting sophisticated. 

A bit on the researching piece.  When researching, of course, on of the things is reading reviews.  Now – to me, it’s one thing to read a review about a piece of gear one is considering.  It’s also critical to look at the BIG picture around YOUR style and YOUR gear requirements.  Sometimes, one piece of gear may offset another and end up saving you big bucks.  Here’s an example of an offset that I encountered.  I was toying with the idea of getting Nikon’s new 18-80 f2.8.  I was looking at this lens for low light work.  A very versatile lens that could potentially be helpful in the long term.  The more I thought about it, the more I hesitated.  It’s not that I could use the lens – I could but  I had this gut feeling there might be a better solution.  That ended up with me acquiring another body – the D7200 – they were about the same price.  The reason the body made sense was that I could now use both the D7100 and D7200 together on a shoot and not have to worry about consistency in menus.  The D7200 had a better sensor and processor and so could address the buggering on sequential shots that I encountered in certain shooting sessions.  The new sensor could handle low light better than the D7100 sensor and so I could shoot at least a stop faster with little image degradation.  I had more battery power.  In the end, though, it did cost me more Smile  That came in the form of the Panasonic FZ200 with it’s 24x zoom and having F2.8 thru the whole range.   So why the hybrid?

There are times when size becomes an issue.  I attend a lot of networking events and there are times when I simply don’t have the focal length I need.  My Fuji X10 or XF1 stop at 4x.  If I shoot with any of the travel cams, I get more quality loss than I like.  At the extreme telephoto end, the f stop isn’t good enough so I do have to boost ISO “up there”.  The FZ200 does away with that.  Not as bulky, so easier to take.  I can’t just stuff it in my briefcase, but I have a case that makes it easier than taking my DSLR’s.  Image quality based on current testing so far is showing that it’s more than adequate for what I need it for.  Web publishing and general viewing.  No – I’m not shooting RAW with this unit – JPEGS are fine at this stage of the game. 

And then there’s that constant battle between JPEG’s and RAW.  To me, if I am using my DSLR’s, it’s hit a point where I shoot both RAW’s and JPEG’s on my D7100 and D7200.  On my D3200 and D5100, it’s also RAW’s.  Everything else – typically JPEG’s, despite the fact that more than a few can or should be RAW’s.  The reasoning?  For the most part, I’m doing the type of shot that really doesn’t need RAW’s.  JPEG’s are fine for the end use.  In other words – I ensure that the exposure, etc. is correct when I take the shot, so I minimize post processing.  I’ve hit that point in gear that I can basically split off what I want to do with gear.  Is there overlap?  Yes – definitely.  Certain types of close ups I do, are not really achievable with something other than a DSLR.  Despite that, I don’t miss all that many shots – so far anyway.  Knock on wood Smile  Again – knowing what your camera can and can’t do. 

Equipment – I do own a lot of cameras.  Sure, there are a few that just sit for a while, but generally speaking, they do get used.  Some, I simply have spare batteries and for those, it’s the ones that I use a lot.  My Fuji X10 was my first advanced camera and that’s the one that got me really going, and that’s still one of “ go to” units when I need a small unit for some advanced work.  My Micro Four Thirds unit, the Panasonic GX1 is another one that I use when I need a unit for event “snaps” or simply need a high quality shot for some occasion that I’m at.  My travel cameras are a constant companion and I’m constantly using one or the other on my “day to day” travels.  My first hybrid was the Nikon P520, a super zoom at 42x and articulating mirror.  My Panasonic FZ200 is a hybrid with low light capability – a nice alternative to DSLR’s for some of my networking events. 

When it comes to accessories, I focus on “stuff” for my DSLR’s and more important, for the areas that I really do a lot in.  Close ups and portraits are my primary focus areas, and landscapes are also in there.  I have a lot for close up work ranging from extension tubes to focusing rails.  My flash units serve double duty.  I also have radio triggers.  One set specifically for Nikons and another for other units that drive my flash units.  Oh yeah – I have several flash units as well so I can be super mobile if needed.  Polarizers, ND filters for my lenses as well. 

Bottom line – I feel that in order to get better, it makes sense to add accessories to simply be more efficient.  The other thing – budget.  There are times when a DIY option is necessary when you simply can’t afford to buy a commercial unit.  Totally understand that.  There are certain reflectors, for instance, that I’ve made simply because I couldn’t find something OR quite simply – easy to make and cost next to nothing.  A piece of white foam board can be got for a couple of bucks at the Dollar Store – why would I want a commercial one?  I do have a commercial white reflector, but it also folds up into a pretty tiny unit.  For around the home – either works.  I go to fabric stores to find backdrop material.  At $5 per meter on sale, it sure beats dropping $100.  Granted the more expensive ones are 10 ft ones instead of 6 ft wide, but then again, it’s what you need.  For head and shoulder shots – 6 ft is plenty.  Yes, I do have a couple of big ones for my big stand.  Again, fit for purpose.



About gkamitomo
IT Busines Analyst

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