As I mentioned earlier, I started watching videos on Fundamentals of Photography from The Great Courses company. Chapter 2 of the course deals with camera equipment and related accessories. While the host is a National Geographic photographer, and has been for much of his career, he basically suggests getting equipment that fits in a backpack. No more, no less.
For the bag, he recommends soft shoulder straps so that you can lug it around for the day, and room for:
- camera body;
- a lens or two;
- memory cards;
- battery charger;
- lens cloth;
- external flash + batteries for it; and,
- a sync cord for flash.
I confess I don’t really like my camera bag setup. I had one that came with the combo I bought, and it is a hard bulky near cube-like format. It would hold everything above, but it only has a shoulder strap, and it’s kind of blocky. The interior design isn’t the best either, and I often felt like I was trying too hard to shift things around. I had another camera bag that I had bought for astronomy stuff, and I’ve repurposed it back to its original purpose, but it’s not great either. It is very hard to get things in and out of without taking it off, setting it on its side, etc. At some point, I need something better, just not sure what that it is yet as I haven’t quite figured out where/when I will use my camera the most yet. It’s a different setup if I’m doing astrophotography vs. hanging out at the cottage vs. going on a hike. Or, as the host puts it succinctly, “What do you want to do?”.
He prefers a photography vest, as do some astronomers. Lots of little pockets to hold everything, distribute weight equally, and freeing your hands for adjustments, etc. It is also harder to steal your equipment if you’re basically wearing it.
The Chapter doesn’t spend much time on the actual camera equipment, mostly as he wants to hold that back until he gets into the various features and what he uses them for…his only real advice is that his favorite lens is a 24-70 mm lens, mostly as it is comfortable, not too heavy, allows him to mostly support the entire camera and lens in his left hand, freeing his right hand to snap and adjust easily.
He does, however, heavily recommend three things:
- A decent view screen, although he has a cute story that professional photographers call it a “chimping” screen (i.e. so people can look at it, and sound like a chimp, saying ooh, ooh, ahh, ahh);
- A solid tripod for longer exposures and to reduce any shake; and,
- A cable release to also eliminate shake.
The Canon T5i has a good screen, I like it. Sure, some of the new ones that come with Android built-in along with WiFi are great, but this is a little more traditional and meets my needs. Only challenge I have is in bright light with my transition sunglasses on, it’s hard to see the screen.
I picked up a used tripod from a camera store on Bank Street, and it is pretty rock solid. Not the best options for heads, etc., and quick change setups, but I haven’t used it much either to get used to it. I also have a lighter one that I had for my previous cameras, including the video camera, which would work with short lenses (i.e. not too heavy), and a monopod for hiking, although I’m not convinced it works as well as some people seem to claim. Could just be a lack of practice too.
I have two cable releases — one that works remotely, that I could never get to work, and one that is wired. I’ve toyed with the idea of adding the bluetooth attachment that would also connect to my phone or tablet, but outside of astronomy, I don’t know when I would use it that much.
What I found really interesting this week though is that he blew past the intro to equipment and covered the basics of aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. Those three pieces work together on your photos, and I confess that while I have read multiple explanations of them over the years, I have never really “gotten it”. I could regurgitate what the shutter speed was, mostly aperture although sometimes a little off in technical details, and on ISO, I often described it more as the speed of the “film” from our old pre-DSLR days. And how the three worked together, I really had no idea. I was constantly confused. I would get pieces, I could duplicate other shots, but the real relationship between the three and how the three worked together? I really didn’t get it.
For the first time, watching this host, a light came on. The example he used, which isn’t the biggest part for me, was the idea of a faucet filling a sink with water. The aperture is the size of your faucet — small faucet, small amount of water; large faucet, large amount of water. The shutter speed is how long you have the faucet running — longer duration, more water; shorter duration, less water. And the ISO, although the metaphor is a bit weaker here, is how strong the water is pushing through the pipe.
Translating that to the camera, the biggest piece for me is that he ignored ISO. He focused almost entirely on aperture and shutter speed. So, with light coming in, a big aperture lets in a lot of light, while a small aperture lets in less light. Pretty straightforward. It’s the same concept for astronomy, and I think that was the hook for me. Large light buckets bring in lots of light, small light buckets bring in smaller amounts of light. If I think of it as Aperture, instead of focal length, it becomes much clearer to me. Maybe part of what was confusing to me previously is that astro stuff works heavily with focal length, and you even have some basic math to figure out magnifications, etc.
So, I learned that if you decrease the number, you’re increasing the amount of light and increasing the amount of light. Because it is a ratio, the number works in reverse with the focal length. The focal length is on the bottom of the ratio, so as that number goes higher, and the focal length gets higher, the aperture gets smaller. So f/1.0 is the biggest aperture with the most light coming in; f/8-11 is a moderate setting; and f/22 is a small amount of light. It’s also why you frequently see wide-angle lens having the f/2.8 settings — because they are designed to give you wide shots with lots of light. Also making them good in low light too, because they are pulling as much light as possible at those settings. Most of my lens stop in the f/4.0 range and that’s pushing them to their limits.
For shutter speed, I’ve never really had any trouble understanding that…it always made sense to me in terms of longer exposure. But I didn’t think of it like I do astronomy i.e. I only thought of it as related to night photography. Longer shots to get the stars, to gather lots of light. I didn’t think of it as gathering more light for the day time too. Hence the trade-off with the aperture — if you go to a small, small, small aperture, you need to adjust to longer exposure times. If you have a large aperture, you need faster shutter speeds or you’ll get nothing but white — you’re controlling how much water/light is coming out of the faucet into the sink.
The trade-off has never been clear to me on that. Particularly when you start with shutter speed — if I’m going with a faster shutter speed, for example to capture somebody doing sports, I also need to adjust my aperture in order to open up the “light hole” (aperture) to make sure I’m still getting lots of light in. Hence why small f # lenses, like 2.8, are called fast lenses — because they allow for the fastest shutter speeds.
I couldn’t see those two as the trade-offs as I always threw the ISO in there just enough to confuse me. I remembered that ISO 100 was considered “normal” speed film, and that ISO800 was considered “fast” film. So I figured if you were jacking your shutter speed to be super fast, you must have upgraded your ISO at the same time. Almost like they *always* went hand-in-hand, and hence could be considered almost the same.
I knew that ISO stood for the International Standards Organization, so the acronym never helped. However, once he started talking about it as the light sensitivity of the camera, kind of the reverse of how much water is being pumped into the sink, more like how hard or how much is hitting the bottom of the sink, it clicked for me. I understand sensitivity of sensors, and how important it is for ability to register photons, just like the old plates (not that I ever used them, but I understand the physics of it). Particularly in terms of astronomy, so it suddenly became clear why jacking my ISO during the day was like flooding the camera with super sensitive light. Just like taking a photo of a bright moon with high ISO, and seeing it just completely wash out the details.
I know I’m supposed to see them as a triangle — aperture, shutter speed, and ISO — but it works better for me to see aperture and shutter speed as trade offs, and ISO more as just the sensitivity to the amount of light controlled by the other two.
After that, it was more simple note-taking:
- shutter speed normally in the 1/60 or 1/125 range;
- f/16 has everything in it tack sharp, f/2.8 is mainly the centre;
- low light needs more sensitivity;
- “aperture priority” is great for setting aperture, and the camera does the rest on “auto”; and,
- “shutter speed priority” is great for setting fast or slow and letting the camera handle the rest on “auto”.
He concluded the intro by noting that he frequently sets up beginners in AP mode, shooting as close to 2.8 as they can get, and letting them rock out on composition after that. The assignment was basically to just to play with settings, which I’ve already done, so wasn’t part of my main focus afterwards.
I’m just ecstatic that I finally understood aperture and shutter speed trade offs, with ISO in behind. I finally “get it”. That alone is worth the price of the course (maybe not full price, but certainly with the discount that is always available).