Posts tagged “camera

What camera should I buy? A beginners guide…

I get this question a lot from people looking to get into photography. What camera should I buy?

The eventual answer though depends on budget available and what you want to do with it but in the main my answer to a beginner is usually the same, buy the absolute best you can afford.

Lets forget about compact and bridge cameras here, someone looking to get into photography properly needs some sort of interchangeable lens system. You simply don’t get that level of felxability with compacts or bridge cameras no matter how good they are. You get convenience but ultimately you need a DSLR of some sort.

I’m also going to rule out the new wave of compact system cameras for the beginner too. Even with the interchangeable lenses these cameras look like a nice easy route into photography, well made, small and portable but with the added bonus of being able to change the lens, and there-in lies their main problem. Have you seen the prices of lenses for these systems? Additional lenses are both expensive and limited in choice hence why I’d always advocate, stick to a DSLR.

I’m also going to go out on a limb here and say, forget about everything else except Nikon or Canon. Yes, I know there are other makes but these 2 are the big players, the VHS to the Betamax of the rest. Now I’ve probably offended every Pentax, Olympus, Fuji, Panasonic and Sony owner out there (and more) lets get down to camera choice.

It really doesn’t matter if you go Canon or Nikon, both are similar, both have massive ranges and are supported by a myriad of 3rd party companies too. Whatever route you go, you won’t be disappointed.

So, what to actually buy? This comes back to the opening statement, spend as much as you can possibly afford, it’ll save you in the long run. If your budget only stretches to the entry level DSLR and kit lens then great, go for it. If it can go further then start looking up the ranges.

Taking the Nikon range for example. Buy a Nikon D3100 and you’ll get a nice camera with a fairly bog standard kit lens, but the entry level DSLR doesn’t have the top screen with all your setting on it. The D3000 never came with a port to attach a wired remote of any kind either, both, in my opinion, big things to be without. If you can push the budget that little bit more, the D5100 would make a far better purchase.

I’d actually go as far as to say that if you are really looking at the bottom end of the market, seriously consider the 2nd hard option. For D3100 money you’ll pick up a used D90, a far far better camera that will last you for ages. If you can afford a D5100, consider a used D7000 and you’ll never have to think of cameras again for ages.

In my humble opinion, the amateur photographer needs look no further than the Nikon D7000 or Canon 7d, after this you get into full frame territory, serious cash and I see simply no need or justification for a amateur photographer to venture into this territory. A D7000 to all but another expert photographer match a D3 in terms of image quality. In real terms, the D3 will be far better, but in the real world, 99% of people will never be able to tell any difference and if you really learn how to use it, your D7000 will produce the most amazing and striking images.

And so lenses. Simply get the kit lens, it’ll be fine to start out with and you have other things to worry about. Factor in the cost of a reasonable tripod for starters, cheap tripods won’t last, spend at least £100 and it’ll last for ages.

You might also want to consider:

Remote control of some sort, preferably wired.
A decent bag to carry this all in, buy something big enough to accommodate future purchases as well.
A screw in polarising filter
Some sort of slot in filter system, p series system with some Hitech graduated filters is a good cheap entry level into this world and it’s the one single item that will change you from a snapper to a photographer.

There’s about £250 in that little lot of extras, you don’t need them all straight away but this is what you need to consider to take the hobby at least semi-seriously.

Once you’ve used this little lot and got to grips with it then you can start looking at lenses. You might want a wider lens, a bigger zoom even? Both good purchases. The old trusty 50mm f1.8 is a great purchase, the cheapest lens you’ll ever buy and so versatile you’ll wonder how you ever managed without it.

I don’t expect everyone will agree with my reasonings but from coming through the beginner route this is my findings and my recommendation. What you buy is of course up to you but hopefully there’s some food for thought in there!

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Living with a Nikon D7000

So I finally took the plunge. From first thoughts about upgrading my DSLR I went from hankering after a Nikon D7000 to a D300s to formulating plans for a D700 then a D3 before I went full circle back to a D7000. Then decided on a D300s. In the end it was driving me mad, my old D90’s sensor was verging on minging, no matter how much I cleaned it, it never seemed clean and I had to make a decision. In the end it was the increased pixels and buying into the latest Nikon technology that swung the deal for the D7000.

This camera is laden with nice new features from Nikon and it’s a bargain at the price. I picked up mine from Jessop’s. Ordered online and picked up in store for the sum of £863, a good as any of the online retailers. A word of warning though, this camera will be easily available for under £800 if you look around. Check it’s not a grey import before you buy as if it is there is NO warranty on the camera. I don’t know about you but spending £900 without a warranty seemed a risky move to me.

So, with camera bought along with a spare EN-EL15 batter (pricey!) and a nice new Lowepro backpack capable of holding 2 DSLR’s and indeed living in it’s so big I was a happy man!

After living with the D7000 for over a week now and having had the chance to use it in a variety of ways I can assure anyone thinking of making the move, especially from a D90 that you will not be disappointed.

The D7000 is actually slightly larger than the D90 and feels very well built indeed. I’ve added a 3rd party eBay sourced battery grip with a genuine Nikon battery and it’s a chunky bit of kit. Not as big as a D3 but big enough and heavy enough to give you confidence that you’ve bought something built to last.

As I had a few Sigma lenses I was wary about having issues with them, especially my old 70-200mm f2.8 EX HSM but was pleasantly surprised that it worked perfectly. Same went for my Sigma 10-20mm which functioned exactly as expected. Sadly, there the nice surprises stopped. My 2 year old Sigma 28-300 works but no longer auto focus’s on the D7000 and worse still, my 105mm EX DG Macro does not work at all. Nothing. Not even in manual mode with this lens fitted so it’ll need to go back to Sigma for re-chipping. Thankfully, Sigma seems to do this as a free service.

If you’re used a lower end Nikon, i.e. D90, D70, D5000 etc then the ergonomics of the camera will feel very similar. It’s considerably smaller than the D300s/D700 but certainly not difficult in hand at all. Button layout is pretty good with most things easily accessible in familiar places. The only odd one is the focus selector where the AF button has now gone and is unmarked on the focus A or M switch at the side of the lens mount. Took me a while to work that one out. Not that I was that bothered, the new 39 point focus system is astonishing, very very quick and accurate in auto mode.

The only complaint I have at the moment is that the rear screen while excellent seems to by default show the images a little dark so I’ve lightened mine up slightly. I’d certainly recommend using the histogram to check your exposures as the screen doesn’t seem all that accurate.

So after around 1000 shots with this camera was it worth the money? You bet it was. Total cost so far was:

Nikon D7000 – £863
EN-EL15 battery – £59.99
3rd party battery grip £37.99
2 x class 10 8GB SD cards – £8.99 each on eBay.

Under a grand a cracking bit of nice new kit to play with!

Check out a few of the sample images below from the D7000.

Newhaven Cobbles - Explored
Taken at sunset at Newhaven Harbour in Edinburgh.
Nikon D7000
Nikon 18-70mm DX AFS
Stacked Hitech 150 0.9 and 0.6 soft ND grads
Helipoan ND3.0 10 stop filter

National Museum of Scotland - Explored
The main hall of the National Museum of Scotland
Nikon D7000
Sigma 10-20mm EX DG

Big Seas at North Berwick - Explored
Big waves on the beach at North Berwick, East Lothian
Nikon D7000
Nikon 18-70mm DX AFS
Stacked Hitech 150 0.9 and 0.6 soft ND grads

Kevin Cruise
Kevin Cruise performing at Edinburgh Fringe Festival
Nikon D7000
Sigma 70-20mm f2.8 EX HSM

High Tide and the Road Bridge - Explored
Forth Road Bridge at high tide
Nikon D7000
Heliopan ND3.0 10 stop filter
Hitech 150 0.9 ND Soft Grad

Cramond Island Sunset
Cramond Island Sunset
Nikon D7000
Nikon 18-70mm DX AFS
Stacked Hitech 150 0.9 and 0.6 soft ND grads
2 shot stitched panorama¬


The stress of upgrading a DSLR!

A couple of months ago I made a decision that it was finally time to move on from my trusty Nikon D90. Now, this is the camera that really helped me make the leap from snapshots to “proper” photography. At the time I bought it, its 12.1mp sensor and feature set made it THE affordable DSLR. The fact it’s still so popular and on sale 2 years down the line is testament to just how good it is, especially as it wasn’t exactly the new kid on the block when I got my hands on it.

As with all things though, technology moves on and in this case, my understanding and photographic know how have also moved on and it’s time to move up the scale, just like I did with my Nikon D70 before.

You’d think this would be a fun move, getting some new kit. How wrong you can be! It’s a minefield out there of camera’s, megapixels, full frame or crop, specs etc etc. Bewildering almost.

Around a month ago I was passing a local branch of Jessops so nipped in for a look at the Nikon D7000 and D300s. The D7000 was originally what I really wanted. Surprisingly for me, the sales guy actually recommended the cheaper D7000 for my purposes but it looked so small next to the D300s which felt like a real proper camera. I was so taken with the D300s if I had the cash I’d have bought it there and then.

For weeks I’ve been researching D300s prices as I tried to assemble the cash to buy it outright, and then out of the blue came a possibility of increasing the budget to anything up to £3,000. Not certain yet but I had to put the camera on hold until I knew, this changes everything.

At this point the first thoughts of going full frame started. I’d always discounted it and I’d also need to change my Nikon 18-70mm AFS DX and Sigma 10-20mm lenses, the 2 main ones I use. With a bigger budget though…

Into view came the Nikon D700. Essentially, a Nikon D3 that’s a touch slower and doesn’t have the fancy body, or the price tag. I also figured I could replace the lenses with quality 2nd hand’s from the likes of Greys of Westminster and figured around another £700 should see me good.

Then when I though it was all clear in my head, I spotted the price of a used Nikon D3. Not the D3s or D3x they are well out of range but the original D3 was coming in at only a couple of hundred quid more than a D700! Top of the range, the holy grail of Nikon and it COULD be mine. Finances would be tight but it might be worth a compromise here and there to get one of the best DSLR’s on the market.

What I should have done then was to leave the internet well alone. I started reading comparison reviews of the cameras and came to the conclusion that a D700 would be just as good as a D3 and I could get it brand new for less than a used D3. Sorted, choice made.

Or was it?

Nope, after some more reading it seemed that full frame was overkill. I’m not a pro, probably never will be so what do I need with full frame? Nope, a D300s would be perfectly adequate.

A D300s it was then. Decision made. As a result of the lesser expenditure I could also probably get myself a Nikon 17-55mm f2.8 DX, the prince of DX format lenses, a Speedlight SB900 and a set of Lee grads and polariser.

BUT, something was nagging at me. The D300s is a 12.1mp camera. Essentially the same one as the Nikon D90 I already have. Of course there are many other improvements but the Canon 7D is in the same price range and its 18mp! I know megapixels are not all that counts at the end of the day but more would be nice. So what else could I get?

I even contemplated a full scale switch to Canon so I could get a 7D but this would be a nightmare with so much Nikon gear so the only other thing I could do was buy the Nikon D7000. After reading the Ken Rockwell review of the D7000 my mind is made up. By all accounts, it appears to be a remarkable camera and while I still don’t really care for the dinkyness of it, I’ll add the battery grip to give it a bit more satisfying bulk for me.

Add in a 2nd hand 17-55 lens to replace my aging 18-70, Speedlight SB900 and the Lee filters and I’ll be just over the 2k mark for all this nice new kit and no issues having to replace lenses left, right and centre.

So that’s it, D7000 it’s going to be.

At least till I start reading other reviews tomorrow…


RAW vs JPG, what’s right for you?

I follow a lot of photographers on Twitter and this is a debate that’s been rearing its head a lot of late, but is one really better than the other?

For the most part, it seems to be less experienced photographers that shoot in jpg with those who have a bit more experience making the switch to RAW. For my own part, I started off only in jpg, progressed to jpg and RAW and now 95% of the time shoot only in RAW.

So, what’s the big deal about shooting in RAW?

Quite simply, it’s all about the control you have over your image. Using RAW for your photography you can safely forget all about white balance, it’s easily adjustable in the RAW file. Blown out highlights? Not a problem, the recovery slider will get you out of that one most times. I’m not suggesting that RAW should make you lazy and you should digitally correct every imperfection, what it does is gives you a “get out of jail free card”. In other words, you take that shot of a lifetime but you forgot about the white balance, now in jpg this would be a nightmare to sort, in RAW, the shot is easily saved. It’s a great safety net, especially when you’re learning.

Of course making the switch to RAW will be slightly confusing at first until you get to grips with Lightroom, Adobe Camera RAW or any other RAW importer but the benefits of control over your final image rather than settling for the manufacturer process algorithm are massive. Once you get used to dealing with RAW files you will start to realise the creative control you have over your images and it’s this I feel is the trigger to make sure you never switch back to jpg. Once you get that level of control you won’t want to lose it again.

Your other big plus point of course is that RAW is the scene as the camera see’s it. Unprocessed and every last bit of image detail intact. It’s a lossless format, unlike jpg which after it’s gets processed and compressed loses a lot of image data, even at the highest resolution. If it’s the most perfect file you want, RAW and 16bit TIFF are your way forward. High quality jpg is fine in most situations but it’s nice to know, if you ever need it, you have the full unaltered best quality image. In some cases where I’ve licensed images the printer has specifically asked for TIFF rather than RAW, an option if you have the RAW file, not so if only a jpg.

BUT… jpg has its place.

I learned this one the hard way a few years ago. I used to do a lot of rally photography with my D70 and Sigma 70-200mm f2.8. Always shooting in jpg I would come home with hundreds of images that could be quickly downloaded, cropped and upped to the web. After a few years away from this I went to a rally again but this time shot over 500 frames in RAW. Process 500 RAW images? Not a hope. I know you can automate it but if you’re doing that, what’s the point? The next time I photographed a rally I used jpg which was the right choice for the situation.

I also switched to jpg when I was out and about the Royal Mile in Edinburgh photographing the Fringe acts performing. Again, it was a case of so many shots, processing the RAW was not going to be feasible so jpg again won the day. In both the cases though, the crucial element was that I didn’t need a much creative control over the scene as I did with a landscape or flower macro photograph, I was purely documenting what was happening at that particular time.

So, that’s my take on the debate. If you need the creative control, which I do most of the time, RAW is the perfect choice. If you documenting an event and it’s more important to rattle off shots on high speed drive rather than control ever last pixel then jpg makes a lot more sense.

I’m sure this is a debate that will run and run as long as cameras give us the option of which format to use, it’d be interested though to hear your thoughts on the subject!