The Great Camera Debate

Something I love, but which I never actually spend any time doing, is photography. The main reason I don’t do any is because I don’t really own a camera. There is one on my mobile phone and shoved in a drawer somewhere is a digital one I received free with a PC I purchased in 1998, but I don’t own any sort of proper camera with which I can take pictures on a daily basis.

When I was very small, we had a Kodak instamatic camera which I would occasionally be allowed to take a photograph with. Unfortunately, my 5 year old self was not terribly good at holding a camera steady so the results were usually somewhat blurred and indistinct but my parents were very kind and let me have a go anyway.
The best shot I ever managed to take with that camera was of Hong Kong harbour as the plane came in to land. This was back in the days of the old airport which only pilots of several decades experience had the nerve to attempt a landing at. Half of the shot is taken up with plane wall but the half inch of view you can see looks smashing.

Eventually, the instamatic was put away and a new camera was purchased; one which didn’t require a Sherpa to carry the necessary flashbulbs. Instead it was a Canon whose battery compartment lid swiftly broke and had to be Sellotaped into position to allow photography to take place. The memory of the instamatic quickly faded in my mind and photography became inextricably linked with the difficult task of attempting to squeeze a battery case closed while framing a shot and holding down the button for the requisite two thousand seconds while your subjects competed for the Ms Rigor Mortis UK crown.

When I began studying for my A levels, I was introduced to photography as a medium and I realised what I had been missing. I loved the SLR cameras, the solid weight of it in your palm, teasing the lens to get the focus just so, cranking the fstops to get a huge depth of field, the satisfying climp of the aperture as you took the picture, the physical cranking on of the film and, when it was finished, the delightful toy-town winder underneath.
The only thing that surpassed my love of taking the photographs was developing them. In school, I’d tried to like chemistry, but it was complex and abstracted and full of diagrams I didn’t understand. In a darkroom there were all the fun parts of chemistry (measuring things out in their proper quantities, heating things to certain temperatures, bottles with hazard symbols on them) but without the boring testing-variables of scientific method. Plus, at the end of that day you had more to show for it than a nail which may or may not become covered in rust over the following seven days.
Once at Art School, I briefly flirted with the idea of studying photography as my specialism but decided against it. While I loved taking photographs for myself, I had no idea of how to take photographs as an artist. I had barely heard of Cindy Sherman, Man Ray or Henri Cartier-Bresson so instead I picked painting and spent 3 years in the frozen wastes of the 5th floor studios.

Between then and now, the world has progressed and photography has progressed with it. Gradually, digital cameras have become the norm. They are no longer the size and weight of a masonry block and more than 6 photographs can be taken before it becomes necessary to upload them from the memory card. From time to time, He Who Knows Everything and I mutter something to the effect of “We really ought to hasten to the shop and buy ourselves a camera”, but it has never happened.
The main reason for this is that we were never able to decide between a DSLR and a compact. The DSLR models were prohibitively expensive but the compact cameras would drive me, in particular, insane with their lag (Press button… wait… wait… picture taken… wait… wait…).
When Cos was here after Christmas, she brought with her a brand new Nikon Coolpix with which she attempted to take some photographs. She attempted to take one of me without my knowledge but I noticed and told her my image was a registered copyright and she would have to pay me to reproduce it.
He Who Knows Everything and I were cautiously interested in this camera. We realised the potential held in these new fangled devices. We wanted one.

He Who Knows Everything came up with a cunning plan. He has spent months subliminally suggesting to me that I might like to buy myself a digital camera. He got the half tree that is the Sunday Papers to run an article entitled “5 of the Best entry level DSLR cameras”. He has the local wildlife run in a photogenic manner across the lawn and pause to nibble cutely at the hedge. He buys the Saturday Guardian because it has a photography competition on the final page of the magazine. He caused the Bank of England to reduce the interest rates so much that there is no point in having money sitting in a savings account anymore.

The price is the main stay on my enthusiasm. The DSLR cameras I want are in the region of six hundred or seven hundred euro. Aside from cars, property and jewellery, I believe that would be the single most expensive thing I have ever purchased. It isn’t just the camera either, once you have the camera there is an extended warranty, the accessories… I could easily spend another two hundred euro on basic bits and pieces to go with it. Plus another several hundred on a second lens.
These are all very big numbers. Happily, He Who Knows Everything has planned a happy trip to Cardiff where there are a number of independent camera shops who stock a wide range of DSLR cameras at prices much lower than in the Eurozone.

At the moment I am favouring the Sony Alpha A350. I like the flip out screen and superior live view. I yearn for a 75mm – 300mm lens and a polarising filter. I wonder if I want a tripod as well but conclude probably not at this present time. It will give Strider something to buy me for my birthday.

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