January 10, 2014

Avoiding Camera Envy

Or at least attempting to.

I have always been incredibly curious when it comes to other people’s photography. I have even on occasion perused the old Facebook archives of my photographer friends’ Facebook pages looking for inspiration. What are you capturing? What are you capturing it with?!” I often wonder if the reason I struggle with certain photo ideas is due to equipment or skill. The answer, I suspect, is it depends on the photo.

Recently someone I follow decided to upgrade her camera, and I took the opportunity to compare gear. Here I thought we were shooting using comparable camera bodies. Wow, was I in for a shock. Her old Canon 7D, at 3 times the cost of my Nikon D5100, is far superior. And she was trading in the 7D for the full frame 6D. (Canon numbering makes no sense to this Nikon girl.)

Of course my first impulse was that I had finally found my reason why I struggle so much with indoor photography: inferior gear. I started to wonder how much would it cost to upgrade to a full frame myself. An hour later I had a amazon shopping cart totaling over $3000. That’s because of the three non-kit and two kit lenses I own, only 1 (my 50mm prime lens) is compatible with the full frame sensor camera bodies. I love my prime lenses, but I can’t shoot a toddler with just prime lenses – they’re always on the go! The cheapest full frame body, the D610, is roughly $2000. Even if I stick with the DX crop sensor series, the D7100 – comparable to the Canon 6D, and the camera body I figured I would buy eventually – is $1,200. (Okay, I admit Nikon numbering isn’t exactly clear either.)

Camera envy is bad for the wallet.

I only just bought my last DSLR in August 2012, after purchasing my first DSLR in May 2009. Here I am priding myself on saving money by upgrading my TV once a decade. Buying a new camera body every couple of years isn’t good for my bottom line. So the next logical question is: would that $3000 (or alternatively $1200) actually buy me anything let alone $3000/1200 worth of joy?

Full frame sensor camera sensors are supposed to have better contrast, and less ISO noise than their crop sensor counter parts. But is it noticeable? I was finding everything from the internet from “yes, definitely!” to “only if you want a 20 foot print”. Now, I’m a big picture girl. Gallery walls are cool, but I have a hard time making my photos look consistent enough for gallerias. Different lighting causes different color depths, different types of shadows. My photos just look too different. I have exactly 6 photos hung, on 4 different walls, 3 of which have at dimensions over 20 inches on both sides. So I decided to conduct a few experiments of my own. At least as much of an experiment as I can do prior to buying a much more expensive camera.

Lately I’ve been taking photos with higher and higher ISO. Those milk & cookies were taken between ISO 1600 and 2000. I don’t tend to notice the ISO on my monitor unless I zoom in, but my monitor is tiny compared to a 20 x 30 large print. I wanted to know how noticeable the grain was on a large print, without actually paying for a large print. Thus I projected my photos to 50 inch, admittedly cheap and probably not very good quality, flat screen TV using a Google chromecast. I was surprised by the results.

Photos with 2000 ISO were crisp on the large screen. It was hard to even spot noise in many 6400 ISO photos. If there was any texture, the noise tends to disappear into it. Grain was most noticeable on solid dark areas of photos. As such, ISO can be more noticeable in shallow depth of field photos, as areas out of focus tend to be blurry and thus without texture. ISO grain is also more noticeable on slightly out of focus photos for the same reason.

On the other hand, a too shallow depth of field was very noticeable. In many of my photos I noticed one eye was ever so slightly out of focus. My aperture was just a little too open for her entire face to be in focus. I have been really hampering my own photography by trying to step down the ISO too much, when what I should be doing is choosing a higher f-stop. If only I could go back in time…

I think the conclusion for me is that my photography would be better served with more photography practice, rather than better gear.


Tangentially related, as someone who has been criticized for taking too many photos, I absolutely love the xkcd.com comic from a few days ago.

Last month a certain study published in Psychological Science which found taking a photo of an object can impair one’s memory of it made the rounds, usually accompanied with the conclusion that we should all put our cameras down. But the study itself did not reach that conclusion. The study actually found that “when participants zoomed in to photograph a specific part of the object, their subsequent recognition and detail memory was not impaired”. Additionally study was also conducted over two days and numerous other studies confirm memories change over time. A digital file does not change.

I have no doubt that some people feel more ‘in the moment’ without a camera in their hands. For them, the conclusions to put the camera down makes sense. For me taking the photo is part of the adventure. I’m always going back over my old photos, reliving past memories and emotions. I would have forgotten so many little details without it.

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  1. […] been thinking about my next camera. I considered a full frame, but have little desire to repurchase my lenses. I was super excited about the D7200 announcement […]


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