Here is the short version: Go buy a good, new, digital camera and spend a lot of money on it.
Easy Advice from Dad
When my wife was pregnant with my daughter, I began to wonder about buying a new digital camera. We had a digital camera. We had taken it all over Europe and other places on vacation and never once complained about our pictures. It was small and easy to carry and frankly it go the job done. Our pictures looked pretty good and I think for the most part we were happy with it.
There were a couple of concerns though. The first concern was that when sightseeing on vacation you take a lot of pictures of things that don’t move: paintings, statues, buildings, rivers, bridges, landscapes. The second concern is that you never really blow-up your vacation pictures into something bigger. A 4×6 of the Louvre in your photo album is great. I’ve never really wanted an 8×10 on the wall. The last concern was with speed and function. Our night pictures of the city lights were fine, but the picture of my wife in front of a lit up Pompidou, wasn’t so good. Plus, all that red eye, and the colors in pictures with the flash were never quite right.
Digital Cameras + Internet Research = Ahhh! My Camera is Worthless!
I’m the kind of guy who believes in research. I figure that if I can get my hands on enough data, then I can make an informed decision. One of the keys, however, to research is knowing the difference between what matters to the passionate experts, and what matters to the average person. Photography is one area where it is hard to get a grip on what really matters.
After just minutes online I was convinced that my camera was junk. I didn’t know what all those numbers in the camera specs meant, but I knew that mine were not the ones I was supposed to have. I did get good answers to the redeye problem (the flash is too close to the lens which makes the light from the flash bounce off the back of the eye directly back into the camera.) I also got good information about the colors (the flash is not like natural light) and some of our lighting problems (the camera “meters” by averaging the overall brightness of a scene, so bright window + darker wife = picture with detail of what is outside the window, and silhouette of the wife.) What’s more, is that I knew that better cameras had ways to deal with these problems.
However, I was more confused than when I started. I knew that something better than my $100 digital camera was in order, but how much more? A $4,000 super-high end Canon or Nikon was out. But, where in between $100 and $4,000 was the right camera for me.
Dad Knows Stuff
Over the next several days (Who am I kidding? It was weeks.) I began to narrow down the choices. In the end, I was left with an $800 Canon Rebel XT (they are cheaper now), and another camera, much closer to the $300 price point. The Rebel was obviously the better camera, but what I couldn’t answer was whether it was better in a way that I would want and need, or if I was just another American consumer being blinded into buying something more luxurious than I actually needed. Besides, another trip through the photo album showed the old camera worked just fine most of the time.
Confused, I turned to my father. My dad is a research testing guy at a major computer manufacturer, so he knows a thing or two about electronics and technology. I figured maybe he could help me sort through the megapixels and apertures and speeds. But, he didn’t. He didn’t help me one bit with my camera technology questions. Instead, he just said one thing.
“Ask me if I would pay $800 for just 50 more great pictures of you and your sister when you were younger.”
Wow! Advice doesn’t come much better and easier to follow than this. I got back online and researched prices. Eventually I ordered the Canon Rebel XT from Butterflyphoto online. I had read that they offered super cheap prices, but then called back to “confirm your order,” and then tried to sell you overpriced accessories in order to make their profit. Sure enough, a guy called to confirm my order. I played dumb and confirmed all the details and then when he said that I needed a memory card because one doesn’t come with the camera, I said “No, thanks.” He persisted, so I said, “Well, I don’t really know much about this stuff, I have a friend who helped me with the camera. I’ll have to talk to him first.” Mission accomplished. The guy gave me his number and we were done.
Was it worth it? The camera is so good that it sparked a whole interest in photography. I’m already in the middle of getting the first business I quit my day job for running, or I’d be starting a photography business right now. I’ve read books and websites and practiced. I’ve bought new lenses and a real flash and even some backgrounds so I can take portraits. Our pictures? Wonderful!
Some of the greatest shots of our daughters are candids. Quick moments that were there and gone, but because of the speed of the camera and its much more sophisticated automatic features, those pictures are great. When I have the time, I can use the wide array of manual settings or other features to create really perfect pictures. Most importantly is the ability to show in RAW mode which allows you to make HUGE corrections or changes in pictures once they are on your computer. The bright window and shadowy wife? No problem. I can lighten her up while darkening the window, or maybe cropping it out all together. If the colors aren’t right, I adjust the white balance. My biggest problem now is trying to get my pictures printed before six months has passed.
Ask your dad, “Would he pay $500 for more great pictures of you as a child?” I bet he says yes.
Go buy your camera. Your wife won’t mind as much as you think. After all, I bet your mom would say, “Yes,” too.