The Best Camera (choosing your camera).

Just remember, the camera is only a tool which helps you express yourself through photography.

So what is the “best” camera? This question is meaningless IMHO, instead you should be asking yourself what is the best camera for YOU! There is no point in asking your photographer friend or anyone else for that matter what is the best camera, since everyone has their own preferences.

What are the most important “features” of a camera? Here is my list:

  1. The camera should be able do the job you want it to do. For that you need to know what are you actually willing to achieve with your camera. Are you a professional photographer who does studio work or you are an amateur trying to be creative or you simply want to preserve memories of your travels and family? Or maybe you just want to impress your friends with a big mean toy? Any reason can be a valid one. It really pays off if you know why you need a camera. If you don’t know why or feel the need to ask others to convince you to buy a camera, then you don’t need one and you can save money for something you really want/need.
  2. The camera should be convenient to use. It should be helping you take the pictures you want, not distracting you from the really important things. If the camera is too complex, it is a bad camera no matter how good it may be for someone else. If the camera is so heavy that you never bring it along, it is as good as a paper weight (if an expensive paper weight is exactly what you need, by all means get one). So, handling the camera before purchasing is very important.
  3. The camera should be enjoyable and fun to use.
  4. If things like the brand, number of megapixels or the color make the camera fun and enjoyable for you, don’t hesitate, go for those things even though I will say they are totally irrelevant for photography.

The above helps answering another important question. WHEN is the right time to buy your camera? Obviously the answer  is – right when you need it. Ideally you’d buy a camera in advance of course, as it takes time to get used to any tool. Say if you want to buy a camera for your upcoming trip to Paris, it is a good idea to buy it a couple of months in advance. It takes time to master your camera. I had my current dSLR for 5 months already and I still have a lot to explore even though I’m not new to photography.

If you keep waiting for the next newest model to be released, I bet you don’t actually need a camera at all and can save lots of money by skipping it altogether.  Of course “need” and “want” is not the same thing and it’s totally fine to “want” the newest model. Though in this case I can not see you ever buying a camera since there will be another newest model released every year or so, so you will end up waiting for the next newest model forever (as one friend of mine did). Or you are very reach, in that case you should buy every camera as soon as it is released and then the next model and so on. – Problem solved. It is important to understand though, the urge to have the newest model has nothing to do with photography. Any moment in time there is a number of people using current cameras for any thinkable and sometimes even unthinkable purpose and some of them are doing quite effectively too, so you can do it too.

To be continued …

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“Your Camera Doesn’t Matter”

The experience I would like to share with you in this post has been maybe the single most important event that has affected the way I think about photography.

Some background first. I started to be excited about photography after I had a chance to play with Sony F717 in 2003. My initial interest in photography was essentially fueled by the awe I had towards the camera, (and towards technology in general). Then in 2004 when I was picking my first camera I became a frequent visitor of various equipment-oriented websites, in particular dpreview. For someone with a technical background (physics) that environment was very familiar and easy to understand. I will call it a gear-centered approach. Someone infected by that approach is excited about the tool and focuses on the tools or on technical qualities of the results too much.

Then sometime around 2007 I came across this article by Ken Rockwell titled “Why Your Camera Doesn’t Matter”. It was an enlightenment for me. I’m sure it has not been the only thing that made me change my set of mind, however it happened to be the piece that was the quintessence of all the pieces of knowledge that I have acquired by that time.

Ken Rockwell disclaimer: Ken Rockwell is a rather controversial figure on the Internet. Some believe he is a genius, others are convinced he is a fool. Personally I like his articles on photography (not his gear reviews). The polarized way people see him means he is not for everyone. His style is “aggressive”, straightforward and hyperbolic. I don’t mind that. It is very easy to “filter” his essays for me. I don’t always agree with him, however I find his articles thought provoking at the very least. IMHO he does a very good job warning the reader of his style and that one should not take him literally. Nevertheless surprisingly (to me) many people do take him literally, get offended and this blocks their ability to think about what he writes. If you can’t stand Ken Rockwell, you don’t need to rely on his opinion. Many truly amazing and famous photographers have said the same in different words. Ken’s article provides some examples so I will refer you to that.

Anyway, back to the topic of the post.

Your Camera Doesn’t Matter.

What does it mean? I will try to explain what is implied by this statement (at least what I believe it is trying to tell). First of all one shouldn’t take this statement literally. In fact someone familiar with formal logic will know that one shouldn’t take any human language statement literally.

What this slogan is trying to convey is the photographer-centered approach to photography. Basically, what matters the most in creating a photograph is the photographer, his imagination, creativity and skill. The camera is only a tool, necessary of course. The tool you are using doesn’t matter, what matters is the result. Some believe this point of view on photography stems from viewing photography as art rather than visual duplication of reality.

It makes sense of course. Give the most advanced camera to a bad photographer and he will still produce flat and uninspiring (though maybe technically perfect) results. No most advanced camera will make you Ansel Adams or Henri Cartier-Bresson. On the other hand many masters have been using primitive technology. What made their photographs stand out was definitely not just technical excellence.

All this seems to be obvious and one may think it doesn’t need to be repeated all the time, why do various people want to stress it again and again. I will try to give my answer.

Even though it is obvious to most good photographers, it might not be obvious to someone who is new to photography like I was 10 years ago. Ken wrote his piece in 2005, I’ve read it in 2007. At that time this slogan has not been popularized at all. One wouldn’t read about this on dpreview or other gear-centered websites. Now the situation is different. Any photo resources on the web has a number of threads dedicated to discussing this line. So why repeat it now?

I did google search for “your camera doesn’t matter” when preparing this article and even though the references and interpretation of this slogan are in abundance nowadays, the level of confusion is alarming. It seems that there are still too many gear-centered thinking people around aggressively defending their “cause”.

Quite often it is hard to draw a line between a “photographer-centered” approach and the “gear-centered” one. Many will accept the simple truth that the photographers skill is the most important, though will tell you the camera obviously does matter too.

We can argue forever about interpretations of photography, however I’d like to finish with practical implications of those 2 points of view to make the difference between the 2 clear and to show where either approach leads you and how does it affect you behavior.

Gear centered approach:

  • focusing (spending a lot of time) on evaluating technical advantages of one tool over another one, be it a camera or a lens or any other photography accessory
  • believing that you need a better/newer/more advanced tool to accomplish a particular task
  • thinking that your results are lacking because you don’t have that one (better) tool (camera, lens …)

This approach leads you to buy more and more, “better” and “better”, newer and newer. It makes you waste lots of energy and time on discussing/researching technical aspects of tools.

Photographer-centered approach:

  • focusing on creative aspects of photography
  • focusing on what you want to tell through your photograph rather than its technical qualities (such as sharpness or distortion)
  • finding the source of “poor results” in ones self rather than in ones equipment
  • investing in education rather than into the newest tools
  • focusing on taking pictures rather than wasting time discussing technical advantages of one tool over another

This approach saves you a lot of money and leaves you much more time to actually take pictures. I strongly believe this approach is the way to go if you want to improve. Someone who sticks to this point of view will rather consider the convenience of use/ergonomics of the camera or how fun is it to use than bother about its technical characteristics.

I encourage everyone to read Ken Rockwell’s piece, maybe you will find it as insightful as I did. In the case you can’t stand his style though, just read a book written by a true master you like the most. It will be far more beneficial than spending a year on a gear-discussion forum.

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Photography in Space

The Luminous Landscape has published an interesting article by Captain Alan Poindexter. The article is a must read when you prepare for your next shooting session … on the orbit!

Alan Poindexter was a shuttle pilot on several missions to the International Space Station, he also was the lead Capsule Communicator on the Shuttle mission that serviced the Hubble Space Telescope. He was the Commander of one of the last Space Shuttle Discovery missions.

I hope you enjoy reading the article: Photography in Space by Alan Poindexter

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The purpose of this blog

For quite some time I have been thinking of creating a photography/ photographic equipment oriented website. The reason for that was that the mainstream photo websites were all lacking in one or many ways. Don’t get me wrong there are amazingly good resources out there, not without problems though. Let me list those problems/issues I had with many websites:

  • by far the biggest problem is IMHO the huge sea of wrong information. Even at some good websites the ratio of “correct” information to “wrong” information is quite low unfortunately. On the Internet anyone can say anything and you have almost no ways to evaluate the credibility of any statement unless you know the topic well enough yourself. The problem arises because you don’t need to be an expert in order to create a website or post on a forum. And (not surprisingly at all) the most vocal users/websites don’t possess the necessary expertise in areas they are dedicating themselves to. Look, when all you do is posting on internet/maintaining a website, you really have little time to study so you can not become an expert. While if you are an expert you normally do not have time for posting on the Internet. This is the general picture, of course there is the whole spectrum of expertise present on the Internet. But the trend is: the more someone posts the less professional he is. And this creates a strong imbalance in favor of low quality information.
  • second biggest problem (related to the first one though) is that living in consumer society the information is often driven by the companies that provide products (or services). Take for instance the widespread belief that a better (newer) tool will make you a better photographer. It is so widespread that most don’t even think about it, it resides at subconscious level. It manifests itself in the urge to buy the latest newest and more expensive tools. Another example would be the topic of what parameters are important in a digital camera. Even someone who doesn’t know anything about photography or technology “knows” megapixels are important. This kind of “knowledge” is only based on what was promoted. I.e. the information is being spoiled by motivation.
  • digital technology is developing so quickly that even the big mainstream websites can not keep up. Take the camera feature selection tools available on some of those websites. Any time I have checked them they either were hopelessly outdated or full of useless parameters (the ones the public has been convinced were important).

This whole situation is especially confusing to people who are new to photography. I remember very well my own journey through that huge sea of low quality (or even plain wrong) information. Even though I have a strong scientific background and have some understanding of digital and camera technology it took me some time to get to the real information and I’m still learning. In this journey I have learned the following 3 important rules which have helped me a lot:

  1. Rule #1: The most important component of the camera is that thing just behind the viewfinder. (It’s called “the photographer”).
  2. Don’t take anything you read on internet for granted. Even if the poster sounds “knowledgeable”. personally I employ a series of credibility checks such as (but not limited to) the following: 1) checking posters photography 2) checking posters expertise background 3) of course the common sense. What complicates things is that even experts can err and the proportions of their errors are proportional to the size of their ego :). Why do experts err? It is simple, a good photographer may have poor knowledge of technology and vice versa – a tech-expert may be a noob in photography.
  3. Do your own research – of course  you need to be qualified enough for that. Or at least double check with a credible source.

So back to the topic of this post. What is the goal of this blog. #1 goal is to provide a slightly different (from the “rotten” mainstream) perspective on photography and photography equipment. Maybe some sort of a guide for navigating the vast sea of available information. There will be the following type of posts here:

  • posts on photography basics
  • posts on photography equipment (equipment reviews or technology basics)
  • photography related news I find interesting or relevant
  • links/references to interesting web resources on photography
  • posts on software

The idea is to have at some point a selection articles on various topics and I encourage everyone to submit such articles. In long run, it would be nice to have a group of reviewers here to discuss and review the articles submitted for publication. Maybe user forums too. Maybe galleries. I don’t know yet myself if wordpress will be able to provide the necessary framework.

For now I will start with a very basic blog and we’ll see if it evolves into anything bigger.

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