Friday, January 7, 2011

Camera angst

Two almost simultaneous events have me thinking cameras these days. The first was my sister dropping around 600 35mm slides on me, all carefully loaded in Kodak Carousel projector trays. The other was dropping my Nikon digital SLR on the floor when I was unloading the car after the latest northern expedition. This unlikely combination of events caused me to ponder photo quality, camera durability, and why I bother taking these damn pictures in the first place.

The slides were from when we were kids through some classic shots when I was in college. After a near cardiac event when I learned what it would cost to digitize the damn things, I went the cheapo route. I rented a real projection screen from West Photo (more on them later), projected them with the Kodak Carousel projector, which I now own as well, and just shot them with the Nikon. It worked out pretty good. There is lots of evidence of my early Lake Superior fascination including my first backpacking trip to Isle Royale in 1974, late 60's shots of the Madeline Island ferry, and a backpacking trip to the Porkies in college. Lots of family stuff as well. I had completed this digitization before leaving for Iron County over New Years and it was when I stumbled into the house Monday night, arms full of gear, that I dropped the Nikon on the hardwood floor.

After braving the elements outdoors, temps from -20F to 95F, humidity, Lake Superior spray and sand, sweat, and all the other conditions it could possibly encounter, a small two foot drop did the dirty work. The lens filter was smashed, glass all over, and the lens ring was bent. After my usual vile stream of obscenities when things like this happen, I took the camera to West Photo the next day. West is one of those joints that can help you with almost anything camera related, including renting a screen for the Kodak Carousel. They carefully removed the trashed filter, played with the bunged up lens threads, put a new filter on the lens, and called me the next day. The bill was under a hundred bucks. Everyone knows you can buy camera gear online for cheap but 'for cheap' is what you get if there are any issues. I just stroll down to West, conveniently located next door to Surdyks Liquor Store, and talk to Kyle, a very real non-digital human being, and good things happen.

One of the things that Kyle and I BSed about was water proof cameras. I love the Nikon D5000 for its picture quality, ease of use, and size. My sphincter always puckers a bit when I pull it out of its Sagebrush deck bag on Lake Superior however. Although I practice the crook of the elbow roll religiously, the thing would still be soaking wet and likely inoperable when I rolled up with it in my hand. When its really nasty and you want those 'look at just how nasty it was' shots, I'm stuck with the little Olympus SW 790. It very waterproof and I've had it in my pfd while rolling but it doesn't have very good glass and the shots are always a bit hazy. The question is do I need the perfectly focused, framed, crisp shots or are the more marginal ones OK? I am most certainly not a photographer, a fact that can be confirmed by a look at Travis Novitsky's or Bryan Hansel's websites. As I looked at the slides from the good old days, I remembered that they were taken with everything from a Kodak Instamatic 104 to my beloved 1960's vintage Zeiss Contaflex 35mm. No matter which camera they were taken with, the images seem to still evoke the same emotions, in focus or not. I also remember owning an innovative camera harness and waterproofing the camera using the double ziplock technique. I didn't kayak then but it got plenty of water time in the 14' Crestliner fishing boat with 20hp Johnson motor on it.

I'll still keep looking for a portable and effective method to use my 35mm DSLR on the water. These grainy and out of focus slides I have will serve as a reminder for me to just keep shooting. Like most of life, it just ain't gonna be perfect.



Comfortably Poor said...

Hi, I'm a friend of No1 son. When the situation calls for it, I shoot a Nikon D300s SLR, but my everyday pocket camera is a point-and-shoot. While the D300s body itself is weatherproof, putting a pro-qualify lens on it that would also be weatherproof makes for an unwieldy combo. And I still do not think it would survive a kayak roll!

You may wish to consider the "already weatherproof" segment that is starting to have some good entries.

Here is an article on DPReview that discusses this segment:

DaveO said...

Good stuff! I looked at the reviews and apparently the Olympus 6000 Tough is the lineal descendant of my current Olympus SW 790. Tough as nails and impossible to drown, but the guy who reviewed the 6000 Tough says it best: "Don't go in with high expectations if you are used to SLR cameras as you will be frustrated. If you're used to using point and shoot cameras you will be very satisfied with the picture quality".
Guess I'll just have to settle....for now anyway.

Bryan said...

Here's my combo:

DSLR in a SealLine drybag in the day hatch. If I know I'm going to use it a lot, it goes in the cockpit between my knees. I pull it out of the dry bag when I need to get a picture. If I'm really going to use it in rougher water or underwater, it goes into a Aquapac SLR case. I toss a bunch of desiccant sachets in the drybag or the SLR case.(Note: Aquapac sponsored me with this case and a bunch of other gear, but as you know, I don't recommend gear unless I like it, even if I got it for free -- let me tell you about a tent. :))

Combo #2: Canon S95 in a small Pelican case kept in the cockpit or my underdeck bag. I pop the snaps, pull the camera out, get the pic and put it away. Or I use it in a Aquapack 420, which works underwater, etc... Canon makes a waterproof diving case for the S95, which I'm considering. It's $200, but probably worth it. The S95 has fantastic image quality for a p&s. I'm getting good images up to 400 ISO and usable at 800 ISO. I'd never thought a p&s could be this good. Still, it's not near DSLR quality.

Comfortably Poor said...

Not sure if a decision was made on this yet or not, but DPR has updated their compact waterproof group review: