Let there be exposure! (part two)

Your Humble Narrator, with his trusty Nikon Coolpix L840 digital camera. Taken October, 2020.

“But you know how it is. It’s like a hobby. Once you take up a hobby, the more interesting and fascinating it becomes.” –Tony Wendice (Ray Milland), Dial M for Murder

It may seem a bit weird using that quote to talk about my growing interest recently in photography (if you missed it, check out Part One of this series!), since in the movie Tony Wendice is referring to his growing fascination with the daily comings-and-goings of the low-life guy he’s soon going to be kind-of blackmailing, and kind-of paying to murder his wife, but the sentiment applies to all hobbies, doesn’t it?

Like most people, my “photography” consisted of snapping shots of things: places we went, stuff the cats and later the dogs were doing, and so on. I just…snapped lots of photos along the way. Sometimes I’d take something and say, “Whoa, that turned out nice!” Most times, though, my photos were strictly utilitarian, and if we were in particularly notable places that lots of people frequented, I suppose I ended up with lots of versions of the same photos that they were taking. And no, there’s not a thing wrong with that. And if I wanted to dress the photos up a bit, filtering apps like Instagram or Prisma came in handy.

But a while back–and I’m not even sure when, exactly–I found myself watching a video by a creator I like, who posts regular slice-of-life videos from her own daily existence, and she made casual mention of wanting to buy a new camera because her old one still worked but wasn’t really giving her the results she wanted anymore, given how technology has progressed along with her knowledge of how to make videos and such. And that point stuck in my head, because I thought of my old Nikon Coolpix L840 that I bought back in 2015. I’d used it a lot, and was still using it, but it was clear to me that I wasn’t going to get a whole lot more out of it.

So I did a quick search on something along the lines of “What camera should I buy”, and you know how you do one search and then all of the content you see online pertains to that? Yeah, that.

I didn’t choose a camera quickly, but I did suddenly start seeing tons of photography-related content. “What camera to buy?” will, on YouTube, pull up all manner of such videos, many of them made by actual photographers, and not just advertorial articles that seem to make a good case until you realize they’re written by and for the company that’s selling the thing recommended in the article.

We like to complain about how a single search fills our social media feeds with crap related to that one search, but sometimes…sometimes, that single search will make the stars align in a certain way that’s actually helpful.

Actual photographers started showing up in my feeds, most usefully in my YouTube feed. Suggested video after suggested video after suggested video, all from photographers offering various teachings on the subject of photography. I watched a few of these, and…I was ready to take the bait, particularly after one thing one of them said. Roughly paraphrasing:

“Do this week’s photos look an awful lot like last week’s photos?”

That was said by a creator named Simon d’Entremont, a professional wildlife and nature photographer from Nova Scotia. I watched some of his videos, and I’ve now subscribed to his channel and look forward to his content, even if not all of it applies to what I’m doing (more on that later). One thing that I’ve discovered in the online photography community, at least the small bit of it that I’ve encountered thus far, is that everyone seems more than willing to share their tips, tricks, and acquired wisdom because they love the craft and they want to see it spread and to have people succeed. M. d’Entrimont closes each of his videos with the hope that his advice can help you go out and take marvelous photos, and the words, “I know you can do it!” I love when people providing informational and educational content take that attitude. It reminds me of Martin Yan’s old cooking shows, in which he always signed off with, “If Yan can cook, so can you!”

More on other specific creators later (in another post). For now, I’ll just say that I did some research on a camera to buy. I thought about taking the full plunge into a DSLR, which would be my first, but I backed off for several reasons. First, my understanding (which may well be misplaced!) is that DSLRs are slowly being edged out by the newest technological advance, “mirrorless” cameras. (Here’s an explanation.) DSLRs still exist but mirrorless cameras are taking over, and I’m not educated enough in photography to know if the mirrorless tech is totally established yet. A major technological paradigm shift is a bad time to jump into a new hobby!

Secondly, DSLRs and mirrorless cameras are the types of systems where you buy a camera body and then lenses to use with it, switching out your lenses depending on what you’re doing. That means a lot of added expense; good lenses can run into four-digit territory by themselves! Now, I know that photography isn’t a cheap hobby, but it’s still one that…well…put it this way. At this point I am not comfortable enough with my knowledge and skill to justify spending a significant amount of money.

And there’s still a whole lot to learn! See, my good old Nikon Coolpix L840 takes nice photos and video (more on that below), but everything it does is through established modes and pre-programmed scene filters. And that is the biggest area of learning opportunity for me right now, when it comes to photography. In addition to continue challenging myself to compose my photos more skillfully and put some real thought into what kind of photographic content I want to create (and more on that in the next post as well!), I also need to learn the actual nuts-and-bolts of photography. I need to learn about the “exposure triangle”, about things like ISO, aperture settings, and shutter speed. I need to learn how to use those tools and manipulate them to get the image that I want…and I also need to strengthen my photo-editing chops as well, beyond applying this Instagram filter or that Prisma artwork AI application.

I took a lot of really good photos over the years with that trusty L840…but I wasn’t going to get better.

And since I decided there’s more than enough to learn without going fully into changing lenses and all of that, I decided to buy a bridge camera. What’s a bridge camera, you ask? It’s the in-between camera. A bridge camera is more capable than a simple point-and-shoot camera (which have become pretty damned capable in themselves, let’s be honest), but it’s not the full changeable-lens, shoot-in-manual-RAW camera either. (Well, it does those last things, but bear with me.) In short, a bridge camera is the ideal tool for me at this point in my decision to learn more about photography.

But which bridge camera to buy? Well, that took some research. I had a great experience with the L840, so when I need a new thing to replace something that worked well, I’m usually likely to look at the same brand again. And I was very tempted by the Nikon Coolpix P1000, a true behemoth of a camera that apparently boasts the biggest zoom lens in the bridge camera market. I mean, look at this camera! All together now, Star Wars fans: “Look at the size of that thing!”

Why didn’t I get that one? Size, basically, and a number of reviews indicated that if you need that much zoom, you’re really better off with a good DSLR or mirrorless system and a good, high-quality telephoto lens. And the P1000 apparently weighs more than three pounds, which is a lot to lug around. While I haven’t totally settled on the kinds of photography I want to do, I’m likely to be a camera-lugger. I’m wanting to travel more in years to come, and a 3.5lb camera isn’t the best travel option out there. I’ve read good reviews of the P1000 and I’m sure it’s a very fine instrument, but I decided it wasn’t for me.

I seriously looked into a camera by Sony, the RX10 IV (stay tuned another time for my extended rant on naming and numbering conventions for electronic devices; this shit is getting confusing), but while reviews of it seem to consistently rank it as the best bridge camera, it’s also expensive enough that if I’m spending that much, I might as well spend a bit more and commit to the changeable-lens game (which might well be in my future, but not for a while yet).

Through all this I found myself gravitating toward the Panasonic Lumix FZ1000 II, and when I found one on sale in a package deal on eBay that included a small camera bag, a cleaning kit, a pistol-grip tripod, a Gorilla-style tripod, and a couple of other goodies for a hundred dollars less than the camera’s suggested retail price, well then. That was the play.

And here it is, sitting alongside the old L840.

Oooh! Aaah! (Funny that I’m taking pictures of my cameras with my phone.)

Kind of reminds me of Star Trek III, when the Enterprise is dwarfed by the Excelsior! (Yes, I can make anything into a Trek or Wars reference. Anything at all.)

Oh, on video: one thing that I always found disappointing about the L840 was the video quality. Not the video itself; the footage looked great, and I thought at one point about using that camera to film videos if I started adding “vlogging” to my roster of content-creation habits. Sadly, the camera’s microphone wasn’t up to snuff for me. If recording inside, it was OK but not great, but recording outside wasn’t great at all. It would pick up wind noise something awful, and there is some footage I took with this camera that simply isn’t useable because of the wind noise the camera picked up. (Yes, one of these unreleased videos involves pies.) Worse, the L840 has no provisions for connecting an external microphone, so the workaround was to either use the L840 in conjunction with my phone, which does allow for external mike, and then sync the sound together in the editing process…or just use my phone for the entirety of whatever video work I wanted to do. I found that deeply disappointing, for various reasons. (Now, at the time I bought the L840 I wasn’t really thinking in terms of video, so I never looked into the microphone situation. I can’t blame the camera for not being great at something I didn’t really intend to do with it when I bought it.)

The FZ1000 II, however, does take very good video footage and it takes an external microphone, if desired. So I’m covered there. As of this writing, I have not looked into video recording yet…but I will. Oh yes, I will. Indeed!

I’ll wrap this up here, as this is getting long. Next time I’ll discuss and present some results from my first month or two with this camera. But before I go, here are two photos I took at Knox Farm State Park, where I went to do my first real “shakedown cruise” with this camera. This is a demonstration of the camera’s zoom, which is considerable, if not quite as jaw-dropping as the adore-mentioned P1000. For both of these photos, I was standing in the exact same spot.

Stay tuned!


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