Equipment

Current Camera Gear

I own four cameras, three that I use, two for serious photography. The best and most expensive one is Canon 5D Mark II, purchased new in late 2012. It is not the latest-generation 5D, but considering my photographic needs, it offers about 95 percent of what I would get from the recently released and much more expensive Mark III.

The Mark II is by far the finest camera I have owned, and it offers the added benefit of professional-level video capability (which I have yet to try out). You can read a review of the Mark II here: http://www.kenrockwell.com/canon/5d-mk-ii.htm. And here’s the same reviewer’s take on the new Mark III: http://www.kenrockwell.com/canon/5d-mk-iii.htm. Be sure to read Ken Rockwell’s Recommendations at the end of the review.

So you’ve got to have a good camera if you’re at all serious about photography. Preferably, that will be an SLR (a camera that uses interchangeable lenses); and if you go that route, the biggest expense will be lenses. It’s not unusual for the cost of one good lens to exceed the price of the camera. That said, you don’t have to break the bank: the three high-quality lenses I use with the Mark II pretty much cover my shooting needs. It would be nice to have a long zoom lens, but they are expen$ive, and far from a high priority. The one time I needed a long zoom, for a real estate assignment, I was able to rent it from a camera dealer. Anyway, here’s the breakdown (oops, bad word; make that list)  of my current camera gear.

Cameras and Lenses

  • Canon EOS-5D Mark II. A 21-megapixel, full-frame Digital SLR. The three lenses I carry with it are:
    1. Canon EF 24-105mm Zoom Lens. This is a highly regarded Canon L-series lens that I use about 90 percent of the time.
    2. Canon 50mm f/2.5 compact macro lens. An older Canon lens that produces excellent image quality. Don’t use it very often, but it’s there in case I want to do some close-up work or portraiture.
    3. Tokina 16-28mm F/2.8 ATX Pro FX Zoom Lens. Just purchased this ultra-wide-angle lens in early 2013. It has received good reviews for its build and image quality. Haven’t really tested it, but it seems fine so far.

Panasonic Lumix FZ200 Bridge Camera. This is my latest purchase, in July 2013. It is a 12.1 megapixel “bridge camera” with a built-in, long zoom lens that goes from 25mm to 600mm. It has too many features to discuss in detail here, so I’ll just tell you why I bought it. There are several excellent online reviews of this exciting new camera, and I’ll recommend one or two. First let me tell you1.  Zoom range from 25mm to 600mm. The longest lens I have on my Canon SLR is a 24-105; a 600mm lens that would do justice to the camera would cost a couple of thousand dollars.

  • Sony Cyber-Shot DSC W300. A 14-megapixel, 35-105mm (35mm equivalence). This is a nice little pocket camera that offers decent image quality in good light. I’ll post some shots that I took with it. (Note: The concept of 35-millimeter equivalency will soon be explained on my blog page.)
  • Olympus Camedia C2000z. A 2.1-megapixel, 35-105mm (35mm equivalence). That’s right, all of 2.1 megapixels — lower resolution than most good cellphones these days! But hey, this was my first digital camera, and it was pretty hot at the time, offering good image quality and quite a few useful features, including an infrared remote that activated the shutter and zoomed the lens! I bought the camera in 1999 and upgraded after about a year to a 6-megapixel Sony. I got some good, salable photos with this little Olympus and have kept it for sentimental reasons. When I tried it out about a month ago it still worked fine.

Here’s the thing: I am not an equipment geek. My philosophy about equipment is simply to learn a little more than I need to know to capture high-quality images under varied conditions. A lot of photographers, almost all of them guys, are obsessed with equipment, but I’m not one of them. Thanks to good internet sources and knowledgeable friends, I’m able to find the equipment I need at affordable prices and without devoting inordinate time to highly technical details. By far the bulk of my time and energy goes into capturing, processing, and printing my digital photos — all topics I will be writing about shortly on my blog page.

One element of successful fine-art photography that I have pretty much ignored over the years is marketing. I still don’t plan to devote that much time to it, but maybe the new website and this blog will increase my visibility. I have also signed on with the online sales outlet, Fine Art America (www.fineartamerica.com), which comes highly recommended by some of my photo buddies.

But hey, it’s time to get back on topic . . . now what was it? Oh yeah, equipment.

Before I segue into computers and software, let me briefly tell you about a few of my earlier cameras — well, more than a few, and there’s a reason for that: Digital is a wonderful medium, but it’s still so new and innovative it imposes on users the added cost of rapid obsolescence. In just 13 years I’ve gone from a 2.5-megapixel, point-and-shoot camera with a tiny sensor to a 21-megapixel, full-frame SLR. And 21 megapixels is not a lot these days. Nikon just came out with a 36-megapixel, killer SLR — the D800 — that I would be lusting for if I had Nikon lenses. But that’s just talk — I’m really quite happy with 21 megapixels, which is enough for almost any purpose. Still, pixels and resolution are very interesting, and I’ll soon be blogging about a program I’ve used that increases image resolution beyond the camera’s capabilities without any degradation of image quality. As the manufacturer says, it’s like having a new, higher resolution camera.

Anyway, in the past 13 years my digital camera megapixel progression has gone like this: 2.5, 6, 8, 10, 13, 14 and 21 megapixels. The full-frame, original Canon 5D, with 13 mp, was my main camera for about five years, starting in 2005. I concurrently owned a 10 mp Sony R1 fixed-lens digital that I just sold recently. That camera had a very high quality Zeiss lens, and produced images of excellent quality.

Haven’t had much opportunity to use the 5D Mark II yet, but I’m looking forward to getting out in the spring — it’s almost here! — and putting it through its paces. I plan to take a lot of multiple-shot images, both panoramas and HDRIs*; and I’m especially intrigued with the potential of the new Tokina wide-angle zoom lens. I’m dedicating this year to improving the technical quality of my images. And maybe find time to use the camera’s first-rate video capability.

Computer Hardware

I have always used Macs, through thick and thin . . . and there were some incredibly frustrating, lean periods when it seemed that Mac users spent more time troubleshooting an obsolete operating system (the old OS 9) than doing productive work. But what’s past is prologue, and a “savior” in the form of Steve Jobs showed up at the last moment and implemented a new OS that was, and is, pretty much crash-proof. So instead of giving up on the Mac, here I am in 2013 working on a spiffy iMac (3.2 GHz Intel Core i3 with 12 GB of RAM) with a second monitor and three (!) external hard drives for essential, redundant backup. One of those hard drives is a perfect, functioning clone of the iMac hard drive, just in case of a catastrophic computer failure.

Hey, hard drives fail, sometimes irretrievably, a painful fact you may learn only after considerable expense. So be sure to back up your critical files on more than one device. There is good software out there that makes it easy to do, and external hard drives with mammoth capacity are not expensive.

Anyway, the iMac has served me well — flawlessly, really —  for better than two years. It replaced a much bulkier, big-box Mac G5 Pro that also performed well but had to be abandoned after Apple switched from Motorola to Intel chips, eventually making the G5 obsolete. The biggest problem for me was that it couldn’t run the latest versions of Photoshop.

So all my content and my operating system are backed up on two external hard drives, and the older images are also on CDs / DVDs. When I think about it, it makes me nervous that I don’t have what’s called an offsite backup to protect my assets in case of, say, fire or theft. That is a deficiency I must rectify. Shit happens. You can almost count on it.

Software

Mac OS X, Version 10.8.3 (“Mountain Lion”). Recently upgraded from OS X “Lion” operating system. Everything went smoothly and all my hardware and software handled the transition just fine. Basically no complaints about the Mac operating system. Does everything I ask of it with nary a glitch, and file management couldn’t be easier. If you decide to switch to a Mac, I think you’ll be pleased.

Adobe Photoshop CS 5. Question: Do I need to upgrade to CS 6?

Photomatix Pro. Much better than Photoshop for initial processing of HDR images*. You’ll have to read my forthcoming blog post on multiple-image techniques, which will cover panoramas as well.

iPhoto. Comes with the Mac operating system. I find it very useful for managing the low-resolution images I use online.

Perfect Photo Suite 7. Got a very good deal on this image-processing software package that integrates well with Photoshop. Looks promising, but I just purchased it and will have to get back to you.

There’s a lot more imaging software on my hard drive, but I’ve covered the essentials. I’ll add to the list as time allows; right now I’m anxious to wrap this section up and get started with my blog posts.

So now, let me share a few things about the bane of my photography life. Yep, you guessed it . . .

Printers

OMG, the subject makes me seethe with bitter memories and apprehension.

Sure, I’ve made some nice prints. Don’t mind saying I’ve sold hundreds of prints on paper and canvas and thousands of my photo note cards, all printed at home on my #@$$ing Epson printers.

Of all the many steps in the process of producing printed photographic art, the actual printing is BY FAR (yeah, I’m raising my voice!) the most  frustrating. Did I say BY FAR? Oh yeah, I did.

I have used Epson printers exclusively since 2000. Why Epson? Beats me. No, belay that: I use Epson because everyone does. It’s kind of like the Microsoft Windows of the fine-art printing universe. Oh, wait, I don’t use Windows, so defenestrate that excuse, too.

Here’s the real deal: Epson printers have been the worldwide standard in digital, fine-art printing ever since I’ve been involved in it. And all things considered, I must reluctantly concede that Epson is the best, although a good friend makes first-rate wide-format prints on a Hewlett-Packard printer. Canon has some excellent printers, too. But the majority of businesses that make fine-art prints for artists use Epson printers. if and when you’re in the market for a good, large-format photo printer, it would be a good idea to read lots of reviews to find out what all three brands have to offer.

I bought an Epson 7600, 24-inch-wide printer in 2001 and finally gave up on it in 2012. It plagued me with nozzle clogs for years. And every time you run a nozzle cleaning cycle, it uses up expensive ink. Anyway, I got sick of buying ink for that printer when I wasn’t doing much work, so I let it sit and eventually gave it to someone who has resuscitated it and seems happy with it. More power to him! I have replaced it with a newer, 17-inch-wide Epson 4880, which uses a more advanced ink set and theoretically makes better prints.

The other printer that I use, mainly for note cards, is an Epson R1900. It has a few minor issues, but it’s not bad, except for one thing: I am constantly replacing its tiny ink cartridges. Also, it’s not an industrial-strength printer, and like its predecessor, the R1800, it will probably break down before long. I’m just about due for another one anyway.

I’ll have more to say about printing and printers later.

*HDRI stands for High Dynamic-Range Image. It is a technique that uses special software to merge two to five different exposures of the same scene, resulting in an image that retains far more detail in both the highlights and the shadows than can possibly be captured with a single exposure. In scenes that have a wide range of tones, from bright highlights to dark shadows, HDRI can come very close to recording what the eye sees, whereas a single exposure must sacrifice detail in either the shadows or highlights. Some newer cameras have built-in HDRI processing.

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