Best Laid Plans–Quick Decisions-Sometimes a Great Adventure “Happens”….

Decisions

In today’s world, and I guess we’ve all noticed this, is that technology (in theory), allows us to jam more things into a day and as a direct result, we tend to “stuff” more into a day.  At the pace we move at, a lot of times, it seems like a change in schedule can create some major drama as we re-schedule to adjust.  Something as a simple delay in something puts the rest of the day or week into turmoil as try to keep everything on track.

If one is into photography at the level that I am, which is quite “deep”, and also looking at it as a potential career path, one of the very key elements for me is actually time itself.  Having been unemployed for a while, AND having revenue properties (and one being prepped for rental), AND trying to figure out next steps on the photo side can be hectic to say the least.  As we have been coached to do – keep to routine, etc. etc. etc.  At the same time, we need to be flexible enough to be available for interviews, meetups, coffee meetings, etc.  To me, one the very key elements around this, is taking breaks – more important – taking breaks without guilt.  The one big saying from my past that I try to adhere to – “Slow down to speed up”.  That’s one that I interpret to mean that those “breaks” are more valuable than one initially realizes.  We already know that we should take breaks from being on our computers – but do we? I don’t think so.  As much as we try, that screen seems to swallow us to the point where we lose track of time.  Suddenly – we are rushing to get back on schedule. 

Anyway – starting to rant…..  With me, literally over the last year or so (I actually did have work for a few months), I’ve been dealing with several streams in parallel.  Looking for work, renovation work, photography all simultaneously and there comes a point where one literally does need to stop and take a real break.  Let’s face it – when things drag out (like looking for work in a tough economy), it can get very frustrating.  Getting away from that PC, or attending meetup after meetup, forever coffees and then back to other “stuff”, can really get one’s mental state down.  For me, photography is one of the few things that clears my head, but in saying that, I need to literally take either several hours or a full day  to “level out”.  Driving and looking for photo ops, for me, is amazingly relaxing. I have many hobbies, but this one is one of the ones that I am very passionate about.

Last year, our networking group took literally a day off and got out of the city.  Absolutely refreshing and we vowed to do it again at some point.  Well, it didn’t happen quite that way, but this year, I decided to make a more deliberate attempt at this, even if I did a bit on my own.  Especially this last month or so.  A more recent trip was to the Saskatoon Farm in Okotoks which was with some other friends turned into a wonderful time.  Most of our networking group couldn’t make it, but despite that, we went ahead anyway. 

This last time, things sorta happened more on an impulse than anything else.  It wasn’t scheduled in the sense of schedule – like deliberately planning ahead of timeSmile   A couple of things were happening in parallel streams.  I was doing renovation work on one of my properties and at the same time, as time permitted, I was flushing out photos for my portfolio.  The initial “plan” was to pay a visit to another person in our network.  Farah, one of folks in  our network, has been helping me with renovations as her time allows.  That morning, part of my “plan” was actually to  spend a bit of time taking photos before Farah and I got together to go visit Jen for something that I needed to get to her.  At the same time, I had this underlying urge to get out of the city.  AND to make it worse, I knew that renovation still had to be done…..  Anyway, it started like this:

I had to get gas for the car  – as I was getting gas, I happened to notice a rather interesting cloud formation that “might” get me a landscape shot or two.  AND at the same time, the plan was to get more photos printed for my portfolio.  Sooo… off to Nose Hill I went (one of my favourite spots for cityscapes) and I got this shot.

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Nice shot, but not “quite” what I was looking for.  You see, I need to add more landscapes to my portfolio to round it out.  Then, as I was trudging back to my car, Farah phoned to say we couldn’t get to Jen’s today.  Farah, had also, I think, planned to help with renovations once we visited Jen’s.    Wow!!  Suddenly there was this blank spot in the schedule and IF I didn’t do renovations…… AND with the weather being abnormally good for this time of the year, there could be an adventure in the works Smile   It’s actually Farah that calls these outings adventures, and they actually are to a certain degree – no set plan per se – just something very general.  A quick question about Farah’s schedule and it turned out she was game Smile  Soooo.. off I went to get her and then we got my prints made and THEN, we needed to decide on a direction. We decided on East to about Langden/Carseland, and then a loop back into Calgary somewhere south of the City.  The intent was to see if I could get not only some landscapes, but perhaps some old run down buildings, whatever.  We got to the printers, and as luck would have it, due to it being Remembrance Day, they weren’t going to open for another hour.  We decided to grab something to eat, THEN got the prints made and off we went.

I’m going to insert this map a couple of times to give a bit of easy reference.

map

I made the decision to go on the #1 TransCanada highway going east.  As we got to Chestemere, I asked Farah if she had ever been here and she hadn’t.  I hadn’t been there in a lot of years, sooooo…. we “diverted” to snoop around.  First off, we found this store called The General Store – it’s sort of a combination of a dollar store and curio/trinket type shop.  I’ve also seen one like this in Didsbury.  Then, we decided to tour around the lake, and stopped at a few spots.  Of course, to get photos Smile   Chestemere Lake itself was like a mirror – no wind.  One thing we also noticed, and it was a bit shocking, sort of, was the number properties for sale along the lakefront on both sides of the lake.

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Back on the #1.  We got to the Langden/Carseland turnoff and then headed south along Highway #24 to the Mossleigh turnoff and then headed back west towards Okotoks.  Along the way, we noticed a lot of harvesting going on with the good weather we’ve been having.  As we moved along, I was watching how the clouds were forming and with the sun peeping out or trying to the odd time, coupled with the cloud formations, I knew that a “stunner” would be in the works.   AND then we found a spot where we could safely pull over.  THIS was the shot.

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We actually spend about 20 minutes here.  Then, into Okotoks along 547 for a Tim’s and a short break from driving.  Now – for folks wanting a pretty drive in the country, heading west from Okotoks towards Black Diamond and Turner Valley, this is one for your bucket list Smile  You are starting to head into the Foothills and one sees the mountains.  By the time we got close, it was roughly 3:00 p.m. and as we hit the Priddis turnoff, I turned the wrong way.  I didn’t realize that until the first road marker showed we were on the way to Bragg Creek.  In reality, something should have twigged me that we were heading the wrong direction, but at the same time, it was not that big of a deal either Smile Sometimes, it simply works out.  Farah had never been in that area and I hadn’t been there in at least forever, so we “kept on truckin’”.  I had forgotten how pretty that stretch of road really was. 

One thing here.  When I drive on these little “tours”, I’m there for the drive and photos  and not necessarily too worried about routes or schedules per se.  The reason?  My car Smile  Because we never really had an extra vehicle available, and the way our lives are, getting out like this, for the sake of getting “out”, simply didn’t happen.  By the time we hit Bragg Creek, it was closer to 5:00 p.m., so we didn’t stop there and headed back into Calgary.  Now, again, I kinda wanted to head back via either #1 or even Cochrane, but I ended up back via #8…..

map

It turned out that Farah had never been to Bragg Creek either, so perhaps another “adventure” could be in the works here Smile  Perhaps…… a loop from Canmore/Banff south back into Bragg Creek on the next one… Still thinking on that one…… 

Until the next one……..

Meter Reading – Incident vs Reflected – Light Meters and Thoughts

Overexposure – the more advanced one gets, I think, is that exposure in general tends to become more and more important.  I know that in many instances, I know to knock down EV’s a bit to increase saturation, bring out blues, whatever, but sometimes those built in meters simply don’t quite catch it right 🙂

Sure you can have multi-point in your camera, but depending on the “what” you are taking a photo of, the meter sometimes gets fooled.  For me, it doesn’t happen a lot, but it happens enough :-)  Snow is one place, and we got a lot of it this year where I am, Calgary.  Today with with the wind chill factor – I think it’s –30 deg C or something like that.  Definitely not warm :-(  Anyway, over the last couple of days, I was taking a photo of an XMAS cactus that re-bloomed for some reason, and with the bright sunlight hitting it early in the morning, I was finding that the meters on most of my cameras were over exposing like crazy.  I was knocking my meters down close to –2.0 EV to get something I was happy with. 

Now, in reality,this entry is actually kind of  late based on circumstance as I did look into this a few months ago where I had the same issue in the summer time with brightly lit scenics.  It was back then, that, despite the fact that I was hoping not to have to do this, I would need an incident light meter.  When I took a quick look on Amazon, I was shocked at what a meter was worth!!!  Use vs cost?  Not a hope for me, I wasn’t going to drop that kind of money until I really really really really did this type of stuff in a more serious manner.

Before I continue on here – reflected vs incident.  Pretty simple theory, really.  As the name implies, reflected light is exactly that.  The light that reflects off an object or your subject matter.  In most cases, unless you adjust settings, etc.  Most cameras will take an average reading across several points in your viewing area, average it out before it captures the exposure.  In other words, deliver an “average” shot.  Usually pleasing to the eye, and for all intents and purposes, good enough.  Incident light is sort of the reverse of that – the light that is falling on a subject.

Depending on where you are in the photo space, there are times when incident light has a huge advantage over reflected light readings.  The disadvantage?  Well, for starters, you’ll need a camera that has manual capability.  You’ll be setting shutter speed and aperture on your own, folks.  Back in my 35mm days, my equipment didn’t have auto exposure, but some auto metering, so a light meter back then was literally an essential.  BUT back then, you could get a fairly nice meter for $20 or so, and a great one for about $50.  What I did find, was a lot of meters that measure light in lux, which is fine, but not a lot that would converted to shutter speed/f stops.  Then it “clicked”.

I got thinking about whether or not I could use something like my Nexus 7.  Were there applications out there that could use the camera lens as an incident light meter.  I mean, in reality, I already had the Nexus 7, and light meter being available, I would get a double whammy out of it :-)  So…. I went hunting.  To my surprise, there were several.  I took a look and decided to try 4 of them.  BeeCam Lightmeter, LightMeter Pro (free one), Rex Light Meter and SmartLight Meter.  My initial thought was to use my iPad, but it was too big.  Then, of course, there was no such app :-)  I found this a little odd, but anyway….  One would think that with the iPad Mini…..

So – 3 of the applications BeeCam Light Meter, LightMeter Pro and SmartLightMeter require you to use the tablet in portrait mode.  Rex Lightmeter is used in landscape.  The SmartLightMeter and Rex Light Meter have the slickest interface.  Light Meter Pro has a very simple interface and BeeCam is sort of in the middle.  Soo… when I looked at these, what was I after?  Mostly, I wanted to see ISO, shutter speed and f stop.  There should be an easy way to change all of these and at the same time, get an equivalent  setting.  Don’t really need EV or LUX for what I do – maybe handy in the future like studio work, but for now – no.  1/2 stops would be nice, but not essential for most of my stuff.  When I look at these, to me, it’s personal preference more than anything.  I ran a quick test against my XMAS cactus shots and all of them read the same.  Here are some quick shots of the screens.

beeCam Meter LIghtmeter Pro Rex Light Meter SmartLightMeter

Personal preference initially was to use something in portrait mode – it just seemed handier was all.  So.. using the meter read from my Nexus 7 and then using those settings, I got this 125th at f2.8:

Nexus 7_2.8_cropped  I set the XF1 to spot metering and got this – meter read 1/15th at f1.8:

Spot Meter_XF1To me, this suddenly turned into a “depends” type photo.  Both were just cropped with no adjustments, but the Nexus 7 meter looked a little underexposed, but was still pretty good – closer to a “mood” type shot.  The spot meter shot was probably closer to the real thing, but I had to fiddle between Multi, spot, and average and the spot won for best shot.  I opted to use the XF1 as it had the most control.

I grabbed my Panasonic ZS25 and took a couple of shots.  Now this is one of my travel cams with a 20x zoom but the lens is quite a bit slower – f4.3, so I had to bump up the ISO to 400 to get a reasonable hand held shot.

ZS25_ISO400Notice there is increased depth of field and some of the red blew out.  Might be OK for the quickie shot, but not really good by comparison.  I the EV on this a bit to get a better shot.     Here is one that I took at –2.0 EV:

ZS25-2EVSo… this brings up a rather interesting point when it comes to taking shots like this.  In the world of 35mm, this would have been a tough shot, to say the least.  One that would need to do some bracketing to obtain the best shot for one’s purpose.   Thankfully, the world of digital allows for bracketing with the advantage of being able to view the shot instantly.  And then there’s post processing if one really needed to do that.

This is just one example of how I used incident light readings.  I normally wouldn’t do this per se.  I would bracket though if the shot was one that I planned to view often after the fact. 

From a holiday perspective – you know, after my experiences with all my cameras over the last 6 months or so, I think I would definitely take a couple of cameras with me.  I want to have a more advanced camera like the Fuji X10, Panasonic LX7 or the Fuji XF1 and a travel camera.  I feel this gives me the best compromise between size and quality.  It might be different if I was heading to a vacation spot that involved a social event like a wedding.  At that point, it would be the “big guns” that would also be included.  My experience with holidays – so far, I’ve gotten some pretty nice photos, but I want more :-)  I still would like to stay light and portable, so the Fuji X10, Panasonic LX7 or Fuji XF1 will be my goto cameras.  I would also probably take something like the Panasonic ZS25 or my Nikon S9400 travel cams with me as well.  Then I would have my bases covered.  Bigger cameras – well…. as far as I can figure out so far, I personally don’t feel that I need those.   Sure I could, but for what I do on holidays, not really.

Onward….

Thoughts on Equipment Acquisition

Right up front – I like my toys Smile  I also use my toys.  I’m also a technology sort of a person.

Over the last couple of years, I’ve made this “dive” back into photography.  From the equipment side, a pretty deep dive.  I’ve I guess always had a digital camera of sorts since 35mm film started to die away, but it was only recently (actually in the last two years) where I really started to get more serious about photography.  I used to eat, sleep, breath photography in the 35mm days.  Then life got in the way Smile  Tough times with the recession in the early 80’s, and taking photos suddenly didn’t fall into the equation any more.  We didn’t stop taking photos back then, just didn’t take as many.  When I got into digital, it took me a long time to get “back”.   But in the last few years and in particular the last two or so years, my interest has been increasing again to a pretty wild level.  I hit a point where I had to money to “play” a bit and get back into this. 

I’m NOT going into the tech spec stuff Smile  This post is more about usage or how a camera in it’s class is perceived by me and experience in photography. 

We had just gotten back from a short holiday in ‘Vegas and we took our pointy shooties.  Now my wife has a Panasonic FZ50, but we decided to leave it due to it’s sheer size (size will be discussed later..)  We got some great shots but I found I also found that I missed a lot of shots.  I found that the low lights were dismal at best and I guess that was the first trigger.  Once I got back, I started to research and the result of that search was the Fuji X10.  Two things, well, a few more things that were key.  It had an f2.0 lens.  It had this retro look about it that reminded me of Leica.  Most important – it was small enough to fit in my daypack with the rest of my tech gear for commuting.  Done deal.  It’s been downhill ever since Smile  After a few months with this unit, I got even more curious and started to research and decided to literally start playing with various pieces of gear.  So here we are today with several “layers” of photo gear across probably 10 cameras or more ranging from my pointy shooties all the way to my recently acquired Nikon D3200.  With my background in photo retail/wholesale (roughtly 10 years in photo alone) from the 35mm days, and now, some pretty serious work within digital, I feel I have a bit of  knowledge to impart Smile

It’s highly likely that most people do take photos.  Many are happy with what they have – others want to get better.  I’m going to try to clarify a statement I hear all the time.  “Your camera takes great pictures” Heard that one before?  Probably.  So… it makes one wonder what a person means by that Smile  Is it clearer – are the colors “better” – is it composition – is it subject matter? – all of the above.   Or what about this statement – “If you want the best, you SHOULD get a DSLR.”  That one in particular really raises the hairs on my neck!!  Or worse – “IF you want to look like a pro, you should get a DSLR”.  That one disturbs me even more.  Just ‘cause you own one, doesn’t mean you can shoot like one Smile 

One thing that I’ve found in my experience in retail and just generally, is that friends are huge influencers.  When you are with friends and you see a camera, one’s inquisitiveness kicks in and, of course, you ask about it.  This usually kicks off this thought process about either upgrading, or if you don’t own a digital camera – to think about buying one.  And then, of course, you might drop in to you local camera store or who ever sells cameras and start “snooping”.  Heck, you might even buy the same one your friend has.  A lot of my friends know of my background in photography and are absolutely shocked when they see me taking pics with some sort of pointy shooty Smile  “What!!”, they say – no DSLR??  My answer is usually “Why would I need one?”  The response is usually one of puzzlement Smile  I then, very calmly explain, that there really is no need for that sophisticated of a camera for starters, and then that it would be too heavy to carry around anyway.  Not that I’m against DSLR’s – just not a good choice for most folks.  Let’s put this in a financial light.  Why would I spend say $500 on a camera when I get one that can do more for under $200 AND stick it in my shirt pocket or coat pocket? 

I don’t disagree that something like a DSLR is a better unit.  BUT you also need to know how to use it, for starters and then be able to take advantage of what the thing is capable of doing to squeeze out that “better” part.  Then – you take that knowledge to apply against your photo knowledge to get that “great shot”.  That’s a lot of work for what you thought was going to be simple “snap” Smile  On the wild assumption that you will even get prints – they will also likely be 4×6 inches and at that size – it ain’t gonna matter folks Smile  Everyone has a different reason for getting one – many will also miss shots…..

A lot of the time, I think that influencers and ego both cloud making a rational decision on a camera purchase.  In fact, I’ve seen people make some pretty sound evaluations of what they want to do, and then out of the clear blue, will drop the money on a DSLR and a few lenses when they could have gotten by with a travel cameraSmile  It would be interesting to know if they actually use the stuff Smile Let’s get going on this a bit.

I don’t know if it’s the lifestyle we live, or what, but one the things I’ve noticed over the years, and I’m talking my city here (Calgary), it just seems like there is this “rush” to get stuff done.  I sometimes wonder if we bring some of this one ourselves.  I know that for me, even though I’ve been out of work for a few months, my days and evening are busy.  Mind you – looking for work is a full time job too.  I think one of the toughest things out there when you get ready to buy a new camera, is to determine what you are going to do with it – specifically.  In my years in retail, this has been the never ending story Smile  The answer when you ask is usually – just snapshots.  Then you go into 20 questions to narrow that down.  The issue I run into there, is that many people suddenly realize that they maybe don’t know or come back with “what can these things do?” or something equivalent.  We are also in such a rush, I think, that we sometimes don’t stop to use technology, i.e. the internet, to assist in making some sort of decision.  This also has it’s pitfalls – there’s almost too much information and if you aren’t even sure of what brand to buy, it’s very overwhelming.

So.. before we really get going, I should give you an idea of what I own:

Pointy Shooties – I have a Pentax P70, Nikon S3000, Nikon S3400

Advanced Pointy Shooties – I have a Fuji X10 and Panasonic LX7

Travel Cameras – I have a Panasonic SZ1, ZS15, ZS25, Canon SX270HD, Nikon S9400, Sony HX30V, Fuji F800EXR

Compact System Cameras – Panasonic GX1 with two zooms, Nikon 1 J1 with two zooms

DSLR – Nikon D3200 with kit zoom

Yes, I use them all Smile  The Nikon D3200 is quite new – more on this later.  Most recently, the advantages of having multiple cameras showed it’s worth.  My wife had an overseas trip – I sent her with two of my Panasonics.  At the same time, my son wanted to borrow one of my other cameras for an event that he was attending.  I wanted to do some light box stuff and do some comparing between cameras. All in a day’s work Smile 

A few of these were bought for very specific things, the rest were more or less on impulse or getting something extra that the others didn’t have.  I know that a lot of people profess having only one camera and using it before progressing to the next.  Been there, done that.  What I wanted to do, initially, to find a camera or cameras that I could use that could fit in my daypack and still get me some versatility.  Why daypack?  Commuting life – crowded buses don’t lend themselves to carrying a couple of things – inconvenient at best.  One item like a daypack is ideal.  PLUS this would give a great opportunity to see what the new technology had to offer.  I spent a bit of coin doing this, but for me, it got me “back in” and got me a hobby again.  This time, though, I don’t think I’ll turn it into a business Smile

Back to cameras and understanding.  I think there are a couple of things to consider when you look at getting a new camera.  Of course, the biggest thing is going to be what you are going to do with it.  AND where.  You see, to me and from my experience that “where” piece is very critical.  For instance – if you are a serious amateur, the sheer amount of equipment won’t really matter – they’ll take whatever they need,  They won’t necessarily take that gear to and from work, but then again, they might.  Their “shoots” are usually a very planned and concerted effort.  They may or may not necessarily have their cameras at “casual events” either.  On the other hand, if you want a camera with you all the time, it’s gonna have to be small or at least easily mobile, IMHO.  My wife keeps the Pentax P70 in her purse ALL THE TIME.  The FZ50 (Panasonic – “quasi DSLR” – 12x zoom)  goes with her on most of her volunteer efforts as well as the P70.  I have a sling bag, actually several slings with gear in them that I can just “pick up and go”.  The only thing that usually gets added is my iPad or Nexus 7.  AND it’s always close.  I look at this way.  Those captured memories with family and friends are priceless.  Having a camera always available is invaluableSmile  

The flip side of this – will you be taking photos for the sake of taking photos- snapshots to capture memories, we’ll say, OR to learn the craft ?Smile  Knowing that, can also change your “entry point”.  To put your mind at ease, there’s literally a camera out there than can fit whatever you might want to do.  It’s also a tough call because of the sheer amount of product out there.  This is where a bit of research isn’t going to hurt.  Snapshots are part of the learning, don’t forget.  Learning the craft also means going beyond the picture taking side – there’s a lot out there.

A thing about picture quality.  A lot of the reviews will show certain “flaws” if you will, about image quality and where it breaks down, etc.  Something to remember about this – a lot of this may not even apply to you Smile  One needs to have an understanding of what they are saying for starters and then figure out if this even applies to what you expect.  Without getting too technical, if you are interested in just taking photos, this may not impact you.  These flaws or deficiencies won’t show up until you REALLY enlarge a photo.  Even then, it might not be that big of a deal.  It will be the very serious amateur or pro, but for the average consumer public – probably not Smile  Seeing prints from various types of cameras is always nice but not always available.  Reviews have examples and those are great if they fit what you want to do, but then again, each circumstance is different and despite the fact they show a pretty wide variety of shots, there’s nothing like your own either.

Now, when it comes down to the crunch, any camera you get is going to work coming out of the box.  Sort of – you’ll have to likely charge up the battery and probably buy some sort of memory card for it.  Most of today’s cameras are also capable taking movies – another topic altogether, but not for me, as I don’t do too many of those.  From a quality standpoint, even the least expensive of the bunch is going to take a good quality photo.  Most of the cameras will have a bit of a zoom, probably in the 3x to 4x range.  Many have some effects things if you are so inclined and they are all quite small.  They can be had for $100 or less.  Interestingly enough, for the “snapshot” crowd anything in this category will probably do Smile  It’s reached a point where brands become a bit of a blurred issue.  One thing you will see here is this thing about megapixels.  In reality, it’s the sensor that counts but for the sake of discussion……  Most cameras in this class will state 10 megapixels or more.  So what the heck does that mean?  Well, it will give you a shot that if you printed it at 8×10 inches or perhaps 11×14 inches, you’ll end up with a pretty high quality print.  Little or no grain.  AND assuming there was no camera shakeSmile  If you are a little computer minded, it’ll also generate a fairly large file.  Probably a megabyte or two.  Or more….. Disk space is cheap, but in reality, if you are just doing the snapshot thing, one could easily get away with a lower setting.  Even 3 or 5 megapixel.  This is a “depends” thing.  If you are going to upload to a social media site and you know this ahead of time, you could probably get away with even a lower setting.  BUT, in saying that – I’ve found that staying at the highest possible quality on the initial shot and then converting down to a “web size”, ultimately produces a better quality photo in the end for “web stuff”, but then that’s just me.  For me I tend to use the the highest resolution available.  I also shoot in JPEG format for just about everything – not RAW.  I may eventually, but for now….  JPEG formats have changed a bit – there is FINE mode that started to show up – larger file but can ultimately produce a better image under the right conditions.  RAW formats are good if you need to use software to manipulate the photo.  BUT you also need the software and knowledge around it.  Depending on the camera, it can also slow down your shooting as the camera captures the image if you are doing sequence things. 

For me, so far, I’ve made a very deliberate move to stay away from the RAW format.  It’s a time thing in reality.  I simply don’t have the time to put into learn the software at this point.  I do, however, have enough knowledge to “get the shot right” too Smile 

When looking at purchasing one, I’ve heard several opinions on getting one camera using it until it doesn’t do what you want it to before stepping up.  I sort of agree with this, but then again, to me this would fit more if you are working your way up Smile  The other one I hear a lot of is – “Should I get a camera that does more than what I want to do and “grow” into it?  I got a lot of that when I was retail.  I feel that IF you are trying to get better, that’s a reasonable option.  There’s a caveat to complexity though – it will take longer to take advantage of what the new unit has to offer.  Now I say this tongue and cheek to a certain degree as a lot of these cameras do pretty darn well in just their auto modes. 

Point and Shoots.  These are designed for the snapshot crowd.  When you are hunting for a camera in this range, I almost think it’s going to come down to literally how it looks to you, how it feels.  Really.  If you are new to this range, any choice you make probably won’t be bad one.  When I got into this, I stayed with brands that were familiar to me.  Pentax, Nikon, Fuji, Canon, Olympus are all well known brands.  Sony and Panasonic also have good standing in digital photography.  So…. whatever.  I’ve gotten good results with just about all my units.  They will give you a surprisingly high quality photo for the money.  Considering all the gear I own, I use mine a surprising amount.  I got a Nikon S3400 this summer that was bragging 20 megapixels – unheard of in this class.  Pretty nice, but what I liked about it was that it fits into a shirt pocket AND delivers a high quality image.  Don’t see it at normal size, but at the larger sizes….  Little longer zoom at 7x, but reasonably priced all things considered.

Point and shoots

I’m going to stop here and chat about reviews.  Reviews….  I tend to take reviews with a grain of salt Smile  What I do with reviews is try to take away the things that matter to me.  I also look at multiple reviews to try to get a a better perspective in general.  Sometimes they don’t necessarily tell the whole story.  Here’s one – the Canon SX270HS.  The previous model of this was rated as one of the top picks out there for a travel camera.  In this range of cameras (travel cameras), I bought this one last and more to find out “what the fuss was about”.  Don’t get me wrong – this is a sweet camera, but for me, I thought that the Panasonic ZS25 was a better choice.  Why?  It was simply easier to use.  One thing that annoys the crap out of me on the Canon is that pop up flash.  You can’t just push it down easily in some cases.  From a quality standpoint – it does take a high quality photo in a very general sense.  What I mean by that, is that you can leave it in auto and simply go for it in most instances.  It actually does give you what I would call a good “neutral” shot.  So what do I mean by that?  Well, it gets you pretty close to “what you saw”.  When you look at something like the Nikon S9400 or Sony HX30 in this class, the pictures tend to be what I would call “bright”.  The Fuji and Panasonics tend to be “richer” in certain colors.  Blues and greens stand out a bit more.  The Canon, though, renders flesh tones in it’s flash a little truer than the others.  Not that the others are bad, they aren’t, just if you now where to lookSmile   If you are looking for quite a full featured camera against the price – well, it’s a pretty good unit.  Couple of quirky things, but all things considered, I would say reasonably priced for what you get. Which brings us to travel cameras.

Should you even bother with reviews?  You know, that’s an interesting question.  To me, reviews give you a bit of a foundation to jump from.  That little bit of extra knowledge that may provide a bit of direction toward a buying choice. I read a bunch of reviews on the Nikon S9400.  The brunt of the comments were that for the money it was high priced for what it did.  OK – fine.  NIKON has always been like that.  It’s like saying SONY is high priced for what they do – they’ve always been like that.  BUT sometimes they go on sale too Smile  I got my S9400 on sale and actually quite cheap compared to some of my others.  Guess what – it’s actually a pretty nice unit.  To coin a phrase – “It takes a great picture”  Smile  It’s also very thin compared to the others – if size matters, it’s a little hard to ignore this one.

Travel Cameras

There must be a huge demand for this class based on the models that are available.  They range from the pocketable ones to the DSLR type.  One of the key factors in this class is their zooms.  Depending on the type of unit, they can go from about 10x to 60 times zoom!!  Wild stuff.  When you look at this class, as the name implies, it’s for the person that travels and likely takes a fair number of photos and something more advanced than a pointy shooty.  When I looked at this class of camera, I initially looked at from the perspective of small and wide angle.  My Panasonic SZ1 was purchased mostly for it’s wide angle lens – it was the equivalent of 24mm in 35mm talk.  It does have a 10x zoom and is very high resolution for it’s size.  I got it mostly for my real estate stuff. Interiors… ‘nuff said.  I then jumped to a Panasonic ZS15 to get both the wide angle AND a bigger zoom coupled with good resolution.  Then I ran into the Fuji F800 which was designed as a very advanced camera.  AND it is!  This one, I got as a mate to my Fuji X10 due to it’s menu system and it’s EXR capability, but more later.  And then, I bought more……

So… the travel cameras.  As I mentioned, they are targeted at what a person does when traveling.  So what does a person really need, you say?  When I look at my travel experience recently, I looked at it this way: Landscapes, close ups, nite life/flash & available light, “tourist” shots, sunsets and sunrises.  Sometimes big zoom stuff.  As portable as possible with as much functionality as possible.  Also, perhaps some enhanced functionality.  Now… most of these units do offer a bit more functionality than the standard pointy shooty, so a little learning might be involved here to get at some of the extras but at the same time, they do pretty good in pure auto too Smile  Oh.. and they do movies too… 

I looked at this class from a pure functionality point.  I mean, really, these things pack a lot of features into a pretty small package.  Over and above their wildly large zooms, they have a lot of “Scene” modes, effects capabilities to mention a few things.  PLUS, some of them can go full manual to boot. They also tend to have slightly larger sensors, so all things considered, you get a pretty high quality photo.  They aren’t quite pocketable, but they can sure fit into a larger pocket or into a daypack easily.  Even on your belt if so inclined with a case.  For the things that I wanted to do, this class is provides some great photo opportunities.  One of things that is really neat about this class are the big zooms.  Granted, you should have a tripod or equivalent, the big zoom area opens up a whole new space.  If the camera has a manual setting AND you have a tripod, for instance – you can get a full frame shot of a full moon!!!  Or wildlife!!  Way cool stuff in this area.  I used mine for some building demolition stuff that was happening across the street from a site I was consulting on.  I could stand across the street and get some pretty neat pics of a building being demolished. 

In this class, though, I think it’s very important to understand what you are planning to do.  The reviews hint at it, but each one has it’s “quirks”.  For instance – the Fuji F800 and Sony HX30 are more advanced and as a result, you need to learn the menu system.  The Nikon S9400 is at the other end of the spectrum, in that it’s a little more automatic than the others.  The rest sort of fall in between.  If you are advanced enough to utilize the presets in the Scene mode, they are pretty handy.  When looking at this class, I think it’s important to understand what you are doing and ensuring that the feature set meets what you are planning.  I was actually surprised how few cameras had a “snow” setting, for instance.  BUT, in saying that – all of them take a pretty high quality pic.  It’s also for the person that wants to go a bit beyond the point and shoot.  Look at the feature sets and see if they have what you want to do or may want to do.  Here are some interesting feature points:

The Sony HX30 has a slightly higher powered flash but has a complex menu system.  The Canon’s flash is quirky and doesn’t have certain scene modes that I want, but it works really well in auto.  The Panasonic has a flash that DOESN’T pop up and has an easy menu system – one of my favourite all around units.  The Fuji F800 is designed to be used in full manual.  Metering is centre weighted and not adjustable like the others.  The EXR mode is awesome if you know how to take advantage of it. The Nikon is nice and thin and just simply works well.  These are just the highlights.  I don’t even think about which one to use if they are all sitting there, actually – I just pick one up and go for it Smile   

travel camsCanon SX270

Advanced Pointy Shooties 

I have two cameras in this class.  The Fuji X10 and Panasonic LX7.  The X10 was actually the first camera that I got when this all got going.  In this class, they typically have larger sensors and as a result, will ultimately deliver a higher quality photo.  This class of camera is actually designed for the advanced user, and also as potential companion cameras to DSLR’s.  That means they are meant to be use more in their manual modes than auto modes.  Metering is more accurate and flexible.  They are slightly larger.  I actually got both of these units for their high speed lenses.  Are the pictures that different to look at?  Normally, I would say no.  Again, the larger sensor means higher quality as you enlarge the photo.  From this class up, this is where the quality starts to make itself apparent –  when you enlarge the photo.  At the larger sizes, a great photo becomes stunning!!!  The detail doesn’t change irregardless of the size for the most part.  Colors stay rich.  I think, if there was one thing when you start in this class of camera, is that by default, the colors seem more “richer” on landscapes, flesh tones seem more natural,   At normal size though, if you put pics side by side, it would be hard to tell.  Even with the higher end cameras.  Even though the lens is faster on the LX7, my go to camera is typically the X10.  The LX7 is actually easier to use from the menu side, and it has certain things a lot easier, I’m simply more comfortable with the X10.  The LX7, on the other hand, is quite small comparatively speaking.  I got the LX7 because of a couple of things – wider angle and faster lens.  Both of these have relatively common zooms at about 3x or 4x but they are pretty dedicated units.  On a holiday or trip, I would probably take one of these plus a travel camera.  These aren’t for everybody – they run in that $500+ range usually, and do require a bit of learning to squeeze out that extra functionality. 

I was really really tempted to get at least one more in this class to get a better comparison, but in the end I didn’t.  At this stage of the game, I knew I would be getting closer to “not so mobile”, so I stopped here. 

X10 and LX7

Compact System Cameras

Now – these are a fairly new breed of cat out there.  A system with interchangeable lenses but typically not a DSLR.  Result –  a smaller interchangeable lens camera.  Based on their sensor sizes, they are pretty close to the size of most DSLR type cameras.  Very niche driven and not for everyone.  They are targeted for the advanced user.  I have two in this class – the Panasonic GX1 and Nikon 1 J1.  Both were acquired with two zooms.  Do I like them – YES.  BUT I say that tongue and cheek to a certain degree.  You see, from the zoom side, they don’t have even close to the capability of a travel zoom.  What they do have is better metering, and larger sensors.  At the larger image sizes, again, you get what you pay for.  The Nikon 1 J1 was purchased on a whim Smile  Really – the price for the camera and two lenses was too good not to try it.  This guy is actually pretty tiny for this class of camera.  BUT… it’s pretty close to being a fully automatic type camera.  It’s for a specific type of user, actually – it was designed for the family with active kids for the person who wants higher quality photos and movies.  Not expensive by any stretch for this class.  Models are at J3 now.  What do I like about this guy?  It’s a great camera to use in it’s auto mode.  It actually does a good job with it’s metering in most situations.  The kit zoom is actually quite a nice zoom for general purpose stuff.  Cameras in this class have multiple metering modes and this one is great that way.  I started using this one for some of my light box shots and was really surprised at how good it was in full auto.

The Panasonic GX1, when I got it, was literally the latest and greatest.  THIS is a serious amateur’s camera and also one of the highest resolving ones in it’s class with 16 megapixel and Micro Four Thirds sensor.  It’s quite a bit larger than the Nikon 1 J1, but then again, this is a VERY serious unit designed to compete with the DSLR’s.  I LOVE using this camera for the most part.   Where it falls down for me, is the close up stuff.  It’s a little finicky there and it’s due to the kit lens I find.  I can’t get close like my other cameras – I need to step back a bit.  Not that it’s a bad thing, just something to keep in mind.  The results with this camera are amazing.  I was initially going to get a prime lens for this unit but decided against it until I get a little more definitive in what direction I want to go.

With both of these cameras, the one thing I don’t use a lot of, are the longer zooms.  I’ve used both of these, and for the things I do, there just isn’t that requirement for the bigger zoom.  Now in saying that, they haven’t been on trips either Smile  For general purpose shooting, though – nice units to use.  The GX1 is really designed to be used in manual.  One shortcoming with both is their battery power especially when you are using flahs.  I think for the average user, they could easily get by a day or two but for heavier shooting, it’s a good idea to have two batteries.  Using the GX1, really got me thinking about DSLR’s…… 

When I got these even though it was several months apart, the intent here was to start moving away from the mobility aspect of things.  Sure they are still mobile type units in that they don’t take up a lot space, but at the same time, it paved the way for my more “serious” moments.  More “dedicated” type shoots- like fashion shows, social events, etc.  where one need not only the control side of things, but top notch quality as well.  I’ve had several of this type of event, and it’s usually the GX1 and Fuji X10 plus a travel cam.  I’ve found this combination to be wonderful.

Again, an I can’t emphasize this enough.  This class is not for everyone.  Pricewise, they border the DSLR’s.  Heck my GX1 actually cost more than my Nikon D3200.  I got the GX1 on Sale for $600.  The D3200 – $500 on sale.  The upside – reasonably portable.  Now that I also have the Nikon D3200, there won’t be too much I won’t be able to do.  We’ll see as time goes on.  BUT for the person that wants the capability in a smaller package than a DSLR, this is an option.  For me, I initially thought it would stop here, but it didn’t Smile 

So….. how do I use these?  I used the GX1 in particular over the summer a fair amount.  Mostly when I was “out and about”.  Mostly in conjunction with a travel camera or two.  I used it in as many ways as I could think of to get a feel for any limitations it might have.  Aside from the macro thing, not too much else. 

Pansonic GX1 and SZ25

DSLR’s

Man- I thought long and hard about this.  I mentioned my options in a previous post of the options, I just remembered, that I didn’t mention was going to one of the Sony NEX series.  It’s a Compact System Camera but the sensor is equivalent to what you would find in a DSLR.  BUT, the reviews showed that there wasn’t really extra battery power there which was something that was key for what I was wanting.  For all intents and purposes, for me, a deal breaker.

So why would someone want to get a DSLR over any of the other cameras out there?  Well, for the most part, DSLR’s tend to be associated with the pros.  Pros typically tend to have the best gear and the usually, the results speak for themselves.  DSLR’s are basically “king of the heap”.  People will always want the best if they can afford it and in my city, that’s very much so.  They will go out and get a DSLR, a whack of lenses and not even blink at it.  Heck, even for me, how bad do I need multiple cameras?  Smile  Perhaps there’s ego also coming into play – they want to “look” like a pro. 

Back in the days of 35mm, the pros didn’t use 35mm film.  They used larger format cameras like the 2 1/4 x 2 1/4 inch or 6×7.  For them, 35mm wasn’t even a format Smile  Nikon was among the first to break that barrier in 35mm.  Then it was Canon with the F1. In todays world, its the DSLR.  What a lot don’t know, I’m guessing, is that the pro versions utilize a bigger sensor.  And they are terrifyingly expensive to boot running several thousand dollars.  Interestingly enough, I haven’t run into to that many amateurs that utilize the full frame sensor cameras – mostly something called the APS-C sensor, which is slightly smaller.  A common comment that I do hear, though, is that IF you are a pro, you NEED to own a DSLR.  I’m not so sure I would totally agree with that, but I don’t have enough information to argue that.  I do have friends who are pros though, and they do have multiple bodies, but usually it’s a full frame sensor one with an APS-C sensor one as a backup. 

I’ve encountered some interesting perspectives in this area. I’ve encountered the DSLR types who think if you don’t own a DSLR,  one is not “in the game”.  I LOVE these types when I show off a photo taken with a pointy shooty Smile  AND it’s better than anything they’ve got.  I’ve run into types who would have been better off with anything other than a DSLR – they don’t take enough pictures for starters and the reasoning being that it’s too bulky.  I’ve also run into the ones who ARE really really good at what they do, and it’s really a joy chatting with them about techniques, etc.  I’ve also had some VERY interesting discussions around DSLR’s vs the “rest” and read some discussions around this as well.  To me, to each his own.  My preference as it sits as I write this, was to have “something” available at any moment that I wanted to take a photo. To have a camera with me constantly.  Considering that I do a lot of different things, a DSLR isn’t always the best option.  The rest were, and they delivered an above average quality photo. 

So… why did I get one and the get the one I ended up with?

I actually had more than a few options here, but my heart was really set on a Nikon.  From my 35mm days, I’ve used just about all of them EXCEPT Nikon.  I simply couldn’t afford one back then.  My system hinged around the Canon F1 and FTB.  I had just about every lens that Canon made under 200mm.  It was a tough call to say the least, but the one that I settled on, was the D3200.  It was an entry level camera but it had the latest engine and was at 24 megapixel!  Even though the kit lens lens couldn’t take full advantage of the sensor capability, and didn’t have the manual capability, when I looked at the gear I already had, this would be a good starting point for ME.  The reasoning – I wanted a few things:  Battery power for starters – more shots per charge.  Higher quality than I had before, though the “where I would use it” was a bit more selective, and finally – better controls.  By better controls, I wanted to be able to access settings faster.  AND having a viewfinder Smile  Indirectly, I also wanted to be more knowledgeable in this space.  It’s one thing reading about them, another thing to actually go out and use one.

Am I happy with it?  ABSOLUTELY!!!  A couple of things really surprised me with this one.  One was startup.  Wow!  I thought my GX1 was fast – this is faster.  Literally an instant on.  The LCD panel gets me at controls very quickly.  The kit zoom that came with it – an 18-55mm/f 3.5-5.6.  So far, it’s been more than adequate. It’s been a bit of a challenge getting used to the viewfinder, but nothing too serious.  I’ve played with the resolution a bit to get a feel for where I can take my “normal” photos.  Most of my shots have been JPEG, 24 megapixel, Normal.  There is a Fine setting plus of course, the ability to shoot RAW.  My GX1 can do RAW as my X10 plus a couple of my travel cameras.  For me, not there yet and probably won’t be for a while.  A lot of my shots have been around snow conditions and I’ve found the metering to be pretty spot on.  My GX1 is also very good with this.  That’s one of the things I’ve noticed – metering is getting better and better as you advance in models. I’ve also been using the D3200 for light box stuff.  Loving it.  Better than my other units?  Well, in reality, about the same.  Certain types of light box shots I’ve taken show a definite improvement, especially where there’s varied colors – they are generally a little more true than some of my other units.  One thing that I noticed as well with the advanced processor – I was shooting a flash sequence to test how fast the flash recycles.  Amazing – it didn’t hesitate between shots and I was taking them sequentially – only 3 or 4 at a time in single frame mode, but still, pretty impressive.  My GX1 takes about 1/2  sec to cycle between shots.

It should b interesting to see how much I end up using the D3200. It’s definitely heavier than my GX1 but at the same time, I bought it knowing this was going to be a specific use camera.  The most important piece here – it’s a stepping stone for me.  Will I be adding lenses?  Too early to say at this point.  Perhaps a slightly larger zoom and maybe a wide angle lens at some point, but definitely a separate flash unit, for sure. 

Other Considerations.  OK – there are some other things I thought of:

Where to Buy This Stuff

OK – this can get ugly Smile  This has always been what I would call a “value driven” proposition to coin a Business Analyst phrase (I am one….).  And there are some gotchas.  Let’s look at a few things. 

Basics – One of my very first thoughts is about service and our perception of it.  The bigger question is – what price are you prepared to pay for service?  When I look at the average consumer today, I almost think they have no concept of service for the most part Smile  AND retailers especially the big box stores have really kind of driven that fact home.  Go in – buy – leave.  If it’s defective, bring it back we’ll give you a new one.  Maybe….  AND to make it worse, the big box stores, I feel have pushed or forced the smaller retailers to specialize because they can’t compete price wise.  Big retailers also only carry high volume items.  They work on low profit high turnover to make their money.  IF you need anything beyond that – specialty store and you pay a premium.  Not a lot of choice here.  Even then, it can be a stretch.

Does that mean one should buy a camera there?  You know, this is a BIG depends.  I’ve been a few speciality stores and for me, they know less than me for the most part Smile  BUT they have “pieces” I need. For others, it may help, but then there’s also the internet Smile  I bought my X10, for instance at a camera speciality store BECAUSE I could all the pieces I wanted in one place.  Other stores simply couldn’t do that.  The X10 had a custom leather case that I wanted.  Spare battery and an SD card.  Yes, I paid top dollar for this but you know what – I didn’t have to trundle all over town either.  In this case – the premium was worth it.

I think a lot hinges around your knowledge and personal tastes.  Specialty stores are pretty awesome in that they do have the things you normally wouldn’t find in a big box store.  A serious amateur or pro would likely end up in these stores.  I’ve been in a few now, and had varying experiences ranging from good to bad.  That’s just me and I’m picky.  

Cameras today work pretty well out of the box.  A lot of the cameras are available everywhere – literally.  If you know WHAT you want to buy, coupled with the knowledge, should you care where you get it?  AND, how fast do you need it? Smile  For me, for most  pieces of gear, like cameras, I’m not necessarily going to a specialty store.  I’m going to follow the sale Smile  I say this a little tongue and cheek – for instance, when I got my Nikon D3200 – It was on sale everywhere – literally.  I happened to be by a Future Shop and they had stock so I bought it there.  Purely convenience – I was up there anyway.  Sure they tried to sell me that “Service Package” and pushed hard, believe me.  To me, for the $100-200 extra, well…. NO.  Sure it was a direct replacement, but for me, totally useless.  You see, if I drop it and break it, I can’t get it replaced.  It’s related to manufacturing defects – sorry, not going to happen.  That’s me though.  When I got my Panasonic LX7 – it wasn’t on sale, but I got it a Black’s, it was convenient.  I’ve seen a little better service in the speciality shops, but where photography is concerned, I’m not so sure that the service provided will justify me being a “regular”. 

Would I buy a technology piece from a place like WalMart?  Or Costco? Or any other big box stores?  Well, yes.  This is a depends thing as well.  The big box stores don’t always have the latest and greatest, but sometimes they do.  Sometimes, they have a bundle that simply can’t be beat anywhere.  The Nikon D5100 was a good example where you got the Nikon case, SD card and few other goodies at the same price it was on sale everywhere else for a single unit.  One could save about $100 by going this way.  I gave this a pretty hard thought as the D5100 is last years model, but at the same time, it had more functionality.  Why didn’t I buy this?  Two reasons – first was simply greedy – I wanted the new processor and the 24 megapixel Smile  Second – As nice as it would have been to get more functionality, I really didn’t need it or even perceive needing it.  In reality, it probably would have been a good choice, but in the end, the D3200 is plenty for what I’m doing. 

IF you have the knowledge and know what you want, for me, I quite simply go for price in most instances.  This is a bit judgmental but I look at it from the point of knowing what I want to do and what I’m prepared to pay to get what I want.  Usually I do.  I’m not scared to research – in fact – a lot of my purchases are triggered around research Smile

The Internet – Buying from the internet. You know, I’ve hit a point on the photography side, that there are a few items that I do get via the internet.  I’m sure a lot of us do this.  I’m finding that the more advanced I get, and wanting some of those specialty things, I simply can’t get them locally.  The internet it is.  I’ve gotten some batteries for my cameras via the ‘net. Some other small things.  Amazon to be precise. I happened to do some comparison shopping locally before I built my light tent/box – it was way less via the ‘net, but in the end, I ended up making my own.  I may still get one eventually, but the one I made gives me a few more options.  Quite simply – I don’t have a lot of space to work.  This is also one of those “depends” things.  I highly doubt I would buy a camera for instance via the ‘net.  Accessories, yes.  Tripods – maybe.  I didn’t, for instance, when I got my Carbon Fibre Pro Master – I wanted to touch and fiddle with it before buying and I needed one for a shoot the next day.  It didn’t have a ball head, so I bought one as well.  I’ve since upgraded to a stronger ball head to accommodate the D3200, but I bought that locally as well.  Bottom line – if I can wait and get a better price, probably.  I try to buy locally, but I say that cautiously.  For a camera or lense or major accessory like a flash, I’m not going to get it off the net.  If I go to a place to touch and feel, I’m probably going to get it there.  Or locally, in any event.  Same with a bag – especially a bag.  This is very much so a personal thing, but being able to visualize physically about your gear and how it’s going to fit, is important to me.  BUT other accessories – batteries for instance.  I’m just amazed by the difference in price!!  I got some back up batteries for my wife’s FZ50 – two batteries plus charger for less than a single battery.  They weren’t the brand name ones but work every bit as well.  Again, we’ll see as I advance….

I also find that “need” drives a lot of things.  Price can also go out the window if you need something right awaySmile  I had a wedding shoot and KNEW I was going to run out of battery power so I simply went out and bought a new battery.  This was for my X10 – which I now have 3 batteries for.  I paid $80 for that sucker – I could have that off Amazon a LOT cheaper.  Have I hit that level of requirement since then – yes.  I’ve had several instances where I’ve needed multiple batteries.  On one shoot this summer, I drained two batteries on the GX1 and two on the X10!!  It was pretty well all flash.  Dedicated flash – here I come Smile 

DIY or Do It Yourself – If one is the least bit handy AND depending on what you take photos of, there are some things that you can make.  I’m constantly fiddling with different things to try.  I made my own light box and made a series of jigs and stands for backdrops for small objects.  And then there’s “props”.  I enjoy doing light box stuff Smile  BUT, in saying that, I also like to use props the odd time to make photos a little more interesting.  Cataloguing is one thing, taking photos of small objects can be a lot of fun.  There’s a lot to be learned about lighting. and matching backdrops, props and objects.  Here’s one that’s cute Smile

 

Cute

Now that I have a fairly permanent light box set up, I’m constantly looking for different back drop materials, props, stands that I can convert, etc.  For instance – I found this cookbook stand for a couple of bucks at one of those dollar type stores.  I undid the lower shelf and now use it as a backdrop holder for taking photos of small stuff.  Backdrop material – now there’s an interesting one.  For smaller objects – place matsSmile  There’s a bunch of them out there and most are cheap!!  Lights for the light box – I bought those ones with clamps and got daylight balanced bulbs – the fluorescent ones.  Ended up with 3 lights that cost less than one studio light. 

Tripods and Such. 

To me, it’s a bit of an oxymoron in travel cameras to have such a nice big zoom in a tiny package and then have to lug around a tripod Smile   I got around this by getting a Gorilla Pod – the medium one. It’s small enough to put in my bag, but sturdy enough to hold the majority of my units.  It isn’t quite enough for my GX1.  I even got an better ball head, but it looks like I may ultimately have to get the SLR one.  Deal with that when I get to it.

With mobility in mind, especially when I got the GX1, I also wanted a tripod that was sturdy enough to hold it.  I bought a Carbon Fibre ProMaster, 5 section one with a ProMaster 2 ball head.  It was good enough for the GX1 with the short zoom, but not enough for the big zoom, so recently, I got a bigger Milano Ball Head.  This one holds the D3200 really good as well.  Will I take this tripod with me on a trip?  Not likely – shorter outings for sure, but if I’m on a holiday, it’ll be the travel cams, Fuji X10 and the Gorilla pod.  I want to stay as light as possible.  In saying that though, it is a light tripod.  Light and strong comes at a price – this one cost over $250 and the Milano head ran another $100.  IF I decided to take something like the D3200, I would piggy back with my travel cameras as well.

I’m a bag/pack  person.  I have several bags and packs to carry around my gear.  I’m sure most serious amateurs do.  I have my iPad or Nexus 7 with me most times, so usually, it’s a sling bag of sorts.  My favourite one most recently is the Fossil one.  This one was not cheap by any stretch at $130 CDN, but you know – it’s a NICE sling bag.  I used this one mostly for my noon hour jaunts when I was consulting – iPad, a couple of cameras, an ereader and it’s comfortable to boot.  I have a Tracker Security one for holidays – it’s also a sling but it’s also theft proof – easily carry some gear all day or long without getting killed by weight. 

For my Compact System Cameras – I’ve gotten a couple of slings that are closer to a narrow daypack.  One is the National Geographic one – small one.  Just large enough to hold camera and both zooms, couple of smaller cameras and I’m set.  Chargers as well, so I don’t lose them in my other “stuff” Smile  These though, won’t hold the tablets, but then again, I haven’t needed my tablets either when I’m “here”.

For the D3200 – I went out and got a Nikon bag that held the DSLR and just enough room for a couple of cameras and accessories.  I wanted to lay the camera out flat instead of vertical, but if I decide to add lenses, that’ll change.

I haven’t hit that point yet where I’m going to need take a lot of gear on a given shoot – I’ll cross that one when I get to it.  Most likely, it’ll be a bag though, not a daypack type. 

Onward and get those shots!!!

Now That I’ve Played w/Travel Cams…..

Over the last year or so, I went on this crazy acquisition binge for cameras in this area called Travel Cameras.  This category has been around for a long time, but in this last little while, technology has accelerated to the point, where these cameras have gotten pretty powerful and pretty tiny, to say the least.

For me, this category holds a very strong interest.  It hits that wonderful line between size and function.  I’ve been in the photo game for a long time – back in the 35mm days, and in the last couple of years, give or take, time has permitted me to “dip my toe back in”, so to speak.  Not that I haven’t had an interest, just that my photo stuff was relegated to what I would call the snapshot side of things.   Yes, we’ve always had a camera of sorts kicking around AND we actually do take a fair number of photos, all things considered, but not as a hobby per se.  What prompted my interest in this area was actually a couple of trips we took a couple of years ago.  The first was a trip to ‘Vegas – it was our first chance in a lot of years to simply “escape” (doesn’t get any better than ‘Vegas – it’s not like any place else for me Smile)  So… off we went armed with a couple of point and shoots.  One of these units happened to be a newly acquired Panasonic SZ1 – it was sort of a travel cam that sported the equivalent to a 24mm wide angle lens and 10x zoom.  Yes we got some great pics, but their low light capability was very limited and though the 10x zoom was nice, I found there some shots that could have used more. 

Back in the day (talk about a cliche…) – low light photography was one of my “interest” areas.  I went looking for something to address this, but at the same time, I was looking for something that I could use that was capable of “going the distance”.  The end result of that search was the Fuji X10.  Not a travel camera per se, but a very strong starting point for me.  It had the low capability, good manual controls and this retro look.  To this day, it’s still my “ go to “ camera, despite the fact that I’ve gotten more sophisticated equipment since.  Onward.

Later that year – Honolulu.  Absolutely fell in love with the place!!!  In the meantime, I had acquired the mid sized Gorilla Pod and armed with the X10 plus  our pointy shooties, we managed to take over 2000 pics in that 10 days.  We didn’t want to miss a thing Smile  AND I don’t think we did from the pic side.  We do have to return, though, to see more stuff….  It’s in the plan….

On this trip, the only shortcoming I found was that there were times when I wish I had more than 10x zoom.  It was a nagging thing, but it was enough to prompt me to start looking.  Now, before I continue on here, it’s important to note that, at the time and for quite a while after, a lot of my decisions were based around mobility.  I simply wanted good equipment that could pack in my daypack so I would have a camera (or two as I did later) available.  At work, one of the things that prompted me looking and acquiring, was this building that was being demolished.  It afforded me aZS15stop, so why not?  This was in the fall, BTW.  After the first few shots with the SZ1, it REALLY became obvious that I could use more than 10x zoom for certain shots.  Soooo… the research started.  I happened upon the Panasonic ZS15 (24mm/10 megapixel/16x zoom) during a cruise– it was on a clear out to make way for the ZS25, I think.  I did a bit of quick research on it and bought it the next day.  This unit was actually what started it all Smile  Slightly larger unit, but a nice unit to say the least.  Getting it on sale was the bonus.  On the flipside, it REALLY got me going on this class of camera.  I started to research even more. 

Now, before I progress even more here – Part of the research I did at the time, was doing a bit of comparison work between the smaller cameras and DLSR’s.  I wasn’t what the market was doing at the time, and despite the fact that I could have used my budget to actually buy a pretty wound up DLSR system, I quite simply wasn’t prepared to put up with the bulk – so, I decided to use that money to see exactly how much I could get going a different avenue. 

Travel Cameras – we should maybe stop and look a little closer at this category.  For starters, there must be a market for these cameras, otherwise, they wouldn’t be making so many of them Smile  They come in all shapes and sizes but they share a common theme.  Big zooms and wide angles.  Add to this some pretty impressive movie specs (I don’t shoot movies per se, so you won’t seen anything here that pertain to this area…), reasonable low light capability and you’ve got a pretty powerful piece of photo taking gear.  For the “target market”, which appears to be the person who wants to “one up” their game for photos, this is a nice place to jump to.  You can get a lot of functionality in pretty small package if you want.  In looking closer at this “demographic”, if you want to call it that, in trying to stay objective, I would say this particular group wants to simply get a better range of photos.  Good quality is secondary to getting the photo.  When you look at the more technical side – this group probably won’t typically go beyond red-eye correction, limited cropping or maybe even some simple color correction. From what I’ve found out, overall quality is there.  A very serious amateur probably wouldn’t be happy with some results but you know what?  For what they do, it’s not so shabby.  Heck, I have friends who a serious amateurs and have some pretty serious gear, and from their standpoint, if it isn’t DSLR is not a camera Smile  My argument here?  I got the shot because it was on me, not sitting in the bag at home Smile  People in this prepared to spend a bit more money to get functionality, but not a lot more.  For all intents and purposes, the cameras will all function pretty well out of the box (usually need to fully charge….) and you can leave it in Auto and simply go for it Smile WHAT it does becomes personal preference – a little research and understanding what YOU want to do goes a long way here.

So… what happened?  Well, I happened to catch a technology “turn” or two, and what I started to see, was these things started to get more and more powerful in a small package.  Small was key for me. Over the last year or so I acquired the following in sequence: Fuji F800 EXR, Panasonic ZS25, Sony HX30V, Nikon S9400 and lastly, the Canon SX270 HD.  Each unit was acquired based on two things – how would it fit what I was doing at the time and quality of image for a particular situation.  The end result, of course, was to find a camera or cameras that could compliment the X10 or other “serious gear” that I acquired along the way. 

Running in parallel to this, was that I’m constantly looking for ways to keep my commuting things in one daypack and still be able to carry it.  PLUS, as I started to get more serious, more serious equipment also got acquired.  For instance – the Panasonic LX7 – it replaced my X10 in my daypack.  Smaller unit by a long shot, better low light.  Picture quality – equivalent.  I used the X10 in my weekend “go bag”.  No switching – awesome!!!  So… let’s look at the reasoning behind this sequence.  I’ve come to some interesting conclusions about these units.

Fuji F800EXR – Near as I can figure out, this particular style has been out for a while before I got the F800 – F700 for sure.  I initially bought this one first because the menu system was similar to my X10.  One of the key things with Fuji, if you’ve ever experienced their 35mm films, was that they had excellent greens, blues and yellows.  Flesh tones were a bit on the rich side, but for scenics, it was one of ways to go.  There are a couple of things that are bit unique about both the X10 and F800.  First, is their EXR mode, which gives you the ability to prioritize how you want a certain shot to be taken given a certain condition.  It does cut the resolution down from 16 Megapixel down to 8 in this mode, but at the same time, it does retain good quality. The other key thing is that you can emulate the old Fuji films and their characteristics.

Is there a downside to this camera?  Yes – the menu system is a bear to work with.  This camera is not designed for a novice to say the least.  Sure, you can keep it in Auto and it’ll do a good job, but it’s strength isn’t in the Auto mode.  This is a camera that is designed to be used by the advanced user.  It can shoot both JPEG AND RAW, so all in all, quite a powerful unit.  Coupled with it’s 20x zoom, it makes a great companion to the X10.  This isn’t really a camera the you can literally take out of the box and shoot with. Autofocus can be a bit finicky in low light and the flash is, well, typical to a camera in this calss I would say.  Nothing too spectacular here.  There is a pretty steep learning curve here.  If you have the time, it’s a winner for sure.  It’s not for everyone.

Panasonic DMC ZS25 – I was spoiled a bit with the SZ1, so I’m a little biased here Smile  Now, one of the key factors around Panasonic cameras in general is they do offer a lot of functionality against the price point.  The downside, is exactly that – it doesn’t come cheap.  Not as expensive as the Sony HX30, but not far off either.  After using all my other ones, this one is perhaps one of the better ones in this class of camera.  From a picture standpoint, it has one of the best metering systems out there and if you leave it in it’s multi-point meter mode, will deliver a pretty good “as you see it” type photo.  In it’s Auto mode. So.. what the heck do I mean by that?  Well, one of the things that’s a little finicky on digital from what I’ve seen so far, is that when you take a photo that incorporates land, sky and clouds, perhaps a bit of sun, or beach or snow (you know – the average travel photo), especially in auto – is that the sky, if it’s blue and clouds will wash out and the camera tries to preserve other parts of the photo.  Most people wouldn’t know enough to drop the EV down to –1.5 or lower, they are just going to take the shot.  The ZS25 is a little better at this than the others.  Couple this with it’s 25x zoom, and ease of use, plus color rendering, I personally would rate this one really high on the list.  It has a lot of functionality especially in it’s Scene mode, but at the same time, it can be used in it’s Auto mode and you can cover off most things easily. 

Is there a down, side to this one?  Well, maybe Smile  It’s very subtle IMHO.  If you don’t compare to other cameras, you simply may not catch this but I’ve found that photos tend to be ever so flat.  Don’t get me wrong here – it does most things right – colors are pretty true, it renders flesh tones well, though every so slightly rich, etc. BUT if you compare against say the Sony HX30V or Nikon S9400, you would see the difference.  Those two, in particular, tend to show things “brighter”.  The average person would probably never notice this – BUT, it’s there.  Do I worry about this?  No.  The bottom line – IF I had to take one camera on a trip, this would probably be the one.

Sony HX30V – When I read the reviews on this one, they all hinged around a similar theme – good camera and MIGHT be worth it if you can take advantage of the extra features it offers.  From my experience they got a lot of things right Smile  The one key thing about this one is that the flash is more powerful than the others. It’s also the pitfall.  On closer shots, it’ll wash out on you, so you’ve got to be a little careful of that, but if you going to take that standard 3 or 4 person head and shoulder shot, you’re good.  Anything closer – well, it’s hit and miss.  I would put this one in the same class as the Fuji F800 – it’s not for everyone.  It’s got a menu system that is almost if not more complex than the F800.  From the photo taking side – for the most part, it’ll serve you well.  Colors are slightly brighter but render pretty true of most shots.  This camera is bragging 18 megapixels, but the two megapixel difference isn’t noticeable for most things that I with it.

Is there a downside to this one?  As I mentioned, the menu system isn’t the friendliest out there.  But then again, it’s a more advanced unit, so maybe for the more advanced person.  The other thing that was immediately noticeable was build quality.  I’m a long time Sony user and I’ve always expected that when I picked it up, it would literally “glow” quality.  This one doesn’t do that, and if it wasn’t for the fact I was looking for certain things, like the flash in particular, it might have been a deal breaker.  This one has a pop up flash, and it has it’s moments for being annoying. In fact, out of the bunch that I have, this one actually feels cheap by comparison.  I’ve used this one actually a lot, and so far, it’s holding up.

Nikon S9400 – I almost didn’t get this one based on the reviews.  BUT it went on sale and was well within my budget so I went for it Smile  Now one thing about this one, is that comparatively speaking, it’s a lot thinner than the others.  The Canon SX270 is pretty thin but this one is thinner by a little bit..  You could put this into a shirt pocket quite easily, though it might be a tad heavy for that.  Now this one has a very specific target market from what I can figure out.  This one IS designed for the person who really doesn’t want manual Smile  One of the things I’ve noticed about Nikon in this and pointy shooties, is that they tend to really “keep it simple” in this class.  Menus are simple, and you do have some control, but at the same, if you want to do anything that is manual related, this probably isn’t the camera for you.  It was rated as being expensive in this class of camera, and that maybe so, but you know what?  It does a lot of things right.  It does take a good picture – colors are good – a bit on the bright side, but nonetheless pretty good.  If one is looking at a travel camera that gets things done with minimal fuss and bother, this wouldn’t be a bad choice.  This one falls in line to the Panasonic ZS25.

Downsides?  It’s simplicity.  If you are going beyond the simple point and shoot stuff, this one has it’s limitations.  Above and beyond that, it’s pretty hard to fault this one. Yes, it’s a bit on the expensive side, but then again, it’s Nikon Smile

 

Canon SX270HD – The previous version of this one got picked as one of the top travel cameras in it’s class last year.  This one was like the Nikon S9400 – I almost didn’t buy it because I already had so many Smile  BUT when I looked at reviews for the “Best of 2012”, this one was the only one I DIDN’T own, AND there was a bit of sale on it, so I figured why not?  Smile

In using this camera, there are some pretty impressive things about it. One of the key things I noticed right off the bat was that it did a better job of capturing those “generic landscape” photos a little better.  Colors were quite true and in general, just a nice camera to hold and use.  Menu system was easy to use, and offered a good combination of auto and manual modes.  Interestingly enough though, I found this very lacking in it’s scene mode.  Now, the average person may not care, but I was expecting to see at least a sunrise/sunset setting and it didn’t have one.  This setting has proven very handy for me at times when I need that quick shot.  Minor point, but still…..  I got the feeling it was targeted just a bit above the Nikon but a little more aggressively priced in my area.

Without getting into too much nitty gritty, it’s easy to see why this one is so popular.  It works and works well.  Represents good value for the dollar.  It’s an established brand that everyone can associate with.  When I was in the world of 35mm – Pentax and Canon were deemed the “everyone” camera and Nikon was the “Pro” class.  Olympus was out there too, but nothing like Pentax and Canon.  In the world of digital, it really hasn’t changed that much from what I can see.  At the top end, I’m seeing Canon and Nikon still slugging it out, but now you also have Sony and Panasonic in the mix.  Anyway …onward.

Downsides?  Yeah there are a couple but not necessarily deal breakers but they are annoying to me – actually VERY annoying.  First is the flash – it’s one of those pop up ones that pops when needed.  OK – fine. What’s annoying about this, is that you can’t just always push it down – you have to go to the flash mode and turn it off to get the flash to retract.  Not always, there’s the odd time you can push it down, but very much an annoyance.  The next one is in deleting a photo in camera.  It takes a couple of extra steps in the menu system to do this. And then there’s the case.  On one side, it’s a nice case – in fact the only manufacturer in the ones I bought that actually provided one.  Kudos – it saves me money.  BUT, I have to thread the strap thru the hole in the case before I can close the case!!  UGLY if I need the camera quickly.  Maybe that’s not a consideration for many, but for me it was downright frustrating.

In Conclusion

So that’s life in the fast lane for me. I didn’t go into some of my other cameras like the Panasonic ZS15, but that one’s old news at point.  There are other things – some come with external adapters and USB cables, whatever.  The real bottom line here – this is perhaps a tougher call than going out a buying a pointy shooty.  I’ve only covered what I would call the “middle tier”.  There are the quasi DSLR ones and ones with smaller zooms that also fit into this category.  I looked at it from the point of tiny but with a wide angle and big zoom.  I KNEW I would get a reasonable photo, that went without question and in many instances, I’m startled at just how good they are.  BUT then again, I did my research and also knew a lot about what I was going to do. 

I have many people who ask me what I would pick Smile  I try to reply by asking another question “What do you want to do with it?”.  Sounds simple enough doesn’t it?  In reality, with the answers I get, they could pick literally anything and it would work Smile  I try to steer them away from the more complex ones like the Fuji or Sony, but it’s hard to explain to someone about big zooms, or wide angles if they don’t have the experience with it. It gets even harder when they simply don’t have a lot of experience beyond snaps.  I always tend to have a couple with me and I can show them to try and establish a “point of reference”. One that I get a fair amount is “I don’t need the big zoom”, but in the same breath I’m being told that their 3 or 4x zoom isn’t enough.  AND they don’t have a tripod or Gorilla Pod Smile 

The comment I get the most – “Wow – does your camera take good pictures” Smile    In the back of my mind – it AIN’T the camera Smile

Still Discovering “Stuff”….

During the Calgary Stampede this week, I attended a corporate event, the Oxford Stomp.  This is one two major events that happen during the Stampede.  The other one being the Stampede Roundup.

Sign

These are ticketed events with attendance in the 10,000 + range.  There are company booths, bands food, etc.  Depending how you got tickets, you may or may not have to pay for booze once you get in the gate.  We were fortunate enough that we got tickets where, if you are in the company “booth” or area, your booze was free Smile  More important – this area, despite the fact that it’s not that far from the Bow River, it did not get impacted all that much by the flood and allowed the events to proceed.

Planning

A week or so before the event, I was still pondering what equipment to take to the event.  I knew that I would be basically be standing or walking from at least 3:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. with very little sitting (as it turned out, it was closer to 1:00 a.m. the next morning… more on that later….)  What it basically broke down to was that I needed portable, coverage for both sunlight and low light.  The final decision – my Panasonic LX7, and Sony HX-30V, spare battery for the LX7, and an umbrella in my Fossil sling bag.  My son was borrowing my Panasonic ZS25 for a car show he had entered, otherwise, I would have had it….

Fossil

I’ve been using the Fossil sling bag for my noon hour jaunts at work, but as I was rolling my contract (I’m a consultant), I brought this one home.  I COULD have used my Tracker, but decided against it at the last minute as it was slightly larger.  I was almost thinking of bringing the Fuji X10, but I wanted that extra low light capability of the LX7 as a “just in case”.  PLUS is was a lot smaller.   In the end, it worked great!!!  The one thing I’m finding here with sling bags – they definitely are handy compared to other bags.  The Fossil one has become a favourite very quickly.  Despite the expense (this one ran $130!!!), I gotta admit spending the extra was worth it…..

For me, this was a new experience and all things considered it was a great event to attend.  Bands included Counting Crows, The Wall Flowers and Third Eye Blind.  Food was what I would consider “typical” fare for the Stampede – Beef on a Bun, cole slaw, beans and a fruit cup.

Dinner

For the most part, I used to the HX30, and somehow, somewhere, when I was fiddling with settings, I got it into one of the special effects modes and it wasn’t until a few pics later that I realized it was in that mode.  It took a few minutes to figure out how to turn that off but in the end, all was good.  I first noticed this when I was taking shots, and there was a “processing” message on the LCD screen with a lag of about 3 seconds, which, considering it was bright out, shouldn’t have happened.  I initially thought the camera was in a burst mode and was doing a best frame capture thing, but it wasn’t.  Here’s one of the “effects”:

DSC00475

Later in the day, a ‘copter showed up – I think it was to open the grandstand show and this was where having that extra zoom came in handy.  A little blurred but I got the shot or three.

Helo

In the End

We left Fort Calgary around 9:00 p.m. and decided to walk down into a nearby community called Inglewood for a drink or two in a couple of places and then tried to grab a cab home.  Well…. let’s just say… cab and Stampede Week – Good Luck  Sad smile  Despite the fact that this community we pretty active even around midnite, getting a cab was next to impossible.  We ended up walking into downtown Calgary, which was basically a 45 minute walk before we were able to get a cab and we had to flag one down – phoning for one was out of the question.  The hotels were telling us 1 hour or more.  My wife and I had decided we could bus it home as we were close to a bus route that could get us home, but I decided to try to flag a cab and got one Smile  So we ended up home at around 1:30 a.m….. Ugh….

In conclusion – day was actually blast saving the cab thing, but being able to be portable and having two small cameras worked out great.  I was initially thinking of taking my Panasonic GX1 with both zooms AND one of the travel cams, but glad I didn’t Smile

Getting Started

Soooo…. A new blog that’s going to stay inside photography Smile  My other blog (leaningontheedge.wordpress.com) was actually directed more for technology and consulting but the photo stuff started to dominate, so here we are.

Nothing that’s overly structured in topics or anything – just my ramblings with my jump into Photography in a fairly significant fashion Smile

A long time ago…. I was a very serious amateur photographer.  I come from the world of 35mm using multiple SLR’s and a serious array of lenses.  Circumstances beyond my control put me in a direction away from this fabulous hobby for a lot years.  Not that I stopped taking pictures, just not in a big way.

That was a lot of years ago and about 1 1/2 years ago, I decided to step back in.  The old saying “Time, Money, Opportunity” came into play. 

I had just returned from a short holiday in ‘Vegas and it was during that time when I found that my little pointy shooty just didn’t cut it. Time to upscale.  After a lot of research and studying about the “new stuff”.  What I wanted for my “entry point” camera was something that I could take as part of my daily commute.  It had to be small enough to fit in my daypack along with my notebook, iPad etc., but at the same time, I wanted to ensure that I could get a high quality photo.  Not DSLR level (I probably wont got there for a long while), but high quality enough that I could do some image processing if needed.

The camera I ended up getting was the Fuji X10.   That was a lot of cameras ago, but it’s still my goto camera.  More on that in another post.  I didn’t get thinking about additional equipment for about 6 months at which time, a vacation in Hawaii got me thinking about the next step.

I’ll detail out in the next post – it’s late… and I have work tomorrow…