In the last year I’ve bought hardly any cameras, and used even less.
It’s the most focused – or, put another way, cameranogamous – I’ve been since using just the camera in phone, my approach from around 2005-2011.
But there was a period of seven or eight years where I was almost buying more cameras than eating hot dinners.
To try to make sense of those I’d accumulated, I would put each one through a testing phase.
Now, this didn’t work entirely, because I always had more cameras than I had time to test them all. But that’s a separate issue.
That aside, going through so many cameras (and lenses, and film), I did learn some key lessons in testing that served me very well in deciding what I liked most, what to keep, and what to pass on.
These are the three most valuable –
- Only change one equipment variable at a time.
Wow it took me a long time to figure this one out! So many times – especially with film cameras where you never really knew if they worked fully until you had the film developed – I’d be experimenting with a new (to me) camera, and a new lens, and a new film emulsion, all at once.
If you’re lucky and the combo works well, at least you have some pleasing photographs to show for it, and in theory if you use the same trio of camera, lens and film again, you’ll likely get similar results.
The trouble is, it might be a stellar lens that’s made otherwise pretty average film punch above its weight.
If this is the case, what if you used the same lens with your favourite film and it performed to a whole other level?
But you wouldn’t necessarily do that immediately, as because all three elements were new to you, you don’t know which contributed most to the favourable results.
What’s more likely is your results might not be as you’d hoped. It could be that a mediocre (or even damaged) lens sullies otherwise very capable film, and gives you bland results overall.
But you might instead write off the film as being uninspiring, before it’s had a fair chance to show you what it can do.
Or maybe the camera has an exposure issue that underexposes by three stops, makes even the best film look super grainy with washed out colours.
Again, if you change all three equipment variables every time, you can’t narrow down where the fault lies. And you might discount all three unfairly – camera, lens and film.
So just change one when testing, and keep the others to those you’ve previously tried and trusted.
- Only choose good light.
Again, this took me far too long to learn.
Because I was so impatient to test all the gear that was piling up, I would go out with equipment that in good light could perform exceptionally, but my images were utterly forgettable, simply because the light on the day was poor.
Bad light could mean, for example, you’re shooting in low light on a grey day so the camera is needing a slower shutter speed and/or wider aperture, which in turn is impacting the final image in ways you don’t want – motion blur, or too great a depth of field, with potentially missed focus.
Good light, where a faster shutter speed and/or smaller aperture was used, would immediately reduce these issues.
Or it can just mean you go out with visions of beautifully lit compositions in your head, that are just impossible for the camera/lens(/film) to capture because the quality of light needed to bring out those sumptuous colours or that sharpness or those deep shadows just wasn’t there.
If you only shoot in good light – and definitely when testing new stuff – you know that any shortfall in the final image isn’t due to the light not being favourable. Another variable eliminated.
- Stick to locations and subjects you know.
For enthusiastic photographers the temptation is to shoot anything and everything, and think you always need a new and exciting location to make interesting photographs.
With my One Room Fifty Photographs experiments I’ve proved to myself that I don’t even need to leave the room to make interesting and rewarding photos, let alone leave the house, neighbourhood, or country.
More important than this when testing camera gear is to stick to places and scenes you know, so it removes one more variable that could throw the results adversely.
If you’ve already made pictures at the same location you’re happy with, it gives you the yardstick for what’s possible, and will help you measure the new gear’s performance accordingly, and make a decision on whether you want to keep it.
Once again, when testing, this is a way of reducing as many variables as possible, so you can really analyse that particular new camera/lens/film you’ve just bought and try to get the best from it.
Hopefully these ideas will help you get the most from any new photography equipment you buy, and will avoid some of the pitfalls I experienced all too often.
Do you have any tips for the best approach when testing new camera gear?
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