Sunday, June 5, 2011

How To Get Started In Photography, Part 4

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

Camera Options

So, sure, the camera doesn't matter, but that doesn't help me decide what camera to buy. Where do I start?

I said in Part 3 that your budget will be the #1 factor in determining what camera you will buy. That is not to say that the more expensive the equipment the better that equipment will be. There is a saying that is generally true: "you get what you pay for." But what's more important is value: getting the most for the least.

If you have $10,000 sitting under your mattress that you have set in your mind you will use to get started in photography, you will spend that amount of money. If you have $2,000, or $500, or $100, or a quarter in your pocket--whatever amount you have already budgeted, that is the amount of money you will spend.

You can spend as little or as much as you'd like.

Something we need to explore a little right now is value, because that will help you make a smart decision.

Which is the better camera, the Leica M3 or the FED 5? Well, the Leica is (but the FED is not far behind). Now let's take a look at ebay real quick: the Leica M3 is typically listed for $1,000 or more while the FED 5 is typically listed for $50 or less. So is it better to spend $1,000 or more on the Leica or $50 or less on the FED? The real question is this: is the Leica M3 20 times better than the FED 5? Absolutely not! It is not even twice as good.

So which camera has the better value? Well, the FED 5 has the better value by a significant margin, even though the Leica M3 is the better camera.

In other words, if you don't have $1,000 under your mattress waiting to be spent on a camera, you are much better off buying the FED 5 camera.

Now let's talk about film vs. digital. I said on the right side of the page in the About Me section, "I had avoided digital photography for several years, but the quality and value has now exceeded that of 35mm film."

Has the quality and value of digital photography really exceeded that of 35mm film? No. I originally made that statement about one year ago and fully believed it at the time. But it is untrue, or, at least, only half true.

The quality of digital photography has increased by leaps and bounds over the last 10 years. And the price has steadily decreased. It has reached a point where good quality can be purchased for a reasonable price. But only the highest end digital cameras can match the resolution of a good-quality-scan of 35mm film. So a $7,000 Leica M9 camera and the $50 FED 5 with a roll of $7 film, processed and scanned for $17.50, will produce nearly identical pictures. That's less than $75 compared to $7,000. Heck, the tax alone on the Leica would pay for the FED camera, plus film, plus development and scan!

The advantage of digital is that (for the most part) the full cost is paid when you purchased the camera. With film you are constantly buying and processing film, which can quickly add up. $24.50 for a 36 exposure roll of film (including development and scanning) multiplied by however many rolls of film you will use over the life of the camera. About 285 rolls of film and you've matched the cost of the Leica (that's over 10,000 pictures).

Perhaps you have no need for all that resolution (and you probably don't need all that resolution), so maybe a 12-14 MP digital camera is all you want. You might spend as little as $350 or as much as $2,000 for a digital single lens reflex (DSLR) camera and lens. You won't be able to match the quality of film, but over the life of the camera you will spend a lot less.

At this point in time the value of digital and the value of film is about the same. You can go either way, or even use both. There is no right or wrong answer.

Some advantages of film (aside from the resolution being higher than most digital cameras) is that digital has yet to match the color vibrance of Fuji Velvia reversal film (without looking unnatural, anyway), negative film--especially black & white--has a larger dynamic range (ability to handle high contrast before losing details) than digital, and some low ISO films have a film grain that is finer than the "noise" (noise is basically the digital equivalent of film grain) of even the best digital cameras.

Some advantages of digital are instant gratification and analysis, the freedom to take as many photographs as your SD card will hold, longer shutter speeds when handheld, and the ability to easily adjust to different types of light.

Which is right? Which is best? Which should you choose? Both have advantages over the other. My suggestion is to use both. Have at least one digital camera and have at least one film camera, if your budget will allow.

Since you already know that what camera you own is unimportant and irrelevant to making great photographs, the key is finding a camera with good value.

One quick way to find value is to look for cameras that are on sale. For example, I own a Pentax K-x DSLR, which has an MSRP of $649.95. It's a good little camera with a lot of features, an excellent sensor, and a good lens. Compared to the other brands, I felt like the camera already had good value at that price. I shopped around, looked for sales, and found it for $490--which is an excellent price for what you get! Is the camera a Nikon D3X or even a D90? No, but the D3X is not 14 times better than the K-x and the D90 is not 3 times better. The K-x holds it's own pretty well against the D90 (the Pentax camera is better in some ways, not as good in others) and the D3X (being a 24 MP full-frame DSLR) is substancially better--perhaps 3 times better--but the K-x has significantly better value.

Do you need the Nikon D3X? No. You could purchase the FED 5 and create better photographs with the same resolution for a fraction of the cost. Most likely you don't need that resolution anyway, so the D90, or D3100, or Canon EOS 60D, Pentax K-5, Pentax K-x, or any number of other DSLR cameras that are on the market, would be a better choice.

Which one is the best? Whichever one has the most for the least. My opinion is that Nikon and Canon are quite proud of their products and they are priced accordingly. Look at some of the other brands and you'll find equally capable cameras for hundreds of dollars less. Do a Google search and read a few reviews. Make a short list, then shop around for sales and find the lowest price possible.

Whichever DSLR you end up with won't be significantly better or worse than any other DSLR make and model. Yes, the top-of-the-line $7,000 camera with a $3,000 lens might be three or four times better than the bottom-of-the-line camera, but it also cost a heck of a lot more, too. And you can get that quality with the film camera you are going to purchase, anyway.

The camera doesn't matter, so worry less about it and worry more about how to become a better photographer. You can take great photographs and make great works of art with any camera you choose.

Regarding film cameras, I am a big fan of the FED. You can pick them up (including shipping) for $50 or less and they take excellent photographs. Be aware, these are Rangefinder cameras and not SLR, so they work a bit differently, and they are fully 100% manual. It doesn't take long to learn, but there is a learning curve. The Canon AE-1 is another great option. Don't be afraid to pick up a Holga.

I recently added a FED 5c, Holga 120N, and Canon T70 (with two lenses) to my collection for under $70 total, including shipping and tax. While I still prefer the ease digital, those cameras are great tools to use for different purposes.

Don't forget you probably have a digital camera on your cell phone. Since you usually have your cell phone with you, that means you usually have a camera with you. Be creative with it and you might be surprised at the results.

In How To Get Started In Photograph, Part 5 we will discuss photo editing software.

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