Thursday, July 2, 2009


I'm a big fan of Ken Rockwell. His work is pretty good, but most importantly he has a big bucket of common sense that most photographers lack. Horses for courses. That kind of thing. The equipment emphasis being out of the way once the camera stops being the limitation, and you do. As we've seen from DXO, these days, almost every photographer is the limitation. Problem is, saying things like the D40 is the best camera ever made will dramatically polarize opinions and tend to get you roasted to a crisp on your average camera forum. (Note: CAMERA forum. It is NOT the same as a PHOTOGRAPHY forum). It requires a step back to see where he's coming from.

Let's take the Panasonic TZ3, which is in my experience of close to 10,000 frames, an excellent camera.

Panasonic Lumix TZ3
Nikon D200, AFS 17-55/2.8 DX, two speedlights and a diffuser

But it's a point and shoot! Cry one foul already. Even worse, it's from 2007, it's not that pocketable, has zero manual controls, and a 10x lens. Surely that can't be good for the optics.

Well, I don't know. Judge for yourself. I'd say it's a pretty damn good photojournalism camera because it's a) unobtrusive and stealthy b) gives you the reach when you need it c) goes unnoticed and d) pretty fast for a compact.

Old bunnies, London
Panasonic TZ3

I actually shot an entire assignment with it once, but for the benefit of the client left a D2H and large lens slung over one shoulder. I was having much more fun with the TZ3 though:

Bucket Man, Singapore
Panasonic TZ3

And it's a pretty good camera to have in your glovebox when you're driving around without the intention of going on a proper photo trip.

Mist, Bukit Tinggi, Malaysia
Panasonic TZ3

Or when you get stuck in the office late at night.

Moon and Ships, Singapore
Panasonic TZ3

With a little creativity in your choice of strobe triggers, you can even use it for studio work because it focuses nice and close across the entire range, letting you change perspectives nicely.

Nikon D3
Panasonic TZ3, single SB800 in SU4 mode

This camera has guts.

The unwanted parts of the chicken, Petaling Street Market, Kuala Lumpur
Panasonic TZ3

Yet, no self-respecting amateur would be seen using one, because it's not a big black heavy thing with a drainpipe dangling off the front that screams 'LOOK AT ME, I'M COMPENSATING!'. No. But I suspect it's the kind of thing Ken Rockwell would like because it's easy to use, and doesn't get in the way of you trying to see the shot. Not with that nice big 3" LCD, anyway. And you have everything from a 25mm to a 280mm (HFOV) with you in your pocket. Try doing that with a FF DSLR, and I guarantee you that it'll be left in the hotel after day one - so what's the use of buying something that either a) you need to read the manual every time you want to use; b) leaves you so poor you can't afford to go anywhere to make interesting pictures with it; c) makes your subjects react like hostages, or worse still, all of the above.

Back to Ken. The D40 is like the TZ3, in many ways. It's small, unobtrusive, responsive, and can deliver incredible images in the right hands: remember, photography is all about the composition, not the gear. And better than the TZ3, you can actually shoot with it when the sun goes down and not have images that look like a bowl of jellybeans because of the noise.

I leave you with two images. Naturally, shot with a D40 and a nice prime lens.

The infectious pink Singaporeanness of it all
Nikon D40, AFD 50/1.4

Sunset over Hat Yai
Nikon D40, AFD 50/1.4

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