Reflections & Ramblings: Volume twenty-three

I lived in Pensacola, Florida while I was in college. It was a mere 20 minute drive or so from my dorm to the famously white, sugar sand beaches of Pensacola Beach. Some of my peers took advantage of this and were at the beach every chance they got. For me however it wasn’t until I was a senior in college that I spent much time there.

I had great roommates my senior year. We would often get up early on Saturday mornings, stop by Bagelheads to get some bagels right before heading across three-mile bridge to the beach. The goal was to arrive at the beach just as the sun was rising, or a little before. We’d throw out a few towels on the sand and just soak in the scene. Most of that time was spent in silence. We like to simply be reflective and take in the beauty. On certain mornings there was a thick fog that would surround us on the beach, blocking out the sunrise. But there was always still beauty in that, too.

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Sometimes my roommate would let me borrow one of his cameras. He had a couple DSLRs and he’d let me borrow his Pentax. It was on these trips to Pensacola beach that I learned a lot of photography.

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After a while I think my roommate realized how much I enjoyed using the camera he would lend me and eventually asked if I wanted to buy it from him. I did, without hesitation. I loved it. I’ve been shooting photography ever since. I’ve also been using Pentax ever since those days on the beach.

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In 2012 I purchased my second Pentax camera – the K-5. I also bought a 55-300mm lens. These were game changers for me. My original Pentax, the K100D, was a fun camera, but it was pretty limited in it’s image quality. And let’s not even discuss its autofocus struggles.

I had bought the camera in anticipation of the coming of my son Micah. I wanted to have a camera that I felt confident in taking pictures of my firstborn. I have never once regretted getting that camera and the few lenses I purchased for it. Later that year I also picked up the Pentax K-01, a quirky mirrorless camera designed by Marc Newsome, which quickly became my favorite camera. It was always with me. And many of my favorite photographs have been taken using that camera.

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By the time I had purchased these cameras I had already been an avid consumer of Tumblr, Instagram, and Flickr. I had seen thousands of people’s photographs, styles, techniques, and creativity. To learn what settings to use on my camera for various situations I would go to Flickr and look at pictures and guess at some of the possibilities of the lens and the exposure settings and check the EXIF data.

I would spend hours on Tumblr scrolling through all sorts of amazing photography – from the grittiest iPhone captures to the most professional images from some well-respected and famous photographers.

On Instagram I learned that great photographs didn’t require the best cameras. It was the framing, the storytelling, and the creativity that mattered. But ultimately, it was the Photographer that made the difference. Great photography doesn’t require the best camera. It requires a great and thoughtful mind. One willing to tell a story with their images, perhaps one that represents the reality of that around them, or one that eliminates the mess around them to present the illusion of a life of symmetric perfection.

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I spent years on PentaxForums.com participating in a daily photograph group there. A dedicated group of about 20 people or so would choose one lens to use for an entire month on one of their Pentax cameras and post a single image every single day. We’d all review each others’ photographs and give our thoughts and insights. This group helped develop my own style and identity in my photography. It also had the amazing benefit of connecting with people from all around the world – Australia, South Africa, Sweden, France, Canada, and various States around the country. (I wrote a post about a man in the group who passed away while participating in the group here.)

I went on photowalks on Instagram and Flickr meet-ups throughout the city of Chicago, and later after moving to Omaha, I even met up with a few people for a Instagram photowalk at Boys Town, a whole year before I would eventually live and work there.

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I carried a camera with me all the time when I was in grad school. I tried to at least take one photograph a day. I wasn’t always successful, but it helped me notice the moments around me to be captured. I always struggled with my confidence and assertiveness with a camera in my hand. But over time I have gotten better at photographing something I want to capture, no matter the thoughts or looks I might get from those around me.

I now live in a home with six teenage girls, two toddlers, my wife, and a dog. We have visitors to our home on nearly a daily basis. We have assistants who are in our home at least 45 hours a week. We are always going on outings around town and doing fun things in the home. All of these factors create dozens and dozens of moments to capture with my camera. And I try to do so as often as I think of it. However, a lot of the fun of photography for me is sharing it with others. Due to privacy restrictions I can’t share images of the girls in my home with the public. And it makes me sad because we have so many great moments together. And because of this, I have really stopped taking a lot of photographs.

I have also found that my Pentax cameras aren’t doing what I want them to do. With this many girls and two toddler boys all in one home, there’s a lot of commotion in our home. Capturing all that activity is hard to do in low-light indoor settings. I’ll take a photo only to see that it’s not in focus, or I missed the moment by a few seconds because of the limitations of my cameras. But those are some of the priceless moments that I want to be able to capture.

I had been considering getting the Pentax full-frame camera that came out fairly recently. For being a full frame, it’s incredibly affordable. But it is still expensive, and I’d need to buy full-frame lenses, too. I thought that if I was going to do that, it might be time to go ahead and check out other camera companies, too.

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So, for the last year or so I’ve been looking at different camera systems, considering their positives and their drawbacks. When thinking about what my dream camera was, there were mainly three things I cared about: autofocus ability, ease of use/logical layout, and great lenses.

Pretty much any camera creates great images these days. No matter what brand you decide to go with, you’re going to be able to get great images. We are so used to our tiny phone camera sensors that any APS-C sensor is going to look incredible. Match that with a good lens, and you’re pretty much set. I have no problem with the image quality of my old Pentax cameras from 2012. But it’s not the image quality that I want to improve. It’s what it takes to get a good image out of the camera that I’m concerned about. Pentax has some of the greatest image processing in their cameras. But their autofocus is pretty pathetic compared to pretty much any other camera company. We are so used to whipping out our cell phones and taking a picture these days. Our cell phones can focus in low light settings and give us a picture we feel pretty decent about. Meanwhile, my Pentax camera is searching and searching for something to focus on in low light and by the time I get the picture the moment that I was wanting to capture has passed.

What’s the point of having a camera that will give you a good quality image of the moments just after the moment you wanted to capture?

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So after watching about three days worth of YouTube reviews and reading all sorts of forums I’ve decided to move away from Pentax to adopt a new camera system: the Fujifilm X system.

I will write a post about why I went with Fujifilm, but at this point I just want to say I’m extremely excited to purchase my new camera. I’m going to wait just a couple more weeks to get it around the Black Friday/Cyber Monday sales.

The internal components of DSLR cameras have really increased since 2012. I’m so impressed with all that is packed into their cameras. (Not to mention video capability!)

I have spent the last 8 years developing my own photographic style and identity. I don’t rely on the camera to create a good photograph. The camera is a tool. I won’t throw away or sell my Pentax cameras. There will be times I will want to use them for specific situations, wet weather for instance.

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But I think the time has come for me to take my photography to the next level and that requires a more advanced tool than what I’ve used for the last five years. I have never regretted spending money on camera gear. It is the best sort of investment you can make. Cameras give you the ability to tell stories and to time travel. The images and videos they can capture become priceless.

Purchasing a new camera will also encourage me to get back to taking photos all the time. I won’t be surprised if I carry this new Fuji camera with me everywhere I go. I’m thankful for the quality of the camera inside my iPhone, but it is still a very limited tool.

So in a few weeks I’ll have my new camera and I’ll write an update with my thoughts, as well as some example images. But for now, here are some photographs I’ve taken over the years that I like, at various times and places. Some capture specific fleeting moments, some are more composed and well thought out.

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