Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Camera Gear, learn its strengths and weaknesses

One of the most important things to realize about the camera, and  other photographic gear you have is the strengths and weaknesses that are present. If you learn about those strengths and weaknesses there are often ways to work with, or around them. Of course there are times when you cannot work with or around the weaknesses of your camera gear, but that is another subject all together. I've noticed a great deal of strengths and weaknesses in my gear, so I'll post my thoughts on that, just to give you an idea of what I am talking about. Keep in mind that, what I consider a weakness, may very well be a strength to someone else! I'll start with lenses today, and then talk about cameras, tripods and other gear during the next few posts. 
One of the biggest strengths, and weaknesses, of an SLR camera system is the lenses. The strength of course is that ability to make specialized optics for specific uses, which means higher quality. The problem with a multi-lens system is that fact that you may very well need a bunch of different lenses to shoot different subjects. The optics of SLR lenses are far superior to those of a super-zoom point and shoot camera, but it is a lot easier to carry a super-zoom camera around, not to mention that it is a lot easier getting into events, such as sports or concerts. 

If I am going out with my D300, I often pick the lens I want to shoot with before I go, to save myself from carrying a bunch of weight that I may not use. The problem with doing that is if you happen to come across something that requires a different focal length, you'll miss the shot! Another issue with SLR lenses is the price, which at times seems far to high, until you use the higher end, expensive lenses that is. None the less, price is an issue. 

Next, there are the strengths and weaknesses of each individual lens. For zoom lenses, it can be optical compromises in order to achieve a greater focal range. Compromises can for zoom lenses can be variable apertures, a common feature of kit lenses, for example. Zoom lenses are also more likely to suffer from barrel distortion, or pincushion effects than prime lenses at given focal lengths. Higher end zoom lenses are less likely to suffer from these noted compromises, but there is always going to be a few issues. 

Prime lenses may at times be optically superior to zoom lenses, but there are some situations where a prime may not be very useful, such as if you are standing on the edge of a cliff, and you need to get closer or further away from your subject! The strength of zooms therefore is flexibility, while primes tend to have wider apertures, for less money, than zooms that have fixed apertures. Lets put it this way, I've never seen a zoom with any larger aperture than F2.8, while there are numerous primes with F1.8 or F1.4 as their maximum. 

With all these strengths and weakness in mind, would I go back to using a super-zoom point and shoot, I'll strongly say NO! Now, what I wouldn't mind is a more compact DSLR, with lighter, less expensive lenses of equally optical performance. For me the compromises of an SLR lens system is worth while, although at some point in my life, that may not be true.