Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Upgrades, Do I Really Need Them?

I've been lusting after the Sony A77 DSLR camera, which is the slated successor to the A700, which I currently shoot with. However, between the economic slump, wanting to save up for bigger and better things for the family, and getting great advice from the likes of Zack Arias to justify everything you spend on, I've been wondering, do I really need a new DSLR body, short of my camera just dying?

A Recent Trip To The Aquarium

As folks who know me knows, I like photographing wildlife, in the wild or on display. My goal is always to photograph wildlife in a pleasing manner, as if they were free. To that end, I've worked to take great shots with the gear that I have. Flashes and lights don't help, if the light will harm the wildlife or if such lights are not allowed where you are shooting. Say... at the Monterey Bay Aquarium's deep sea exhibits.

Spotted Jellyfish - Shot with A700, 70-200/2.8, ISO 6400
The above Spotted Jellyfish was photographed with my aging Sony A700 DSLR, which I'm so eager to replace. Shot handheld at ISO 6400 to freeze the motion in the dim aquarium lighting. I absolutely love this shot. I couldn't help notice that as I shot this and other shots, others equipped with DSLR(s) were engaging pop up flashes *shudder* or had their ipod and android camera phones pressed to the glass to photograph or record a video of the wildlife.

I'm also a big fan of the swifter underwater wildlife currently on display at the Monterey Bay Aquarium: sea turtles.

Sea Turtles - Shot with A700, 70-200/2.8, ISO 6400
This sea turtle was photographed handheld at ISO 6400. Click on the image to see more sea turtle photographs from the same shoot. I just love how the images turned out. They are beautifully rendered.

Note, these were shot during a busy weekend. There were many adults, children, and swarms of pocket cameras thrust out at the turtles. However, there are always openings for taking a shot and I'm finding that my patience is often rewarded.

Image Quality Has Gone Up... But The Equipment Hasn't Changed

The funny thing here is that I'm getting more sharp images despite not taking along a monopod, no tripod, no external lighting, and no special filters. Same camera, same lens, same processing via LR.

There are some differences, however, in how I'm shooting:

  • Agorabastas settings for the A700
  • Taking my time to get the shot
  • Making sure I'm well anchored before taking the shot
The Agorabastas settings are settings used to do high iso jpeg shooting to further suppress noise on the A700. For this trip, I shot RAW+JPEG, but only processed the RAW files to get the final resulting images. A few of the settings employed also stands to suppress noise in-chip, which really gives your camera a whole new character.

I've also been taking more time to take my shot. No rushing. Maybe take a burst of 3-4 shots for safety. Brace against anything I can, and when I can't, I adopt a stable pose. 
Sea Turtle - Show with A700, 70-200/2.8, ISO 640
Do I Need The Upgrade...?

I think it is fair to say that I am always honing my shooting skills. Trying out new shooting styles, postures, bracing, settings, breathing, composition, and post processing techniques. There is always something new to learn every time I go out to shoot and every time I come back from a shoot.

And ultimately, it begs the question... perhaps I don't need to upgrade?

In truth, I would say that there is no need to upgrade. Limitations encourage me to improve my technique and to better maximize what I can do with what I have now.

Having said that, there are shots I know I just can't shoot. Shots which a faster camera body would allow me to. The distance from one to the next represents a good chunk of change. A small voice tells me, with time, new techniques, and a deeper understanding, the need to upgrade becomes less and less. Still, it would be _nice_. :)

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