Photographic Gear – the Camera Body

June 30th, 2017
by doinlight

I’m taking you on a tour through my camera bag and the first stop was the bag itself.

Click here to read the article: Photographic Gear – A Tour of a Photographer’s Camera Bag

The next stop is the camera itself. Now, by this, I mean the camera body, not the body and lens. I’ll talk about lenses later.

Like so many of us, my camera got put aside for quite some years. I was very active in photography in the 1970s. I took frequent trips to Yosemite, camping and exploring with camera in hand. I even worked in a photography studio lab for several years, learning the intricacies of color film processing and printing. But then things changed and time for photography dissolved. Until my daughter was about to be born in 1994, that is.

I bought a Canon EOS ELAN with a Tamron 28-200mm lens and shot countless rolls of film, mostly of the new joy in our lives.

clip_image002[4]I resisted the digital movement for a long time, preferring 35mm film. But when I finally joined the movement around 2000, I purchased a digital point and shoot with a big zoom lens. It was a Canon PowerShot Pro90 IS that I cut my digital teeth on with all of its 2.6 megapixels.

I tried to apply what I had learned in the film world for both color slide and negative films to the digital world. I also tried to apply what I had learned in the color darkroom to Photoshop. It took a while to realize that very little of the knowledge and experience I had gained carried over into the digital world. This required a whole new way of thinking, both in the field and in the digital darkroom. For example, with color slides, you normally want to underexpose a little to saturate the colors more. With digital, you overexpose a little to get more detail in the shadows.

clip_image004[4]It was in September of 2004 that I made the jump to a digital SLR when I upgraded to the Canon 10D. With a little over 6 megapixels, I was a big step up from the PowerShot. This is the camera I was carrying around in the duffel bag I mentioned in the previous article.

I did a lot of shooting with the 10D. I was intimidated by RAW processing at first so I shot in JPEG. Sadly, there are a lot of JPEG files that would have been great had I been able to capture them in RAW but, alas…. Eventually, I moved to RAW when I found a software program that made sense. Adobe bought the software when they were developing Lightroom. It made RAW conversion much less intimidating.

For seven years I used the 10D. During that time, I started upgrading my lenses to high quality glass. But as my skills and ambitions grew, I realized that the 10D was quickly becoming a limiting factor. I wanted a full frame sensor and I needed more than 6 M pixels. I was waiting for Canon to come out with the 5D Mark II but the wait dragged on and on. Instead, they introduced the 1Ds Mark III, the very top of the line.

clip_image006[4]At $8000 just for the body it was out of reach – until I came up with some creative financing (nothing illegal mind you). So, in January 2008 I got on a waiting list and within a couple of weeks, the camera arrived. At 21 megapixels, it was a HUGE step up from the 10D. I’ve been using that camera body ever since and that’s what lives in my camera bag today. It continues to do everything I need it to do so all of the new technologies that have come out since then are nice but as long as what I have enables my creative vision I’m happy.

One of the things that took me by surprise was the amount of storage I needed. RAW files jumped from 6 MB to 20 MB. So, I found myself buying external drives to store all the files on. And the pace of adding external storage has not slowed down. I’m up to over 13 TB and counting.

What do I look for in a camera body? Let’s explore that question.

The first thing you hear about a new camera is the number of megapixels in the sensor. The pixel race has always dominated the digital camera headlines. Canon’s 5S and 5S R both have a full frame sensor with 50.6 megapixels. And Canon has a 250-megapixel sensor under development. So are more megapixels better?

If you’re going to post your photographs on Facebook, absolutely not. The iPhone 7 camera has 12 megapixels and so does the Galaxy S7. And the photographs that you post on Facebook are fantastic. If you tried to print them, you would probably get a respectable 8X10 or even 11X14 print. (I say ‘probably’ because I haven’t tested it.)

More megapixels can give you larger prints. With my 10D’s 6 megapixels I have made prints as large as 16X24 inches although I had to do some trickery to do that. But 10X15 was no sweat. With my 1Ds Mark III’s 21 megapixels I can go to 40X60 inches. Lots of megapixels allow you to make much larger prints.

More megapixels require higher quality lenses. Inexpensive kit lenses on a 50-megapixel sensor will not provide the resolution that the sensor requires and the images will be degraded, especially at large print sizes. But hey, that could be the excuse you need to upgrade all of your inexpensive lenses to professional grade glass.

More pixels mean smaller pixels. Think of it. To get more of something in the same area you need to make the somethings smaller. Larger pixels have an advantage over smaller pixels. They gather more light so they perform better in low-light situations. And they produce better tonal gradations.

The tradeoff in pixel count is low-light image quality from lower counts versus greater resolutions and larger prints from higher counts.

There’s one other thing to mention regarding the sensor. They come in different sizes. The largest sensor on a digital SLR is referred to as full-frame. It is the size of a frame of 35mm film. The rest of the sensors are smaller. The interesting thing about smaller sensors is they create a telephoto effect with the lenses. For example, my 10D has an APS-C size sensor which has a crop factor of 1.6. That means a 100 mm lens on the 10D is the same as a 160 mm lens on my 1Ds Mark III – 100 x 1.6.

The strength of this effect increases as the sensor gets smaller. The sensor sizes and their crop factors are:

· APS-H: 1.29

· APS-C: 1.6 for Canon, 1.5 for Nikon

· Four Thirds and Micro Four Thirds: 2.0

· 1”: 2.72

Digital cameras are coming out with more and more bells and whistles. I think many of these are very cool. For example, they can tell you if your horizon is straight or not. Or they can show you what is in focus and what is not. Someday my trusty 1Ds will give out and I’ll need to upgrade and it will be nice to have these new features. But for the time being, I can get along just fine without them.

The thing to keep in mind about all the technology packed inside the camera body is that it is there to support the creative process. It is a means to an end and not the end itself. Photography is at once both a creative and a technical endeavor. However, it is easy for the technology to dominate and drown out the creative. To minimize this, it helps that, whatever technology is built into the camera, it is most effective when it becomes second nature, when it becomes so natural that you use it without thinking about it.

clip_image008[4]There is one more thing to mention about camera bodies and that is mirrorless bodies. They burst on the scene in 2010 and have been growing in popularity ever since. They are smaller and lighter than their digital SLR cousins while retaining all of the functionality including interchangeable lenses. When viewed side-by-side, the difference is immediately apparent.

As you can see, the mirrorless camera on the right is much smaller than the DSLR on the left and this is attracting a lot of attention from photographers of all levels. Here are a few things to be aware of when comparing DSLR and mirrorless cameras.

1. The mirrorless camera body is much lighter than the DSLR. This can be an advantage with smaller lenses but the DSLR performs better with large telephoto lenses. Another thing to keep in mind is that the light weight of the mirrorless body can be offset with heavy lenses.

2. Speaking of lenses, DSLRs from the big guys have a vast selection of lenses while the selection with mirrorless cameras is more limited. However, they are starting to catch up. But what you really need to be concerned about is if the camera body has the lenses you need,

3. The viewfinder in a mirrorless is actually a small LCD screen. There can be a bit of a lag in the image which may be important if you’re shooting your kid playing soccer. The advantage of the mirrorless is it shows you what the sensor sees which can be different from what you see through the optical viewfinder. With both bodies, you can always use live view and in this respect they are equivalent.

4. Mirrorless cameras have all the features that DSLRs have and many have taken the lead. Will the digitals catch up?

5. DSLRs generally have larger sensors. This results in higher image quality and greater resolution from the digitals.

6. There’s no question about it – mirrorless cameras drain batteries much faster than the DSLRs. So you’ll want to have a couple of spare batteries in your camera bag.

7. Finally, there’s a bit of a price advantage with DSLRs.

In the end, it comes down to which works the best for you. If you’re considering switching you might want to consider renting a camera for the weekend and giving it an in-depth workout.

Regardless of which camera body you choose, the right camera is the one that you are the most comfortable with and supports your creative vision.

In the next post, we will continue the journey through my camera bag, (CAUTION: pun warning) focusing on the lenses.

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