Many of you know I enjoy photography as a hobby and as a way to do something unrelated to my work as an internet entrepreneur. It's kind of my way to relax.
Therefore, I usually get many questions from friends on how to take better pictures, on what camera to get, etc.
I tried to give the basics on how to take a picture recently here.
Now about the camera :
- any camera will do. Actually the iPhone4 is a great device for that, because you a. carry it with you all the time b. has a pretty good sensor and resolution (not in low light though), c. has software to enhance the pictures significantly like Hipstamatic, Instagram, Pudding Camera, Incredibooth, Camera+, Picplz, Color, and so on. If you were to have only one, then go for that.
- my blog has tons of info on how to customize your computer for photography workflow, for tuning your computer for speed, etc. Others do this with theirs cars. I got a lot of information from MacPerformanceGuide.
- there's tons of litterature on which point and shoot is the best. I hear the Canon G12 is good. Check dpreview.com and Ken Rockwell for more information on cameras. The important part is that it should be with you at all times, and have a decent resolution. Then it's all about the composition and the moment.
- I buy my gear from Calumet Photo in San Francisco, B&H in NYC, Le Cirque and Maison du Leica in Paris, on Stanley St in Hong Kong. Remember that service, advice and warranties are more important than a buck saved here and there online.
- There are some books I've really enjoyed. I just recommend buying stuff from the classic photographers: Richard Avedon, Ansel Adams, Albert Watson, Helmut Newton, Robert Capa, Henri Cartier Bresson, David Hamilton, Irving Penn, etc. Study their composition, their style, their lighting, and try to figure out how they took their pictures. I also likes 'the moment it clicks' where the photographer explains the background to every picture, and Michael Freeman's books on Light. I have 3 or 4 book shelves full of books. But you don't need all of that. Go to public libraries, explore art galleries, photography exhibitions, and read online (Ken Rockwell is a great place where to start). For Leica stuff, I enjoy reading Thorsten Overgaard and Steve Huff.
Now on to gear (dSLRs) :
- a camera body will usually last 2-3 years. Why? because there's always a new model, more mega-pixels (not that they matter), more features, more options, better screen, whatever.
- a lens will usually lat 15-20 years, until manufacturers come with a better optical formula.
Hence where should you invest? in lenses ! definitively.
You can always start with an entry-level camera, but get the best lenses you can afford, and upgrade your body (photography is an area where you can resell your stuff quite easily, and you should). I did this. I first got a Canon 40D body, then after one year, upgraded to a Canon 5D Mark II. I made sure my lenses where EF quality (not EF-S), meaning they were suited for full-frame bodies as well as APS-C (whereas EF-S lenses - cheaper - will not work with full-frame bodies, ie. are not compatible with your upgrade path).
Some other random thoughts :
I would only buy either Canon or Nikon. No Sony, Olympus and other fancy gear. It's not that these are bad equipment. They are actually competitive in every sense. But serious photographers would go with trusted brands because basically everyone carries them (spare parts, repair shops, new parts such as lenses), and they are very good. ie. you can't go wrong buying Mercedes Benz or BMW. Buying Opel, Audi (if we stick with car analogies) carries a different mindset. Which brand you get doesn't really mind : however both are not compatible, so once you go with one, you're stuck with that product line. Canon tends to have some better lenses, more ergonomic bodies, where Nikon tends to be faster with more options. Check reviews online to suit your taste. The Canon 5D mark II for example is the best for low light photography. The Canon 85mm f/1.2 lens is the best for portrait lenses.
Full frame vs. APS-C. I like doing ultra-vide-angle sometimes (16mm). For a technical reason (Google is your friend here), non APS-C have a multiplication factor built-in. So Nikon APS-C has a 1.5x factor. A 50mm then becomes 75mm. Canon has a 1.6x on entry-level, 1.3x on the top tens, 1x on full-frame. It's great if you're using a 200mm lens and the body gives you a 320mm instead (think sports, conferences, etc.). But it forbids you of using a 16mm lens in 16mm mode :( You choose. I prefer simplicity, hence full-frame all the way ;)
There are ranges in the bodies product line of every brand. Basically to address different price points. Compared to prices of great lenses, the body price is IRRELEVANT. What is relevant though is how well the body fits in your hand (they tend to get bigger with the price, and I have rather big hands), how well protected the body is (only the top of the line can be used in extreme conditions such as sandy places - think Burning Man -, rain, mist, heat - think India roadtrip, etc.), how ergonomic the body is to use (read reviews), and weight (the bigger, the heavier).
Some will only swear with a tripod. I have a small portable one for my Leica; and also a bigger one that I only take occasionally because it's cumbersome. I guess the best is the gorilla pod. You can always add a great head like this Leica one ;)
Photography means photography. Strip out the unnecessary : I don't do video with my dSLR, although it does it very well. You probably don't want one-size-fits-all. My cameras are for photography.
Weight is a big issue for me now because of back problems : carrying the body +2 or 3 lenses gets quickly in the 10Kg range. Carrying all that + cables + a laptop and my back starts hurting very quickly. This is the reason I moved to Leica (at a hefty price though !) : same quality of pictures (or even better), between 35mm and 75mm, but in a very small compact and LIGHT device. I lose flexibility as I can't really use ultra-wide-angles and tele-zooms anymore. It's a different kind of photography.
Software : make sure all the addons you use support your gear. Lightroom or Aperture for picture management on a Mac. Picasa I suppose on PC. Then some people are experts at using Photoshop. I don't use it. But I have plugins such as DxO, Nik Software, etc.
- upgrade your iphone4 with about $20-30 of software to take great pictures. I have no views on Android devices. Blackberry pictures suck big time.
- get a point and shoot or a Leica to be able to take great pictures all the time.
- invest in a dSLR only if you don't have a Leica :). OR if you need tele-lenses, or ultra-wide-photography. Go only Canon or Nikon. Get the best lenses you can, and a decent enough body that you can always upgrade later.
- practice, practice, practice. In full manual mode, of course.