Feb 7 2011

The importance of photography equipment

“Wow, what a nice picture. You must have a great camera!”

Try telling a chef, “what a great meal! You must have an excellent stove!”

Behind every great photograph is a great photographer, not necessarily a great camera. We emphasize quality of the photograph starting from the artistic aspect of what we want to capture, before our finger touches the shutter release. We see our camera equipment like a painter views his brushes.

Of course, good brushes, spatulas, and pigments are quite helpful to a painter. Similarly, we prefer to work with good equipment, which helps us realize the shots we want to take. We consider good equipment to be important, as do most professionals in any field, but only as a tool to the craft. Good equipment makes our job easier, allows us extra leeway to focus and shoot faster, is very well-built and dependable, and even makes some artistic concepts possible which would be impossible with lesser equipment. With that in mind, because people have asked, here is a list of some of the equipment we use. Following the list is the thought process of why we selected our particular equipment.

  • Canon 5D3 series
  • Canon 7D series
  • Backup cameras (7D, t1i)
  • Canon EF lenses: 50mm 1.4, 24-105 f4L IS, EF-S 17-55mm f2.8 IS, 70-200mm f2.8L IS, (28-135mm f3.5-5.6 IS, 18-55mm 3.5-5.6 IS, EF-S 18-200mm f3.5-5.6 IS as backups)
  • Sigma lenses: 8-16mm for extreme wide angle, landscape, and real estate
  • Canon tilt-shift (TS-E 90) for specialty shots and closeups
  • Strobes: 430 EXII, ABR800 (300Watt-second Ringlight for glamour and portraits), a powerful 600Ws and a pair of 300Ws strobes
  • 27″ beauty dish with grid, strip softboxes, and a large-ish softbox. 60″ umbrella with softlighter cover
  • Minolta Flash Meter
  • Canon Pro9500 II printer for the occasional in-house print
  • Various sync cables, hot lights, RF remotes, many light stands, and several proven homemade light modifiers, too!

Why Canon?

Despite being “simple tools of the trade”, the decision to pick Canon was not haphazard and considerable thought went into this choice. This decision would affect the difficulty and speed of shooting various types of events for a very long time (3-5 year average replacement). Unlike choosing other tools, such as a hammer where you may have dozens of choices, choosing a camera platform has just as many options but also includes hidden considerations such as hundreds of lenses and thousands of accessories you must also consider. You are buying into a system of interchangeable parts, not just a camera.

First, Canon lenses are currently the top of the line, smashing nearly all other brands based on Image Quality. (Calm your hackles, Nikon shooters…) Look at the sidelines of any televised sports events, and you’ll see the telltale white lenses with red rings shooting away. Besides quality of sharpness and contrast, there is also the issue of quality of background blur. One Canon lens in particular has such excellent background blur that it is the “golden standard” of beautiful bokeh [c.f. Canon 85mm 1.2L II (links open in new windows)]. Excellent lenses such as these open new artistic avenues. Although Nikon has many excellent Nikkor lenses (and some manufacturers have some excellent lenses and cameras such as Sigma and Olympus), the overall focal range of excellent Canon lenses trumps them especially when you also consider the 3rd-party lenses made to fit Canon cameras. Our decision was even easier, in our desert environment, considering the dust/weatherproofing of many Canon cameras and lenses.

Another reason we chose Canon products was due to their commitment to HD quality video, which may give us new options down the line. When we made our choice, they were the only DSLR manufacturer with 1080p quality video. Canon is also committed to energy and waste conservation although Nikon has a green initiative, too. Their E-TTL flash system is comparable to Nikon’s I-TTL (although that was a weakness for a long time). Both Canon and Nikon have excellent sensor technology, where Nikon may have a slight edge on low-light performance and noise, but Canon is still quite competitive.

Overall, I felt that Canon cameras were more intuitive to operate, with fewer buttons and levers, but more functionality such as controlling all aspects of multiple remote flashes directly from the camera. The 7D series felt the best in my hand over all other cameras tested, including several made by Canon. Because lenses can be moved to different camera bodies and are the biggest investment, we needed to invest in a single lens mount to allow swapping lenses with all our cameras. We are still considering full-frame cameras, and have been waiting impatiently for the 5Dm3 to be announced, hopefully this year sometime purchased a 5D mark III when it was released, and added that to our toolbelt.

Lastly, the 7D  series can shoot at at staggering 8 fps at full resolution. Their focusing system is incredibly fast, their AI Servo mode (which anticipates focus distance of shots when objects are moving) is excellent, and they make overall great sports and event cameras. Our 7D cameras can capture amazing sports shots, and can capture quality low-light images at ISO 1600 without a noise issue. If 3 foot enlargements aren’t at issue, we can capture low-light shots at an astounding ISO 12,800.

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What does this mean to our clients?

The bottom line is that our artistic vision will not be hindered by our equipment. It is professional quality and can shoot in low light, plus we have the tools to shoot indoor sports events at world-class speed.  In the unlikely event that our equipment fails, we have backup equipment available, too. Our equipment gets out of our way, allowing us to take the shots that you want captured.

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