I first started taking photographs in the late ‘80s with a second-hand Olympus OM-10 film camera (ahhhh film… those were the days!).
This was a “full frame” (of course, as it was a film) camera, meaning each film frame was 24mm by 36mm.
To be honest, shortly after buying that old, second-hand camera and taking shots of a few birds and stars (I distinctly remember taking shots of the Andromeda Galaxy with it) I probably discovered the err… non-feathered type of birds and headed off to University, having sold my Olympus OM10 for beer money I expect.
I don’t think I took up photography again in any serious way until the noughties, at about the time I hooked up with a woman called Anna, who’s now my (long-suffering) beautiful wife.
We lived in London for a short while, but it wasn’t until we moved to Reading in about 2006 (we've since moved twice) that I thought I’d like to learn as much as I can about invertebrates (I’m not sure why) so used my old Sony Ericsson Cybershot mobile phone (certainly not a smart phone!) to take photos of everything and anything six or eight-legged I saw and then document all my findings on various blogs (especially “Blue-Grey” in 2007).
The Sony Ericsson phone had a pretty good camera for an early camera phone, with “macro” capability (even though strictly speaking it was far from 1:1 macro) so it made a quite portable camera for someone like me.
The shot below was probably one of the best I took with my Sony Ericsson mobile phone in our garden.
In 2008 I contacted a fellow wildlife-enthusiast, Mark, via a website called “Wild About Britain” (which I would like to recommend, but can’t (at all – it was a bleedin' awful site)) to ask him about the camera that he used to take shots of his local wildlife (I remember some exquisite photographs of red squirrels and roe deer he’d taken).
Mark got me thinking about Panasonic Lumix Bridge cameras and I bought three eventually – an FZ20, an FZ30 (off Mark himself) and then finally in around 2010, an FZ50, which I still use regularly today and still regard it to be the best bridge camera ever made, at least by Panasonic, if not any company.
These little bridge cameras were SUPERB (mainly thanks to their fixed Leica lens) and I don’t think I’ll ever get rid of my FZ50 – if for nothing else, its macro capabilities with a dirt-cheap (£15) Raynox DCR 150 filter clipped onto the end of the fixed Leica lens.
The combination of Raynox, Leica and Panasonic meant I completely maxed-out this camera’s capabilities. I pushed the tiny Panasonic Bridge cameras to their maximum capability and then some.
The Panasonic bridge cameras I so loved were limited in two (main) ways – 1: the battery life was abysmal (I could take perhaps 100 photos with a fully-charged battery if I was lucky) and the ISO (digital “film speed”) performance and IQ (image quality) was truly awful. Bear in mind that the digital sensor in these Panasonic bridge cameras is about THIRTY TIMES SMALLER than the full frame of each frame of film in my old Olympus OM10 (therefore perhaps thirty times LESS light is hitting the digital sensor of the Panasonic bridge camera as hit the film of the old Olympus OM10)!
That said I’d always recommend bridge cameras to interested parties – and have done twice, relatively recently. They have two main limitations but many more pluses!
There are MANY shots still on this “DmackDimages” website which have been taken by me using the Panasonic bridge cameras (almost certainly the FZ50 or perhaps my first Panasonic, the FZ20) and indeed I won awards for several of my Panasonic bridge shots. It was always nice that, to turn up to awards ceremonies knowing that I was the only one there (or one of the very few) who had taken their winning or commended shot on a cheap bridge camera, whereas 99% of everyone else had used a “proper” DSLR and expensive lens costing perhaps thousands and thousands of pounds!
I did feel slightly limited by the two drawbacks of the Panasonic bridge cameras though and so decided to buy my first DSLR in about 2010 or 2011 – a second-hand (again!) Canon 40D with an expensive lens (a 70-200 F4 IS).
At the time, everyone around me (well… those that were getting into photography) seemed to be buying the Nikon D90 but true to form I chose my own path. I did so primarily because despite the Nikon D90 sensor being clearly better than the sensor on the Canon 40D (and therefore the IQ was better on Nikon images than Canon’s), the Canon “ecosystem” (as they called it, the lenses and accessories etc) was far cheaper and far more comprehensive – at least in terms of things I saw myself needing in the future to keep my interest in photography keen.
I’ve spent perhaps five years or so taking photographs with my 40D and added 2 more lenses to assist in that process - a 10-22 wide angle lens and a 50mm f1.8 portrait lens.
During those 4 years, my expensive 70-200 F4 IS lens has broken (I’m sure it’s fixable – I just haven’t got ‘round to sending it off to Canon yet) but the rest (other than the FZ50 and FZ20) of the shots (as I type) on this website are almost certainly taken with the 40D DSLR.
It is a great DSLR albeit a bit long in the tooth these days and was a great introduction for me into “proper” digital photography. It also produced another award for me in 2011 with, to this day, my most controversial shot.
I used to be known (in photography and wildlife circles) as a “macro photographer”, but for a while at least I was instead known as the bloke who’d taken that tabby cat and blackbird shot as well as that bloke who took that shot of the flying white bat shot. Both these shots are on this website and both were taken with the 40D and the 70-200 lens.
The IQ of the 40D was certainly a HUGE step up from the Panasonic FZ bridge cameras I’d been using (because of the sensor that was over eight times as large!), as was the battery life (I could get perhaps 1000 shots from one battery charge instead of 100 if I was lucky). I added a battery grip to the 40D (see the shot below) which as well as unfortunately increasing the size and weight of the camera, also increased that battery life to perhaps a full week of heavy shooting – I’d have had needed 15 or 20 batteries in my old bridge camera to have matched that!
A few things made me think I needed to upgrade from my Canon 40D.
The first was on holiday in rural Turkey (a few years ago now) when I wanted to take shots of the milky way – and did so – but found that even with a sensor eight and a half times as big on my 40D as my old bridge cameras, I couldn’t quite do what I’d envisaged. Or not easily anyway.
The second was having my first child (well. my wife having our first child… you know what I mean!) which meant I was often wanting to take indoor or low light shots of humans (or a baby!) without flash etc, rather than sitting in a hedge for a day with a lens trained on an owl roost, or taking macro shots of butterfly faces etc - I didn't (sadly don't!) have time for that stuff any more!
Last December I took the shot below of our son with his 4th birthday cake, lit only by one candle in a dark room, without a flash (I knew what effect I wanted and a flash was out of the question). Now the 40D or any APS-C camera (with a sensor about 2.5x smaller than a full frame camera) is really not designed for taking such images. Several of our friends after seeing that image have remarked on “how good it (the shot) is” and how “I must have a very good camera”.
Many photographers (pro or otherwise) will know exactly how I feel when hearing that sort of stuff. It’s not the camera that takes the shot – it’s the photographer – and with this shot below, I was pushing the old 40D to beyond what it should be capable of shooting. Five years of messing around on manual mode (I’m NEVER in auto mode on any DSLR) and the experience that gave me resulted in the shot below. Nothing else. But with a full-frame camera, the shot could have been SO much easier and SO much better, I think. Taking the shot below with a full frame camera would have meant 20 or 30 useable shots of Ben and the cake, from 20-30 shots. But at the time of shooting the image below, I didn’t have a full frame camera, I shot the photograph a good two dozen times and only ONCE did I get a useable shot – the shot below!
The third thing (making me really consider an upgrade) was the fact that full frame cameras (with sensors over two and a half times bigger than my 40D sensor) have been dramatically dropping in price over the past few years.
Ten years ago, you’d have needed a second mortgage to buy a pretty-basic full frame DSLR. Or you’d need someone to buy it for you (i.e. you’d have needed to be a professional photographer). But now, you can pick up a far more advanced full frame DSLR for a half-decent sum of money rather than an eye-watering sum.
I made the decision pretty quickly eventually and three weeks ago found an ad for a Canon 6D DSLR for a reasonable price just around the corner.
After seeing it twice, testing it in detail (looking at the sensor, lens codes etc) I decided to buy it (and the accompanying lens – a 24-105 F4 IS L) – so I’m now a proud owner of my second full frame camera. My second, as my first was my full frame film camera in the late ‘80s – the Olympus OM10. This is my second full frame camera then, but my first full frame digital camera.
I’m not going to review it here, at least not yet, as I’m still trying to get to grips with it. It may be a Canon DSLR but the “operating system” is a little different to my old Canon 40D so I need to again start to work out which buttons to press and when, without thinking about it – and that’ll take a wee while.
What I will say is that it is smaller and heavier than my old 40D (although bear in mind that in the photo below with the 6D in the middle and the 40D on the left, the 40D does have a huge great grip on it which makes it look HUGE), but probably far more capable.
Its sensor is over two and half times the size of the sensor on the 40D, it has twice as many pixels – and those two facts mean the pixel pitch or size of the pixels (SO important!) is markedly bigger on the 6D too. That said, it also has double the resolution of the 40D. It doesn’t have a built-in flash (I’ll have to buy an external flash then), doesn’t accept my old 40D CF card (so I’ve had to buy a new SD card) and won’t accept the old 40D batteries or battery grip (new ones needed again then!).
Full frame digital photography, which I suppose is what I’m doing from now on, when I’m not taking insect close-ups with the FZ50) is a little different to APS-C or micro 4/3 or bridge or point and shoot or camera phone photography. I’ll not be as zoomed in as I have been with my 40D and the depth of field on my 6D is very small indeed – but that’s a plus I think.
I’m going to have a lot of fun with my new (old!) camera and before too long, I’m sure I’ll be adding to the images on this website (other than images on blog posts) that are taken by me with my new (old!) 6D.
Perhaps Anna and I (and Ben this time!) can return to Cirali to take a proper shot of the milky way there– with my full frame camera (and a suitable lens which I’ve already identified!) giving me everything I need, this time.
So…Thirty years ago I was pointing a full frame (film) camera towards the night sky and now, thirty years on… I’ve gone full (frame) circle and will be once again pointing a full frame (digital) camera towards the night sky.
NB. At the time of writing this blog post, the zenfolio-based website seems to be experiencing all manner of problems, meaning you'll not be able to see some of the images on this blog post or indeed this website. Apologies on behalf of all at Zenfolio for a pretty poor service at this time.