Mamma don’t take my Kodachrome away

25 11 2009

I’ve been a keen photographer since I was a child. I remember acquiring my dads 35mm SLR, a Yashica TL Electro with a 50mm f1.8 lens, and snapping away on Kodachrome and then Kodacolor. It was with some sadness that, inevitably, Kodachrome passed away in June this year.

It used to be a art in itself to get anything on slide or print that bore a passing resemblance to the subject you took a photograph of.

Never being just content with taking the picture I also developed and printed my own. The smell of photo chemicals washing over film and paper and the sheer magic of watching the image appear is an experience now almost completely lost and I think something that will, and should, be missed.

Now, as with all things, technology marches on and its never been better for the photographer. The digital age has provided easy to use, accessible tools to capture, manipulate and print our pictures.

But its important to remember why you have a camera. Its not because its the latest technological masterpiece, its because you want to take great pictures. I’ve been through a stream of different cameras over the years, taking in

  1. Yashica TL
  2. Canon A1
  3. Canon T90
  4. Minolta Dynax 700
  5. Minolta Dynax 800
  6. Canon EOS3
  7. Minolta Dimage7 (hateful thing)
  8. Canon EOS40D

I’m often asked by friends and relatives ‘what camera should I buy?’ or more often, “what do you think of abc, is it any good?”, the question seeming begging for an answer that will guarantee any and all future photographs are worthy of Magnum.

In truth I think today you would be hard pushed to buy a ‘bad’ camera. Interestingly though hardly ever do they ask, “what is the lens like on abc?”, or , “which bounce head flash gun should I buy with abc?”, two questions that just through asking show a path to much better pictures than “it has 15 megapixels, is that enough?”.

The modern digital compact is a marvel of performance and price. The D-SLR though is where things can get quite complex, but don’t let them. In over 30 years of taking photographs I would say the thing that will make you keep taking them is using a camera that you enjoy using. That may sound simple, and it is, but its also true.

My eldest son (Eos40D, f/5.6, 1/250 sec, 78mm (iso400)

My eldest son (Eos40D, f/5.6, 1/250 sec, 78mm (iso400)

My first foray into the digital world, at the time I had been using an EOS3 for a few years, was a Minolta Dimage 7. Now this thing at the time along with the Nikon of more or less the same spec and price was supposedly the dogs dangly bits. I hated it. Almost from the minute the novelty of ‘going digital’ had worn off, the cracks started to appear. Now at this time a D-SLR was something that required a second mortgage, the Dimage was a new breed, sort of compact SLR. The Fuji was the popular choice but I had loved the two previous Minolta SLR’s I had owned (in fact I would say the Minolta Dynax 800 was one of the best handling cameras Ive ever used) so I went for the Minolta, an IBM 1GB microdrive (at the time this cost about £200, 1Gb Flash CF is 20 quid these days, if that!) and a few sets of high power rechargeable batteries.

Well, this thing sucked down batteries like nothing I had ever seen, the images were great, fantastic quality, but using it, well it was an ergonomic wreck, I couldn’t find a comfortable way to handle it and more often than not it came out, snapped few pics then went away. Hardly the camera that was going to capture the great shots when it spent most of its life in the camera bag. I found myself using my EOS3 and more and more Velvia, rather than embracing the digital age I was going retro.

When the thing finally broke, and it wasn’t actually that long, I was almost relieved. I went back and stuck to film for quite a while. Then the EOS20D arrived on the scene, at this point my interest in a D-SLR was awakened. The EOS30D arrived and I would have jumped in at this point save for the rumors of the next model, I waited and then plunged in with the EOS40D. My existing lens all fitted (albeit with the 1.6x multiplier as the sensor is not full frame), flash, all the bits I used with my EOS3. I added the additional battery grip to give me a vertical hold shutter release and to be honest I felt like I had the modern equivalent of my Minolta 800 back, it all just felt… right. Because it felt right it gets used and its a pleasure to use, I pay attention to my subject not my camera.

So my advice about which camera to buy..set your budget then go to your local store and play with them, if it feels right in your hands you will use it and you will get results, if it feels wrong, try another. Budget for a few memory cards, a bounce head flash gun (trust me on camera direct flash will be a huge disappointment) and the right lens. Now take photographs, lots of them, don’t take one snap of your kids, take a hundred, then take some more.