Camera Recommendation

I recently got asked for a camera recommendation for someone who might want to get into photography. I view this question as a pretty simple one — it doesn’t matter which camera you use. Photography is the art/science of capturing light, and almost any camera will do a decent job of it. I remember owning a plastic Flintstones camera as a kid (120 film format), it took acceptable photos. I’m pretty sure the limit of any photographic device (including the camera in my phone) is the person using it.

That said, people always want more detailed recommendations, so here’s my advice. If you really want to get into photography, start with a fixed-focal length camera. Zooms add too many variables (and design comprises) to be useful when you’re first starting out. Smaller and lighter is better; the best camera in the world doesn’t do any good sitting on a shelf at home. Finally, get something with at least one manual dial (preferably two).

With those criteria, I’d say the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF2 is a reasonable choice. It uses the micro-4/3 lens system, but with adapters you can even tack on older manual lenses from a wide variety of manufacturers. It’s small considering it can take multiple lenses, and it even has a dial for setting shutter or aperture. The biggest problem is that it’s not out yet (but it’s due any day now). The previous version (Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1) is available and, except for being slightly bulkier, is probably an even better choice.

Another camera I’d consider is the the Ricoh GR Digital III, or if you absolutely have to have a zoom lens, then the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5. Both are compact cameras (they fit in a jacket pocket), and have the fastest lenses going for their feature set. Fast lenses mean you won’t have to depend on the built-in flash as often (and that’s a good thing).

If you must have a DSLR, there’s no hope for you. At least buy a Canon…that way you won’t be borrowing my Nikon lenses. Truth be told, there’s not much difference to talk about between the two, but for whatever reason my friends keep buying the Nikons (even though I keep recommending the Canons). I hear good things about the Nikon D3100 and the Canon Rebel XS (EOS 1000D). But really you have to ask yourself why you’re going the DSLR route, unless you already have (expensive) film lenses you want to use with these cameras. If you do, buy whichever camera matches your lenses best.

No matter which camera you choose, the best upgrade is making the photog better. Check out Strobist for how to fix-up yours.

France 2009 photos

kim+sandroI finally got around to posting the photos from our trip to France on my Flickr photo stream. I didn’t bother editing the photos at all, otherwise I’d be posting them to the photo blog. Let me know which photos you like, and I’ll edit them for the photoblog.

You can see them here.

There are more pictures from the Tour de France including some panoramas I took on the new website:

TOP: Get and use a Leica

leicaOver at The Online Photographer blog there’s been a bit of a ruckus over their suggestion to spend a year using a Leica to develop photo skills. I think their suggestion is valid, and mostly a reasonable (if somewhat inconvenient) thing to do.

You can find the initial and follow-up posts here:

I do own all the equipment necessary to run this experiment, and I might go ahead and try to. But even for others there is a lot to be said for trying out this tactic for a year to improve one’s skills. I was surprised to find that when I shoot with a Leica there’s a visible difference in the style and quality of the photos I make. Also my M4-2 is a pretty simple camera (no built-in metering), so I’m in total control (and have complete responsibility) for the images I produce. It doesn’t take long to realize that all of the buttons, switches, and menus only serve to make using the modern digital camera tedious to use. There’s also a serious advantage to shooting film, you become more cognizant of the costs of taking shots. You learn patience and the need to “get” the shot instead of just pulling the trigger at random. Then at a later time, you get to review your work and consider how to change your shooting style to improve. If I were a working photojournalist I’d go digital to guarantee the photo, but for a hobbyist film serves as a mechanism to instill distance between the shot and self-critique. Lastly, and possibly most importantly, a Leica allows you to focus on the event around you. There’s no chimping, no fiddling with small switches, or other things to steal your attention.

Overall I agree with the TOP recommendation, and suggest if you have the means, you give it a try as well. Either way, if you’d like to go take some photos, let me know in the comments — I’d be happy to have the company.

Of photo club and practice

Last week, I managed to swing by a Terrapin Photo Club Meeting (#60). I had a pleasant enough time, though I was struck by two things:

  1. Man, these people are young.
  2. There were surprisingly few photos of people

I know taking pictures of people is difficult. You have to overcome the inherent sense of voyeurism, but I think photographing the human condition has the widest reach as a photographic art form. Maybe that’s why I’m drawn to street photography, peering into the .

The meeting itself was mostly composed of viewing 30-70 photos taken by club members and providing commentary. Praise was given liberally and genuinely, and the occasional suggestion for improvement was always constructive. Novice photographers would benefit greatly from the format they used. The advice was a bit too textbook for most experienced photogs to get much from, although it’s always nice to have your intuitions confirmed. I felt that the audience didn’t give enough artistic license to the photographer — a larger problem overall than anything else that night.

I don’t know if I’ll attend regularly, but it was an interesting experience. My best photos are always taken when I have the time and inclination to become part of particular flow — to view people and events from the inside. I find that other photographers move at too fast or disjoint a pace for me to capture anything I truly appreciate. It makes wanting to be part of photo club a tough thing for me. What I’d like the most in a photo club is a push (or the occasional shove) of motivation to get out of my normal routine and connect with new experiences and spaces. Depending on what the Terrapin Photo Club does for activities this year, maybe I’ll participate more, maybe not.

Shooting in Raw

You should use your digital camera’s raw shooting mode.

It’s a simple statement, but many don’t use raw mode while making photographs. Their primary excuse seems to be that using JPEG mode requires less space on (expensive) flash memory cards.

But the simple fact of the matter is that unless you’re shooting in raw you’re throwing away information that can let you rescue marginal photos.

When dealing with any mode besides your camera’s raw format, information that might not be visible on the LCD or even your computer screen, is thrown out to save space. Many people are fine with this, until the time comes to correct problems with their photos. When an image is too dark, too light, or has a strange color cast from indoor lighting, raw mode gives you the flexibility to use the extra information recorded when you made the photo to correct these problems. While some image editting programs do not support editing raw mode photos, the software that came with your digital camera usually does.

Here’s an example of a photo that I shot 2.5-stops too bright, and the corrected image I created from the raw mode data.

megan+umbrella1.jpg     megan+umbrella2.jpg

Now, some would say that one of the benefits of using a digital camera is the ability to recognize failed shots, and retake them immediately. But unfortuantely, you can’t always recreate the moment. A fleeting expression on a child’s face, the once-in-a-lifetime brush with celebrity, or even just the particular fall of light, hair, and expression on your subjects face might never come again. Once missed the decisive moment may be lost forever.

So, how many of you use raw now, and are you going to give it a try?

Frugal Photography

I’ve was thinking aobut putting up a blog devoted to DIY/cheap photographic equipment. It would link to the large number of DIY projects already on the web, and I’d add my own personal thoughts and ideas. I’m not positive it would be much of a resource though. If anyone’s interested in reading such a blog, leave me a comment and I’ll keep considering it.

In the mean time here’s some links to free/DIY type photographic stuff that I’ve found so far:

Free Photo Software:

Adobe Lightroom Beta
Adobe has made a public beta of their soon-to-be released photo workflow program available for free. The Mac version is available now, the Windows version will be available soon.
A free image editting program brought to you by the fine folks at Google. Currently available for Windows and Linux. Downloading Picasa from the following button, earns this site $1 and it costs you nada.
An open-source editting program that mimics the functionality of Adobe Photoshop. GIMP is available for: Linux/Unix, Mac, and Windows, but can be a unwieldy since it uses other open-source tools for display (noteably XFree86).

DIY Projects:

Paper Camera
What could be more DIY than making your own camera out of paper. These guys have put together their own version of the czechoslovakian Dirkon paper camera of the 1970’s
Strobist SSO-CLK
Instructions for putting together a quality, portable flash rig on a budget.
Process your own film and save. DIY and cheaper to boot!
LED Ringlight
There are a lot of ringlight projects out there, this one is more complicated, but the results are pretty professional looking.
Macro Extension Tube
Make macro photos with the lens you already have and $10 in easy to find parts.
Softlight Panel
A light diffusion panel and stand made from PVC
An economical lightbox for product photos
Everything you need for a small DIY photo studio. I like the SSO-CLK from above better, but this might suit some people more.