New Gear Sucks

It is so exciting to see the UPS man when you know something new is in that brown box.  Be careful when slicing that packing tape that you don’t harm anything inside!  And the excitement hits a new high when you see the retail packaging for the gear you just bought.  You note how clean and blemish-free that it is and eagerly get ready to test things out.  Photos taken and now it is time to examine things under the Lightroom microscope.

What the hell???!!!  

These are not the images I was looking for.  They’re blurry and that wasn’t the spot I focused on.  With a few exceptions this has been my experience with most of my cameras and lenses the first time I used them.

The more expensive the equipment the more my expectations were let down.

In time, the results got to be more inline with my original expectations.  It just proves that practice makes perfect.

It takes time to figure out how gear works.  The better the gear the more practice it takes.

Here are some general tips:

Camera bodies
No matter how identical two bodies are you’re going to have to figure out how the new camera focuses.  I have yet to find two camera models that focused identically.  Sure, you can get two of the exact same cameras, but that isn’t fun!  I try to have 2 camera bodies with nearly identical menus and batteries.  Take the Canon 1DIII and 1DsIII for example, with their familiar autofocus systems.  Even though those autofocus systems are technically the same the results are vastly different.  They have different megapixels, different sensors, and many different things.  The only thing I found the same about these cameras were the menus and batteries.  On top of that there are custom functions to align that might have significant impact if you purchased your camera used.

A new camera’s autofocus system needs some time to get used to and the same goes for how you process the images off of it in Lightroom or Photoshop.

I try not to judge a camera until I’ve taken 1,000 photos with it.

Telephoto Lenses
I was that lucky jerk who got both the 500mm and 600mm big Canon white monsters at the same time.  Want to talk about having a Christmas morning!  Well, Christmas didn’t last long because “new gear sucks.”  It wasn’t the gear; it was the photographer.  My longest lens, before that day, was a 400mm; which, I was really good with.  Adding an additional 100mm of focal range enhances the need to stay absolutely still a multitude of times.  I didn’t know the 500mm & 600mm work better (with my shooting style) with IS turned off and my hand on the lens hood to dampen vibrations.  With my other telephotos I could get killer results handheld.  I suck with the 500 & 600mm handheld and get the best results off of a hefty tripod/gimbal combo.  It took a few days of practice to get my technique down and I’m supremely in love with these lenses now.

Macro Lenses
Maybe we should just call this specialty lenses because the same thing applies.  I first got into macro a good 10 years before getting the gem lens I have now (Canon 180mm f3.5L).  I figured I could knock my macro photography out of the park as soon as I pulled that 180mm out of the box.  I had great results with the APC 60mm, the original 100mm Macro, and extension tubes over the years, so the 180mm was going to be a breeze.  Nope.  The extra distance the 180mm allows you to move away from your subject, while maintaining a 1:1 ratio, drastically changes the amount of aperture you want to use.  I actually got discouraged with this lens and put it away for a few weeks.  Eventually I picked it back up and am crushing my old macro images with it today.

Specialty Lenses
This should go without saying, but I figured I’d say something anyway.  If you haven’t used a specialty lens before your expectation should be that you’re not going to have good results for quite some time.  Tilt shift lenses are a great example of this.  They take an incredible amount of practice, so just pack your speciality lens to pull out after you got the shot with something else.  Specialty lenses require experimentation and that experimentation sometimes nets results far beyond your wildest expectations!

Carrying SLR equipment is no joke.  The gear is expensive and you’re so proud of your equipment that you want to take every piece of it with you on every shoot….or maybe that’s just me.

The first thing to understand about camera bags is that the perfect one does not exist.

The second thing to know about bags is you’re probably going to buy too big of a bag because you want all your gear to fit.  The realization that a bag is too big comes about 30 minutes to 1 hour of walking around with it.  With the exception of traveling, my favorite local bags are the ones that force me to bring no more than 3 lenses.  A lot of the time I used a bag that only has room for a body with a lens attached and maybe space for a flash or one more smaller lens.

The third thing about bags is that you’ll never find the perfect way to configure your velcro inserts.  Just assume you’re going to shift those around each time you pack it.  The only way around this is to have a specialized bag for every occasion with each lens combo you’d use for that occasion.  And that’s just nuts.

So, your fresh new bag won’t fit your gear like you want and you’re never going to know whether you really like it until you’ve used it a few times.

Whether it is physical gear, new software, or even a new location photography takes practice.  You can buy Carnegie Hall, but nobody is going to attend your show until you’ve got a little practice.