15 April 2016

Why the Camera You Already Have May Be Better Than You Think

Art Model, Leslie ©2013 Terrell Neasley

[For my wonderful friend and muse, Leslie. Girl, I think you are happiest when you are shooting! Am I right??] 

I'm a Sony shooter. I started out years ago with Canon. And when Canon no longer suited my needs, I sold about $25K in Canon gear...all of it...and switched to Nikon. Three years after that, (#switchhappens) I made the plunge again  into the Sony line of camera systems and will likely be here a while. I welcome the moniker, "gear-head", but I can objectively say I made all my changes based on need. When Canon's next line of cameras came out and it didn't give me what I needed, I had no qualms about dropping that line and investing in another. Nikon's switch had more to do with dropping the DSLR line because I was sold on mirrorless systems, namely Sony, but originally Fujifilm (XE-2, remember...).

Art Model, Leslie ©2013 Terrell Neasley

But here's the deal. Not everyone wants to drop camera lines like that, especially if you have a huge investment in the lenses. Or, getting another camera simply isn't in the budget at the moment. Its sorta like my car. I've put so much effort, money, and time into traveling and photography that I've neglected my need for a new car. So for the moment, I've gotta get the most I can out of the car I have. I think it might help a few of you to know that the camera you have right now, is probably better than you think. You may not have the same photo demands or feature needs as I do and if you don't require all that then here are a few things you can look into.

If you have purchased a camera in the last 6 years, namely a DSLR, then chances are, its actually a really good system for general purpose use. I've met PLENTY of people complaining that they can't get a good picture from their camera, when in fact, all they need is a little bit of knowledge on how the camera works. Take a look at Auto Focus. I think this is likely the most frequent issue I encounter. Blurry Images are next in line. This may sound like the same thing, but bear with me.

Art Model, Leslie ©2013 Terrell Neasley

With the Auto Focus situation, its usually a case where the camera is set to full auto. So in this setting, its automatic everything. The problem here is that sometimes the camera will automatically focus lock on the object closest to the camera or to a subject that is moving. The camera operator has an image with SOME things in focus, but not the thing or subject that they wanted to take a picture of. So in this case, taking the camera out of Full Auto mode should be the first step. If anything put the camera in Program or "P" mode. Then take out your manual (download it from the net if need be) and look up info on your camera's  Autofocus, and Continuous Autofocus. If you're brave enough, check out Manual Focus. Camera manufacturers my call each thing something different. Canon is AF-Single and AI Servo/AI Servo-Continuous. Nikon is AF-S, or AF-C. Then they may go into autofocus zones or groupings in some way.

The Blurring I mentioned is when the subject is blurred or the entire picture is blurred. This has more to do with the shutter speed setting than autofocus. There are two things that determine this. First could be the shutter speed itself. If the camera perceives that it doesn't have enough light, it will extend the amount of time the shutter is open and expose the sensor to light for a little longer period of time. Well, unless everything is absolutely still, there will be blurring. A single second is actually a LONG time when we're talking photography. Its nigh impossible to hold your camera still that long and not get blur just from camera shake, much less have your subject be still enough. Try shooting a baby with a one-second shutter speed.

Art Model, Leslie ©2015 Terrell Neasley

If this is the case, look to your ISO speed and raise it til you are at least 1/60th of a second on shutter speed. You'll usually have this issue when it begins to get dark and you're still trying to shoot pics of the kids outdoors. Sometimes, if you're in full auto, the flash will pop up and blast everything with light and that doesn't look good in most cases where you want to get a wide area in your shot. Raise that ISO to 800 or maybe even 1600 and try again. Go higher if need be. But there is a catch! The higher the ISO, the more grainy or noisy the image looks.

This is when I had to make my first camera upgrade from the Canon 40D (2007) to the full frame 5D MarkII (2008). I required better low-light performance. The 5D MarkII had a bigger sensor which means bigger light-gathering pixels. It also had the ability to handle higher ISO much better resulting in high-ISO images, but with less noise in the image. Today, I work in much darker situations that still require speed and I can reach ISOs of over 100,000 and still look clean in my Sony systems.

Art Model, Leslie ©2015 Terrell Neasley

Sometimes, a better lens can be your limitation. If you still rock with the kit lens your camera came with, its likely not going to be the best quality and is likely not fast glass. If you're Canon, try the Nifty Fifty, the 50mm f/1.8 lens for a little over $100. And for zoom lenses, I absolutely love Tamron's line-up whether you are Canon or Nikon. Tamron makes a 17-50mm f/2.8 (for crop sensor cameras) or a 28-75mm f/2.8 (for full frame or crop sensor cameras) of which both are excellent pieces of fast glass. Those lenses have wide maximum apertures that help let in more light. If you have newer cameras, I'd even suggest the all in one Tamron 16-300mm lens (not made for full frame cameras). Just make sure you get the Tamron lens specific for your camera, either Canon or Nikon.

In any case, learning a little bit more about your camera outside of the full auto mode can work to your favor and get you better shots. When your demands surpass the camera's capabilities, THEN look to a better system. Getting a camera with numerous Phase-Detect Auto focus points because you often shoot moving subjects is a reason to upgrade. Having a system with superior low-light performance because you do a lot of low-light work is a reason to upgrade. Or maybe convenience features like built-in WIFI for the ability to control the camera or download your images from your camera straight to your smart phone, swivel the LCD screen around for selfies, have a touch-screen LCD, you have a 4K TV and want to shoot 4K video, or you want to be able to continuously autofocus while doing video. It could be that you like your friend's ability to autofocus using Face-detect/Smile-detect/Eye-detect. Or you love shooting manual focus and heard how cool the Sony system can use Focus Peak to assist with manual focus. These are all reasons to upgrade. If your camera is simply not taking good pics, then chances are you could benefit from reading the manual, because cameras these days are actually bad ass.

Art Model, Leslie ©2015 Terrell Neasley

You can definitely consider taking my One-on-One week-long photography course. We'll go over your camera, its capabilities, and how to use it in a variety of settings, indoor and out, as well as covering light with speedlights and studio lights. Not from Las Vegas, not a problem. Give me a week, and you'll go home a better shooter. Want me to come to you, we can talk about that too. Think it over. Give me a hollar!

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