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  1. #11
    Stephanie Brim's Avatar
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    There are numerous ways you can go about this, but I do have a few suggestions that you may want to consider. I figure I'll state them all, though some will no doubt be rehashes of what others have said, for the sake of consistancy.

    • If you're wanting to learn all there is about photography you want a fully manual camera or a camera that allows you to have full control over everything easily. Your cheapest bet is going to be to find the older fully manual SLRs or aperture priority models. New SLRs with digital readouts can be a pain in the ass. Cheap "entry level" SLRs (at least the one that I started with) can be fully auto only.
    • Start your lens collection with the fastest normal prime you can afford. Normal (IMO) is anywhere from 35-50mm. Getting yourself used to one lens first will help the learning process out a bit...and, unless you're doing nature or sports photography, you really don't have that big of a need for a zoom starting out. The faster the lens, the less situations where you won't be able to use it. I would suggest nothing slower than F/2 and recommend f/1.4 if you can swing it.
    • Consider carefully what you want to shoot. Your next lens purchases will have a lot to do with what you want to photograph. If you want to do portraits, consider an 85mm, 105mm, or 135mm lens. If you want to shoot landscapes, consider something wide such as a 20mm or a 24mm. Nature photography (animals) often takes very long lenses as does sports photography.
    • Note that the camera body is only the carriage for your film. It's the lenses that you really want to worry about. They are what make or break the photo when it comes to the equipment. Always, always, always buy the best glass you can afford and, if you can possibly wait and save up to buy something, get the better glass over the cheap stuff starting out.
    • Start with color film or C41 black and white and work up to regular black and white. Why? Regular black and white can be expensive to get processed correctly by labs and you should know what you're doing with an SLR before you attempt to develop your own film. Developing yourself is a very rewarding process but it has a learning curve greater than that of better film cameras. The local Wal-Mart can do relatively good color film developing; the local one hour can do it at a higher price. The only way I'd suggest using black and white film is if you have access to a good lab.


    SLRs are a lot of fun and a great learning experience. I went to using rangefinders, but I have to say that I miss my Nikon FE and I plan to get another one soon.

  2. #12
    David H. Bebbington's Avatar
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    You'll get a lot of different answers! After 50 years of picture-taking with everything from 35 mm to 8x10, I feel that what I am looking for in a 35 is GOOD auto-exposure, since I feel that if I have time to use a separate meter (in itself a good idea), I also have time to use a bigger camera. 35 mm cameras need to be fast, it's what they do best - technical quality can be more than acceptable with a 35, bigger cameras are always better.

    The worst thing to avoid is an older camera with center-weighted metering (for example, Pentax M series). This type of metering gives good results only with average subjects, it's really hard even for an expert to figure out how to compensate for other types. Nikon for some reason seem to do better center-weighted metering than anyone else.

    So-called matrix metering is astonishingly good, it will get the exposure right in 95 to 99% of cases, the only thing is that some makers' matrix metering is only semi-intelligent, it works great on horizontal shots, gets totally confused if you turn the camera round. I agree with others that auto-focus is dispensable unless of advanced specification (range restriction, choice of focus spots, etc.).

    Others have mentioned various types of older Nikons, these are very good, I personally have a Nikon FM3a, it's got everything I like and handles like Nikons always have way back to the original F model of 1959.

    Someone said "the camera body is only the carriage for your film". Absolutely disagree - a poorly made or worn-out SLR body will have a high vibration level that will wreck the sharpness of virtually every shot.

    Whatever you buy, now is a great time to buy it, with staggering bargains in good second-hand equipment! Have fun!

    Regards,

    David

  3. #13
    Stephanie Brim's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by David H. Bebbington
    Someone said "the camera body is only the carriage for your film". Absolutely disagree - a poorly made or worn-out SLR body will have a high vibration level that will wreck the sharpness of virtually every shot.

    David
    I'm pretty sure that a poorly made or worn-out SLR, or *any* type of camera for that matter, wouldn't get into anyone's hands who came into this board. What I mean is that you can use a cheap, manual SLR or one of the high-end professional models and still get good photos...but if you use cheap glass you're likely to not quite get the same results you'd get if you'd sprung for the more celebrated lens. In the end, the body *is* only a carriage for the film...the lens is only a way for the light to be better directed to the film. In order to take a good photograph you have to have the vision.

    Also note that I've seen photographers take great photos with the crappiest equipment I've ever seen: small box cameras with no real lens to speak of, pinwhole cameras made out of Altoids tins, toy cameras with plastic lenses...

    I use a Fed 5C. Cheapest interchangable lens rangefinders you can get. Crappy build quality, really, but it's light tight and has good glass. I can tell you, with confidence, that vibration hasn't been what caused unsharp photograhs...it's me not being able to hold the damn thing quite steady enough at 50mm, 1/4th of a second. If you have to take a shot where the mirror vibration would be a problem, why not use a rangefinder to eliminate that problem?

    Now to bring this back on topic, I agree with you. A cheap, poorly made body can be detrimental to the photography experience. But it can also be a learning experience: you know what *not* to buy next time!

  4. #14
    David H. Bebbington's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Stephanie Brim
    ... If you have to take a shot where the mirror vibration would be a problem, why not use a rangefinder to eliminate that problem?
    Just as a matter of interest, vibration levels with SLRs is a bigger problem than most people realise. I do not use 35s as my main camera, and when I do I use mainly Pentax. I have, however, toyed with numerous Nikons, such as a second-hand FE, F3 and FM, all of which I sold on fairly quickly because of the vibration level. It was only when I bought a new FM2n a few years ago (and the FM3a I have now) that I felt I was getting properly sharp pictures.

    As a general rule, I would say anyone with an SLR more than 10 years would seriously upset themselves if they were to shoot a series of pictures of the same subject with the same effective exposure, changing the shutter speed from 1/500 one step at a time down to 1/30. It is more than likely they would see sharpness decreasing from 1/250 downwards.

    Rangefinders like your Fed are of course unaffected by mirror vibration, as they don't have mirrors, and most of the shutter vibration seems to be generated as the shutter stops after the exposure. Engineering to Leica standard can take vibration levels down very low with rangefinder cameras, although I feel that only a leaf shutter can have zero vibration (because all its moving parts are concentrically balanced).

  5. #15
    Stephanie Brim's Avatar
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    I think that the loss of sharpness is directly proportional to how steady you're able to keep the camera regardless of what kind it is. I had no trouble keeping a Nikon FE with a 50 steady inside at f/1.4 at 1/60th of a second. It was decently bright, though, and I get into some problems when I got down any farther than that with an SLR. It's actually why I switched to rangefinders. I do, however, sometimes miss my FE...I took some nice photos with it.

  6. #16
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    thanks so much everyone for all your tips and suggestions!!!

    its going to take me a while to take all this information in...
    i'll probably try to find and all manual + used one.
    i'm trying to get something under $150-200. my max budget is about $300.

    if i find a possible candidate online, i'll post again to ask for your opinions...
    then you guys will have to help me out on which lense to buy for my body!
    again, thanks a lot!!

    if you have more suggestions or tips.... or know any good websites/books on basic photography.... dont hesistate to post away~ :P

  7. #17

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    Quote Originally Posted by Matt5791
    So my advice is Pentax K1000, and you can always sell them when you want to move on as a lot of courses stipulate students should buy K100's.
    The K1000 is certainly a good learning camera; however, it's pricier on the used market than similar cameras from other manufacturers, and even than some other Pentax cameras with similar or more features. I'm not sure if that's nostalgia value or demand from people who are told to buy K1000s for photography classes. In any event, you can check the K-mount reference table I referred to earlier to find models with features similar to the K1000.

    That said, cloud9 says s/he's aiming for the $150-$200 range, and a used K1000 can be had for much less than that. On eBay, $150 should get a K1000 along with some accessories, such as a couple of lenses, a flash, and a carrying bag. Alternatively, you could buy something new for that money. Among K-mount cameras, the Vivitar V3800N costs $140-$170 at B&H, depending on the package you buy; or the Pentax ZX-M costs $160-$260. (I've got a V3800N and it seems to be a solid manual camera. I don't have a ZX-M, but based on the specs, it's got a lot more automation.) As I said in my first post, though, IMHO it's better to get an inexpensive used camera first, so that you can learn the basics and figure out which features you do and do not want or need. After you've used a ~$50 used camera for a few months, you can spring for something pricier if you decide you need (or just want) it.

  8. #18

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    cloud9, I hope you've gathered from the advice you've been given that there is no best SLR for a beginner and that there are many good ones. FWIW, I started with a Nikkormat FTN. Could have done as well starting with a similar Canon, Minolta, Pentax, ... I'm still shooting 35 mm with Nikons, my current main camera is a Nikon FM2n. Updated improved Nikkormat, lighter too. The only thing I don't like about it is that it won't do auto-TTL flash, which I want to try out. May buy a used N8008S for that feature.

    Look at what's on offer at www.keh.com. They're more reliable than most eBay sellers, also fairly competitive on price.

    How to learn on your own? My little Nikkormat came with a tiny pamphlet that explained what the controls (most of all shutter speed, aperture, focus) did and a set of homework exercises to drive the points home. Being easily led, I did the exercises and am glad I did. I still have it, it is still a good introduction. But IMO A. A. Blaker's book Field Photography is a much better introduction. Out of print, easily found used through, in alphabetical order, www.abebooks.com, www.addall.com, www.amazon.com, and sometimes even on eBay. I used to keep a couple of copies of Field Photography on hand, gave 'em to friends starting out in photography, replenished the stack when it got low.

  9. #19

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    I second the Michael Langford book. It was my first book several editions ago. Note that you can even buy an old edition since the principles are the same. Quick advice, buy the book fist (either Michel’s or another one) and go over the basic chapters. After that you may have an idea of what equipment to buy.

  10. #20

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    I'm really surprised no one has mentioned the Olympus OM series. The OM-1(n) is all mechanical except for the meter, and the lenses are excellent; some of them are amazingly good. Your budget will get you an OM-1n and one or two good lenses, depending on where you buy. An OM-2(n) adds auto exposure, but be aware that the OM-2n does not have mirror lockup.

    I second the recommendations regarding the importance of a tripod and using C41-based films until you are comfortable. I can get develop and scan to cd only cheaply at my corner drugstore (which seems to take care) as well as a semi-pro lab here in town. I have used both Kodak and Ilford b&w C-41 but haven't drawn any conclusions yet as to which I prefer.

    Finally, consider a rangefinder if long lenses and macro work isn't important. As has been stated, vibration is less of a problem.
    Honey, I promise no more searching eBay for cameras.

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