Right with Light, a discussion on the tools of the trade

This is the first in a series of postings on dealing with light and the tools of our trade that we use to control it. After all, that’s what it’s all about. There is some debate as to who first coined the word photography in 1839. The term comes from Greek origins. The photo part or photos means “light” or “of light,” and the graphy part comes from graphe, which means “to draw.” So the literal translation is to “draw with light.” Some over the years have expanded the definition to include writing as well, thus the title of this new thought stream and its play on words. In this first installment we will look at the primary tool, the camera and what to look for and what to avoid.

The focus of most photographers starting out is the camera and all the cool toys that go along with it. Of this, the most important part is the lens, or the “glass.” All too often this is the part that folks tend to skimp on, getting sucked into “the kit” offer for the camera they want. It seems like a great deal, since you get everything you need in one stop. In truth, kits are anything but a good deal in most cases. The thing that many new or inexperienced photographers learn the hard way is that the lens is the most important part of the rig you choose. It controls the light, focus and exposure of all the images you make, so putting the quality here is key to building the tools you need to be successful.

In my opinion, kit lenses are marketing ploys to get you to buy the latest and greatest thing. You may notice that you can’t, in many cases, buy these lenses separately, but only in the kit. They are generally slow, cheaply made, and add no value to the tools in your case. Think about this when you’re surfing the web and you came across a great deal. You find a camera listed at let’s say $500.00, then you read further and fine the same camera in a kit including a lens, case and whatever extras for $650.00. Wow, what a great deal. Think again. This kit may cost the retailer $50.00 of the extra $150.00 they are charging you for the kit vs. the camera. So in essence they may be taking you for an extra $100.00 and giving very little value. Strictly speaking I am talking to aspiring pros who want a system to match your aspirations. From a amateur perspective, the kit lens is OK, though the value of the kit lens still stands. So the long and short is avoid these kits. You’re better off getting the gear you need and creating a “kit” to match what you want to do, and please don’t overlook the lens—focus on it.

Now for the camera: choosing one can be a scary and confusing proposition. First you need to take a realistic look at what you want to shoot, what features are important, what size do you really need, speed considerations . . . the list can go on and on. Once you have a list, set a realistic budget and start to research. You might want to limit your research to a single brand. I started with a Canon and have never changed, or, should I say, they have never given me a reason to look for a change. For you, do what you need to find just the right tool to fit into your plan. Many may think that a camera is a camera. Not true. Some do some things better; some have different types of image sensors; some are designed more for sports, putting a premium on speed, offering the ability to capture massive bursts of images in a shot time. Others put the file image size and quality as the priority. What ever you need, there will be the tool out there that will match it. As you go through this process, think about the future also: Once you commit to a brand, you limit yourself in some ways with regard to the lenses you can get down the road and the accessories you can use on the camera. This is not to say that you can’t get several systems down the road, but if you want to succeed and don’t have unlimited means, you need to keep an eye on the your return for your investment. I’ve known many people over the years that have jumped in with both feet, spent way too much out of the gate, and then become experts at selling used photo gear on e-bay.

So I guess the big takeaways here are: avoid the too-good-to-be-true kits and be realistic when you start to make the investment into your gear.

As always I look forward to your thoughts and comments.

Best,
Ric.

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