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iPhone 5

The only camera that matters is the one you have with you. Luckily, pocketable cameras with exceptionally good quality are included in most new phones. So, my main camera is the one in my iPhone. It’s not great, but it’s also not bad, and it’s always handy. That’s a pretty good combination.

I laugh when I read people make comments about “ruining” iPhone (etc.) pictures by applying effects (e.g., Instagram, Hipstamatic). Photographers have been manipulating photographs from the very beginning. Sometimes, particularly with random filters, half the fun is getting an unexpected result, turning a garbage, blurred photo of a pigeon into an impression of motion. And, maybe more importantly, filters sometimes let you get photos that are more like “reality” than what came out of the camera by optimizing contrast, saturation, etc. You still need a good eye to consistently take a good photo, but that’s true whether you’re shooting with cheap point and shoot or whether you’re shooting with a 1Dx with L-series lenses and a full studio setup.

Canon 5DIII

This is the serious iron. On the other hand, it’s just a camera body. What do I mean? Well, a 5D is a big, heavy, powerful camera body. It has fantastic low light performance. It has a much larger sensor than most digital cameras. It’s comfortable. It’s tough.

But it’s just the body. The sensor isn’t THAT big. Medium format film will make it look amateurish. And it’s a useless chunk of metal and plastic without the right lens(es).

Oh, and it needs a photographer.

I had a 7D before, which is still my backup, and which is still actually better for some purposes, to the extent that when it’s time to replace the 5D, the 7D will probably stick around.

Is the 5D the bestest camera evar? It’s really good. But a 7D is really good. My old 30D is really good. A new T4 is really good (though a bit loud). Nikons are really good, and so are Sonys. It’s good for me, because I ended up a Canon user, and it’s an excellent Canon, a stellar combination of speed, performance, weight, and noise. It has all the benefits of a high-end digital SLR – you don’t have to juggle film, you can experiment with zero cost, etc. – but also the negatives – you lose image quality vs. film in many situations, and it’s heavy to cary around an SLR with a big lens.

So anyway, I love my 5D. It doesn’t make me a photographer, but it gives me a great tool to experiment and learn.

Canon EOS 3

This is a new purchase. Back in the day, this camera was a stupid powerful professional piece of equipment. These days, you can pick one up for $150 from KEH. Why? Because it’s film, and nobody is demanding film now. It’s so new (to me) that I haven’t even developed a roll out of it yet, so I have no idea what I’ve got. And that’s one awesome thing about film: you have to have a pretty good idea of what you’re shooting, because you can’t correct a bad shot as easily after you shoot it.

A bonus is that it’s compatible with the Canon lenses I’ve bought over the years.

Now I just need to get over my tentativeness. Because film is … well, film, there’s this feeling of permanence, so I don’t just shoot and shoot like I do with digital. That’s good, because it means I’m thinking more about my shots. And, of course, there’s an actual cost involved with film. But it’s not that much, and I just need to get comfortable with 1 or 2 good shots out of a 36 exposure roll.

Lenses

Lenses are everything. Well, other than the human part. You can’t buy that. But the lens is the most important non-human part of the camera setup. Spend $6000 on a 1Dx and then stick a $100 Canon 50mm 1.8 on it, and, at minimum, you’re going to leave a lot of potential of the camera unused. Or, put another way, an overpriced but technically unmatched $2300 Canon 24-70mm L lens on a $500 T3 body will very likely produce better technical pictures than that 50mm 1.8 on a $5000 body, even though prime lenses (i.e., a fixed focal length, i.e., “50mm”) are supposed to be sharper than zooms. If you’re a terrible photographer, though, not even the best professional lens will save you, and a good photographer would very likely produce better photos with that “bad” lens, even if the “good” lens scored higher on marks like sharpness. Of course, even that “bad” 50mm 1.8 lens is still a beautiful lens, optically speaking. It’s just loud. And it breaks easily, because it’s not sturdy.

50mm 1.4

This is, of course, the one I use the most. It’s not the best quality lens (though it’s loads better than the 50mm 1.8 I mentioned above), and it’s probably a bit wimpy to be stuck on a 5D, but it’s a good lens, quiet, sharp, and fast. (“Fast” in this context means that it lets a lot of light in, so it can shoot in lower light with reasonable shutter speeds. That’s what the 1.4 means: a lower aperture number, or f-stop, means – paradoxically – that the lens opening is wider to admit more light. There’s an even faster 50mm 1.2 in Canon’s catalog, but that one is too expensive and too heavy. Anyway…) Everybody on earth talks about the 50mm as the lens, because it’s an approximation of what you see with your own eyes, and the 1.4 is a good balance between quality and price.

85mm 1.8

This is kind of a general purpose/portrait lens. Like the 50mm 1.4, it’s very good, but not really professional quality. Who cares. It’s a good lens.

40mm 2.0

This is a “pancake” lens. It looks ridiculous on my camera, but it’s very nearly a lens cap lens (or, more accurately, a body cap lens), so you can always have it on. It’s slightly wider than the 50mm, but it’s basically the same type – neither particularly wide nor particularly tight. Its manual focusing is useless, it focuses slowly, and the images are a little mushy, but it’s not bad for the price. My main use would probably be to keep it on my 7D as a lightweight, unobtrusive backup when it’s easier to grab the 7D than to swap lenses on the 5D. Or, put another way, rarely.

17-40mm L 4.0

Ah, the L-series. The red ring. Everybody wants it. Sure, this is a good lens, even though this is a “cheap” L lens. It’s way, way, WAY too wide to use regularly on my 5D because of the 5D’s full frame sensor (I’ll find somewhere to explain why later if you don’t know), but that’s actually good, because it forces me to think about composing shots in a different way. I have to learn the lens, which is a good exercise. And on my 7D, it’s a perfect midrange general purpose lens. I’ll probably sell it at some point and get the Tamron 24-70.

70-300mm

I don’t do a lot of telephoto shooting. Maybe if I know birds or wild animals will be around I’d have this in my bag. It’s a Tamron, which is one of the bigger off-brand lens makers (along with Sigma). It’s fine. It’s not super sharp, it’s incredibly heavy, and it’s slow (see the note about “fast” above), so it’s only really good in a set location on a bright day. I’d rather just use my feet and get closer with the 85 or 50, assuming that won’t mean putting me in range of a hungry leopard. But it’s fine. It does everything a lens should do, and the picture quality is great. I lose more shots to slow shutter speeds on this thing (because it’s a slow lens) than I do to blurriness in the corners or whatever. Talk to me again if I ever replace this with one of the Canon L-series telephotos.

LensBaby Control Freak

Oh how I love this thing. It’s ridiculous and the lens (meaning the part that the light goes through) is plastic, and 90% of my shots with it are utter garbage. But the handful of times you get something right with this idiotic carnival of foolishness, it’s pure magic. Basically, this lens is like a tilt-shift lens on a bender, which means you can tilt the lens (on any axis) with your fingertips and get some very, very strange focusing, depth of field, etc. effects. Plus it looks like a torture device. It’s awesome.

FujuFilm X100S

The X100S is a rangefinder digital camera, which just means that instead of looking through a window and seeing what’s coming through the lens, you look through an eyepiece and see almost what’s coming through the lens, which is both bad and good for reasons too numerous to go into. It’s supposed to out-Leica a Leica (but, remember, you can spend $9000 on a Leica and still be an awful photographer). But it has a fixed lens, so I’m stuck with the 23mm lens, which is ~equivalent to a 35mm lens on the sensor size, again for reasons too numerous to go into. It’s wider, optically, than I normally like. But after a few months using it, I absolutely love the portability, speed (both operationally and the lens), unobtrusive function, and the quality. I hate – loathe, detest, hate hate hate – Fuji’s user interface choices in the software. But as a camera, this thing is so good.

FujuFilm GF670

The newest beast, as of September 2013. I bought this for myself as a present for passing the Florida Bar Exam (yay!). It looks like an old, OLD camera, with its paper bellows and collapsing lens. And it looks not entirely unlike the X100S, as it’s a rangefinder. But it’s huge. It’s huge and it’s heavy. I’m pretty sure you could use one as an insert in an armor plate vest. I haven’t gotten any photos back – it’s a medium format film camera, which means negatives much larger than 35mm – but it couldn’t be simpler to operate. Open it up, aim, focus, click, wind the film. That’s using aperture priority mode. It’s just as simple to put it on manual and directly control the shutter speed as well. I can’t say how good it is as a camera yet since I haven’t seen the results, but as a device it’s very good.

Though I can’t believe Fuji put out a new film camera in this day and age. Good for them.

Why so much?

Good question. I’m not a big fan of gear-heads, and this is not a particularly long list of camera gear, though trying to carry a 5D everywhere so you always have a “good” camera with you gets tedious. I’d really like to carry as little gear as possible. But everything on this list has a specific purpose. I may get rid of the 17-40 and replace it with a 24-70 (though not the absurdly overpriced Canon), but I wouldn’t have both. The 5D ends up being for projects where I say “I’m going to go out and shoot x today.” The 7D is a backup, and it’s actually better for action and distance (for the same reason the X100S has a 23mm lens that behaves like a 35mm lens, if you care). The 3 is for re-learning film. The X100S will be for travel when I know I’ll need a camera. The iPhone is for the vast majority of the time I see a shot but don’t have a “real” camera with me, or for taking a key shot with GPS information so I can geotag shots made with a non-GPS camera. And for playing Angry Birds. And for making phone calls.

Capturing light is an interesting hobby. Two people with the same equipment can see a scene in two fundamentally different ways, even though it’s the same bundle of photons reflecting here and there. And the same person with the same camera, the same zoom lens, and but two different focal length settings capture two pictures of the same scene that look nothing alike. It’s the same thing writers do with words, only your hands don’t get as tired.

Oh, and…

Yeah, I have a Holga. Whatever. I’m sorry. I feel like I’ve betrayed people by having it.