Category Archives: Photography

What Do You Look For in a Camera?

I found Google Engineer Jean Baptiste Queru’s camera requirements via a link on Eugenia’s blog, and I wanted to share my thoughts on what I look for in a DSLR and what I recommend for the average photographer.  I consider myself a novice, a hobbiest at best, however, in my admittedly brief experience with DSLRs, I have a slightly different set of requirements that might be a little better suited for the public. Note: I shoot Nikon, so most of my examples are with Nikon models, but the same applies to Canon, Pentax, Sony, Fuji, etc).

JBQ’s list starts with sensor size.  Of course, for 99% of the general public, this is irrelevant.  Clearly, sensor size has a massive effect on your pictures.  It affects everything from focal depth of your lens to light captured and is, of course, tremendously important.  However, to get a full frame DSLR, you’re going to be paying at least 2 grand (as of May 09).  And, again, for the general public,  most won’t notice the difference in photo quality with other very capable DSLR cameras.  It’s also worth mentioning that all DSLR cameras have larger sensors than point-and-shoot ones, so you’re already looking at a sensor upgrade.   So while this certainly differentiates high quality cameras with entry level and general prosumer ones, it’s far from the top of my list and shouldn’t be for the average person.   To recap: while the sensor is the core of everything and is tremendously important, it’s not the first thing I’d recommend anyone but the experienced photographer pay attention to.

More importantly, I’d say, the first thing you’d want to look for is availability of lenses.  For the entry level or hobbiest, nothing will have a great effect on your photos than the quality of your lenses.  A fast prime lens will usually turn out fantastic pictures.

The next thing I’d consider is hardware capabilities.  For example, the Nikon D40, D40x, and D60 can only autofocus AF-S lenses.  That means there’s a massive array of capable, affordable lenses out there that can only be used via manual focus on your camera.  That kinda sucks.  A fast prime for the D60 can cost you several hundred dollars even though there are many nice ones out there for about $150-200.

Let’s extend that thought: do you need to take photos quickly? Some cameras can do 3 photos per second, some 4, some 4.5, some 5+.  Do you need rapid photo capabilities?

Next, I’d weigh in that menu structure and buttons matter.  When I had a D60, I was upset at how many buttons I had to hit to change certain settings, whereas onthe D90, I have all sorts of quick shortcuts that makes shooting in manual mode much easier.

JBQ references aperture and ISO, but for the sake of my piece, I’m going to assume we’re only talking about cameras that allow you to control aperture, shutter speed, and ISO.  There are a number of features I find useful but don’t count as so deadly important: it’s nice to have a high res LCD for image review, but since I only delete photos that are obviously not what I want, it’s not critical.  It’s cool to have the ability to crop and retouch on the camera, but I have never once actually used those features on the camera.  So my last essential would be comfort.

The D90 feels much more solid than the D40 and D60, and when it takes photos, it clicks much less harshly, more effortlessly and painlessly.   This makes the entire experience better for me.  Call it subjective, but pick up a D40 and a D90 and you’ll understand.  You want solid construction, not only because it feels better, but also because it’s more durable in the event you drop abuse slap your camera around have an accident with your camera.

JBQ is right about megapixels being last on the list of features.  Photo reviewer extraordinaire Ken Rockwell reports much more elegantly than I on the megapixel pyth.  More relevantly, he explains that while the D60 has greater megapixel capture than the D40, the sensors are the same size, essentially leaving you with more, smaller dots of light, but essentially the same amount of light captured.   I’ll take his word for it.

Despite opinionated bloggers giving their personal views on largely silly subjects like the minute differences in expensive cameras, one thing is definitely true: ultimately, the thing that will make you happiest about spending large amounts of money on a camera is one that looks and feels good and takes pictures that make you happy.

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The Hard Way

After trying to figure out why my photos all had a small black semi-circle at the bottom, I learned the hard way: you have to remove your lens hood when you’re using a flash.

When you don’t, as you can easily see, the flash is blocked from lighting the bottom of your frame, and you end up with not a black semi-circle, but rather, a shadow.

It only took about a hundred pictures before I finally deciphered this simple bit.  In the process, I removed my polarizer, changed my focus, and even tried the lens hood upside down.

I also figured out that while shooting in manual mode is fun, it’s almost impossible to quickly go from well lit to medium lit to dark without a lot of practice. I shot a small event (my sister’s wedding shower) as a favor, and it took about 10 minutes for me to surrender and shoot entirely in auto.

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Picasa for Mac Beta Arrives!

Last night, after several years of waiting, the beta version of Picasa for Mac was released. I’ve only had a short time to tinker with it thus far, but in short: so far, so good.

Picasa for Mac (beta)

Picasa is tightly bound to Picasa Web Albums, the first 1GB of which is also free, in contrast with Apple’s MobileMe, which runs $99/year.  In addition, in my experience, Picasa Web, while it has its drawbacks to be certain, worked pretty much everywhere, whereas I’ve had problems getting MobileMe’s photo gallery to work properly.  

I’ve chronicled my wish for Picasa for Mac for about 3 years now.  As you can see, the post continues to receive comments and remains, to this day, one of the most visited entries on my site. Clearly, there is demand for this product.

What I believe makes Picasa such a successful product is just how powerful it is. Although iPhoto works very well on the Mac and the iLife integration across applications is priceless, the fact remains that for serious editing and effects, the Mac user must venture outside of iPhoto. Picasa, on the other hand, has an entire suite of tools for photo finishing. Furthermore, Picasa features Google’s search tool, a bevy of organization tools, a plugin system using “buttons,” out-of-the-box integration with Gmail, Blogger, Picasa Web Albums, and the ability to make collages, movies, and more. In fact, there is little doubt that Picasa is a much more robust application that iPhoto.

There are some missing features in this beta: Geotagging didn’t make the cut, nor did webcam capture, screen capture, and screensaver. Also missing are the ability to order prints, an HTML export, and the fantastic Picasa Photo Viewer. Most of these features are certainly tied tighter into the OS, and while they will be missed, they are by no means deal-breakers.

I noticed the menus in Picasa for Mac are very “Windows-y.”  The menu bar still has a “File/Edit/View/Tools” bar across the top, which is decidedly “un-Mac-like,” although the preferences window does use the current Mac look and feel.  

What remains to be seen is whether or not Picasa is stable, whether or not it’s fast, and whether or not it can handle large photo libraries. I know people with well over 15,000 photos in their iPhoto collection, and the application is solid. Since Picasa doesn’t store it’s own library, but rather, merely catalogs photos elsewhere on your disk, we’ll have to see whether this translates into a performance advantage or disadvantage. It remains to be seen if Picasa for Mac can go toe-to-toe with more mature, native solutions. That said, count me in as one of the many waiting to find out.

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Buh Bye, Picasa Web Albums

After settling in on Picasa Web Albums, I’ve taken my album offline and cancelled by Google paid storage. I’m going to be deciding on a new picture host soon. Hopefully one that actually support subfolders, password protection, and has a good, quick, easy iPhoto plugin. This is when I wish MobileMe wasn’t so damned expensive.

Picasa Web Albums, even with their incredible face-recognizing people tagger, is so sub-par compared to every other photo album out there. Its feature-poor interface lacks so much that it makes using it a chore for me. I’ve tackled this before: Picasa Web just ain’t cuttin it.

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Oh Yeah!

oh yeah, originally uploaded by speedyjvw.

That Kool-Aid guy, who does he think he is? Just smashing through walls with no afterthought? Does he realize the mess that will need to be cleaned after his fat ass leaves?

I’ve had Kool-Aid, and while it’s generally pretty tasty – especially the purple – I’m not sure it’s worth smashing through the family room wall.

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