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Saturday, October 16, 2010

Photography for Dummies, By Dummies: Episode 01

Ever had a question about photography you wanted to ask, but felt it was too stupid? Now you can feel stupid in private!

A normal question beginners ask would be: "I'm looking to get into photography. Which brand/manufacturer should I go for?"

There is no straighforward answer for this one unfortunately. Users usually recommend their own brands. Some of them recommend for good reason, some for no bloody reason at all. But don't get suckered into buying something you're not comfortable with, since the catch with DSLRs is that all accessories are manufacturer specific. Lens, batteries and other accesories must be compatible with the camera body. You may have a number of Canon lenses which may be used on almost all Canon camera bodies but if you buy a Nikon camera body, you're going to need Nikon lenses.

For some strange reason, you may decide to swap systems once you get some experience under your belt, but it will be costly. Unless money is no object, this may be a slight hassle.

What you should do in deciding what camera to buy:

1. Always do your research first.

You may not know the difference between a pentamirror and a pentaprism, or how the metering in your camera works, but with a little research, you can begin to understand the advantages of certain brands. Are you going to shoot more portraiture? Or are you a nature and wildlife photographer? Perhaps you like classy landscapes? Personally, these points do not matter much to me since I firmly believe in the photographer making the shot, and not the camera. However, this knowledge would go a long way to help you understand your future purchase.  

2. Camera Fairs.

Try to catch one of the local camera fairs. Besides possibly getting good deals, more importantly you can be exposed to difference manufacturers and the prices that come with it. You need to know how much you are willing to splurge on your first camera without regretting (too much?) paying so much for a camera. Plus there are always a truckload of promoter women at these fairs. Many who can't afford upgrades go anyway to take photos of the ladies...

3. Keep yourself updated on new camera models.

Once you've got your eye on a particular manufacturer, keep your ears open for the release of new models. With every new model they come out with, the techies will begin to swarm. Which leaves the older models (in the same/similar category) at a reduced price. The good news of late is, Canon and Nikon are realeasing many many new entry-level models. And technology is improving at a ridiculous rate with prices getting lower and lower all the time. In fact, on paper, the new repositioned Canon EOS 60D (technically an entry-level) can almost go head-to-head with the Canon EOS 7D (a semi-pro). Thats crazy. Today (as of 16th October 2010) can buy the Canon EOS 500D, which not too long ago, was a revelation for its 15.1 MP, DIGIC 4 processor and HD video recording, can now be purchased for less than RM 1,968.00 (body only). In contrast, the brand new 60D costs approximately RM 3,000.00 (body only). Thats crazy.

4. Don't be afraid to ask a Pro.

Don't go asking some 2-bit salesperson. Ask a pro behind the counter. Or better still, ask a pro you know. Sales people are taught to preach the good news but they're not trained to tell you what you don't need. In fact if i listened to those buggers, right now i'd be flat broke buying a top-of-the-line model which I don't need. 

5. Second hand market?

Warning! This is definitely the most risky of the lot. So, why should you? 

(i) Cheap equipment. People will sell their equipment either because they are in financial dire straits or they want to upgrade their equipment. Either way, most look for a quick sale. Plus, since new DSLRs are so cheap these days, 2nd hand sellers have to sell below the value of the equipment. This means = good value for us!

(ii) Trial period. Some beginners who try out photography later decide that they are not really interested. Then they try to sell off their equipment (see (i) above). Do you want to pay top-dollar for your camera only to sell it off once you decide you don't like it? Even if you decide to take things further, you can always save your top-dollar for a bona fide upgrade or even additional lenses.

(iii) Saturation of models. Check this out - After the release of the semi-pro 7D not too long ago, a couple of months back Canon released the entry-level 550D which blew the older 500D out of the water and rivaled the semi-pro 50D. Just last month, they released the 60D (repositioned to the entry-level category) which knocks over the 50D (on paper) and rivals the 7D. What does this mean? This means that today, the 500D is still considered a powerful camera with great capabilities. But with so many newer repalcement models, it's current price is just slighty above the cheapest Canon 1000D (RM 2,368.00 for the 500D v.s. RM 1,822.00 for the 1000D, both with Canon EF-S 18-55mm kit lens). With that in mind, a second hand 500D would be dirt-cheap and excellent value. You guys are spoilt for choice.

But not so fast. The second hand market is not without its problems:-

(i) Dodgy sellers. Enough said. There are those out there doing their best to spoil a thriving market by cheating, lying and stealing. Be careful. The monkeys come in all shapes and sizes.

(ii) Dodgy equipment. Problem is, sometimes with honest sellers, they may not be aware that their equipment is faulty. Many local re-sellers even offer short term personal guarantees. But as we all know, this is not much of a guarantee if the goods fail on you after the 1-week guarantee period.

(iii) Inexperience. How in the world would you know what problems to look for if this is your first DSLR? Even with a friend next to you, he may not be able to tell whats wrong with it immediately. See (ii) above. Unless of course, you can buy it off a reliable friend, i.e. me.

ANSWER: Truth be told, choose ONE brand which you are comfortable with, and stick with it. The bottom-line: At entry level, its all more or less the same between Canon & Nikon. Other brands are usually not consistently as good (if a Sony/Pentax/etc. user wants to dispute this, please do so since I am speaking on general terms). As you go higher up the camera-body classes, then the differences will start showing. Nevertheless, we've seen top international photogs using many different brands. However, in Malaysia, it seems virtually everyone carries either Canon or Nikon.
Of course, eventually, with enough shutter-count under your belt, the current set-up may now be inadequate. If an upgrade is required, then go for it. My only advice is DON'T BREAK THE BANK for it, since camera technology is so fast moving, your 'new' model may be obsolete in the very near future. Never forget to do research before buying anything at all. I promise that you will regret it if you don't. Everytime a new model comes out, prices fall drastically.

Personally, I tried both the Nikon and Canon before buying a DSLR. I started out trying the Nikon because of my experience with the L100. I found little differences with the P&S and the DSLR. However, once I picked up the Canon 1000D, something felt right, unlike the Nikon D40. No disrespect to Nikon of course. The Canon just felt better in my hands. I have yet to regret this decision and I probably never will. Different strokes for different folks I guess.


1. Do your research before buying!
2. Camera fairs!
3. Be updated on the release of new models!
4. Ask a Pro!
5. Second hand market!

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