A Discussion about Gear
In this post, I will be discussing a bit of an overview of photography equipment. I have been asked for advice on a few occasions about what people should purchase. My straight up answer is “I don’t know”. For people looking at purchasing their first camera or first “serious camera” I can only provide a bit of guidance. I really don’t know what will work for someone, but I can help them figure it out to a certain degree. In the case of them wanting to know what I shoot with when I take those travel images they really like, I will tell them about my Fuji’s and Canons and that it is irrelevant. They have to decide how much dedication they want to put into learning a camera. They can get shots just like mine with most of the cameras that are available. Cameras come in many degrees of complexity from the simple point and shot to a large selection of controls to adjust for tricky conditions and creative expression. My cameras range from 12 megapixels to 23 megapixels and for the purpose of displaying on the web, you would be hard pressed to really tell the difference. If, however, you want large prints to hang on the wall, you will probably want to consider a system that is at least 12 megapixels. There are a lot of options for 12 megapixels and above. The next part to consider is whether or not to go with an interchangeable lens system or not. When traveling I give myself a few options. My main camera is the Fujifilm X-Pro1 and I have 4 lenses to choose from, 14mm, 18mm, 35mm, and 60mm. It has a 16 megapixel sensor. Next is the Fujifilm X100S. It has a built-in fixed focal length lens of 23mm. It too has a 16 megapixel sensor, an updated version of the one that is in the X-Pro1. The last option is my Canon G1X. It also has a built-in lens but it is a zoom lens. It has a 14 megapixel sensor. All of these cameras allow me to shoot in RAW format which gives me the most options when processing my images. They also give me the option to shoot in full manual, where I control all aspects of the exposure, semi automatic, where I control some of the aspects, or fully automatic, where the camera controls all the aspects of exposure. The other consideration for these camera’s is the smaller size and less weight when compared to my DSLR’s. When traveling, lugging a large, heavy DSLR or two can really get in the way of enjoying the trip. There are smaller DSLR’s available and they will take great pictures but the lenses are still bigger and heavier than my Fuji’s. Before getting the Fuji’s, I traveled with a Canon 60D and a Canon 5D Marklll. I also took along 3 lenses, a 17-40mm L, a 24-105mm L, and a 135mm L prime (the L designates Canon’s pro-level lenses). I also used these for Street Photography. The quality was fantastic but the bottom line is that they were big and heavy and imposing. There is no doubt that they got a lot of attention which is not something you want when traveling or doing street photography.
The above images were shot with my old (12 megapixel) Canon Rebel XTi. A camera that is over 7 years old. *click on the images above to see the full size then use the back button on your browser to return to this article. Above illustrates the size difference. There is no way to convey the weight issue unless you have carried these kits around for a day, especially on hot days. Admittedly, the DSLR kit has a lot more versatility with the zoom lenses but I prefer prime lenses on my travel kit to give me better quality on the smaller camera’s (except with the Canon G1X that has a built-in zoom). That being said, there are zoom lenses also available for the Fuji X cameras and the quality is great on them. It’s all a matter of personal preference. I prefer to zoom with my feet but that is certainly not most peoples choice. The two kits above, for me, are for 2 different jobs. The small kit is for Travel and Street photography. The large kit is more for creative work where the versatility is a big asset. If you are only going to get 1 camera, which is perfectly fine, and you plan on traveling with it, then I would highly recommend going with a smaller, mirrorless system. The next piece of advise is on how complicated the camera is and how much effort are you willing to make to learn it. My advise would be to get one that allows for fully manual control, an aperture priority mode, a shutter priority mode, and a fully automatic mode. The reason for this is that as you learn your camera and more about photography, you have the option to grow as a photographer and work with more complex lighting and other situations that you may run into. Don’t limit your real potential by choosing a system that doesn’t give you the option of what you can control. Then decide if you want an interchangeable lens system or one with a fixed lens. In the latter case you would need to decide if the fixed lens is a zoom (like on my Canon G1X) or a single focal length (like on my Fujifilm X100s). If you go with the interchangeable lenses, you have a large variety to choose from as well as both zooms and primes. The lenses are where you really want to invest your money. Put a really good lens on a less expensive camera and you will get a really good quality image. Put a cheap lens on a very expensive camera and the image quality will most likely be a disappointment. The quality of the lens dictates the quality of the image that reaches the camera’s sensor. In the above pictures, you can see the red ring around the Canon lenses. This is how Canon designates it’s ‘L’ series lenses, their best. Going with the best you can afford may mean limiting yourself to 1 or 2 lenses but there will be no compromise on the quality of the images you get. If you decide to go with a system with a built in lens, then I would have to recommend a high end compact with a zoom. This gives you a lot of versatility in a small, light package and today, most manufactures have models that would fit this bill. I am only familiar with the Canons having owned a G12 (that took a swim in the ocean) that was replaced with the G1X. Both of these gave me the wide range of control modes that I suggested and have given me some very nice shots as I have traveled with both.The current models of these 2 cameras are the G16 and the G1X mk2.
The best advice I can give on making the above choices would be to do a bit of research on the different systems available and make a shortlist of what you think you would like then head down to your camera store and get a hands on look at your different choices. What feels comfortable in your hands, what has a menu system that you feel comfortable using, and what optional accessories are available for it. If you are lucky enough to have rentals available, rent one for a week and dedicate yourself to learning the system and see for yourself what kind of results you get. If after a week it feels awkward to use then maybe a different system would work better for you. When you get the pictures loaded onto your computer, really look closely at them as this will probably be the most used way of viewing them. If you see any you really like, get a print made and see how they look on paper. If you are happy with how the camera worked for you over the week then you should probably take the plunge and get it. The bottom line is, the only one that can decide on the right camera for you is you. Don’t look at a photographers work and think that the camera that he or she used means you will get the same results as soon as you pick up that same camera. Any decent quality camera, whether it’s a compact, a mirrorless system, or a DSLR can give you great pictures….as long as you learn how to use it. Once you do, the journey has just begun.