Making the Photo Maker

clip_image001We were taking some team shot photos at work this week we used $300 pocket sized camera. It did not have had all the fancy lenses but it did the job well.

I wonder how many people think to use a camera to grab a whiteboard image or a key document that can be used as a record to revisit of a discussion. It’s a powerful way to make sure things get done. Even just using your phone camera is just as effective.

Over lunch it got us to talking about cameras and we recounted some things that are important. As I reflect on it was mostly about how to capture the subject and in the case of personal shots to make them more interesting.

A short time ago a friend, who knew I was a shutter bug, asked me for some advice on buying a camera. I happily provided it for her and since it has since been requested by some friends including my work colleagues . So even though it is not directly about business, I decided to post it here.

I just know a little bit about cameras but I enjoy using them.

I have had many cameras over time but in the digitals I have only Nikons and Canons in the SLR class. Both are very good but each is distinctly different.

Understanding how to modulate the variables on a camera however needs consistent use. So like I do now, I recommended to stick to one.  These days my preference is Canon. Which is a great value a high quality ubiquitous SLR leader?

My first entry into digital cameras was a Nikon SLR promoted by these makers as state of art. Making the switch from film based was a dismay. On the Nikon, an early series Coolpix I found the processor slow and I had many disappointments with photos.

image I also had to have it repaired a couple of times under warranty which required me to go back to Singapore where I bought it. Luckily it was on my frequent travel path but my advice after that experience is to go for processor speed over pixel size and be wary of warranties fine print. Nikon SLR’s, of course are now are 7 years more advanced and very responsive and reliable.

In the meantime Canon had broken through the processor issue, so I converted. Armed with my new Canon 20D I found the learning very easy with basic functions the same as their legacy versions. I also found I could mount my old lenses from my pre-digital EOS Canon.

Incidentally my best ever camera was the Rolls Royce of film – an Olympus OM20 that I learned much of my photography on. I still keep it as a collector’s item and occasionally pick it up and take phantom shots, just to hear the shutter motion.

Unfortunately, Olympus lost the leader spot to Canon research and development superiority, so I did not go digital with them. But their SLR cameras now seem good.

The Canon EOS 50D is one of the the latest versions I have used and it is well written up in Dpreview This 15.1 Megapixel camera , with 6.3 frames per second uses Canon’s latest DIGIC 4 image processor to delivers unparalleled speed and resolution.

Oddly the Canon site itself there has some bad reviews perhaps written by Nikon enthusiast. Customer loyalty is also clearly alive there based on one comment that says “Eat your heart out Nikon!!”http://reviews.usa.canon.com/3798/17499/reviews.htm.

This semi-professional camera is simple to use and designed for amateur enthusiasts like me. The 50D model has the LCD preview option. This move clip_image002[1]was to cater for digital amateur market now familiar with a picture window preview. I am still wary of the preview LCD being a draw battery power.

What makes a professional prefer SLR is having the view finder.  Not that I am professional but I love the view finder as I can sense much more intuitively when to take the shot.

Looking through the lens let’s you see for example that split-second view of your subject that gives you the rush to hit the button.And then as you hear that shutter go click, you know you just got a special moment.

And sometimes this is in less than 500th of a second from reflex to result. Like this one (right) I took at a theater restaurant of this comedy shot.

For good information on cameras, I recommend Digital Photography Review. It reports on all major brands with information and reviews in a consistent advisory format. Under the heading “Picture Style” choice of six pre-sets list are sounds like a very useful for ease of use function for us amateurs:

  1. 1. clip_image003Standard – for crisp, vivid images that don’t require post-processing
  2. 2. Portrait – optimizes color tone and saturation and weakens sharpening to achieve attractive skin tones
  3. 3. Landscape – for puncher greens and blues with stronger sharpening to give a crisp edge to mountain, tree and building outlines
  4. 4. Neutral – ideal for post-processing
  5. 5. Faithful – adjusts color to match the subject color when shot under a color temperature of 5200K
  6. 6. Monochrome – for black and white shooting with a range of filter effects (yellow, orange, red and green) and toning effects (sepia, blue, purple and green).

In the past I have preferred to to do the post processing myself so item 4 may be best for me. But with Canon doing the work now it may give me more time for that beer.

Understanding the camera features is one more thing; this clip_image004includes understanding the power of using manual settings and choices of ease of use of common settings on the wheel (top left) and menu management functions on the back buttons. Users generally agree these management functions make it all quite easy. This version has the back buttons on the bottom (rather than side previously) to make space for a larger LCD.

There is a great deal to know about lens quality too. Good third party lenses, such as Tamron can be sourced. I use a general purpose Canon EFS 17-85, with antis-hake technology. I also carry a Tamron 70-300 with a 180-300 Macro or portraits and close-ups.  55mm is the standard.

image The Canon EF-S 18-200mm with an aperture range of F3.5-5.6 is offered as a kit lens with the EOS 50D camera. This is a good option. The downside is the bigger lens makes an overall size difficult to handle. But offsetting that changing lenses that you need to carry needs care.

When swapping lenses there is always a high risk of accident or damage. Aside wear and tear, should the bayonets get bent it may render your camera useless, or worse, they fail to seat properly and your lens falls and is destroyed.

I have some questions on the paying the high price for anti-shake too as it has some trade off on weight It does is not have value at on high focal lengths anyway and seems to have lost favor or is bundled in later models with the premium traded for more advance functional value for money.

imageIf you need one for very high quality shots a fixed 55mm focal length lens is sometimes recommended. But for most a 17-85 or 18-200 versatility is enough.

Speed today is so good but when you need a very steady shoot, uses a tripod. 

In low light settings for example requires slower shutter speeds. When shooting still life objects at say 30th of second or time exposures, any movement, even caused by the pulse in your thumb, will cause blur?  The tripod leaves the camera free to work out exposure and then gather enough light to get an image.

imageFiller flash is not so useful for night shots as it miss-times, but it is a must on a sunny day to remove shadows falling on a subjects face.

What is important especially at the higher zoom end is lens quality to allow the maximum light and fastest shutter speed with longest depth of field. The camera light processing (ISO/ASA) can be an aid but generally it is the lens power that is needed.

Taking shots inside a cavern, like this one Hanoi needed a tripod and time exposure.

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The newer Tamron18 -270 Zoom lens is good all purpose lens. This wide angle to long range zoom tool has a good low end aperture at 3.5. (Lower the number the better) and beats having to carry a separate portrait lens. It is positioned as a alternative to the Canon 18-200. One thing to know about lenses is the lower the aperture F stop the higher the quality. It also gets very expensive as it gets smaller.

Anything below F3 with zoom may be bank breaking and for most amateurs and is not needed.Flexibility to get close ups is as important as is being able to be close.

clip_image009Then you can see the nose hair on the dog across the park or even more interesting things. Like here on my flying expedition last year taken by my sons from the ground.

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And in poor light with a still-life subject a fixed camera with slow shutter speed is better than by a good penetrating flash which must be used for similar live shots. And don’t forget Photoshop does wonders.if the base is ok, So try to get that right.

image At the opposite end you of the spectrum; you need the ability for wide shots. A wide angle lens is good to get shot of your whole family gathering say in the airport when they come to say farewell. If you use one it saves volunteer taking the shot having to back up across the airport to get it.

imageWide angles are great eye-catchers too, as you get some much more in.  The fish eye effect imagecan sometimes be fun. Like these graduating students. (left)

The one on the right was a wide angle shot.

Another example below is this re-photographed album item, an aging film shot. What it shows is everyone included from less than 2 meters away for this 1986 family gathering at my image father’s family home.

It was taken on an Olympus OM20 using an 16mm wide angle on ASA 400 paper. For the original I used my OM20 on a tripod with 8 second time so I could get into the picture too.

The quality is poor here as I just re-photographed it still stuck under the plastic sheet in the album, with my 92 year old Aunt at her nursing home where I visited her a few weeks ago.

Ok so here is the value if pixels. Pixel density on digital shots is now equal to and better than the old emulsion film. This one taken on my Canon 30D, has been clip_image015zoomed up at least 100 times on the computer off the original and the quality is still good. Here the eyes look a bit more alive than they did on the head shot at the top of this post. The rule is the more pixels for density. But of course who wants to see blackheads from 100 paces.

Unlike my early experience, with speed now resolved, big sizes are also possible. But there are tradeoffs shooting everything on max. Such as, clip_image007can we handle the disk space?

Plus sharing is a big an issue now on email. And even using blogs and publishing services like WordPress. Picasa, Windows-Live, Facebook etc. these restrict or automatically resize uploads anyway.

So unless the needs more enhancement once processed, consider the storage size.

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On the flip-side this 400 times zoom (same photo) although it is starting to blur, it is still quite good, And we learn that despite losing his head on occasions, we can still see Jai seems to take care of his teeth.

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But it is not all about zoom either. These photos (above) used a very high quality lens and long depth of field.

These shots see high clarity on the subject in focus made sharper to the eye with the more distant objects de-focused.  For this you would likely use a 600mm lens and or Photoshop for enhancing to improve quality.

It is all a bit like the weather isn’t it. Hard to work it all out. Especially inimage a few seconds when you see a shot you want to take. And then having to mess around thinking about what settings you need can lose it. What is important in the SLR cameras is the marriage of camera, lens and photographer.

And that is why most people just buy the digital box brownie of 21st century. Like pocket size Olympus F series, Sony Sure shot, Canon Cyber shot and or one of the SLR look a-likes that all that have great standard stuff with a bit of +- zooming to make you more than just an average Antony Armstrong Jones.

But using the SLR still gives you that special shot that nothing else in the amateur class can. And pain is worth it for the rewards, knowing what you can do if you just try. It is impossible to go back once you start it.

Like Fly fishing, once you take it up. Big game, fancy pole fishing, ice fishing and so on can never be revisited as a real option. SLR digital is the same and has now come of age and near better than anything else you can imagine.

clip_image019When I took on photography I leaned quickly it needs lots of patience, money and a small degree of nouse. E.g , if I wanted to photograph birds , I should get there before the them.

These days the money is not so much an issue as we only have the camera to worry about, given all the rest is small beer.

The cameras are now so smart; you can take your time. But clip_image020there is still a high learning curve, but it is mostly still about understanding what is on the other side of the camera and how to make the subject come alive.

You may consider too that spending your time and money on learning may be clip_image022worth starting in the second hand market. There are any numbers of enthusiasts out there who simply like to upgrade. Me too. And you can pick up a good model 1 or 2 versions back quite cheap; perhaps have a look at eBay to start with.

This collage was compiled from shots taken by a proud Dad of our daughter Kate Wood’s graduation in December 2008. This formally launched her at an industry attended Gala event clip_image023to lay claim for her place as one of the “to-be” leading fashion designers.

With an elite group (love it) of 15 others graduating from the Melbourne School of Fashion, professional models paraded amazing creations on a catwalk display in front of about 400 guests.

Once armed with some education on basics there you can research and compare from as you wish. Like a good dining out menu it is worth ready up on. And using the same metaphor, so you can enjoy what you are eating more.

Doing this in photography and learning about your camera is part of the fun of knowing what is possible too. Then it is mostly time and patience.

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