Photography – How Challenging Should It Be?

For me, using a DSLR is far more challenging than a digital compact.

Nevertheless I persist, because of the more immersive experience, more control over the final image, and the ability to use different lenses.


Sometimes though I do wonder why it’s so fiddly to get a decent exposure (especially with my Pentax K-30), why I’m squinting to focus a slow 50 or 60 year old manual lens through the viewfinder of a modern(ish) DSLR only ever intended for fast modern AutoFocus lenses, and why I’m holding a chunky camera four or five times the weight of size of something like the cracking little Lumix XS1, that disappears in the palm of my hand.

How about you? Where does that balance between ease of use and rewarding experience lie?

How much do you feel your photography should be challenging, to keep it interesting?

Or do you just want it to be as easy as possible?

Please let us know in the comments below (and don’t forget to tick the “Notify me of new comments via email” box to follow the conversation).

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22 thoughts on “Photography – How Challenging Should It Be?”

  1. Hi Dan,
    Like you I use a combination of the DSLR and a handful of different compacts, some of which fit nicely in the pocket while being out and about. The Pentax Km tends to go on the photographic road trips I make each year here in Oz. Meanwhile the compacts are more of a day to day proposition; when I want a big zoom when bird-watching (a Lumix TZ70); or when on travels overseas (not happening again anytime soon!). I probably have too many cameras, but it is fun using different ones (including film) and seeing what I can get out of them. The simpler the camera, the bigger the challenge sometimes! Keep enjoying!

    1. It’s funny to me thinking of an advantage of a small camera having a biz/long zoom! I think because most of the time I use mine at a fixed focal length, most often their widest, and forget they even have zoom lenses. I think the simpler cameras give us different challenges, maybe more about the raw essentials of photography like light, composition, texture, rather than all the technical stuff we can get too caught up in with more sophisticated cameras.

  2. Hi Dan, I have Had only one DSLR, a Canon 40D that I used for work years ago, and keep around if I really, really need to get the shot. I have found more compact cameras to be unreliable in low light, but this seldom comes into play. I only use adapted lenses on digital cameras for lens tests, on a tripod. I have poor vision, and trying to use manual lenses for actual photography is about as much fun as holding my hand on a hot stove.

    1. This is a major reason I originally bought a Pentax K10D, it has one of the best and largest viewfinders, because I knew I would be using older, manual focus lenses. Actually even with cameras with lesser viewfinders, I find the focus confirm icon in the viewfinder display does a really good job if I’m struggling to see with the naked eye. I’ve had a couple of late Pentax film bodies, like the MZ5N, that had this focus confirm light even with manual lenses too, really handy.

  3. Before it gets too hot this morning I’m going to walk up the road to take a few pictures of an ongoing vinyl siding project. I’ll take my WWII era Leica and no light meter. It’s just plain fun to work with.

    1. I always love hearing about your super pure old school approach Doug! Can I ask what’s your “ongoing vinyl siding project”? I don’t know what a vinyl siding is.

      1. Hi Dan, Our new home is in a 90+ unit 70’s condominium development. The original wood siding (cladding) on the buildings is being replaced with vinyl. The project began at the other end of the development so our building is at least a year away from being started. I want to document every step of the work on our building. I am getting a head start by photographing some of the equipment they are using now, and making friends of the workers.
        The weather wasn’t too bad this morning. The temperature was in the mid 80’s but the humidity was lower than it was last week. No steamed up rangefinder windows 🙂

      2. We have a similar thing here in that many of the new developments around here (there are far too many, due to central Government targets for new housing) have a style of house that’s brick on the lower half and cladding on the top half. But rather than the wooding ship lap type cladding that these style of houses originally had, they use plastic “planks” with a faux wood grain. I think they look pretty horrible, and goodness knows the environmental cost of producing so much plastic, when a natural, renewable source like wood could be used.

        It’s hot here too currently, about 30-32C. Too hot to be out for long doing anything. I don’t have a rangefinder to steam up the windows on though. 🙂

  4. I know it seems like I’m always tooting the horn when it comes to Fuji’s X cameras, shooting a manual focus lens is easier when the camera has focus peaking when compared to a DSLR. From Wikipedia.

    Focus peaking is a focusing aid in live preview or electronic viewfinders on digital cameras that places a white or coloured highlight on in-focus edges (contours) within an image using an edge detect filter.

    The Fuji X, and I expect most modern mirrorless cameras, have focus peaking. I use focus peaking regularly and save my 54-year-old and surgically scared eyes for looking at my wife. 😃

    1. Yeh I had a Sony NEX 3N with focus peaking, it was fantastic for focusing with old lenses. My K-30 DSLR has it when you use Live View not the viewfinder, but i’s not as good as the NEX was, and for that kind of camera it just seems to get in the way of the experience, I nearly always default to using the viewfinder.

  5. I grew up using manual-everything film cameras. Any digital is lighter and easier to use. Some of them even take good pictures. 😀 My eyesight causes me to rely on automatic functions a lot, so I make use of them unless I have a specific idea in mind (such as playing with old lenses). I don’t mind the DSLR at all.
    Alas the Nikon is becoming more erratic! I expect that I will be adjusting my style when it gives up, rather than shelling out for a replacement.

    1. DSLRs on all auto with a decent lens aren’t a bad option at all, essentially a point and shoot with a big sensor and the option to use different lenses.

  6. I have the objective of creating good enough files that I can print large at some point, so a DSLR to me makes sense. I need to get in the habit of just carrying one with me at all times, even if it’s the smallest DSLR with a prime lens attached.
    I bought a larger f/2.8 zoom lens recently (DA*16-50mm) and I’m already thinking, I should have bought the DA 21mm pancake lens instead… but having the all-weather zoom in our upcoming beach trip will probably prove invaluable.
    Regarding point and shoots, I think that ship has sailed for me, at least for now…

    1. Why is that Chris, re the point and shoots? Have you every had/used a Pentax Q? They’re essentially a shrunken DSLR, huge fun and the 01 prime 47/1.9 is excellent.

      1. I’ve wanted a Q with a 01 lens. I’ve also wanted a Ricoh GR and I’m especially fond of the Nikon 1 system – that little system has some really great lenses, and the results I’ve seen from it are just fantastic. But it all comes at a price… because these things are pretty good, they are not cheap in the used market…

  7. Good and interesting questions Dan. I prefer the ease of using digital cameras and concentrate more on what exactly I’m trying to say with my photographs. This is the biggest challenge for me. To be able to tell a story or express a certain feeling. I don’t find it challenging shooting with different gear as much as I find it simply fun, a different experience if you wish.

    1. Thanks Yuri. I know I quite often look at a photo I’ve made and like it because of a feeling or memory, but when looking at it more objectively, it’s not particular great, and doesn’t stand out.

    1. Yeh I think that’s a good point. Sometimes though you need to go deep in just one direction, over and over, to kind of break through to a different level. If that makes sense!

  8. This is a question I often ask myself but it for me is very much a case of horses for courses.

    Some days I like the idea of travelling light with just a single camera and one prime lens, mostly 35mm, on other days I like to have my trusty canon 5d mk 1 for those days when I want to use a camera with virtually no computer wizardry and have to meter in camera, remembering the skills I learned with the few film cameras I used back in the day

    1. I agree Andy, and I have noticed in the last few years I have two distinct phases – DSLRs with vintage lenses, or small very capable compacts. When I’m in one phase it feels like I’ll never be in the other again, and vice versa.

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