Friday, September 26, 2008

My photography gear

I've been passionate about photography for several years now. I admit -- I wasn't that into the field during its film days (not like that was too long ago!), but I really got into it during its crossover into the digital realm.

As the former editor of a popular computer magazine in India, I've had the opportunity to work with numerous digital cameras over the years. I've owned several digital cameras during the time -- the Canon PowerShot A60, the Fuji FinePix S5500, and more recently the Nikon D40 (this is my second one -- the first was stolen. T'was indeed a sad, sad day in my life).

Nikon D40The best entry-level DSLR. Period.
I've been extremely satisfied with the D40 kit, and would dare say that it's the most brilliant piece of photography equipment in its class. It is compact, delivers excellent imaging performance, and is extensible. Right now, I really don't see any reason to upgrade to a camera beyond 6 megapixels (if I need to print photos, I can comfortably do so at A4 sizes at excellent detail levels). Given that this is an SLR -- and a happily compact one at that -- it blends in so well during my photography jaunts. I think the size of a camera has a fairly significant bearing on a photographer's ability to blend in. Walk up to someone while holding a huge camera and lens, and you're sure to get a dose of 'camera coyness', effectively destroying any opportunity for that desirably natural shot! Coming back to the D40 -- it embodies a blend of great usability characteristics and feature benefits. And it's got the lineage and DNA of great SLR performance.

It's all in the glass
I'm firmly believe that a camera is 90 percent about its lens. The rest follows. So when people ask me how many megapixels they should look for in a camera, or how much zoom it should have, I advise them to consider the following specifications: quality of the lens, sensor rating (size and megapixels--the more the merrier), form factor, creative functionality, battery life, and extensibility. Of course, the importance of these specifications decreases with your seriousness towards photography -- if it's a point and shoot pocket device you're looking for, where convenience overrides everything else, most cameras in this class are closely matched on image quality and functionality. The differences are more noticeable when you're looking for good imaging performance.
That said, the stock 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 AF-S lens that's bundled with the D40 is a pretty good performer, given the overall price bundle. But I was looking for a bit more telephoto performance, and a good portrait lens. Without breaking the bank, of course.
I found the answers in a Sigma 18-200mm f/3.5-6.3 DC OS HSM lens, and a Nikkor 50mm f/1.8D prime. 

Sigma 18-200mm f/3.5-6.3 DC OS HSM After much research (and diligently poring over imaging charts, sample photos, spec listings and price comparisons), I decided this Sigma 18-200mm was the lens I was looking for to serve my everyday shooting needs. It is versatile, capable, relatively compact, and offers pretty decent performance. Sure, it isn't best-of-class in any of these, but when it comes to lenses, it's difficult to get everything in a single package! The 18-200mm zoom offers pretty good wide angle and telephoto performance, the integrated motor plays well with the D40's requirement for AF-S auto focusing, and it has optical stabilization resulting in lesser motion blur in low light and telephoto shots. Spec for spec, I found this better than a similar Tamron lens. Of course, the Nikon 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6G IF-ED AF-S VR DX is the best you can get in this class, but it's also priced 45 percent higher than the Sigma 18-200mm! *Sigh*

Nikkor 50mm f/1.8DThe Nikkor 50mm f/1.8D is a very interesting lens. It's a fantastic piece of imaging glass, boasts excellent clarity, and delivers delicious depth of field. Add to that, it's small and very light (not the kind that will intimidate your subjects!). It gets better--it's priced at under Rs 6,000! Too good to be true? Well there is one small downside -- this lens is not the AF-S kind, and therefore lacks the integrated autofocus motor. So, while the lens can autofocus when used with cameras that have a built-in focusing motor, the lens cannot autofocus with cameras like the Nikon D40. But I decided its pros far outweighed the cons. Plus, using the manual focus is easy after a bit of practice. Besides, manual focus builds character and puts hair on your chest! With the D40's 'green dot' focus indicator in the viewfinder, it doesn't take too long to get used to. At the end of the day, the results are well worth it. Check out some of photos with these lenses in my Flickr photostream.

RAW versus JPEG
I always shoot in RAW format, and I always process the images individually using Adobe Camera RAW. The world around us varies so much in lighting and environment, that it's necessary to work on photos to extract the best from them. People often argue that the best photos are the ones that aren't 'touched up'. I disagree. Digital photography now allows us to extend the capabilities of the hardware in ways that were never possible back in the film days. And it's faster and more convenient. So why not use the technology to the hilt? RAW processing has enabled me to take some pretty satisfying photos, and it's easy when you have a good workflow going. If you want to venture into the world of RAW photography, check out this excellent tutorial on shooting in RAW from one of the foremost in the field. Of course, if you couldn't be bothered with the added overhead of RAW image processing, you could always set your camera to shoot in JPEG. But that's less than ideal. And once you begin to experience the inherent superiority of a RAW-processed image, you'll never go back to JPEG -- I guarantee it.

I could go on, but let's leave some for another post! Leave a comment if you need more information on any of the hardware, techniques, or concepts I've touched upon here. Cheers!


Charles said...

Good show boy! Nice to see you blogging. Will be heading here often to check what you have to say. And hopefully you'll take a few questions from jokers like me struggling to keep up with tech

Marco said...

Hey Charlie! Couldn't keep away from writing about the geeky stuff too long. What to do, am like that only!

nik said...

Hey marco, if you are ever getting rid of ur D40, count me in. I've a D70 that is having shutter issues, been told to use it till it drops.
Well I wouldn't mind a second DSLR if you are going in for the latest greatest!

Marco Angelo D'Souza said...

Hey sorry dude, just logged into blogger and saw your unmoderated post. I actually traded in my D40 only last week for a D3100! Apologies, wish I'd known earlier!

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