The cameras that are now available for the weekend photographer are amazing in their abilities. Now we have almost got to rewrite the manuals of photography.
I received this letter from one of the regular readers:
I read, with interest, your article, “Buying a new camera”, published in the Pattaya Mail (October 16, 2015). Yes, I am still continuing to read your articles!
I first wrote to you a year ago for advice on this very subject and would like to let you know that after a year of reading various articles, reviews, and forums, I decided to go with your recommendation and have recently purchased the Lumix FZ 1000.
By the way, I also decided to keep my Lumix compact camera, that can easily slip into my pocket, both for backup and occasions where the FZ 1000 may prove just a little bit cumbersome.
Of course, after buying any new camera it is also important to read...no...study, the manual in depth. The one for this camera is 366 pdf pages long, so no doubt I will be studying it for a while to come. The funny thing with me is that I was in such a hurry to “show off” and try out my new camera, before studying the manual, that I took it to a family birthday party the very next day. The camera (set in auto mode) told me, in several instances, to open the (pop-up) flash and, of course, I didn’t know how to. Not too disastrous, but I have now found that switch!
On another subject, and perhaps food for thought for a future article from you, is “aspect ratio”. I personally never really thought about this too much (until I got the new camera). I usually use 16:9 most of the time, as I shoot a lot of landscape stuff. Then I always forget to change the ratio for other shots, portraits, close ups and the like. Yes, they can be post cropped but, of course, with loss of quality. I also note that the “retro” square photographs seem to be coming back into fashion. Any thoughts on this?
Keep up the good work with the articles about this very interesting topic/hobby of photography.
After that kind note, I decided I would do a browse around one of the local camera shops (Big Camera Central Festival) and I was somewhat taken aback. It is quite some time since I actually bought a new camera, I was well out of date. Top end cameras from the Nikon stables were astronomical in price. A D series with a kit lens for B. 89,900. Even the lower end of the Nikon cameras were around B. 30,000. Canon were in the 20-40 K range and Olympus OM cameras were 45-72 K.
Even lenses were expensive, with after-market manufacturers like Tamron having lenses around 40K.
I could see why the retailers were having to offer six month terms at zero percent interest. And I could also see why camera phones are just so popular.
In this column I have concentrated on the techniques in photography, hoping to impart some of the knowledge I gained from working in my own professional studio. For me, the cameras had to earn their keep so I had the full Nikon system, Hasselblads and Cambo rail cameras. Some of these were expensive (then), but I had enough work for them to be able to afford the purchase. But I just wonder if that could be done today?
Pro shooters have to fight against the photo libraries. Art directors want to be able to pick an image without having to hire the photographers and model fees. They also expect their backsides to be licked! All that the photographer can do is try and have his work accepted by a library. (I was lucky and my work was accepted by one of the many photo libraries – but unfortunately it folded, my slides were returned and it was back to square one.)
Quite honestly, the majority of the top end cameras are really only for pro use. A savvy amateur can produce very acceptable images with the lower grade (around 30-40K) cameras. Working out exposure is a thing of the past and the subsequent images stand or fall with the technique of the photographer.
Start with the Rule of Thirds!
Still Life photography must be easy as you don’t have to direct models or supervise make-up. Everything is just sitting there, waiting for the photographer to push the button. Oh if it were only that easy!
Modern digital cameras, both SLR and point and shoot (and I put smartphones in that category) are all very clever with zoom lenses and modes to cover everything. But they don’t cover WYSIWIG.
There is a company called “Light” which might have the start of the new camera revolution. Called the L16, it is unlike any camera that has gone before. Looking like a thick smartphone it has 16 lenses with an optical zoom range of 35 mm to 150 mm and an end result of 52 MP images.
Inside every piece of electronic equipment is a pre-loaded gremlin. For example, my ever-so-smart telephone (which is a lot smarter than me) will just not connect to the presumed destination. Why? I have no earthly idea, but I do know that if I open it up, remove the battery, say three Hail Mary’s and replace the battery it will now work.
I was asked to put together a small “instruction” sheet for new DSLR users, and so here it is. While the compact point and shooter is a great way to get into photography (or even the smart phone), there are limitations with the basic cameras, especially if you wish to improve above the “Auto” mode type of photography.
I am not in love with the social media, used by most media watchers to publicly profess private feelings, with a photo of lunch attached. It always makes me glad that Marjorie loves Mavis and that the sausages went down well and only cost 150 baht and hugs to everyone.
However, there is one area where it is very difficult to beat what the social media provide – and that is instant access to people’s opinions.
I use the analogy of buying a car. Many years ago I was in the market for a second hand Mazda RX7. These were the days BFB (Before Face Book) and I was looking for a way to canvas opinions by the owners of such vehicles. Every time I saw one parked at the side of the road, with less than 30 minutes on the meter, I would wait and when the owner arrived I would ask him whether it was a good car or otherwise. The vast majority were very happy with their RX7, so I bought one and became very happy with mine too.
So what has that got to do with your choice of camera? A lot. Now you can go on line asking for opinions on the latest DSLR and within 24 hours you will have your answer, or what the majority thinks.
However, before you even get to that stage you should be looking at what type of camera you should be buying for your type of photography.
I read a most interesting piece of research which came from the Sony people. According to the Sony survey, 72 percent of DSLR buyers use their cameras to “capture family memories and for fun.” A Box Brownie will do that.
Also, the greatest spur to buying a camera at a specific time is an imminent trip. These people are not going to do a crash course in serious photography before they take off, so the requirement of competent, fully automatic mode is reasonable. And wanting to get the best possible images is understandable. Then there is weight. Who wants to lug a conspicuous brick around Venice when a small compact system camera will do the job?
The compact camera section of the marketplace is certainly the most volatile. As Sony found, only 28 percent of camera buyers are going to go for the all-singing, all-dancing DSLR cameras.
One of the problems when comparing cameras with cameras is people tend to read the magic number called megapixels and conclude that it is the deciding parameter between brilliant, good and not so good. 24 megapixels is better than 12 which in turn better is than 4.
Whilst the above is partly true, it really does depend upon what you want to do with the end result. Are you going to be blowing it up to the size of a barn door, or will it be a 4R (6x4) at most? If you have been hired to produce photographs for billboards, then look at a camera with megapixels coming out its strap swivels. Otherwise, anything from six to 10 MP is more than adequate.
So what should you be looking for when buying a camera these (electronic) days? To start with, a fast autofocus. Instant zip-zip, not “pause for a second while I get myself ready and then zip”.
I also recommend inbuilt image stabilization. So many photographs are spoiled by camera movement producing ‘soft’ images that can be overcome with image stabilization electronics. And as a further small advantage, these types of systems are particularly good for the senior citizen photographer.
You should also look at the shutter speeds the camera is capable of. 1/2000th of a second should stop a railway train (in Thailand, not in Japan) and be sufficient for 99 percent of action photography. It is also advantageous if any proposed camera has a time exposure setting so you can take photographs at night, including fireworks.
Sony’s advice is right: if you are not serious about getting to grips with the functions of a DSLR then don’t buy one. On the other hand, if you are deadly serious about your photography, don’t buy anything else. And see what other photographers think.
Photojournalists can have a problem with morality and ethics. The following test shows just how much stress there can be for these photographers.
The situation: You are in Pattaya. There is chaos all around you caused by the tropical storm with severe flooding. You are a photojournalist working for the Pattaya Mail newspaper and you are standing on Beach Road, photographing the flooding.
Suddenly, you see a man in the water. He is fighting for his life, trying not to be taken down with the debris. You suddenly realize who it is.... it is a well known violent criminal on the run. You notice that the raging waters are about to take him under.
You have two options:
(1)You can save the life of this man - or -
(2) You can shoot a dramatic Pulitzer Prize winning photo, documenting the death of one of the country’s most despised, evil and powerful men!
Now the question, and give an honest answer (nobody can see you)!
Would you select color, or just go with the classic simplicity of black and white?
So now, to be sensible after that little chuckle, the job of a photojournalist is to get back to the editor with a usable photograph of some event, be that a fire, flood, the Jester’s Children’s fair or the TFI frizz and flares night. (These require the photographer’s presence and a camera that works.)
The photojournalist’s creed of “f8 and be there,” may have come from Arthur H. Fellig, known as ‘Weegee’. Born in Poland in 1899, he went to America in 1909. He worked for a few studios and then got a job in the darkroom at Acme Newspapers. Life in the newspaper business is always exciting and frantic. Arthur H. Fellig reveled in that excitement. He had found his niche. He was only 21 years old but he decided he was going to be a freelance news photographer.
He soon became known as the first on the scene of any newsworthy happening, be that fire, murder, suicide or landslide. He was so uncannily aware of what was happening that people began to feel he had some kind of psychic powers of prediction. At that time, America was also in the middle of a Ouija Board fad and from this Fellig was to adopt his nickname “Weegee”.
Of course, Weegee was not psychic, but just used to sleep fully clothed, with a police radio on his pillow. In the boot of his car was his “office”, complete with typewriter to knock out the words, spare film and lots of flash bulbs. Weegee would arrive, record the shot, type the words and have everything on the editor’s desk within the hour. It was no wonder that Weegee was so popular with the news media of the day.
By 1935, Life magazine was doing features on Weegee and his work. There was no doubt about the fact that he had the photographic “eye”, but for Weegee, the subject was the all important part of the photograph. And the subject he dealt with was done incredibly directly. Weegee was not one to be horrified by the sights before him, such as gangland killings. He took the shot that kept that horror for the eyes of the newspaper readers the next day. (Interestingly, that direct, confrontational photographic style is still used in the Thai language papers today – check any front pages for graphic images.) Another quote from this amazing man, “I like to get different shots and don’t like to make the same shots the other dopes do.” When asked what his formula was he replied, “I just laugh. I have no formula, I’m just myself, take me or leave me. I don’t put on an act. I don’t try to make a good or bad impression. I’m just Weegee.”
Weegee is remembered for his record of the seamier side of New York life. This was put into book form, called the Naked City and was published in after WWII. Unfortunately, the wide public recognition that came from this book ended the directly grotesque nature of his images and Weegee went to Hollywood where tinsel-town swallowed him up. He died in 1969.
We’ve just had the tail end of a cyclone and did it ever dump some rain on our city. One evening it was almost impossible to get anywhere as there was deep water across all the major roads. My seven minute trip from the office to home took one hour, several detours and back-tracking three times.
Now, for most of us, cameras and rain don’t seem to naturally sit together, but if you throw away that aversion to water, there are many photo opportunities for something just a little different. But it does mean you have to look for those different images.
During the constant rain the other afternoon I walked around the house just taking in the different images. Some of them were very different and would have people saying “What is that?”
So what did I see? The rain making circles on the surface of the little pond with my two tame catfish hiding from the drops (seems like they didn’t want to get wet)! Another was beads of water on the boot lid of the car and when I looked up, there was a leak from the drainpipe and that produced some very interesting images and I have printed one here.
I experimented with different shutter speeds and also taking shots with and without flash. These all produced different images, and is something every photographer can do, by taking the camera off “Auto” and just seeing what you get. One shot of raindrops on the boot lid looked like the surface of the moon with over-exposure.
But back to the shot I used here, the down-pipe. I began just taking the water coming from the bend in the pipe, but then I turned the camera 45 degrees and it began to look like an airplane with fuel pouring out from the fuselage. OK, you have to use your imagination a bit, but that is what makes photography so interesting. This is as apart from taking “record” shots of the children at the temple.
Children and rainy weather do present some wonderful opportunities. During the heavy rains, there were children in little creeks beside the road, having a wonderful time. Many children to photograph, as long as you were prepared to get wet too. But here comes the problem. You may know you are trying to get the best shot ever of little Johnny, but little Johnny doesn’t know it. And what’s more, doesn’t care! With a short attention span, he is not going to stand still long enough for you to fiddle around with camera settings, flash settings and exposure mathematics. No, when photographing children, use the Auto setting on your camera, and that is one of the few times I will recommend that setting! No, to get a good kid pic means that you have to be totally set up and ready for that nano-second of opportunity.
Let’s look at the equipment needed first. In general, the further away you get, the more natural the photograph you will get, as the child does not see you in the proximity. So, a small zoom lens (35-70) works very well in this situation as you can get far enough away from the child without invading the child’s ‘personal space’ and producing shyness or forced behavior, but longer is better. In my case, I use a 135 mm lens for kid pix (as I didn’t want to get my feet wet either).
Some photographers swear by Auto-focus (AF) for this type of shot, but personally I find that the noise is distracting for children. The “whiz-whizz” and then a correct focus ‘beep’ distracts for the three point four milliseconds attention span children have, and then they are off again. However, the newer AF cameras (lenses) are much quieter and are probably the best in this situation.
When it is raining, it really does mean another photographic opportunity to get different shots. Since we get bright sun for 11 months a year, make the most of the rain!
It is a simple case of being prepared and then just jumping in to get the shots, with kids don’t stage manage, and lots of luck!