Wednesday, May 18, 2011

My Thoughts on Digital Cameras - a series

As you have probably noticed, I've taken up writing again. Since the name of this blog is "Dan Gottesman, Photographer", I feel like there should be at least _some_ photography-related stuff in here.

So, I've decided to start a series of posts discussing my personal take on a number of different digital cameras. Before I get started, however, I think it might be relevant for me to go over my personal experience with cameras in detail. I mean, if you're going to be reading someone's point of view on something, the more you know about them and where they're coming from, the better, right? I'm less inclined take advice from someone that I don't really know, despite how great of an expert they might be. And out here on the internet, unless you're famous, have a lot of followers/subscribers/fans/whatever, and/or have a large body of work online and available for reference, then how is anyone gonna know where you're coming from. Or, perhaps more significantly - how you got there.

Let's see. I'm gonna skip over my prepubescent and adolescent adventures in what I'll call "point-n-shoot" photography, and jump right in at around 1990. Before then, all of the camera I'd used were low-end consumer products, including the Kodak Disk, a Canon AS-6 (Aqua Snappy waterproof camera), an old Polaroid, and one of those little Kodak brownie-esque cameras, which used the little interchangeable flash cubes that you'd have to snap onto the top of the thing manually. The good old days.

In 1990, I got a Nikon FM2 for my birthday (in black, natch). At that point in my life, I was in high school, and I was a bona-fide Nikon fanboy. I would read anything and everything I could get my hands on that had anything to do with Nikon stuff, from reviews in magazines to product literature. I remember reading Penthouse magazine, and noting that they actually included the specific cameras and lenses used for their photo layouts. Bob Guccione used a Nikon FG back in the day, yo! My dad even took me to check out the amazing "Nikon House" - a kind of combination store front, gallery, showroom and service center (not that unlike an Apple store, now that I think about it), right in Rockefeller plaza. I think the Lego store is in its place, now. Anyway, Nikon House seemed to have every single product that Nikon made, including the super-high-end stuff, and some of the more famous items, like one of the cameras that went up into space. The coolest part, however, was that you could actually play with the stuff! So you could bring your camera body in and attach it to that 300mm/2.8 lens or whatever. Very cool for me, as a kid.

My preference towards Nikon can be traced directly to my father. He put together a really terrific kit over the years, based around his old school Nikon F, from the late 60's. He had about  5 or 6 lenses and a bunch of accessories, and actually knew a thing or two about photography, having worked in the darkroom and shooting for his college newspaper, and later, the US Coast Guard. My interest in photography seemed to reignite my father's passion, and for about two or three years, we'd do a lot of photo stuff together. Going out on [what are now called] photo walks, and, more impressively, processing our own transparencies (E-6) in our basement sink.

For those who are unfamiliar - transparencies are also referred to as "slides" or "chromes" (in the industry). With transparency film, you're not shooting a negative image, which needs to be inverted through the process of printing onto paper - you're shooting a positive image, which you can hold up to any light - say, a light box, or a projector - and see exactly what the camera saw. I always kinda dug that bit - the fact that with printed film, you're technically looking at a second-generation copy, whereas with positive film, that's the original source.

In an effort to minimize our costs and to get our results as fast as possible, we set up a little developing station in the basement. This comprised of a changing bag, a couple of different Petersen tanks and reels, and a small fridge where we kept the chemistry. We used simple plastic slide mounts that were easy to recycle, and we even bought bulk film and rolled our own cartridges, towards the end. Good times.

With the ability to go out shooting in the afternoon and then have the results of the shoot projected onto a wall that evening, I was able to learn a lot about photography in a relatively short amount of time. I'd say it was the modern equivalent to learning using a digital camera today; it was about as close to instant gratification as you could get.

It was around this time where I started to think about "what I wanted to do with my life", and it became pretty clear to me that I would either be heading into the world of music, or the world of art. Since I had a bit more of a head-start with the art thing (and I think I was better at it, too), that's the route I chose. It was around this time that my sister, a few years younger than me, had her Bat-Mitzvah. The photographer that shot the event was a really nice guy named Brad, and he seemed to like my enthusiasm and interest in his work. He was using gear that I had never seen before - all medium format cameras, including a Koni-Omega Rapid 100 and a Mamiya RB67, along some big old Speedotron strobes with umbrellas. I can't remember the exact details, but somehow (I think through my folks), I was able to land a job as an assistant to Brad. Since I had a driver's license, all I needed to do was show up - in a tuxedo (which he actually purchased for me) - and help out with everything.

For a good year and a half, I would find myself going to about one event a week, sometimes as many as three, working as both a photo and video assistant. Keeping pockets full of film and batteries, shooting candids on the dance floor, and helping carry stuff around, obviously. It was a really great experience. And because of it, I can assume that I've attended well over 100 weddings and Bar Mitzvahs over the years. I think that experience has a lot to do with why I'm not the biggest fan of fancy events like that...

I decided to take a crack at studying graphic design at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and my photography a pretty significant portion of my college application portfolio. Once I got to school, however, my interest in photography began to wane, and I became obsessed with making things on the computer. Scanners, printers, big monitors... I ate it up at any chance I could get. At school, the Art & Technology department was right next to the video department, and it didn't take long for me to totally turn my back on film photography, and dive into video. We had a couple of Video Toasters, an early Avid system, and some Macs running the first versions of Adobe Premiere (the one with the horse on the splashscreen). That was the first time I'd ever seen a progress bar with an estimated time to completion that reported "about a day".

We'll skip ahead to about 2001. I was working as a Mac tech guy that specialized in the graphic design field. My clients were mostly small design firms, advertising/marketing agencies, and the occasional school. One of my clients was a direct mail design firm - they designed those credit card applications you'd get in the mail from various banks or department stores - you know, junk mail. One of the art directors at this firm was a rather creative fellow, and he put together a little two light studio in an empty cubicle at their office, where he would take these really great-looking digital photos of the various credit cards that they would use in their designs - with a Nikon Coolpix 900 (I think? I know it was one of those 3MP swivel-jobs). I was totally blown away by the quality of the results that he was getting. Little did I know that the quality of the light he was using was a big part of that, but suffice to say - it was enough to get my attention. He upgraded to a Nikon D100, the first "affordable" consumer DSLR, and that convinced me - it was time to go digital.

In my next post, I'll talk about my first digital camera, and get into my thoughts about Nikon.

Thanks for reading.


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