Saturday, May 03, 2008

A word about my equipment

I've been messing around with cameras for almost all of my life. Started with Brownies, went on to Pockets (including many I built for myself while doing summer work repairing them at Kodak) and then on to 35mm film.

My first SLR was a Canon Ftb, bought during one of the summers I was home from school. In those days, you bought locally and spent too much or you hunted in the back of Popular Photography for the mail order place with the best deal on a package - body and a couple of lenses. You made some phone calls, borrowed your parent's credit card and made the order.

I remember waiting days for it to arrive and was a bit disappointed when the body and one lens showed up. "Back ordered" was the story. So I waited some more and one day the remaining lens showed up. I remember being amazed at how light the box was and discovered that it was light for a good reason - someone had stolen the lens in shipment. Of course UPS tried to dodge responsibility - I had opened the box - but finally relented when he agreed that the re-taping job had been done with their tape.

So I was on my way. In those days, Kodak gave free 34mm film to all employees. It was outdated, but it didn't matter - it still took great shots. I used to photograph everything, and when back at school I toyed with the idea of pursuing an MFA and being an "artist." After graduation, the reality of needing a paycheck put an end to my dream. But all during college I shot like crazy. Black and white and slide film, all developed in my apartment bathroom after the sun went down and eventually printed right there too with the enlarger I added to my collection. Prior to that though I would spend many hours and many balmy summer evenings down at Kodak Park in the free darkrooms, learning the tricks of turning out a good print.

Life came along at this point and my photography turned more or less to vacation shots and pictures of the kids. I still lugged around my Ftb along with its flashier cousin, a Canon F1 added during the end of college. Two bodies, two different lenses, lots of photographs of kids with plum baby food dripping down their chins.

Finally, digital came along and I was an "early adopter" purchasing and shooting with the first Sony Mavica. Direct storage to a floppy and really poor resolution, but oh, what a miracle. Now, you could shoot like crazy and just dump the photos on your hard drive. I remember all the discussions with the Luddites about the end of film, and as it turned out, I was right in my prognostication.

Next stop was one of the first fancy digital cameras, a Casio 3000, 3.1 mp with storage on an IBM microdrive. Now that camera was uptown and it lasted for quite a bit.

But small form factor was in my mind and so just prior to a vacation I bought one of the 1st Canon ELPH digicams and had it over-nighted in time for my trip. How far we'd come from the days of researching in the magazines and waiting endless days for the package. The net changed it all.

For me, this camera represented a big turning point. I could carry it in my pocket (well, it was a touch big for that) and take it with me everywhere. I was more or less back to college days, carrying one around and shooting on a whim. That camera served me well until a new smaller model came out (SD450) and I stepped up a notch. And that one did well until a smaller one came out (SD1000) and I stepped up again. ELPHs are wonderful little machines, comfortable in pants or bike jersey pocket and just about as capable as any camera I've ever owned.

But the next step beckoned, and so about 5 years ago I jumped on the digital SLR bandwagon with a Canon EOS 10D. Now I was straight back to my artiste days, framing shots, tweaking exposures, looking for the best angle. I once again learned the lesson about knock-off lenses and invested a bit in Canon products and my prints got better and better.

When I started traveling (and this blog) I began lugging that EOS around with me. Of course, it has to go in my carry-on due to its value and I quickly learned that the modern body designs make for such an odd lump in your case that it make loading a bit ugly. So hunted around again and fell immediately in love with the new Leica M8 - their digital version of their canonical camera, the body that has taken more of the famous photos we know today than any other. From a conformation standpoint, it was perfect - a blocky rectangular prism with no offending nodes to make packing difficult.

However, at $4000 for the body and $3000 for a lens I immediately slunk away, my innate frugality getting the better of me. Searching further I found the Panasonic DMC L1, same body shape and lenses by Leica.And so it was that I went back out with an SLR and took many of the shots you've seen here over the course of the last 3 years.

Weight though continued to plague me, especially on the shorter trips where a fancy panoply of lenses and capabilities seemed like overkill. I've always carried my ELPH as a back-up and found I was using it more of the time than not, especially on work days and when I was doing a lot of roaming on foot.

Back to the research and a discovery that Canon, the company to whom I had shown almost unbroken loyalty for more than 30 years, was reading my mind.

Introducing the G9. Not quite an SLR, but with all the major features - complete automatic and total manual control. A decent zoom and 12.1 megapixels. A host of automated functions as well as support for RAW imaging. And best of all - it can fit in my jacket pocket. Too big for my pants, I will admit, but a fry cry from having to lug a messenger bag around to carry either of my SLRs. It fits snugly in my carry on bag and it even has a couple of snap on lenses that greatly improve its function. I have both a Raynox wide angle and a Canon telephoto that I have carried along on a couple of trips. Being nothing more than a lens at the end of a tube, they weigh far, far less than a true SLR lens and they're so inexpensive that I am willing to pack them in my regular luggage and take a chance on someone taking a liking to them.

It's a wonderful little package, and I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to take a ton of high quality photos with a camera that offers a huge amount of control but doesn't really want to either spend the money or suffer the plight of a pack mule, two facts that accompany the step to SLR. I will always carry the big gun if I am driving or taking the trip of a lifetime, but this little guy fits the bill quite nicely for the kind of traveling I am doing these days - all over the place with interesting things to see but with little time for fun.

Here are a couple of shots of the camera and a couple of pictures taken with the zoom attachment. Many of the photos you've seen here on my blog have been shot with this camera. But it's hard to remember what was done with it and what was done with the ELPH. So I'm including these two as "authenticated demonstation shots." I think you'll agree, you don't lose much in the way of resolution or imaging.





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