Samples with tech-notes and links, on this page and gallery 2, will be updated bi-monthly (this was posted 18.09.18, what’s shown will change on 18.11.18, then 19.01.19, etc). Please note that the image-use rights for all photos – watermarked or not – are copyright protected.
‘I’ve never met an image-maker that I trust – an artist, a designer, an illustrator, a what-have-you – who doesn’t think it’s worthwhile to know how to make good use of a camera.’
Angelo Ciotti, Jim Jackson’s first photography tutor
Notes from Jim : Angelo Ciotti’s comments don’t imply that every designer or artist needs to be a professional photographer. They do imply that a well-rounded image-maker can define what ‘good photography’ means to their practice. There’s no need to be intimidated by any camera’s settings – or, be perplexed by similarities or differences in resolution. With recent advances in Apple’s iPhone (8-X, in particular) and others (Samsung Galaxy, Huawei and Google), it’s likely that this portable photo/video kit can produce surprisingly good results for some kinds of web, short video, social media and visual research needs.
The questions soon become : How much camera do you need? Are the smaller lenses (built-in or added on) of newer cameraphones, in terms of their improved optical zoom, image clarity, low-level lighting options and video capabilities enough for you?
The short answer for us is: no, not for our needs. We hire specialist photographers for some client requests and it’s amazing what’s been done to improve cameraphones. But it isn’t likely that the physical properties of a larger and more diverse set of lenses will be outdone any time soon. Many full-size DSLRs still have larger and better colour sensors. The optical differences are worth it for our clients.
Above : same facade (above and below), different points of view and exposures. These are two test shots using Letterfit’s 24-70mm L-series lens. Although these weren’t perfectly bracketed or timed – wrong time of day, aperture could’ve been set wider or narrower – learning by doing is the only way forward.
Example of an analogue (film-based) alternative
Above : a Mamiya C330 5cm square-format film camera was used for these cropped multiple glimpses of an unusually-designed (and somewhat bizarre) lamp featured at a 20th-century antique store. A larger piece of transparent film exposed in these light-tight mechanical wonders meant that it’s possible to capture sharper details, less graininess and richer colour definition than many 35mm film cameras could easily match.
A still-useful, if used, DSLR & lens ‘starter kit’ for < £100?
It isn’t the kit that makes a good photographer, it’s knowing how to use it. The Nikon D70s is a 6-mpx full-frame DSLR first released in 2005. Though anyone can see a difference, in term of resolution and overall image quality compared to using the DSLR and mirrorless cameras we currently use, judging by the samples posted on this D70 aficionado’s 2017 ‘throwback’ review’, this may be a good used kit for students to do more with than they might expect. 1
Above : shot with a Panasonic Lumix compact camera. This effect is fairly true in colouration since it was bright sunlight after a heavy rain. I did re-shoot this with a better camera on another day in similar lighting for client use. Below: shot with an iPhone 6, white-point and shadow detail are less than ideal. It’s best to take transient grabs with whatever’s close to hand. For naturally-lit situations, it’s often worthwhile to snap what you think is intriguing before it goes. Inexpensive film cameras, like Lomos and Dianas (which use plastic, not glass, lenses) can produce surprisingly-effective results in natural lighting, too.
Since this wasn’t for a work assignment, I haven’t re-shot this with a better camera and lens. It’s a good way to keep photographic notes regardless.
This studio’s lean but versatile photo-kit
Currently, we photograph and make short videos with two Canon DSLRs : an M50 mirrorless compact and a full-frame EOS 5D Mark IV. We use a variety of fixed- and zoom-lenses (bought new or used), most of which are Canon lenses. Again, it’s not the kit itself as much as it’s all of us committing to making the most of it. Everyone shoots differently – and everyone at Letterfit takes photos.
Connectivity: WiFi, hardware & software in use
We use Canon’s free Camera Connect app to download full-resolution jpegs and raw photos to a secure server. Individual photos are corrected or retouched (as need be) using various techniques in Photoshop and particularly its Camera Raw filter. For quicker editing of burst-mode photo sequences, Adobe Lightroom is in use.
Digital layout, typographic, artwork and editing needs make use of the full suite of Adobe CC programmes alongside Final Cut Pro, Logic Pro X and After Effects for video- music- and sound-editing needs. We use Sketch and Zeplin for App prototyping and Fontographer 5.2 with
Fontlab 6 (correction : dropped back to 5.1) to develop a new typeface family for a bespoke online-to-print publishing project’s best resolve.
Canon lenses we use
A fixed lens that’s discreet and affordable is the 40mm EF ‘pancake’ lens, a thinner alternate to the ‘nifty 50’ lens we have that some may prefer. The 40mm is less obtrusive for quick shots or motion-tracked AF videos – both of these fixed lenses’ optics are surprising sharp, right to the edges. These are often paired with our M50 compact camera. Also in use are an 85mm portrait lens and a 100mm L-series macro lens. The other lens that’s used as a primary zoom lens for the M50 compact is the EF-M 18-150 mm f/3.5-6.3 IS STM. The EF lenses we have for the full-frame Mark IV all work with this smaller camera using an adapter ring – focus settings on the camera respond without any noticeable noise or delay (so far). 2 The favoured zoom lens of late (the EF 24-70mm USM II L-series, shown below) was used to take these last two photos :
The glass for the lens above is ultra-clear and sharp, when it’s coupled with the Mark IV’s 5D sensors, the images you can get with this one lens makes you fall in love with what’s better than other zoom-lenses we’ve used (some of which are pretty good too, admittedly). Any full-frame camera set-up, particularly when used with a tripod, is bulky and conspicuous. The trick is to pick the right camera/lens combo to suit each job we’re asked to do. 3
Above : this 70-200 mm telephoto is an exceptional lens for eliminating Photoshop time to correct ‘barrelling‘. It’s the first third-party lens we’ve invested in at Letterfit, made easier by Tamron’s 5-year warranty. Judging from the reviews that are in (consistently 4 to 5 stars), this appears to be a solid alternative to the current 70-200 Canon lens. It’s fairly heavy, which means its inner casings are more metallic than plastic. We like the three VC (Vibration Control) options and its crisp optics. It’s a good zoom-distance pairing with the lens shown above it.
Other than these zoom-lenses, the studio has picked up a good-condition used EF 70-300mm lens for the rarer instances (wildlife, etc) that zooming in to that level is helpful. We also have good access to rented lenses here in London at affordable day rates.
1 We still have a D70 with a decent Nikkor zoom lens at the studio. At some point, though it’s a bit unfair to pit older to newer DSLRs with similar but different lenses against each other (surely the newer kit will do better), the plan is to shoot side-by-side comparisons to show students. If you’re considering setting up a photo / videography kit, you may want to look into DSLR, mirrorless or film-based cameras manufactured by Olympus, FujiFilm, Nikon, Leica, Panasonic, Lomo / Diana, Polaroid or Canon. I’ve gotten good results working alone or with professional studio and location-based photographers in using medium- to large-format digital and film cameras made by Leica, Mamiya and Hassleblad.
2 The lens-adapter ring we use is relatively inexpensive (£30) and works well with an EF 40mm or 50mm lens (and others) on this smaller mirrorless M50’s EF-M mount. The reason we went with a Canon mirrorless compact rather than a Sony (which can be adapted to use Canon EF lenses, too, but these adapters are more expensive) was its quick adaptability with the EF lenses we already have. The M-series of Canon lenses for the M50 compact are limited, so having just one native all-rounder for this that’s consistently recommended is probably enough. Canon EF lenses can’t be used on a Nikon DSLR since the glass of these lens would have to be set closer to the sensors, rather than further away.
3 For portrait-style image-capture of individuals in particular, photographers need to be aware of image rights. The best advice, if you’re concerned about whether or not a person would agree to having their photo used, is to ask them, politely and directly. If they say no, it’s important to honour their request and not publicly or privately use this image. Incidental street-photos are somewhat different (these can be considered ‘public domain’), but it’s best to be respectful of the image rights of anyone who may be featured in photos as key compositional elements.