My Philosophy on Gear

I am not a gear head!  I know my last two postings have been about equipment choices, but you might have noticed that I have been purposefully vague about the specifics of the gear that I shoot with.  If you were to ask me what camera to buy, I’ll be equally vague.   I’ll talk about gear in the general sense.  There are plenty of resources out there that give very detailed equipment reviews.   I’m more interested in the images that you can create with the gear you have.  While I do believe that professional photographers should have professional quality gear, it is not the camera that makes the image, but the vision behind the viewfinder that creates compelling images.

We’re approximately 2 weeks from departure to Brazil, so NOW is the time to purchase any gear that you want to bring on the trip.

The minimum requirements for my class are a Digital SLR with lens, tripod, laptop and external hard drive.   A few extra things I recommend are: external flash, extra battery, extra memory cards, and if at all possible, at least one fast, prime lens.  Then of course, there is the camera bag dilemma.

If you look in my office closet, you’ll see the equivalent of Imelda Marcos’ shoe closet.  I have more camera bags than the law should allow.  How I transport the gear matters on so many levels.  1st is comfort, 2nd is what can I carry, 3rd is how does it look.

For comfort, I prefer a sling bag or backpack.  I use a backpack for the big travel days when I really just need to transport the gear safely and easily, but don’t expect to be doing a lot of shooting.  I like one that will hold my laptop, but is small enough to fit under the airplane seat or in the small overhead compartments.  I’ve had to pull out my laptop and camera at the runway, when the airline forced me to gate check a large bag.

When walking around and shooting, I prefer a sling bag.  The sling bag style makes it easier to get to the gear quickly.  I prefer one with a waste strap to help distribute the weight.  The other things that are important are a place (on the outside of the bag) for a water bottle, and a pocket large enough to hold a small guidebook,  map and a small snack.  The bag I use has a hidden pocket for a emergency stash of cash, and a pocket that will hold an emergency poncho and a shower cap for unexpected rain.  No, I don’t wear the shower cap, I put it on my camera!  I also always keep a few blister band aids tucked away in the inside pocket.

How does it look?  Why does that matter? I’m no fashionista.  I dress down when shooting because I don’t want to call attention to myself, I want to fade into the background.  I also don’t want to call attention to my gear, so the less your camera bag looks like a camera bag, the better.  Don’t advertise the camera brand, thieves know which brands are the most expensive.  Switch out the strap that came with the camera that has the brand all over it.  You can also put a small piece of black tape on the camera to block out the make and model.

If you have some last minute shopping to do, here are a few places to start.

dpreview:  The go to source for learning about different camera models.  I especially like the feature that allows you to compare camera models side by side.  They keep up with the newest equipment, and are always releasing new reviews of gear.

B&H:  Source for all things photographic, things you don’t even know you want or need.  They also care equipment for video and audio.  I’ve always been happy with the service when I’ve purchased from them.

KEH: A very reputable source for buying used equipment.  They have a great rating system for letting the buyer know the condition of the equipment before purchasing.

DURY’S:  Dury’s is the local pro shop in Nashville.  I like to shop there because nothing beats being able to walk into a store, talk to knowledgeable sales people and really get a feel for the equipment.  I buy from them, because I want to support the local options to be sure they are always there!

Camera Choice- Compact Cameras

Compact/Point and Shoot cameras have come a long way in the digital era.  There are a wide range of point and shoot cameras on the market, so this means there is a wide range of quality that is available.  There are many very good compact cameras on the market, and many of them have functions that elevate them from being a simple “point and shoot” camera.  These compact cameras are easy to use and many have very useful features and functions.  Some of these features are easy to understand, and there are also often functions that can be taken advantage of by more experienced shooters.

Amsterdam: Sometimes you just want to go out for a drink, and then your beverage looks good enough to photograph. Glad I had my little camera with me, cheers!

“The best camera is the one that you have with you.”  The advantage of point and shoot cameras is clearly it’s small size and convenience.  I’m more likely to carry a camera with me all the time, if it is compact.  There are definitely times when I want to have the ability to take pictures, but don’t want to worry about keeping up with my SLR camera.  So, I usually pack both for a trip, and make sure those times that I don’t want to take the big camera, that I at least have my Point and Shoot.

There have also been times, when I have had both cameras with me, and I used the point and shoot for safety and security reasons, maybe I was in area where petty crime was a problem, and I didn’t want to attract the wrong kind of attention.  Or, I was in a situation where I wanted to be more discreet with my camera, and didn’t want to stand out in the crowd.

Siena, Italy Picture taken with my compact camera. This is a situation where I wanted to quickly take a picture while being discreet. I did not want the women to notice that I was taking their picture, as that might have changed their positions and or expressions.

Image quality can vary widely in the huge range of compact cameras that are available.  I finally broke down and bought a compact camera when they started making some models that shoot 12 megapixel RAW files.  I’m so glad I did, I love my little compact camera, because I can, and do, take it anywhere and everywhere.  There are a few other features to look for if shopping for a compact camera that goes beyond point and shoot.  The first would be exposure controls, preferably manual control.  I recommend having at least shutter and aperture priority shooting modes, and exposure compensation.  This gives you some control over motion and depth of field.  Sure, there might be times when you set it to auto and forget about it, but there are other times where you really need the control over those settings to get the picture you want.

The Netherlands: This picture was taken with my compact camera while riding a rental bike in the Waterlands area outside of Amsterdam. I did have my SLR camera with me, but it was tied down so securely to the back of my bike that I got tired of taking the time to unsecure and resecure it. So, I rode with my compact camera around my neck, which allowed me to easily stop, shoot a few frames, and then be on my way.