Which camera (& gear) should I buy???

Talk about a "loaded question", I get this question more than any other question about photography & picture taking in general. The way to start to answer this is simply by telling you, "The camera is your tool, it doesn't 'make' the picture, you still have to take it and make an 'image' of what you see." Gee, Rich, that doesn't tell me anything!! What I am getting at here is this, it doesn't really matter how many of millions of pixels you decide to spend your money on, YOU still have to make the snap shot an "image". On the right is just a few of the cameras and types out there. Plus new cameras come out nearly daily. MY focus here (Pardon the pun) is not a specific brand name, rather, to get you to see what you want in a camera.

The next part of this is a question.
What do you want to do with your picture once it is in your camera or on your computer?
Think about this for a minute.
Is what you want are pictures for your Facebook page?
Do you want to have a picture (a work of art) that you can frame and hang on your wall? Or sell?
What is this "Full frame" thing with some cameras?
What is your budget?
Are you going to take this camera underwater?
What about memory cards & flashes?

Now you know why I say "Which camera?" is a loaded question. YOU have to first figure out these questions before I can recommend ANY camera. But I will take a look at each of those questions I have asked you, one by one.

First, social networking, such a Facebook & others.
When it comes to this kind of thing, you don't need mega-mega pixels. A simple "point & shoot" camera will work great. Even some cell phone cameras work great for this and email. If this is what you want to do, stop here and go back to the Photography page and see the "Taking great pictures" link.

Pictures that will be framed.
Here, this is what I like to do. I just wish I could show you here the difference between an image that is 'online' vs one that is printed, matted & framed. NOW you need mega pixels, it may seem the "more the merrier". Although that idea is not really necessary as I have printed some images where the file size was less than 2 megabytes (16x20 inches) that came out incredible. But the 'Rule of thumb' is the more megapixels the more detail in your final image. I print a lot of my work, I want to enter my home and "See" my pictures. Some people like to "Feel" it too, I understand that, I prefer the "See" term better is all. I also like the idea of showing people my images and there is a "story behind EVERY picture" and it is fun to tell the stories as well. A camera to take pictures for this purpose range from high end "point & shoot" to DSLR's to the larger format film cameras. Personally, I use both decent digital cameras and my trusted medium format camera. But there are also all kinds of specialty cameras. For digital cameras, go above 10 megapixel, there are so many to choose from, you get to decide. Price, format, accessories and brand names will all come into play. I haven't even mentioned printing a picture and matting & framing... See the next part about 'Full frame'. I prefer cameras where I can "turn off" automatic mode and shoot manual. Things to look for with this feature are "Aperature priority" and "Shutter priority" along with the normal "program mode", along with manual. Other things to look for are being able to manually adjust your white balance settings and metering, I prefer to use Spot Metering. Other metering types are Center Weighted (Generally a default setting), Average Metering, Partial Metering and Zone or Multi-zone metering. When I shoot people, I find Spot works best, because the center of attention is the face. I also use Zone Metering when I shoot landscapes.

Full frame formats.
I did a lot of research on this, to figure out what this is all about. Whenever I used film cameras this wasn't an issue, now in the digital world, it is a BIG issue. I prefer a Full Frame format camera. Why? I want my camera to actually "Take" the picture I see. I don't want the camera to crop it nor vignette it in any way. Wiki has a great article about this,
You will really see this if you choose to get into Wide Angle photography and do not have a full frame camera, your shots will not be as "wide" and you would have to purchase a wider angle lense to get the results you want. Most ratios I have seen are "full" or 1.1 to 1.6. So it will add more zoom in to a telephoto lense, in other words, take your 200mm lense and multiply that by the ratio and you have the effective focal length of the lense, same for a wide angle lense too. This is why I prefer full frame format, what you see is what you get, WYSIWYG (For the computer geeks). For the 'full frame format' you will pay more for your camera, in most cases. But the quality of the image and the full usage of lenses are important factors. What I see on most of these cameras is the price and mega pixels go up accordingly. I have info about the formats on the right. If you plan to shoot underwater, remember that this magnification factor increases another 1.5 times, so that 16mm lense is now a 24mm lense, before all of this format stuff is in play. So you need to know what you want to do underwater before you buy u/w equipment. I recently saw one camera that had a true medium format (6cmx6cm) and was 56MP and the price of that was extreme too. But you can get a full frame format starting in the $2000 to up tens of thousands of dollars. Again, what do you want and what can you afford? My goal here is to tell you that there are lots of differences in the digital world and to tell you what I prefer.

Here the sky is the limit. I keep saying "What do you want to do?" and this one factor will most likely determine what you buy. As I mentioned already, to me, full frame format is important. I have seen "point & shoot" cameras at Costco that were a very good deal and were in excess of 10MP. I would recommend to you that if you want a DSLR camera with interchangeable lenses and accessories, you NEED to build a relationship with a place that specializes in that. That way, you can ask them questions and they can help you taylor your camera & related gear for what you "want to do". See how this all goes together???

Cameras underwater.
In underwater photography there is a common term called BTU's. I am NOT talking about British Thermal Units, oh no, we are talking about Boy Toy Units. This is not a term that is for "Cougars" or the like. Oh no, we mean each BTU represents $1,000. So if you have 35 BTU's in your u/w photography, you don't need or want articles by people like me. (That was an attempt at humor). With taking pictures underwater, remember this, "It is not a question of IF it is a matter of WHEN". Huh? What is that supposed to mean Rich? I am talking about flooding your camera or flashes. This is a thing that will happen, it is a matter of how long you can put it off. I have seen people who can flood a camera in just 3 to 5 dives. Others have never flooded a camera....yet. So I have real issues with taking a $7K (Or more) camera in a housing underwater. Yes, you can get insurance etc, but dealing with that is tougher than buying what I call a "specialty camera", one "designed" to go underwater. Here again, there are so many choices for you. What do you want to do? If it is email and for your web stuff, there are great point & shoot u/w cameras around. I would stick with a company like Sea & Sea or Ikelite because with brand names like that, they can meet your u/w needs to fit your growing experience. Here, there are so many things you need, u/w flash or flashes, cords and so much more. With underwater photography, you will continually be buying stuff to replace stuff that breaks. This fact increases 10 fold for beach diving, reconsider taking a camera with you on beach dives. There are exceptions, but you need to consider it. On the right, you will see a mask that has a "built in" camera. I do NOT recommend these devices, why? Because I have seen someone drop this on the ground and the parts went flying. Plus they have low resolution too. I have a phrase I use, "Is it worth it?" This applies to u/w photogrpahy too. What you want to get started is a camera you won't have issues with throwing away when it gets flooded, multi flashes and the arms/rig to hold all of this together and is flexible. More on flash set ups in the next part. A good idea here is to have a canvas "goodie bag" big enough to hold your rig, then attach that to your bc. You will find that very helpful for diving, if anything falls off, it could be in the bag and your gear won't get scratched up, saving you BTU's. I use a Sea & Sea film camera. This keeps me from just "shooting everything" I see on a dive and it can be saved if it floods, dunk it in fresh water. The electronics are supposed to be sealed inside, do I want to test that? Hmmmm.....

Flash, memory cards & storage devices.
Memory cards first. The rule here is simple, how many shots are you willing to give up when the memory card fails? Here is what I do. When I go on an exotic trip, I buy brand new cards from a manufacturer that I have used before. I do use these first, before the trip to make sure they are working as I expect. Most professional photographers have a rule of "Cards no larger than 8GB". They will NOT put all their eggs in one basket. This plays into the next part, stoarge devices. When you dive in exotic places around the world, you may not want to take a PC/Mac with you. One, they can be clumsy going through airports, on planes etc. Plus, they are easy to rip off and are highly sought after theft items. So do you want to risk your pc with your financial info on it getting taken in some foreign country??? Use a mass storage device instead, there are a few on the right. Some have screens large enough to show to others what you have taken. Some are large ram storage, some are disk storage. I would suggest disk storage, just what I prefer. Again, all of this leads to more BTU's, doesn't it? Flashes & arms. A lot of people I have seen mess up here big time. There are a few rules you need to know about flash, especially underwater. U/w you need a powerful flash unit, yet no matter how powerful, the max you can shoot is about 10 feet away. Of course, depth and water clarity has a lot to do with this too. Next, "contrast" is what you want. I have seen quite a few people purchase 2 or more flashes ALL with the same "strength". When I see their pictures, they can look "flat", you need to build "depth" which is contrast. Contrasting shadows creates a picture that looks more 3 dimensional. The general rule is a 3 to 1 flash ratio. So if you look at it this way, the flash on your left can be 3 times more powerful than the one on your right. If you somehow attach a small dive light to your flash, you can see the shadows, turn these lights on & off to see what you are taking u/w. Arms. U/w arms are needed to move your flashes around to help you take your shot. Above water, professional flashes are mounted on tri pods, so there is a big difference between above water & below water flash setups. When you shoot macro u/w, pull your smaller flash unit back as far as you can because you are closer and you still need a contrast ratio to add that depth to your shots. Now admitedly, there are some shots where you don't want or need "depth" but you can only set up your setup once, above water. Some of the higher BTU flashes have settings on them, so you could have 2 very powerful and expensive flashes and adjust the ratio from unit to unit to create the contrast you want. As you get better with this stuff, it will become fast & easy. In general, you want a flash unit that is to the side of your camera. If you have it mounted to the left, or right, or both (Multi flash) you will build contrast, plus eliminate "red eye" too. Using an external light meter is extremely helpful too.

To summarize here, What do you want to do?

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