Blog

Buy the Right Camera

Cameras come in all shapes and sizes, and even though one may look similar to another, that doesn’t they mean they’re the same or geared towards the same type of photographer. The trick is to get the camera that’s right for you.

CT River Ferry Park
CT River Ferry Park

Nancy and I were in a box store this past weekend and walked through the camera department to see what they had. While there, a man on a cell phone went to the DSLR section and asked the person on the other end if they remembered what camera he was supposed to get. I immediately knew there was some uncertainty because they weren’t sure if it was a Canon or a Nikon, and he commented that they all looked the same. I’m not sure if he ended up getting anything, but he mentioned something about a $1000 one because it had a big lens.

Now, a $1000 camera is probably not a bad camera, but it might not be the right one for that person. The trick to getting the right camera is to ask yourself a few questions.

  • What type of photos will be taking?
  • Will you be shooting in inside or outside?
  • Will you be shooting in bright light or dark areas?
  • Will you be shooting still subjects like landscapes or fast moving subjects like race cars?
  • Do you plan to print your pictures or just view the on a computer? If you print them, how big do you plan to print?
East Haddam Swing Bridge
East Haddam Swing Bridge

If you’re shooting mostly landscapes, an iPhone or other cell phone camera might be all you need. The photo on the right of the bridge in the fog was taken with an Android phone. I was driving around and only had my phone with me and saw the fog covered bridge and had to take a picture. At the time I wished I had an actual camera with me, but after seeing the results, I don’t think it would have come out any better with a camera. I’ve looked at some amazing photos and am shocked when I learn that they were taken with a cell phone.

Wildflowers - Mount Washington, NH
Wildflowers – Mount Washington, NH

However, for the waterfall photo at the top of this post, a DSLR or mirrorless type camera was really needed because I had to shoot at a small aperture to slow down the shutter and produce the soft, silky image of the water I was going for. A point and shoot or cell phone don’t have that ability and wouldn’t have produced the same result. It doesn’t mean the DSLR is better. It just means that it was better for that type of photo.

Here are a few general points to consider. If you mostly shoot outside or in bright areas, a good quality cell phone or point and shoot may be all you need. If possible, go with a camera that allows you to shoot in RAW. This will give a lot more flexibility if you choose to post process your photos in a program like Adobe Lightroom or Photoshop.

Merimere Reservoir, Meriden, CT
Merimere Reservoir, Meriden, CT

If you want to take it up a notch, a mid-priced DSLR such as the Canon 60D is a great way to go. Cameras like this can be purchased for a fair price and will work great for most people in most situations. Because the lenses are removable, they can be used for ultra wide angle shots to super telephotos. They’ll work better in low light situations or with fast action such as kids playing soccer or baseball. Overall, they are a good general purpose type camera and can easily take photos like the waterfall above.

If you want to take it further and will frequently be shooting in low light or subjects with lots of action,  you may want to consider one of the pro or semi-pro type cameras like the Canon 5D Mark III. They’re rugged, generally more weather resistant than a less expensive camera and they’re big and heavy.

However, it’s a full frame camera with excellent high ISO capabilities and is perfect for shooting in low light. It also features an advanced focusing system that makes focusing on moving subjects faster and easier. When adding high quality glass such as the Canon 24-70 f/2.8 L II, you’ve got the perfect combination for shooting photos in almost any type of situation.

Hartford Skyline
Hartford Skyline

What is the best camera to buy? That all depends on what you’re going to use it for. Before buying anything, I suggest asking yourself the questions above and talking to other photographers and maybe even renting a few to try out before making a purchase. That way you’ll get to experience them first hand. Also, I suggest going to a camera store and talking to the sales person. If the store is reputable, they’ll help you find the ideal camera. They’ll want you to be happy because they want you to come back and recommend them to their friends, and of course, if you have any questions, please feel free to contact me about different gear.

Other than the waterfall up top and the bridge in the fog, I’ve included some random photos from my gallery in this write up. They were taken with a variety of cameras, some point and shoot and some higher end. Can you tell which was which? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

A Photographer Plays the Munzee Game – Day Five

This post is part of a five day series comparing the scavenger hunt game of Munzee to Geocaching from a photographer’s point of view. If you haven’t started with the first one, you can do so by clicking here.

Scenic Bike Trail
Scenic Bike Trail

A “typical” in-the-woods cache is a medium sized container hidden off-trail underneath a fallen tree and covered with local debris such as sticks, palm fronds or similar, depending on the area. Because the hides are often on the ground, they can be dirty. Dirt and camera gear don’t mix well. Plus, going off trail (bushwhacking) can cause damage to the vegetation and put you at higher risks of getting poison ivy and ticks. I’ve gotten both while caching. So far, all the munzees we’ve found have been able to be captured without leaving the trail. No need to get dirty digging around for the find.

Urban hides can be pretty dirty too because you’re usually “feeling” around for the container. Getting dirty is an accepted part of caching, and when holding expensive camera gear, I don’t want to do it with dirty hands.

If I’m playing a scavenger game to find neat places and take photos, I want the finds to be quick and clean. Once found, I want to log the find quickly and easily. When I get home, I don’t want to spend the evening writing logs. I want to fire up Lightroom and develop the photos I took during the day. To me, this is easiest to do while playing Munzee. I bet if you ask other photographers, they’d say the same thing.

Unfortunately, there is one glaring thing missing from Munzee, and it’s something very important to a photographer looking for places to search. Munzee currently does have any provision for photos to be uploaded to the site, and I’m not sure if they plan to implement that in the future. That’s one area where the geocaching.com site excels. Finders can upload photos to each cache page, so future seekers can look at them and see if it’s somewhere they want to search.

When I cached I used this feature extensively to look for pretty areas to visit, and I’d purposely head there because of that. I created a post in the Munzee forums to ask if they plan to add this feature in the future and will report back once I hear something.

Other than that, if you’re looking for new ideas and places to visit, give Munzee a try. It’s surprisingly fun and very addicting. If you try it, let me know, I’d love to hear what you think.

A Photographer Plays the Munzee Game – Day Four

This post is part of a five day series comparing the scavenger hunt game of Munzee to Geocaching from a photographer’s point of view. If you haven’t started with the first one, you can do so by clicking here.

Glass Building, NYC
Glass Building, NYC

One of the concerns with geocaching is that all hides must have a physical container. In the woods this isn’t really a problem, but in urban areas, it can be. Once a geocache is found, the seeker must grab the container, sign the log and put it back. If a non-cacher sees someone doing this, they might get suspicious and call the police. There have been many cases of the police being called, only to find out it was a geocache.

For urban hides, munzees can be disguised as official looking sticker or kept undisguised as a standard barcode and hidden on a fence or anything really. Because it’s just a barcode, it doesn’t really look out of place. This gives munzees a huge advantage in urban areas.

To avoid raising suspicions, cachers often hide “nanos” or other super small containers, but because they’re so small, the logs are tiny and fill up quickly. Half of them we found had no spot to even sign in. At that point why even bother to grab the container and open it up. This is another plus for munzees. Just find the barcode, scan it and move on.

Scenic Tobacco Barns

So how does all this relate to photography? Well, one of the things we loved about caching was that it brought us to scenic areas with great photo opportunities. We’ve only done a few munzees, but one of the hides brought us to a pretty boat launch along the Farmington River in Windsor, CT. See the photo on top of this post. We also passed some scenic tobacco barns (see photo at the left) and discovered a nice high point that would be great for sunset photos.

As you can probably tell, I really like munzees. Learn why I think they’re better for photographers in my final post of the series.

A Photographer Plays the Munzee Game – Day Three

This post is part of a five day series comparing the scavenger hunt game of Munzee to Geocaching from a photographer’s point of view. If you haven’t started with the first one, you can do so by clicking here.

Trump Tower
Trump Tower

I started geocaching in 2002 and did it for many years, but I grew tired of it awhile back and pretty much stopped. I liked how caching took me to neat places, but I got tired of stinky containers with wet logs and hides that had been re-hidden in the wrong spot, making it difficult to find. I recently heard about Munzee, and it seems exactly like what I’m looking for. It offers the same excitement of discovering new places and hidden items, but it does it in a more modern way.

There’s nothing stopping someone from hiding a munzee in a container, but I haven’t found many that are. If they are, since they don’t have a logbook, there’s less likelihood of mold forming. Most munzees are simply a barcode attached to or hanging from something. Barcodes are sealed in plastic so they don’t get ruined if they get wet. Once found, the barcode is scanned by a smartphone. This is called “capping,” short for capture.

With geocaching finders usually write a short note about their experience while searching for the cache, but some people write logs that span several pages. Others simply write TFTC, short for “Thanks for the cache.” A geocache can’t be logged without writing something in the log box. With munzees, the focus is on the numbers and not the logging experience. In fact, logs, or journal entries as they’re called on the Munzee site, are not even required. If someone writes an entry, it’s usually short, like, “Thanks” or “Had Fun,” something short like that.

I only started munzeeing this past Saturday, but I really like it so far.  We’ve found a variety of hide styles, from woods hides on trees to urban parking lots, which is pretty similar to geocaching hides. Geocaching has several different types of hides like a traditional, which is a container at the posted coordinates to a puzzle, which needs to be solved in order to find the coordinates.

Munzee has its own unique types. A mystery munzee is one where finders points vary from 5 to 50 points. One person can get 45 points, but the very next person will get 20. A virtual hide is one where a physical barcode doesn’t need to be scanned to make the cap. To log these, your phone just needs to be within 300 feet of the coordinates. These are perfect for places like airports or a rocky mountain top. Since there’s nothing there and the hide is truly “virtual” it’s unlikely that finding one will raise any suspicions since a finder will just be using their phone.

That brings us to some controversy. Check back tomorrow to see what it is…

A Photographer Plays the Munzee Game – Day Two

This post is part of a five day series comparing the scavenger hunt game of Munzee to Geocaching from a photographer’s point of view. If you haven’t started with the first one, you can do so by clicking here.

Flowing Water
Flowing Water

Munzee started in June 2011, and geocaching started in May 2000, but Munzee is coming on fast and strong. There are over 2 million caches compared to more than 400,000 munzees, but those munzee hides have come in less than 2 years versus almost 13 years for Geocaching.

A geocache is a container that holds a logbook. The cache is logged as a find by physically signing the logbook and then marking it found using either a smartphone or a computer. Your found count increases for each cache found. A munzee is simply a QR barcode that finders scan with their smart phone. They can be hidden in a container like a geocache or simply displayed by itself. For each munzee “cap,” short for capture, your score can increase by varying amounts depending on the hide type. The hiders score also increases every time someone finds one of their hides.

To me I like munzees more. Why? They don’t have wet logs, and they’re easier to log.

Groundspeak, the company that owns the geocaching.com website, has an in-depth set of guidelines or “rules” that must be followed. There are also volunteers who review each cache before publishing to make sure it meets the guidelines. The review process can take up to 72 hours. Munzee has a basic set of rules and trusts that munzee owners will follow them. The Munzee website is updated four times a day, so the longest someone will have to wait to discover a new hide is six hours.

Geocache containers range in size from several gallons large to the size of a finger tip. All but the smallest can hold “swag,” which are trade items. The idea is if you take something, you should leave something of equal or greater value. I liked this idea at first but quickly tired of it because most caches were filled with junk or kids toys from fast food restaurants. After a few months, we stopped trading and only signed the logbook, so container size didn’t matter to us.

With caching, finders are handling a physical container, and they may re-hide it in the wrong spot. At first it may only be a short distance away, but over time it can move several feet. Some have moved either by “cache creep” or by someone physically moving it more than 50 feet. If the hide is challenging, this can make it difficult for future seekers to find. Many caches include hints, but if te container is in a different spot, the hint will be useless.

Because caches are physical containers, they are susceptible to leaking, which ruins any trade items inside and turns the logbook into a wet, moldy mess. Here in Connecticut, plastic containers tend to crack, especially in the winter, and animals like to chew on them. Once damaged, water quickly finds its way inside, soaking everything. Cachers usually put the logbook in a plastic bag to keep it dry, but If the plastic bag isn’t completely inside the container, the seal will leak. If the log is damp from being found in the rain or even on a hot, humid day, it can get moldy inside the sealed, plastic bag. Opening the container can be quite a shock to your noise.

How do munzees avoid this? Check back tomorrow to learn more…

A Photographer Plays the Munzee Game – Day One

Munzee is a scavenger hunt game where items are found and logged using a smartphone. Over the next five days I’m going to write about it and explain how playing the game can benefit photographers.

Seattle Forest
Seattle Forest

Munzees are similar to geocaching, but it’s also quite different. “What does this have to do with photography?” you may be asking. Well, munzees and geocaches (caches) are often placed at scenic and interesting areas, which makes them a perfect way for photographs to find interesting and new subjects.

Because there are already lots of reviews and comparisons between the two, I decided to write this from a photographer’s perspective and am including some photos of places we’ve discovered through our travels, but first I want to tell a quick story to show the fun that can be had from these electronic scavenger hunt games.

When people visit Florida, they often go to one of the big tourist attractions, which can be a lot of fun, but munzeeing and caching allows people to see things they might not normally see. One year on vacation we were in Merritt Island doing a cache near the water, and a pair of dolphins swam up right next to us. For the next 15 minutes or so they played around and then took off. At another cache, a large manatee swam up to the pier we were on and hung around for a few minutes, and at another cache there were a bunch of peacocks just walking around like they owned the place. That was totally awesome and something I never expected. You should have seen the excitement on my young son’s face. All of these were great photo opportunities available and just a little of the excitement we had.

Tune in tomorrow to learn more about this great game, or hobby, as it’s sometimes called.

Never Too Young to Start Taking Photographs

My son’s school recently had a fine arts competition where they competed against other schools with “art” type projects or musical events. So many schools have sports competitions (his does too), but it’s great to see them encouraging the artistic side of the students too.

All students must participate, and some show their musical skills by playing an instrument or singing, and others show their artistic skills with paintings, drawings or photos they’ve taken.

Matt doesn’t play any instruments or sing, so he chose to enter the one shown above. He took it on the pier in Clearwater, Florida and called it “The Bird on the Beach.” It was taken using a good quality point and shoot that we gave to him a couple years ago. He’s always been interested in photography, probably because we are, and we felt he should have a good camera.

Photos had to be mounted on a plain, white mat and were judged by an official panel for one award and by students and attendees for another. They were judged on several categories including composition, quality, a write up by the photographer and a few other things.

It was a good learning experience, and he had a good time picking out which photo to enter and then tweaking it to his liking. He was 12 years old at the competition and will have lots of opportunities to improve his skills.

This is a good lesson for all of us, no matter what our age. We shouldn’t be afraid to put ourselves out there and show your photos. No matter what happens or what people say, it will be a learning experience that can help us grow. Plus, we got a new photo for a our wall.

Tamrac Rally 6 Camera Bag Review

I have a nice backpack style camera bag that holds most of my gear, but it’s big, bulky and heavy, not ideal for carrying a small setup. Plus, it looks like a “camera bag,” which isn’t always desirable.

Tamrac Rally 6 Main Storage Area
Tamrac Rally 6 Main Storage Area

When I travel, I usually have just one body, a flash and two lenses, plus some extra gear and don’t need a big bag. Backpacks are great for carrying gear, but they’re not ideal if you want to frequently access that gear. I’ve been reading and checking out messenger bags, and they seem perfect. Unfortunately, most are pretty expensive, over $200, which is more than I wanted to spend.

While at the local Best Buy today I checked out the Lowepro Passport Sling and liked it, but there were things that concerned me. First, I wasn’t sure if it would be big enough to hold my gear, and I wanted something with more padding.

Tamrac Rally 6 Front Pocket
Tamrac Rally 6 Front Pocket

I ended up purchasing the Tamrac Rally 6, which was on clearance for a ridiculous $39. It’s roomy, well padded and very comfy. It can hold a full size DSLR (but not one with a grip) with a medium length lens about 6 inches or less attached, a full size flash such as a Canon 600EX-RT and a 70-200mm f/2.8 lens. The flap has Velcro and a plastic clasp to keep it shut. It seems to work fine in normal use, but I wouldn’t trust it if there’s a chance the bag would get turned upside down. It’s not that kind of bag. It’s just a basic “satchel” that hangs around your neck and makes it easy to get to your gear.

Tamrac Rally 6 Side Pocket
Tamrac Rally 6 Side Pocket

The bag features a zippered pocket on the flap with divided pockets inside that are perfect for cell phones, batteries and other gear. There’s also a second pocket on the backside that doesn’t have a zipper but is perfect for maps and other papers. On the sides are two mesh pockets that can hold other gear. I use one of them for my Black Rabid but haven’t decided on what to us the other one for.

Here are some pictures showing the bag and some of its features. What bag do you use? If you could pick any bag, what would you choose?

 

Photo Destination: New York International Auto Show

If you’re looking for something fun to do that provides a unique photo opportunity, the New York International Auto Show in New York City is definitely worth a visit. This year’s auto show is March 29 – April 7, 2013.

Nancy & Matt in an Old Subaru
Nancy & Matt in an Old Subaru

We went last year and had a great time, and the best part is that cameras and video equipment are allowed. Like most events, I suggest getting there early before the crowds. Touring the whole show takes a long time, and seeing everything in one day may not be possible, so plan carefully what you want to see.  Start with the things that interest you most because you’ll find yourself getting distracted by all the interesting things to see (lovely female models) and may not make it to the area you wanted to see the most.

Mini Display, Feels like London
Mini Display, Feels like London

The New York International Auto Show is the most attended show in North America, and auto manufacturers often announce new products here. Some interesting vehicles being revealed at the 2013 show are the Audi A3, Cadillac CTS, Chevy Camera SS, Mercedes Benz CLA 45 AMG, Toyota Highlander, and a 1200 horsepower Shelby Mustang plus others.

The show is held in the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, which is a huge glass building. It has four floors and covers 6 blocks between 34th and 40th Street on 11th Avenue. If you attend, be prepared for a lot of walking, and if you buy food at the show, high food prices.

Bugatti Veyron
Bugatti Veyron

Even though some refer to it as a “car” show, there are lot more than cars on display, over 1000 vehicles total. One whole floor is dedicated to trucks, with everything from off road type pick ups and SUVs to cargo vans that a delivery company would use. Another floor features motorcycles, and others have everything from million dollar exotic super cars like the Bugatti Veyron to “mom and pop” cars that a family would drive. There are also lots of booths with vendors promoting products that aren’t automotive related.

Matt Checking Out the Modern Warfare 3 Jeep
Matt Checking Out the Modern Warfare 3 Jeep

Because cameras are allowed, photo opportunities abound, but with over a million people attending the show during its 10 day run, getting people-free photos of the cars can be a challenge. Some of the displays, especially the exotic and concept cars, have ropes around them, and people tend to line up around the ropes. Usually, if you wait a minute or two, you’ll make your way towards the front of the display and have a good shot of the car, but because people come and go so quickly, you need to shoot quickly before someone comes into your camera view.

Matt Practicing his Driving Skills
Matt Practicing his Driving Skills

Last year I brought a Canon S95 point and shoot last year, and it worked great.  An expensive camera isn’t needed, but something wide a wide angle lens is best since you’ll be relatively close to the vehicles. The show features all kinds lights, from the main lights in the convention center to the ones being used in the displays of the cars themselves, so I shoot on auto white balance, which is pretty accurate most of the time. I shot RAW and can adjust the white balance if needed in post.

Most of the displays are bright and super high ISOs are not needed, but a flash really makes the color pop. The display lights can create a lot of specular highlights and shadows, and the flash helps balance everything out. If your camera allows for it, I’d shoot in aperture priority mode so you can control depth of field.

If anyone is going to the show, let me know, and maybe we can meet up and say hi.

Bushnell Photography Meetup

Just got back from another great photo through the MID-CT Photography Meetup Group here in Connecticut and had a great time. This Meetup was at The Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts in Hartford, a gorgeous facility that opened in 1930 and features 2 theaters that have hosted famous Broadway shows and performers including Duke Ellington, Katherine Hepburn and others. Our group consisted of 40 photographers that split into 2 groups once inside so there weren’t so many people in a single area at at time. The shoot was awesome because we got to see things people don’t normally see like the projection room where the spotlights are and where films are projected from if there’s a movie being played. The greatest thing was spending time with other photographers and seeing how each person views a subject differently.

If you’re in the Connecticut area, I highly recommend going on a tour at the Bushnell. They’re free to the public and given by volunteers who have a love and knowledge of the facility. The Bushnell can be contacted directly through their website or (860) 987-6000. If you’re not in CT, check out the Meetup site and see if there are any photography groups in your area or join a photo walk or workshop hosted by a professional photographer. I’ve enjoyed all the events I’ve attended so far.

Below are some of my photos of the event, and here’s a link to the photos taken by others.