Tuesday, January 24, 2012

To DSLR or Not to DSLR

I am going through an internal debate that many bloggers and amateur or wanna-be photogs probably do at some point. I'm considering whether or not to get a DSLR camera. These bad boys are NOT cheap. Not in the least. Therefore, it means that I am going to be hemming and hawing over the decision to invest in a "fancy schmancy" camera as I'd like to call it.

While I enjoy using my "point and shoot", it occasionally bugs me. When you blog primarily about food and travel, you want the pictures to be as inviting as possible. I'm occasionally surprised at some of the shots I've ended up with like this:

From last year's wedding anniversary dinner. Check out the rest of the meal here.

Or this:

In Cappadocia, Turkey - no photo editing. Not too awful, right?

At the same time, occasionally I'd just like a little more camera power. I'd love to be able to take more pictures in settings with low light (Restaurants at night have mood lighting). I'd love to be able to get crisper photos. I want a little more, and I feel like you guys deserve more, too. Oh fine! Who am I kidding? I also have blogger envy. I want my pics to be pretty, too. (Insert pouty face)

My current camera

At the same time, I realize that it's not just about the camera. It's also about the technique. Is this just an issue of me getting more out of the camera that I already have? Do I need to learn about some of the manual settings on my point and shoot? They do actually exist. I'm not sure how to use them, though.

Here are some of the issues holding me back from making the DSLR plunge:

1. DSLRs are pretty big.

Did I mention that I am lazy? A DSLR may turn me into a pack mule, and I swear there is a cottage industry out there just for camera bags. Since I walk everywhere, especially when I'm at home and often when I'm traveling, the thought of adding yet another bag to my shoulders doesn't really seem so fun. I want a more powerful camera, but do I have to sacrifice my shoulders to do it? I like to throw my current camera into my purse or travel day bag, and just go. Plus, I find a big camera can scream "TOURIST", and sometimes I just want something I can hide away quickly when in certain places.

A cloudy day at Copacabana Beach. I liked not having the big "Look at me" camera in Rio.

One day after reading one of my favorite food blogs (especially for food photography), Cumi & Ciki, I recently found of out about micro four thirds cameras designed by Olympus and Panasonic. They have the power of a DSLR but are more compact and can fit suped up lenses just like a DSLR. I've been loving Cumi and Ciki's pictures now for months, and I was completely sure they were using a big honking DSLR. Nope. I was shocked when they revealed that they have been using an Olympus EP-3.

Olympus EP-3. Pretty, isn't it?

There's a nice write up on the relatively new Olympus micro four thirds Pen line here.

At the same time, I'm sure if you add a good lens or a special flash that might negate the weight issue, so maybe a micro four thirds camera might not be the answer?

2. Cost

Uh...retailers are not exactly giving these cameras away. Even the Olympus EP-3 isn't exactly cheap (EP-3s are actually the top of the line for Olympus micro four thirds cameras, so maybe it's not a good comparison). I recognize that to get more out of technology, I'll need to invest in it, but even I get a little nervous about big purchases (Don't shake my hands after I buy an international plane ticket. My palms sweat). Most DSLRs start at about $400 USD for older models but can go above $1,000 USD. I'm DEFINITELY not spending $1,000 USD on a camera unless I'm changing my name to Annie Liebovitz. Even $700 still makes me cringe a bit.

A Nikon D5100, another camera option

This Nikon D5100 above is retailing for about $650 USD for just the body.

3. Sweating the technique

As I mentioned above, if I'm going to invest the money, I guess I need to invest the time to learn how to use an expensive camera correctly. I know that buying a DSLR doesn't make you an expert photographer overnight. I've seen some pics taken with DSLRs, and let me tell you that I don't know if I really saw much of a difference from "point and shoot" quality.

Does this mean that I have to invest in a class or spend more time that I might not already have (or make sure that I free up the time) to learn how to use my future camera?

4. Everybody's got a favorite.

Sometimes I wish I could get a straight answer about which camera to buy. There's no right or wrong answer because everyone's got a favorite. One person swears by Canon, while another would never give up their Nikon.

So, I ask you, my lovely online community, do you own a DSLR? What brand? What you do like most about your DSLR? What do you like least about it? Any words of advice for a camera buyer? Anyone own a micro four thirds camera? I have to admit I might be leaning towards one of those....


lavenderpug said...

i totally have picture envy as well, but in the end i decided not to get a DSLR because of the weight, cost, and the very real risk that i wouldn't use it to its full capacity and it would end up being an expensive, fleeting interest. but who knows, maybe one day!

The Duo Dishes said...

It's technique over equipment for sure. There are a few food bloggers who primarily use point & shoot cams, and you would assume their photos were taken with a dslr. You got some awesome shots with natural daylight. Why not grab some cheap equipment like lights & bounce boards (which you can use with a dslr too) and try learning more about the cam you already have? You can practice taking shots at home without natural light or in restaurants (ack!) and see if you see a difference with your knowledge/technique. Maybe after that, you'll feel more comfortable making the leap to another camera or not.

Melinda said...

I have Nikon D90 with a 50 mm/1.4 and a 18-200 mm zoom lens. I bought it off craigslist from another amateur photographer who wanted to upgrade. I bought it because I wanted to have a camera I could grow into for next 10 years. I had already been using a vintage Nikon FG (film) for a while though. Even with that experience, the digital is a whole new ball game and I think I'll take a class about it shortly to improve my skills. Like you said, sometimes I feel silly lugging around my big camera. Especially if there are other people with nice cameras or photo happy people asking me to pose, I'll give up on my own camera. But then a trip like Yosemite happens, where we're by ourselves most of the time and I love how some of the pictures turned out.

My recommendation would be to rent or borrow some of the ones you're thinking about for a weekend and see how you like the feel in your hands and the shots you capture. See if it fits into your bag, your personality, and lifestyle.

Our Wired Lives said...

How about editing software instead? It might improve the point & shoot photos, keep your load light, and be a cheaper investment? I love my DSLR, but I really hate the heavy load and looking like a "tourist". But I bought the dang thing, so I force myself to use it. I stopped taking photos in restaurants because of the largeness of it though.

Lauren said...

I gave in to my desire for a better camera and picked one up right before our wedding. We have the Canon T2i and I really like it. Like you mention I feel like I need to really learn more techniques with it, but I have been learning some tips online.

I really wanted some great pictures during that wedding weekend, our honeymoon and for future kids. I love the quality of the pictures over my point and shoot, but that could be because I never tried the manual features. Good luck with your search if you do end up getting a new one.

Nodakademic said...

In my experience, I really have to force myself to bring my camera to dinners and such. Mainly, it's so BIG. I'm always glad I brought it (and glad I ignored the embarrassment of others at the dinner staring at me while taking pics of my food), but I am often too lazy/chicken to bring it, settling instead for my small point-and-shoot. That may not help you much...but it has been my experience so I thought I would share.

Try Anything Once Terri said...

Hey everyone!

Thanks for your input! This has given me a lot to think about it. I hadn't thought about possibly adding accessories or beefing up my photo editing instead. I appreciate all of the advice.

I'll let you know what I end up doing.

Sanura @ MyLifeRunsOnFood.com said...

I started my food blog without a camera. Later I brought a phone with a camera, and used it for a few months until I 'upgraded' to my boyfriend's camera on his EVO phone. For the first two years, I used camera phones for my food pictures. A year ago, Dad was extremely happy with my new endeavor to surprised me with a DSLR. The DSLR has sharper pictures, but it doesn't mean much without basic knowledge about composition, lighting and colors. In addition to learning more about my DSLR, I'm also returning to my art history background to study Rembrandt and other Dutch master's lighting and still life painting techniques to improve my food photography. Sooner or later, we all return to the basics.


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