Sunday, January 11, 2009

more on cameras

I am still thinking about this whole camera buying, and by extension testing and reviewing thing.  I also just re-visited an old favourite photoblog of mine, belonging to Sam Jarouvnah at the Daily Dose of Imagery.  He always impresses me, not least with his blogging stamina!  I really like his bold, wide angle record of city life, especially as Toronto gets proper seasons and doesn't just look the same all year round.  Anyhows, on scrolling back through the days I came across his note to a snow bound Christmas Eve shot:

I’m playing with the Canon 5D Mark II and so far it's been really great. The resolution and the detail is remarkable. And after shooting hundreds of frames for over an hour in snow storm it proved to be really weather resistant. The camera was completely wet and the wheel at the back was frozen so I had to break the ice to turn it but the camera came out unharmed and performed great. I'll post more impressions later.

Now that is what I call worthwhile camera testing.  None of those stupid test cards or set up shots in studios and endless specification disection.  Sam's review is of the kind that would have me outside Jessops on Monday morning, waiting for them to open.  Well, almost... 

Camera testing for me usually takes the form of trying to shoot in dingy artificial light and get a decent photograph.  Cat Power came for Christmas, should really watch that at some point...

MIR-1 37mm at f/2.8, 1/125th sec, 800 ISO

As a footnote to anyone in Hull.  Next time you're near the St Stephens shed, take a quick look at the massive photographs of the great Hull lifestyle that you all live, that have been blown up on the walls in there.  Check out the terrible chromatic aberation left totally uncorrected.  Now when the image is going to be 30' high, that might be the occasion on which a little pixel peeping might just be worthwhile...

Saturday, January 10, 2009

on cameras

A friend has asked me to share some of the knowledge that I have surely amassed over my many years as a photographer and give him some advice on buying his first digital SLR.  It is not the first time that I have been asked for camera buying tips and surely not the last, and of course I am always happy to share my thoughts.  I get to pretend that I know what I am on about. 

The thing is, I am not sure that I can actually help.  I am always reminded of Mike Johnston (TOP hero) and his advice on buying a digicam a while back.  Though he made his point back in May 2007, I am sure it still stands up fairly well.  His wise thoughts, based on experience?  “I won't keep you in suspense. Here's the upshot: they're all shit.” 

Harsh I guess.  But also true if you are actually interested in learning the craft.

taken with my phone; soft, fuzzy guesswork (with optical slave SB-26
on floor, camera phone right)

But what about dSLRs?  Does our consumer marketplace let us budding visual artists down in the same manner?  Well I am going to venture that the opposite is probably (almost) true.  And no thanks to any marketing department or camera reviewer.  You might get a slightly gloomy dark viewfinder, or jpgs that bear a passing resemblance to a watercolour, or end up cursing a crazy system of buttons and menus (you’ll get the hang in the end).  But all said and done, the camera will do what a camera should do.  Of course some will do it better, but in general that has more to do with how much you spend and what is most important to you as a potential photographer.  And better is subjective and not a simple black and white thing; an amalgam of a bit sharper here, a bit slower there, a handy feature here and a strange omission there.  In short, choice certainly is not all it is cut out to be. 

Mike’s point was not to put off a potential camera purchase, no matter what your budget. Again, here is where choosing that SLR should follow a similar thought process.  If we take the approach that we are selecting a means to an end (to take pictures), then it takes that tricky, specification-comparing decision process out of the hands of endless hours with Google and firmly back in the realm of ‘a good use of your time’. That done, the best is still to come; so get on with it and get out looking for that glorious, northern British January light.  Pick a little silver box and accept the endless limitations – and go and make pictures.  Pick a black chunk of high tech glass and plastic – and go and actually learn about depth of field, why people like me spend £600 to own f/2.8.  And go and make pictures. 

taken with my D200, SB-26 remote triggered, on floor, camera back left

To close, and I hope clarify, I would like to share a little more of Mike’s views on digicams, point-and-shoot boxes, digital instamatics, call them what you will: 

I don't mean "shit" as a pseudo-hip way of registering a connoisseur's disapproval of the demotic or an enthusiast's disdain for the democratic. I mean that despite their cunning little shiny bodies and technologically marvelous innards, as cameras they're little stinking turdlets of fresh, steaming excrement. Yageddit? Poo. Stool. Just north of camera phones. And when I say they're all shit, I don't mean most of them are shit. Eighty percent of them are horrible, outrageous, awful, a swindle on the public and a fraud perpetrated on their purchasers. And the other twenty percent are really bad. Bah-dum-pah.

What a guy.

Oh, there is another point, vaguely worth making here.   The pound is not about to rally anytime soon, camera prices will only go the wrong way...