Yes, a better camera DOES take better pictures : toronto art portrait photography

or 'Why your gear matters'or 'Should I get a new camera?' or 'Comparing the Canon EOS Rebel with the Canon 40D' or 'Does it matter what lens I get?' (this is already a little outdated because I unwrapped my new 5D MkII last night!! - I'm sure I'll have more comparisons very soon!)

So on Easter weekend, we trekked to my in-laws up in the sticks north of Peterborough. In the past the car filled up quickly with cycling gear, full camera kit and hiking boots. Now, the car fills up with car seats, strollers, bouncy chairs and toys. Before this trip, I made a quick, rash decision, while packing up my 7-month old and all his accoutrements, to NOT BRING MY CAMERA. I never leave the city on an overnight trip without my camera: I knew that not having the camera meant I would miss the PERFECT photo opp, but I was willing to risk it.

I made it 24 hours before humbly asking father-in-law to borrow his EOS Rebel XT that was my castoff a few of years ago, (which I traded for the 40D). His camera had the 17-85mm f4-5.6 mounted on it. I set about documenting what remained of the weekend - picturesque walks on the country dirt road, Amory's first Easter egg hunt, and the little guy eating carrots for the first time on the porch on the hottest first weekend of April in memory.

While I felt better being able to shoot, I wasn't able to get quite the shots I was looking for. I was limited by the equipment in my hand. A lot of photographers swear that it's your skill, ability and creativity that allow you to get the perfect photos, and it doesn't matter what kind of camera you have. I wholeheartedly agree that skill, ability and creativity are key, but I must humbly disagree that your camera doesn't matter (and really, so must they because they then confess to the kit in their bag and it ain't your basic entry-level gear!!!) Canon must disagree too, or else they wouldn't be making and selling a $10K pro-camera body, but would still be peddling the pinhole camera instead!

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Anyhow, here are a few things I noticed about the camera and the lens:

1. The Rebel XT has 7 focus points as opposed to the 9 of the 40D (never mind the 45 of the 1D series...). While you can always (well, not always...) focus on a point then reframe, the more drastically you do this, the less likely your are going to get the sharp focus on the bit you want to get the sharp focus on - due to simple algebra. What you want to do is put your focus point on the bit you want sharp and take the picture. With more focus points, you can do this and more likely to get both the bit you want in focus as well as the composition of the frame you want. You can't reframe when you are tracking action in AI Servo mode, so in this mode, you are completely dependent on having focus points where you want them - the more focus points the better!

2. The lens was slow to auto-focus. What more to say than I kept missing the moment!?!?

3. f/4-5.6. That is a slow to very slow lens (meaning in order to let enough light in at a given aperture, you can only shoot at a very slow speed, or you need more light to get a decent shot). It was a partly cloudy, partly sunny, and I had trouble pulling a face out from under a hat, or anything in shadow. With a f/2.8 lens (a somewhat standard higher level lens) I can get so much more.

4. In looking at my results, I noticed a few things beyond these first three limitations: first the saturation and black points were a little low (resulting in a hazy feel), and second, that when I bumped the ISO up to 400 to try and remedy issue 3 above, the noise in the resulting image was unacceptable to my eye, and third, even when I nailed the focus, the sharpness and clarity that I look for in an image was nowhere to be found.

So overall, the quality of your gear definitely impacts your final image. Yes, you can get creative and use your gear to it's maximum ability (or not!) to pull out some great images, but if, like me, you want to capture any moment whenever and wherever it might happen and get a technically acceptable result (for me that pretty much means that what you wanted to be in focus is razor sharp and colour correct), then the better your gear the better chance you have. This is essential when shooting professionally - you have to get great shots in whatever conditions you are shooting in, and of whatever your subject might be doing.

So now I am leaving the 40D in the dust. I am looking for more pixels (to enlarge more easily), a better high ISO performance (to shoot more easily in lower light), a better high dynamic range - the range between lights and darks (to deal with full sun and contrasty lighting conditions). I would love more focus points too, but to get that you have to go to the 1D series, and there are various reasons I went 5D rather than 1D (not least of which is $$$!). I'll report on the how I find it sometime soon!

Anyhow, hope you found this useful! Thanks for reading! Questions? Thoughts? Please comment!

p.s. The images in this post are from the Rebel XT - with my normal post-processing stuff (including sharpening) blog_2010_amory_01520