Welcome to the first issue of the Viewfinder Fox newsletter! This issue is an introduction by way of advice. My way of thinking about photography focuses more on art and technique than technology. I still love nerding out about new lenses and cameras, but I understand the place of equipment in the art. My writing reflects that.
Viewfinder Fox is both where I share my photography and my way of thinking about photography. I aim to inform and amuse. For photographers, I want to help steer you in the right direction in your journey. For photography enjoyers, I aim to help you enjoy the art better. There will even be something for the gearheads.
Expect issues to be infrequent, but worthwhile every time. To start, some good photography advice that’s been floating around my head, and that prompted me to start a newsletter.
Photography forums are littered with questions like:
- “What lens do I need for…”
- “Why do all my photos come out wrong? I want it to look like…”
It’s the inevitable result of modern media elevating people who show off their fancy gear with frantic jump cuts and incredible sights. By intent or error, they give the impression that the equipment is somehow responsible for the pictures, and they helpfully have an affiliate-tagged link right to it on a store’s website.
So let’s step back and ask a better question: What is photography?
Let’s focus on the perks and pitfalls of technology for a moment.
Photography technology changes the skill level needed to make the art, and it’s not always for the better. My photography got worse when I moved from a dying PowerShot to a DSLR! Now, it’s better, but only because I developed skills with the technology while working on the art. There’s a similar phenomenon when a painter moves between working with paint, working with a pen tablet, and working with a graphics tablet where they actually draw on a display.
Most new photographers start with a phone or compact camera. Then, excited by the possibilities opened up to them, they buy their first photography platform. Usually a DSLR, but increasingly mirrorless. Even the entry level models have an overwhelming array of knobs and buttons and attachment points.
And the result makes them miserable. My actual first DSLR was a defective refurbished Nikon D3400. The replacement was also defective. I was sure I must be doing something wrong, but researching the problems confirmed the first as a bad shutter, and the second was a bad sensor. It went back, and I waited another year.
The resulting new D5600 also produced terrible images. Not defective, though. I just had no idea what to do. Phone cameras and my old PowerShot had little sensors and little lenses with lots of hand-guiding technology behind them. Little sensors and little lenses can produce impressive-looking results more easily because they tend to have huge apertures and quality glass that would be expensive with a lens made for a bigger sensor with room for a mirror to flip around.
The lenses for the D5600 were much bigger to go with the much larger sensor. A crop sensor lens and a crop sensor camera are small to someone accustomed to beastly full-frame DSLRs, but it was huge coming from where I was.
Huge means more skill to hold. More controls. More everything. I had to figure out focus points, and tune the diopter, and…
Well you get the idea. It was a lot.
New technology, better technology, technology better suited to your purpose, introduces new variables that will blow away any confidence you have in your photography because you don’t yet know what to do with it.
My advice to any budding photographer with a DSLR, mirrorless, or even fancy big-sensor pocket camera is to spend the first 10,000 shots on your new photography platform in different automatic modes. Go through them and see what choices you made. See what choices the camera made. The camera’s automatic modes try to encode several lifetimes of study and practice in the art of photography, and you can learn from that up to a point.
Most automatic systems that cameras have today started decades ago, and the refinement was relentless. Adding Digital to SLRs to make DSLRs set it back a bit as people had to figure out what digital was, and it took over a decade to catch up. My D5600 is from 2017 and was right on the edge of matching old film cameras. Now even older DSLRs are mostly up to speed. Mirrorless is…getting there. Most of the refinements in the move from SLRs to DSLRs were in the optical viewfinder. Mirrorless cameras use an electronic viewfinder, so there’s some catching up for automating with only data from the main sensor. A DSLR’s optical viewfinder has a dedicated and highly refined autofocus sensor. Mirrorless sensors have focus pixels.
Let’s go through some common troubles new photographers have.