Thoughts Around Mobility with a DSLR

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Caden_front

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

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

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

Sigma Zoom_front_editedSigma Zoom_left sideSigma Zoom_left side

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

Sigma_wide angleSigma_zoomed

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

Retro51_guysRetro51_vert

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

Solar Light

 

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

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

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

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

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

Fossil Sling and stuff

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

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

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

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

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

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

Onward…

Doubling Up … Sort Of……

Wow … Talk about time flying by!!!  I’ve been meaning to create an entry for a couple of weeks now.  Life has gotten in the way, unfortunately and even this entry is going to be closer to a journal entry (something ELSE I haven’t been doing…) than anything. 

So… what’s been going on.  I think I mentioned that I had a shoot coming up and it’s gone by.  Did it go well?  Absolutely!!  I’m pretty please with the shots I did get.  Even more important – I was probably more prepared than ever for a shoot like this and it did go much smoother.  Just goes to show you – correct equipment for the job – easy peasey…..   So my gear – I used two bodies.  I have both a Nikon D3200 and a D5100.  The D3200 has the 18-55 kit lens and I stuck the 55-200 on the D5100.   Flash was the SB700 on the D3200.  I kicked up the ISO on the D5100 to ISO1600.  It was all good Smile 

The bigger issue was actually trying to figure out a way to carry my gear on public transit.  I had my wife take down my tripod, but the cameras – I wanted them with me.  Now… if you travel via transit, especially buses, you would know what a hassle this can be carrying two items – your daypack plus a camera bag.  During rush hour with a packed bus – not fun.  A couple weeks before that, actually way before that, I started to hunt for a bag that could haul both cameras and still be relatively compact.  I have sling bags but they can be a little bulky and don’t necessarily make it easy to take out cameras quickly.  For this shoot, I probably could have used a sling, but it was simply too inconvenient to take on the bus – no easy handle.  Soooo…. the quest was for a bag with a handle to make it easier.  AND did I mention small or at least less large…. The solution for me, ended up being a LowePro Nova 200 AW.  I was looking at the next one up plus a couple of Roots ones, but neither had the configuration capability that this one did.  It wasn’t cheap at $140, give or take, but one has to do what you have to do.  In the end, it worked a charm and that’s what counts.  I can carry both cameras with lenses attached AND carry all the needed accessories.  Marvellous!!!

During my quest, I happened into a camera store and got talking to a clerk and she mentioned that they were clearing some lenses out.  They were Tamrons but the old screw drive lenses.  They were selling out very quick and when I got back the next day, one of the ones I wanted was still there.  This was the 28-200 AF Aspherical LD Macro.  This would fit, but no AutoFocus.  BUT it had macro and more important – $90!!!!!  I didn’t even blink at getting it.  For $90, I would work with full manual.  In the end, it took me almost a week before I could even fiddle with it.  I was able to read some reviews on it, and the reviews all claimed it was a little on the soft side.  When I did take my shots, the lack of sharpness was not noticeable  to me.  What was a little harder was actually hand holding it Smile  Now… I had been looking at getting a prime macro – likely the 85mm, but that would take some saving.  This was the easy in.  I got my extra distance AND variable no less plus macro. 

About the doubling piece.  OK – I now have two lenses in roughly the same class, though the Nikon zoom is 55-200 against the Tamron 28 – 200.  Despite the fact the Tamron is slightly wider, it’s also manual.  The Nikon one is full autofocus.  The Tamron will only work in Programmed Auto, not necessarily a bad thing, but limiting, nonetheless.  The one big reason – I have a VERY versatile macro. Close up work is one of the areas I do a lot in. For $90 – worth it to me.

One of the big things, I think, when we start to get more serious, especially in the area of interchangeable lenses, picking the lenses one needs is always a tough choice.  For me, in reality, I went the DSLR way as a last resort.  I already had something like 12 cameras or more but the shoots I was starting to do moved me into this space.  I’m very happy with my existing gear which includes everything from pointy shooties to Compact System stuff covered everything I needed.  It was those big event shoots where the DSLR literally became a requirement.  I was recently at a family reunion and I took my travel cams and more advanced cameras – Fuji X10/XF1 and my Panasonic LX7.  Didn’t use the X10 or the LX7.  XF1 and Nikon S9400 covered off everything.  My wife used the Panasonic ZX25.  We took around 200 pics and got the shots we wanted. 

Soooo… what am I saying here?  I run into this all the time.  It’s not the camera Smile  I run into so many people who are literally obsessed with DSLR’s and demand the absolute best in quality and resolution under any condition.  You know, that’s fine, but if you don’t have a camera available, quality and resolution doesn’t matter if you don’t get the shot.  To me, it’s all about getting the shot – it always has been.  I come from the world of 35mm where you pretty had to get the shot.  You were full manual – you used both the in-build meter or a hand held meter.  Perspective – it’s so important.  If you need the shot for publication or plan to enlarge, sure, you may want to use a DSLR, but if you are taking casual shots or “normal” stuff, as I call it,  what one looks for, usually, is simply a good photo – natural colors good resolution.  Composition may or may not be there, but the content is.  Bottom line – you got the shot you wanted!!!  In reality, that’s what it’s about. 

For me, I may or may not do any post processing – it “depends”.  Unless it’s an event shoot or I want to “fiddle”, I try to do as little post work as possible.  I simply don’t have time to be in that space.  Getting the shot is what counts.

Onward…..

Lugging Stuff Around

I was “out and about” a bit today, and one of the things that I’ve been playing with, was the thought of yet another camera bag or equivalent.  The LowePro I recently got was a sling bag and it really is a nice bag, but it was getting pretty packed with just my Nikon gear.  I was able to get both the Nikon and Panasonic gear into the bag for a fashion shoot I just finished, but it took a fair amount of work to fit everything in.  Getting the Nikon SB700 flash unit took this bag over the edge for hauling two systems around in one bag.  I wanted to be able to carry both the Nikon and Panasonic gear with me if possible on literally any outing with one bag. This kinda got me thinking about bags in general.

I’ve talked about this in previous posts, but my thoughts around gear originated with mobility in mind.  To back track a bit, when I started to get more serious in digital (I used to be quite a serious amateur back in the 35mm days), I didn’t go the DSLR route.  I did this progression thing from pointy shooties, to travel cams, advanced cams, compact system cams and then to DSLR.  It wasn’t exactly in that order, but at the start, it was all about mobility and getting a good quality photo.  I do some “pixel peeping”, but not as much as one would think Smile

I’ve always taken a fair number of pictures over time, but compared to the 35mm days, it was very little. As I progressed, and started to get more serious, I started to acquire more gear.  Mobility was still important, but I was also looking for equipment to handle more specialized tasks.  Getting the Nikon D3200 and adding “stuff” to it was the next step for me.  Of course, with the acquisition of more and more gear, your carrying needs change.

I’m guessing that many people simply don’t own a lot of gear.  They have their camera and that’s kinda it.  Bigger question – do they have it with them all the time?  I’m also going to take a bit of a guess and say that the majority of people don’t but they will use their phones to grab those quickie shots.  Nothing wrong with that – it’s about capturing the moment, which is, in my opinion, more important in some respects than the gear the took the photo.  For most people, this is more than adequate.  At some point, a few start on this “journey” to get better gear and improving on their photos.  For me, I do own a lot of gear – actually, I own a lot of cameras.  It’s one thing to have a couple of cameras in your daypack, it’s a whole new thing when you start to get into more serious equipment.  When you start to hit that point, it’s not just a camera anymore.  You may have lenses, flash units, spare batteries, memory cards, etc.  Depending on how far you take it, one ultimately needs something to carry that stuff in.

I’ve started to accumulate this slew of bags for the the different things that I do.  For me, I would consider myself the average person when it comes to life in general.  I’m an IT consultant, but I commute back and forth to work. I go out and about, grocery shopping, and i even take the occasional vacationSmile  I do yard work and a bunch of other things. I’ve been trying to have a camera handy all the time.  Ideally, I don’t want to spend a lot of time assembling gear so I can go out unless it’s for some sort of event where I know I’ll need the gear. 

Let’s take a look at the various situations that I’ve encountered and perhaps my situations will assist in helping others determine a potential solution.  The intent here, is to always have a camera close to grab those shots. Also, on this post, I’m going to even include some photos Smile  I’m dying to really give my new flash units a try in a pretty normal setting – my living room couch….

To Take a Bag or Not

Before I get going – some parameters about how I look at situations and gear.  When I’m commuting, my preference is to always have two cameras.  One that handles low light and one travel camera.  I feel that I have all possible situations manageable with these two and they are both quite portable or mobile.  When I started to get more serious and got more gear, there were two possible situations that started to show.  First, was the fact that I would take one of more advanced cameras like the Panasonic GX1 or the Nikon 1 J1, which use interchangeable lenses.  The second was to be able to add to that with an additional camera or cameras.  The other piece were things like spare batteries, etc.  What I do like to do, is keep everything together wherever possible.  Soooo… ideally, if I do go out like this, everything goes with it.  Do I need a spare battery and charger on a short hop?  No, but then again, when I get home, I can just “drop the bag” and not worry the next time.  Dig out the other cams and good to go.  Sounds easy enough right?  Then along comes a DSLR – my D3200.  And then the prime lens, and then the flashes.  Along with that, spare batteries, etc.  A small explosion of gear, if you will.  One thing with getting into photography and getting beyond the “snapshot” stage, when you start in with DSLR’s and start to study the craft more, you can easily go into gear lust.Smile  Knowing what you “need” is important.  The biggest pitfall I’ve seen more times than I care to count, is someone getting something like a DSLR or even a Compact System camera is that they probably would have been better off with a travel camera or something that had a smaller chance of getting left behind when you head out that door.

Are there times when carrying all that gear isn’t in the equation?  Absolutely.  In fact, its highly like that most people that are in the pointy shooty crowd will stick their camera in a pocket or purse and off you go.  OR just leave with the smartphone.  And then there are the gear hounds like me Smile  BUT, in saying that, if I’m puttering in the yard, or out with the grandkids in the park, taking an evening walk – taking a bag isn’t always in the equation.  I have a number of pointy shooties that I can use for this.  For something like this, I would normally take either a Nikon S3400, or the Panasonic SZ1 – maybe on a stretch the Nikon S9400.  Tiny and pocketable is the name of the game here.    Yes, there’s always a chance that “the shot” will pop up, but you know, in reality, these are the times when you are enjoying the moment – that perfect shot isn’t important – getting the shot is.  Do I ever leave the house without a camera?  Not usually. 

Commuting

Ah…. commuting life.  Everything from driving your vehicle, car pooling, public transportation.  As a consulting Business Analyst, I tend to take my own set of “tools” to do my job.  That usually means my iPad, a notebook (an ASUS Zenbook), and of course, my cameras and all the matching accessories.  Over the years, I’ve been refining and refining to try and keep things in one daypack. It’s one thing to commute with your car, it’s a whole different matter using public transit.  Carrying multiple “things” on public transit can be quite a hassle.  Especially on a crowded bus.  Depending on the contract I have at the time, I have several daypacks with varying capacities.  My current one is a Targus one and so far, it allows me to carry my stuff without breaking my back Smile  Let’s also not forget if you have a company laptop to take – I got one on this last assignment, and this weekend, I needed to do some work so I brought it home.  Two items to transport – not so bad, but still….  Luckily, I won’t be bringing it home all that often.  Yet – anyway…..

With me, I don’t have a lot of spare time to just go out and take photos.  There is the odd weekend, but in reality, if I’m going to take photos, it’s going to be during noon hour.  A long while ago, I began to look for a sling bag that I could take with my on noon hour jaunts.  What I wanted to be able to do was take my ereader, iPad and a camera or two.  I also wanted something that looked “stylish” Smile  To me, that wrote off anything nylon – I was looking for something in leather or “something”.  After a bit of hunting, I found two that really caught my eye – one was a leather Mancini sling and the other was a Fossil canvas one.  The Fossil one was more money than I wanted to spend, and the Mancini was on sale, so I got it.  It was a little tighter for holding things than I liked so in the end, I got the Fossil.  It’s not that the Mancini one was bad, its actually a nice bag, but I wanted something with a little more capacity.  I went and bit the bullet on the Fossil.

Fossil_cameras1

This has turned into one of my favourite “grab and go” bags. I love this bag!! I usually have my Fuji XF1 and a travel camera in this bag.  Add an Ipad or Nexus 7 and away I go.  It has very soft sides and can expand when I buy those little things. As it gathers it’s scratches (the oiled canvas tends to pic up those scratches), it simply gains character.  It’s used typically for my noon hour jaunts, but for weekends, its also becoming my “go to” bag.  I’ve just started a new assignment and haven’t taken it downtown just yet, but soon…..  The new place, though, doesn’t have a placed where I can lock it up, so I may have to figure out a way to get it home every day – I dunno… still thinking on that one. I have some alternates in mind. 

Holidays

Depending on where one is in photography, taking photos on holidays and/or vacations can be a pretty hot topic.  I guess it all depends on perspective.  For me, there is no question that I’ll be taking photos – a LOT of photos.  Compared to what I had a couple of years to now is quite dramatic.  The bigger question – just how much gear would I take on the next one?  Smile  I’m going to answer “it depends” Smile  I’m not going to go on a holiday with the intent of taking photos.  The photos will be taken to capture moments of fun and the places that I’ve visited while I”m there.  I’m not going with the primary focus of taking pics.  Do I need more advanced gear to do that?  For me – no.  The biggest shortcoming on our last holiday was the lack of a big zoom camera.  The travel camera will resolve that on the next one.  My Fuji X10 was used to for most of the shots including the low light photos.  The pointy shooties were used by my wife and I for most other shots, like food, simple scenes.  This time around, it’s likely that I will take the X10 again, as I have enough spare batteries to shoot continuously over the span of a day, plus my travel cameras.    The bag?  The one I got for Hawaii was the Tracker sling.  It allowed me to take my X10, the iPad and my pointy shooty, complete with spare batteries, charger, my GorillaPod, etc. and room to spare.  Its one of those secure ones, so there are steel cables in the straps – the zippers can also be secured.

Trakker

There were days where  had this one me for 10 hours at a time, and it was not getting heavy.  If I’m going to a social event and planning to use the X10 or my Panasonic LX7, this is the bag that I take. 

Too early to tell yet about upcoming holidays, but right for the moment, I’m not planning a photo trip per se.  What the heck do I mean by that?  Well…. to me, this would be where the intent is photos first, fun second.  Very much so a planned shoot, for lack of a better term.  That would mean packing the gear where you are there to really “get the shot”.  You are there to take the best photo you can take and take the gear to match, if you have it.  For me, the plan is to add the Fuji XF1 to the X10 and then possibly a couple of travel cameras – most likely the Panasonic ZS25 and Nikon S9400.  The it looks right now, this will definitely be the plan.

The kicker would be if I have a chance to take a holiday AND I have some sort of social event, like a wedding in one spot.  AT that point – all the big stuff will tag along.  Most likely, the Nikon D3200 and the Panasonic GX1 – all the goodies in other words…

Getting a Little More Serious

When I acquired my Nikon 1 J1 and Panasonic GX1, the world started to take a more serious turn.  I happened on a sale for the J1 and it was worth getting to “stick my toe in” and see what this world held.  In reality, when it came down to function, my travel cameras could do more.  The bigger picture (no pun intended), was to see just how much better the larger sensors could do.  One thing with the J1 is, that it was actually meant to be used in its Auto Mode.  There’s not a lot manual about it, per se.  Even with the kit zoom and the bigger zoom, from a function standpoint, there isn’t a lot going for it.  HOWEVER, the metering is surprisingly dead on.  There’s this extra “richness” in certain photos that set it apart.  AND, it’s really not all that big.  And then there’s the Panasonic GX1.  I got this one to really look at the control side of things.  The J1 really got me intrigued and the GX1 basically was the next step.  I got the kit zoom and the bigger zoom.  The GX1 is a Micro Four Thirds camera at 16 megapixel and despite the fact that it’s a little complicated from the menu standpoint, it’s a pretty awesome unit.  I didn’t buy any more lenses for this one knowing full well a DSLR wasn’t that far away at this point.  Then there was the issue of carrying these things Smile

For both units, I had spare batteries, plus extra lenses.  What I wanted to do, was be able to carry these PLUS a travel camera as a minimum.  I really didn’t want a camera bag – I wanted something a little more substantial, and these ended up being a couple more slings.  For the J1, I found a Tamarac one and for the the GX1,  I got the National Geographic Explorer.  Both of these units have room to spare Smile

Tamarac_J1NG Explorer_GX1

Again, depending on what I’m planning to do, and usually it’s the GX1, I’ll toss a couple of smaller cameras in the sling and off I go.  In this instance, there is a very distinct intent to stop and take photos at some point.  Sometimes, it’s like that, sometimes its not Smile  The important thing here – one bag for everything.

And Then Came the DSLR

It took me almost a year to bite the bullet on the Nikon D3200.  A series of events took place that prompted me to get one.  The first event was a wedding.  It was my son’s friends wedding and it was a Chinese wedding.  I wanted to get a LOT of photos at this event – it went from about 2:00 p.m. to well past midnight.  I took 500+ photos with the majority being flash.  I used pretty well 3 batteries on the X10 and roughly 1/2 the battery on my Panasonic ZS25,  Then later in that summer, was a family reunion for my wife that ran over a weekend.  Again, lots of shots, used up battery power.  About a month after I got the GX1, there was a fashion show that my wife wanted me to shoot as a backup.  It was here where I found out what the GX1 COULDN’T do.  It wasn’t that it did bad, I found out very quickly that I didn’t have enough battery power and couldn’t control the built-in flash near as much I wanted. In the end, I did get a lot of shots, but at the same time, I did notice that the pro that was there, didn’t have the issues I had Sad smile  She didn’t need to swap out batteries, She was also doing bounce flash, which of course, makes certain shots super nice!!  More important, was flash cycling.  I was astounded at just how fast she could take shots.

The few months before I bought the Nikon D3200 and researched and researched.  Why the D3200 over more advanced models?  Well, in the end, it broke down to a couple of things.  The most important one was the fact that this was going to be a fairly low use camera (though that’s starting to change), so I didn’t want to drops tons of cash until I was sure.  The second was that it was newer technology.  The reviews were all kind of steering on towards one model up but last years model.  My conclusion was, that I would be able to use or see the difference.  The first step once I got the camera was to find a bag for it, of course.  I got the Nikon one.

Nikon Bag_D3200

This one was good for taking the D3200, charger, plus the usual accessories and had room to take another camera or two.  If I wanted to take the D3200 on one of my “out and abouts”, this actually worked really well.  BUT it didn’t really allow me to take say my iPad or even my Nexus 7, but not a big deal – I was usually in a vehicle.  The fashion show started to appear on the horizon.  I was toying with the idea of getting an external flash for either the GX1 or the D3200.  In the end, I decided it was going to be for the D3200 as that was the direction I was heading anyway.  Then it came down to which one?  I didn’t know enough nor did I have time to really research, but what research I did, was that IF I could find the SB400, which was discontinued, it would get me what I wanted and it would be inexpensive.  And it was Smile  It set me back about $130’ish.  If I had more time, I might have got the SB700, but I was a little paranoid about jumping that quick.  I found out that the shoot was merely days away not a few weeks like I had originally thought. In the end though, it probably save me a couple thousand dollars.  I was initially thinking of bumping up big.  A D7100 with the SB700 and the battery grip.  In the end, it was the SB400, a spare battery and a new sling.  For this shoot, I wanted to take both the D3200 and the GX1.  I was leaving from work, so there was also my daypack, so that took care of the extra cameras.  I had my Fuji XF1 and Panasonic ZS15.  The bag I decided to get was a LowePro Transit Sling. 

LowePro_D3200This one did carry both units quite easily with everything.  It took a bit to fit everything in, but it was no problem.  If I were driven to take the D3200 on a trip or something, lots of room just for it, plus other cameras if needed.  I then decided  to acquire the SB700.  The LowerPro could more than do what I was thinking of doing, but I started to look at what I was planning to do in the next few months and at least not have to worry about a new bag,.  The one I ended up with was the Kata 3N1 – 20 DL Sling Back Pack.

Kata_D3200_FlashThis is roughly the same height of  the LowePro, which is about right for me, but it’s got more room, so it’s more bulky but not bigger in the sense of bulkier.  It’s got more depth and that results in more room.

Both_D3200Both_sides_D3200

I really didn’t need this one, but I found it on a clear out Smile  Regular price was $129.95 and I acquired it for $49.95 – pretty hard to resist.  Yes, it took a bit to figure out the pocket configuration.  It has a bit of an awkward flap situation with locks in spots to spot the zipper from moving – safe, but awkward too.  For a big shoot where I needed to take a lot of gear, this is going to be a nice unit.  I’m currently using it just for all the D3200 gear to see how it works, and it is bulkier than the LowePro, but then again, it is a more serious bag.  For the moment, we’ll keep using it.

Staying Organized

One of the tougher things when your equipment starts to expand, is keeping things organized.  For me, I prefer to have my spare camera batteries and charger in the same bag all the time.  Basically anything related to the camera is going to be in that bag.  My SD card holder is about the only thing that will move between bags.  If I need to use one bag to combine systems, it’s all gotta be one place.  The upside – I don’t lose anything Smile  Yes, that means potentially more bags, but at the same time, everything is always in order. 

Setting It Up for Yourself – Lessons Learned

Ok – this is just a bit on my train of thought for equipment acquisition. Have I learned anything from this adventure to date?  Absolutely.

Technology Makes It Possible – When I was just taking snapshots, as long as I got something that looked good at 4 x6 inches, that’s pretty well all I thought about.  I pretty well ignored the technology for the most part.  I don’t know when I really hit that point where my interest really jumped up – I’m thinking when I got a Pentax Optio P70 or when my wife got her Panasonic FZ50, but that was when I noticed this HUGE difference in picture quality.  We still use both of these units today, though my wife actually uses a Panasonic SZ1 or XZ15 because she can fit them in her purse for the most part.  Her photos do get into newsletters, but the quality is more than adequate for that purpose.  When I look at the quality of photos from the majority of the equipment I own, I’m still astounded at what I’m getting for quality of photo.  Sure the bigger sensor cameras ultimately do a better job, but at 4×6 inch or even iPad size – well, it’s still pretty good Smile 

Personal Preferences Carves the Path – How far you take this is only for you to decide.  This isn’t just about gear.  For me, I’ve already done a lot from the 35mm days, so using digital equipment is a tool for me.  I carved my own path and still learning.  Just ‘cause you get a better camera or better gear isn’t going to make you a better photographer Smile  For me, I COULD have jumped to a DSLR a lot quicker than I did and probably saved myself a pile of dough.  I decided against that and leveraged the travel cameras to figure out the next steps.  Despite it costing me a lot more money, the things I learned, helped for future decisions.  There were a couple of hitches along the way – the Nikon 1 J1 came right in the middle of my travel camera buying spree, but it gave me a glimpse of a new class of camera that led to the Panasonic GX1.  I don’t use the longer zooms on either of these, and that ultimately led me to getting flash instead of a longer zoom when I got the Nikon D3200.  That doesn’t mean I’m not going to get one, there’s going to be a longer one attached to my D7100 Smile  When it came to getting a DSLR, the D3200 was a pretty definitive decision.  I wasn’t going to go big here YET.  Too much to learn, though I am learning very quickly. 

Studying the craft around photography is just as important.  Understanding yourself and the things you want to do with photography is every bit as important.  Get out there, take a bunch of photos, look at them.  Try all those various settings on that camera and let the camera reveal what it an do.  Don’t own a digital camera?  Moving from a smartphone to a digital?  Look at few reviews and then just buy one within your budget.  From my side – just go forward Smile  Take friends advice tongue and cheek – PLEASE…..   I give advice just as much as the next person, BUT I already have the gear and can prove my theories.  I’m still learning about DSLR’s but would never recommend one to someone new.  It’s tough enough learning the craft let alone all the buttons and dials.  You can read all you want, but you know what – nothing beats getting out there and doing your own thing.  See something in a mag or see a photo you like and makes you wonder how they did that shot?  Take your camera out there and see if you can reproduce it Smile  Don’t be scared to push your camera to its limits and find out what it can and can’t do.  If it can’t do something you want, write it down – when it comes time for the new camera, make sure it has that feature.  Look at other people’s photos.  If you have someone you know that is an avid photographer, have them look at your photos, look at theirs – find out how they took the shot.  Nothing teaches you faster than talking with someone who knows.  There’s nothing like learning and learning faster is not a bad thing – just remember to keep taking photos.  Learning is one thing, executing is another.  Despite what I know from my 35mm days, I still consider myself a newbie to a certain extent.

One of BIG pet peeves are the ones that keep telling me that the DSLR is the only way to go Sad smile  I keep asking “why” and guess what?  The answer is usually that it has better resolution, it has better control, or the most stupid one of all – “IT TAKES BETTER PICTURES”!!!!!.  Resolution I get – but how often am I going to be at 50% crop or better (this means you will be cropping out half your photo and still get a photo that is clear).  Yes, those instances do occur, but you know what?  If have something that zooms in 50% more to frame correctly, is there a difference?Smile  More important, if you are doing this consistently, you need a lesson in composition.  Control – well maybe, but you need to know what you are doing before you can exert control. The technology, to me, has brought high quality photos to literally everyone.  Moving to more advanced equipment requires some thinking and planning.  I know so many people who own DLSR’s but don’t take photos Smile 

The other one I hear a lot of is “You can always fix it in software”.  To me, to a certain extent, it tells me you did something wrong at the outset Smile  Yes, I can see using software if certain conditions stop you from getting that shot, but still, those, in theory, should be few and far between.  Yes, I’ve had situations where I knew ahead of time that I would have a lot of post processing, but I knew that going in and made sure my gear could capture at a high enough resolution that a 50% crop wouldn’t matter.  The rest – color and exposure were pretty well dead on.  My experience in 35mm taught me a lot about getting the right shot the first time.  It was expensive to get photos processed, let alone getting custom crops done.  Software today makes this easy, but that also means you shouldn’t depend on it either.  The goal should be to get that shot correct the first time. With the ability to preview with digital, there’s opportunity to get a better shot.  Until you are proficient, you can take multiple shots easily and then keep the best one.  As one advances and it does take time, you can get that shot.  Time – it takes time and it takes a lot of shots.

Example – my flash units.  Getting ready for the fashion shoot, I took over 500 shots just figuring out the flash unit itself and got confident enough to be ready.  I did get a couple of surprises but they were low impact.  Since then, I’ve also acquired the SB700 and have taken at least 500 shots with it and even more with the SB400 to compare. The shots in this post were taken with the D3200 and the SB400 with the sun coming in the window.  I did a bounce off the ceiling and then cropped a bit before converting the images down to web size.  I also used the Panasonic GX1 in the same fashion for the shots where my D3200 was “modeling”.  I used the built-in flash but still bounced the shot (The GX1 flash swivels so I can tilt it manually Smile)  It took a couple of shots to figure out the bounce angle, but in the end, it was all good Smile 

Another example – sunsets and sunny scenes.  The meters in today’s cameras are pretty good, but quite simply, in Auto Mode, they just don’t quite cut it.  Knowing your camera a bit can still get you that shot.  Most of today’s cameras have something called a Scene mode that can pre set your camera to get that shot.  The other way, is to drop the EV by –1.7 or –2.0.  Understanding exposure goes a long way here Smile  That Scene mode is actually pretty slick if you know how to take advantage of it.  I’ve found a few “gliches” though, and this goes back to knowing the camera.  Some don’t do snowy scenes so well, but underexposing will take care of that.  Depending on the camera, the sunny beach setting doesn’t necessarily bring out that clouds and sky.  Again, underexposing a bit can help.

Depending on where you want to take this, carrying you camera can be as simple as a pocket.  Many don’t advance or have any urge to do so.  That’s fine.  For the ones that do, it’ll become a juggling act.  My time constraints and the type of work I do, don’t allow me to have my higher end gear easily available at all times.  I also have a few “avenues” of interest.  Like everyone else, I do the family and social things and take photos there.  I like landscapes, architecture, and close ups.  I do renovation work with my properties and at home so I take a lot of photos of interiors and real estate and reno projects. I enjoy doing plant photography.  I also enjoy light box shots.  More recently, I’ve taken an interest in flash photography.  Is there one thing I enjoy more than another?  At this stage of the game – not really – I just like taking photosSmile  Will I ever turn pro?  Free lance ultimately, pro – probably not.  I have a couple of theories that I’m playing with but I’m expecting things to evolve.  More gear and more bags – no question that’s going to happen. 

Bottom line – as you move along your path, figure out a way to keep that camera with you all the time Smile

Mobility Thoughts and the Nikon SB400

I SHOULD be doing other things, but…… Smile  We won’t go into weather here, but we went from about 20 deg. C to very close to 0 deg C (freezing) AND with snow……  in a couple of days.  Calgary….. you say….. Streets are good enough, but lots of snow – these are at about noon’ish,

AlleyStreet

In my last post, I was mentioning an upcoming shoot and some of the things that were running thru my mind in getting ready for this shoot.  In getting ready for this, there were a couple of things I wanted to accomplish.

1.  I wanted more “fire power” and better battery life.  Last year, I was swapping batteries like crazy on both my Panasonic GX1 and Fuji X10.  I was using the in-built flash, which was fine, but I needed the flash for just about every shot due to the low level of lighting AND I needed cycle times!!  From then to now, I’ve acquired a DSLR, the Nikon D3200 AND the Nikon SB400 Speedlight AND a spare battery for the D3200.  To make this a little worse, I don’t know the new location and won’t really know until I get there due to time constraints.  UGH……

2.  The event is taking place right after work and I have to commute to the site (I’m in the downtown core, so parking a vehicle is out of the question), so lugging my daypack a couple of camera bags just isn’t going to work.  The “plan” was to take the D3200, 50mm prime, flash, the Panasonic GX1 with two lenses and associated “pieces” for everything, including chargers, batteries, etc. The plan for the GX1 is to be the backup to the D3200.

I’ll start with #2.  I’m thinking here that for most of us, as we add “stuff” along the journey, there’s the never ending story of camera cases and the amount of gear one needs to take on any one given shoot.  It stands to reason that, for the most part, we will try to take enough to get it done, but not so much on the overkill side.  So … what does one do? 

I might be different than most in the fact that I tend to carry multiple cameras as opposed to something like a DSLR with multiple lenses, etc.  For me, usually, it’s my Fossil Sling bag, a more complex camera like my Fuji X10 or XF1 or Panasonic LX7 plus one of my travel cameras.  I do carry spare batteries with me for the X10 or LX7, but I don’t have a spare on for the XF1 (this is a super small camera, and up to this point, there really hasn’t been a need for one).  IF I’m heading into something where I need to take something more advanced, i.e. events where my stuff is going beyond family, it’ll be the Panasonic GX1, lenses, etc. plus perhaps one of the travel cams. Depending on the event, I may also pack the Fuji X10.  I have a National Geographic sling that manages this quite nicely but doesn’t take up space, or is heavy either, for that matter Smile  When my D3200 gets involved, I have a Nikon bag that handles the camera, spare lens, etc. and still has room for a travel camera.

So now, I have this event coming where I do need or want to take, the D3200 with my accessories, PLUS the Panasonic GX1 and perhaps one other or maybe two.  I want a low light one, and this time I’ll take the Fuji XF1 and likely a travel camera.  AND I need something that I can carry easily along with my daypack Smile  I didn’t want it to be too big and I knew that for this particular situation, whatever bag I got was going to be cutting it close.  In other words, there wasn’t going to be a lot of expansion, in one sense for future growth.  The bag I settled on was the LowePro Transit Sling – 250 AW.

LowePro bagLowePro_inside

Sooo, it take a bit of time to figure out the partitions and arrange gear to fit easily Smile  I kinda wanted the DSLR in the top compartment instead of the flap side, but nothing I did worked that way.  Yes, it’s a little jammed up but after a few jaunts to test it, it works Smile  Anything else I looked at was simply larger than  wanted from a mobility standpoint.  That might change if I do a “deeper dive”, but for the foreseeable future, I think I”m good. 

Back to #1.  For starters, aside from using the in-built flash, I really haven’t done a lot here.  Even back in the 35mm days, I didn’t do all that much.  So in looking at today’s technology, the world has changed Smile  AND, HOLY SMOKES!!!  Talk about pricing being “up there” for even a small unit.  Now in saying, that after doing a bit of monkeying with the SB400, the $130 or so I spent on it, it look like its worth going to an external flash.  It even came with it’s own case Smile

sb400   case

My first thought was to get the bigger one, the SB700 but then reality set in Smile  The reality being that it was a real unknown just how much I would need a flash once this event was done.  In looking at the spec, it looks like this puppy can perform, especially on a set of Ni-MH batteries.  I use Sanyo Eneloops for other things, and so I’m good. 

What I was looking for initially, was the ability for rapid cycle – I’m going to need to be able to take a couple of shots in a matter of a few seconds.  There will be maybe a minute max before I need to take the next couple of shots.  If you are thinking fashion photography and ramp, you are dead on.  Candids will be a no-brainer.  Time to swap batteries?  Yes but only a minute or two.  I will need to be in that  2 to 3 second cycle range for anywhere from 20 to 30 models coming up that ramp.  That means at least 60 to 80 shots, worst case, and with any sort of luck, within 20 ft/6 m.  So.. the theory is that by using an external flash I could take the load the camera battery.  The D3200 is rated for roughly 540 shots before using the in-built flash.  As as just-in-case, I bought a spare battery for the D3200. The SB400 looks like about 200 with Ni-Mh, but that remains to be seen.  I have 3 sets of batteries plus the ones in the SB400, so all in all, if I need to get to 500 shots, the capacity is there.

So… on to more planning.  Next big thing – WHAT am I going to need over and above?  This one is a bit of a long shot in this case, but the chargers for the cameras comes to mind Smile  For me, I’ve just paranoid enough, that I’m going to take the chargers by default.  My smaller cameras?  NO, not really, though if I take either the X10 or LX7, I probably will.  SD cards – yes.  I’ve had only one blow out, and IN THEORY, something like the D7100 would be safer with two cards, but – not going to happen.  But keeping extra cards around?  Absolutely.  I try to get the highest quality and highest performance cards I can get without breaking the bank.  Sandisk and Lexar Professionals at class 10. I’m a jpeg person, so it’ll be jpeg fine at 24 MP on the D3200 (APS-C) and same for the GX1 – 16MP/Micro Four Thirds. A 16GB card on the D3200 will give me roughly 1,000 shots if I stay in JPEG, and about the same for the GX1.  I have 8 GB cards in most of the other cameras.  We’re good for shot capacitySmile  This will be a “volunteer shoot”.  In other words – free, but the other side of this is that I can get my name out there.  I”m still trying to figure out this brand thing, so this will be a good opportunity to make some preliminary connections.

The SB400 – Because this one got discontinued last year, it took a bit to find one, but I did Smile  I’ll show more once I get past the test shot stage, but my initial impression – HOLY SMOKES!!  This is one neat flash for it’s size.  It like it’s size as it’s not obtrusive on the D3200.  It doesn’t do tilt, but it does have bounce.  I’ve always liked bounce for certain shots, and this one does a great job.  Sooo… what have I found out so far?

I did do a bit of research, and one of things that the SB400 does, is over ride the ISO.  The information I was able to find showed that the ISO is set based on ambient lighting.  Depending on the mode you are in (Auto, Programmed Auto, Shutter Priority, and Aperture Priority, Manual), your shutter speed changes, for starters.  Auto and Aperture Priority and Programmed Auto syncs you at 1/60 of a second.  Shutter Priority and manual will sync you at 1/200th.   ISO in full Auto can get up quite high depending on the shot.  The rest seems to set around 400 but the indicator is showing red when you preview.  In looking at the shots, though, they did expose correctly, so maybe a little bogus. 

When I first started shooting with the SB400 and I saw that ISO 400 show up, I was a little concerned, as my usual preference around flash is either 100 or 200.  And then when I looked at the shots, that concern went away Smile  In reality, I could probably get to either ISO 800 or even higher and still get a pretty good shot with the D3200.  I also monkeyed with the bounce a fair amount and it was really amazing how well the shots came out – much softer lighting.  The kit zoom is not quite as wide as I would like, but in the future…..

One test I also ran, was to shoot a series of photos (same scene) at two or 3 second intervals to see how many shots I could get before the flash started to underexpose.  It was about 40 shots, give or take, so I turned it off for a few minutes and it was ready to go again.  Amazing.  When it does underexpose though…..

Now, a whole new area opens for me, but again, that remains to be seen.  I have to play more with fill flash, but I’m thinking the built in flash will handle that – I’ve done that already and it works great. 

Some Other Findings – In the last couple of days, in taking both the D3200 and the GX1 with me, I found myself using the GX1 more.  Mind you, that was I was doing some comparison work too Smile  BUT the big thing here, is that depending on the shot, I now have options.  The bag allows me easy access to both units. Actually my other units as well when it gets right down to it.  Snow is always tough both seeing it this time of year, but taking those shots, , but with the amount of snow we got, there are some pretty interesting shots Smile  Am I pleased so far?  Yes. 

As I mentioned before, my initial reaction would be been to run out and get a D7100 and the SB700, but time made me come up with a different approach. and it save me a a lot of money that might have been wasted. 

BerriesLIght

Onward…..

Multiple Cameras – Keeping It Interesting….

Over the last little while, for me, it’s been just busy enough at work that photography per se, has been the last thing on my mind.  Mind you, in saying that, I did catch a few neat downtown Calgary skyline shots with my Fuji XF1 and Nikon S9400 when the weather was a little “less cold”Smile  I really hadn’t noticed this skyline shot as it’s been dark when I’ve gotten to work and headed home.  It just now hit a point where we actually have daylight now earlier in the day and later in the evening.

Skyline

Up until the Fuji XF1 entered the picture, I’ve been taking my Nikon S9300 and Nikon S3400 in my daily commute as they are both very tiny.  Adding the XF1 was pretty easy as it added  very little weight.  This current contract has me going about an hour one way using public transit. 

S9400_XF1

One of the key things that attracted me to the XF1 was it’s fast lens.  At f1.8, one can do a amazing amount of low light “stuff” handheld.  My usual cameras that I take with me are would usually be my Fuji X10 with it’s f2.0 lens or the Panasonic LX7 at f1.7.  The XF1 is actually smaller, lighter, as fast, and has the same sensor as the Fuji X10, so no real worries about quality.  One of the things during my commute, is that I have to transfer a couple of times in my daily commute.  It’s bus to downtown, transfer to the C-Train (Light Rail Transit), and then another bus.  A recent new building, the Bow Tower is pretty neat first thing in the morning.  I took these with the XF1 set to EXR mode – High Resolution, Low Noise and handheld.  In reality, I have a lot of photos on this building Smile

Bow TowerHead_Bow Tower

Not too far away is shopping centre called TD Square and they have this indoor park called the Devonian Gardens.  Once in a while, I’ll stop there for a few minutes, and this spot is also a good test for low light.

Devonian GardensDevonian Gardens1Devonian Gardens2

These were taken with the XF1 in Programmed Auto.  One of the things I do like about the X10, XF1 and LX7, is their ability to do low light work.  For the things I do, they are great little units.  My current collection of cameras has been based around mobility, so this, for me goes a long way for always being ready for a shot. 

For me, this is a huge change from my 35mm days.  Digital is a whole new space that I feel has made photography more popular than ever.  Couple what one normally does in the realm for photography, plus couple this into what we are doing in social media, and how digital is being utilized, it is pretty amazing to me.  It’s only been in the last couple of years where I’ve really taken a keen interest again.  It’s not that I haven’t had a camera kicking around, we have, but we only used them for snapshots.  My wife is also an avid photographer and her “big gun” is a Panasonic FZ50, which is a few years old now, but still works fine.  She also uses a pointy shooty, a Pentax Optio P70 plus a couple of my cameras, Panasonic SZ1 and 15 depending.   For her, portability is also key.  She volunteers for a few groups, and having a larger camera is simply not convenient.  She recently got back from a trip in Europe as a chaperone representing Travel Alberta and she only took the Panasonic SZ1 and 15.  She got some fantastic photos!  She took something like 800+ photos during the week she was there.

So… multiple cameras.  I’m actually scared to count just how many cameras I own Smile  Yes, I do use them – I’m figuring at least 10 if not a lot more.  My quest started out in finding out that one camera didn’t quite do the things I wanted.  For the majority of things that I do, I’m one that finds the travel cameras are probably the most functional as an all around camera.  They’re small enough to fit in a pocket or pack and take up literally no space, They can produce very high quality photos.  Not necessarily the best for low light work, but not bad.  That’s where the X10, XF1 and LX7 come into play.  I have quite a few in this space, and each one does something a little different.  The ones I find I use the most are the Nikon S9400 and the Panasonic ZS25.  I also have a Canon SX270HD that is gaining in popularity.  If I think I’m going to need more advanced functionality (though this can be subjective), I have the Fuji F800 and Sony HX30. 

One of the things that I’ve done, and it’s told by many who are the “pros”, is to learn your equipment so you know what type of shots you can and can’t take.  I feel that for most, this is not necessarily a bad thing. BUT the average person probably won’t do that.  From my days in retail photography, which run about 15 years or so, the average person who takes photos does exactly that – take photos that only concerns the memories that want to preserve.  Those are the ones that make up most of the market.  The manufacturers, on the other hand, are trying to promote advanced capability to try and get them more interested in taking pics and as a result, get a better camera.  The problem with getting a better camera, though, is that you one needs to learn more about photography in general.  Like anything else, getting a better tool doesn’t necessarily make you better.  I understand about learning what the camera is capable of doing, but at the same time, one needs to gain some understanding of the “craft”, so one can take advantage of the technology.

For me, having multiple cameras puts a whole new meaning on handy.  My  DSLR and Compact System cameras are set  up with their own bags.  Same with the X10 and LX7.  Reason – they all have spare batteries, hoods, chargers, etc. so keeping them with their accessories keeps everything together.  For most part, the travel cameras, or pointy shooties, tend to be available all the time.

One of the things that I’ve learned from my 35mm days was that back in those days, It was the film that dictated how your picture looked after processing.  Fuji was known for it’s blues, greens, oranges & yellows.  If you wanted a combination of reds and oranges and fine grain, it was Kodachrome slide film, Kodak Ektachrome got you the blues.  The camera itself, well, quality was about the same, Nikon was the pro level, Canon was just behind, and with Pentax, Olympus, and a few others tossed into the mix.  We also had large format cameras back then – Hasselblad, Mamiya, Pentax 6×7.  Leica was 35mm but in the category of “elite”.

Today, some things have stayed the same, and a lot hasn’t Smile  Nikon and Canon are still the “goto” cameras at the high end – we still have Pentax, Olympus in there, but Panasonic and Sony are also in the game.  Lots of other players,  Sensors have replaced film and about the only one that I’ve run into that has retained some of the film characteristics has been Fuji.  Compared to the old days, everyone has something everywhere.  If anything, getting a camera today has probably never been harder.  In fact, from what I’m seeing, if your average “large photo” is around 8×10, which is about what an iPad would show, any camera can take a good photo.  To a point Smile  IF you have a sunny day, or inside the range of the built in flash, the photo quality can be quite high.  Many cameras also have pre-sets for various types of shots like snow, sunsets, certain low light situations to help the user from having to understand the technical side of things.  In watching and helping others, I’ve found that most of the people don’t even know some of these features exist. They stick it in auto and just start taking photos.  They don’t know or probably don’t care about ISO and how it can increase your flash distance or anything like that.  Interestingly, even the more advanced cameras are surprisingly automated over and above their functionality.

I’m one of those that go looking for certain things that a camera can do better than some others, and at the same time try to obtain the highest quality photo that I can get for a given situation.  If I think I’m going to crop or do much post processing, I’ll use the equipment for the photos I want to get.  My middle line cameras are my Fuji X10, XF1 and Panasonic LX7 fit that line for me.  I try always have one of those with me.  If I’m in that higher quality space, or something that I know I’ll be doing more post processing, it’ll be the Panasonic GX1, Nikon 1 J1 or Nikon D3200.  The rest are done with my travel cams and pointy shooties. 

Understanding exposure and how you can create different effects or change how shadows “play” can make for an interesting set of photos.  Today, I happened to spot one of my wife’s XMAS cactii blooming again.  She’s got quite the green thumb, but she also works in a garden centre seasonally, so to say we have plants in the house and yard is an understatement Smile  In any event, the sun was shining thru the window and I took some shots across several cameras.  I got a surprise when I used the XF1 in Programmed Auto – the image blew out way more than normal.

XF!_blowoutXF1 blowout1

This was highly unusual but a valuable lesson.  Somehow, I think, the sensor must have hit a reflection or something, I dunno.  I kicked the EV down about 1.7 and got some shots, and then used my D3200 and Nikon 1 and then a few with my Nikon S9400 and Panasonic SZ25 to test.  In the end, I ended up with these.

DSCF0146_editedxf1_comped

DSC_0599d3200DSC_0600_edited

So… it’s getting late, but in the end, having multiple cameras was a ball for today. 

Onward….

Thoughts of Spring….

Thinking about taking photos when it’s –30 deg C is not the most appealing thing to think about Smile  For the last couple of weeks, it’s been down there.  Today, it was at –15 and it felt almost like T-shirt weather!!  Not really. but it was “less cold” anyway.  I decided t go out and about a bit today and grab some groceries and go snooping.  On my journey I stopped by my local London Drugs and stopped by the camera dept to see what was happening.    Lo and behold… there was a Fuji XF1 there and on sale no less.  Now.. the last thing I needed was yet another camera.  My initial intent was to get a flash for my D3200, but when I saw the XF1, I pretty well pulled the trigger on it.

Fuji XF!_sunlightFuji XF1

For starters, the XF1 is sort of like the shrunk down version of my X10, sort of.  Smaller and thinner, with the same EXR Sensor.  AND with the classic styling of the X series, just a gorgeous little unit.  They only had the demo, but I bought it anyway.  I simply had to have it in my hot little hands.  Once I took a few pics with it I knew I made a good choice.  This is going to be a nice addition for my daypack.  I even had a case for it at home to make it neater.

Now, for me, my commuting life has changed since I got this last contract.  I’m not in the downtown core anymore – if anything, I’m a fair ways south with a transit train and yet another bus.  About an hour one way heading down and longer on the way back.  With the weather being as cold as it has, taking photos, has been out of the equation for me.  Over and above being exhausted after work, it just hasn’t been there for me the last few weeks.  The XF1 will hopefully kick start my interest.  So…. I guess the question here – why would I want this one?  Well, between the classic styling, which is what attracted me to it, is that it’s also in the same class as my  X10 or my Panasonic LX7.  Larger sensor, though not as large as my Panasonic GX1 or Nikon 1 J1 and definitely not Micro Four Thirds like in my Nikon D3200.  Don’t get me wrong, the intent is still have a travel cam with me, but to also have one onther one there for the “other shots” that my travel cams can’t do quite as well.  Low light, macro work just to name a couple.  This one has an f1.8 lens which will give those blurred out background, bokke, I think it’s called. 

DSCF0053_edited

Being Fuji, it’s also going to give me those nice flesh tones – it also has the EXR sensor which I find has been handy more times than you can imagine.  Basically, I have a smaller X10 is what it amounts to.  I saw this as a very specific use camera – a more advanced camera for my daypack. 

I don’t know about anyone else, but I don’t get that much of a chance to get out during the winter.  I also don’t make a point of going out all that much to do winter shots.  For me, it’s mostly indoor stuff. This last year, I’ve probably taken more photos of snow than any other year.  Social events, sure, camera is always handy.  Even with the cameras in my daypack, they don’t get pulled all that often.  Soon though – I was noticing on the bus ride home, that were a couple of shots where I could get a shot of the city skyline.  Something I’ve been trying to get for a long time. 

The other factor that comes into play, I’m thinking, is the type of work one does.  If one is fairly creative, but is caught in a world of analysis, like me… creative tends to go out the window unless you force yourself to be creative.  I don’t know if that statement made sense Smile  To me, creativity is a thing that comes naturally to a degree.  In photography, you “see” this shot and you figure out a way to get the shot based on your vision of it.  For many, in other fields, I’m thinking it’s very much the same pattern.  In my work as an analyst, I have to make sense of similar information coming from multiple sources or find new information in order to formulate some sort of plan.  I guess there’s some creativity there.  BUT depending on the contract, it’s also very brain intensive and winding down from that does take a while for me.  I don’t get out that much to see the landscapes, as much as I would like during the winter – my tendency is towards hot and sunny Smile  For me, this year anyway, it’s mostly been indoor stuff.  This current contract has been very brain intensive, so the purchase of the XF1, in one sense was a very good thing.

From a quality standpoint – in one sense, the XF1 fit a “gap” in my current armoury of cameras.  It gave me a very fast lens that I could stick in my daypack without adding weight to an already heavy pack.  Heck – I”m already carrying a second laptop with me as it is due to the type of work.  I needed a very fast machine for my wireframing work (it’s an application for prototyping user interfaces) plus some other graphic intensive things.  My ASUS Zenbook is a great machine for meetings, etc. but it doesn’t have the screen real estate for graphics, so I needed something with a bigger screen and faster and still light.  The machine I got was an Lenovo U530 – it’s classified as an ultrabook, but….  On my last contract, it was easy to pack either the Fuji X10 or Panasonic LX7, but this time around, they were a little heavier than I wanted. (That’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it Smile)  The nice thing about having units with fast lenses for me, is that when I do take photos, a lot was done during noon hours.  This time around, I’m in an industrial park and not even sure if my contract will last beyond the snow going away, but we’ll see.

Using the XF1 – well, in the first couple of days here, I’m in fairly familiar territory.  It’s very much like the menus that my X10 and F800 are.  My preferences in this class of camera have been towards both Fuji and Panasonic.  Why, you say?  I find that both of these units tend to give slightly richer greens and blues with less fiddling.  Usually just set up for the equivalent of a vivid setting and go for it.  No question on image quality for the things I do.  In the travel class, it all depends on what/where/when.  There, my preference is still the Panasonic ZS25, I’ll use any of them depending on what I’m doing at the time.  For my daypack, I keep the Nikon S9400 – it’s tiny, actually slim.  For weekend jaunting, it could be anything from any of the Panasonics to the Sony HX30 – it just depends on what I grab.  Don’t get me wrong – they all do well in this class.  If I move up into the Compact System area, it’s my Panasonic GX1 first and foremost – I LOVE this unit.  I also have a Nikon 1 J1 and it also has it’s place – if I need something where I need those quick shots (Summer BBQ’s, grandkids), where setup is not an option, this is the one.  This fall, I finally took the jump and bought a DSLR.  The one I got was the D3200 with the kit zoom – 18-55mm.  You know, I gave this one a loooonnnngg thought.  I could have easily jumped to either the D5200 or even the D7100, but I just couldn’t see myself using a DSLR enough to justify the bucks at this time.  Don’t get me wrong here – I probably will add either lenses or another body this year – it just depends….  At the other end of the spectrum, I still have some of my pointy shooties – a Panansonic SZ1 (though it’s not really a pointy shooty at 10x zoom), ZS15, and a couple of Nikons – S3000 and S3400.  My wife actually uses a Pentax Optio P70 a lot for her volunteer work, in conjunction with a Panasonic FZ50 (older unit – 12x zoom, semi DSLR type) as well as the ZS1 and SZ15 depending on what she needs.

Quite the array of units for our household, but you know, they all work well.  I know that many I’ve talked to, who are serious amateurs won’t even look at anything below a DSLR and I think that’s an error to a certain degree.  I keep hearing the argument about resolution and image quality all the time.  For me, it’s all about perspective and I think it’s very important to remember that.  I’m going to get a little mercenary here – all that high end gear isn’t going to do any good if you don’t have it with you, for starters!!!  I definitely agree that higher end gear can and does, in the right hands, produce stunning results that can easily dwarf what the other units can do, but to me, that’s rare.  You still need to get the shot.  To me, it’s about content – having a little grain isn’t that big of a deal.  In the world of digital today, it really is getting difficult to take a low quality pic.  Notice I said low quality – not a “good” pic Smile  You can have the best gear in the word, but if you can’t take a pic you can’t take a pic…. 

I took a sequence of photos over about 6 months of a building being demolished across from where I worked.  I took these every few days from 3 locations for the most part.  I couldn’t have done this with a DSLR even if I owned one.  Quite simply would have been too much of a hassle weight wise for me.  It might have been different if it was my job to do that but it wasn’t.   As I acquired various units, that building actually became a bit of test bed to test what the cameras could do.  To make it worse I had to take the shots from literally across the street, and many of them required some pretty big zooms.  A lot in the 10x to 20x area.  If I had a DSLR maybe, just maybe I might have been able to crop and preserve detail, but then again, in the end, it was a non-issue – my travel cams handled that without blinking Smile  I’ve had numerous times when I’ve been out doing some shopping and stopped take photos of houses that were for sale – again the wide angles that the travel cams had paid off.  I’ve had numerous times where I’ve had either the J1 or GX1 with me along with the travel cams and the travel cams were still used as the wide angles weren’t wide enough on the other units.  I could have perhaps purchased wider angle lenses for the GX1, but you know, for what they want for one of those, I could have got a couple of travel cams, and I did Smile

On my last contract, there were a lot of times when there were concerts on the streets, festivals close plus other events.  There were a bunch of co-workers there who were DLSR users – when they saw my pics, they were shocked at how quality they were coming from a “toy” camera.  Most important, I got the shots – to me, that was all that mattered.

A Few Days In With My Nikon D3200

I’ve been finding that using my new Nikon D3200 has been a nice break from job hunting.  Actually, when it comes down to it, I’ve been using a few of my cameras.  My job search nowadays is running in the order of 6 to 8 hours with breaks in between, so doing something that is a total diversion has been a welcome break.  When you toss in phone interviews, etc., the days run longer.  My last post, took a few days to get done, which is unusual for me – I usually like to create a post in one sitting.

So… what have I been doing with the D3200?  Well, so far, I’m at about 500 or so shots in a few days and trying to determine the how’s and where’s.  I’ve been taking it with me when I leave the house to go “out and about”.  Using my light box, of course, and also using it to try some interior/architecture type shots.  We had a bit of an overcast day with scattered sunshine and I stopped on the way back from grocery shopping at a little park near me to grab a few shots to see how well it works.  The other day, it was colder but sunny so I grabbed a couple of shots at Nose Hill (a natural environment park just up the street from me). 

Bushfrozen berriesNose Sign_BeddingtonthistleTrail Marker

Initial Thoughts

For starters, this does feel heavy compared to my other cameras Smile  Even though it’s smaller than the other Nikon models, it still feels heavy.  Going back to the viewfinder is very different.  BUT – the camera kinda feels like an old friend.  By that, I mean it’s a “comfortable” feeling.  It is very different having an LCD panel on the back where you can make adjustments on the fly.  This part is something that I’m really enjoying.  It’s bringing me back to my 35mm days in a hurry Smile  I’ve tried both Auto, Programmed Auto and some of the scene modes across several resolution modes.  There’s this Guide Mode that’s also pretty neat for some preset stuff. Am I seeing differences from my other cameras?  Well, yes and no Smile  The 24 MP resolution – I’m using both normal and fine – I’m noticing that depending on the type of shot, there’s a noticeable “richness” in the shots, and no question on resolution – actually, ever so slightly sharper but only if you know where to look.  For the most part though, I’m so far loving using it.  Because I’m not working, I’m able to spend a bit of time with the camera to learn it.  Not a common thing for me.  If I were working, I may not have bought it when I did.  In fact, I may not have even bought a DSLR.

The big things for me are how fast it starts up and battery power.  Some of my still shooting sessions would have had me swapping batteries.  Because I’m not in commute mode, the extra weight is not an issue at this time.  The viewfinder was a little smaller than I was expecting but not annoyingly so.  It’s going to be a time thing.  Definitely easier to use in bright sunlight.  AND, it’s fast between shots.  There’s really not a lot amateur about this one even though it’s classified as an entry level DSLR.  For me, it’s got plenty of controls for what I want to do.  

The flash unit works quite well and this one allows for control of the power, which makes this a big plus for this unit.  If anything, the next accessory I get will probably be a flash unit.  Not a powerful one, but adequate for simple stuff.

The Kit Zoom

The zoom on the unit I got was the AF-S Nikkor 18-55 f3.5 – 5.6.  The reviews are saying that this isn’t the sharpest zoom to match what the sensor is capable of, but from what I’m seeing so far, it’s more than adequate for what I’m doing.  The more serious amateur may want something better, but you know, I’m basically taking what I would call pretty “average” type pics for a fairly serious amateur.  The 35mm equivalent from what I can figure out, is about 28mm to about 90mm.  So – for me, medium wide angle to portrait.  In reality, I would consider this a pretty nice all round zoom.  It’ll cover most of the things that I do.  I would have liked wider angle and a bit more telephoto, but that may come with time.  We’ll see as time goes on.  A little faster would have been nice, but it hasn’t been annoyingly so.  Slightly longer would also been nice, but again, so far, it hasn’t been an issue for what I’m doing.  

The “Fit”

So what do I mean by that????  Well, the D3200 is considered an entry level DSLR.  When I looked at these, I had a few options. 

1. I could have gotten an earlier model, the D3100 for less money – $100 or so, which would have made it a pretty inexpensive unit and probably more than adequate for anything I would be doing Smile

2. I could have gotten a D5100 for about $50 more than the current D3200.  A more advanced unit but lower resolution, less processing power, plus some other “nigglies”.

3.  I could have also gone whole hog and jumped to the D7000 series which would put the unit just under the full frame sensor units.

4.  I could have got the D5200 – slightly more advanced but also a couple of hundred more than I wanted to spend at the time.

I really looked hard at what I was doing with my photography.  You see, I already have a lot of units to begin with. If anything, the LAST thing I needed was a DSLR.  If it wasn’t for a sale on the D3200, I probably wouldn’t have bought it.  The more serious stuff could easily be handled with my Compact System cameras and everything else could easily be handled with my other units.  I think I’m sitting on about 10 cameras at this stage and all of them get do get used. What I was after was battery power, for starters and faster access to controls for certain conditions.  PLUS – I simply wanted to get into that technology Smile  The D3200 gave me very current technology and was advanced enough to manage the more serious events like I’ve already done.  The one shortcoming of the Compact System Cameras I’ve found, is battery power.  It’s not something that a spare wouldn’t handle, but for the ones I’ve been shooting, it would have been easier to simply not swap out batteries. 

One BIG advantage now, for me, is that with the D3200 AND say, my Panasonic GX1, I can cover virtually anything with some thing like the Fuji X10 or Panasonic LX7 as additional backup and for low light stuff.  Neat!  Rather than lenses, I can use cameras and in one sense, faster too.

Where – Now this is something I’ve been thinking about a lot Smile  For social events involving family – not likely.  I have my other smaller units.  What I’m thinking here is when there is basically a need where it would be to my advantage to take the D3200.  Sounds a little funny, but I have all these other cameras.  It’s not like the D3200 is my only unit.  For moment, I’m taking it everywhere to just get familiar with it.  I don’t anticipate doing this in the near future – especially if I start working.  This last little while, I’ve been taking it with me along with a couple of travel cams.  I also did this with Compact System Cameras.  Yes, I have dedicated bags with enough space free to drop in an extra camera or two.  I was swapping around between my Compact System Cameras and the D3200 for light box work.  Zooms are about equivalent, though the Nikon 1 J1 was slightly wider.  For the type of stuff I was doing, having the rear LCD panel was definitely easier to use than the viewfinder.  Holidays – not likely.  I got my travel cams for that.  My travel cams get me out to 20x zoom and wider than my Compact System and DLSR zooms in a package about a 1/5 the size.  AND good quality.  Sooo…. it breaks down to this combination of absolute higher quality vs the “situation” where having a unit like this would be an advantage over the others.  Weddings would be one.  Public social events where I’m going to be either the main photographer or the back up and I need the battery power.

Or maybe some of my real estate stuff or stuff where extensive cropping might be involved.  Real Estate is an interesting area in it’s own right.  I’m tending toward residential stuff as I am directly involved there with my properties.  Most of my stuff is from the investment and rental side, so in one sense, it’s pretty straightforward stuff.  You need “selling shots” – or shots that show off what the rental has to offer.  Also, though, there are shots for reference as well.  Over the years I’ve been doing this type of shots, it’s been one of those “learn as you go” type things.  I don’t just take those room shots – I’m doing everything from holes in the wall, edges, furnaces, water heaters, etc.  When I was doing this with my travel cams, one of the things that I found was very handy was to be able to take a photo of say a utility room and be able to enlarge the photo to look at various things within a room.  I’m hoping the larger sensor in the D3200 will allow this better.  18mm isn’t wide enough for me for real estate type shots – that’s way the travel zoom cameras are so nice.  What I’m usually after when I shoot rooms, is to be able to take a complete wall as a minimum.  OR on the flipside, if you need to capture a kitchen or living room you don’t have to be far away or even worse, to have to take a couple of shots to manage this. 

Onward…..