Category Archives: Photography

Paul’s Photo Tips — Tip 4 — It Is the Camera

It’s the Camera, Not the Photographer

About a week ago in Photo Tip 3 I argued the point of view that you can take great photos with a cheap camera, and bad photos with an expensive one. I promised to write about the other side of that coin, so here goes:

In some situations professional, expensive gear will get shots that are difficult, or impossible, to achieve with simpler cameras.

Speed. Semi-pro and pro models focus faster, meter faster, shoot multiple shots faster, and have faster shutter-button reaction time (“lag”) than cheaper models. Those gaps have been closing over the last decade, but you still get what you pay for.

Mirrorless cameras throw some wrinkles into the following discussion, in which by “pro” models I mean higher-end DSLRs, but for simplicity I’ll ignore the mirrorless format for now.

Of course not everyone needs speed, but if you’re into genres like sports or wildlife photography, speed can make the difference between blown shots and tack-sharp ones that capture peak action.

Let’s tackle some of these speed issues one by one.

Faster, more accurate focus: Pro models usually have sensors with more focus points than consumer cameras, and accompanying computer chips that can react and process data extremely quickly. This results in near-instantaneous autofocus, focus tracking, etc. The autofocus sensor systems on higher-end cameras also work better in low light, and can work with lenses with smaller maximum apertures than lower-end cameras.

Faster, more accurate metering: Take most of the above comments, and apply them to metering, too. Higher-end cameras have more sophisticated metering systems.

Faster multiple shots: (in the old days with physical film we called this “motor drive”). Pro models can take multiple shots faster than cheaper ones. There are other variables involved here like file size, etc., but generally speaking a pro DSLR can shoot somewhere around double the number of shots per second compared to an entry level one. Another factor here is buffer size. A pro camera can likely shoot and store two or three times as many shots before its buffer fills up. When the buffer is full, the camera cannot take any more shots until the data in the buffer gets transferred to the memory card.

Higher usable ISO: Pro models have the latest, greatest (and concomitantly most expensive) sensors, and can often produce usable images in low light at extreme ISOs that cheaper cameras may not handle.

Shutter lag: Semi-pro and pro DSLRs have near-instantaneous shutter-button response. That means that when you hit the shutter button, the camera fires now, not a split second later. And yes, a split second can make or break a shot. Again, this applies mainly to action photography, but can also be key in documentary situations, or even catching a grin on a kid’s face.

Durability: Higher-end DSLRs are built like little tanks. They have expensive metal frames and bodies, and components like shutters that are tested for tens of thousands of cycles. They tend to be water-resistant if not watertight. In contrast, lower-end cameras tend to have more plastic parts, and are not designed for the heavy use and abuse of pro models.

Support: This varies by maker, but expensive DSLRs tend to get preferential treatment if anything goes wrong. If your $400 DSLR breaks and you take it, or send it, to an authorized service center, you may not see it for some time. But if you take a multi-thousand-dollar pro camera in, it’s almost guaranteed to jump the queue and get fixed ASAP. That makes sense to the manufacturers, who want to maintain good relations with professional photographers who buy expensive gear, and whose livelihoods rely on that equipment.

So there you have it. You can take great photographs with a pinhole camera, but advanced gear is immensely enabling, if you know how to use it.

Fun Day at Powell Street Festival in Vancouver

We always enjoy the annual Powell Street Festival in what is left of Vancouver’s original Japantown. What was once a vibrant community was dismantled in 1942 with the Canadian government’s internment of Japanese Canadians — many of them Canadian citizens. The festival never dwells on that part of the past, it’s a super celebration of Japanese culture, art, music, food, martial arts, and more.

See my Flickr album here.

Powell Street Festival Vancouver 2014

Paul’s Photo Tips — Tip 3 — It’s Not the Camera, It’s the Photographer

It’s not the camera, it’s the photographer.

You can take great photos with a $100 point-and-shoot or a smartphone. You can take lousy photos with a $2,000 DSLR.

OK, before someone sporting a really nice DSLR gets into a huff here, relax, Paul’s Photo Tip 4, coming up in  a few days, will be “It’s the Camera.” So the gear-obsessed need not fear, I’ll also argue the other side. There are good points for both.

But back to today’s premise that good photos can be taken with cheap gear.

Personal vision, creativity, skill, practice and more add up to great photos. I know folks who regularly post interesting photos to, say Facebook, that they take with their cell phones. And I mean truly creative shots.

To be honest, I’ve never shot a lot with any of my cell phones over the years, probably because 99% of the time I’m carrying a real camera, be it a pocket-size Elph, or a DSLR. But here are a couple of shots of Canada Place on the Vancouver waterfront taken with an Acer Liquid E (obsolete and no longer in use) back in 2011.

If you look at the history of photography, some of the pioneers took amazing, artistic photographs with very basic equipment, not much beyond a pinhole camera that a kid could make with a cardboard box.

Today we’ve gotten used to auto-everything cameras that produce decent shots most of the time without much thought on our part. But how many of those shots are great ones? Photos that you’d want to enlarge and put on the wall and live with them day after day? (Sorry, your baby or other family members don’t count : -).

The bottom line is, use whatever you have as best you can. Don’t wait until you have a “good” camera. That sort of attitude may have you sitting on the sidelines for a long time.

Think of it this way — how many blues guitar greats have you heard of who went out at the age of 12 and bought a $3,000 Gibson, practiced hard, and made it to the top? Yeah, right, none. They went to a pawn shop and for $25 they bought some beat up axe with an action so bad they could barely squeeze a chord out — and they played the hell out of it.

Go for it, with whatever you’ve got.

Byrne Creek in SE Burnaby Turns Milky

Byrne Creek in SE Burnaby was running milky today. All drains on streets and parking lots lead to local creeks!

I don’t know what the substance was, but local streamkeeper volunteers first shared the info just after 1:00 pm today, and as I walked the creek from 2:30 to 3:30 it was still running milky.

City of Burnaby staff were out trying to track the source through the storm system.

This is the second such event in a week! Last week the creek was running silty brown from what appeared to be construction-site silt.

Here are some shots of today’s event:

MIlky Byrne CreekThe pond near Griffiths Dr.

MIlky Byrne CreekThe outflow from the pond into the creek

MIlky Byrne CreekClose-up of the milky flow

MIlky Byrne Creek
Further down the creek, near the playground at Ron McLean Park


Paul’s Photo Tips – Tip 2 – Read the Manual

Learn Your Camera – Read the Manual

This is obvious to me, but it seems few people read manuals for anything.

Do you know what every button on your camera does? What all those menu items are?

I strongly encourage folks to read their manuals, and follow along and practice changing settings on the camera. Don’t worry that you may “screw something up.” More than likely there’s a single menu item to return everything to default settings.

Manufacturers put hours and hours into developing manuals. I occasionally get work editing manuals translated from, say, Japanese to English (I’m a freelance editor with some connections in Japan).  I know how thorough and detailed the process is for developing manuals that are accurate, readable, and understandable.

I try to skim my camera manuals every year or two, and always find stuff I’ve forgotten, or have never tried. You might be surprised by features available on your camera that you may have not known existed! I keep the manuals out in a prominent spot in a bookshelf in my office, and delve into them from time to time.

If you find the manufacturer’s manual dry, publishers like RockyNook offer books on how to use, and get the most out of, popular camera models.

Of course digital cameras also come with software, and that software also has a manual. Yes, I’m going to advise reading that manual, too!

But I’m not going to get into the software side now.

Have fun reading!

What? You threw out your manual?

Go to your camera maker’s website and download it (they’re nearly always free to download even if you haven’t registered your camera).