Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Camera Basics for Genealogists -- high end cameras

Not everyone likes to use or own the least expensive model of everything. If that were true, there would be no Cadillac or Lexus dealers or sports car drivers in the world. Sometimes, we also have specialized needs that require first class tools. In my past, I have done a lot of my own car repairs. I learned very quickly that cheap tools usually would not do the job. I have even had tools that broke while I was trying to use them. Subsequently, I always purchased a tool with a lifetime guarantee. If I broke the tool, I just took it to a dealer and got a new, usually upgraded, tool to replace the broken one.

I have taken the same attitude towards photography and especially since I have been taking so many photos of documents, cemeteries and family reunions. In my last post, I showed a picture I took when I was quite young with a very poor camera. Here is another example of a picture taken with a bad camera:

There are a number of technical problems with the photo that aren't pertinent to the present discussion, but the point is that there is an appropriate level of equipment for any job. With regard to computers, operating systems and software, using an appropriate program and level of professionalism is crucial. Over the years, my wife and I have been heavily involved in design graphics and publishing. One of the biggest problems we experience, is people who produce a document using a word processing program or an inexpensive page layout program and expect to have professional output. Usually, the professional printers have a very small range of programs they can use for input into their presses and other printing devices. Many times, all of the work done by a customer had to be entirely redone in order to output properly.

Genealogists find themselves caught in multiple worlds. Historically, technology was about as far removed from genealogical research as it was possible to imagine. Over the years, more and more of the world's information, including a lot of genealogy, has been migrated to electronic media. It is a fact of life for genealogists that we must all deal with technology. But what is an appropriate level? When is the issue purchasing the appropriate tool and when is it a desire to appear wealthy or affluent?  Locally, we have a good example of this problem, an example that was parodied by the movie, Cars. In the movie there are a lot of 4-wheel drive SUVs that are afraid because they have never been off the road. The same thing happens here in Mesa, people purchase huge, 4-wheel drive trucks and SUVs that never see a dirt road, much less go off-road.

Now, to cameras. The resolution level of the presently available point-and-shoot cameras has risen to point that they are perfectly adequate for most purposes that would be involved in genealogical uses. But, there is a significant difference between a point-and-shoot camera and a professional level camera. The first and most important difference is in the lenses. A point-and-shoot camera lens is really inexpensive. If you consider the overall cost of the camera, the lens cannot be a very significant percentage of the cost. Professional lenses are exactly the opposite. It is not at all unusual to spend more on lenses than on the camera. One lens may cost more than six times the cost of the camera body alone.

Let me use Canon lenses as an example. Canon EF Lenses in the L Series (Professional) range from under a $1000 to about $6000. That is just for the lens, not the camera. Why are they so expensive? Because they are so complex and well made and there is a limited market for these high-end lenses.

Why would I care? (The usual question). The lenses really do make a significant difference in the quality of the image. If this weren't so, the professional photographers would all be using $150 point-and-shoot cameras. Just like my experience with repair tools for my car, after using a good tool as opposed to a poorly made one, I will chose the good tool every time. It is the same with camera lenses, after using a good lens on a good camera, I cannot go back to my point-and-shoot camera except to take snap shots of parties and other gatherings. Will I use the camera in my iPhone? Yes, when I absolutely do not care about the quality of the photo and I am merely interested in information.  To me, if it is worth taking the time to take the picture, I want to have the equipment that will give me the best results. You may have guessed, that yes, I am a professional level photographer.  You can see some of my photos on my other Blog, Walking Arizona.

Both Canon and Nikon have multiple levels of lenses; kit lenses, pro-sumer lenses and professional, just as they have different levels of camera bodies.  Nikon's top camera, currently the D3x is almost $8000 retail. It is a 24.5 Megapixel camera with a full size sensor, 35.9 x 24.0 mm.  The high end Canon, the EOS-1Ds Mark III is a little less at about $7000. In both cases, that is the camera body, not with a lens.

As a genealogist do I need to worry about high-end cameras? Not really. But you do need to know that there are better tools and you may wish to look at some of the higher priced, but still consumer targeted cameras.

Stay tuned for more about cameras and a lot of other topics.

1 comment:

  1. The other thing that dSLRs have over point and shoots is a larger sensor. This also affects image quality. Here's a good summary: