Because I’m a geek and I get bored sometimes, like tonight, I’ve decided to write a blog entry about the cameras I’ve owned. Maybe it’s also because part of me wants to document this knowing that my memory is only bound to get worse as I get older.
I wasn’t actually interested in photography as a kid. i became interested in video when my parents bought their first Video8 Sony Handycam. I think i was maybe nine or ten at the time. I would run around with that as much as I could. My parents took me to Disney World at age 12, the year MGM Studios opened. That’s when I became fascinated with filmmaking and animation. By the next year I was using the Handycam to shoot stop motion movies of G.I. JOE figures and clay models.
By the time I reached high school I was seriously interested in being a filmmakers when I grew up. I was making short movies with my friends all the time. But my high school didn’t offer a video club or class, only photography. So I took it, thinking it was close enough but not realizing how valuable it would actually be. I enjoyed the photography but not the class assignments, so I failed. This was sophomore year.
To take that class I had to have an SLR camera. I had found my parents old Minolta XG9 they had bought in 1979, (the year I was born) at the top of the bedroom closet and asked to borrow it. They said it sure, but it was broke, that’s why they hadn’t used it in years. Turns out it just needed new batteries.
Even though I had failed my first photography class, I was still interested in photography itself, so I continued to use the camera over the course of the next year. Even spent $100 on a brand new Quantaray (Sigma) 28mm f2.8 lens to go along with the 50mm f1.8 that camera already had.
By senior year I asked the photography teacher if I could take her class again. I had to get her signature because I had failed the first time. She signed my paper, but told me the only reason she was doing so was because she didn’t want to teach English and needed more students for the class.
We had three levels of photography, beginner, intermediate and portfolio. It’s possible there was an advanced between intermediate and portfolio but I don’t remember. What I do remember is that I started as a beginner, within a week I was bumped to intermediate. By my second semester, I was portfolio. I still wasn’t fond of the assignments themselves but my skills had improved after a year or two of practice. Plus being a senior I think my teacher realized this was my last year, I needed to prepare a portfolio for college and I did my best work if she just let me do my own thing.
As a result of that I was the only student to win a national photography award in my entire school district, plus a local award for another photo and had several of my photos used in school publications. I had come all the way from behind to the top of the class in a matter of months. That second semester of photography my senior year was a great time in my life. I had also met my first true love in that class and we dated for four and half years.
By the end of that school year, having graduated and gotten out I became obsessed with autofocus cameras and wanted to get my hands on one. So I saved my money and I bought a Canon Elan II.
I believe I paid $500 for it and bought it from Beach Camera in NYC over the phone. It came with a 28-80 kit lens. Nothing special. But my choice was between the Canon and the Nikon F70. I actually kind of wanted the F70 more because it was a Nikon and was all black. I had a bit of a lust for Nikon back then. But I bought the Canon instead because it had more bells and whistles, the autofocus was faster, it was a little cheaper if I remember right and my girlfriend and friend agreed that it seemed like the better buy overall.
I don’t remember how long I owned the Elan II, but it was maybe only a year or two. I had a hard time with it. I had taken it with my to Europe for a couple weeks and when i got back I wasn’t thrilled with my photos. All the exteriors turned out decent by none of the interiors did. I wasn’t used to a zoom lens with a slower aperture at the time. I had ventured into a whole new world of photography that was no longer about old 1970’s cameras and developing your own black & white film. As a result I didn’t really understand photography as well as I thought. I still hadn’t become a gear geek by that time. I was mostly operating on intuition and luck. Apparently those two things were what got me through high school photography and winning a couple awards. But I didn’t realize that yet, I just though the Elan II wasn’t a very good camera. Plus I didn’t care for the silver color anymore and didn’t like the overly plastic feel of the thing. I was longing for the good old mechanical cameras again and had developed an obsession with getting the sharpest optics i could find in my price range. So at this point I made one of the stupidest choices I could have made. i traded my Elan II at a camera swap meet for a used Contax 167MT with a 50mm Zeiss. My Elan II was still in like-new shape and I think I even paid an extra $50 to make the swap.
It’s not that I was swindled on the deal. At the time I certainly didn’t feel that way. But looking back I wish I would have kept the Canon, learned how to really use it and stared buying other lenses for it. Still, the Contax was a beautiful camera and that Zeiss lens was the sex. At some point I also picked up that Tamron 28mm Yashica mount lens to go with it. To be honest I don’t even remember owning that lens until I dug out the picture above. So I probably didn’t use it too much. I think I owned the Contax for about a year or so, eventually realizing that I could afford any other Zeiss glass for it. At least that I was willing to afford. So I sold it and bought a Nikon FE with 50mm series E lens and eventually a couple cheap Quantaray zooms.
At some point in this period I also picked up a used twin lens Yashica medium format camera and shot a few rolls. Never went to far with that camera though.
I still own this Nikon FE. In fact it’s sitting on the desk in front of me as I type this. But the only lens left is the 50mm. I’ve now had it for eleven years or so. Out of all the cameras I’ve owned, this one I’ve owned the longest. Partly because it ended up suiting me best out of all the film cameras I tried. Partly because it’s a great camera that keeps ticking, partly because it’s the last film camera I ever bought and partly because once digital hit, the value became so low that it wasn’t worth it to sell. I figured that even if I never used it again, it would still look pretty on a shelf.
Ever couple of years I run a roll of film through it, just to have that taste of film again. But ultimately it’s a decoration. Although I’ve had serious consideration running a roll of Velvia through it next week to get some fall colors. But when I consider what it’s going to cost me to buy the film, develop and scan it, I have second thoughts.
The Digital Era
My first digital camera was actually a video camera. A Sony TRV900 that I bought brand new from B&H in NYC for $2000. That was in 1999 and I had bought it by saving my money from driving tuck around the country. I was 20 years old and still passionate about being a filmmaker.
The TRV900 had a PCMCIA slot on the back of it and came with a floppy disk drive that plugged into that slot. That was you could take 720×480 photos with it. About a third of a megapixel resolution. But because it was a 3CCD camera, the color wasn’t took bad at all. I had a blast shooting photos with it. Because it was right around the time we started to use the internet more and I learned HTML and started building my own web pages. So it was great to be able to share some digital photos and begin messing around with Photoshop for the first time.
A couple year later I bought a little Canon S20 point and shoot digital camera. It expanded my digital photography fun with it’s 3 megapixel quality and small size. But I’m not going to get into all the point and shoot cameras I’ve had or even all the DV cameras I have owned over the years. I’ll save that for another post. Let’s just say that between digital video cameras and still photo cameras i spent way more money on DV cameras at this point in my life (199-2003) than I did still cameras. Because my interest was still more with film/video. But I mention the TRV900 here because it really was my first real introduction to digital photography.
My first digital SLR camera was the Canon Digital Rebel (300D). I would have preferred a Nikon because I owned my FE and a couple other Nikon lenses. But the Nikon DSLR’s were still way out of my price range. The Canon 300D was the first affordable digital SLR and even then I bought it used about a year or two after it came out.
Owning the Digital Rebel was sort of like owning the Elan II again, because it was a Canon, it was plastic and it was silver colored. But by this point in my life I had warned up to Canon a little more having owned a Canon Video8 camera, a $3000 Canon XL1 DV camera, the Canon S20 point and shoot digital camera and realizing I had made a mistake selling the Elan II years before. Plus this was a digital SLR, the first time I really got to take quality digital photos with real control over depth of field.
The digital rebel did more than just let me take great photos though, it really opened me up to learning photography even more. It was the first time I really experimented with going full manual with a camera. Up until this point I was mostly shooting aperture priority on my film SLR’s. I never got too risky because film was expensive. Although I did own a light meter and used it for 16mm movie film and super 8 film, I didn’t shoot either one of those formats more than a few times, so not enough to really practice manual exposure. But the rebel let me take SLR quality photos, see the results right away and manipulate them in photoshop. So I learned a lot quicker.
I owned the rebel for at least a good three years. But I hit a tight financial spot in my life around ’08-’09 and ended up pawning the rebel to get some money, my intention was to go and get it back after a couple weeks, but I actively made the choice at the time that I just couldn’t afford to. I don’t remember the details, but I’m sure if I had managed my money a little differently I probably could have easily gotten it out of the shop. but at that point i knew the camera was getting a little old and outdated and would realized what I had gotten from the pawn shop was probably about what I would get selling it to an individual so I just let it go.
I went about 6 months to a year without a digital SLR after letting go of the digital rebel. My finances got a little better and I bought a used Nikon D40 body off someone on Craigslist.
I really liked the Nikon D40. Although it was the same resolution as the digital Rebel had been, it was an upgrade in overall design, with a larger screen on the back, an all black body which I prefer and that great Nikon feel to it. I shot a lot of nice photos with this camera, like I did with the the rebel. But just like the rebel, about a year later I hit financial hard times and decided to sell it along with that Quantaray 28-80 lens in the picture above. Which is why my Nikon FE only has the 50mm now. Strangely enough, the whole time I owned the Nikon D40 I never used the autofocus on it because I never owned an autofocus lens that would work on it. my 50mm is all manual and the Quantaray in the picture, while being an AF lens, is the older type of AF lens that requires the camera have an AF motor built into the body, which the D40 didn’t. Nikon sadly enough decided to reserve their in-body motors to only their more expensive cameras. I would have needed to buy a Nikon G style lens that has the motor built into the lens itself.
About another year or more passed without me owning a DSLR because of finances and desires to buy other things. But at this point 2009-2011 DSLR’s were changing big time. They were now shooting video! Something I had been waiting for and I had imagined would be coming eventually. Now my two worlds of photography and video were colliding into single cameras. On top of that they were producing video quality that was very cinematic looking and high definition.
In January of 2011 I came into a few thousand dollars. Legally of course, but unexpected money. My first thought was “camera” and I proceeded to purchase a brand new Nikon D7000 with kit lens, 35mm f1.8 lens and Nikon Speedlite. About $2000 total.
I keep the camera for about three weeks. Generally loved it, but realized that there were better DSLR’s out there for shooting video. Not to mention I felt really bad about having spent $2000 on a camera like that. I should have just kept it, my girlfriend told me I should keep it and remember thinking she is probably right, I should just keep it. Not only would be be a solid camera to own, but also an investment. But I didn’t keep it. I returned it. Then took the money and bought a bought a Panasonic GH1 kit brand new for $400, shipping included direct from Panasonic.
The GH1 had multiple things going for it. I realized when owning the nikon D7000 that I wanted to shoot my video than photos. I wanted a flip out LCD screens because I had to used to them when shooting video with traditional video cameras and I the GH1 was hackable and highly regarded in the video community. Not to mention I was saving myself a ton of money and I could buy cheap adapters to use my Nikon 50mm and my own Minolta lenses on it.
I still own the GH1. I’ve owned it for about a year and half now. It’s a great little camera. But I’ll be honest, when I first got it, I hated it. It felt little and cheap and I really wanted to keep that Nikon D7000, just not at the price or the lack of video functionality compared to the GH1. Eventually I got used to the GH1 and I adore it. That said, even though I’ve shot some great photos on the GH1 and have learned to use it really well, it’s not the best photo camera. It lacks the overall sharpness and the beautiful color that Canon and Nikon cameras have and I find myself desiring to pick up one of those brands just for photography alone. It’s a subtle thing, but enough that I see it.
I should also note that back in March of of 2011, after having returned the D7000 and buying a GH1, I also bought a Canon 60D. This was back when the GH1 was still new to me and I was still coping with the smaller size and not sure where I wanted to be in the camera world. The Canon 60D seemed to me like the best of breed between the Gh1 and the D7000. Bigger body and sensor, but still the flip out LCD screen. Better video than the D7000 but not quite as expensive, also not built quite as well though. I thought the 60D was great for photography. But at this point I already owned the GH1 and knew I wasn’t letting go of it because of how cheap it was to buy. The deciding factor was when I took both camera to my nieces wedding shower and shot video of it. The Canon proved to be more headache with bigger files sizes, record time limitations and no real autofocus during video recording. The GH1 was solid all the way though. At the time, my choice was based a lot on the idea that a buddy and I were going to start shooting wedding videos on the side to earn a little extra cash. That ended up fizzling out in a matter of months. So it was difficult to keep the 60D in light of that plan. I knew my money would be better spend on an audio recorder, some extra gear and possibly a second GH1. But by the time I went to go buy a second GH1 they had already sold out on that $400 deal and I had other bills I needed to use the money for.
Now and into the future
As I said, I still own the GH1 and the Nikon FE. Like the FE, the GH1 will probably stick around long term mostly because I paid so little for it and it’s value isn’t great enough for me to want to sell it. So it will probably end up being the digital SLR* I always have and can fall back on. But I have been getting the itch to buy a better photography camera. I can count on the GH1 for video work when I need it and to be honest, the way things are shaping up you really can’t count on one camera doing both equally well. There are newer large sensor video cameras on the market now that are far better suited for video/filmmaking, like the Black Magic Cinema camera and possibly the GH3.
I was kind of hoping the new panasonic GH3 would have better photo quality while keeping the great video quality and hackability of the GH2. It’s not released yet to the public and the intial photos I’m seeing don’t look as fantastic as I would hope. But I don’t really know for sure yet. Still I don’t think it’s going to match what Canon and Nikon can do with stills. As I said above, best of both worlds in one camera is a little unrealistic. But I have been eyeing it as a possible upgrade option, even if just for video.
However I’ve also been considering picking up a Canon or Nikon for photography. But these days it’s a hard sell for me. I love photography but I’m not getting paid to use my own photo gear for client shoots and I don’t do as much photography as video. Most of my photographs are personal snapshots done on my iPhone where its easy to manipulate, upload and share with friends. So unless I’m shooting clients or going out for a dedicated photo walk, I’m hard pressed to pull out a big camera. Maybe it’s because I’m 33 now and not 20 anymore. I work full time. I do video work for a living with some photography scattered in there every so often. I use the companies gear for my pro work and my GH1 here and there if I desire a certian look. So when I get home I’m not itching to go do what I do at work. But part of me would still like to own a nice still photography camera. Something like the new Nikon D600 or Canon 6D and stockpile a nice primes to go with it.
I’ve been kicking myself for years for not keeping that Canon Elan II and leanring how to use it and building up an arsenal of Canon glass over the last 15 years. If I would have stuck with that one system, focused on shooting more photography and buying more glass, I wouldn’t be writing this blog entry now and I would have been prepared for the DSLR video revolution by already having a stockpile of great lenses. But I had to be a gear geek and try out a whole bunch of cameras over the years.
Well as much as I can kick myself I can also say it was a good thing how I did it. I got to try out a bunch of stuff and see what I liked and why. I may be anemic on lenses right now considering I’ve rebooted every so many years, but that’s ok. I could argue that I’ve had my Nikon FE for over a decade and still only managed to keep one lens for it and never bought any others that were more than $100 a piece. So obviously I’ve never been a big spender on glass. The most expensive lens I ever bought for a still camera was a Tokina for my Digital Rebel for $350 and that was sold off as well. So why kick myself for what I should of or could have done, because obviously I didn’t.
Moving forward though, I can see the benefit in being more stable with my cameras. Now that stills and video cameras are using the same lenses, it’s a lot more of an incentive to for me latch onto a single system and build up a collection of lenses. It would probably be a good investment as well. You never know how things are going to go. Having a kit you can rely on for doing freelance work should something happen, is a good backup plan.
It’s late, this post has been droning on and I probably have a ton of spelling and grammar errors, not to mention want to add or edit some content here. So I do declare this post to be unfinished and fluid, count on it to change in time.
*Yeah I know it’s not technically an SLR, whatever. It works similarly.
EDIT June 25, 2013 – Panasonic GH2
I ended up losing my GH1. My van had broke down and I was borrowing a vehicle for a month that ended up getting repossessed while in the parking lot of my workplace. I’m not going to say whose vehicle it was because that wouldn’t be right, it was a messy situation. But my GH1 was in the vehicle at the time and I lost it along with a few lenses, memory cards, ND filters and my vintage camera strap with my photography award pin on it. Honestly the strap and award pin is what I feel the most loss over. I won’t get any of it back because they never got the vehicle back. So it’s long gone.
About two weeks later I picked up a used Panasonic GH2 from guy off Craigslist. Like-new condition and I’ve been shooting with it since. This all happened back in September 2012, So I’ve had the GH2 for a while now and I really like. I bought the Panasonic 14-45mm lens as well. I also still have a few old Minolta MD lenses that I had inherited from my friend Dan who got them from our friend Linda. Plus I still have my Nikon 50mm f1.8 and the nikon to micro four thirds mount adapter.
This setup is working for me. I had considered again selling it and investing in the Canon system. Especially with the new magic lantern raw video hack for the 5D mkIII out now. I also still had it in my head that the Canon cameras just shot better photos. Perhaps they do to some degree, but after looking through my photos shot on various cameras over the years (including Canon cameras) I came to realize that I’ve done my best work on my GH1 and GH2. The color, the focus, all of it better than the photos I had shot on any of my Canon cameras. The Nikon D7000 being the only exception, that work of mine was on par with the GH cameras. So I’ve just decided to stick with the GH line of cameras and eventually invest in a GH3 after getting some more glass. Blackmagic Design also announced their new pocket cinema camera ($995) which comes with a micro four thirds lens mount. Fully electronic. When that hits users hand in a month I’ll be keeping a close eye on it. Also really like the pictures I’m seeing from the (now older) Olympus E-M5 which is also dropping in price on the used market. So there seems to be some decent options in the land of micro four thirds.
Edit August 7th, 2016 – Canon 60D (again)
Despite what I said about keeping the GH2 and maybe buying a GH3, I ended up trading my Panasonic GH2 with 14-45mm lens, adapters and batteries for a Canon 60D with two lenses (50mm f1.8 and 18-55 f3.5-5.6) a couple batteries and the box in July of 2013. Nice even trade. Some guy who found my ad on Craigslist who is interested in video.
I’ve now had this camera for over three years. I think it’s the longest I’ve kept a DSLR. It’s hard to remember how long I had my original Canon Digital Rebel (300D), maybe a couple years. I also think I had my GH1 for a couple of years. If that’s the case, this is longest I’ve owned a single DSLR. My Nikon FE still takes the throne for the camera I’ve had the longest. But that’s a film camera.
I’ve been generally pretty happy with the 60D. I’m still using the same two lenses I got with it. I haven’t bought any more yet. My plan is to pick up a 24-105L f4 but that’s been my plan for about a year or so now and I still haven’t pulled the trigger. I may end up with a 55-250 STM before then. I could really use a telephoto. There has been a few times I’ve found myself in a pinch without one. Plus it’s a cheaper investment than a 24-105, especially if I get a refurb from Canon.
I told myself when I made the trade that I would stick with Canon from here on out. That I would stop jumping systems. I’ve been tempted. The GH4 and some of the Sony cameras and the new Fujifilm X-T2 are all pretty nice looking. The fact that Canon has been so slow to add 4K video recording to the DLSRs is also disheartening. Other than that I can’t complain.
In the spring of 2015 I helped my employer pick out a new video camera for a big shoot we had coming. It had been since 2008 they bought a new video camera (Canon XHA1). I decided on the Canon C100mkII. Although only a 1080p HD camera, that HD image is generated from a 4K sensor in it. The image is nice. Sharper than my 60D for sure but can use the same lenses and has most of the bells and whistles of a proper video camera. So I can only imagine that once Canon gets to 4K (UHD) in the rest of the DSLR line (1D C and 1D X mkII only have it now) that it will have a similar look tot he C100 but with a 4K image size that will be handy for cropping in post if needed.
So while the other cameras are temping, I know it’s eventually coming to Canon’s lower end DSLRs. It’s just a matter of when. On the whole though I’ve been happy with my 60D, it shoots great stills and the video quality is more cinematic looking that I got out the GH1 or GH2 even if it resolves less detail and wraps that in a 1080p file. I just like that Canon color science. Plus it has been dependable. Solid built camera.
I realized I’ve been using Canon cameras on and off since the late 1990s starting with my first brand new SLR, the Canon Elan II. The camera I should have just kept and bought more lenses for and learned how to use better. But also the Canon XL1 video camera I owned back in the early 2000s and a friend’s XL1 we used to shoot my first feature film. I also look back fondly on some of my first DSLR photos of my son which were on the Canon 300D Digital Rebel I used to own. I’ve had pretty solid results with Canon cameras over the years. But I’ve tended to reject them after a time because I’ve suffered from the grass is greener on the other side of the fence syndrome. But it’s only greener for a while. Eventually you realize that what you had was pretty good. Maybe even the best for you. So I made a logical choice instead. I looked around at the entire ecosystem and I realized Canon was my best bet for me long term. If their DSLRs don’t satisfy my video needs their Cinema cameras can. Both of which can share the same lenses. Among their DSLRs I can shoot APS-C or jump to full frame. Panasonic doesn’t offer the same options. The Gh4 is the highest you can go with their micro four thirds lenses. Then you have to buy into PL mount glass for their more expensive video cameras. Nikon doesn’t have a pro video line of cameras to jump up to. Neither does Fujifilm. The only other company that comes close to what Canon offers is Sony. Sony is a little more cutting edge with 4K video, but I don’t like their ergonomics or their lens selection as much. So I decided to stick with Canon for the foreseeable future as I have been for the last few years. Hopefully we’ll get some good quality 4K APS-C DSLRs in the next year or so and the same with the full frame 5D mkIV. Until then I focus on new lenses for the camera I have and keep shooting. The truth is, I’ve overanalyzed this stuff for too many years. The priority should never be the gear, just the images. As fun as the gear can be. All of these cameras shoot perfectly acceptable images these days. So why keep jumping around?