Real Cameras and Real Camera Stores

By Mark

Pardon the rant and the lack of images.

There have been a series of depressing news reports over the last few months and weeks which do not bode well for the photographic community. 

We have seen the sudden closure and bankruptcy of the Calumet chain of camera stores including the Penn Camera locations across VA. 

Both Canon and Nikon have reported lower earnings and have decreased their forecasts.

There are even reports that Hasselblad—the premier camera in the world may soon cease production.

To me it begs the question of what will photography mean in the coming years.  Give a good photographer a cheap camera and they will still deliver you a well composed and interesting image.  I’ve seen some pretty amazing iPhone images as well.  However, they are not the usual.  I don’t believe that just pointing a camera at something and pressing a button is what I want.  The ability to control and shape my image by selecting the right lens, the right aperture is still important to me. 

  I value my local camera stores, McClanahan Camera here in Warrenton, and the Ace Photo in Sterling, . When I walk in there, they know who I am and are as passionate about photography as I am.  When I want to ask a question, they actually know what they are talking about in their response.  If I want a recommendation, they can provide one and are able to back it up.   I’ve watched people try to buy cameras from certain unnamed stores where all the staff wear blue shirts, and have heard “uh, it’s got megapixels”, as a reason to buy a camera.

Having started shooting film and seeing it disappear; I understand that change is inevitable.  I actually think that digital cameras give you far more control than we had shooting Tri-x or Kodachrome 25.  What the cell phones and point and shoots offer is convenience, but you give up too much.  The same is true for the camera store experience.  I think the slight extra cost for supporting your local businesses is worth the value for the expertise and the experience.

Riding the Stupid Train

I'm not tolerant of stupid people. That's not a political statement; I'm just admitting to being prejudiced against them. The only thing that aggravates me more than stupid people is when I become one of them. For some unknown reason, I join their ranks waaaay too often. That really gets me riled.

My latest journey on the “Stupid Train” came while I was on my trip to Poland. For the first time in 35 years, I seriously damaged my photography equipment and ruined my consistent record of good behavior. My camera was ripped off a perfectly stable table and collided with an equally stable floor. Both the camera and lens, immediately, became heavy lumps of metal and glass, incapable of rendering photographs. Apparently, you shouldn't leave your camera strap dangling over the edge of the table where legs and feet can become entangled.

I know you can't tell from the calm words above, but I was very unhappy about the whole affair – still am.

So, let me set the scene. If this was a movie, it would begin with a beautiful sunrise. It was a Thursday, in a foreign land. I got up early to photograph the main square in Poznan, while the light was pretty. I wanted to shoot some architectural details before it got too crowded. Lots of folks were out early because it was a national holiday. Everything was swell, but the background music was becoming ominous.

Poznan, PolandI came back to the Hotel Brovaria for breakfast, camera safely in its bag and on the floor. I had a pleasant conversation with a Brit photographer, also on holiday, and went upstairs to download and backup the morning's catch. (I didn't hear the background music growing darker.)

Hotel Brovaria, Poznan, PolandWith the camera out of the bag, placed on the earlier-mentioned table, so I could extract the memory cards, I set to work. Turning in the computer chair to replace the cards, post download, my foot snagged the camera strap. The movie goes to slow-motion as the strap goes taut and pulls the camera inextricably towards the stone floor. The movie speeds up, and camera and lens hit the floor. I scream like some little kid who just watched his puppy get hit by a car; clutch my chest; and fade to darkness, dead to a heart attack.

OK, maybe I'm being a bit over dramatic. Did I mention it was a holiday, so all stores were closed? And the wedding ceremony that was the catalyst for my trip was the very next day? And because of airline weight restrictions and my over confidence from never damaging gear meant I didn't have a backup camera? I believe some drama on my part was appropriate.

Broken 70-200mm lens

Of course, there is a commercial in my movie. Picture a dignified photographer explaining how to protect yourself from the financial ruin of this situation: “This is why we have insurance. You have insured your gear, right?”

You may be covered by your home-owner's insurance, but you should check. Those policies can be restrictive and tend to pay at depreciated rates. I needed to open a separate, high value policy to cover my gear. It has no deductible and is a replacement policy. Prices on these policies vary wildly, so do some research before you settle on a particular company.

The policy requirements have an additional advantage; they require you to list the serial numbers and value of all your equipment. You should have that handy any way, but most people don't think about this until their gear is stolen or damaged. You may be surprised by how much you're carrying around in your camera bag. (And don't forget to list your camera bags, too.)

Bonus tip: Don't let your spouse see the total value unless they are also into photography. ;-)

The movie did have a happy ending. The wedding began at 3 p.m., so, at 9 a.m., I was at the closest store with camera gear – the Polish version of Best Buy. I grabbed the best Nikon they had in stock, a D5200. I bought an extra battery and some SD chips. I drove back to the venue; charged the batteries; and practiced holding the camera (it is really small compared to my normal cameras). The D5200 doesn't have the features and speed of my D4, but the photos are just fine. Obviously, my other Nikon lenses were compatible. I just had to adapt to the cropped sensor.

wedding detail photographThe moral of the story is: Don't let your camera strap dangle off the table, and insure your gear. My 70-200 lens is already repaired and back in my bag. Nikon is just about finished repairing the camera, and I should have it back, this week, before I leave for the Gettysburg for the re-enactments.

If you're looking for a brand new Nikon D5200, with 17-55 mm kits lens, drop me an email. Such a deal I have for you.... I promise I wasn't using this camera during my latest ride on the Stupid Train.