WHAT TYPE OF PHOTOGRAPHER ARE YOU?
The question of what camera equipment to bring often hinges on what LEVEL OF PHOTOGRAPHER you are. Professionals and serious amateurs will bring a variety of camera bodies, lenses, filters, flashes, tripods and sturdy rain/dust protected bags, whilst a beginner will bring only their point and shoot digital camera. The only thing you REALLY NEED IS YOUR CAMERA and perhaps a NOTEBOOK to record names and detail you might forget later. Any more equipment depends on what you feel best suits your needs. Please note that Flavio, our guide, works with Canon, and he is happy to share his lenses with clients during the tours. Here below we explain some of the choices.
DIGITAL VS FILM CAMERA
This question is being asked less and less these days as DIGITAL CAMERAS ARE BECOMING THE NORM. This is easily understood as digital cameras take pictures of the SAME QUALITY AS FILM BUT MINUS THE EXPENSE and you can also CHANGE THE ISO (or film speed).
But the biggest advantage of course is the ‘instant gratification’ of being able to IMMEDIATELY VIEW YOUR PICTURES which makes it EASY TO LEARN AND CORRECT MISTAKES. These days it is often joked that everyone is a professional photographer because of the ability to take pictures, review them and take it again until you get it right.
DSLR VS POINT & SHOOT OR CONSUMER DIGITAL CAMERA
This will depend on what you wish to achieve with your photography. The POINT AND SHOOT CAMERAS tend to operate mainly on AUTOMATIC SETTINGS and thus can do most of the ‘thinking’ for you. They are also often CONVENIENTLY SMALL and fit easily into pockets and bags. Most also come with the advantage of being able to take VIDEO CLIPS as well.
DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex cameras) are the type where it is POSSIBLE TO CHANGE THE LENSES. It is often said that when it comes to buying DSLR the best investment is not so much in the body but the type of lens you buy, as even the top end digital body will only give mediocre images if a mediocre lens is used.
So if you can afford good quality lens and want top quality images then this is the choice for you. A MAJOR ADVANTAGE of this type of camera is not only are you able to change lenses but you can also MANUALLY ADJUST MANY OF THE CAMERA SETTINGS. BY CHANGING LENSES YOU CAN CHANGE YOUR PROSPECTIVE I.E. zoom in with a telephoto, zoom out with a wide angle and focus up close with a macro. Some all-in-one point and shoot cameras can do the same but at the expense of quality of image.
The main thing to look at with digital camera is the MEGA PIXEL VALUE. A 5MP should be the minimum in point and shoots cameras and 8MP in DSLR's. The HIGHER THE MP VALUE the greater the number of pixels per square inch and thus the BETTER QUALITY IMAGE.
There are a vast number of camera choices, for detailed reviews of hundreds of models consult www.dpreview.com
THE RIGHT LENS
This will DEPEND ON WHAT YOU WOULD LIKE TO PHOTOGRAPH. For wildlife photography a TELEPHOTO LENS work best as they enable you to get closer to the subject but often these lens are heavy and bulky, making them hard to carry in the field, but they are perfect if shooting from a vehicle.
WIDE ANGLE LENSES give fantastic panoramic views and are very useful in landscape and urban photography.
MACRO LENSES are ideal for close up detail of insects, flowers, shells and abstract images.
And STANDARD LENGTH LENSES are perfect for buildings, people and landscapes. So which lens to bring is the real question, as it is not easy to carry them all!
For us, the answer is to bring ZOOM LENSES to cover a wide range of focal lengths, such as these below.
For landscapes a 17-35mm wide angle lens or even 12-24mm super wide angle
For people and cities a 35-120mm standard length
And wildlife and nature a 100-400mm telephoto lens
The thing with photography is that ALL THOSE LENSES CAN BE USED IN ALL THOSE FIELDS but on average they are more used for the given purposes. These three will cover a very wide focal range from 17mm to 400mm, if you can fit them in and afford them all, then fantastic! If not then decide what you are going to shoot the most and make a decision from there.
When buying lens it is very important to look not only at focal length but also at the F-STOP. This translates as to the amount of light the lens can open up and use, the lower the number (i.e. F2.8) the more light it can let in and thus the quicker the image can be taken. Also bear in mind the lower the F-stop the more expensive the lenses are.
In my opinion if you’re serious about photography BUY THE MOST EXPENSIVE LENS YOU CAN AFFORD as the lenses make the photo. You cannot get a professional quality looking image without a professional quality lens!
For a macro, it is possible to make do without a macro lens, but instead to use an extension tube which fits between the lens and the camera. As these tubes have no optics: an inexpensive one purchased from independent manufacture should work just fine. Make sure however that it is matched to your camera so that the fully automatic systems are maintained.
For a bit more ‘va va voom’ for your lens there are converters; these function to MAGNIFY THE LENSE´S FOCAL LENGTH by a factor of 1.4 or 2x. They work fantastically, however for the added focal length of 1.4x YOU LOSE ONE STOP OF LIGHT and for 2x, TWO STOPS OF LIGHT. This will play a significant factor in slow lens: i.e. if the F-stop if 5.6 of higher then the converters do not function so effectively.
Filters, I believe, should be used sparingly; if you would like to add affects it is better to do so later by using software. It is best to keep the original image as close as possible to what you perceive with your naked eye.
I would recommend two filters: a UV FILTER which makes almost no discernable difference to your images but does offer protection against scratching the expensive front lens optics. Some photographers do this while others choose not to, their argument is why put cheap glass over an expensive optic lens!
The 2nd is a POLARISED FILTER: this works to saturate colours, especially blues and greens, and is fantastic for landscape where there is sky and cloud. Polarisers can be used to take the glare off water and sometimes even to reduce leaf shine in forest photos. These filters work best at 90° to the sun and require you to rotate them in their holder until maximum polarisation is achieved.
A 3rd filter that is sometimes popular is the GRADUATED NEUTRAL DENSITY FILTER: this is designed to overcome high contrast situations that are sometimes beyond the camera’s means. An example is when photographing a landscape on a cloudy day; if you expose for the landscape the sky gets washed out an unattractive white but by aligning the dark part of the filter over the sky it will bring out the texture of the sky without altering the rest of the scene.
These are often invaluable to the nature/cultural photographer. Apart from facilitating night photograph,y a flash can IMPROVE THE LOOK OF IMAGES TAKEN IN HARSH OR POOR LIGHT.
Many cameras have built in flashes and these will function adequately for family photographs, but it you want to take your photography to a new level a powerful flash system is essential.
Best buys are flash units that have the TTL SYSTEM (through the lens), that is they operate by making automatic exposures utilizing the camera’s metering system, making life much easy than trying to manually work this out in non TTL systems.
Flash units are calibrated with a manufacturer’s guide number, which gives an indication of the units power and thus the distance it can illuminate. Often these claims are for indoor use and thus NOT AS EFFECTIVE OUTDOORS where there is little to reflect the light.
I would recommend a flash system with a guide number of at least 45. And another accessory is an OFF CAMERA CABLE RELEASE which will allow the flash to be positioned a short distance from the lens thus eliminating the red eye effect so often seen in family photos.
This is one accessory that is a NECESSITY, as you must AVOID CAMERA SHAKE at all costs as a blurred image is a ruined image. You can also avoid camera shake by increasing the ISO (film speed) but this can produce grainer images.
The easiest support accessory from within a vehicle is the humble BEAN BAG, which can’t be praised enough. It´s simple: you fill a bag with beans, rice or sand and then lean it the on the window which provides a stable support structure. You can easily transport an empty bag in your luggage and then fill it with rice, beans or such bought in the required location. Also you can have different bag sizes for different lens sizes.
But a tripod or at the very least a monopod will be necessary when away from a vehicle. A medium weight tripod will suffice as any larger will be uncomfortable to carry for long distances. It is possible to use a light weight tripod but ensure it gets handled with care so it doesn’t get damaged!
Camera accessories are at times vital but when travelling it is possible to ‘make do’ with less equipment for the simple reason that less is easier to carry, easier to manage and less of a concern in regards to safety.