This is a post about the concept of "getting off zero". It involves a used, ten year old camera that underperforms every new camera on the market today. It's my new favorite piece of technology and I have been taking it everywhere....
Here's the backstory.... One of the items on my project list is to upgrade my photography game. There is nothing more frustrating than spending days on a hiking or sailing adventure and then leaving with photos that are flat, lack detail and completely miss the color and light conditions I saw on the trip. If I had a dollar for every time I looked at a photo in disappointment..... Anyhow, I love my iPhone but it just isn't cutting it. This frustration lead to my favorite purchase of 2022: a ten year old, gently used, $100 Cannon Rebel T1i.
I have not carried a camera other than the iPhone since the invention of the iPhone. During the time period between roughly 2010 and now camera technology has evolved exponentially. New cameras are technologically amazing but they come with equally shocking pricing. As I started my search for a new camera, it took me down a dark and scary rabbit hole of specifications, megapixels and lens compatibility costs that could easily put my sailboat habit to shame.
The people who build and market cameras know their game. When you start shopping around they present you with decisions that carry some hefty financial consequences. If you read between the lines, this is pretty much what they are saying:
- Nikon, Cannon or Sony - choose the wrong brand and your new camera will lack a feature, you will waste all of your money and you will miss out on all of the fun. You will spend alot of money shooting mediocre photos.
- DSLR or Mirrorless - one of these is technologies is going the way of the dinosaur... Choose the wrong camera body and your collection of gear will become obsolete. You will need to sell it all on eBay for a fraction of the cost and then buy it all over again.
- Full sensor or cropped - Go big or go home - get all the megapixels you can or your photos will suck.
And it goes on and on...
This dark period of my life lasted for about a week until I got the best idea ever from one of the friendly people at Kenmore Camera. <— Sidenote: The link here isn't a paid advertisement in any way. I just love to find small, family operated businesses that compete head to head with the big guys and do it really well.
One of the sales associates asked me what I was trying to do... I told him I was a complete photo rookie, relied too much on my iPhone and just want to learn how to shoot photos with more control over the manual settings. He directed me away from the new, expensive gear and showed me a ten year old used camera. All in, the price was roughly $100 for the camera body and kit lens. I paid an additional $15 for the SD card. Problem solved.
The Concept of Getting Off Zero
His rationale was simple... Because I was relying so much on the automation of the iPhone I had no idea what aperture or ISO was (granted... I did understand the concept of shutter speed... but the relationship between the three was still a mystery). The features on the more expensive systems were not going to make me a better photographer because I wasn't familiar with the basic concepts. What I really needed to work on is the fundamentals. He summed it up: Why pay for any of the advanced features until they will actually help me. It's the same idea as learning to add and subtract before buying a calculator.
A new, top of the line Cannon or Nikon with lens costs three to five thousand dollars. For about $115 I was in the game with a fully capable camera, lens, battery, and New SD card. The ten year old used gear is easy to come by and provides plenty of room for growth and experimentation on the fundamentals. With this system, I could spend the time learning the ropes, figuring out which features I really appreciate, building my experience and then come back when I know more.
This whole exercise was actually a case study on the concept of getting off zero. The question I was asking is "which camera is the best?". But the question I should have been asking was "how can I go from no camera to having a camera with the functions I want to learn?" Essentially, rather than choosing option a (Nikon), option b (Sony) or option c (Cannon) I spent a small fraction of the cost to defer the decision, buy time, and gather a mountain of information. One month later, no regrets and a huge lesson learned.