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.

Picturing 2015

In web years, Flickr is relatively old service (opening in 2004), and has been far eclipsed by Facebook and Instagram in the number of pictures posted by users.1 However, I think it is still a great sharing community, especially for serious amateur photographers (like me) to showcase their work.

Each December, the editors at Flickr post a year in review highlighting the “photos, people and stories that captured our hearts, eyes and minds”, including their top 25 images as determined by the community. That post alone is a great collection and worth at least few minutes to gather some inspiration for next year.

Wedding Album

I don’t know if this is my “best” photo of the year, but it is one of my favorites.

Along with the pictures, Flickr also posts a bunch of interesting data about the cameras used by photographers to make those images. It probably won’t surprise anyone that various iPhones are the cameras of choice, growing steadily over the past five years. Seven different Apple devices are in the top 10 places (with the iPad coming in at 15 – unfortunately :-).

On the flip side of the rapid increase in smartphone pictures posted to Flickr, the charts show a steady drop in the popularity of dedicated point-and-shoot devices (down by 20% in five years), with a much smaller decline in the use of DSLRs.

Of course, this is just Flickr. It would be nice if Facebook and Instagram would release some similar stats on the devices used to post to their services. I’m willing to bet smartphones, especially iPhone models, are even more popular over there.

Because, in the end, it really is true that the best camera is the one you have with you. I just hope that in 2016 people will cut back on the selfies and do more exploring of their creative side.

Can We Watch You Working?

The first segment of last week’s Freakonomics podcast addressed a question from a listener who asked if internet-connected cameras were placed in a “poor performing junior high classroom… would performance improve, would the students grow up and contribute positively to society”.

The hosts didn’t believe placing cameras in classrooms would make any long term difference (“the problem is no one’s going to watch”) but they did like the idea as an experiment that might get parents more involved in their kid’s education if they could tune in anytime.

I also have my doubts that the “power of scrutiny” would have any effect after the novelty wore off and I certainly agree with this stumbling block: “I can’t imagine how many lawyers you’d have to talk to before you could get even one camera in the room.”.

But I wonder if there might not be other reasons for classroom cameras.

For one, I’d love the opportunity to watch a great teacher at work on a regular basis, something beyond a single, special occasion drop in. And that teacher could in return receive professional feedback from far beyond their local circle.

What about it? Would you be willing to let colleagues from the world watch you work?

Keeping You Safe By Limiting Your Rights

In England this month, a new law takes effect that forbids taking pictures of “members of armed forces, a member of the intelligence services, or a police officer” if the photograph is “likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism”.

The British government, of course, justifies the new regulations in the name of “security”.

Unfortunately, this attitude of paranoia and fear directed at anyone with a camera is not confined to the UK.

Franchising Big Brother

If you have the money, there are plenty of organizations that will sell you the right to put your name, logo, or ad on their property.

The city of Flint, Michigan, for example, will trade you $30,000 for the naming rights to the bullet-proof box encasing a surveillance camera.

Haven’t got that much cash? The city offers lower rates for small company logos or even an individual’s name. The cameras come with a bonus that’s sure to draw attention to your name or logo — a flashing blue police light that sits on top of the box and operates 24 hours a day.

So far, they’ve had no takers.

I might be tempted if they’d make the boxes look like the Tardis instead. :-)