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How well do you know your gear?

Discussion in 'Open Discussion' started by Luckypenguin, May 24, 2011.

  1. This question came to mind the other day from a discussion on another forum about the difficulties one photographer was having at an indoor event with a DSLR + Speedlite compared to another wielding an advanced compact camera. The short story was that the DSLR user (allegedly a pro i.e. gets paid to take photos) was having all sorts of problems with exposure using the automatic camera and flash settings. Now there is no technical reason why sometimes armed with the latest Canon, an L-series lens and external flash unit shouldn't excel in this situation, even if it requires the photographer taking control of some of the camera functions themselves.

    This got me thinking about the merits of being a technical photographer, someone who has a deeper understanding of the engineering principles behind that box of metal, plastic and glass we call a camera. To me it kind of relates to the concept of the technical racing driver, the one who may or may not have the outright talent of his rivals, but whose understanding of his/her equipment allows them to mix it with and often beat the superstars.

    Now, where was I heading with this? I guess I was curious to know how much thought each of you puts into the mechanical and electronic process of making an image. Do you know (or care) what is happening inside the camera/lens when you press the shutter? Do you know the limitations of the automatic camera functions? Do you know what settings to use and when? Do you trust the camera to do the right thing all of the time? Do you use trial and error? etc.

    Is the advent of iA, iAUTO, etc rendering the technical photographer obsolete?

    This is not a question of someone having a better photographic eye than someone else (that's a very subjective matter), but how well you can predict and influence the behaivour of the camera to give you the result that you want.

    My interest in the subject comes not only from having an engineering background, but from the more direct benefit of knowing how to use your camera for any given situation. I think in the age of digital we tend to rely on the immediate feedback given to us by the image review, and now even more so before the event using live view. Despite this I still see an advantage in knowing what you are going to get before the act of raising the camera to your eye, and having the time to adjust the camera beforehand if necessary.
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  2. sprinke

    sprinke Mu-43 All-Pro

    Apr 5, 2011
    Pasadena, CA
    I think that at least some basic understanding of the technical aspects is necessary in order to become proficient at using your camera. By proficient, I mean being able to visualize what kind of shot you want, and setting the camera such that you come reasonably close to your vision in your first shot, without having to use trial and error.
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  3. Howi

    Howi Mu-43 Veteran

    Feb 23, 2011
    Think of it more like driving a car, anyone after a few lessons can drive a car, to get the best performence/economy and longevity, a technical understanding of the cars mechanics will always be an advantage.
    getting to know the cars/cameras abilities, strengths, weeknesses and the limitations of technology will always give some benefit.
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  4. soundimageplus

    soundimageplus Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Feb 2, 2010
    Good questions. I've always been grateful that I learnt photography on relatively simple film cameras, and was forced to understand what my camera was doing in order to get a picture. Manual focus, external light metering, manual flash, setting shutter speed and aperture separately were all things I had to come to terms with. Though I now use many of the auto functions available to me, if I need to I can work without them.

    In many cases, to get a specific result I will often switch to manual. Much as I appreciate the auto functions, exposure is one area where I often differ from the auto reading. Modern camera meters tend to overexpose for my liking and I'm always altering that to get the result I want. I used a 6x6 film camera for a while, which was basically a box, with little else. I learnt to estimate exposure without a meter and that is very useful.

    However now seeing your result appear almost immediately is truly wonderful and makes it possible for me to make a very quick assessment of whether I need to change anything.

    As to whats inside, I more or less understand whats going on with a film camera, but sensor technology is a complete mystery to me.

    I must admit I do only familiarise myself with the camera functions I know I'm going to use. I'm not someone who goes through a manual thoroughly. I once used a Nikon D3X and I probably used about 10% of the functions available. It often felt like I was holding a computer rather than a camera.

    I'm certainly happier with mechanical rather than electronic as far as cameras are concerned and the fact I use a Leica as my primary camera is a reflection of that.
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  5. Gillymaru

    Gillymaru Mu-43 Veteran

    I want to know what features my cameras have and how to access them. But when I am out making photos I just want to be able to quickly and easily make adjustments on the fly without having to think about it.
    What I hope is that camera manufacturers can take a leaf out of Apples book and introduce menus that are iPhone like. Simple scroll and flick through menus would be a godsend. Keep the dials and buttons on the exterior of the body but make the LCD menus a whole lot better.
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  6. flash

    flash Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Apr 29, 2010
    1 hour from Sydney Australia.
    As a working photographer I make a point of knowing every button, function and menu item of every camera I own, even if I use only a few of those functions regularly. It's far easier to trouble shoot when you know the capabilities, of lack thereof,of your gear.

    Call me elitist, but I actually judge the professionalism of other photographers based on how well they get to know their gear. I think for professionals it's vital to know your gear. For enthusiasts it's not important but can be extremely useful.

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  7. Thanks for all of the responses so far. If I could add just one small comment in response to Gordon's post (assuming that I have not misunderstood your meaning :smile:) , it is that I don't think that it is NOT important for an enthusiast to know their gear. Instead I think that it is as important to you as much as photography and the results you want from it are important to you.
  8. Trigeek

    Trigeek Mu-43 Regular

    I try to know my gear the best that I can. Understanding what each function does allows you to get the most out of it, and hopefully the best image quality. I actually enjoy reading the manual, not cover to cover, but understanding each function. Unfortunately the manuals that I have read lately tend to be cryptic as to what the function actually does in a number of cases, so some experimentation is necessary. In any case, I tend to spend the first month or two with a new camera shooting with a number of features turned on and off to see what they do to the image. At some point I feel that I am getting to understand what the camera will do when I click the shutter button.
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  9. tomrock

    tomrock Mu-43 Regular

    Jun 21, 2010
    Indianapolis, IN
    I used to borrow my Dad's Nikon F2 30-something years ago. I knew everything about that camera.

    Today, there's a lot about cameras I don't know and there are probably features I'd use if I knew them better.

    But I have the manuals and use them.
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  10. David, your last sentence brings up an interesting point that whether professional or amateur, there is no shame in letting the camera do as much work for you as it can by using the automatic functions, as long as it is giving you the result you want. I would say that I now trust the camera to make the right decisions more than I would have a few years ago, mostly because I trust my current cameras more than my old one/s.
  11. Alanroseman

    Alanroseman Super Moderator Emeritus

    Dec 21, 2010
    New England
    Hi Nic,

    Nice thread idea.

    Like David, I'm glad I learned photography in a simpler time. That basic understanding of the mechanics has proved to be a good foundation many many years after its ingestion.

    I tend to turn on a new camera and look for the familiar places. If I can't find them right away, I'll look up each specific function. Rarely will I read through the manual. When I made the switch to µ43 I bought the little Gf1 book. I have to say I enjoyed flipping through it, and left it hanging around on the coffee table for quite a while. Can't honestly say I ever read the whole thing though.

    If I can get to the manual mode, find the aperture and shutter speed settings, I know I can at least make an image. I usually shoot in A mode as I have a pretty good idea of what the shutter speed will be based on that. The old EV system has never strayed far from my thoughts.

    Rarely do I use the advanced features, though I do enjoy the automatic exposure compensation, or dynamic range compensation (which ever they call it) and find it helpful in contrasty situations.

    The GF1 felt friendly and familiar to me from first use, though I often wonder what the attraction is to younger folks. Surely it has a foreign feel to them. How many of them could have begun their journey with a rangefinder after all?

    As my wife is a beginner, I've noted that the Ai mode is pretty darn good too. Though she seems willing to make the big move to "P".

    Cheers, Alan
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  12. flash

    flash Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Apr 29, 2010
    1 hour from Sydney Australia.
    You've said it much more nicely than me. :biggrin:

    I will say this though. The better you know your gear, the easier it is to get the best out of it.

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  13. In my own apparent gravitation towards automatic-everything nirvana, I am finding that on my Micro 4/3 gear I am in "P" mode more often than not. This is my preferred mode to use with legacy lenses, where it actually becomes a de facto "A" mode, but with a native lens attached I just tend to leave it there and only choose to take over when I see something a bit odd on the LCD readout. This is somewhere that I see the smaller m4/3 sensor and shorter focal length lenses as an advantage, that I am not as concerned about aperture as I once might have been. I gotta say though, that when it comes to Auto ISO, I'm not ready to go there just yet.

    +1 to that!
  14. Alanroseman

    Alanroseman Super Moderator Emeritus

    Dec 21, 2010
    New England
    Hi Nic,

    I never ever use the auto ISO. Ever.
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  15. SMaturin

    SMaturin Mu-43 Veteran

    Apr 30, 2011
    New York's Backyard
    How well do you know your spouse?

    With the algorithmic complexity of modern computerized cameras and all their functions, how well can we really know them and know how they will respond to the light?

    It is a constant learning process, just like marriage. We get better at it with experience and determination.
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  16. soundimageplus

    soundimageplus Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Feb 2, 2010
    Actually going back and thinking about, it occured to me that I do actually change settings all the time, including the ones where automation would seem to be an advantage, focusing and exposure.

    One of the first things I do when I get a new camera is to see how it "behaves". How the various metering options differ and how fast and accurate the AF is. I also look at lowest possible hand holding speeds and what the various ISO's look like.

    Different cameras do all of these things differently. My m4/3 cameras tend to expose for shadows whereas my Leica exposes for highlights. This is of course relevant to my picture taking needs. Others may not find the same.

    In terms of AF, I've always used the smallest centre spot area I can. I still don't believe a camera knows what I want to focus on, so I just use 1 focus point and recompose. Always have and I guess I always will.

    I always set ISO manually also. Plus every time I take a picture I check the shutter speed and aperture to make sure its what I want and will achieve the result I want.

    Over the years I've got pretty quick with all this and I've managed to shoot 1500-2000 pictures at a wedding with everything in focus and "correctly" exposed.

    With cameras putting lots of functions in menus now, its becoming less a question of how the camera works and more a question of how the on-board software works. Learning what cameras menus do reminds me of learning to use a new software programme, and many are that complex.

    Many functions are designed, I presume, to make things easier, but in practice it often has the opposite result.

    Finally with a camera, I try to "troubleshoot", that is find out where it can go wrong and where mistakes can occur. One particular problem was the white balance adjustment on my GH1. I've lost count of the number of times I've changed it accidently.
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  17. Pelao

    Pelao Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Feb 3, 2010
    Ontario, Canada
    I know the 'classic' functions very well on each camera. I like to use a VF and prefer to be able to make the changes needed with the camera to my eye, so understanding the functions and how they work is very useful.

    I most often shoot in 'A', and after that most changes are to aperture, exp comp and ISO. I generally use a single, small focus point, and have the screen set to display a histogram. I use the latter a lot: meaning I can check the histogram before I shoot, and adjust accordingly. Cool.

    I do sometimes use the Auto ISO as I feel if you know your camera's output capability well then you can manage it. For example, I rarely print street photos larger than 8 x 10, and when I do, it's in BW. So on my GF1 I can let Auto ISO take over, but limited to 800 max. Other times I will limit it to 400, or just control it directly. For me, the management of ISO is one of the biggest advantages over film.

    As for other features, say for example, Face Detect, I know they are there and how to find and activate them, but I don't use them.

    I can operate the GF1 as I could my 5D: fluidly and simply, without wondering which button or dial to use, so I can concentrate on the actual photograph. This took some practice, but was worth it. I found it much more challenging, and unnecessarily so, to do this on my EP2
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  18. David, I'm going through your last post and recognising a lot of my own methods in yours.

    I've certainly always been a centre point focuser like yourself and Pelao. I am a habitual "A" shooter on my Canons, but less so with Micro 4/3.
  19. drd1135

    drd1135 Zen Snapshooter Subscribing Member

    Mar 17, 2011
    Southwest Virginia
    For me, the hardest part of knowing my gear is remembering where everything is, especially those deeply buried menu items. One of my biggest complaints in the digital era is too many options whose locations change on the unfortunately more-often-purchased new bodies.
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  20. soundimageplus

    soundimageplus Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Feb 2, 2010
    I would certainly agree with that.
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