Episode 14: Upgrading cameras, Lightroom and Photoshop, memory cards, and more!

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In Episode 14 of the Improve Photography Podcast, Jim and Dustin answer listener questions about when to upgrade your camera or lens, the benefits of Lightroom and Photoshop, shooting in an alley, buying memory cards, and more!

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Guide to Episode 14

[0:45] Jim and Dustin discuss Canon image sensor similarities among several Canon cameras.

Canon has had the same sensor in some of its cameras for so long – the Canon T2i, Canon T3i, Canon T4i, Canon 60D, and Canon 7D all have similar specs, and Jim suspects that the same sensors are being rotated into each of these cameras. There are lots of differences between the cameras, but as far as the image sensor is concerned, it appears that they are all the same.

Read more on this topic here.

[5:06]  What is the benefit for beginning photographers of purchasing Lightroom or Photoshop over just using the on-board photo editing program available through Windows?

There is a night and day difference between the on-board programs that come with your typical computer and the industry leaders (like Lightroom and Photoshop). In these advanced programs (which you can purchase for a bit over $100), you will find so many features that it will take you a lifetime to learn how to use them all. You can adjust things in so many more ways using these features.

If you’re thinking about purchasing some photo editing software, download the free 30 day trial and try it first. You will love it and you won’t ever want to go back to the on-board programs.

[7:41] I have a Nikon D90 with an 80-200 f/2.8, and I’m thinking about upgrading to the Nikon D600 or Nikon D800. At the highest ISO settings would I see a dramatic improvement, making it worth the price of upgrading?

When you have specific requirements such as this listener (who is shooting indoor swim meets), it can be a valid decision to move up. Indoor shooting needs good low-light performance. In terms of the low-light performance, the D800 and D600 are very close, though the D600 takes the cake a little bit.

However, in terms of speed, Jim writes off the D800 because, while it’s excellent, when you’re shooting sports you want a faster frame-rate than the D800 has; it’s a slow camera. It’s great for studio, outdoor portraits, weddings, landscapes, etc, but not for sports because of its speed.

Lots of photographers think the best combination is a low megapixel camera that does really well with ISO. In theory, lower megapixel allows each photo site to collect more data and would produce better quality photos. However, once Jim started using the Nikon D800 with 36 megapixels, he found that when you have that many megapixels you capture so much data about the scene that you’re shooting that you can run a LOT of noise reduction because you have so much detail to work with. So even if the Nikon D800 is slightly worse on low-light straight out of the camera, Jim would still rather pick the D800 image because in Photoshop, it can handle a LOT of editing and still hold up with good image quality.

[12:50]  As a portrait photographer, I’ve been looking for good outdoor settings and found a cool alley, but because of the buildings surrounding it, the lighting is bad. What should I do?

Shooting in an alley is easier than shooting anywhere else because you’re already at neutral (by “neutral lighting” we mean that the sun isn’t coming across someone’s face and leaving heavy, dark shadows on one side), and you just need to add some interesting highlights. Just like in the park in the shade of a tree, it is easier to expose a neutral exposure on your photos. You don’t want the hard light, even in broad daylight. If you’ve found an alley, you’ve struck gold! Having buildings all around to throw shadows is perfect! An alley is great for flash photography as you can use the flash to get an interesting highlight.

[15:21] I’m looking to get a wider range lens and thinking about getting a fixed 50mm lens. Would this be a good choice?

If you go look at any professional photographer and see what’s on their camera, it’s rarely the 50mm lens. But new photographers are often told to go get the 50mm f/1.8 lens – why is this? Your kit lens is usually a variable aperture between f/3.5(zoomed out) and f/5.6(zoomed in), so the 50mm lens is great for your next lens once you’re ready to move on from the kit lens because it is sharp, cheap ($100-$120), has a fast aperture, and every brand has them.

However, the 50mm lens is not something you see with a wedding, professional, or serious photographer, because it’s not as usable of a focal length. 50mm is too zoomed in for a wide shot, and not quite telephoto enough to get the close-in shots. Focal length is doing more than just zooming in and out or changing how the photo looks – it changes how the model feels. With the 50mm you are too close to the model, and this makes them feel very uncomfortable which in turn translates to a less-than-ideal facial expression and a ruined photo. Additionally, focal length controls the way the person looks; it’s not just a matter of laziness of walking in and out.

[22:20] I’m shooting outdoor events at night. What is the trick to focusing in low light? Do I use the flash to freeze the action or should I crank up the ISO to get a faster shutter speed to freeze the action?

Skip the flash so you can capture the ambiance of what’s happening. For outdoor events at night, in ambient lighting, using a flash will wash everything out. Yes, you’ll freeze the subject, but it won’t look good. You need to go for the ISO. It wouldn’t be surprising if you’re using an ISO speed of 1600 (or even higher) in these conditions.

In a really dim environment you may have a hard time getting your lens to focus. In this case you need to find something high contrast, and  put your focus point on the contrast in order to help the camera be able to focus. However, if it’s too dark you may have to switch to manual focus (which you don’t want to do because it is hard to get the focus right with a moving subject).

[27:18] I need to buy new memory cards and I’m unsure of what to buy. What do I look for when I purchase?

Click here for an in-depth discussion about buying memory cards for your DSLR camera.

[33:05] I’m looking for a database in which I can store high quality photos and other documents and have it be searchable by people in different locations.

There isn’t a way yet for you to host files and have people search them as if they are on their local machine. But a good alternative solution for this is to use a Dropbox account. You will have to pay for it (it is cloud based storage) but  then all the files you store there will sync to the local machine that is accessing it. This works really well for long distances. For shorter distances (i.e. in the same office) a Netgear ReadyNAS is a great solution (and can hold up to 12 terabytes of storage).

[37:08] Prizes for reviews!

The winner is ksteele23384.  If that’s your username on iTunes, email Jim at to get your free online photography class.

To be entered to win the online photography class each week, simply go to this podcast on iTunes and write a one or two sentence review.  While they appreciate a a 5-star review, any review will get you entered to win a class for free (a $98 value).

[37:54] Doodads of the Week

Dustin’s pick of the week is the Spider Camera Holster. This is a belt that you strap on that has clasps to attach the camera to so you can carry the camera on your hip instead of on your shoulder or in your bag. It costs around $130 for a one-camera setup, and about $200 for a two-camera setup.

Jim’s doodad of the week is the Stuck on Earth app for iOS which lets you search for the best photo locations on the planet. Photographers all over the world tag great photo locations and from these, you can create a list of locations and you’ve got great places to head to. This keeps you from wasting your entire trip looking for good places to shoot.