Close, or far, or both? I have looked for a new camera that would satisfy all of my needs and have been trying to decide what I prefer to photograph. My problem is that I can’t separate the type of camera that I prefer from the types of images I’m likely to be making.
When it comes to cameras I prefer a mirrorless rangefinder style that is small, lightweight, and discreet to use around people. When it comes to what I photograph, I find that I often need the versatility of a DSLR and longer focal length lenses. If I want to use just one camera, which should it be? Do I need multiple cameras? Should I concentrate on a limited type, or range, of photography?
I have sold my Pentax K-3 and all of my Pentax lenses since I was finding that I really wasn’t, often couldn’t easily use it. I have tried to utilize my micro 4/3 gear for most of my photography lately, but while it works for most, it sometimes fails me. This has led me to try a DSLR one more time. I started with the lens. I liked, and found that my Pentax 18 – 135 mm lens was a very versatile focal length that covered most of my good light photography; but the lens had not-so-good image qualities. I then reviewed the Fuji 18 – 135 mm lens, but while a lot better than the Pentax, it still had some issues. What surprised me was that I found the Canon 18 – 135 mm lens looked better in the reviews, so I decided to try it. I ordered a Canon 70D and the 18 – 135 mm lens.
I could have tried just the lens on my Canon SL1 but while it is OK, it just doesn’t have some of the features and controls that I prefer for a one-and-only camera. Since the Canon 70D had what I wanted in way of features and was on sale, I have ordered one to try.
One thing driving me back to a DSLR, is to be able to photograph images similar to the above ones. The above are images made through my window with the Canon SL1 for illustrative purposes. I like to be able to make images that contain subjects both near and far, in low or/and contrasty light, and be able to select what I want to be in focus. In the one, the sun had come up and was shining straight at me behind the curtain. The horizontal bands are the venation blinds that I was shooting through while focusing on the distant tree limbs (approximately 80-100 yards away) using the single center auto focus point and the 55 – 250 mm Canon lens. The second was also taken through the window during one of our snows using the same lens.
In addition, I find that I am often a “run and gun” photographer. I like to leave one lens on my camera and have it at the ready and pick it up and quickly take a picture like above using the program mode. These are all features that a DSLR camera does best.
If I can’t find a camera that works for me in the modes I like, I might restrict what I photograph to fit a different style of camera. I plan to try the Canon 70D with the 18 – 135 mm and other lenses I have. I will let you know how I do with it during my trial period. If it works for everything, I hope to be able to do all of my photography with just it and my Ricoh GR.
There are several techniques that aging photographers can adopt so that they can keep on photographing after they no longer wish to carry or hold their heavy DSLR camera. They can switch to lighter, smaller prime lenses and change what they photograph; i.e. stop photographing wildlife with big heavy long zoom lenses. Or, they can switch to smaller lighter cameras with smaller sensors. Even Saul Leiter moved “down” to micro 4/3 cameras and he hadn’t been shooting with a heavy DSLR camera or long heavy zoom lenses. I have mentioned these techniques before as I adopted them. This article is about a third scheme … using a lighter, smaller entry-level DSLR with a prime lens in order to cut weight.
One characteristic that I have noticed with my arthritic hands is that a lighter camera-lens combination is a big help but having a lighter camera-lens combination with a good hand-grip and buttons that aren’t too small or too close together is even better. In addition, I thought that an appropriate hand grip would compensate for a little more camera weight. For that reason I ordered a Nikon D3300 camera with a 35 mm prime lens to try. My hope was that the hand grip would compensate for the heavier camera with an APS size sensor and lenses and mirror. My motive for trying this approach was that I wanted to get a little better image quality in low light than I can get with my micro 4/3 sensor camera. I also hoped that the 24 MP sensor would enable me to do more crop-zooming with the 35 mm f/1.8 DX lens.
Well, I tried this third approach and rejected it. I didn’t find that the larger sensor was much better and I didn’t like the focus capability of the D3300. It focused fast enough in good light but it needed to use the focus assist light in low light and I didn’t like shining a small spot light on my subjects. The real killer was that the 35 mm lens back-focused about an inch. Having this problem along with the camera-lens combination being larger with few external controls was too much to warrant me keeping it. I returned it.
Another more subtle problem was that I didn’t find the cheap quality of the camera to be pleasing. I need to like my cameras. They have to feel and look like they have been well-engineered and constructed. I think I have learned a few lessons. One, I am done with the DSLR cameras and their large lenses. I have sold mine with a few attempts to try others one more time, but this was the last time. Two, going cheaper is not the solution.
I spent my whole career involved in the field of technology when I worked for various Government military research laboratories. Early on, I enjoyed working with new technologies but eventually I realized that there were many different technologies being pursued that would probably never make it into a weapon system. They wouldn’t make it not because they weren’t great technological advances, but because of limited opportunities. Only so many new weapons would make it through the development process due to lack of need and funding to replace the older ones with newer ones. It was at this point in my career when I got involved in strategic planning.
In strategic planning we tried to match up the likelihood for future war needs with the timing for the development of those technologies with the life cycle of current weapons. In addition, we tried to match resource availabilities with the needs. There was never enough funding available to pursue all the new technologies so we had to match the greatest need with political moods and available funding. Lately I have thought about the similarities of this process with photography.
I think that we have too many different camera manufacturers turning out too many similar products. They are racing to pile on technology and cost that only moves the capability a smidgen while most of them are losing money. I am not talking about the fact that point & shoot camera sales are way down since they are being replaced by cell phones. I am talking about the large number of mirrorless and DSLR cameras. There are far too many new cameras coming out every six months or so. Many more than the market can support in the long-term. Maybe sales are down because consumers are slowly waking up to the fact that they don’t need an evolutionary increase in more technology. I will not be surprised to see some manufactures drop out of the camera business.
Maybe I am trying a cheap Canon because I like being a rebel, or maybe I got it to show that it is good enough for most pictures, or maybe I got it since I am fed-up with all the web hype about the best camera of the year, or maybe it was because I’m becoming a “Luddite”, or maybe it was because of all of these reasons.
I took the above picture using the Canon 18 – 55 mm f/3.5 – 5.6 IS II kit lens. The lens is also outdated and has been upgraded & replaced by Canon in kits with newer cameras. I took this image as a raw file early one morning before sunrise using the “P” mode while zoomed out to 53 mm … and then cropped it to get in closer. I then used LR5.3 to convert it and make a few adjustments before converting it to a jpeg as shown above. For those who wish to know, the ISO was 2500, f/5.6, 1/80 sec handheld, and auto WB. The colors were accurate but the image has less dynamic range than newer cameras. When I tried to lighten the shadows, they were noisier and didn’t have as much detail as my X-E1, but it cost 3x as much.
As I mentioned in the previous article, I decided to try a cheaper DSLR after seeing what I could do with a P&S camera. I first tried a Pentax K-50 since I was familiar with Pentax DSLRs. I had owned the Pentax K2000, K-7, and a couple of K-5s over the years. The K-50 was OK but few people use Pentax DSLRs and I could get a more common, lighter Canon DSLR at a lower cost, so I returned the K-50 and bought the T3i. Canon first announced the Rebel T3i and this kit lens in Feb. 2011 so many newer cameras have come out since then … especially in other brands. I have tried it now for a few days, but you will have to wait a bit longer to see if I keep it since I will return it if I don’t think it is worth the cost.