What camera should a beginner buy?

Stident on old collage chum George Neal had never picked up a camera till I got him shooting a Fujifilm X-20. Later he ugraded his camera to a X-T1. Here is George on the left with both camera next to Piet Van den Eynde on a recent trip to India.

Student and old college chum, George Neill, had never picked up a camera till I got him shooting a Fujifilm X-20. Later he added an X-T1 to his kit. Here is George on the left with both cameras next to Piet Van den Eynde on a recent trip to India.

One of the more frequent questions I get asked, is “What is the best camera I should buy if I am a beginner?” Honestly, these days there are so many choices, which can make it confusing and overwhelming. But the reality is it doesn’t have to be. I tell newbies to step back, take a breath and answer a quick question or two. Then I give them usually one, possibly two answers. They are almost always happy if they follow my advice. Continue reading

Fujifilm X – Switch or not To Switch

Shooting the X-Pro1 on Safari in Kenya. Anything is possible. Photo by Jon McCormack

Shooting the X-Pro1 on Safari in Kenya. Anything is possible. Photo by Jon McCormack

I‘ve had many emails and Facebook messages lately asking me if I have switched completely over to the Fujifilm X-series cameras. The Fujifilm X-series for those of you who have been living under a rock or are just not into camera gear, is the mirrorless, small somewhat compact camera system that has a retro rangefinder feel and look about it. They are an amazing group of cameras and are chock full of innovative technology to enhance both the user experience and the final image. The flagship camera for this new system is the X-Pro1 followed closely by the X-E1. Both cameras sport an APS–C size sensor thus giving an image quality of a DSLR. Continue reading

The Nikon D600 and Canon 6D are they telling us something?

The hope of things to come?



I have always found it odd that camera manufacturers make full-frame cameras only for their high-end markets. There is a whole generation of digital shooters out there that have no idea what an 18 mm lens really acts like, or what the angle of view a 50 mm really gives you. They have grown up in a world of cropped (APS-C) sensors, and have cut their teeth on a 1.6 crop factor.

I remember my first DSLR, my Canon 300D, the very first Digital Rebel. I was so excited that I could pop one of my older EOS lenses on it and shoot, but something weird happened when I did. My lenses didn’t act like they were suppose to act. Up until this point I had shot only film. For that matter, most everyone had only shot using film. Up until then, when you put a 28 mm lens on a 35 mm film camera it gave you a 28 mm angle of view. Simple. Now my 28 mm lens was acting more like a 45 mm. Now, almost 10 years later photographers think wide-angle lenses acts like a ‘normal‘ lens.

Many people are confused about just what is changed when using a cropped sensor. Is my 50 mm now really a 80 mm, is my 28 mm now a 45 mm? Many are duped to to believe this is true. The clue is in the term “cropped.” The images are really just cropped. So, an image shot with a 28 mm lens on my old 300D is really a 28 mm image in every way, it is just cropped down to give you what you would see in a 45 mm lens. It is the same angle of view as a 28 mm lens, the same compression of a 28 mm lens, everything is the same except it is cropped. In effect users have been cheated. We are being told we are buying a 28 mm lens, but it is not giving us a 28 mm image. Then back peddling they tell us, “Well, ok-it is really a 45 mm lens.” But that’s not true either. The reality is if your not shooting a full frame sensor you have no clue what a 28mm lens acts like, or any other lens for that matter. The other interesting thing is, if a 28 mm lens crops to look like a 45 mm but still gives the angle of view and compression of a 28 mm and the 50 mm looks more like an 80 mm–there is no normal lens with a cropped sensor!

Then just the other day I started to think maybe–just maybe there is hope on the horizon. Recently, both Canon and Nikon have released what they are calling a “prosumer” full frame DSLRs, the 6D from Canon and the D600 from Nikon. These are both expected to retail for around $2100.00, not cheap but a far cry from the $3,500 sticker price on the Canon 5D MK III or the $3,000 tag on the Nikon D800.  Could these two giants see the value in offering a full frame camera to the masses? Really, how much more is a full frame sensor than a cropped one? My guess is not much. So what’s keeping them from making a real entry level full frame camera? In a word: Profit. If Canon or Nikon were to make a truly entry-level full frame camera it would eat into their profits. Their entry-level markets and their pro level markets would both take a hit.

I would love to see photography return to reality. The kind of reality where cameras actually shot pictures in relation to the number that is printed on their lens barrels. As much as these two cameras create a level of hope in me there is still a large degree of skepticism that says greed will win out. Maybe some upstart or second string camera manufacturer will come in and shake things up and produce a $1000 full frame camera. Maybe that’s a dream, but I can dream can’t I?

Sadhu Portrait #2

Sadhu Portrait #2. Kumbh Mela, Hardiwar, India.

This was shot with my favorite 85mm f1.2. I was talking the other day with someone about the 85mm f1.2 and the 50mm f1.2 (that I recently bought). We were joking why they even have a focal length over f2.8 on those lenses? If you buy a super fast lens chances are you’ll never use it at a speed higher than that. At least I don’t.

Saved by a $19.95

Contrary to popular belief, there is no such thing as a universal press pass. No one pass exists that will to get you into every event your heart, or editor, desires, but there certainly are press credentials. These are often given by individual newspapers or societies. A credential or an ID does not give you access or admission into different events – at least, it isn’t designed to do that. Of course, how people or authorities respond to an ID or a set of credentials is often more important, especially in remote and isolated locations around the world where an ID or the ubiquitous rubber stamp can mean everything.

I am a member of the National Press Photographers Association, which I joined primarily for the insurance it gives me while living abroad. I had found it very difficult to find coverage for my gear while living outside the US, so while I was filling out an application for the organization a year or so back, I noticed an advertisement for a NPPA membership ID. At the time, I thought it was novel at best. Recently, someone suggested I get some press credentials for my upcoming trip to the Kumbh Mela in India. This seemed to be the only credentials I had access to, so I spent the money and bought the ID for $19.95. Surprisingly, when I made this last trip to Iraq, that piece of plastic paid for itself many times over.

If you’re a regular reader of mine, then you know I travel with a very heavy carry-on. I carry a Think Tank Airport Security packed to the hilt. It is stuffed with two Canon 5D bodies, a 70-200mm IS f2.8, 24-70mm f2.8, 17-40mm f4, 85mm f1.2, a Sony PCM D50 digital recorder, a Electro Voice RE 50 microphone and various cables and sundries. Some trips I carry less, but not this time. For this trip, I needed it all. Last I checked, my bag weighed in right at 18.5 kg – way over the amount any airline would allot for a carry-on.

Everything went fine, ’til I was leaving Turkey on my way home. I walked up to the Etihad Airways check-in counter, flashed my most charming smile at the young Turkish woman behind the counter and greeted her good morning. She asked if that was the only bag I was checking – my white North Face duffel. I said it was. I loaded it onto the scale. It weighed exactly 21 kg. So far so good. Then, I made the mistake of lifting my carry-on off the trolley onto the floor. She looked at me, smiled and commented, “That looks heavy. Mind if we weigh it?” I smiled sheepishly, and replied, “I’d rather not, I’m sure it’s overweight.” She insisted, and I obliged. And the scale told the truth, 18.5 kg. Her eyes got big and I started to sweat. She informed me that of course it was way over the limit. I pleaded with her and told her that I was a photographer on assignment in that the gear in it was very expensive. I told her that it was over $10,000 US and that I couldn’t trust it in the hold of the aircraft. The reality, was that it’s worth a lot more than that, but that was what came blubbering out of my mouth at the moment. She said she couldn’t make that decision and called her manager.

The manager came over and I gave her the same explanation. But this time, I pulled out my NPPA ID badge. She looked at it, and asked me if it was all camera equipment? I said, “Except for a box of Turkish delight.” She looked to the badge again, looked at me and then said, “OK, this time.”

So my NPPA badge paid for itself many times over. I’m not sure what the moral of the story is, other than it might be worth your membership to an organization like in NPPA, if for no reason other than insurance and an ID badge. I don’t know what to do with the dilemma of packing all my gear in a carry-on. I’ve lost far too many bags to trust even one lens to the cargo hold of an aircraft. I know people talk about carrying gear in vests, but I just don’t see that as a very practical solution for the amount of traveling that some of us do. I think Karl Grobl may have the best solution: shoot simple – two bodies, two lenses. But, until I can bring myself to do that, I guess I’ll keep my badge close by.

First Images with the Canon 5D MK II

I received my toys yesterday after waiting for many weeks. They were hand delivered to me here in Malaysia. I can tell you right now, I love the 5D MK II. After the first day of shooting I feel like the exposures with the MK II are more accurate and the general feel is just…well, better. The LCD screen is really amazing, the colors leap off the screen at you. I never thought I would use the Live View, but already I found it very handy. See the images of the Chinese lanterns. I shot these with the camera a arms length above my head. I haven’t found how to auto focus with Live View yet, maybe you can’t, I don’t know. The Digic 4 processor is amazing. Images shot at 1000 ISO are sharp and clear, very little noise. Even at 3200, what little noise there is, was easily handled in Lightroom processing. I’ll write more as time progresses.

Just as sweet is the Canon 85mm 1.2 II USM lens. In a word; WOW! The bokeh is like butter. It drops off so quick. But a 1.2 lens is a dangerous machine. You have to really learn its personality. This lens can drop the depth of field off so quick you can ruin a great portrait. Look at my first cigar smoking man in the gallery linked below, you can see the issue clear. But over all, this peace of glass (and there is a lot of it) is a dream to shoot. Be sure to check out the EXIF data on each image in the gallery. More to come…