What camera and why?

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The New Year holidays are almost upon us, and is as good a time as any to review your camera(s) and look ahead to 2017’s photography.

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I am often asked “What camera should I buy?” This is not an easy question. The answer is almost as varied as the numbers of cameras available. It is not an easy call. A little window shopping at the camera store will show you cameras priced from 5,000 baht to 100,000 baht. That’s quite a range.

Forgetting price constraints and imagining that you want a camera to take “good” photographs of general interest; you know the sort of things, family, holidays, grandchildren and pets, then there is basically only two choices – Compact or SLR (Single Lens Reflex).

Let’s look at the Compact. This group of cameras has really brought the fun of photography to many people. In most instances, they are small, easy to use – basically ‘point and shoot’. Initially they only had one fixed lens of generally around 35 mm focal length, but these days, the more up-market models have a “zoom” capability covering the 28 mm to 100 mm range.

As far as focusing is concerned, most Compacts these days are fully Autofocus, though there are still some ‘fixed’ focus lenses around on the very cheapest models.

As far as shutter speed range goes, the modern Compacts will go to around 1/400th of a second which is enough to stop most action and they will go as slow as around a 1 to 2 second exposure.

Size does matter, with cameras at least, and most Compacts are small enough to slip into a handbag or pocket which is another decided advantage over the SLR brigade.

On paper then, it looks as if the Compact has everything going for it. Why even consider an SLR? Well, there are some areas where unfortunately, the Compact falls short. The first is the restriction in lenses. A compact will not do you much good if you want to do wildlife photography, with only around 100 mm telephoto ability. You need to be able to get ‘close-up’ without being too close to the man eating tigers.

Another area where the Compact is limited, is in the use of filters. To get those really rich and vibrant colors, it is necessary to use such devices as Polarizing filters – there is no provision for the use of filters with the majority of Compacts.

Most Compacts also come with their own inbuilt flash and while it is adequate for most night or low light level shots, it does have limitations. Adequate is the operative word.

So what about the SLR group? With this type of camera, you actually look through the camera’s lens when composing the shot. What you see is what you get (WYSIWYG). You have a huge range of lenses to choose from, both original equipment and aftermarket brands, to take you from ultra-wide (16 mm) through to huge telephoto lenses of around 600 mm which you can use to photograph the tigers eating, without getting so close to the action you end up on the dinner menu as well.

SLR’s also have greater ranges of shutter speeds, from time exposures of any time you like, through to 1/4000th of a second. The range of aperture settings in the lens are also greater in the SLR group – and, even more importantly, you can dictate the settings you want.

That is where the principle differences lie – with the compact, there is little you can fiddle with to experiment or manipulate – with SLR’s the sky’s the limit.

With all these creative possibilities, why would you ever bother thinking about a Compact? Well, the SLR does have some disadvantages too. Size and weight are two principal ones. An SLR is not the camera you put in your handbag unless you have a very large receptacle and a couple of porters to carry it. By the time you add up two camera bodies, three lenses and a flash you are looking at quite some weight, especially with the semi-pro equipment. One photographer of my acquaintance has to drag a suitcase with him, just to have the best lenses at his disposal.

Set your budget first and go from there.