A Photographic Journey

Reviews

My digital SLR choice

As with most people my first foray to become a more serious photographer was with my decision to purchase my first Digital SLR (DSLR), my first DSLR was back in 2002 when I spent a boat load of money on a Nikon D100, it was a pretty expensive 6 Megapixel DSLR back then, it was a camera I loved, but as with most things digital it has been surpassed many fold since.  Surprisingly it was still functioning normally when I sold it a couple of years ago.

Surprisingly it was a good camera and produced wonderful photos for all the time I had it for.  6 Megapixel is more than enough for internet display and if it were not for the need to print large prints, I would have saved a whole load of money and stuck to it.  Of course it was a camera with 9-year-old technology, its ISO performance was very average compare to even the small sensors of the micro 4/3 (m4/3) system and new cameras have better tonal and dynamic range and response times, but it was adequate for my needs for 6 years.

During those 6 years, I wasn’t as intensive with photography and camera life as I am now and my photographic productivity was low.  It did help me learn about the basics of photography and the instant feedback was a boon to my education compared to the film SLR cameras I had before.

An interesting lesson learnt here is, that 6 megapixel is more than enough if you are just showing off stuff online and view your photos on a computer screen mostly.  Surprising 6 Megapixel prints up to A4 can be outstanding and quite adequate enlarged up to A3.

The spirit of this camera still lives on in my Epson R-D1s, the first ever digital rangefinder camera, this camera shares the same sensor as the Nikon D100 and produces similar files but with a different set of lenses.

I will not be reviewing my Nikon D100 since I doubt anyone in their right mind would still buy such a camera.

Three years ago I was  faced with the decision to buy a replacement DSLR and refresh my interest in photography, I first budgeted to spend on a semi-pro or professional camera body around US$2700 excluding lenses, so this rule out the top end professional bodies such as the Canon 1Ds Mark III or the Nikon D3.  I had also ruled out other brands of DSLRs such as Pentax, Olympus or the then fledgling Sony, because of the simple fact that 90% of the market is dominated buy the two Japanese giants and that means accessories and used lenses will be more abundant and to take advantage of their economy of scale as they usually have the best technology at any one time.

Speaking from the perspective of the present, things have changed in the camera world and these second tier DSLR camera companies such as Sony, Pentax and Olympus are more mature now with better products, they are becoming a more viable choice than before.  Although I have made my choice in systems, which I am stuck with now because of a rather sizeable investment.  I am more curious than ever in the lenses offered by these second tier companies and will probably try some of them in the future.

So back to the past, I was face with a tough decision between Nikon and Canon, I knew at the time that the Nikons have better wide angle lens choices (which is still the case today) and Canon had arguably better super-teles which was going to be useful if I develop a liking for bird photography (not much mammalian wildlife photography to be had here in Hong Kong!).  I liked the menu system of the more familiar Nikon cameras which also tend to have more customisable options.  In the end I went with Canon.  The reason being between the two full frame options at the time the Nikon D700 and the Canon 5D Mark II (5D2), the latter offered 22 mega pixels with the same picture quality as the much touted Canon 1Ds Mark III.  I knew I wanted to print large prints and the extra pixels made the difference for me.  I actually think that the Nikon D700 is a better camera overall, with its much better autofocus and its infamous wide-angle zooms.  But the decision was made and I haven’t regretted ever since.  I don’t think either camera I would have regretted buying.

I am writing about this here and so early is because I will be reviewing lots of Canon gear.  But, my camera life isn’t Canon-centric, not at all.  I think those readers that are Nikon-philes will not be lefted out, as I think my decision processes are valid no matter which system I was using and not to mention that most of my gear is not Canon, but other systems.

When I am asked which major Japanese brand is better, I answer that both the major players are perfectly acceptable options.  It just depends on your budget, your needs and the choice of cameras at the time you’re buying.  If my budget was more I probably would have gone with the Professional Nikon D3 body at the time.  Such is camera life.

As long as I am on the topic, I have since acquired a Canon 1D Mark III body for its much improved autofocus for photography of fast-moving objects, still using the many Canon lenses that I own.  I also got a really cheap, next to nothing Canon D350 for pinhole photography & for use with the Lensbaby lenses.

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Preface to my equipment reviews

Before buying any piece of pricey equipment, it is recommended to do thorough research before laying down your hard earned money.  For me this research in to camera equipment is part of the fun of photography and through this research I often learn more about what I am buying.  For this my camera life, I am going to do reviews of various bits of equipment that I have used in my camera life, but I think more importantly I am going walk the reader through how I made up my mind to select that piece of equipment.  There is a saying that goes:  “if you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day, but if you teach a man to fish, you’ll feed him for a lifetime” , so what i plan to do is to teach you how I select which gear to buy.

The gear that I ended up selecting to buy and keep may not be what is best for you.  Every one has a different circumstance that leads up to different decisions.  To understand the choices I make, you must understand my situation and circumstances behind my choice.  My circumstances are, like much in life, dynamic and ever-changing.  My circumstance five years ago is certainly very different to my situation now.  But there has always been an underlying theme to my purchases, I usually buy things from a user’s perspective and I am fairly price conscious.  I also understand that good camera equipment could potentially last a life time, so on occasion where I think it important, I’ll pay the premium to own something that I can use for years and years.  So reliability, quality control, support and workmanship is also a factor.

Aside from the more practical world of cameras, there is also a world of collecting.  I think most readers would be only interested in what is practical but there are those in the minority that are interested more in the equipment’s collectablilty.  A collectable item invariably becomes more and more unaffordable as time goes on and so with only rare exception, my philosophy here is to buy what I need to make my photographic vision come true and not to buy some antique for the sake of treasuring its rarity.  For those buying their first DSLR camera, you may not know of this collecting world, but it’s there.

So for my future reviews of equipment I am going to walk you through my decision process as closely as possible.  I am going to separate reviews into three subgroups:  mini-reviews where I am just glossing over my experiences with the piece of equipment and in effect summarising what I felt about when using that particular piece of equipment, these reviews will be opinionated and only partially objective at best and hence I will restrict these reviews to stuff I actually use day-to-day rather than making grandiose passing comments on pieces of equipment I don’t own or rarely use.  There will be comprehensive reviews where I try to be objective as possible and going over every aspect that is important to me.  Then there will be comparison reviews where I compare similar products highlighting differences and each’s strength and weaknesses.

The scope of items for review is actually quite enormous, as I own many different systems, from common DSLR to rangefinder, medium format and large format…  So this is probably going to take years to review the equipment I actually own, not to mention any new gear in the future.  I am going to jump around a bit, I am hoping this site will be an enjoyable read, that surprises the reader with each visit, rather than being a dry infomercial that some other sites tend to become over time.

In time I hope what I write here will accumulate to become a review reference for those interested in the gear that I own.

One advantage of reviewing from Hong Kong is the small size of our geography means that there is a inordinate concentration of exotic gear here, when I run out of gear to write about or feel up to it, I will start reviewing and interviewing others with their own views on their gear and more about other people’s camera life.