We continue on the odyssey that is the Monger Travels Guide to Photography. Today we are tacking camera systems which means, you have jumped from a compact or fixed lens camera to something with interchangeable lenses. You wanted something with more quality than you can get out of the compact sensor and wanted reach you could not get with the fixed lens. You wanted the freedom to be able to select your focal length and change your camera settings along with your lenses. Welcome to the camera version of Dante’s Hell.
Here is the thing, when I say camera systems I mean flat out, any camera that you can change lenses on. I think talked about how there is vendor zealotry within the camera community? This is where the wars really start to take place and you will see atrocities committed by brand loyalist just because they are true believers. I used to be one of them when it came to Canon versus Nikon. Now I don’t really give a flying fuck. Here is the story there. I bought a Canon XSi because I got it for under $500. Big Daddy kindly gave me some lenses and my journey was started. As I acquired more lenses I found out how much they cost. Sure I went through the shit cheap lens phase but when you get into the decent to professional grade lenses you are starting to spend big money. You notice this even in the compact camera space that the faster the lens that is built into the camera is the more expensive the camera is. So when I made the decision to purchase a full frame camera I owned three Canon bodies and a lot of shit lenses and some really good lenses. There is a huge used markets in camera and you can trade-in and use that money toward new camera gear or sell it outright yourself. Thing is you aren’t going to get what you paid for it. So when I made the choice to get that camera, I was invested in Canon so I stuck with it. Funny thing is, its my money maker and gets the ooh’s and aah’s from people who see that big fucker come out of the bag. Reality is I rarely shoot with it because its so damn heavy and I can coax images that nearly match it with my much lighter and portable gear.
Getting back on track I believed the bullshit that Canon was great and all other camera makers can suck a fat dick and choke on it. Then I started to read real photographers who made money at it and didn’t do anything else. They clued me in that cameras are just tools and you use them to get the job done and it doesn’t make a fucking difference at the end of the day because only another photographer can even remotely tell what you used on a job.
With that out of the way, there are lots of camera brands out there making cameras that you can swap lenses on. The big two are Canon and Nikon and they both make equally great cameras and lenses. If you are determined to go with either one then don’t believe the bullshit you read online. I think photography boards and websites are actually worse than monger boards for everyone having an opinion and only theirs are right. Look at photographers that use the gear you are interested in and look at the images produced. Yes, there are some subtle differences between brands and if you like brand X’s rendering of blue better then brand Y’s then go for it and buy it. Take your time also and go to a store and play with your potential purchase. You are about to invest a significant amount of money into a camera. You better like how it feels in your hand and how you can handle the menus. Keeping with honesty, I buy most of my shit online because I know what a camera feels like but there are times when I truck my ass into a camera shop. I don’t like nerds be it camera or computers nerds. I find them tedious and pedantic (look it up). I can nerd them just as bad as you can tell from reading this but I don’t do it because after so many years in the computer field and now photography I don’t give a fuck. If it makes you happy and it works for you go for it. So with that said, deal with the mouth breathers that hang around camera shops and go in and talk to the people behind the counter. Most of them are hardened vets and are vendor neutral to make a sale. Most of these guys (shocker I know) have been shooting for a long time and are knowledgeable. They will help you pick a system and let you play with a camera within reason. While Amazon may be $50 cheaper and maybe no tax, help out your local community camera shop and buy it there. They took the time to help you. If you are thinking about going to an electronics chain to buy a camera you deserve to get punched in the nuts. They suck and nothing more.
Now that you have decided on a brand of camera and I don’t really care if its a Fuji, Pentax, Nikon, Canon, Samsung, Olympus, Sony, Panasonic, or whatever else (but stick to a bigger one) you now in Dante’s hell and that comes to lenses. Here is the thing, most consumer level or prosumer (whatever the fuck that is) cameras come with a kit lens. Hell, even pro cameras do as well but they are the lower end of pro lenses if they have them. I don’t give a shit whose brand you buy you are going to get a 18-55mm lens in some fashion (remember the crop sensors?). These are the all around lenses to get you started with your new money sink that you just purchased. If you plan on shooting that expensive camera in Auto or P mode all the time then fine, if you really want to use what you invested in you are going to hit a wall soon. This is where things get interesting.
When you purchased your camera you are now locked in with that brand. Similar to car rims, camera lens mounts are unique to each maker. So you can’t put a Sony lens on a Canon and make it work. You need to remember that all modern cameras use electronic aperture and without that connection to the body you can’t adjust it and more so the physical mount doesn’t fit. Sure there are adapters out there but remember what I said about electronic aperture? Those adapters don’t work with it. They are manual only so whatever aperture that lens is at when you last had it on the native mount is what you are going to shoot with. Yes, there are still some lenses out there that are click apertures but these tend to be electronic free so unless you really need to really adapt it just sell it and buy a new one for the mount. The other thing with lenses is that they connect an work with the body for autofocus as well. So if you aren’t into manually focusing your lenses you are out of luck. So you see why, once you buy a DSLR you are going to stick with the brand because you are now invested in the lenses. There are third party lenses made by Sigma and Tamron along with a few others. They make them for each brands native mount so if you are going to buy a third party lens make sure you select the correct mount for your camera. They tend to focus solely on the Canon and Nikon with a Pentax and Sony mount released as an after thought.
The only two manufactures that play together in lens mounts is Panasonic and Olympus for the micro four-thirds. You can use either manufacturers lenses on a micro four-third camera. I have a wide selection of both Olympus and Panasonic lenses and have used them on my Panasonic or Olympus bodies. These are the only brands that do this and even then they fuck with the other and their native lenses tend to focus quicker on their own bodies.
So now that you are in camera systems hell when it comes to lenses you are going to want to eventually expand your lens collection. I’m going to tell you what a pro told me when I was getting serious. He said you need three lenses to take great pictures, everything else is just icing on a cake. These lenses are the same regardless of whose brand you are using. These are the holy trinity of camera lenses. The first is a 35mm 2.0 or something similar in aperture. Everyone has one. This is your wide lens and it will get you through most anything you need to go wide on. The next is a 50mm 1.8. The $100 bread and butter lens that will get you through almost anything. If you had one lens to rule them all this is it. Its fast enough to shoot low light and the 50mm is the most common focal length known to man. Want a longer reach you can get a 85mm 1.8 if you find yourself wishing for a bit more then a 100mm 2.0. Thats an up to you but most stick with the 85mm. This is your reach lens and portrait lens. I don’t care what you shoot these three will get you through it all and not let you down. Yes, they are all primes (meaning fixed focal length) but if you need to zoom use your feet, they are free.
If you really want to move into zoom lenses you are looking at a Pandora’s box. Zoom lenses range from stupid cheap to absurdly expensive. I think I have hammered home you get what you pay for. The cheaper lenses are slow ass lenses requiring a lot of light and use shit glass and the longer you zoom the slower the lens gets. You can easily pickup a 70-300mm f/5.6 on the narrow end for $150. I had one, I gave it away. It sucked that bad. If you are going to invest in a zoom you really are going to want to top out at 200mm. If you go longer you are going to need a monopod at minimum and a tripod for decent shots because they are just too heavy. So a 200mm or something around there should be your max for handheld zooms. You want to get that aperture as fast as possible and keep that aperture throughout the zoom. The fastest zooms are 2.8 all the way through. Remember you are sacrificing a fixed focal length where the glass can be ground precise to a variable focal length where you have many glass elements working together so the aperture isn’t going to be as fast. Some zooms have image stabilization built into them. This means you can use a larger aperture because the image stabilization will compensate for the slower shutter speeds you are going to have if you are shooting in lower lighting condition.
Speaking of image stabilization I should cover this now. Some cameras have image stabilization built into their bodies. What this means is that there is a sensor that picks up motion and then compensates for it so that the image is crisp and not blurred. There are lots of variations on this depending on who made the camera and the terms they use but its the same deal; in body stabilization. If the camera doesn’t have in body stabilization they put it into the lens which does the exact same thing, it compensates for small movements to deliver a crisp image. If you are shooting a lens and body without image stabilization you need to be aware of your shutter speed at all time to make sure it doesn’t drop too low so that your shots are blurred from movement.
I just want to be clear, there is no right or wrong with a camera system. If it makes you happy then shoot with it. If you get the images you want out of it then shoot with it. The one piece of advice I can give is don’t get sucked into the upgrade cycle. Camera makers love to release new shit because there is always someone that is going to want the newest. Reality is there is very little new in each new camera and there is nothing wrong with your current camera. You don’t need the top of the line newest to make great images.
We are coming to the end of the Monger Travels Guide to Photography. I know. It’s sad on a certain level but there are two more installments forth coming. Next one is post processing tips so be on the lookout!