Review of Cameras

  Wednesday, 4th January, 2012
  David Beetham
  camera cameras dslr slr macro compact bronica rf645 contax aria bessas nikon d90 panasonic gf1 canon s90

The best camera depends on both your need and expectations

Cameras come in all sizes, and have varying overall image quality. If you must have the best image quality, youíll need a large format field camera. With an imaging area of 10? x 8? the quality is quite outstanding. If youíve never seen a print from a large format camera, try to get yourself to Jo Cornishís gallery in Northallerton. The images are sublime. That said, thereís a sacrifice in weight, cost and convenience.

I was in Florence in 2008 at the Piazza Micheal Angello taking snaps with my Bessa R2A just before sunset, when when a van pulled up. Out got two men and a woman who then took out the biggest tripod Iíve ever seen, a large pair of stepladders and some rigging. Up went the tripod, then some canvas straps were attached to secure the tripod by a ratchet. OK, tripod up. Now the stepladders come out. They need securing too so out comes more rigging. OK, ladders and tripod secure. Then a diminutive man, possibly Japanese climbs the ladders and stands on the top and leans forward so that his knees push up against the very top bar on the ladder, above the steps. The other man passes up the tripod head, which the tripod man attaches. Then someone passes up the camera, cable release and light meter. The crazy guy on the ladders then plays with the light meter for while, looking around and shading the light meter with his hand while pointing it in different directions. He also looks at his watch a lot.

The sunset started to look great, and everyone was taking pictures with their compact digitals.

The man shouted something from his ladder position, and then up was passed the camera back and \rk cloth. He hides under the cloth and focusses the image by using a loupe Ė the image is presented upside down and back to front Ė onto a ground glass at the back of the camera. Once focussed, he attaches the film back with one sheet of film loaded. When the light is good, and after more light readings he fires the shutter, looks down and nods to his team and then starts the disassembly sequence.

When he got down, I asked him if he was using an Ebony. He was, and he seemed really surprised that someone might know. I also asked him about film and then showed him my Bessa Ė which he seemed to really like!

Anyway, the upshot of this tale? Great quality usually comes with great effort. Itís not often an accident. Iím talking technical quality here as well as stylistic. Jo Cornish, I would imagine, invests a great deal of effort and time in planning and executing his shots. Jo Cornish, like the Japanese guy, as professionals, can do this. The rest of us, most of the time, canít.

If you want great photos, the best investment you can make is to look at lots of other peoplesí photos. Go onto flickr and have a think about what you like and why. Donít worry about the technical details at all. Lenses, cameras and even film are nowhere near as important as you are. Make your investment in your skills: use whatever camera you have at the moment, even if itís an old film camera, take lots of photographs and then learn from those photographs.

If you donít have a camera Ė hereís my list of what Iíd buy if I didnít already have too many.

1 Ė Bronica RF645. Medium format quality but still portable. There are three lenses available but I could just work with either the 45mm (28mm in 35mm-land) or 65mm (about 40mm equivalent). If had to have only one camera, this could be it. You get 16 frames on one roll. About £600 with the 65mm on ebay.

2 Ė Contax Aria. 35mm. Very small and light. Works with the great range of Contax lenses which are cheep and plentiful on ebay. Youíd only need, say a 28mm and a 50mm. £150 for the camera. Same for the 28mm and a bit less for the 50mm on ebay.

3 Ė Bessas. 35mm Ė They are all great. Lots of lenses to choose from. Smaller than 35mm SLRs.

4 Ė Nikon D70s (£200), Nikon D40 (£200) or Nikon D90. Any of these are fine, just donít buy loads of lenses. A zoom and a 50mm is plenty for anyone.

5 Ė Panasonic GF1 Ė Not out yet but looks interesting. Nice and small.

6 Ė Canon S90. Again not out yet, but the image samples look very good for such a compact camera.

That said, for 1-4, Iíd say go for well used second hand, or even borrow a camera a for a while. Tatty lenses are fine too.

Iím trimming my kit down to the Bronica and the Bessa/Aria. Anything else is just noise. Save your money for a holiday or days out rather than more gear.

Get out and enjoy the little time machine you have in your hands Ė and think of photography like this Ė If you only go out to take photos, all youíll have is a record of your day taking photos rather than great photos of a great day out.

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