Pick a camera. Any camera.
Updated: Nov 5, 2018
With a new model entering the market every few months, what's a girl to do?
You've seen them all. The Canons, Nikons, Sonys, Panasonics. You've read every technical review, twice. YouTube has been your friend. You've stalked Instagram to figure out what's being used by the who's who of photography. You may have even made that trip to the store to actually see and hold those bookmarked finds in your hands. Or rented a camera or three. And if deciding on a brand isn't hard enough, which model is ideal? Here's the thing - it probably doesn't matter. But, it also does. What is this trickery, you ask?
you do you.
There are two things I realized during my quest for the camera. First, do not maintain tunnel vision. If you are a brand loyalist, take a moment and see what else is out there. Second, do not entirely abandon the old for the new. Work with the old and the new.
Several years ago, I started out with a simple Canon Rebel 3T that I bought on a whim from Groupon. A refurbished model with a kit lens. No bells and whistles. But that thing is a beast. It's traveled with me to several countries, on planes, trains, and automobiles, in rain, snow, and sand. Battery life for days. It was my workhorse to learn the basics and experiment with composition, technique, and lenses [note - lens often matters more than body]. I highly recommend the Rebel line as a training tool. It's not intimidating and is fairly intuitive for beginners. The series has affordable models, produces high quality photos, and the lens options are almost limitless which means it can be kept well beyond just a training period. It's how my love of prime lenses developed. Once I was comfortable with the method and figured out my niche, I was ready to level up.
Mirrorless systems, which lack the reflex mirror found in DSLR cameras, were starting to gain ground when I began my search. Technical pros and cons are reviewed ad nauseam elsewhere, and many photographers are still not sold on their place in the field. For me, the appeal was the simple fact of it being smaller and generally lighter. That would make travel easier, especially when going the backpack-only route. Ergonomically, it might also make more sense. Because, tiny hands. I wanted to stick with Canon, but as of this writing, the company has frustratingly, and surprisingly, lagged behind in the mirrorless arena. Fast forward through weeks of research and indecisive madness, and I finally settled on a Fujifilm X series model. I opted for the silver color scheme with 70s throwback, because I'm a sucker for all things vintage. And let me tell you, for the first few days that I had it, I hated it. My downstream workflow was impacted most, with Adobe Photoshop being unable to open Fujifilm's raw RAF file format, and while Lightroom could read the raw files, there was a stark color shift evident. And even though I had read enough about what to expect with an electronic viewfinder versus an optical viewfinder, I didn't realize how much I would miss seeing exactly what the lens sees, versus a digital display. The EVF delay didn't help. But, given enough time (and software updates), I grew to love the new camera. Image sharpness is impressive, and the colors captured are the most vibrant I've experienced to date. The dropoff in performance at higher ISO is also much easier to live with, with decent signal-to-noise ratios. But I usually try to stay with lower ISO even for my low light food shots, to give me room to play with exposure, whites and highlights during editing, without grain creeping in. This is where I realized that lens matters - a wide-aperture prime lens is a solid investment.
I haven't abandoned my Canon Rebel though. It's still my go-to for certain shots. And quite by accident, I've found myself using a Praktica MTL3 35mm camera, too. It was given to my husband by his dad years ago. An SLR made in East Germany circa 1978-1984, the MTL3 weighs in at a whopping 840 grams or so. About a third of that weight is because of the attached Helios 44mm manual prime lens, crafted of solid metal and glass during the Soviet Era, sometime between 1958-1992. If I ever wanted to see how much I don't know about photography, switching to an old school 35mm camera made me find out really fast. Conversely, I also realized that by already having a handle on basics, I wasn't entirely useless. I'm not sure if the MTL3 is fully functional but I have it loaded with an ISO400 black and white reel, and with a few clicks in so far, it seems to be working well. The optical viewfinder and built-in focusing aids are quite a trip. I used my iPhone camera to give you a peek into what I see through it. The metering system is integrated in the mirror, and the needle on the right side indicates exposure; + and - mean over exposed and underexposed, respectively, and "o" is just right.
The neat thing is that the metering system is the only battery-dependent component in this camera, switching on only when it's engaged using the switch next to the shutter release button. Which means no battery waste when not in use. Everything else is purely mechanical, which I find to be absolutely brilliant. Focusing is a bit of a challenge though - apart from sharpness alone, the image planes split to indicate when it is out of focus until it's manually adjusted to align. Takes some getting used to, and I'm excited to see how these photos turn out (stay tuned!).
I don't think you'll be shortchanged by any camera you decide to purchase once you put research into it. Each camera I use teaches me something new and different. With the MTL3, I put a lot more strategy into each shot because of the limited reel. There is no luxury of previews or deletion of mistakes like with the DSLRs. That translates into better composition when using my modern cameras, because I get in the habit of thinking instead of being trigger happy. My DSLRs though, help me learn certain tricks faster - like with the immediate digital feedback for quick motion photography. That comes in handy when needing to capture precious, fleeting moments in life. Though one could argue that's what memories are for. Old-fashioned, but timeless.