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March 1, 2008

my quest for the perfect camera

The Canon PowerShot A70 was my first digital camera purchase back in 2003. I then decided I wanted a flip screen LCD and purchased the Canon PowerShot A95 in 2005. Meanwhile the LCD screen on my Canon PowerShot A70 one day went black, which meant it turned into a paper weight. Fortunately this did not happen on a trip. A few months after it died, I read that there was a recall. I sent it in to Canon and received the Canon PowerShot A520 in return. Both cameras served their purpose for a while.

Last year I started to read about the new feature of image stabilization and started to look for a better camera. After some limited research, since my summer trip was fast approaching, I decided on the Canon PowerShot A570IS, which by the way cost double what it now costs :{. I was happy with this camera at first until the low battery signal started to show up all the time. I also started to notice that my photos were not as sharp in quality as those from some of the higher end cameras. The Canon PowerShot A570IS is a great every day camera, but I want more than just the every day photo and so once again, I have been searching for "the perfect camera" for my next trip to Italy.

For the longest time, I have wanted to buy a DSLR. I am in now way a camera expert so please forgive me for any camera lingo blunders I my make. I have spent endless hours on the web, reading through post after post and review after review on dpreview, as well as many other camera sites and blogs, and have come to the conclusion that the benefits of a DSLR include: better sensors (which seems even more important now since the recent point & shoot cameras have been packed with extra unnecessary megapixels), less noise and better image quality, no shutter lag, accurate view finders, and better creative control with the available manual settings and various choices of lenses. Of course the lenses add quite a bit to the cost, but if purchased over a few years, it would probably be a little more practical.

Yet, each time I start getting more serious about purchasing a DSLR, I start to think about the extra weight and the extra space that the camera & lenses will take up in my luggage, which is already usually overpacked. I also would want more time to learn the ins and outs of a DSLR before traveling with one. I have not given up on my dream of owning a DSLR, but for now, I am once again searching for the "perfect non-DSLR camera", but this time I want the camera closest to what I want from a DSLR camera.

My top priority in my quest for the perfect camera is the best image quality possible. I also want the option of manual settings, at least a little zoom capability, good macro capability, the least amount of lag in shutter speed, and some low light capability. My other wish would be better wide angle capability.

Continue reading "my quest for the perfect camera" »

March 11, 2008

camera decision

Warning...this is a long and rambling post. It is an example of how my mind works when trying to make a decision.

As many of you know, I have been searching for a new camera. My March 1st post, "my quest for the perfect camera", went into detail on the the camera features that are most important to me and the types of cameras I have been considering.

After hours and hours reading reviews, various photography sites, and finally going down to a camera shop, I “think” I have made my choice. The reason I say “think” is that I am still not 100% sure yet – I am probably 98.9% sure at the moment.

A week ago, I spent a couple of hours at Ritz Camera Shop in Honolulu checking out the various cameras on my list. I was very fortunate to find a knowledgeable salesperson that was willing to spend quite a bit of time with me. He patiently answered all of my questions and let me try out as many cameras as I wanted. He did not try to sell me on any specific camera and even ignored other paying customers while helping me. I kept telling him that I was in no hurry and I it was fine to help the other customers.

First, I checked out both the Canon PowerShot Pro Series S5 IS and the Canon PowerShot G9 side by side. They no longer sold the Canon PowerShot Pro Series S3 IS. Right away I loved the size and sturdiness of the G9. It was lighter than I imagined. We talked about some of the pros and cons of each camera and I brought up some of the issues I had read about regarding the G9. I also handled the Canon PowerShot A650 IS. Again, I was drawn back to the G9. The salesperson then went through some of the features and settings of the G9. I loved the little scroll wheel and how many of the settings were so easily accessible.

Then, I wandered over to the DSLR section. I had to at least dream about buying a DSLR for a little while before making my choice. I started with the Pentax K100D. It was just too big for me. The store did not have any of the entry level Sony cameras. I then checked out both the Canon XTi and the Nikon D40x side by side. At first, I did not feel that there was much difference between the two cameras. I continued to play with each, going back and forth between the two, looking through each viewfinder and snapping a few photos.

At this point, a couple visiting from New York came in looking for a new lens. The guy mentioned that the viewfinder of the Nikon camera was clearer/sharper or something like that than the viewfinder of the Canon camera. I did not really notice a difference at first but eventually I could see a slight difference. I also I started to feel much more comfortable with the overall feel of the Nikon camera which surprised me since I have always been a “Canon girl”. I started chatting with the couple about some of the differences between the Canon and the Nikon and about the various lens choices. They were both so helpful. The best I could do in return was to help the girl choose a new camera bag – now bags I know.

After about 30 minutes or so of playing around with the Canon and the Nikon, I felt pretty sure that the Nikon D40x would be the camera I would choose. But before making that decision, I still wanted to check out the Canon XSi (which comes out in April) because of the new live view feature. I also read that the grip on the Canon XSi has improved. It would however be pretty difficult to pass up on the current sale price of the D40x.

After returning to earth, I went back to the non-DSLR section. I was surprised to find how much I missed that great DSLR viewfinder after only 30 minutes or so of handling the DSLR cameras. For the past few years I have become so used to using the LCD instead of the lousy viewfinder on my digital cameras, and now it seemed so strange to go back to using the LCD. And all this time I somehow I thought that live view would be a bonus (and it probably is in some circumstances) but now I definitely know that having a good viewfinder sure is a great feature to have, one that the Canon PowerShot G9 does not have.

But, I just could not get past the size and the ease of traveling that I would enjoy with the Canon PowerShot G9 when comparing the G9 to both the larger non-DSLRs I considered and when comparing the G9 to the entry level DSLR cameras. A post on Big Mike's Digital Photography Blog demonstrates the difference quite nicely.

I checked out the Canon PowerShot A650 IS one more time just to be sure since it was similar in size to the G9 and cheaper than the G9, but again, I was drawn back to the Canon PowerShot G9. It just had a better feel. At that point I think I was probably 90% sure that the G9 would be the camera I would purchase.

Continue reading "camera decision" »

February 7, 2010

photo class ~ first assignment: aperture

I took my first photography class back in high school. It was a pretty cool class. We took lots of black and white photos. We learned to develop film in a dark room. We even took photos by making an oatmeal box pinhole camera. I still have a few photos from that class. They are not very good but they do remind me of how my love of photography began.

Many years passed before I took another photography class. In 2004, I took a class at UH. The teacher briefly discussed the mechanics of shutter speed, aperture, and ISO but the class focused mainly towards the creative side photography. Many of the students in the class were semi-professional or planning a profession in photography. It was very intimidating, especially when our photos from our homework assignments were critiqued each week. I thought I took pretty good photos until I took this class. I became much more critical of my photography after taking this class and hated many of my photos for a while. This was frustrating at first but I think it turned out to be a good thing. As I look back at my photos before and after 2004, I can see that I did learn something from this class. I just did not realize it at the time.

I thought about taking another photography class after that but was not brave enough until this year. A friend of mine took the class I am now taking a couple of years ago. She tried to convince me to take it but I kept coming up with excuses. Finally, my aunt convinced me to sign up for the class I am now taking. I secretly hoped that it would be canceled due to lack of interest. Instead it was overbooked!

I was pretty nervous walking into my first class. I knew after the first fifteen minutes that I loved this class!! My teacher is wonderful! He is organized, informative, talented, enthusiastic, and he does not make you feel like any question is stupid.

The syllabus said a DSLR or point and shoot with manual capabilities was required. The class I took in 2004 said the same thing. There are 17 people taking this class with a range of ages. Fifteen have DSLR cameras. I am one of the two without one. I was the only one without one in my 2004 class. I have thought about purchasing a DSLR for years and again right before the class began but I wanted to make sure I would use more than just the auto or program modes if I was going to invest in a DSLR. After just one class, I am now trying to figure out which DSLR camera to buy.

During the five week class, we will be shooting using only the manual setting on our cameras. The class will focus mainly on the mechanics of the camera instead of the creativity of photography. There is a part two class offered that will get more into the creative aspects while still focusing a little on the mechanics. I am thinking about signing up for the second class also, although it is difficult working while taking a class. I may decide to take the second class in the summer instead. This way, if I do purchase a DSLR, I will have time to learn how to use the camera and practice what I am learning from the first class before taking the second class.

We spent a lot of time talking about aperture and f/stops during our first class. Our homework assignment was to take five sets of photos, one set showing line, one showing shape, one set showing form, one set showing color, and one set showing texture. For each set, we were supposed to take three different exposures of the same image (one a normal exposure, one underexposed or a minus 1 stop of exposure, and one overexposed or a plus 1 stop of exposure). We were only supposed to manipulate the aperture setting when taking the photos, keeping the ISO set at 100 and the shutter speed set at 1/125th of a second. We were also told to shoot between 10 and 2 pm, when the light was the strongest.

I found it very challenging doing this assignment. Not because I needed to keep my camera on manual, but because my point and shoot Canon G9 has a more limited aperture range. I tried to take a few photos during my lunch break on Thursday but realized after I downloaded the them that I was hitting the wrong button and changing my shutter speed by mistake on a few of the photos. Good thing I used Thursday as my practice day since Friday turned out to be my only other day to shoot.

On Friday, a furlough day, I had an MRI scheduled for noon (a story for another time). I had some free time both before and afterwards. I went up to the Nature Center before my appointment. What was I thinking? The Nature Center is full of trees. Trees equal shade. I only ended up with a couple of shots with the range of the three exposures required and nothing I really liked.

After my MRI, the weather turned a bit voggy and overcast. Furlough Fridays are more like Saturdays or Sundays in Hawaii with so many people off either due to being furloughed or taking care of their kids. I didn't want to deal with crowds and hassles with parking. Since I planned to go to Whole Foods before heading home, I went to Kahala Beach, which is nearby, to try to take some more photos for my class. I continued to find the assignment a challenge but was able to get at least a few more acceptable shots with the range of three exposures required. I did find though that the shots I really wanted to take were impossible (at least with my aperture range) so I focused more on the assignment than on taking a great photo.

Saturday it rained all day and Sunday and Monday I was sick. Photos were due by 9 am Tuesday morning. That meant I had to decide on the set to turn in from the photos I took on Friday.

It was difficult decision but in the end, I kept coming back to these three photos. The first one is underexposed, the second one is a normal exposure, and the third one is overexposed.

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I was pretty nervous again when showing up for my second class, knowing that my photos would be critiqued in front of everyone. The teacher lectured the first half of the class, this time talking about shutter speed. It was hard to concentrate worrying a bit about what his reaction to my photos would be and what kind of photos everyone else turned in.

When he finally got to the photos, I was so relieved that my photos were not the first to be shown on the huge screen. I relaxed a bit as he began to critique the photos. After the teacher reviewed each set of three photos, I realized that his main focus was on whether or not the exposures were correct. I knew I followed his directions and took three photos with the correct exposures. After he talked about the exposures, we would guess the category of the photos (line, shape, form, color, or texture). Then the teacher would ask who took the photos and the person would raise his or her hand.

I many of the students (but not all) in this class are just learning how to shoot manual. This made me feel a whole lot better. I was still nervous though shooting with a point and shoot camera.

My photos were shown about two thirds of the way through. He seemed to like my photos and even said something about how my photos were an example of something he taught in the second class (I think it was about composure or contrasting colors). I was so nervous that I can't remember just what he said but I do remember that he was impressed with my photos. I guess that 2004 class did pay off a little bit.

So what do you think I was going for? Line, shape, form, color, or texture?

February 20, 2010

photo class ~ second assignment: shutter speed

During our second class, we learned about shutter speeds. Faster shutter speeds will stop action and slower shutter speeds will show motion. For our second assignment, we needed to keep the ISO set at 100 and the aperture set at F-8 if using a DSLR camera and F-5 if using at point & shoot camera. The only thing we would be manipulating was the shutter speed. We were told to take two series of photos - one showing motion (with shutter speeds 1/30th of a second and lower) and one showing stop action (with shutter speeds 1/250 and above). Each series of photos (one a normal exposure, one overexposed, and one underexposed) needed to be of something that could be repeatable.

I had fun with the stop action portion of this assignment. Instead of posting the set of three photos (normal, over, and under) like I did in my last photo class post, I have decided to post a few of the normal exposure photos I took for this assignment. The first photo is the one I turned in (along with the accompanying under and over photos of that shot, which I am not including in this post).
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I had a more difficult time getting all three exposures for the motion portion of the assignment. It may have been the time of day I shot or the limited range of my point & shoot camera. I took this photo, which shows motion, but was not able to get an overexposed photo with the correct shutter speed to show motion since the shutter speed for this photo was 1/20.
IMG_8517%20copy.jpg

We have had four classes so far. Next week is our final class! We have learned about aperture, shutter speed, five lighting styles for portraits, and ISO/shooting at night. I always thought it was so difficult to shoot manual and have been amazed at how much fun it is. I definitely still have a lot to learn but so far, it has been surprisingly easy to take photos that are in focus and exposed correctly when shooting manual (adjusting both the aperture in shutter speeds). I still need to figure out the whole depth of field concept.

Now that I understand the limits of a point & shoot camera (especially after our class learning about shooting at night) and because I am thinking about signing up for the second photography class that starts in mid-March, I have been seriously researching DSLR cameras. I thought about purchasing a one a couple of years ago, but ended up purchasing the Canon G9. It has been a great little camera and even survived a fall when running for a train in Pisa last summer but I think it is time to finally purchase a DSLR.

At this point the three cameras I am considering are the Canon Rebel T1i also known as the 500D (18.3 oz), the new Canon Rebel T2i also known as the 550D (18.7 oz), which is rumored to be released next week, and the Nikon D90 (24.8 oz). My teacher has recommended the Nikon D90 (he is a Nikon person). I like the viewfinder and the placement of the buttons and controls better on the Nikon but the lighter weight of the Canon cameras are even more appealing to me. I am leaning more towards the Canon cameras and probably the Canon T1i. The lens system is also an important consideration when deciding on a DSLR camera. I have been trying to read up on reviews of both Canon and Nikon lenses to help with my decision. At times it can get very overwhelming. I would be grateful for any advice anyone may have about cameras and/or lenses.

I have stopped in Best Buy but the people working in the camera department have not been very helpful. I did briefly hold the Canon XSi (another camera I was considering) and the Canon T1i while there but did not really get enough of a feel for either camera.

I also drove into town to a camera shop everyone talks about. They only had a much earlier Canon Rebel. When I told them I was thinking about the Canon T1i, they told me I should get the Canon T2i. This store seemed more interested in selling me the new camera when it came out instead of helping me understand and decide on which camera would be best for my needs. I later found out that they are no longer carrying the T1i and they do not sell Nikon bodies.

I have held an older Canon Rebel camera and the Nikon D90 at my photography class (cameras two other students own who sit near me).

I know all three cameras I have been considering are very good cameras (assuming the new Canon camera that has not yet been released gets good reviews). It is just such a huge decision. I know I will be happy with whichever camera I ultimately choose. I just need to decide on one and click that button pronto so I can start having fun shooting with a DSLR!

**EDITED 2-23-10 - I stopped at Best Buy again after work today. They had display models for both the Nikon D90 and the Canon T1i. I was able to get the guy to take off all the armor for each camera so I could get a better feel for the size and weight of each camera.

I found the Canon to be much smaller and lighter (as expected). The Nikon is better built as far as sturdiness (also probably why it weighs more). I liked the placement of the settings better on the Canon. I found it much easier to handle the Canon. I liked the kit lens on the Nikon better (18-105mm vs 18-55mm for the Canon), but the lens cost a lot more ($253 vs $50 more to the price for each camera). I thought that the Canon T1i optical viewfinder seemed to be better than the Canon XSi optical viewfinder (my experience on the Canon viewfinders came from past experience when trying out the XSi and a previous model). I did not find a huge difference between the optical viewfinders on the Nikon D90 and the Canon T1i, which was my main concern.

I liked the size, weight and the feel of the Canon T1i. I found the Canon to be a little easier to use (although I am sure I could quickly adapt to either camera). I think I have pretty much made up my mind that I will be going with a Canon. I just read that B&H and JR Music are already shipping the T2i so I guess I will wait a few more days to hear the reviews before making my final decision - T1i or T2i.

I will have to to try to not be such a klutz though with this camera. I don't think it will survive a fall like my G9 did.

April 22, 2010

new camera!!

I finally decided on a camera!! The Canon T2i/550D - isn't it pretty?
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Once I decided on the Canon T2i, the next step was deciding if I wanted to get just the camera body or the body and the kit lens. That meant figuring out what other lenses I would want to eventually have. My main criteria when choosing both a camera and lenses (besides good reviews) were size and weight. I spent quite a bit of time researching lenses, trying to figure out which type of lenses would fit with my photography interests, and reading tons of reviews. I also spent some time talking to a guy in the Ritz Camera store and I very much appreciated the advice I was given from Marta and from Wendy & Rob while I was in San Diego.

After all of this, I finally decided that my dream dream lens was the 24-105mm f/4 L IS USM Lens. It gets great reviews, is an IS lens, and would be a great walk around lens (with the 10-22mm as a second lens for wider shots). But because of the weight of this lens, it was just too heavy to consider right now. The price tag of over $1000 dollars was also a deciding factor keeping this in the dream dream category. Maybe someday...

So after weeks and weeks of research, I decided that the kit lens (18-55mm IS lens) would be a good lens to get. It is only $100 when purchased with the camera and it is a small and very light lens. Now that I decided on getting the kit lens, I was ready to purchase my new camera. The next step was finding one in stock.

The Canon T2i has been selling out very quickly every time it was back in stock. Some stores have been out of it for more than a month. I continued to check a few reputable camera sites daily and finally lucked out last Thursday. When I woke up, I saw that Crutchfield had them back in stock. I called right away and snagged one. Shipping was free but it is taking forever to arrive! The tracking info says it is supposed to arrive next Monday. I can't wait!!

I bought the camera with the kit lens and I also bought the 60mm Lens f/2.8 USM Macro Lens rationalizing that the 10% discount for any lenses purchased with the camera made it a good time to buy a second lens. The macro lens was the best deal with the 10% discount.

I still have my eye on the 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM lens and think I have settled on getting the 55-250mm f/4.0-5.6 IS Telephoto Lens. The 10-22 is pretty expensive and is my dream lens ($769 at Amazon). I am thinking about getting it once I get my State Tax Refund. The 55-250 is a pretty cheap telephoto lens but also gets decent reviews. A telephoto (zoom) lens is not my top priority but it will be nice to have some day.

Now I need a camera bag! There are only a few places on the island that sell camera bags that I know of. I have not had time to get to any of these stores in the past few weeks. Meanwhile, as a member of REI, I had my yearly 20% off coupon that I could use on a bag but the coupon expired last Sunday so I had to decide quickly if I was going to take advantage of using the coupon on a camera bag. I decided to order the Crumpler 5 Million Dollar Home Camera Bag.

The color I chose (black) is on backorder. That ends up working out well for me. This way, I will still have time to check out the two camera stores in town to see if I find a camera bag I like better. I am pretty sure that neither sells Crumpler bags though so I won't be able to compare that easily. I know that one of the stores sells the Tamrac Velocity Sling bags (my other choice) and the other store sells a large selection of Lowe bags (also highly recommended). If I do find a camera bag I like, I may cancel my Crumpler bag order.

I am so excited to get my new camera! Of course, before I can start shooting photos, I will have to figure out how to attach the lens to the camera first!

June 29, 2010

new photography class

My photography class started last week. This class is more of a creative class rather than a class on settings and how to shoot manual.

For our first class, we talked about some of the elements that make a good composition. We need to choose a genre for our photos and once we choose our genre, we cannot change it. Even though I have had months to think about which genre to choose (we were told this during the last day of the previous class I took), I still could not decide. I took a ton of photos the past few days while still thinking about a few genre possibilities (beach, flowers, plants, lines, architecture).

For our first assignment, we need to turn in just one photograph. I was up until 1 am Monday morning trying to finally make a decision on my genre and then trying to decide on which photo out of the hundreds I took to turn. On Wednesday, when the photo is shown in class, we will need to defend it while everyone else critiques the photo.

So, here is the photo I turned in. I decided on lines.

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*Update July 1st: How my class went: I really enjoyed the variety of themes chosen by the different people in the class. I think I am going to learn a lot from everyone. I feel a little more relaxed now that I got my first photo out of the way. I received some nice critiques on my photo and my teacher said that my theme (lines in nature - had to make it a bit more specific) sounded like an interesting theme. Oh, and can you see a letter in my leaf photo? I didn't notice it until my teacher pointed it out.

July 8, 2010

color

For my second class, we talked about color.

We looked at the color wheel and talked about how visual excitement can be created when complimentary colors are in the same image.

We talked about the different White Balance (WB) settings on our camera. He had us all go outside to shoot the same scene using all the different WB settings on our camera. This was a big aha moment for me as I always thought that the settings were there just for the different types of weather. I didn't know that the WB settings also can be used to control color in a photograph. Try it. It is pretty cool seeing how the same photograph can end up being tinted differently depending on the WB setting you use.

I learned another very valuable lesson when we went outside - always make sure your lens is locked down tight onto your camera! As I was putting the strap of my camera around my neck while walking outside, my lens fell off my camera. Boom onto the driveway it went flying! My heart stopped! Thank goodness it was just my kit lens. The little hood I had attached hit the ground and I managed to scoop it up before it hit the ground a second time. I think the hood saved my lens as it seems to have survived. At least the photos I took that night looked ok. I will find out soon enough when I use it again.

We also talked about how color can convey various emotions in a photograph. For our second assignment, we were each assigned a color and an emotion. I got red and passion. I really struggled with this at first. I would have been so much happier with blue or green or yellow or even white! But, after taking a bunch of photos on two outings, I finally narrowed it down to a few possible choices.

For this assignment, we had to turn in two photos, adding red to the second photo. The photo also needs to be a photo from our genre (in my case - lines in nature) and a photo using some of the elements that make a good composition (entry/exit points, lighting, color, rule of 3rds, fore/middle/backgrounds, balance, symmetry, framing, postive and negative space, the power of the written word, the power of bright light, and the power of human form).

I'm not sure how much I was able to convey passion, but at least I was able to stick to my genre and add red to the second photo.

Here are the two photos I turned in ~ the original:
red1.jpg

and the photo where red was added:
red2.jpg

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