The Lens –“its all about the glass”.  

 

I had a discussion with a photographer this week about whether she should buy a new lens or not. At the time I wished we were close to my computer so I could bring out this article I wrote back in November of 2014. With that, here it is again for the few that didn’t get to read it back then.

Ask any experienced photographer whether to buy a new camera or a new lens and the answer will usually be, “it’s all about the glass,” or, “a good lens is more important than a good camera.”

A bad lens on a good camera will still make poor images, but a good lens on a poor or average camera will still give the photographer good results.

I listened to several friends talking over coffee about reviews they had read about the latest camera offering from Canon. The discussion began with questions like, “why does a photographer that doesn’t shoot sports need a camera with 7 or 8 frames a second” and “I really don’t spend much time shooting in low light situations, so why would I spend extra money on a camera because it is capable of a high ISO.” However, as expected, it wasn’t long before the talk turned to an exchange of views on lenses. Remember, after all, “it’s all about the glass.”

The conversation easily moved from a difference of opinion between those that preferred prime (fixed focal length) lenses, and those, like me, that chose multi-focal length (zoom) lenses. We talked about the importance of wide angle and, of course, wide aperture lenses.

Just because you can change the lens doesn’t mean you have to, but I don’t know many photographers that are that sensible. Most of us are willing to add a new lens to our camera bag as soon as we have extra cash in our pockets. Hmm…that might be more emotional and impulsive than sensible.

I know very few that are content with the short zoom “kit lenses” they got with their camera any more than they are with the tires the manufacturer installed on their car. Yes, the lenses, just like the tires aren’t high quality, but when we change the lens it alters the visual personality of the image, and most photographers I know are engaged in, what I’ll call, a search for a perspective that fits their personal vision.

The camera might capture some subject’s personality, but the lens, in my opinion, allows the resulting image to say something about the photographer.

Several photographers standing on a picturesque hillside using the same camera and lens will probably produce much the same image, but give them each a different lens and the resulting images will be diverse, distinct, and individual.

Yes, it is all about the glass, and there is an exciting diversity of lenses out there waiting for each photographer to choose, discard, and choose again as they explore and create within this stimulating medium.

As I wrote those words I wondered if there were other words that I could use that were more applicable than stimulating. I could have used, intoxicating, invigorating, or even compelling. They all fit and, I think, could apply to some of the feelings those photographers lounging around my shop drinking warm coffee on a cold day as they talked about the lenses they used and would like to use.

A new camera is a lot of fun, but it really is “all about the glass.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photographing in the garden on a stormy day                                   

 

During my many years enjoying the exciting medium of photography I have photographed all most anything that happened to be in front of my camera.

I haven’t bothered with restrictions or claimed specialties. Sure, I have worked for all kind of clients, and most of the images I produced included people. That was how I put bread on our table for years. But when it came to my personal photography I always have been, and still am, an opportunist.

The process of creating an image on a roll of film or capturing data on my camera’s sensor excites me. Thinking the picture through, capturing a feeling and making technical decisions stimulates and excites me. However, I will admit all that also drains me. Photography has never been relaxing.

When I go out to photograph something it’s hard for me to think about anything else. Back when I when I spent almost every weekend photographing weddings my wife learned to just leave me alone. Nevertheless, over the past 40 plus years I did find a way to relax. No, not getting drunk.

No matter how wired I am or how mad something (or someone) has made me, if I pick up my camera and wander my wife’s garden the tension drifts away. I suppose any garden or quiet wooded area would work as well.

My wife could find enjoyment walking, smelling and looking at her flowers, but I don’t really care about the flowers unless I am pointing my camera at them. Where the colours would have mesmerized her, I would be thinking about how some plant’s tonality would look as a black and white photograph.

This week the storm clouds have been coming at me from all directions, not just the sky. Some photographers might chose to search out large birds that frequent the river or lakeside, while others would select the nearest sporting event to work out frustrations. I have friends that seek out the camaraderie of others and spend time in their studio creating masterful portraits. But for me a solitary walk, searching out shapes in a garden always lifts my mood or at least helps me cope with the storm clouds in my head.

Wednesday was as stormy as my mood and the clouds were darkening the landscape. There was a time when low light was bothersome for photographers, but with the technological marvels we now hang around our necks, low light is no problem at all. I just selected ISO 800, (I could easily have gone to ISO1600 or higher) and kept my shutterspeed at 1/250th to reduce camera shake and started taking pictures.

As readers know I prefer to use a flash to balance the overall exposure. In this case I mounted a ring flash on my wife’s 70-180 macro lens. I usually like to use a tripod, but I needed to walk and besides I was pretty sure I was going to get wet.

On flat overcast days it isn’t the colours that attract me, it’s shapes, interesting locations and the position of the plants. I spent a lot of time lying on the ground shooting at plant level.

The nice thing about using a flash is one can easily brighten or darken the background by either slowing down or speeding up the shutterspeed. And when the background has fewer details I stop down my aperture to disguise elements by under exposing them.

An afternoon garden is quiet, the plants are just there waiting and unlike locations with people one doesn’t have to engage in conversation.   How does it work for me? I like this quote by American photographer Annie Leibovitz, “The camera makes you forget you’re there. It’s not like you are hiding but you forget, you are just looking so much.”

 

Used Cameras                

 

Spring is here again and with the colours of the first plants poking up from the ground comes the annual speculation of what camera manufacturers are going to do in 2017.

The forums are also speculating with members guessing what Nikon, Canon, Sony, Fuji and Pentax will offer this year. Yes, it is so intoxicating for anyone that has money to spend in his or her pockets.

With the digital camera revolution came a new kind of photo enthusiast that seems to be as excited about changing their camera model as they are about photography.

The good thing for those consumers is that by summer time the prices on new cameras will start to drop. The bad thing for those that decide to sell off the cameras they have been using for the last year or two is they will join thousands of others doing the same thing and the price of their 2015 and older cameras will be much less than they were new.

As manufacturers compete and put sales on 2017 models, 2015 models will take a sharp drop, and the photographer wanting to sell his or her 2013 or 2012 camera will loose even more. And like a stone rolling down a steep hill those that have held on to cameras that have reached five years (considered old in this digital world) are having a hard time selling.

However, for those that just want a newer model than what they have been using, spring camera prices are as welcome as the green grass on the hills and the fields of flowers I see along the roadways on my drive to town.

Now it is the time for those of us that don’t mind a two-year old model that comes without a warranty. Sure, there might be some scratches on the bottom where the tripod is attached, but as long as the memory card door isn’t broken, and the rubber isn’t pealing off, it’ll be just fine.

Buying used is a great way to participate in the yearly new camera frenzy. One might be a couple years behind, but the money saved can be put towards that used dream lens.

Cameras aren’t like cars. Used cars might hide worn out parts, but that’s hard to do with a camera. My quick advice is to bring a memory card when testing that “new” camera. Take some pictures inside with a high ISO and then some outside with a low ISO.

One should always take the time to do some research before purchasing. I remember spending months reading magazines when I wanted to buy my camera back in the 1970s. But now I can find out everything I need to know about any camera in 10 minutes by searching online.

Read the reviews and join some forum and just ask the question. “I am buying X-00 camera what do you think?” It’s as easy as that to have a good understanding of what used camera to buy and which ones to avoid.

And lastly another reason to buy used is instead of loosing hundreds of dollars when selling the loss (and there is always a loss), the loss on that used camera won’t be as painful because it was purchased for a lot less than it would have cost new.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At The 2017 Vancouver Camera Swap Meet  

 

A great way to search for bargains

Last minute pricing

Ya gotta concentrate

Check this out

A photographer with attitude

Gosh, a 110 camera

Trying a lens

I like this camera

 

I am usually greeted in the morning by the sounds of my two roosters crowing and the high-flying, neighbourhood crows cawing. But early last Sunday, as I walked across the parking lot to my hotel room carrying two cups of coffee, my morning greeting from the birds was from a loud colony of seagulls. I thought that the sound of the seagulls was a nice hello as I prepared to go to the Vancouver Camera Swap Meet.

Last February I wrote about how I look forward to this event, and that in my opinion, it doesn’t get much better than to spend the day surrounded by a huge selection of cameras and other photography equipment all for sale.

Well, there I was on the first Sunday in April having a great time again. I have been a regular at the Vancouver Camera Swap meet since the 1980s. And as I have written so many times in past articles, I look forward to meeting and talking with the diverse gathering of photographers of all interests, specialties, and lifestyles.

I always rent a table and after my customary quick walk around the hall, I was ready for the 9am rush of photographers looking for bargains. And as usual I was guessing about the latest trend and hoping I brought the right camera equipment to sell.

I only bring what I can fit in my car and space is limited on the eight-foot table the organizers provide. I have found that piling too much on the table not only invites theft, but makes it too hard for people to see what I have as they jostle shoulder to shoulder with other bargain hunters.

Those bargain hunters include all kinds of lifestyles, interests, and photographic specialties. What they all have in common is an interest in photography. That’s it! Everyone there is interested in photography, whether they are looking for film and vintage cameras, or searching for modern digital technology, it’s just all about photography.

As always, I had a great time talking with other photographers. Sure, I like selling things, but selling is only half the fun. Renewing long time friendships, meeting people from all over everywhere, and finding out about their different interests is the other half.

Another Camera Swap Meet is over, and this year was no different than last in that I spent an exhilarating day talking non-stop with other photographers, and even got time to wander a bit checking out all the neat photography equipment.

It was hmm…what’s a good word to describe the Vancouver Camera Swap meet? Invigorating, energizing, stimulating, exhilarating? Or maybe I should just say it was just good fun.

The Vancouver Camera Swap Meet is an excellent way to meet and exchange information with other photographers, and to look at and check out an impressive selection of used photographic equipment that would not be so accessible anywhere else in Canada.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What is a Good Photograph?

Just what defines a good photograph is, and will always be, a topic of heated discussion with serious photographers; and in my opinion, is one that is certainly worth regular examination because, simply put, a “good photograph” is what those who enjoy this medium want to make.

There are, of course, those that believe a good photograph must capture an image absolutely true to life, while others might say it’s totally about how creative the photographer is, however, if one relies on they number of “likes” they receive on social media sites a good photograph probably depends on the beauty of the subject.

When I taught photography I told my students that a good photograph includes acceptable composition, exposure, and an interesting perspective.

I also said that a good photograph makes us have a connection with, or think about the subject, and might help us understand what the photographer feels about that subject; and if successful, evokes some kind of mood, whether good or bad.

American photographer Ansel Adams said, “A great photograph is one that fully expresses what one feels, in the deepest sense, about what is being photographed.” And he elaborates, “Simply look with perceptive eyes at the world about you, and trust to your own reactions and convictions. Ask yourself: “Does this subject move me to feel, think and dream? Can I visualize a print – my own personal statement of what I feel and want to convey – from the subject before me?”

And Adams reminds us, “There are always two people in every picture: the photographer and the viewer.”

Another of my favorite scenic photographers, Elliott Porter, commented, “You learn to see by practice. It’s just like playing tennis; you get better the more you play. The more you look around at things, the more you see. The more you photograph, the more you realize what can be photographed and what can’t be photographed. You just have to keep doing it.”

Vogue magazine Editorial photographer Irving Penn, wrote, “A good photograph is one that communicates a fact, touches the heart and leaves the viewer a changed person for having seen it. It is, in a word, effective.”

What is a good photograph? That might only be in the “eye of the beholder”. If one is a camera club member there will be rules on how a photograph is judged. And when I graded my students’ work I was mostly interested in their knowledge.

Sometimes we see a photograph that moves or inspires us, makes us feel, think and dream. And when a photographer is able to convey that to viewers he or she has truly made a good photograph.

The Excitement Of A New Camera   

camera-on-display

I could tell that the camera a customer had just purchased was going to inspire him in new and exciting ways. He held the camera up to his eye and talked fast about what he was going to photograph on his next day off. As I watched and listened to his excitement with that used DSLR I contemplated how photographers like to make additions and changes to their equipment inventories. There are different needs for different types of photography, and personal growth within the medium changes the kinds and types of cameras and accessories needed.

I really like to be around other photographers. I recall when I first started seriously making pictures in the early 1970s that my friends and I did lots of backpacking in the rolling hills of southern California, but my fellow backpacker’s adventure goals were different than mine. While they would begin the journey with the goal of reaching a particular the location, I was more interested in what I could photograph along the way. Much of the time I lingered behind somewhere on the trail and wandered into camp near dark, and in the mornings while they were enjoying breakfast over the campfire I was off in the search for some intriguing photo.

I doubt that artists using mediums other than photography get as excited about equipment as photographers do. Photography has been a succession of inventions and technological advancements. The first practitioners like Joseph Nicéphore Niépce in 1826 using surfaces like pewter for one-of-a-kind positive photographs and Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre and his announcement of the Daguerreotype in 1896 were making continual advancements in photography similar to what is occurring today. Those advancements were exciting for would be photographers of that time much as advancing technology excites those of us serious about photography today.

Keeping up with the changing technology of photography has always been a struggle, and also expensive, as photographers change camera equipment completely or upgrade their systems to get the maximum benefit and enjoyment in the medium. I know there are those that will say, ”Just learn to use the camera you have. It’s the photographer, not the camera.”

That is certainly right, however, the thrill of learning to operate and use a new camera is, (can I use the word?) cathartic.

I can remember in 1972 being just as excited with my new Pentax Spotmatic II as that customer was with the camera he just purchased. It came with a 50mm lens that I quickly discarded for a versatile 70-210mm Vivitar zoom. Gosh, I felt fortunate to be getting such an advanced camera and lens. In 1970s it was all about the increasing availability of quality lenses and cameras with built-in light meters.

There are many used DSLR cameras that would work just fine for the kind of photography this person would be doing. In the used camera market it always comes down to condition and price, and of course, the brand that suits the buyer. He looked until he found one at a bargain that met his criteria.

Now that he has his new camera, I suggested he join the local photographers Facebook page and I look forward to the pictures he posts, and of course, watching his growth in as a photographer.

Photography on a Winter Beach    

beach-abbott

waters-edge-tree

 

Bootprints in the sand

beach-boat-docks

beach-bench-solitude

the-only-vacationers

February found Linda and I spending a couple weeks in the lakeside town of Kelowna. Linda had 10 days of appointments so we decided rather than commute for four hours a day (it’s two hours each way) we would take accommodation.

Kelowna in the summer is packed. Parking is always at a premium, the cost of lodging anywhere near the beach is prohibitive and the traffic is, well the traffic is what one would expect in a city filled with vacationers. However, the days and nights in February are below freezing, and that pretty much reduces the beach crowd.

Linda’s appointments vary through out the week, but Tuesday’s was early so after a big lunch when she decided to relax with a couple magazines, I took the opportunity to grab my camera and headed to the beach.

I know that beach area pretty well. I have never seen a parking space during the summer, and any photographer wanting to capture photos of the beach, the lake, or distant mountains has to be content with lots of people included in their photographs.

My thought was to build a series of images that discussed the cold, empty winter lakeside. And I decided no matter what I saw I would limit myself to only photographs of the waterfront.

That meant to ignore the extravagant architecture of the beachfront homes, expensive cars and, of course, people. However, I was tempted to get shots of a guy eating a cup of ice cream while walking with his dog, and later on, two women slurping milk shakes while walking along on the breezy minus 6 Celsius day. There’s something to be said about Canadians.

I even declined when two tattered guys came up to me and suggested they would make good photo subjects. One fellow was waving a broken golf club handle and I stepped back saying, “I am not doing people today”. We all laughed and they ambled on leaving me alone on the beach.

The winter beach is interesting. Shoeprints in the sand instead of bare feet, the hordes of sun worshippers and swimmers are absent and the lake that’s usually a waterscape of boats has only ducks and geese this time of year.

I walked for two hours along the waterfront before deciding to turn back. And when I found a deserted bench I just sat enjoying the solitude. There is something about wandering alone along a big lake that is bordered by a large active city. I guess there is some isolation, but the noise never stops. Nevertheless, it’s an excellent opportunity to creatively point a camera without any interference.