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Getting used to a whole new camera

August 19, 2009

I’m still working on getting used to my “new” camera. I’m finding that it’s bringing me back to some of my photographic roots. This is a camera that won’t permit laziness. As conditions change, you must be aware of the fact and change the settings accordingly. There is plenty of automation built-in but it’s not the same as most people are probably used to.

I think this review may be especially helpful for those who lust after a truly professional level camera but have never actually held or used one. (I believe that most people think these are exactly like what they’re shooting now only “better”. It’s not really so.)
Let me start with the very first thing I noticed. One of my favorite features on my “old” camera is that you can press a button on the back and up pops an info screen. From there, you can quickly see all the most common settings you are using and change any of them right on the screen. There is no such feature on the new camera. To see what settings you are using, there’s an LCD screen on the top which displays all the settings all the time while the camera is on. That might prove to be a good feature but it’s not yet intuitive.
The lack of an info screen also means that there is no central place you can go to quickly and easily change your settings. This thing has 27 buttons and three dials! (I counted.) Each and every function has its own separate button. That means there is a steep learning curve just to use basic functions. That means a professional level camera is not for you unless you have a very strong understanding of the technical aspects of photography.
There are exactly four shooting modes: Program, Aperture-priority, Shutter-priority and Manual. No portrait, no sunset, no sports… none of the preset scene modes found on more “prosumer” models. This is a true professional camera and it’s assumed that you know your settings cold and can change them in your sleep.
Speaking of which, you also have to know and understand the Kelvin Scale. There are no cute little white balance icons nor preset white balance settings. You set the Kelvin value for your primary light source. Period. If you don’t know the Kelvin Scale and the most common markers for common light sources, you will be lost.
There is no built-in flash. I don’t mind that because I have an external flash but I think a lot of people whose only experience is with the prosumer models just assume that these are basic things available on all cameras.
This camera is large and heavy; much heavier than even my old camera. (Whis was never dainty to begin with.) I really don’t mind that. I like a more substantial camera in my hands. It also has a very comfortable grip for my hand but some may not care for it.
Overall, except for the fact that they share all the same lenses and accessories, I might as well have bought into a completely different system. The functioning and the layout of the controls is almost completely foreign. I’ve shot a good bit with a friend’s camera (of a completely different brand) and I think the control layout and “info” LCD screen on this new camera share more in common with that camera than with my current one.
The new camera does have some really nice additional features not found on my old camera. It has a built-in focus assist light. Not the stupid strobing of the built-in flash (which it doesn’t even have) but I nice red light. It also has an external white balance sensor (in addition to the film plane sensor). It has facility to accept both an infrared and a cable remote. It can also accept wired external flash. (Anyone remember those?) It has a jack to accept a power cord and it has three output jacks, including firewire. Plus the “info” screen LCD can be lit up. So no flashlight when shooting in the dark (assuming you’ve memorized where all 27 buttons are and what they do.)

I think this review may be especially helpful for those who lust after a truly professional level camera but have never actually held or used one. (I believe that most people think these are exactly like what they’re shooting now only “better”. It’s not really so.)

Let me start with the very first thing I noticed. One of my favorite features on my “old” camera is that you can press a button on the back and up pops an info screen. From there, you can quickly see all the most common settings you are using and change any of them right on the screen. There is no such feature on the new camera. To see what settings you are using, there’s an LCD screen on the top which displays all the settings all the time while the camera is on. That might prove to be a good feature for reference but it’s not interactive.

The lack of an interactive info screen means that there is no central place you can go to quickly and easily change your settings. This thing has 27 buttons and three dials! (I counted.) Each and every function has its own separate button. There is a steep learning curve just to use basic functions. That means a professional level camera is not for you unless you have a very strong understanding of the technical aspects of photography.

There are exactly four shooting modes: Program, Aperture-priority, Shutter-priority and Manual. No portrait, no sunset, no sports… none of the preset scene modes found on more “prosumer” models. This is a true professional camera and it’s assumed that you know your settings cold and can change them in your sleep. It also means you are required to monitor and change them all the time. What all those preset scene modes really do is cluster groups of settings together. With one menu or dial selection you are instantly telling the camera how to adjust a dozen or more diffrerent things: white balance, focus range, metering, shutter speed, aperture, ISO, whether or not to use flash, whether or not to use noise reduction, and so on.

Speaking of which, you also have to know and understand the Kelvin Scale. There are no cute little white balance icons nor preset white balance settings (sunny, cloudy, shade, incandescent, etc.) You set the Kelvin value for your primary light source. Period. If you don’t know the Kelvin Scale and the most common markers for common light sources, you will be lost.

There is also no built-in flash. If you want to use flash, bring your own. I don’t mind that because I have an external flash but I think a lot of people whose only experience is with the prosumer models just assume that these are basic things available on all cameras.

This camera is large and heavy; much heavier than even my old camera. (Whis was never dainty to begin with.) I really don’t mind that. I like a more substantial camera in my hands. It also has a very comfortable grip for my hand but some may not care for it.

Overall, except for the fact that they share all the same lenses and accessories, I might as well have bought into a completely different system. The functioning and the layout of the controls is almost completely foreign. I’ve shot a good bit with a friend’s camera (of a completely different brand) and I think the control layout and “info” LCD screen on this new camera share more in common with that camera than with my current one.

The new camera does have some really nice additional features not found on my old camera. It has a built-in focus assist light. Not the stupid strobing of the built-in flash, which it doesn’t even have, but I nice red light. It also has an external white balance sensor in addition to the film plane sensor. It has facility to accept both an infrared and a cable remote. It can also accept wired external flash. (Anyone remember those?) It has a jack to accept a power cord and it has three output jacks, including firewire. Plus the “info” screen LCD can be lit up. So no flashlight when shooting in the dark. Assuming you’ve memorized where all 27 buttons are and what they do.

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