Wednesday, October 14, 2009

What kind of camera should I buy?

That is perhaps the most frequently asked question I hear. My usual response is to buy the one you like. By that I mean get one that feels right in your hands and looks like something you will want to carry around.

Second, buy the best camera you can afford or spend the most money you feel comfortable spending on a camera. You really do get what you pay for.

Beyond that the main consideration, in my opinion, is the viewfinder. The viewfinder is what you will spend your time looking at or through while you are making those beautiful photographs. There are three general types of viewfinders. The best is a single-lens-reflex which means that you are looking through the actual lens that the sensor is looking through. In the digital world the term is DSLR for digital single lens reflex.

DSLR cameras are generally the most expensive, but are far and away the most pleasure to use. You almost always see exactly what you are going to get, the original WYSIWYG design. Most have interchangeable lenses for greater versatility. Even if you never change lenses the bigger and brighter viewfinder of a DSLR is worth it. The downside, besides expense, is size. DSLR cameras are bigger and heavier than the other types of digital cameras. Carrying around a DSLR of any brand will mark you as someone who is serious about their photography.

The next type of camera/viewfinder is the electronic viewfinder camera or EVF. This type of camera has a LCD screen that is viewed through a magnifier. These cameras are almost as good as a DSLR and are generally smaller and less expensive. The advantage of the EVF camera is that menu items and other information can be read right off the screen in the viewfinder. Most EVF cameras also give an instant preview right after the photo is made so you can see what you got without taking your eye off the viewfinder. Most EVF camera do not offer interchangeable lenses but do have wide range zoom lenses as standard, so this may not be a serious issue. Most video cameras are of this type.

The last type of camera is the one that has no viewfinder at all, but only a LCD screen on the back. These have many limitations. The fact that they are hard to see in all but ideal lighting conditions is only one. The secret of sharp photos is to hold the camera steady. Holding the camera steady at arm’s length with no support against your face is almost impossible with this type of camera. I know from experience that an LCD screen is impossible to see in bright snow with sunglasses on, making the camera useless in these or many other conditions. Some companies, such as Hoodman, now are making accessory hoods that fasten to the LCD screen to make them useful in more varied light conditions.

Many, if not most, point and shoot cameras, and many more expensive cameras, are eliminating the eye-level viewfinder completely relying only on a LCD screen. This is a big mistake. When purchasing your new digital camera, make sure you can hold the camera up to your eye and see the image clearly through the viewfinder. A good sharp and easy to use viewfinder is the first step in selecting a camera and making great photographs.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Jim Mathis School of Photography

I have believed for some time that as we get older we need to be passing along the things we have learned over the years.

I got my first camera in the fourth grade and have been making picture almost every day since. I believe that is 18,980 days and it is certainly millions of photographs. I have sold cameras, owned a custom photo lab, taught photo classes, and of course been a professional photographer. I have photographed people in every situation imaginable and all kinds of machines and scenery in about a dozen countries.

It is now time to start doing what I can to teach others. With that in mind I am launching “The Jim Mathis School of Photography.”

Most photo classes are introductory level or teach out-dated technology. The first phase of my school will focus on taking people from where they are in their photography skills and help then move to where they want to be. The format will be one-on-one coaching, one day it a time. I think I can help most people dramatically improve their skills on one day.

If you would like to be a better photographer, no matter what your skill level is now, plan to spend a day with me. For an introductory price of $250 per day, I will figure out where you are and help you move to the next level.

I am also beginning to work on instruction videos and will offer workshops on various photo subjects in the future.

Go to:

Monday, October 5, 2009

The National Parks

We enjoyed watching the PBS Ken Burns special on the National Parks last week. Not surprising, there have been a number of photographers directly associated with the parks in various ways. William Henry Jackson’s photos were instrumental in the forming of the first National Park at Yellowstone. The Kolb Brothers had a studio at the Grand Canyon and helped promote it for many years. And of course Ansel Adams will always be associated with Yosemite.

In many ways the National Parks grew up with photography and the rise in attendance at the parks paralleled the growth in amateur photography. We have not been to all of the National Parks, but we have been to a few, and making photos at The Grand Canyon or Yellowstone are some of my fondest memories.

For many years our business was such that we took our annual vacation in the winter. For that reason we are among the privileged few who have been to Yellowstone, not once, but twice, in the winter when the park is covered with snow and the hordes of tourists have left for Florida.

We have a 30x40 print of a frozen Yellowstone Lake at sunrise which often hangs over our fireplace. My wife has a similar size 30x40 print of the Grand Canyon in winter over her desk.

Winter is coming. This can be a glorious time for photography. I probably won’t be going to one of the National Parks this winter, but I will definitely be getting out photos and albums and enjoying some hot chocolate while thinking about the great times skiing, hiking, and snowmobiling in sub-zero weather in the most beautiful of God’s creations.

The above photo is the Grand Tetons in January.