Q; Can you recommend a good camera?
A; This is without doubt the one question I am asked most frequently. My answer always starts with a question, "What do you intend to do with the camera?". And I usually seem to get the same answer "I just want to be able to take decent snapshots of my family or friends.". To this I usuallty tell the person to look into a decent little point and shoot 35mm. Unfortunately this question has no easy answer. As with most things in photography "good" is a matter of personal taste. I prefer simple cameras with no bells and whistles. These are usually all manual cameras without auto-focus, auto-aperture, or program mode. I generally use a Mamiya C-330, or a Speed Graphic. My 35 is a Pentax K1000 and I love it for its simplicity. besides I think if one wants to be a good photographer he or she should be able to bring home the bacon with a manual camera before graduating to a more automated system. One must ask oneself "Do I want to take pictures of sporting events, or portraits, or snapshots, or wildlife or all of the above?". If you are going to take pictures of sporting events and wild-life I would recommend a good 35mm such as a Canon or Nikon since it will give you the accesories required for this type of photography. These include motor drives for automatic film advance and telephoto and zoom lenses for long distance work. Unless you like looking a lion in the eye from one foot away, or you enjoy dodging a 300 lb linebacker. If however you are planning to do serious portraiture then I would not do this on anything smaller than 120 film as the larger film size will give sharper clearer images. This, however, requires a more expensive and involved camera system such as a Mamiya RB-67 or Hasselblad C500. If you want a good all around camera then consider a 35mm with the ability to accept different lenses and accessories. There are so many choices in cameras today that it is impossible to answer this question definitively. Most pros will go through several cameras over the course of their careers before choosing their ideal setup.
Q; What is film speed and why do I care?
A; Film speed refers to how sensitive film is to light, the higher the film speed the more sensitive the film is to light. A roll of ISO 100 film is considerably less sensitive to light than a roll of ISO 400. So obviously if I am shooting in a less lighted area such as in a church at a wedding I would want a higher film speed. An increase in film speed usually means a decrease in the quality of the image. As film sensitivity increases so does the graininess of the film this results in a loss of clarity of the image. Also a higher film speed allows for quicker shutter speed and the quicker the shutter speed the easier it is to stop the action of a particular subject, in other words if I am shooting a still life the shutter speed is not my prime consideration as a bowl of fruit isn't likely going to move. But if I am shooting a car on a race track I want a quick shutter speed so I can make the car appear to stop on the film. This works because the shutter moves quicker than the car does and appears to freeze the car in motion.
Q; Can an older camera take color pictures?
A; I must be honest usually when I hear this question I almost always have to restrain myself from bursting out laughing. Then I think about the fact that most people don't realize that color is a
function of the film not the camera. While it is true that older camera lenses lack the multiple coatings of modern lenses, this by no means indicates that it cannot be used for color photographs. The lack
of coatings on the lens does mean however that it will yield less favorable results than a lens with multiple color correcting coatings. But the function of color still resides mainly with the film and not
the camera. Simply put, if color film is made in the size that the camera will accept, then the camera will take color pictures.
Q; What is Depth of Field?
A; Depth of field refers to the area of sharp focus in a given photographic scene. This focus range can be controlled to a great extent by the photographer. As a lens is stopped down or the aperture in the lens is made smaller, the area of sharpness in the scene increases. The aperture is simply a hole. It is created and adjusted by an iris diaphram mounted in the lens and is marked off in calibrations of 2.1, 4.5, 5.6 etc. The higher the number the smaller the hole, the smaller the hole the less light is allowed to pass through the lens. Now we get technical. Light particles, or photons, are reflected from all surfaces on the earth except black ones, which absorb photons. These photons fall into sharp photographic focus at one and only one distance from the lens, (this is known as the focal point). If, however, we compress these photons by stopping down the lens and making the hole smaller the photons in front of and behind the focal point appear to be sharper than they really are. These light particles striking the film plane are referred to as Circles of Confusion. By choosing an alternative exposure the photographer can manipulate the depth of field of his scene. For any given exposure there are many equivelant exposures that can be substituted. For example the exposure of 1/100th of a second at f/8 is the same as 1/250th at f/5.6 and it is also the same as 1/60th at f/11. Look at these for a minute. Notice that as I increase shutter speed I must open the lens up. Since the shutter is open for less time less light is allowed to strike the film, therefore I must compensate by opening up the hole in the lens to allow more light to come through at the faster time so i can acheive the same exposure as the slower shutter speed exposure. Conversely the oppsite is true if I slow down the shutter speed. Since the shutter is open longer I must compensate and allow less light to pass through the lens to achieve the same exposure. If I choose to make the scene sharper accross a greater area I then will focus my camera at a point 1/3 of the way into the overall scene to assure that the entire scene is accounted for.
Q; What is the proper use of a flash?
At first this sounds utterly silly, but it is a legitimate concern. Have you ever gotten pictures back from a concert or an arena event only to see the backs of the heads of those seated in front of you? This happens because most small flash units cannot reach the distance from the stadium seating to the stage. Also have you ever seen a photographer using flash outside in the sun? Many do this as a fill light to light up areas not hit by the sun. This technique is useful if a heavy shadow is on one side of the subject and that section of the scene cannot be made out. Photography is mostly about controlling light. In fact without light photography would not be. There have been entire books written on lighting and the subject still is not exhausted. On camera flash can be a useful tool when done correctly and can be horendous when done wrong. Most people overexpose the scene when using on camera flash. be sure to use the calculator on the back of the flash to determine the exposure. Do not scrimp on your on camera flash. buy the best unit you can afford you will not regret it. To state it the best way I can, if you can shoot a scene in availble light with a faster film and fill the scene with the flash that is the preferred method.