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  • Writer's pictureMike

What Camera?

Buying a camera was and is a minefield of decisions, from the body to the glass (lens); should you go Mirrorless or DSLR and then full frame of crop sensor. You can read reviews until you feel like you've read war and peace, even then 1 camera may not stand out in the crowd.

My camera story was driven by circumstances mostly rather than days of research. I had a DSLR a long long time ago, a friend had sold it me with a couple of lenses, it was a film camera so that tells you how long ago it was. It was a large body and the main lens was pretty hefty too, I don't recall what range it was. After a while I moved onto a digital bridge camera, which was great with the right conditions (as most cameras are). For what I needed, holiday snaps, kids, pets and out and about it was good enough for me.

So if you've read my other blogs, you will know I was asked to work on Solitary (a short film) and doing some research I knew the Fujifilm bridge camera was not going to be good enough. So I borrowed a Sony A57 and a few lenses for my first film shoot.

Lucy Quinlan, still from Solitary

Now it was ok, but I wasn't keen on the menu's, yeah I know it's something you get used to with experience of the camera, but the camera didn't feel right for me. So I looked at Cannon and Nikon, read reviews, studied images from all ranges and basically just got lost in a sea of information about either camera. Best option go and hold one, take a picture or two. So we went into Liverpool and had a look around, I liked the feel and look of the Nikon's a little more than the Cannon, but it was a close call. The images were very good on both cameras, so I need something else to sway the deal! Well Nikon's had the better deals at the time over Cannon and Sony. I found a Nikon D5200 for a good price and bought one.

Wait; what an entry level camera you cry? Well look I wasn't going to spend a few thousand on a camera setup for me to decide that maybe this photography lark was not for me. So I went for a camera which I would still use down the park or on holiday, and actually the D5200 is still my walk about camera! I have definitely had my monies worth from this camera, and it's one I can let the kids use as well.

So I had fun with the new camera, learning to shoot with it, buying a couple of different lenses, mostly second hand. I was happy with my decision. Then I got another call for another short film, The Package written and directed by Damon Rickard. Before I left for the shoot, I came across a second hand D5100 and thought it would be worth having a backup camera in the bag, so I bought that. (Again I still use it today). Now The Package was shot in an airfield bunker and you can guess it wasn't lit very well. Even with the set lights up, I found I was working on my f1.8 50mm prime the majority of the time. But I got a very good selection of shots. This shot is one of my favourites, behind the scenes shots you have creativity a chance to play around a bit while the stills are a lot more rigid.

The camera crew get ready for a shot.

Some will argue it's not the camera, it's the person behind the camera that makes the shot, mostly I will agree with this and I can take pictures across the range of cameras I have picked up and sometimes not really tell the difference. However there are situations where some cameras and lenses will out perform the low spec models with ease, and so they should, that’s what you pay for. Getting towards the end of the my first year and I ended up on a short film called Rats, written and directed by Mark Logan, and set in Warwick Castle.

What a bloody nightmare, and not just from my point of view, ghost walks, 50th birthday parties and some wayward production decisions lost locations and a lot of time!

Warwick Castle - My Nightmare!

So for Rats the DOP (Richard Bell) was shooting on a Sony A57ii, which had an incredible ISO range, well I struggled to shoot anything! The D5200 was at its limit on ISO, my shutter was down to 1/60 and I was nearly wide open on the lens. I ended up having to use my own lights or light the scene a little brighter to get the shots I wanted. Now I am not saying I didn't get enough coverage, but the cameras I own now would have coped with the situation better. This was when I knew I need a "better" camera (and no not a Cannon or a Sony)! I picked up a cheap D700 full frame camera, while it still struggled in low light it was better than the D5200.

Mark Logan Directs Nick Vince, with Richard Bell on Camera duties.

The D700 soon became my main camera, it had a lovely tone to it, with the prospect of more films I picked up an ISO monster in the D500, something that would cope alongside the Sonys, in-fact alongside most film cameras. But I continued to use the D700 on films, with the D500 shooting behind the scenes material. The D500 became my main fashion camera though, even shooting my first publication at 12000 ISO. The following image is from my first fashion shoot, with model Sarah Angel. This was taken on location in Bolton, in what can only be described as a drug den! There were needles everywhere, the things you do for art!

Sarah Angel - ISO 20000

The next problem with these cameras was the click, the D700 sounded like a machine gun when firing burst shots, while the D500 was better in quiet mode it was still an audible click, which was getting picked up by the sound guys. I needed a blimp! A blimp is a camera housing which reduces the sound, they general are custom made and start in the $1000 bracket. Nikon did a cheaper version, while not a solid housing like most blimps it actually worked pretty well, in the right scenes. Noisy, or outdoors or where the sound equipment was further away I had no issues, put me in a small room with only dialogue and I would have to shoot the rehearsals or ask for a reset of the scene. While my blimp didn't work in these conditions, I have also found that the more expensive blimps also struggle in that setting. So I needed another alternative, go Mirrorless? While a great option, Nikon hadn't really stepped into the mirrorless arena, so it would mean a whole new camera setup. Then the D850 was announced with silent shutter on live view, my new option and one I took. I have actually kept the 850 for when I turned fully professional.

A little product shots I was practising with.

So now is the time to break out the 850, with the D500 as backup. But I will still shoot on the D700 when the I know it will benefit the look of the shoot, I actually like the 700 for landscape more than 500, but we will see what the 850 does.

Hope you enjoyed this blog, coming soon The life of a Stills photographer.


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