Basic Elements in Good Equipment
When shopping for a car you don’t always buy just for looks. You get in and test drive it. How does it handle? How do you feel behind the wheel? You get out and kick the tires, lift up the hood, check the trunk and storage areas. You read Consumer Reports. You even take it to a mechanic for an inspection. You want to know how it “feels” around you. How a camera feels and works with you is no different from buying a car. You will probably use it under stress-filled conditions like vacation or holidays. The last thing you need in a camera is one that you have to struggle with.
No matter what equipment you are considering, treat it like buying a car or house. Here are a few things to consider.
- What do you need it to do?
- What are your photographic interests? Landscapes, macro, wildlife? Pick equipment that enhances your abilities. Macro and close-up photography? Pick a camera with mirror lock-up and a shutter release remote connection. Choose lenses with a good grip on the manual focusing ring. Wildlife photography? Make sure the camera has action in mind with meters and indicators through the viewfinder and lenses with large apertures. Working from the car or hiking the mountains? Equipment weight may come into consideration. Think about what you photograph and make sure the equipment will help you do the job better.
- How does it feel?
- We spend hours with the camera in our hands and glued to our faces. How the camera feels is important. Are the buttons reachable? How about when your eye is up against the viewfinder? Is it comfortable or hard to see through? Buttons on the backs of cameras can get in the way as our faces interfere with our fingers. Do you have to keep moving your eye from the viewfinder to see indicators and buttons on top of the camera? Is the lens easy to grip? Really think about how you use your equipment and how it feels as you work with it.
- What does it do?
- Cameras come in all shapes and sizes and many have more gizmos on them then you can count. What do they all do? Which ones are critical to you and can you get to them easily? On a camera we used to have, you’d push a button on the left side of the lens and turn the dial on the right to control the aperture. Turn the dial alone to control the shutter. This means using that camera with two hands. Are all the knobs and buttons easy to use and accessible? Do they work together or feel awkward? If you will spend your time hunting for buttons in the field, don’t bother. Really look closely at how the camera and lenses work together, and how what combination of buttons does what.
Get Your Hands on It
Once you have established the purpose of the piece you are buying, it’s time to get down to the touchy-feely process. Whether you are buying mail order or from a local camera store, either borrow or rent the equipment or check it out before you invest your money. Get your hands on it. Really play with it and poke at all the buttons. Looking at what you want in a magazine is all fine, even researching it with Popular Photography, Shutterbug, and Consumer Reports is excellent to do. But unless you get it in your hands, you will never know if this is the RIGHT partner for you in your photographic endeavors.
With the camera in your hands, put it through the paces. Does everything work as you anticipated? Does it feel good in your hand? What about accessories? Remember you aren’t just buying a camera, you are investing in a system. What are all the accessories that work with the camera? Which ones will you need? And how do other accessories like tripod work? Are they easy to open and set up? Will you spend more time fussing than photographing?
Part of the “feel” of a camera includes putting film in the camera and changing lenses and attaching gizmos to it. Make sure each process is easy and accessible for you. We run through a lot of batteries, so easy access to the battery compartment is important. Does it open easily or do you need to have a coin or special tool? How much fuss is it? We used to have a camera where you had to remove the right hand grip and unscrew a “knob” for 14 twists (we counted) before the battery compartment opened up. Is the lens easy to get on and off? Does it feel good to move all the parts? Whichever piece of equipment you are buying, make sure the motion and access to the workings of the system are easy and quick to use.