Tuesday, 6 March 2012

The Perfect Camera System - Part 1

As a major part of the Flywater Exposed project revolves around producing a body of high quality photography, it probably will not be a surprise to anyone that photographic equipment is an important part of what will be taken on the journey. I decided almost immediately that I would take only one system and the necessary backup gear in case of failure. I don't plan on being anywhere near a camera store, so everything will have to come with me. Selecting a system was the next step, and it made most sense to stop and think about what I need from my camera. Of course, to do this I had to think about what my actual requirements were, as opposed to what I would like.

It was important to define the necessities, the things required as a prerequisite for a camera to even be considered. I decided there were 4 things that were absolute musts. The first thing to come to mind was reliability, secondly, control,  thirdly a range of suitable lenses and accessories, and last but not least - image quality.

To me, a reliable camera for outdoor work should be built strong on a tough metal chassis and have a reasonable level of weather sealing. Straight away, this rules out all the cheaper consumer cameras except a handful of compacts, some of which are totally waterproof and highly shock proof too.

Control is the next thing which is important to me. From the time of capture, right through until the point the prints roll off the printer I must be able to control things. At capture, I like to make my own decisions on exposure, depth of field, shutter speeds and where in the image the focal point lays. Once the image makes it from the memory card to the computer, I insist on "developing" it in a RAW converter rather than have the camera do this conversion it's own way in camera. This counts out those waterproof, shockproof compacts that I mentioned above.

When it comes to image quality, what I require is enough resolution to shoot landscapes and print them at a reasonable size at exhibition quality. If I can produce a 16x24 inch print that has enough detail to keep me happy, then it will be fine. Of course a bigger print would sometimes be even better. If the camera can capture a reasonable amount of dynamic range, produces pleasing colours, and can manage shooting without flash in low light at relatively high ISO settings - then it will produce the image files I am looking for. 

Lastly, a range of lenses needs to be available that will cover all the shooting I am likely to do. The plan is to shoot a lot of landscapes, so therefore lenses that perform well from corner to corner will be highly regarded. If they have tilt and shift functionality, so much the better. As a bonus, lenses with movements allow easy stitching for making higher resolution prints. I also plan to shoot portraits of the locals, so some mid range focal lengths with fast apertures would be nice if they fit in the bag. A good macro lens is also essential for capturing some small but important details. For all of these types of shooting I prefer prime (fixed focal length) lenses. Of course as backup, and for the less critical shots that are less likely to be displayed as large exhibition prints, a few high quality zooms would definitely be worth having in the bag. A good flash system certainly wouldn't go astray either, allowing images that could not otherwise have been made to be produced.

The Ideal Camera Format
What I have decided so far is that a full frame 35mm sensor digital SLR is the camera format that makes the most sense. There are a few around with the build quality and reliability that I am after with sensors packed with high quality pixels. Of course there are also some sub full frame cameras that would work, including the Canon 7D which I currently own, however I prefer the wide angle options  afforded by the larger sensor cameras. If I was mostly shooting wildlife, that may be a different matter. 

Part 2 will focus on the nitty gritty details of selecting an actual camera from the contenders, and give some details about some of the options that are available.

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