Starter camera?


Time for an update: I still use film, though. Not vast quantities, but I have a darkroom, and I'm not afraid to use it.

I enjoy every image I take: I hope you'll enjoy looking at them.
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Starter camera?

21 Dec 2020 10:39AM   Views : 315 Unique : 226

Yet again, Iím indebted to an EPZ friend for the idea for this blog: this time, a discussion with Dora threw up the question of what makes a good beginnerís camera. Should it be small or big, hefty or light, older or newer, new or secondhand?

In practice, quite a lot of people start with a compact or bridge camera, because thatís what they got for taking snapshots, and then they find that they want to develop their photography. So one question might be how good these are for more serious image-making.

Others decide to take up our hobby, and set about finding a camera that allows them a quick start, and then has potential to expand capabilities.

Oh, and thereís also a question of how much work the photographer is prepared to put into the transition from snapshots to conscious, intentional picture-maker.

There are a couple of relatively complex ideas that you need to grasp when you begin taking photography seriously, and you need to take them in at the same time. Once youíve done that, things get simpler, as you have a solid foundation. You need to understand the exposure triangle, depth of field, and the relationship between shutter speed, focal length and both camera and subject movement. If the camera makes the relevant adjustments easy and ergonomically sensible, itís a big help in learning. You can concentrate on learning, without having to fixate on making the camera work. Itís like the way driving schools always use reasonably-small cars that donít have obstructive gear-levers or weird electric handbrakes.

Iíd say that for most people, a serious camera needs an eye-level viewfinder, control of ISO, aperture and shutter speed without recourse to the menus, and the ability to change lenses, or a high-spec zoom. Large aperture counts more than a supertelephoto zoom, unless you plan to take a lot of wildlife pictures.

Viewfinder: you find that blocking everything but the view through the camera out helps you to concentrate on the image Ė and pressing the camera against your face makes it more stable than holding it at armís length. Camera shake destroys many picturesÖ

ISO, aperture and shutter speed: traditional prosumer and upper-bracket DSLRs have two control wheels, front and back, so that in Manual, one can control shutter and the other aperture. In Aperture or Shutter priority, the second wheel or dial usually controls exposure compensation: more recent cameras allow a high level of customisation.

And thereís usually a button that lets one or both dials adjust ISO: basic competence with a camera involves learning to press this and adjust ISO with the camera at your eye, just as driving requires that you change gear without looking at the gear lever to work out where to move it.

Donít get distracted by scene modes. One of the interesting things is that pro-level models donít have them, which suggests that theyíre not necessary. And they complicate things a lot: so, if you camera has them, ignore them, until and unless you really understand what they do and how. Keep it simple!

Actually, thereís a long list of things that donít matter, and people put forward as reasons to buy this or that new model. They include a high frame rate (useful for action photography, but otherwise irrelevant), a second card slot (yes, cards fail: but not often. Backup is like carrying a fire extinguisher in your car Ė a good idea, but very few people ever need it), a touch screen, and, indeed, most extensive options.

The really big thing is decent ergonomics, so if a camera simply doesnít fit in yoru hands, donít get it. It goes beyond not too big or small for your mitts, though Ė much of the above adds up to Ďdecent ergonomicsí I reckon. It can be worth talking to a few camera-owners, too, and if possible, playing with their outfit, though beware the Ďfanboysí who will always find five reasons why their brand is better, even if they donít matter to you at all.

Please ask here if youíre at that point, and have doubtsÖ I probably wonít know, but someone else reading will.

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dudler Avatar
dudler Plus
20 2.1k 2048 England
21 Dec 2020 10:41AM
No pictures - you will find more and better than I can take in the review pages of this site. And you'll find useful data: my only word of caution is that when you come to the list of pros and cons for any given model, ask yourself 'does that matter to me?'
IamDora Avatar
IamDora 2 6 Canada
21 Dec 2020 10:50PM
A couple things I would like to add. In my case it's not a starting camera but rather a finishing-up camera. I learned photography with Minolta, Canon and Ricoh film cameras. I am just not up to lugging the heavy kit anymore, especially with air travel being was it is today.

You are right about the compacts liking to hide things in the menu. But the compact Canon I'm using now does have a wheel and two buttons that makes ( in M) switching shutter speed, aperture and iso reasonably easy. View finder is far superior to the monitor except when that iguana is way up there and you want to save yourself neck pain.. As you have said, there is a lot of useless junk thrown in to make you think you're getting more for your money. But the big deal is this. If you are going to invest in one of these cameras with the super duper long lens - even as a second camera for traveling - be aware of the fact that you will likely get no more than 4 or 5 years out of it. Those lens are super sensitive to any bump and can be thrown off with the tiniest speck of dust. And take the battery out before you get on the airplane!
dudler Avatar
dudler Plus
20 2.1k 2048 England
21 Dec 2020 10:57PM
That's really useful, Dora. I've tried a couple of compact cameras in the past, and found them terribly unresponsive. I know they've got better, but I don't need to downsize (yet!) And Sony mirrorless kit is not big and heavy, if you choose lenses carefully.

The big thing, for many, is the very long zoom some cameras now have - which is fine, providing there's a decent aperture and good stabilisation. And I know I'm a bit odd - I wander around with a fixed focal length short telephoto on my camera almost all the time...
IamDora Avatar
IamDora 2 6 Canada
21 Dec 2020 11:34PM
The thing is you're a professional. I'm not; I would never describe myself as a photographer. I did some local photo journalism and other than that I record my travels. I do understand the ratios, generally can get the composition right and think I get the odd photo worth the effort. Different strokes for different folk. The other thing is I wonder how many people spend mega buck on Cameras that they run pretty much on auto. IMHO the most important part of photography is being able to see photo before you click the camera. Second is how you get the camera to see what you see.
dudler Avatar
dudler Plus
20 2.1k 2048 England
22 Dec 2020 6:00AM
There's a great deal of good sense in there, Dora! There's a phrase that a lot of people use for the individuals who spend a fortune on kit and don't bother to learn how to use it - 'all the gear and no idea'! I know that it's possible for your camera equipment to restrict what you can do, creatively: but that happens a lot less than the salesmen would like to think. Restricted by not understanding how to use it is much more of a problem - your last sentence says it perfectly!

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