Friday Foto Talk: Does the Camera Matter?   5 comments

This shot of the Columbia River in Washington under morning light was made with a Canon 5D Mark II and Canon 24-105 f/4L IS lens.

This shot of the Columbia River in Washington under morning light was made with a Canon 5D Mark II and Canon 24-105 f/4L IS lens.

I normally try to stay away from talk of gear.  This is the only day of the week in which I ever blog strictly about photography matters, but even here I stay away from gear reviews and the like.  Last Friday I looked at how water and your camera get along (or not!).  I suppose I dipped my toe into the gear waters when I did that.  So today I’m going to go in a little deeper.  But don’t worry, I’m not about to sell out.  I’ll keep it gear-neutral, and you won’t see any cheerleading.

I’ve been a Canon user since I switched to digital.  Nothing against Nikon, Sony, etc. of course.  I simply looked at the lens lineup, cost of a good camera to begin with, and went for it.  It happened that Canon’s 5D Mark II was the best value at the time I was purchasing, and Canon’s lens choice seemed a tad better than Nikon’s.  I shot Nikon film cameras, and could easily switch if a compelling reason came up.

Phantom Ship is a rock island sticking up in one corner of Oregon's Crater Lake.

Phantom Ship is a rock island sticking up in one corner of Oregon’s Crater Lake.

After I purchased the 5D Mark II I did not want to spend a lot more right away.  So I bought a Sigma lens with it, then a couple cheaper Canon lenses.  I wasn’t happy with the quality, in general.  So it wasn’t long before I took the plunge and bought a few Canon L lenses.  I also bought a Canon 50D as a backup, then a zoom lens that is specific to that camera type (crop-frame).

Through all this, I learned one important lesson: Next to the photographer and subject/light, the lens (not the camera) makes the most difference to the quality of image you get.  The camera does matter, don’t get me wrong.  I used a super-zoom point and shoot camera for some years when I was not seriously into photography.  Although the colors were okay, the images tended to be plagued by digital noise.  Noise tends to reduce clarity and make colors look unnatural.  Essentially, noise can ruin an image.  In general, the more expensive the camera, and the larger its sensor, the better it handles noise.

A viewing platform hanging over the lip of Multnomah Falls in Oregon is not for those afraid of heights.

A viewing platform hanging over the lip of Multnomah Falls in Oregon is not for those afraid of heights.

There are plenty of other reasons to get a nicer camera.  Ergonomics is important.  The way the camera feels in your hands and how easy it is to reach and naturally operate the controls is a factor, but depending on how outside the norm the size of your hands are, it’s my experience that you get used to whatever you use.  More important for me is a viewfinder that you can put your eye up to.  I have a point and shoot and use it when I’m in situations where the only camera I want to have needs to fit into my pocket.  This little camera (a Canon S95) handles noise amazingly well for its small sensor size, but I will never like using a screen to take a picture.  I just can’t compose as well.

A great pyrenees (Pyrenean mountain dog) appears to be having trouble staying awake.

A great pyrenees (Pyrenean mountain dog) appears to be having trouble staying awake.

One reason I don’t think is a good one to consider when shopping for a camera is the brand’s “cachet” or name recognition.  Nobody wants to admit they pay attention to this kind of stuff, but deep down we all know we do.  When I’m around other photographers, I’ve noticed other Canon shooters are more likely to strike up a conversation with me than are folks with other brands.  Silly huh?  I know one thing for sure.  If I had the money to go out and buy a Canon 1Dx, or a Nikon D4 (the two full-pro models), I might feel pretty cool around most other photographers.  But there will come that moment when somebody with a Hasselblad H5D (40K) or a similarly priced Leica S with fancy lens will show up.  Then what do you do?  It’s keeping up with the Joneses, a game you can’t win.

A red-winged blackbird sings in an eastern Oregon marsh.

A red-winged blackbird sings in an eastern Oregon marsh.

So back to the question: does the camera matter?  The short answer is yes but not as much as most think.  Glass (lenses) is always more important to the quality of your images, as is your overall skill and comfort with the camera.  The best camera is the one you have with you when you are presented with perfect light and subject.  This is an old truism that will always hold.

All of that said, today I have on the way a brand new Canon 5D Mark III.  I pulled the trigger yesterday and took advantage of a free one-day shipping offer.  It will replace my beloved 5D Mark II, which took a bad fall and bath last week.  That camera is at Canon’s repair, and will be fixed, but not cheaply!  Now I have 3 DSLRs and need to sell one.  My previous backup, the 50D, might be the one to go.  But that camera has given me nothing but sterling service for 3 years and is still going strong.  I might instead sell the 5D Mark II.  I’m not really sure.

Fairy Falls in Oregon's Columbia River Gorge appears to glow in sunlight diffused by the deep forest.

Fairy Falls in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge appears to glow in sunlight diffused by the deep forest.  This was captured with my Canon 5D Mark II and Tokina 16-28 mm. f/2.8 wide-angle zoom.

The Mark II is a full-frame camera with video while the 50D is a crop-frame without video.  The Mark II is a 21 MP camera while the 50D is a 15 MP camera.  But you have more reach with a crop-frame (it basically gives you extra zoom capability), nice to have when your main camera (in my case a 5D Mark III) is a full-frame.  I think most people would sell the crop-frame and keep the Mark II as a backup.  But for me it isn’t so simple and I haven’t made up my mind yet.  So feel free to give me your opinion if you have one.  Let me know if you are in the market and are interested in either camera.  Maybe you can help me make up my mind.

Have fun shooting!  I’ll post pictures from my new camera soon.

This image of a fisherman beneath Crown Point in Oregon's Columbia River Gorge was captured with my Canon 50D plus Canon EF-S 17-55 mm. f/2.8 IS lens.  Not bad for a backup!

This image of a fisherman beneath Crown Point in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge was captured with my Canon 50D + Canon EF-S 17-55 mm. f/2.8 IS lens. Not bad for a backup!

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5 responses to “Friday Foto Talk: Does the Camera Matter?

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  1. It would appear that we are neighbors. I live in the Rock Creek area near Tanasborne, a superb of Portland, OR. My first SLR was a 1970 Canon 35mm FTQL. I’ve shot with every major brand and format, including two Mamiya 645 medium format beauties when I shot weddings & family portraits professionally. I have two beautiful Nikon DSLRs and my favorite tiny Sony Alpha NEX-5N.

    Now retired, I travel as much as gas money will allow to photograph the Pacific Northwest. My favorite hangout is the Portland Zoo where I love to capture animal portraits and flower pictures. We’re blessed to live in an area with such diverse photographic opportunities, everything from waterfalls to hundreds of miles of pristine beaches. The climate makes our home a veritable garden of paradise.

    I’ve marked your blog as a favorite and am now a follower. Look for me to visit your site often as I myself am a prolific blogger and poster. – Bob

  2. Some good observations. I also find the fixation on brand loyalty rather amusing – no one’s got a corner on perfect equipment as far as I can see. I will be interested to hear about your comparison between your new camera and the old model.

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