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 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 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.

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?


Switching to Canon

Hi all. After doing a lot of research, reading reviews and talking to folks, I purchased the Canon 5D Mark III and the 24-70 f/2.8 L II. Over the years I have used cameras from a lot of manufacturers, and the Canon is by far the best.

The photo above was one of the first pictures I took with the camera. I don’t really know much about the camera yet, so I took a quick picture of Nancy and bounced the flash off the wall to give it a better look than pointing the flash straight at her. I could have filled the shadow side a bit if I’d used a reflector, but I’m pretty happy with the results for not really knowing how to work the camera.

Those who’ve been following my blog know that I’d been using Olympus OM-D since December and may be wondering why I switched. Well, the Olympus is a great system and has a lot going for it. It’s light. The body is small, and the lenses are super sharp. Even with all that, I still wasn’t totally happy.

Maybe it’s because I’ve been shooting for a long time and think traditionally, but I really like bodies that have a lot of buttons on them. I’m not opposed to menus, but if I want to change something like white balance quickly, I prefer to push a button rather than go into a menu. The OM-D has buttons, but they were a little small and hard for me to push.

This may seem silly, but I prefer the 3:2 format of a traditional DSLR over the 4:3 format of a lot of cameras. The Olympus can be setup to shoot in 3:2 format, but it’s a cropped picture and not a native format. I prefer it to be native.

The biggest reason thing was the way Adobe Lightroom & Photoshop handled the Olympus RAW files. There are documented reports showing how the Olympus Viewer 2 software handles RAW files better than Adobe, so what I was doing was using Viewer 2 to convert my RAW files to TIFF then working on those in Lightroom. I could have edited the RAWs directly in Lightroom, but I wanted the best quality possible, and that meant using Viewer. For me, that extra step added too much time to my workflow.


Max with Flash Direct on Camera
Max with Flash Direct on Camera

The photo on the left of my dog Max was one of the first I took using the 600EX-RT. I don’t normally like to shoot straight on with a flash, but I didn’t have a good surface to bounce light off of. Plus, Max constantly moves around, so I snapped the photo while I had the opportunity.

So, after talking things over with Nancy, we decided to sell the OM-D gear and go back to a more traditional DSLR. At this point I had no system and was free to go with any brand camera I wanted. I looked at the Nikon D800 & the D800E but read that some had focusing and oil issues, and didn’t want to a chance with that. Plus, I liked a lot of the features the Canon offered.

Some of the things that were important to me was back button focus. This is huge and something I really like. If you have a Canon and haven’t used it, give it a try. Most Canons EOS cameras can do it. I also wanted high ISO capabilities, and the 5D is awesome in this regard. Other important factors I thought about was lens selection, manufacturer support and availability of third party accessories. Canon is great for all of these.

I started simple with just the body, one lens and one flash so I can see how the camera works and decide what gear I should get next, and while I haven’t figured everything out, I absolutely love the gear so far.

If you’re thinking of getting a camera or have any questions about the 5D Mark III or any other Canon gear, drop me a line. I’d love to share what I know.

Micro Four Thirds Prime Lenses

I recently read a great blog post by Rob Knight where he talked about Micro 4/3 camera lenses and which ones work best for him. After reading that I started thinking. I participate in the Olympus OM-D Fan Page and Micro Four Thirds community pages on Google+, and it seems like the many Micro 4/3 owners prefer to use prime lenses rather than zooms, which is the opposite of traditional DSLR users, who, I think, prefer zoom lenses. At least this is what it seems like to me after talking to photographers from both camps. I rarely hear a traditional DSLR user talking about primes. Why is that? I think it has to do with price, weight and size.

There are some good Micro 4/3 zooms like the Olympus 12-50mm f/3.5-6.3 kit lens. It’s sharp, water resistant and has a handy macro mode, but it can have limited depth of field and be a little slow in low light. In situations where a faster lens is needed, a prime can’t be beat. Also very popular is the Olympus 75-300, which is actually being redesigned, with a new model coming soon. While these are great zooms, it still seems that many users are shifting back to primes.

When I had my full size DSLR equipment, I used all zoom lenses, but now that I have the Olympus OM-D E-M5, I, too, am focusing on primes. The first one I bought was the Olympus 45 f/1.8, which I great reviews and is relatively inexpensive, plus it only weighs 4 ounces, compared to a traditional DSLR 50mm f/1.8 lens that can weigh over 6 1/2 ounces and be quite a bit bigger. A traditional DSLR 50mm f/1.4, which is the lens that many people go with, weighs around 10 ounces, 6 ounces more than the Olympus. And that’s just one lens. If someone carries 3 or 4 lenses, that can be quite a bit of extra weight when using a traditional DSLR. If weight is a concern, a Micro 4/3 camera is something to look at.

Another prime lens that gets amazing reviews is the Olympus 75mm f/1.8Scott Bourne and others have said it might be the sharpest lens ever tested. It weighs less than 11 ounces, and with the crop factor, its the equivalent to a 150mm full frame lens. To compare, the Canon full frame 135mm f/2.0 weighs 26 ounces. The Canon lens gets great reviews, but it’s 2 1/2 times heavier and is a whole lot bigger.

The list goes on and on of the amazing prime lenses that Olympus and Panasonic keep coming out with. They’re small, sharp and easy to handle, plus their relatively low priced, which I think is why users are so open to using them. Because they have wide apertures, they all focus really fast. It’s easy to carry 3 or 4 small Micro 4/3 primes in a bag, but carrying that many full frame lenses would take up a lot of space and be really heavy.

I don’t see traditional DSLR equipment going away anytime soon, but I think smaller camera systems like the Micro 4/3 type are going to become increasingly popular. Everyone has different needs, and if you’re in the market for a new system, please take a moment to give one of the new cameras from Olympus or Panasonic a try. They are really amazing and take some great photos. What about you? Do you prefer primes or zooms? Do you plan on getting or trying out one of the newer, smaller cameras?

Olympus FL-600R Flash Review

I recently picked up an Olympus OM-D E-M5 and a pair of FL-600R flashes and wanted to test out their remote capabilities because I’d read that their wireless capabilities were first rate. I grabbed a Promaster 20″ soft box, a silver reflector, the awesome Olympus 45 f/1.8 and my wife, Nancy, to use as a model and began my setup. I chose the 45 f/1.8 because of its amazing sharpness and shallow depth of field, which results in some great bokeh.

I took the photos near our Christmas Tree and had a very limited amount of space to set up. I put the softbox on her right, a little above eye level and about 3 feet from her face. The great thing about the FL-600R is that all settings can be controlled from the camera, so I set the flash to full power and TTL mode.

Nancy with Softbox and Reflector
Nancy with Softbox and Reflector

For the first few pictures, one of which is shown to the left, I placed a silver reflector on her left side to fill in the shadows, but because of the tight space, only a little light bounced back onto her face, which created darker shadows than I wanted. To fix this, I placed a second FL-600R with a 6×8 softbox by Fotodiox on her left set to -1 1/3 stops and TTL mode. This resulted in the look I was going for and resulted in the photo above.

I’ve only just begun to explore the features of the OM-D and the FL-600R, but I’m looking to experiment more and try different things.