Tuesday, October 21, 2014


It is that time once again when I start my annual rant about why you should get a “good” camera.

You are an artist and don't need a camera and you need your money for stuff and to pay the bills and feed the kids and get that thing off the couch and out in the yard with the mower one last time before winter sets in and you can't afford to spend money on frivolous toys like a camera and you have one in your phone anyway so you just don't need one.

But you do and there are so many out there just waiting for you you can get one for less than you would spend on dinner for the family.

So let's start at the beginning, you do have one in your phone/tablet/surface and you don't need another.

You do have a camera in your phone, but it isn't very good and it isn't very flexible and while having a camera when you need one is the cardinal rule of photography, having a bad one isn't the same thing.

The camera in your phone is a wonderful thing and you've heard that it has forty megapixels and can walk on water and turn on your alarm system from downtown North Bend and isn't that just the niftiest thing you ever heard?

Nope. The camera in your phone does have as many as forty megapixels and that is a whole helluva bunch of megapixels, but they are tiny. In order to get all those megapixels in that little back-pocket sized phone they have to be smaller than a politician's conscious. Now that is a good thing for getting a bunch of megapixels in one place and taking them with you, but it doesn't mean that you have a perfect picture making tool.

Let's go back, a lot of megapixels is a good thing right? Not always. There is a point where the bunch of megapixels gets so big they have to get small and that is where there is a big difference between a “good” camera and the camera in your phone.

Just how many megapixels do you need? If they are good and reasonably large ten or twelve megapixels will do the job most of the time. With a frame that dense you can print 8 x 10 or even larger and not lose a thing. Try that with a forty megapixel phone image. It just ain't the same.

The camera in your phone has to make a compromise with its lens. It has to have one lens which will do almost everything. This means it is probably a short 'normal' or a 'long' wide-angle. You don't say. I do say, for most digital cameras a 35mm lens is what the manufacturers call 'normal' and anything shorter than that is a wide-angel, so your phone camera has something between a 35mm and a 20mm which will do two things really well. It will keep almost everything in focus most of the time and it 'sees' the same view that your eye does so you feel like you are seeing 'real life'.

But a whole bunch of the good stuff takes place outside of normal. Like birds, they seldom come into normal range and they don't stay long so if you want a hummingbird image for your desktop you will have to download one from the Internet or get a better camera. Ever try to capture the excitement of the start of a race? There are folks everywhere and they don't all take off at the same time and they don't all run at the same pace so there are people all around and that phone camera will not be able to get them all in the right place. And then there's all the stuff that goes on indoors, like birthdays, weddings and the cat falling off the bed cause he got so relaxed he just oozed off the blanket. That phone cam won't have the speed to get it even if you do have it clutched in a death grip in your hot, little hand.

Now why do I think this? Because I do have a 'good' camera and I don't own a phone with anything, but telephone stuff. I don't want to surf or tweet or blog or face or anything when I am out of the house and I have voice mail so if someone wants me they can leave a message and I'll get back to them. And no I am just not that important that I need to be in constant communication with the one other person who is likely to call me. The Long Sufferin' will track me down if she wants me and that is something which she does not need help with and the United States Marshall Service should have her on their staff cause no one would ever get away with anything.

I would rather have a 'good' camera which will do all of the things I need for it to do so that when that special moment comes along I won't miss it. The sea lions hauled out basking in the sun on the pier at Charleston, a rainbow falling across the Charleston boat basin or the fabulous nineteen thirty-two pickup parked by the side of the road. I don't want to miss any of those things and that is why I have a 'good' camera.

You need your money.

Don't we all. I could use a whole bunch more, please tell the Mega Millions folks before some ungrateful lout wins my money. But buying a 'good' camera doesn't have to break the piggy bank, ruin the college fund or make you miss a payment on the F150. No there are thousands of fantastic cameras much more capable than I am just waiting for someone to come along and give them a good home.

What's your poison? Nikon, Canon, Sony or maybe like me you think a company which spends more on development than it does on advertising is a better idea? (That's Pentax if you didn't guess.) It doens'
t matter what you favor there are cameras out there in every price range just waiting for you to come along and get in the groove.

Okay, number one: Electronics work or they don't. It is a sad fact, but the industry has gotten so good at building stuff that you don't ever have to replace anything because it stopped working. When was the last time you bought a TV because the old one died? Yeppers back in the seventies I'm thinking. We buy new things because they are shiny and they have all sorts of new bells and whistles and we get caught up in the flashing lights and the hype and spend a whole wad of money and what have we got, something which isn't substantially different from what we had.

But this is a good thing for you because when a guy goes out and buys a new super megapixel, auto-focus, weather-sealed, mirror-less camera they have to do something with their old equipment and if they have kept it well, cleaned and protected it from wind, rain and the kids it will function just like it did when they took it out of the box except it will be worth several thousand dollars less than what they paid for it.

You did notice the part about several thousand dollars less? Yes, several thousand dollars less.

You want a Nikon. I can't understand why, but you do and you have never even considered it cause the average Nikon costs more than your first house and you would never get that big a hole in the checkbook by the Long Sufferin' so you have always wanted one but never really thought about getting one.

You can have one for under $250. Yes, you can, a real Nikon. I did a quick informal survey and the Nikon D5000, 12.3 megapixel DSLR runs between a low of $199 to a high of $238. Yes, you'll have to shell out more to get a lens, but you have to have the body first. Want a simple 18-55 and you're looking at another forty-five to seventy-nine, without shopping around. The whole ball of wax for two forty-four to three-seventeen, For a Nikon for crying out loud.

But Canon is my brand. I've been watching Art Wolfe on PBS and he uses a Canon and I know that is why he takes such wonderful pictures and if only I had a Canon I could take pictures just as wonderful...so get a Canon. The Canon Xsi or the T1i will run $238 and that's a 15.1 megapixel Camera! Put an 18-55mm lens on it for fifty-three more dollars and you have a Canon system for less than three hundred dollars.

Now you want to balk at three hundred dollars? You'd spend that much on a video gaming system for the grand-kids and they'd be bored to death cause it wasn't the newer 3D version with the motion sensor paddles, so quit stalling.

Having a first-class camera is not a luxury, it is not a waste of money, it is not a project for when you win the Lotto. It is the first step on the way to capturing those award winning images. And it is very, very affordable. The cost of a point and shoot now runs into the two hundreds and you are limited by a fixed lens albeit in most cases a super zoom, but still limited. Why not use that same two hundred dollars and get a tool which will last you for decades to come.

Buying any tool depends on three critical options, will you use it, will it allow you to grow as a talent and will it last long enough to cover the cost? That point and shoot is great for sticking in your pocket and forgetting about it. It's like a giant-sized phone camera.

A DSLR won't fit in your pocket, it won't fit in a purse and it won't fit in the glove box, but it will grow with you for years to come, survive all but the worst physical disasters and will deliver images you won't believe you took.

Isn't that worth the price of an ipod mini?

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