Developing the Eye for the Tools you Have
2018 has been a busy year for companies who deal in optics. Finally Nikon and Canon jumped into the fray with full frame mirrorless cameras, and all other notable camera manufactures began upping the pace to produce digital imaging machines capable of incredible imagery to those who yield them. Of course this sudden surge in development of prosumer imaging technology is not due to an equal surge of professional, seasoned photographers and film makers. The demand for expensive camera equipment can be explained by the almost ubiquitous use of a few social media platforms.
With the silly season upon us, I feel it is important to consider a few things before loosening your grip on hard earned money to buy pricey camera gear.
YouTube and Instagram have shown it is possible for all of us to not only create engaging visual media, but to share it and foster a growing audience. This can lead to a financially sustainable lifestyle of visual artistry.
This is mostly cool. BUT...there are some downsides to this new culture of photographic artists. The psycho-social issues aside, one of the potential issues I have observed as of late; is the clear push with advertising of very expensive camera and sound equipment.
It is very tempting to feel the need for the latest camera and lenses. It is tempting to think that these expensive items will buy you the ability to produce high quality visual media. This is wrong. If you have not spent the required time to learn and hone the craft of photography and film making then the equipment will not make up for your lack of skill.
I spent many years using a small compact consumer digital camera feeling that composition was what I was falling in love with, not gear. Before that, I remember using compact film cameras. One notable camera I owned while travelling in South East Asia, was the Pentax Espio. I loved that camera even though it was seriously limited compared to today's tools.
When I purchased a Canon SX10 IS I really felt that I would pursue photography seriously. This was not, by today's standards a pro camera, far from it, but it had the extra technical capabilities to allow me to improve my skills.
Eventually, I bought my first semi serious camera. The Sony Nex 6. Again, it was not a pro camera but it was damn close and at that time I felt I had learned the basics enough to maximise the results I got from that camera. It was only then I began to delve into the world of lenses. This is where my composition experience really started to pay off. Taking advantage of good quality glass with fast apertures really allowed me to hone my craft. Like most camera nerds, I can't wait to delve into the weeds around these topics in later posts. Today however, the point is, the time I spent practising and learning photography basics was by far the crucial element in improving my photography abilities.
So, I decided to film a recent vlog using only my smart phone. Most of the time, the camera I have on me is my iphone 7 plus.
This little beast is a very capable stills and video camera.
I spent the day with my family at the beach and tried to showcase the native camera on the iphone. I tried not to fiddle with the settings too much and just approach it like someone who just wants to focus on composition. Have a look at the results below and then I will go into a bit of a review on usage.
So overall, I'm pretty happy with the results for the purpose of making a YouTube vlog. (My terrible awkwardness in-front of the camera aside...) The camera has a weird jitter issue sometimes and there is a kind of 'iphone sharpness' to it but the definition is great and the dynamic range is very usable for a smartphone. The one major thing which impresses me the most about this camera is the stabilisation. I simply cannot get footage this stable from my DSLR s when filming handheld, even with IS turned on. Being able to get stable footage while hand-holding your camera is huge. Yes, it is not perfect and this shows in the vlog, but as long as you are consciously trying to keep it steady, you will get footage stability which won't distract the viewer. Considering all of this, I think there is a good argument to be made that this camera is as good if not better than my old cameras mentioned above, at least for video.
After I released that vlog I was happy enough to leave it at that and my point about using your smart phone (other brands included) to develop and hone your composition and film making skills, had been made. Of course there is a lot more detail that could be delved into; frame rates, apps, zoom etc. but for the average person I felt this might make them think twice about buying expensive gear and just stick with their phone for a while longer to see if they can start increasing quality with that. Also, I mention that editing is a large part of the film making aspect of this. That is a skill unto itself and needs lots of practice, so getting some editing software before a fancy piece of hardware would be even more useful.
Fast forward a few weeks and I am preparing to head down to the South Island of NZ for a work trip. The trip is not photography related but I knew I would have one evening where I could take a short drive out to some of the lovely beaches of Dunedin. I packed up my camera gear with the intention to make a cinematic vlog and do some landscape photography. Fortuitously, I once again found myself in a situation where I had to use my phone. Have a watch below to see why this happened.
So, a few things need stating here - firstly, I obviously still have a lot to learn about composition - the first few scenes could have definitely allowed for more headroom. Still though, I had to really push the camera for this vlog. When filming in 4K, the camera will unexpectedly quit so you have to keep clips short. There could be some good reasons for this but it was annoying. I had to use the external mic as the wind noise would have been terrible. I needed to make sure I had enough memory on the phone to store a whole bunch of high definition clips. So, despite a few annoyances I feel quite proud of this short vlog. The slow motion footage looks pretty good to me and even though there are some dynamic range issues, the final product after a bit of colour grading and editing, is not bad at all. I am sure I would have gotten a superior looking film if I had the use of my camera body and lenses BUT the vlog got made, and the location is nicely showcased.
The take away here is that you really should refrain from spending lot's of money on 'the best' gear if you truly don't feel capable of using it to the fullest. I still feel a little guilty about my two DESLRs even though I have used them extensively. I know there is more to learn about light, composition, movement, editing, colour and all the other fascinating aspects of this craft before I would ever dare to rush in and buy the latest versions. Especially with the speed at which they are being released. So, keep in mind, as you watch the most popular photography vloggers out there, that they (the really popular ones anyway) are doing this full time. They are earning their living by using their camera gear. They are seasoned users.
You can achieve great things with minimal equipment, the best of which are your original ideas coming to life, not the quality of the images they are encapsulated in, although as seen here; that can still be pretty good when done with the device in your pocket.
Earn your new gear and enjoy the process.
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