By Joseph Kashi, for the Redoubt Reporter
A better camera won’t automatically make you a better photographer, or will it? Sadly, no.
Simply buying more, and more expensive, highly automated camera equipment may end up being a crutch that hampers your long-term development. Test pilots and astronauts don’t start out flying supersonic jet fighters. They gradually improve their aviation skills by first flying simple training aircraft that requires constant thought, manual operation and good judgment.
Becoming a better photographer is much the same, though less dramatic. Better results arise from a deepening knowledge of photographic techniques and developing an “eye” for interesting, noncliched images.
However, a better camera can improve your image quality once you’ve learned how to consistently take those compelling photos.
For example, let’s assume you like to shoot fast-moving athletic events. Using a multithousand-dollar pro digital SLR camera at its default automatic settings may increase your percentage of usable action shots somewhat compared to a consumer-grade long-zoom camera. However, auto focus and auto exposure don’t always work reliably when the action is fast and there are many different points that may attract the camera’s automatic settings.
A more knowledgeable sports photographer will often manually set the camera to a lens aperture, exposure setting and “zone focus” point known to yield a higher percentage of good photographs. They’ll also know enough about the event to position themselves where they’ll be able to see crucial plays more clearly and without distracting backgrounds. That gets the shot.
Once you’ve set up a better shot, though, high-quality equipment and more capable post-processing software can result in a technically better photograph. Let’s look at that sporting event again.
Pro-quality cameras can shoot and store more images per second. If there’s a fast-breaking event, like a football pass interception, then the pro camera’s high-speed continuous shooting capability results in taking many more frames before the fast action’s over, increasing your odds of a truly compelling image.
Further, many current semipro-grade cameras, especially the Pentax K-5 and Nikon D7000, have a very wide dynamic range and good high ISO capabilities, allowing you to later correct most exposure problems without shredding the quality of your final image. These cameras provide decent image quality at the high ISO speeds needed for the fast shutter speeds that freeze quick movement and minimize the camera shake that occurs when using high-magnification lenses.
But to be in the right place at the right time and prepared technically, you still need experience and knowledge. As Louis Pasteur famously said after discovering a fundamental aspect of biology, “Chance favors the prepared mind.”
The “right” camera for a particular situation isn’t always a hulking, multithousand-dollar dSLR. When taking candid photos of people in public locations, a smaller camera with an eye-level viewfinder, one that doesn’t look intimidating and call attention to itself, is often more effective. In that situation, I’d prefer something that does well in mediocre light as well as being small and discreet, probably a Fujifilm X100, a Canon G12 or S95, an Olympus E-PL2, or, if you own currently producing oil leases, a Leica M9.
Along with the Pentax K-5 and Nikon D7000, there are two less-expensive new dSLR cameras worth considering. Nikon’s D5100 includes a variant of the excellent 16-megapixel Sony sensor that powers Nikon’s D7000 and Pentax’s K-5. Nikon’s D5100 doesn’t have the D7000’s build quality or high-end feature set, but it’s an affordable route to high image quality.
Similarly, Sony’s A580 also uses a variant of the same 16-megapixel sensor. Image quality is likewise quite good but seems to lag somewhat behind Nikon and Pentax, both of whom achieve subtly better final images because of their proprietary image processing chips built into the K-5 and D7000.
Odds and ends
- Oops! After last week’s issue went to press, I noticed an error in my color temperature calculations. Temperatures expressed in degrees Kelvin are NOT precisely the same as temperatures expressed in degrees Celsius. Although the Kelvin scale is premised upon the Celsius scale, Kelvin has a different starting point, absolute zero, which is minus 273 degrees Celsius or minus 459 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s definitely cold, although some in Fairbanks may scoff. I’ll do 10 pushups as penance for the goof. Any reader who failed to catch my calculational error, including our proofreader who looks for those pesky stray commas, is also welcome to do 10 pushups.
- “Rarified Light:” It’s that time again — June 6 is the deadline for submitting entries for the Alaska Photographic Center’s annual “Rarified Light” juried fine art photography exhibition. This is Alaska’s premier photo exhibition and travels the state for a year after its Anchorage Museum show. Entries must be postmarked no later than June 6. Go to http://www.akphotoctr.org to download a prospectus and entry forms. Give it a try. Many Kenai Peninsula photographers have recently been accepted into this selective juried exhibition.
- Your own exhibition here! If you’re interested in submitting a proposal for an individual or group art exhibition to hang in 2012, contact the Kenai Fine Arts Center at 283-7040 and ask them to send you an application form. With its recent installation of museum-quality lighting, large and small galleries, and generous amount of wall space, the Kenai Fine Arts Center is one of the nicer places on the peninsula to exhibit artwork.Free photo book: An acclaimed book of the film era, “Post Exposure — Advanced Techniques for the Photographic Printer,” remains available as a free PDF download. Recommended for both film and digital photographers. The download link is at http://ctein.com/booksmpl.htm.
- Shameless self-promotion department: There’s a free public reception at 6 p.m. June 2 at the Kenai Fine Arts Center for the opening of my June 2011 photo exhibition, “Obscured Views.” The center will serve food, decent wine and other beverages. The Kenai Fine Arts Center is at 816 Cook Ave., in Old Town Kenai, down the street from the Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center near the bluff. Everyone’s invited.
- Science book of the week: This week’s recommended science book for laypersons is “The Elements” by Theodore Gray, a tour of the 100-plus known chemical elements. This lavishly illustrated book is beautifully done and includes a short chapter for every element. It’s fun to just open this book at random and admire the weird facts and lovely photos. For example, I learned that element No. 41, a metal called niobium, of which I knew nothing, turns out to be a strategic metal because it’s the critical component of military rocket nozzles that must retain great strength despite incredible heat. The FBI literally chases down missing niobium parts. Oddly, it’s also one of the preferred metals for body piercing jewelry. That’s definitely switch-hitting. My teen daughter liked this book so much that she insisted on her own copy so she could carry it around without fear of damaging my copy.
Local attorney Joe Kashi received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from MIT and his law degree from Georgetown University. He has published many articles about computer technology, law practice and digital photography in national media since 1990. Many of his technology and photography articles can be accessed through his website, http://www.kashilaw.com.