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In The Practicing Photographer, photographer and teacher Ben Long shares a weekly serving of photographic instruction and inspiration. Each installment focuses on a photographic shooting scenario, a piece of gear, or a software technique. Each installment concludes with a call to action designed to inspire you to pick up your camera (or your mouse or smartphone) to try the technique for yourself.
It's kind of just, just relaxing isn't it? Just a big wall of cameras and lenses and camera stuff. It just makes me feel good. Just kind of basking in it right here. We're here at Sammy's Camera in Santa Barbara. It's a great camera store, really nice vibe, fantastic selection. People are really friendly. I'm here because I want to talk about camera shopping. The internet has really changed camera shopping, because there is a tremendous amount of information that you can find online. Review sites, sample pictures, forums where people talk about their actual experience with there camera. And all that's great, and when you're looking for a camera, and you've chosen a price point that you want to shop at.
You kind of know what your needs are. You know your shooting style. You know what specs you need, and maybe you've narrowed it down to a set of cameras, a set of candidates. It's great to be able to go online and so easily find the different specs and things. Obviously, pixel count, dynamic range, burst speeds, lots of different technical specs are very important. But I want to talk today about once you've waded through those, one of the most important steps of all, which is just the practical part. How does the camera feel in your hand? How do the controls work, and do they work in a way that makes sense to you? And I feel like the only way you can answer those questions is to actually get your hands on the candidate cameras that you're considering.
And to do that you gotta find a camera store. That's what's so great about having a place like Sammy's nearby. So when you get into a store and you've got the camera in your hand. What do you look for? Again, at this point, I'm assuming you've already checked out all the tech specs. You're not actually looking into well, what's how many different levels of RAW plus JPEG can it do. And, and, what bit depth does it have and all that kind of stuff. You've, you've made those decisions. At this point, it's really about pretty basic stuff. How heavy is it? How does it feel in my hand? This is really important when I'm going to be carrying the camera all day. I also want to even consider, here's the kit lens that comes with it. How heavy is that? If I imagine two or three more lenses like this in a bag, what's that going to feel like? Is that something that I'm willing to carry around? After that, I want to know how bright is the viewfinder? How clear is it? Can I see edge to edge by looking straight through it? Or do I have to turn my head around? If I want to shoot without my glasses on does the diopter give me enough correction and if not is that a deal breaker for me? There are certain controls that I want to know that I had easy access to, easy quick access to.
Ideally quick access that does, doesn't require me to take my eye from the viewfinder. Can I find the ISO control by feel, and can I alter it without removing my eye from the viewfinder? Can I do the same with exposure compensation? Does it have a program shift feature if that's the way that I'm used to shooting if you're not clear on what program shift is. Check out my Foundations of Photography, Exposure course. Our mode change is easy. A lot of times there are critical controls for specific kinds of shooting. If you're a sports shooter and you regularly use drive mode, can you get to that easily? Can you easily get to focus mode changes where, maybe if you're a sports shooter or a wildlife shooter, you want to regularly turn on focus tracking? Can you find that easily? Is the menu system easy to navigate? Again, this is one of those things that you can look at screen captures and menus on the website. But there's nothing quite like getting your hands on and actually learning how the menus navigate.
Another one I think is really critical is status display. And this is a big thing on SLRs. Smaller SLRs tend to have only an LCD screen on the back that serves as the status display. While mid-size and higher-end SLRs. Will have the LCD screen and a top-mounted display. Personally, I'm a real sucker for these top-mounted displays, because I can just glance down at my camera, see exposure settings. They're visible in bright daylight, which an LCD screen is not always. So, those are things to look for. Finally there is of course image quality.
Now you can download a lot of sample images from the web and that's a great way to evaluate quality. You can process them in a RAW converter of your choice if you're a raw shooter. And you should be a RAW shooter. But in a camera store, you can actually take a card in and shoot images to it and then take them home and look at them. So if you check out ahead of time what the format is, this is an SD card, I can bring my own SD card, shoot up a range of images in here, and take them home. The types of images that I would be looking for would be partly to evaluate image quality and partly to evaluate quality of the lens that I'm choosing to buy.
For image quality my main concern that is testable in a store is noise at different ISOs. So I would want to turn the ISO up and just shoot the same shot over and over. And it could be In here, ideally it'd be nice to find a dark space, that's hard to find. There's some bags and things around, maybe I could shoot under them. But even without that, just shooting any scene in the store, over and over at different ISO's, is going to give me an easy way to evaluate noise. For lens evaluation, I'm going to want to look at edge to edge sharpness, vignetting and distortion. And those are all things that I can do here.
I can take my card home and check it out. So, those are just some practical things you want to check out as you try to make your camera decision. Now, if you come to a store and you look at a camera and you get this great opportunity to get your hands on it and you decide you want it. Buy it from the store. Don't go buy it online. Yes, it might be cheaper, but there's great merit to having your own camera store nearby that you can get help with. That will give you support if something goes wrong and you can build a relationship. So if you're camera shopping, don't forget to try to actually feel the thing before you buy it.
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