Photo Tip of the Month: Cameras on the Cheap – Champagne Tastes on a Beer Budget

The Window
Good portraits can be taken with modest or small cameras, such as the one with a Brazilian girl, taken with a Leica D-Lux 4 (the same as a Panasonic DMC-LX3) compact camera, which fits in a pocket. This allows us to take a camera anywhere. But unlike most camera phones, we can take fantastic looking photos suitable for magazines or gallery shows.

An amazing sunset.  Fascinating looking people.  Vibrant landscapes.  Whether traveling abroad or exploring our own neighborhood, we want to take great photos without busting the bank.  Is this possible?  I get asked for recommendations for good bang-for-the-buck cameras more often than any other question, so I’ll start here.

When film cameras were king, camera technology didn’t change that much.  Sure, cameras got smaller as they went along, but a good camera made in the 1960s wasn’t all that different from a good camera made twenty years later.  Not so with digital cameras, which are continuing to evolve at a breakneck pace.  What does this mean for us?  We can get great cameras that have features that didn’t exist at that price point – if at all – even a few years ago.  We have, for example, the Sony Alpha A55 or A75 interchangeable lens cameras, with their groundbreaking translucent mirror technology, allowing light to pass straight through to the sensor without needing to move the mirror away to allow exposure.  What does that mean?  Less bulk, and fast continuous shooting rates previously unthinkable at this price.  Mirrorless cameras such as the Panasonic G2 also cut down on the size and weight, removing the optical viewfinder and the swinging mirror.  Cool.  Better cameras for less money.  I like it.  Oh, and it has a touch-screen.  Even among more “normal” DSLRs, you have major bang-for-the-buck cameras like the Canon T3i or even a Nikon D3100, which you can grab for under $600 with a kit lens.  Even these last two DSLRs are still lighter and smaller than professional DSLR cameras, such as the venerable Nikon D3s, an incredible full-frame camera which is amazing for low-light photography, although the $5000 you spend for it may lighten your wallet enough to compensate for its weight.

But, you say, that’s fantastic, but some of us still can’t afford the new Sonys or Canons or Nikons.  But these enormous leaps in new technology can often drive the price of cameras that are just a few years old down.  Buying used cameras such as the Nikon D50 DSLR for under $200 can get our foot in the door.  This is a camera that I owned for years, and I used it to take photos that appeared in books, encyclopedias, newspapers, magazines, the Huffington Post, photo assignments for Jimmy Page and Jack White, and even winning photo contests.  While not state of the art, it’s good enough that you can’t really blame the camera if you aren’t getting great looking shots. And there’s always film cameras.  You can get amazing deals on film cameras that people are virtually giving away.

What kind of lens would you use with a DSLR?  Depends.  You need to start thinking about how you like to shoot.  What’s your photography personality?  Do you tend to prefer wide-angle?  Telephoto?  Portraits?  Something else? As I fell in love with photography more and more, I explored this with what I call a “walkabout lens”, an 18-200mm AF-S VR Nikkor telephoto, which is extremely flexible for many sorts of situations, which is why I love it for travel photography.  It’s not without its drawbacks, though.  It’s a little heavier than many fixed-length lens (prime), has lens creep, alters its aperture as you change the zoom, and isn’t quite as sharp as a prime lens.  For prime lens, a good choice is a high-speed 50mm lens, such as a the AF F/1.4D 50mm prime, or what must be one of the best bargains in DSLR photography, the AF Nikkor 50mm f/1.8D from Nikon, which sells for under $125.  New.  Brand new.  They’re a good travel lens, and are outstanding for portraits and low-light photography.  And at 8 ounces, they’re light.

And there’s always compact cameras to consider.  Fuji X100 makes a good lightweight camera, although at about $1200, it’s not cheap.  The Panasonic Lumix LX3 is physically identical to the Leica D-Lux 4, a fantastic camera that does surprisingly well in low light situations, at a little over $500.  I own the D-Lux 4, and can assure you that it takes vibrant, sharp photos.  The Panasonic G2, Canon G11 or G12, and other compact cameras are quality cameras worth looking into.  They’re lightweight and small.  I like that. In a later post, I’ll discuss why I never leave on a trip without a compact camera.



Photo Link: Refocusing Photos After You Take Them!

What am I goin’ on about, you might ask?  Lytro has recently introduced a camera with an f/2 lens that they say captures the entire light field, allowing you to focus on parts of the image — AFTER you have taken the photo.

Have a look at some of the Lytro images here, all of which you may continually refocus:

No Auto-Focus.  No delay.  Just point and shoot.

Right now, you can’t do too much editing, although I suspect this will change with subsequent versions.  It’s Mac only, although that too will change, according to Lytro.  Oh, and no, you can’t make *everything* in focus, although the Lytro site indicates they’re workin’ on it.

Lytros camera

It’s a little odd looking for a camera, but the technology is intriguing.

Sharing is not quite pointing and clicking with an iPhone and uploading it to Facebook.  Right now, the camera is not wireless.  But more than that, to share, you must upload photos to the Lytro website and share from there.  There’s a good reason for this. The Lytro camera uses a different photo format, necessary because the camera captures very different data from “traditional” cameras.  Lytro says, “The information is different because, while traditional cameras capture the intensity of the light, the sensor on our light field camera captures both the intensity and the direction of light.”  They further go on to say, ”You aren’t changing the captured light field data, but are instead changing parameters that control projection of those data to the sequence of 2-D images that you see. Thus, light field pictures are ‘living pictures,’ and they make different demands of a picture format than do traditional photographs.”

And yes, I know that Raytrix (Germany) had developed light field camera that does something similar, allowing you to refocus the photo after the fact as well.

Raytrix R11 light field camera
Raytrix R11 light field camera from Germany . According to their website, Raytrix cameras offer you a brand new enabling technology: digital cameras with 4D lightfield image-sensors. Using the new R11-camera you have full control in digital post processing of the perspective and focus setting of your pictures you have already taken. Also a 3D reconstruction of the original scene is possible. The 4D lightfield consists of all lightray intensities passing through our 3D space and not only one flat 2D image-projection. By recording this 4D lightfield with only a single shot, raytrix cameras store more information of the 3D scene compareable by taking many shots at the same time but from different point of views.

Future applications of this technology may someday forever change the way we share and experience photos, as well as have implications for other applications of photography, such as surveillance, security, perceived dimensionality in photographs, and even how we go about taking photos.  Will Lytro or Raytrix license their technology to other manufacturers?  How is this going to impact the kinds of photography we do?  How will it impact 3D cinema, gaming, or scientific research?

I mentioned that every once in a while, I will link to something of interest.  This is the first of many to come. 

Welcome to the Photo On The Go Ken Lee Photography Blog!

Majestic Redwoods

Photo on the go: Hiking in Northern California, immensely enjoyable when you can take great photos with camera equipment that is light and small enough to fit in a hip pack.

Welcome, welcome to my shiny new Photo On The Go Blog!  We’ll cover all sorts of photography here, but with an emphasis on photography on the go and long exposure photography.  This is for the spontaneous and want to keep the load light, those who wish to take better photos without requiring a pack mule to haul expensive equipment, and those who want more photography and less fiddling.  And it’s for people who have a fond interest in long exposure photography, such as coastal photography or star trails.

This photography blog will offer a Tip Of The Month article, techniques, cool Photoshop tips and tricks, creative and cheap alternatives to expensive studio gear, and other tips you’ll enjoy.

Between these monthly articles, I’ll be posting Featured Photos with the stories behind them, and what techniques and equipment were used, both during and after the shoot.  And occasionally, I’ll post links on creative uses of gear, great values, and anything else of interest.  I’ll try for about once a week for these.

So kick off your shoes, grab a drink, and stay a while!