Camera Shopping

Photo of two cameras

This post is long and rather geeky. If you have no interest in interchangeable lens cameras (ILC) and/or my process of buying a new one, it’s time to move to the next item in your RSS feed.

As you may have noticed from the photo-related posts around here, and especially if you have followed the link to my photo site, I make a lot of pictures. If you dug a little deeper, you would find that most of them were taken with a DSLR (digital single lens reflex) camera. I also use a smartphone camera, of course, but most often those wind up on Twitter, Flickr, and other sharing sites with no processing.

My current camera1 is now more than six years old, which, considering it’s been well-used on a dozen major trips, lots of shorter ones, and plenty of local photowalks, is getting up there in age. When I bought it, this model was considered “entry-level” in the world of ILC cameras, as was my previous DSLR and which I used for seven years.

So, I’m shopping for a new camera, a not-at-all simple process as well as a potentially expensive investment.

One complicating factor is that the technology has made some major advancements since I last did any serious camera research. Another is that I’m ready to move up a category, to something that might be considered “intermediate”. And that means more complex options.

However, the biggest issue I’m dealing with are the titanic developments in mirrorless technology coming from camera companies. Mirrorless will almost certainly become the standard for ILCs in the future, but we are currently near the beginning of that shift. Although the basics of shooting with a mirrorless camera aren’t really different, there are still some key differences between them and traditional DSLRs. And some important features still lag behind.2

All of this is why I rented a mirrorless camera last week and did a lot of shooting with it.3 Renting gave me a relatively inexpensive opportunity to play with the new technology, along with experience with the new operating system of a different camera brand.4 Plus a whole lot of buttons, dials, and joystick, all of which I couldn’t possibly learn in just a few days. But it was fun trying.

Of course, everything above is just about the camera. Buying an ILC system also means there are new lenses to consider, lenses that can also be very expensive. Although, I have friends who are really into camera equipment and own four or five different pieces of glass, in addition to a couple of bodies, my needs and wants are simpler. I will start with just one general purpose “travel” zoom lens and maybe add a second “prime” lens later.

Anyway, the bottom line to this long rambling post is that I won’t be buying anything right away. My current camera still has some good life in it, and budgeting for a whole new system will require some additional savings.

But the big unknown in my decision-making process is that the industry has not heard from the two big guys in ILCs. Canon and Nikon have not yet released “serious” mirrorless camera systems. They seem to be close. Both are expected to make some big announcements about their new equipment very soon, possibly at Photokina, the huge international photography show in September. The new systems aren’t expected to be widely available until next year, but knowing something about their plans will be good.

In the meantime, I’ll do more research, keep adding to my piggy bank, and continue making many more pictures with the cameras I have.

The common wisdom, of course, is that the best camera is the one you have with you. And that it’s not the equipment that makes great images, it’s the photographer.

However, advanced technology and understanding how to make the best use of it can make even better photographs possible.

Thanks for reading to the end of this rant. If you have any thoughts or experience to contribute to my search for a new ILC, I’d love to hear them. Or if you could benefit from what I’ve learned, I’m happy to help. Either way, please leave a comment or tweet at me.


1. The one on the left in the photo is my Canon Digital Rebel T4i. It was released in June, 2012 and I bought it not long after in advance of a big trip. The camera was unique at the time for having a touch screen, something that is now common on most ILC, but was by no means state of the art. BTW, no irony in the fact the picture was taken with an iPhone.

2. If you’re interested in digging deeper into the differences, this post from Tom’s Guide is a good place to start.

3. The one on the right is the rental, a Sony A7 III. That model was released in April of this year and is considered one of the best intermediate mirrorless cameras available right now. A few photos from experimenting with this camera are here. More to come.

4. Unlike computers, every camera company has their own OS. Like computers, all of them are very similar but just different enough to add another layer of difficulty when moving to a new camera.

No, Google Is Not Free

One of the 800-pound gorillas at ISTE, of course, is Google. They are “gold” sponsors (meaning they kicked in more money than the silver and bronze level companies) and have a huge presence on the vendor floor, both in their own booths and in the booths of dozens (hundreds?) of other companies that connect to them in some way. Plus many, many sessions and posters deal with their various education-related products.

And one term commonly associated with all of this Googley goodness is free. Educators love free, and they don’t pay to use GSuite, Classroom, Expeditions, Maps, Earth, ChromeOS, Photos, storage, and, of course, Search.

Except these services really are not free.

Instead of sending Google money, education users and their students, like the rest of us, are contributing labor and data to the company. In Google’s own words:

The Google Privacy Policy describes fully how Google services generally use information, including for G Suite for Education users. To summarize, we use the information we collect from all of our services to provide, maintain, protect and improve them, to develop new ones, and to protect Google and our users. We also use this information to offer users tailored content, such as more relevant search results. We may combine personal information from one service with information, including personal information, from other Google services. [emphasis mine]

Another way to look at our relationship with Google comes from an essay in Slate about another free product that’s been in the news lately, Facebook.

There are at least two alternative ways of viewing our relationship to Facebook… The first is to view ourselves as customers of Facebook, paying with our time, attention, and data instead of with money. This implies greater responsibility on both sides.

The second is to view ourselves as part of Facebook’s labor force. Just as bees labor unwittingly on beekeepers’ behalf, our posts and status updates continually enrich Facebook.

Swap Google for Facebook in those statements. We help their marketing department by putting their name and products in front of students, often for many hours a day. We also provide the labor to help develop and test products that will make them a lot of money.

And do not assume students are protected by working in a “closed” Google Education environment. Unless your network never connects to the outside world, there are many ways for Google (and others) to connect your “anonymous” students to advertisers, now and in the future.

Anyway, even with all that, I’m not trying to convince you to quit using Google’s products, either personally or in the classroom. I use some of them myself (although not as much as I used to). I even present conference sessions and workshops encouraging teachers to use Google Earth and Google’s other geo-related resources for their instruction.

However, everyone needs to understand that the cost of “free” admission to Google (or any other services that don’t charge at the door) is your data. Data that is stored, analyzed, connected with other data, and occasionally sold, stolen, or otherwise distributed to third parties. With your permission, since you agreed to the terms of service you probably didn’t read when registering for that first Gmail address.

So, by all means, continue using Google and other free services. But, in the wise words of Sgt. Phil Esterhaus, let’s be careful out there.


If you’ve never seen the classic cop show Hill Street Blues, you’ve missed some good TV. At least for the first three or so seasons. I think it’s available on Hulu and maybe other streaming services.

Let’s Go Over This Again… Photography Is Not A Crime!

It seems that Homeland Security has embarked on another of those “if you see something, say something” campaigns, something that has become far too popular among police agencies at all levels.

And, this being 2018, they tweeted each of the of the “warning signs”, including this gem.

Tweet from Homeland Security regarding photography as a threat

So what’s “unusual” when it comes to photography? Many people view anyone carrying a DSLR as suspicious. Even though my six-year old Rebel makes a pretty poor spy camera.

How do you determine “prolonged interest”? A good photographer will often look for different perspectives on a good subject and wait for different light, taking multiple shots along the way. Is that considered a “covert manner”?

One of the worst parts of the campaign is the infographic featuring all the “warning signs”. Homeland Security is placing photography on the same level with activities like theft, making threats, cyberattack, and collecting weapons.

Unfortunately, attempting to restrict the right to photograph in public spaces, always in the name of security, never seems to go away, especially in the DC area. Despite court rulings, Congressional hearings on the matter, and the fact that absolutely no link has ever been established between people taking pictures and terrorist acts. Even Stephen Colbert (no, the other one) found the whole idea amusing.

But you don’t think taking pictures with a smartphone exempts you from being considered “suspicious”, do you? Now would be a good time to review your rights as a photographer, regardless of your equipment.

Attorney Bert Krages has created The Photographer’s Right, a pdf summary based on information from the ACLU. He’s also written a book on the subject that also goes into the legal rights and responsibilities if you plan to sell your images.

If you want to dive deeper into the subject without paying, the ACLU themselves have an extensive online collection of articles and posts on the subject.

Of course, this information applies to the United States. I haven’t found a lot of good resources for other countries, although many western nations provide similar rights for the art of photography. Wikimedia Commons does offer a general chart about laws regarding taking and using pictures of people in many countries. The Wikipedia article on Photography and the law, covering the UK, Canada, and other countries, is also useful.

And, as you might expect, there is a great deal of controversy and uncertainty around taking pictures of law enforcement activities. Be extra cautious when practicing journalistic photography.

My Flawed ISTE 2018 Journey Report

Smart badge cracked open

My personalized “ISTE 2018 journey” has arrived. This is the report generated from data gathered by the “smart badge technology” attached to our name badge holder. Data that ISTE said would provide us with a “more personalized learning experience”.

So, what insights and revelations does it reveal about my time in Chicago?

Frankly, not much. The report is simply an HTML email with links to program descriptions for the sessions I attended, plus links to “resources” provided by the presenters.

Except I didn’t attend half the sessions that ISTE’s tracker says I did. I’m very sure I was never in the room for “Amazing Must-Have Google Add-Ons, Tips & Tricks and Features You Never Knew” or “Mining Treasures in CSR: Timely, Curriculum-based. Free!”. No offense intended toward the presenters. Just not topics on my must-see list.

Some stops on my “journey” probably came from dropping into a room long enough to have a quick conversation with the presenter. For others, maybe I lingered too close to the room while tweeting or sending a text. And none of my time spent in the Bloggers’ Cafe or Posters area was recorded, even though ISTE placed their short, black receivers in those areas.

The report also doesn’t indicate whether I stayed for the whole session, only listing the time it was scheduled for. I know I was in a couple of sessions scheduled at the same time but ISTE’s tracker only seems to have captured the first one.1

Another oddity in my report is the list of vendors I visited. According to ISTE, this section was not generated by picking up the Bluetooth signal from the tag, only when my badge was scanned by a vendor.

Except that I never allowed anyone to scan my badge.

I did visit the Google booth a couple of times, primarily to see friends and talk to some members of the Geo Education team. But no one scanned me. For the other nine companies listed, I would have a hard time even telling you what they do just from their name. Maybe they had a device for scanning people as they passed. Certainly would be easy to do.

Anyway, the bottom line is that “Your ISTE 2018 Journey” really doesn’t tell me much. It certainly doesn’t explain what happens to my conference data now that the report has been sent. Will it be deleted or does ISTE plan to use it in other ways? Will it be shared with others outside the organization?

And a few other questions running around my warped brain…

Does the organization plan to use this technology again next year? If so, I wonder if the number of attendees who choose not to wear this “smart technology” (which really isn’t that smart) will spike. Will they be more aware and concerned with being tracked around a large convention center?

Is this technology hackable? At least two people I know wrote posts about being able to “see” the badges around them using a free smartphone app. As far as I know, they were only able to read the name assigned (mine was eventBit_18797) but that’s a first step to digging deeper. And possible misuse.

Maybe we need a pre-conference session on playing with this technology next June. It would be fun to see what could be done with tracking devices during ISTE 2019.


The picture is of my smart badge cracked open. Is there some way to read that chip?

1. I’m one of those annoying people who believes in the rule of two feet. If the presenter isn’t meeting my needs, I will get up and leave. Sorry, but I expect the same action from anyone attending a sessions I’m doing.

Teach Me, Seymour

One of the few formal sessions I attended at the ISTE conference was one by Gary Stager. Gary is one of those people with strong opinions, and I don’t always agree with him but he always gets me thinking. Which is a good thing.

His topic this time was a retrospective on the work and ideas of Seymour Papert, who passed away two years ago. If you are an educator and you don’t know about Papert’s work, then there is a big gap in your professional knowledge. Especially if you have anything to do with instructional technology.1

Papert was a pioneering researcher on how kids could use technology to learn. He believed in the idea that children could and should use all kinds of tools create their own learning, leading directly to the current Maker movement. He was also the godfather of today’s “coding for all” efforts, having co-developed the Logo language (Scratch’s grandfather) and advocated in the 80’s for programming as part of the standard curriculum.

During the talk, Gary reminded us of two particular Papert ideas that I believe are very relevant in the techno-rush to “personalize” student learning.

One comes from Papert’s landmark book Mindstorms in which he asks a fundamental question: “Does the computer program the child or does the child program the computer?”

It struck me that the former – the computer programming the child – is exactly the approach taken by many designers of personalized systems. They claim their products are simply offering kids choices, but too often their algorithms are in control of the learning process.

Before buying into the marketing hype of “personalized” learning products, anyone who works with children should be asking the developers Papert’s question. If they can’t offer a satisfactory answer, move on.

Gary also offered another, very simple, observation from Papert that should be quite obvious, but is often ignored: “Learning is not the direct result of being taught.”

Of course, when he uses the term “learning”, Papert was not thinking of standardized test scores. He was concerned with long term understanding and internalizing of knowledge. The kind that only comes from kids constructing their own learning.

It’s an idea that the vendors of “personalized” learning systems seem have missed, since their systems are all about being taught, not learning.

Just a couple of powerful ideas from Seymour Papert that we often forget when surrounded by all the attractive, shiny new toys at ISTE.


The image is a drawing of Seymour being drawn by the LOGO Turtle by Peter H. Reynolds. It is linked from Gary Stager’s Daily Papert website.

1. In addition to Mindstorms, I recommend Papert’s wonderful book from the early 90’s, The Children’s Machine. You can also get much more information about Papert and read many of his papers on Gary’s site, The Daily Papert.