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Archive for May, 2010

SLR or point-and-shoot?

May 31st, 2010

For some reason, I get asked on a somewhat regular basis for advice on what kind of camera to buy. I hardly consider myself an amateur photographer — so it’s flattering to be consulted. I do have a digital SLR… but as someone who takes more pictures than most and who certainly loves my Nikon D50 (and all the control it gives me), I would still not recommend that an SLR is for everyone.

Bee rescue, taken on macro setting, flash suppressed; all other settings on Auto

In my opinion, an SLR is for you if you:

  • are serious about getting better at and learning about photography;
  • want to learn about f-stops, ISO, white balance, and all the other mumbo jumbo;
  • are prepared to read manuals and do lots of trial & error photo-taking;
  • are willing to carry the equipment;
  • want to get a variety of lenses and lighting equipment for different situations;
  • are looking into taking good quality pictures in dimly-lit or dark settings; and/or
  • are ready to invest some dough in this hobby.

Stream by Big Sur trail, ISO 80, flash suppressed

If you’re already gung ho and about buying an SLR, in case you haven’t researched it very thoroughly, it might help you to know:

  • the kit lenses that come with the SLR body may not necessarily have a stronger zoom than some point-and-shoots (just because it’s big in comparison doesn’t mean it’s a telephoto!); and
  • just having an SLR does not automatically make your photo-taking better, especially when in low light and/or with very active subjects.

Lights at Hillside Music Festival, ISO 200, flash suppressed, camera held against tree

Don’t get me wrong — I love my Nikon D50.

I use it when I’m second shooter for a photo job that John’s doing. Even then, I often use one of his fancier lenses for these tasks, and I’ll even sometimes get him to adjust the settings before the job begins just to make sure the photos will be ideal.

I also use it if I want to try and get some nice photos at a concert; but as an amateur, my results are often hit and miss.

I used to lug my SLR everywhere… but that’s just it: I have to lug it in a padded, knapsack-sized camera bag.

Baby Ryan, taken on macro setting, flash suppressed; all other settings on Auto

These days, I tend to rely a lot more on my “old” 7.1 megapixel Cannon Elph — it’s tiny, does a great job, and it also takes all the videos I post. And in fact, the knowledge I gained from learning to shoot with my SLR has helped me take better photos with my point-and-shoot — it’s pretty much always on Manual mode, and I screw around with the settings to take some decent images.

Oh, and don’t get all caught up in the megapixels thing. Increased numbers doesn’t mean that the camera will all of a sudden make you a better photographer; it just means that you’ll have the option of printing the image at a larger size… but really, how often do you blow up your snapshots to the size of a poster?

Snail, taken on macro setting; all other settings on Auto

I’m not knocking SLRs in general here. But if you happen to be an amateur photographer like me, and if you were considering the purchase of an SLR, I would suggest you do some research before dropping that amount of dough. If you have a point-and-shoot, tool around with the Manual settings and see if you get the hang of it; if you don’t have one, borrow a friend’s to try.

And here’s the thing: if you already have a point-and-shoot and you haven’t pushed it to its limits or read the manual, then an SLR definitely isn’t for you — at least, not until you’ve done these things.

Jellyfish at Monterey Bay Aquarium, ISO 400, flash suppressed

And as for all the photos that I’ve included in this post? I took these all with my point-and-shoot Elph over the past few years. I tell ya, a little fiddling with those settings goes a long way!

If you have anything to add to my spiel, please feel free to share it. I’m sure I missed a point or two to consider in the SLR vs. point-and-shoot debate… but I’m no pro, so I’m giving myself some leeway :)

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Big Sur Prize

May 26th, 2010


Shoot the Moon photograph by jafrisi

I’m still culling the photos from California and will post some soon. Ironically, the single most memorable and awe-inspiring highlight from the whole two weeks was an event that neither John nor I caught photos of… because cameras weren’t allowed.

We were in Big Sur, staying at Treebones Resort for the night (in a yurt!), and had been recommended to reserve spots at the Esalen Institute to do the hot springs night soak. I’m glad I’d looked into this before (reading my buddy Hart’s experience of this helped, and was also hilarious!) because it was such a strange arrangement:

When I called to make our booking, the receptionist instructed that we park near the sign of the Institute — which is right off highway 1 — and wait to be retrieved. The night soak is from 1 until 3 a.m, so we were asked to arrive at 12:50 a.m. All around the Big Sur area, the highway is incredibly curvy, has no lighting, and sometimes no guardrails, with the steep cliffs down to the heaving Pacific Ocean below. So driving the 21 miles north from Treebones to Esalen, bleary-eyed and exhausted, was questionable (“Are we crazy???”) and occasionally heart-stopping.

About 20 of us had booked spots. We were escorted into the Institute and down to the baths, got our instructions and towels, rinsed off in the public showers, then dispersed (clothing optional) to the multiple concrete tubs. John and I picked a bath that was half under a roof, and half under the gorgeous clear sky; lucky us, we got the tub to ourselves for the entire time. Other than a couple of dim lamps along the ground and the stars in the sky, it was pitch black out. We got used to the faint smell of sulphur, and were able to add as much natural hot spring water into the tub as we wanted.

It was pretty magical at that.

I had my eyes closed and was drifting around half-sleep, lulled by the sounds of the waves of the ocean, just a few dozen metres below us. Then I suddenly had to squint from brightness, peeked open one eye, and whispered to John “Whassat!?” He said, “It’s the moon.”

Over the next half hour or so, we watched a sliver of the moon poke out from behind a cliff, then ‘rise’ horizontally out into the velvet sky. I was blown away at how quickly it inched across, and also by just how much light it reflected — enough that we could clearly see the waves crashing on the rocks below. I was mesmerized, got lost in the moon’s nooks and crannies… and then had a flashback to being a young kid in the back of the car as my parents drove, staring out at the moon and thinking that it was following us.

It was the first time I’d looked at the moon — really looked at it — in too many years.

I’m glad the Esalen people asked us not to take photos. There would’ve been annoying flashes popping all over, and the steam would’ve made it impossible anyway. I actually like that the only way that I can remember the experience is to remember it. Would you believe me if I told you we also saw a shooting star?

We were sitting there with eyes as big as pies, feeling humbled as hell, shaking our heads at what we’d seen so far — Yosemite, giant sequoias, driving for miles along the ocean — and knowing we still had half the trip in front of us… and John said “I guess the theme of this trip is that we’re insignificant. And lucky.”

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Pacman fever

May 21st, 2010

Just in case you didn’t see this today, Google’s logo is an actual playable Pacman game. Usually their themed logos run for 24 hours, but this one will run for 48… so you’ve got until Saturday night to press the “Insert Coin” button and use your arrow keys to play.

Happy birthday, Pacman — you’re lookin’ mighty fine for 30.

And happy wocka-wocka-ing to everyone else!

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