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Art of Documenting

Photo Gear, Part 2

In part one, I attempted to show that composition and presence of mind were a greater part of the equation that goes into taking a great photo. Here, I will attempt to provide a more direct answer to the most common question I’m asked, “what kind of camera do you use?”

The quick answer: Fuji XE-2, Ricoh GR, iPhone 7.

The more involved answer…

As I pointed out in Part 1 of this blog series, the best camera is the one that is with you. With that in mind, the more portable a camera is, the more likely you are to take it with you. This is particularly the case if you will be doing a lot of walking or have any desire to be discrete about your photo taking. The less obtrusive the camera, the better. Of course, it is often the case that, when you go for a smaller camera, there is a sacrifice in quality. To a degree, this is true. However, there are many small size cameras on the market that demonstrate excellent photo taking capabilities, despite their size. Here are some factors to consider when selecting your camera:

Cost: Naturally, you’ll want to get the best camera that suits your needs within your given budget. Use your friends as resources. Ask them if they would be willing to go with you on a photo walk and have them show you how their camera works and to see some photo samples. Or, simply talk photography over a coffee at a local cafe. Ask your friend to bring her or his camera with them so they can walk you through the features and menus.

Lenses and Accessories: This also relates to cost. When you are looking for a camera, make sure it has the type of lenses or accessories you will be interested in buying. This is particularly the case when it comes to flashes, macro lenses, and prime lenses of a particular f-stop. If you’re interested in macro photography, it would probably be best to get a camera from a manufacturer that also makes macro lenses for that type of camera.

Menus/Software: The navigation menus or software of the camera is a surprisingly important aspect of a camera and one that is often overlooked. I’ve found that it doesn’t matter how great a photo a camera can take if I can’t figure out how to work the camera. So, find a camera that feels natural or intuitive to you. If you pick up a camera and quickly find yourself getting frustrated trying to figure out the basic controls, then that camera probably isn’t the one for you, especially if you consider yourself to be reasonably competent when it comes to cameras/digital photography.

Where to buy: If you can’t get your hands on too many cameras to familiarize yourself with them, make sure you purchase from a retailer that has an excellent return policy. Or, find a place that will allow you to rent a camera/lens kit for a short time so that you can take a prospective camera for a solid test drive. Also, make sure you purchase from an authorized retailer should you ever need to make use of the manufacturer’s warranty coverage. When investing a significant amount of money in a camera, you’ll want to steer clear of gray market options.

Where to begin: As I previously pointed out, if you have any friends that are into photography, ask them for their opinions and if they are willing to show you around their gear. Another wonderful resource I’ve used over the years are the fine folks at DP Review, who provide spectacular in-depth reviews of many popular cameras. Also, consider going through camera reviews of popular online retailers, such as Amazon, Adorama, and B&H Photo.

So, why did I choose the three cameras that I use?

Fuji XE-2: This camera is an excellent bang for the buck. The “kit” lens that comes with the camera is no slouch. It is easily the best kit lens I’ve ever come across. In fact, I’ve had this camera (and it’s processor, the XE-1) for a few years and I still use the lens it came with. It’s just that good. Just as importantly, I really like the menus/navigation. For me, they are very intuitive, which means I can get ready to take a photo faster. Before this, I had several Nikon DSLR cameras. While these were very capable cameras, once I stumbled onto Fuji, I realized what I was missing. One of the features that drew me to this camera was how much performance is packed into such a small form factor. Which leads me to the next camera that I use.

Ricoh GR: This camera sports a similar size imaging sensor found in the Fuji, but instead of coming with a detachable zoom lens, the GR has a fixed prime lens. While this saves a considerable amount of space and weight, it does come with its own set of limitations. However, for me, I rather enjoy shooting with a prime lens. This type of lens forces the photographer to conform to her or his surroundings and to be a bit more creative in how they approach their subject. Instead of moving a zoom lens to frame an image in a desired way, the photographer must move her or his-self to do so. That this camera has a reasonably large sensor and high quality lens in such a small package, it lends itself very well to travel photography. That being said, one must carefully consider the type of photography that will be taken. If you are going to want to take close-up nature photography, this will not be the camera for you. If, on the other hand, you will be traveling to an urban location or would like more wide-open nature shots, this camera will serve you well.

iPhone 7: iPhones (and any other high quality cell phones with cameras) are ubiquitous. Some photographers may loathe this. I, on the other hand, think it’s great. Not before the iPhone has so much photographic capabilities ever been put into such a small size. In addition, these capabilities have been put into a device that most people already carry with them anyway. Now, there can be drawbacks for this, and I think this is where some photographers’ disdain enters into the picture. With so many people having camera phones, there are many more photos being taken, many of which are likely do not approach the quality of a professional photographer. This isn’t necessarily speaking to the limitations of the hardware, but to the users’ skill in framing an image. This situation makes it more difficult for professional or really good, non-professional photographers to get their work out there. It’s hard to rise above the din of mobile photography. Rather than getting frustrated at this situation, I would say that this challenge forces photographers to up their game, to try new things in order to remain relevant. Back to the iPhone… As I said previously, the best camera is the one you have with you. Since most people always have their phone with them, that tends to make the camera phone the best possible option for photography. In addition, it has some impressive hardware capabilities, it’s extremely intuitive to use, and there are many different apps that can enhance the users’ experience. Of course, it has its drawbacks. Low light performance suffers from a very small image sensor, zoom capability is limited, and white balance may not be as accurate as more high-end cameras. But when you take the time to understand its limitations and begin to know how to work around them, you will be able to take amazing photos with your camera phone.

Keep an eye out for part 3 of this series where I dive deeper into technical specifications of cameras and what to look out for when buying a new camera.

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