Cameras I Currently Use

We’ve all heard the adage “It’s not the camera, it’s the photographer.”

While true to an extent, having a capable camera that allows the photographer more control does make a difference in creating a compelling photo. Sure a good photographer can take a good photo with a 35mm disposable camera, but the chances of getting a good photo of the aurora borealis or capturing the fraction of a second it takes for a frog to extend its tongue to capture an insect with one is highly unlikely, if not impossible. On the same note, you can throw the latest camera and sharpest, fastest lens available into the hands of an unskilled snap shooter and the likelihood of them producing a compelling image is not much better.

It’s not just the camera, but it’s not just the photographer either. The truth is, it’s a little bit of both.

I have four different “cameras” I use regularly. Each camera fills a unique niche. There are photographs I’ve taken with my DSLRs that I could never replicate with my smartphone, but there are some pretty unique photos I have with my smaller cameras that I would have missed entirely if I had tried to shoot them with a full frame professional bodied Canon. Photographers should learn how to use every camera tool available to them, as well as recognize the limitations of different systems.

My two current DSLR cameras are a Canon 5D Mark II and a Canon 1D Mark IV. The 5D2 is a bit more compact than the 1D4 and has slightly higher resolution, making it a better option for carrying while hiking to get landscape photos. However, the 1D Mark 4 has a much better autofocus system (shooting moving subjects with the 5D2 is frustrating to say the least) as well as a cropped sensor, so it is my preferred camera for shooting sports and wildlife. In general, when I am shooting photos with the intent to sell them, print them, and get the highest quality image, I prefer shooting with DSLRs. However there are times when my other cameras are better options.

TLC was wrong #chasingwaterfalls #waterfall #keenenh #ilovenh #visitnh #lightgram

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Photo with my 5D Mark II. For waterfalls, you can’t beat a DSLR. Shooting with a DSLR allowed me to shoot with a slow shutter speed, use a polarizing filter, and mount to a sturdy tripod, all of which are less easy to do with smaller cameras. This photo would make a gorgeous statement art piece hung on a wall, and thanks to shooting with a high resolution camera, it will hold up to being printed big.

One of the biggest advantages of shooting with my iPhone 6 is that I usually have it on me. Sure it’s a phone and an older model; the newest iPhone and smartphone models have higher resolution front and rear cameras, as well as the option to shoot RAW (DNG) using the Adobe Lightroom app. Yet even shooting 8MP jpegs, I have gotten some great images; I have had folks request to buy quick shots taken with my phone and posted to Instagram more than once. My first DSLR (a Nikon D70) was only 6 megapixels, and when I started shooting with it I only shot JPEG because I was too poor to afford higher capacity memory cards and RAW processing software – the photos on my website from 2005 and sports photos from 2006 were all shot this way. My iPhone is great because it fits in my pocket, captures high dynamic range sunrises and sunsets quite beautifully thanks to its built in HDR, records video with the swipe of a finger, and allows me to share and post images instantly. When I am shooting everyday life, convenience goes a long way, and even if the iPhone lacks a lot in terms of professional features, its portability and ease of use makes it the camera I probably use more than any other.

Gorgeous building, gorgeous late day light, gorgeous city #Montreal #hoteldeville

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Photo with my iPhone. I didn’t bring my DSLR to Montreal with me to celebrate my birthday with a friend a few years ago, and even if I had I would have needed a tripod to capture a still image of this beautiful old building in the fading light. My iPhone enabled me to capture a shot of this beautiful sunset, even when it wasn’t a part of the plan.

The other camera I have that I really like is my GoPro Hero 5 Black. Like the iPhone, the GoPro is small and portable, but it has the advantage of being waterproof and weatherproof. Whenever I am doing water sports or headed out in the cold, I bring my GoPro with me. It’s super easy to operate with gloves on and doesn’t suffer from non-existent battery life in cold weather (my phone pretty much dies whenever temps drop below freezing, which is pretty much all of winter here in New Hampshire). It is small enough to wear while doing activities, such as mountain biking or snowboarding, where carrying a larger camera is not only impractical, but also dangerous. The wide angle of view makes it the perfect point-of-view camera, as it was intended, and its small stature makes it one of the best “selfie” cameras, especially if you are a fan of capturing more of your surroundings. Like my iPhone, the GoPro is pretty easy to use when it comes to taking snap-shots – no focusing is required – so it’s a much easier camera to hand to friends so they can take your picture if needed. The Hero 5 is the first GoPro to capture RAW stills, which makes editing and polishing your photos even easier.

Photo with my GoPro. The GoPro is an ideal wearable camera for when you want to capture an image but need your hands free. The GoPro Hero 5 also allows you to control the camera with your voice, an added benefit when you need your hands for something other than pressing the shutter. Bonus: It’s waterproof, and while I trust myself to keep my DSLR dry while kayaking on flat water, all bets are off when you add a dog to the mix. Kayaking with Winston is like having a bowling ball in the boat. My GoPro enables me to capture images like this without taking huge risks.

I’ve resisted posting photos taken with the latter two, smaller, “inferior” cameras to my website, but those images regularly end up on my Instagram feed and personal social media pages. Maybe I’ll get bolder about sharing them more widely. When presented in the right way and printed appropriately sized, photographs taken with these cameras are just as beautiful as those taken with my professional cameras, and sometimes, because of the unique opportunities shooting with these cameras present, I cherish the images even more.

GoPro Hero 5 Black: First Impressions

I really love point of view (POV) cameras. As an adventurer, there are many times when a lugging around and shooting with big DSLR camera isn’t practical but I still want to be able to share my experience with others. Small, wearable action cameras make shooting on the go much easier and allow you to focus on your adventure and capture images at the same time.

GoPro has been a leader in consumer priced wearable action POV cameras since they became a thing. I was so psyched with the concept that I bought an early generation GoPro back when they first hit the market, but I ended up rarely using it. The first GoPro cameras were not user friendly – switching settings on the camera was not intuitive at all – and the image quality left much to be desired. With each new model GoPro made changes to the camera menus, settings, and operating systems as well as improvements in performance, and they started to become more popular with professional and amateur athletes, photographers, and filmmakers but I still refused to upgrade.

For a GoPro to be useful to me as a professional shooter, I really wanted the ability to shoot RAW photos not just JPEGs. Enter the GoPro Hero 5 Black with RAW still photo capability. Recently introduced, this camera finally had everything I wanted in a wearable POV model – ease of use, small size and low profile, a variety of mounting options, waterproof, and RAW shooting capabilities. I’ve now owned one for about 24 hours and can say this camera is truly night and day from my first GoPro. I can easily see this becoming an essential part of my regular kit as a photographer and everyday excursions as an outdoors enthusiast.

Here are my first impressions:

Image Quality – So much better. The GoPro Hero 5 Black handles high contrast and backlit scenarios much better than my first GoPro, as one would expect. Details are sharp, colors are accurate, and both shadows and highlights are nicely rendered. The camera does a good job of balancing details in light and dark areas while still producing an image with natural appearing contrast and saturation.

RAW Files – The Hero 5 Black produces JPEG files with sidecar .GPR files. Originally I thought the Raw files would be .DNG (Adobe Digital Negative) but it turns out the .GPR files are an extension of the .DNG format. You’ll need the latest version of Adobe Camera Raw or Lightroom to open and process these files – I had to upgrade from Lightroom 4 to Creative Cloud – or you can download GoPro Studio for free. Viewed in Lightroom, the .GPR files are ok. Compared to the native jpegs from the camera, the .GPR files are more saturated and have funky color vignetting caused the exagerated wide angle perspective of the lens – the edges of the frame are not only darker, but bluer in color. This was very evident in the photos I took of white snow – the jpegs did a better job of representing the snow as an even white color across the entire frame. Colors of the jpeg also appeared more neutral and natural – flesh tones and the magenta fleece I was wearing appeared a little greener compared to the RAW file. After tweaking sharpness and noise/masking levels in Lightroom, it was possible to get more fine detail in the RAW file. One nice thing is that the GoPro creates both a full size jpeg file and .GPR file when writing images to the memory card, so you have access to both. The jpegs straight from the camera are honestly quite good, but it’s nice to have access to a file with greater editing latitude. It is also important to note that RAW files are NOT created when the camera is in burst mode – something I didn’t realize until after my test run yesterday – and there are a few other scenarios where GoPro RAW doesn’t work, explained on GoPro’s website. Overall, I think the RAW files are slightly disappointing when viewed with the default settings in Lightroom, but things like color rendering and light falloff should be easy to fix in future software updates and better profile settings from Adobe. For the company’s first foray into RAW the quality is acceptable, and the fact that you get high quality jpeg images alongside the RAW files is a big plus. You can definitely take good images with this camera!

Menu Navigation and Settings – The Hero 5 is easy to use, something you could not say about GoPro’s first POV cameras. When you first start up the camera, there is a tour that explains how to do most things, and nearly everything on the camera is controled by two buttons and an LCD touch screen. Changing from photo to video mode is easy and adjusting important features like resolution and frame rate is simple and intuitive. The menus are well organized and make sense and give access to the most important things without being cluttered and confusing. The LCD provides a very clear image and appears to be high quality. The touch screen is responsive.

Voice Control – This feature is AWESOME. I haven’t exactly nailed the commands yet – I tended to make them overly complicated and said things like “GoPro Capture Still Photo” which is not a recognized command whereas “GoPro Take a Photo” is. Even so, it worked most of the time, and it’s possible that nearly all the times it didn’t were because of user error. The ability to take completely hands free photos is a game changer, especially when paired with a number of GoPro’s wearable mounts. I can think of so many scenarios where this is helpful – when paddling a kayak or helping your kid pizza down a ski slope. If you set beeps to on, you can tell if the GoPro heard you even if you aren’t looking at it thanks to audible cues.

Smartphone Apps – I downloaded all of the apps GoPro makes to my iPhone, but so far have only tested the Capture app. Setting it up with my camera was pretty easy. I synced the two via Wifi. The camera is also supposed to sync via BlueTooth but every time I connected to the camera I had to use the Wifi connection, which mean I could not connect to both my camera and internet at the same time – I’ll have to play around with it more to see if that can be fixed. When I was connected, it was easy to see the camera’s view on my phone, and I could also go through and look at all of the media I took and download photos or videos directly to my phone. This made sharing snapshots on social media a breeze – once I switched my Wifi connection back to the internet. I didn’t try using the app to shoot and control the camera out in the field because my iPhone’s battery life drains quickly in cold temperatures, so I only used the app briefly when I returned home to share a snap to Instagram.

Birthday play day! #goprohero5

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Battery Life and Performance – My camera shipped with a battery about 15% full, which died pretty quickly upon me fiddling around with it, but I was very excited and probably fiddling a lot! It comes with a USB charging cord and you have to charge the battery in camera (unless you get a supplementary charging port from GoPro). The media I read said it would take 2 hours to charge plugged into a wall and 4 hours plugged into a computer – I plugged mine into a wall and had a full charge within 1 1/2 hours. After about an hour of use, worn on a chest mount in temperatures right around freezing with the GPS on the entire time, I had about 55% of my battery life left. I wasn’t recording the entire time but did take a fair number of stills, bursts, and some video. Because so many factors affect battery life, including environmental factors, recording mode, and other things it’s impossible to say how long the battery will last in “normal” conditions. To better understand the many factors that affect battery performance and anticipated battery length in different recording scenarios, check out GoPro’s website.

I’ve only taken the camera out on one trip, a hike through the snow covered woods with my dog, and tried a limited number of settings during that time, but so far I really am enjoying the new GoPro. I look forward to using it more and can definitely see it becoming my “have everywhere” camera. It makes a great portable pockable point-and-shoot to complement my iPhone, and the fact that it shoots RAW will give me added opportunities to shoot professional quality work with a tiny, easy to use camera that I can have on me at all times.