Spotlight on the Camera

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Just as any vehicle can take you on a fun trip, you can take great photos with any camera.  But a 4 wheel drive can take you different places than a sailboat.  There are so many camera choices these days it can be tough to know which might best match your goals.  With the holidays upon us, let's chat this month about some things to consider if a new camera might be under the tree.

Us pet photographers have a lot in common with sports photographers.  Our subjects often move quickly, powerful moments pass suddenly, and the lighting is not always ideal.  That's why I use a camera designed for top sports photographers and photojournalists.  I care a lot about how fast my camera is, and I'm willing to trade some things, like a few more megapixels, to get that speed.

A super-sharp, high-res photo of the grass where my subject was 2 seconds before tends not to excite my clients. So, one thing I watch for in cameras is the delay after pressing the shutter. The camera's minimum delay is called the shutter lag and many cameras are pretty fast.  Is yours?  One thing that happens during the delay is the camera focuses. It's easier and faster to focus on a striped shirt in sunlight than a black dog running at night.  The more expensive autofocus systems handle increasingly complex situations more quickly.  If you want to capture action, especially in lower light situations, then a fast autofocus system is important for you.

If you won't always have a lot of light then also note what reviews say about your camera's ISO performance.  We'll explore ISO thoroughly in a future column.

For now, know that good ISO performance means getting good exposure with less light.  You'll pay a price in image noise as you make use of ISO, but better ISO performance means you'll pay a smaller price.

But the fastest camera isn't worthwhile if it's hard or uncomfortable to use.  Besides reading reviews at places like dpreview.com, I recommend a trip to the camera store.  Everyone's hands and brains work differently, so it's good to get hands-on time with cameras you're considering.  Feel how it sits in your hand.  Can you steady the camera to minimize blur?  

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Consider how well the size of the camera works for you - will a small camera that you always have with you work better than an amazing but big one that stays in the camera bag?  Or, like me, you might have different cameras for different uses.  Also see how easily you can change settings.  You can lose lots of great moments if it's difficult to make adjustments.

Most ads for cameras list the number of megapixels.  More pixels allows for larger photos and more options for cropping.  I liken megapixels to watts on a stereo.  Almost any stereo I might buy has plenty of power for me.  What I want is the sound to be clean and accurate.  Many noisy pixels are less useful to me than a few very accurate ones.  More megapixels can mean grainier photos or poor low-light performance, so watch for related comments in reviews and don't be surprised if a lower megapixel camera actually gets you better photos.

A new camera can be a lot of fun and help move your photography forward.

But many of us are much more limited by our skills than our equipment.  So if you're investing in photography this season you might also consider a trip somewhere you'd love to photograph or perhaps a class or a book.

This Month's Assignment

December's assignment is about what we're really trying to do as photographers.  Pick a furry friend(s) photo that has a big emotional impact on you.  Don't worry about the technical aspects as much as the emotion.

I'm hoping to see an image that makes you smile, laugh, tear up.  This is one everyone can do, so I hope to see a lot of you.

Class Recap

  • Try the exercise
  • Send your photos from the assignment to: David@DavidChildsPhotography.com. Please put “Spot Photo Class” in the subject line
  • Go to Photography 101 on Spot's website to see your photos and those of your fellow students
  • Share your great work with your friends!
  • Check out David’s tips and comments
  • Meet David here in January for your next session!
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David Childs is a professional photographer, photo journalist, instructor, and animal advocate. You can see his work or contact him at www.DavidChildsPhotography.com

Study with David live! His pet photography classes are offered at Oregon Humane Society. See his website for details.