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Pro cameras for journalists

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By Ken Wightman
Posted Dec 2, 2010 in Technology
I've been asked a serious question:
I'm interested in photojournalism. I have a little 18-55mm lens at the moment. What lens would you recommend for photojournalism? I've seen some photographers out there with telephoto lenses or even multiple cameras with different lenses but i think that's ridiculous and difficult for mobility. Maybe something in between?
I flippantly tell people that point-and-shoots will do the job but the truth is they won't. At least, not when you are being paid to cover the news as a professional. Pro demands are different than those placed on citizen journalists. A pro can't say "Oops!"
So, the first thing a pro needs is a DSLR. Why? Because DSLRs do not have any shutter lag. Shutter lag will just kill you, if you are a working pro. There are only so many shots you can get off of a person arriving at a courthouse for a trial. You cannot afford to miss the shot.
Also, the DSLR will allow you to fully and easily control the camera. Everything from shutter speed to aperture settings are instantly available.
Furthermore, the DSLR will process the images quickly and be ready to fire again almost instantly. A Canon EOS Rebel XS is, in many ways, superior to some of the last 35mm pro cameras that news shooters used. It blows away the point-and-shoot competition.
Nikon and Canon are the two main camera systems used by pro photojournalists. Read the specs and then hold each camera. This is important. I personally favoured the Canon at the end of my career. It just felt right. But there was a time that Nikon had my heart and for all the same reasons. If a camera isn't comfortable, if it isn't a good fit for you, you don't want it.
Once you've settled on the camera system and camera body, it is time to pick out your lenses. I got by very nicely with a 17-35mm f/2.8 L USM wide angle zoom teamed with a 70-200 f/2.8 L USM telephoto. (Both of these have upgraded versions available today. The wide angle zoom is now 16-35mm and the 70-200mm is available in an IS version.)
I had two camera bodies. Most everyone I knew always worked with two camera bodies. It looks silly but it saves changing lens all the time. It also keeps the inside of the camera cleaner because you are removing the lens fewer times. I confess, I was lazy and often carried only one body but then I had decided in advance how I would approach the assignment and if I guessed wrong, I had the other lens in my bag.
These are expensive lenses because they are relatively fast and stay fast throughout their zoom range. These lenses are f/2.8 and they do not change, or get slower, as they are zoomed from wide to telephoto.
Next, you need a good flash. A Canon Speedlite 430 EX will do nicely. I believe these have a swivel head that allows you to bounce the flash in tight rooms and small offices. Very Nice. You can also carry a lighting umbrella and swivel the flash head such that it flashes into the umbrella and bounces into the scene.
All working pros would also add a 300mm f/2.8 telephoto for stuff like hockey games and they would carry at least a 1.4 tele-converter to convert the 300mm lens to a longer length for things such as a police stand-off. A 2.0 tele-converter adds more tele power to your lens but it also slashed the maximum aperture.
If I've lost you here, go to the library and take out a book on photography.
So, if you are really serious about photojournalism you need: two camera bodies, three lenses, an external flash and a tele-converter.
If all that is way out of your league, at least out of your price range, you have a problem. How you solve it will be up to you but try and match the pro stuff as best you can. Here is my personal answer and I am not pushing this on anyone.
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When I left the paper I lost my camera kit. It belonged to the paper. I replaced it with two point-and-shoots: A Canon S90 and a Fuji HS10.
The S90 was chosen because it has an f/2.0 lens when shooting at wide angle. The HS10 was picked for its amazing telephoto lens. The S90 also has a special low-light setting.
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I even covered an assignment for Digital Journal and was contacted later by the university and asked for a copy of my image from the DJ article. The 'U' told me that my shot was one of the nicest pictures they had seen taken of the doctor in question. I as flattered but it also spoke highly of my camera choices.
I would not want to cover a person pushing through the media crowd to enter the local court house and I wouldn't thank you to force me to shoot a basketball game. But for most things, I'll get by.
Bruce Cockburn performs at the Home County Folk Festival in London  Ontario last July.
Bruce Cockburn performs at the Home County Folk Festival in London, Ontario last July.
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Hey, I even shot a concert with my Fuji and although the colour was off, way off, the image would have looked good in print.

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