Originally Posted by David H. Bebbington
I don't question your knowledge or expertise - and I am sure that on a pretty elevated technical level what you are saying is dead on the money. But, I don't think what you describe is the aim of this exercise. You have to learn a lot before you have the knowledge necessary to say what it is you like, dislike and how to fix it. By then, you will have shot a lot of film and learned a great deal, and probably laugh at all the unknowns that you faced in the start.
Also, I think that the aboslute technical perfection does not a great image make. There is a lot more to it, in my humble view - and it all begins with taking the photo in the first place. Not with second guessing your abilities and those of your gear. Its a mute point that better gear is... well... better. But the worst pictures are those you never got around to taking - especially when you consider the learning aspect of it all.
And one more thing. Simple, limited, etc. does not mean BAD. My Zenit happens to get the film behind the lens, and the lens is actually of a pretty decent quality - no bells and whistles, a woefully inaccurate meter - but really not bad at all as long as you realize its limitations and work within them. Its semi-retired now, but I can always count on its simple, mechanical nature to give me an image no matter where and when I ask for it.
Again, the wisest bit of advice here is to just get out there and start. Its hard to make a bad choice, and as Shawn said, you really can't go that wrong with a simple SLR and a 50mm prime. And although he makes an excellent point about the perils of buying used, there are many ways of doing it that are very, very reputable and a safe bet.
I am going to try to stay away from this thread now... I know I am just enjoying the discussion and not helping that much
Often wrong, but never in doubt!
I teach intro photography every month and generally find that the camera is not terribly important, much more important are the vision and dedication of the student.
That said, one thing I have noticed is that there are some cameras that give very little information in the viewfinder and others that tell you more. That information is very useful. After working with a couple of beginners with Canon AE-1s which basically require you to repeatedly remove your eye from the finder to set the shutter speed and aperture I helped out someone with a Nikon FE2. The FE2 was a joy, the aperture and shutter speed both show in the finder and you can work much more quickly.
I also find that the auto focus cameras are harder to learn to use and many people fall right back into using auto exposure quickly because of the hassle of having to turn dials while pressing buttons and the like.
Any way you go, have fun, that is most important.
I strongly agree with Paul about viewfinder information. I divide viewfinders into three classes:
1) insufficient information finders, like the AE-1 mentioned, that keep your eye moving between finder and controls on the body to set the exposure
2) sufficent information finders, which tell you whether your settings are correct, but may not tell you exactly which f-stop or shutter speeds you've selected
3) full information viewfinders, which tell you when you've got the correct exposure and display both your shutter speed and f-stop settings
If you have questions about which specific cameras are which, there are repositories of manuals on line that can help. Google is your friend. Older cameras also evolved to include more or less information in the finder (FT-FTb-FTbN, SRT-101, -102, -202, etc.) and sometimes without any model designation change. So you have to know some details before drawing conclusions if you don't have the camera in hand.
For a beginner (or for anyone else for that matter) the full information finders are the fastest to use and easiest with which to learn. Sufficient information finders are OK if you have a good memory and are used to the camera. I never use or recommend insufficient information finder cameras to anyone who wants to learn what they're doing. They are OK for snapshooters who'll only use automated modes and don't care about the details.
As I mentioned, I have a nice Konica A3 kit w/macro zoom that I could sell to you. PM or email me if you're interested.
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