Which SLR Should I Buy?

Without a doubt this is the most common photography question that I get this time of year. As we approach the holiday season and the amazing Digital-SLR technology continues to decrease in price, more and more people are considering a purchase of a SLR.

Although some people are referring to Digital SLR cameras as D-SLR, I think it’s time to drop the D! Digital Single Lens Reflex cameras (as opposed to TLR – Twin Lens Reflex) have almost completely replaced Film cameras. Searching the web, I can only find 5 film SLR cameras that can be purchased, and three of the five are targeted at students who are taking photo classes.

These are the people who want a bit more creative control over what they are shooting, as well as additional flexibility in lens choices and quality.

Based on my totally unscientific conversations, my sense is that this group is made up of people that have previously owned a film SLR and also have a digital point and shoot.

There are very few instances when I can offer advice and unequivocally know that it is good advice, but here it is –

1. First decide how much you are going to spend –
• Put a total dollar limit on the amount you want to spend since it is easy (and I mean VERY easy) to get carried away with an additional lens or two, memory cards and a card reader. Based again on my totally unscientific research, my sense is that there are several price points in which you will have cameras from several manufacturers and great alternatives. The price points are: $750; $1,200 and $2,000.

• With your budget in mind, go to a camera store! Not Best Buy, not Wal-Mart, and not Target. This is your opportunity to become a more informed consumer, so you want to talk to sales people who understand photography. You want to talk to people who are passionate about photography and particularly those who want you to have a successful photo experience. If you have a friend who is a photographer and they are willing to join you, invite them along!

• Within your price range, look at Canon, Nikon and one or two other brands. Make sure that you are comparing apples to apples when you compare them. Some may have several lenses and other things included in a kit, but you should be looking at comparable priced cameras – this should be below your total budget.

2. There are a few key features that each of these cameras must have:
a. Inter-changeable lens;
b. At least 10 Mega-Pixels;
c. Ability to control shooting modes, beyond programmed modes, including: Shutter Priority, Aperture Priority, and Manual.

• Don’t worry much about the additional features such as, frames per second, start up time, number of focus points, ISO range and others, at this point you are likely only comparing things that will have nominal importance to you, and in each price range these attributes will be quite similar. However the higher your price point, the better the features will be. One key attribute will be the increase in the number of frames per second (fps) that you can shoot.

3. Finally, here is the deciding factor, which camera feels the most comfortable in your hands, the most intuitive and the easiest to use? Pick it up, see how easy it is to access the controls, see if you understand it or immediately feel compelled to pick up the manual.

I shoot Canon and I have for years. The functional set up of the camera is completely natural to me. It is easy to pick up and shoot. Nikon’s are in many ways set up exactly opposite of Canon. I am not advocating one over the other; both are great cameras, just different. As you consider which brand to buy, keep in mind that substantially all professionals that shoot this format choose either Canon or Nikon. Beyond the sheer quality of the products, from a professional standpoint, you are buying a matched system and not just a camera.  Personally, I rely heavily on Canon Professional Services for equipment loans and repairs.

Most of these cameras are sold as Kits, with a zoom lens that is typically a moderate wide angle to a medium telephoto. If you are considering getting an additional lens with your camera, instead of getting a longer lens, consider getting what has always been considered a normal lens. A 50mm, f1.4 lens from Canon is about $370 and is really a great value. Although, the zoom included as part of your kit will give you the same focal length as this lens. However, an f1.4 lens will let in almost 8 times as much light as an f4.0 lens and will dramatically expand your ability to get good photos in low light situations.

Where to buy your D-SLR? If you are an online shopper, consider B&H Photo Video or Adorama. However, for the first time D-SLR user, many local camera shops offer classes with the purchase of a camera. This will go a long way toward having a successful experience with, and ultimately getting the most value from your new camera

The good news is that the technology has come so far that you can’t really make a bad decision. Have fun with what ever you decide upon, always remember keep shooting, those photons are free!

Somehow I couldn’t post to the blog without a couple happy snaps.

First we have Aussie Luke McKenzie on the Queen K heading back to transition at the Ironman World Championship and being shadowed by the media truck. Try to see what gear they are using and if you can tell if they are shooting stills or video.

Finally, this is not a yard sale of photo gear, it is the finish line photo area taken in the time between the Men’s and the Women’s finish at last week’s Ironman Arizona! Indeed we are a pretty trusting group!

If you have questions, let me know and I will try to help.



How to Take a Great Soccer Photo

I believe in recycling, re-purposing and reusing, so here an updated version of the most popular entry from my old blog. I still get viewings of it every week and frequent questions from readers. How to Take a Great Soccer Photo!

For several years I was the photographer for the Minnesota Thunder Soccer team and their Women’s Team, the Minnesota Lightning, I shot about 25 high level games each season. In addition I typically shoot a few of the US Men’s National Team Games. In September 2007 I was in China with the US Women’s National Team at the FIFA World Cup, shooting for our book Portrait of Passion.

Bringing it down to a more practical level, there are over 80,000 kids registered with the Minnesota Youth Soccer Association. Doing the math, there are an almost unimaginable number of parents out shooting photos of their kids each week. Let’s guess that about one quarter of the kids have parents who are shooting 20 photos each week – hmmm that works about to be about 400,000 photos each week in Minnesota! Good thing all those photons are free!

There are lots of reasons that soccer parents have difficulty getting a good soccer photos, first of which is that Soccer Photography is HARD! Youth soccer is especially hard since the movement of the ball is fairly unpredictable and if you are trying to shoot the player with the ball, there are 19 others, not counting the goalies that are trying to get in the way of your shot.

Here are some of the most common problems and some simple solutions that are guaranteed, well almost guaranteed, to improve your soccer photos!

Problem #1 – The image of the players is just a speck on the photo! Lots of field, not much detail of the action –

Recommendation – Mentally divide the field into quadrants and only shoot when the players are in your quadrant of the field. Just be patient, the shot will come to you! If you have a longer lens (say a 300 mm or a 400 mm) then you can extend the range of the area you are shooting.

Problem #2 – The image of shows activity, but not much of soccer action –

Recommendation – Again be patient! Only shoot when the players are coming at you. In doing this you will capture the expressions and the intensity of the game. If you are shooting a game where the players have reasonably good skills, one of the prime spots to sit is at the end line. As the forwards and midfielders are moving the ball do the goal, there are often great opportunities to get some head on shots! If you are trying to get goalie shots or defenders, somewhere between the top of the goalie box and midfield works really well.

Problem #3 – My photos are blurry!

Recommendation – The image stabilization technology that is being built into many new cameras and most high quality lens is really terrific; having said that, there is nothing that can replace a high shutter speed for stopping action and getting a clean crisp photo. The general rule of thumb on the minimum shutter speed that you should use to handhold a tele-photo lens is the reciprocal of the focal length. In other words, if you are shooting with a 200mm lens, your minimum shutter speed should be 1/200th of a second (the above image was shot at 1/200th). And yes, image stabilization technology does reduce that, but image stabilization deals with how steady you can hold the camera, not the movement of your subject.

1/200th of a second is not sufficient to stop action in soccer. Even at a youth level, I suggest no less that 1/400th and as the age of the players and speed and their skills increase, so must the shutter speed.

All of this means that you will have to shoot with your camera set on Shutter Priority (or Manual). For those who are accustomed to shooting in a program mode, you will need to change the Mode setting on your camera from P to TV (on Canon) or S (on Nikon).

What you may notice, particularly if you are shooting in the evening, is that your images are appearing too dark. Increase your ISO setting to the highest practical level. This will vary greatly depending both on the camera model that you own, as well as the age of the camera. Some of the newer cameras from both Canon and Nikon, have extremely high ISO ranges, but some of the older models are more limited. The new Canon 1D X when released in the spring will have an amazing 204,800 ISO!! I think it glows in the dark!

If you are shooting a night game with poor field lighting (which is pretty typical at anything lower than a professional level), you may find that you only have three alternatives:

  1. Lower shutter speed which will probably give you a blurry image;
  2. Higher shutter speed which may not provide sufficient light; or
  3. Put your camera away until you can get close enough to take a celebratory team photo after the game using your flash.

A brief story and a final recommendation – while shooting a Minnesota Thunder Soccer game one evening a couple years ago, a fan walked by my son Jonathan (now a film maker and photographer in Chicago), and the fan asked are you getting lots of good shots? Without hesitation Jonathan turned and said You will never see the bad ones! The moral of the story is, if the shot isn’t good, delete it! Your friends and family would much rather look at 10 really cool shots of your favorite team than 100 mediocre ones. As a side benefit, they will think you are a great photographer!

I hope that my recommendations are helpful to you and that you will indeed get a few great soccer shots. It is always soccer season somewhere and I will add to this topic and include things like shooting a great team photo, lens length selection, working with two cameras, the three shooting zones, and workflow.

In the meantime – have fun, after all, that is what is all about! Check out our Competitive Image website, if you get a chance!

The Blog is Back!

It seems like only yesterday that I finished my last blog entry and sincerely promised “More Soon.”  Well that was January 2, 2010. Although my intentions were good, my effort was lacking.

Since that time there have been some great adventures, a couple trips to London, two visits to Kona, Abu Dhabi, Madrid and Copenhagen. Lots of magazine covers, a bunch of double-page spreads, Sports Illustrated and a Canon Professional Network Editor’s Choice. 2011 started off with the selection of two photos being voted the best and second Best Published Triathlon Photos of 2010, as selected by Triathlon America!

Sometimes however, it takes a slap in the head to get some things back on track. In my case, the slap on the head came from an SUV!  It is with my accident story that I will start the blog again.

To add some context, on July 31 I headed to London to spend a few days in London prior to the ITU World Championship Series Race. Unlike my 2010 trip, this year was all shooting and moving around. I spent just over 24 hours with the US Team at their training camp in Guildford, an hour outside of London.  This will be their home away from home for the 2012 Olympics. During the brief time I was there it was barely enough to have a few conversations and the beginning of some candid shots. As we move into 2012, I will have much more time to spend with the team.

After a day, I returned to London to get ready for the ITU race with served as the first opportunity for athletes from many countries to qualify for the 2012 Olympics. It was a great weekend of racing and a great result for the US Women.

From London I traveled to Copenhagen for the Challenge race the following weekend.  It was the most amazing race venue I have ever experienced! Just imagine shutting down a major portion of a European Capitol city for a race.  There were quaint country sides, ultra modern architecture and an amazing race organization. I had a great driver, Stig,  to shuttled me around the course. At one point while trying to catch the leaders, I asked Stig how fast we were going. After he insisted that I didn’t want to know, he finally relented and told me 160 kph (yup, almost 100 mph). It was a rock solid ride and although I was sitting backwards, I was comfortable and relaxed.

After 16 days of travel, I made it home for a few days of laundry, cleaning equipment, cutting the lawn and cleaning up, I then headed out for the USAT Age Group Nationals in Burlington, Vermont.

Early race morning (Saturday, August 20th), I was walking from the finish line area, to the moto staging area to meet my driver, when I was crossing a blocked off street, in a crosswalk, while wearing a day-glow yellow media vest and a stopped SUV accelerated and hit me!

ImageI spent race morning in the ER! Three broken ribs, concussion, emergency surgery when I returned to Minneapolis and then a post op infection!

Needless to say, it has been an interesting few months since the accident. I am making progress, but much too slow for my tastes. Although it is in my nature to try to maintain my normal pace, it has been a challenge.

Certainly the dumbest thing I have done was a week after getting out of the hospital, I headed to the HyVee 5150 Championship in Des Moines. Fortunately my friend Nick Morales was there at my side to keep me going.

After HyVee, we had the Iron Girl Duathlon, Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon, Ironman World Championship, and recently Ironman Arizona.

I am still scrambling to get caught up, but the blog is now a priority as is preparing for the 2012 season.

More to follow, and yes, I promise it will be soon!