Being One With Your Camera

I have written several topics in the past that have stirred more than just a bit of (heated) discussions in photography forums. Zoom vs prime, JPG vs RAW, manual mode vs auto, this brand vs that brand … the list goes on. Nobody wins. The reason was quite simple: I had my own choices and they had theirs.

And this brings me to the topic of being one with your camera. There are lots of cameras and lenses to choose from. The most important thing is that you should use the combination that will give you the most potential. The equipment should not get in the way of photography. It should do as you wanted it to do. There is no perfect camera or lens though so it is very important that you are truly familiar with your gear. Just because it’s the best in terms of specification does not mean it will work for you.

Let me give you an example and I have posted about this in the past. I dared to compare my full frame Nikon D700 and my not-so-famous Pentax K5 in this post. My choice wasn’t about the perceived superiority of the D700 because it is full frame and has hundreds of lenses to choose from but the fact that the K5 did exactly as I would have expected in a landscape camera. There is no point in arguing about image quality or some other magical ingredient of a particular camera when you are constantly wrestling with it. The camera should work for you. Not you working hard on your camera.

Allow me to give a more specific example of why familiarity with the equipment is very important. I have been doing a bit of street photography lately. Admittedly, this area of photography is something that I am not experienced with but I’m trying really hard to make sense of it. My camera of choice is my Olympus E-M5 because it is small which means I can bring it with me every day to work. When I have spare time during lunch break I go out and shoot. I use aperture priority mode — again, a deliberate choice. I refuse to use the macho manual mode unless necessary. I set the E-M5 to its native ISO 200 and set my aperture to f5.6. Why these settings you may ask. When I’m out shooting on the streets during lunch break the range of light intensity can only vary by 4 stops at most. Under very bright sunlight, the meter reading would give me a shutter speed of 1/2000s which is well within the limit of the E-M5’s max speed of 1/4000s. When the subject is under the shadows of buildings the recommended aperture is usually f4 but since I’m at f5.6 then my shutter speed would drop to 1/125s which is still a very comfortable speed for handheld shots and fast enough to capture the movement of people walking about. Notice that we have not really discussed the equipment yet. I have basically provided a starting point from which adjustments can take place. These settings are ideal when the light is good. It will change significantly even with just a simple cloud cover. When the sun is covered by clouds f4 will not be enough when the subject is under the shade. If I stay at f5.6 my shutter speed could drop to 1/60s or even less. I have two choices: open up to f4 or bump up the ISO to maintain a comfortable shutter speed. With my E-M5, this is very easy. I have customised my buttons in such a way that I could change my ISO without even looking at my camera. Press a button and one turn to the right brings me to ISO 400 all with one hand. I also know that two clicks counterclockwise with the front dial would bring me to f4. Now coming out from a shady area into the open with the sun still covered by clouds I know that I can safely compensate the exposure by +1EV without blowing up the highlights by turning the rear dial twice to the right. I can do all of these without the need to look at my camera’s LCD. I can concentrate on looking at potential targets instead of fumbling with my equipment.

The whole point of the above example is that by knowing your exposure values and by familiarising yourself with your camera you can become a more effective photographer. Just to provide some sort of example on why the wrong choice of camera could become problematic in the same situation: I try to avoid using my Nikon D700 in street photography for several reasons. Firstly, the D700’s exposure compensation is stupidly in reverse. Going left is positive and going right is negative — exactly the opposite of what a sane camera should be. You can reverse this behaviour in the menu but then that reverses everything which means if I turn the front dial counterclockwise the aperture closes instead of opening up. Not only that. Changing the ISO requires that I use both hands! When changing modes, you have 50/50 chances of getting it right because there is no mode dial but a button that needs to be pushed and a front dial that needs to be turned. So if you are in M mode and you want to go to A mode you will have to press a button and you won’t have any idea whether to turn the front dial left or right to get to your target mode. Going back from A to M is the same crap. If you miss the turn it means you will have to turn twice in the opposite direction to get to your intended mode. I have owned my D700 for more than three years now but I still have not mastered this very simple thing. It has always been a constant hit-or-miss that really annoys me.

Another important thing is choice of focal length. My favourite is 35mm in full frame or 24mm in APS-C or 17mm in m43. With this focal length I know exactly how my subject fits in the frame without even looking at the viewfinder. A lot of photographers recommend the 50mm full frame normal lens because they say it’s has the same field of view as the human eye. I can’t relate to this. For me, normal means 35mm. I find that 50mm is too tight and more suited to portraiture instead of daily walkabout type of shooting. I really like this focal length because it allows me to shoot people, architecture and landscape.

My point is, don’t just follow what you read in forums. Find your own thing.


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