Monday, June 7, 2010


Yes I have a camera.

In fact my dad had a Pentax film SLR which I found and asked to borrow when I was 9. Next he showed me how to develop and print black and white films and I fell in love.

When I left home to move in with my pregnant girlfriend I decided I needed an SLR again. Especially with a newborn on the way. (That was in 1985 and that newborn is about to turn 24!) I bought a middle of the range Minolta and took the obligatory family shots. But film was expensive so I kept them to a minimum.

A divorce and a marriage and 17 years later and the 2MP point and shoot turned up in the family. The convenience and price of digital was sensational but the picture quality and most importantly the latency between pushing the button and taking the photo drove me mad. I enquired about digital SLRs but the price was ridiculous.

Then one day a few years on I took a helicopter ride with my now second ex. She took the digital so I dragged out my old film SLR, loader her up with a new film and took that. The quality, the responsiveness all came flooding back and I was re-hooked. Now I was seriously looking for a digital SLR.

Prices had come down and Pentax had on sale an *ist DS for a modest price. I loved my dad's old Pentax and was stunned to find that all the old quality lenses still worked on the new beast. So I took the plunge.

Well three Digital SLR cameras later, numerous lenses and 40000 photos later, I can call myself a photographer. showcases my work.

My philosophy is that I like to have the shot straight out of the camera. That is, I don't like post processing. Besides it takes time. Sure if the shot is good, but the exposure is not I'll work my guts out trying to get it looking good. But I get most satisfaction coming back from a shoot, downloading the shots and just looking through photos and applying no adjustments. That's a great feeling. Maybe the film background did that to me...

So what's the trick to becoming a good photographer?

Well there's an old adage that is a bit worn out but very true:

Amateurs worry about equipment
Professionals worry about money
Masters worry about the light

The light is the most important thing, no question. But before you can be worrying about light, you first have to be at one with your equipment. And to be at one with your equipment you to need to go through the equipment junky stage.

What camera should you buy?

This is a big question and one I get asked a lot. First, if you're always going to want the camera to do the work automatically for you then get a point and shoot.

However, if you want to learn to become a photographer then take the plunge and get an SLR. If you don't now, you will later.

So what's the difference between a P&S and an SLR? The main difference is you can remove the lens. But to the beginner that means nothing. So from a beginner's perspective a P&S can produce a mighty fine photograph. But when the light gets tricky or conditions are less than perfect or you need to take control of the exposure - that's when an SLR is essential.

There are heaps of other reasons too (faster focusing, better quality, water resistance, ...) but here's my suggestion. If you don't know which to buy, don't go and buy a high end point and shoot. Get a cheaper one. See if you like taking photos. See if you get to the point where you outlast the features in the camera. If you're not happy with it's exposure then learn about manual and use that. Once you've exhausted it's abilities then go and buy an SLR.

If you buy an expensive P&S you'll hold back on making the jump having wasted $800.

So you've decided on an SLR.

Which brand?

Personally I would only look at three brands. In alphabetical order they are Canon, Nikon and Pentax.

Pick one of those you will have to become a darn good photographer to outdo the camera's abilities.

No one will argue with me about the first two, but why Pentax? Well I do know the brand very well and so I'm qualified to discuss it. It's biggest advantage over the other two is bang for your buck. For what you pay for a lower end Nikon or Canon you can get a high end Pentax. And they are built very well indeed.

I currently use a K7, and have a K10D as backup and my *ist DS as my keep-in-the-car camera.

OK, so you've got your camera. Now you need to learn how to use it. Take thousands of photos. Get out of automatic (Try aperture priority or "A" mode) and learn how exposure works. Learn about f stops, shutter speed, ISO and depth of field.

Understand your camera so you can operate it in the dark. Change a card or battery with your eyes closed. You need to be at one with that camera.

Do that and you'll get to a point where you can take some pretty great shots. But if you're like me you'll be waiting for the light to be just right, you'll see the shot and, because you know your camera, you'll be able to capture it.

But then the next level is reached. Instead of waiting for the light to be right, you need to create it. And this is where you have to re-learn a whole lot of stuff.

But that's next time...

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