On upgrading cameras and life through a lens

Thinking about the next steps for my cameras

I’ve recently decided that I’ll attempt to have a proper holiday this summer, and a holiday more or less requires taking photographs. I have a Canon Powershot S50 that I bought several years ago, which is a 5 megapixel camera that’s done me pretty well, though it’s limited to a 3x optical zoom.

I also have a camera I received for my 18th birthday, which is a Nikon FG-20 SLR. It’s been gathering dust for far too long, so I’ve scrubbed it up, and have been busily taking a few snaps here and there, to make sure my technique isn’t too rusty, and also to experiment with shooting in black and white. You can see some more of the results on my Flickr photo stream.

Pay attention

One of the things that I’ve noticed is that with digital cameras, people spend an awful lot of time snapping everything. Because it’s cheap, we don’t always spend so long thinking about what will be a good shot, and trust that at least some will be really good.

Worse, very often you see people who end up experiencing significant parts of their holiday not first hand, but through the viewfinder or screen of their camera, as they snap every inch of the inside of a cathedral, rather than standing and marvelling in awe at their surroundings. They may tell themselves they’ll relive the experience when they look at the photos, but if you didn’t really use your eyes first time round, is that even possible?

Oxford Circus at night
Black and white film for the SLR, digital for colour?

So, I’m thinking of taking my old Nikon on holiday with me to shoot film, and most likely in black and white, with the intention that that will make me think more before clicking the shutter.

Going digital

Of course, I’d quite like a decent digital camera too; my Canon is ok, but lacks the resolution of newer models, and things like a decent movie mode. I have a couple of lenses for the Nikon SLR, and I’m probably going to buy at least one more – a wide angle – before I head off on holiday.

The obvious choice for protecting that investment would be a Nikon digital SLR. Unfortunately, none of the ones that I can afford will actually meter with my old manual lenses; you don’t find that functionality until you reach the D7000, which at £900 for just the body is really a bit more than I want to spend right now; the D300s will work with them too, but that’s £1100 for the body only. If you’re in a similar position, you may find this page helpful, as it explains what functionality you get when you mate different Nikon lenses and cameras; it doesn’t include the new D5100, but that won’t meter with manual lenses either.

A micro solution?

One solution that I’m considering – and hoping to be able to borrow the equipment to try – is a Micro 4/3 camera, like the Panasonic DMC-G2 or Olympus PEN E-PL1. These are more compact than an SLR, so won’t be too much trouble to lug around alongside the Nikon.

And, though they’re designed primarily to work with their own lenses, one of the things I find most interesting about the Micro 4/3 system is that there are adaptors available – which can be bought for around £30 on eBay – which allow you to mount many other types of lens. You can, apparently, still get metering to work, by telling the camera there’s no lens mounted.

So, in theory it should be possible to use my old Nikon lenses on one of these cameras, and that’s what I’ll be exploring on my holiday. It may turn out that things are too limited to be worth it – there certainly are restrictions, and differences. For instance, the ‘crop factor’ means that a 24mm lens from the SLR will effectively become a 48mm when mounted on a micro 4/3 system. More interestingly, my 70-210 zoom will become the equivalent of a 140-420 zoom. And there will be compromises with depth of field.

It may, then, turn out that it’s not really worth worrying about using my old lenses, for many tasks, and the best thing to do is to save up for a Nikon DSLR, or simply accept that I can’t really carry on using them in the digital domain. But it should be an interesting experiment, and one that I’m looking forward to.

5 Replies to “On upgrading cameras and life through a lens”

  1. >> … as they snap every inch of the inside of a cathedral, rather than standing and marvelling in awe at their surroundings.

    Couldn’t agree more. Not only that, but as you’ve hinted at, without some decent lenses you typically won’t get anything that captures more than a tiny bit of the scene. I’ve tried using a cheapish digital camera to take pictures of the inside of my properties, but you just cannot get any sense of size as it just doesn’t have the wide angle needed to capture more than a small view of the room.

    Personally I tend to snap away, but not so much on the basis that a few might turn out, more on the basis that I tend to shake the camera, or not quite get the framing right, and so I’ll snap several similar ones so I can select the best (and I *DO* delete a lot) later.

    My “other camera’ is a completely manual FED4 – on the shelf and covered with a lot of dust. I recall that when I did use it, the subjects would usually have got bored before I’d finished setting it up !

  2. Avoiding the ‘spray and pray’ style of photography is something that many keen amateurs (and even pros) struggle with in this digital age. There are many blogs written giving ideas to form good habits such as limiting yourself to 3 shots in a day etc to make you think about getting the shot right first time. Some even suggest using a film camera!

    If the D7000 is out of your price range then it may be worth looking at the D90. That is an older model (nearly 3 years old now I think) but it is still a ‘current’ model in the range. As the OAP of the range it is now being sold at bargain prices. As of today it is listed body only on amazon for £550. http://www.camerapricebuster.co.uk/prod723.html gives the current best prices along with a history – a good site for researching camera prices. I’m not sure exactly what its capabilities are with old manual lenses, but it is in many ways the D7000’s predecessor and it certainly has the body focus motor for old lenses without focus motors. It doesn’t have the same high ISO capability of its newer siblings, but it is a very highly respected camera and could be worth investigating rather than waiting years to save up for the newer models.

  3. Unfortunately, the D90 is also restricted to fully manual mode, with no metering when using old lenses. It’s a great camera; I’ve had some portraits of myself done with one. But I’d either be reduced to carrying a light meter, or estimating exposures in my head, which is a shame.

  4. Having no metering isn’t as bad with digital as with film. Exposure bracketing costs nothing. More importantly, the rear screen will immediately show the results of your guesswork.

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