The Right Tool for Photo Shoots

How we finally find the right camera for doing photo shoots.

When Mike and I first decided to start doing aerial photography, we went nuts looking for some good reference material to help us understand the best way to go about it. We finally wound up with a book called Secrets of Successful Aerial Photography.

This book was somewhat helpful in that it discussed photographic techniques. It also offered a piece of advice that I wish we’d ignored: It recommended the Pentax 67 camera.

The Pentax 67 is a medium format camera that is extremely heavy and quite expensive. We tracked a used one down at a camera shop in New Jersey and paid $1,500 for it. The camera had a built-in light meter, but did not have automatic exposure. That meant that the photographer had to adjust the shutter speed or aperture for every single shot.

Mike, my photographer, was lazy. He’d adjust the exposure once, then do the entire shoot with those settings. His logic was that since we were flying over the same area at the same time of day, the exposure didn’t need changing. What he didn’t take into consideration is that when you point north, south, east, or west, the light changes depending on the sun’s location — even when the sun is high in the sky. As a result, many of the shots were over or under exposed.

Mike decided to try shooting with his Nikon F2, which does have automatic exposure. The trouble with that is that Mike didn’t always capture exactly what the client wanted. As a result, photos needed to be cropped. Cropping 35mm images and enlarging them results in grainy photos. Although some of our clients didn’t seem to mind, it wasn’t the quality I wanted to offer.

My 2 megapixel Canon S300 was out for two reasons: first, it seemed to have trouble focusing in the featureless desert terrain we often shot. Second, cropping and enlarging photos resulted in pixelated shots. Not the quality I wanted to offer.

But a digital camera did offer one benefit — it saved money on film and processing. We could shoot dozens of images on one outing, delete the really bad ones, and prepare proofs on a color photo printer for our customers. It was quick and relatively cheap.

I decided that we needed to try a different digital camera and made a list of desired features:

  • Manual focus, so focus could be set to infinity
  • Shutter speed priority automatic exposure, so we could eliminate body shake and get good exposures
  • High resolution, so even cropped images could be enlarged without losing quality

We looked at several cameras that met these requirements. Unfortunately, they all offered lots of other features we didn’t need — and were priced accordingly.

We wound up with a Canon PowerShot G5 camera. This 5 megapixel camera has all the features we wanted — and a few others (like exposure bracketing) that help us get the job done right. Best of all, I used the photo printing feature of iPhoto to order a 16 x 20 enlargement of a photo I took with the camera and got back a clear, color-perfect image.

Know anyone who wants to buy a slightly used Pentax 67?

What do you think?