Tech Smart: Maximum use

March 21, 2012
Noah Levine

Issue 6

The opportunity to do some professional concert photography came about as a surprise bonus from the freelance writing I’d been doing for a number of music publications. I was offered an assignment covering Lollapalooza as long as I could provide them with both the copy and accompanying images, and even though I hadn’t done much serious photography since taking a handful of classes back in college, I wasn’t about to turn this opportunity down.

The opportunity to do some professional concert photography came about as a surprise bonus from the freelance writing I’d been doing for a number of music publications. I was offered an assignment covering Lollapalooza as long as I could provide them with both the copy and accompanying images, and even though I hadn’t done much serious photography since taking a handful of classes back in college, I wasn’t about to turn this opportunity down.

This unexpected gig more than five years ago has lead to a fun sideline to my career at DLP. In that time I’ve shot thousands of photos of hundreds of performers, and I’ve done almost all of this with a now five-year-old Canon PowerShot S3 IS that is quite often the smallest, oldest and least powerful digital camera in the hands of anyone with photography credentials for the event.

Why I shoot what I shoot

At the time I purchased this sub-DSLR shooter, it was the best option for my budget because it offered me full control of all the camera settings and an impressive for the time 12X optical zoom. The 6 megapixel digital sensor seemed pretty powerful back then too, but today there are smartphones with twice the megapixels.

These days the gadget you just purchased is probably out of date by the time you finish unboxing it, yet I’m still using my woefully out of date camera in a professional capacity and I’m not looking to upgrade any time soon. I know exactly how to coax the shots I need from this camera, how to change the settings to match light conditions, when and how to employ the flash, and the best angles from which to approach a shot to capture the image I want.

When I’m shooting at these events I find myself surrounded by other photographers holding $20,000 camera bodies with equally pricy lenses attached. My camera cost me less than $400 brand new. Still, the results I achieve not only meet the requirements of my assignments, they often impress my photographer colleagues when we compare our work online after the show.

Expanding the lifespan

Of course the camera has its limitations. A larger lens would make low-light situations easier to shoot. A more powerful sensor with three times the megapixels would allow me to print larger sized images. But I know these limitations going in. In my years of shooting with this camera I’ve learned just how far I can push it in any situation, and I make the most of what it can do.

Besides, upgrading would come with a cost, and not just the dollar signs on the pricetag. Upgrading to even the latest generation of equivalent camera from Canon would certainly be a quantum leap in capabilities. It would also mean a learning curve, as I would need to master the nuances and figure out how to best employ new features. It’s something I’ll certainly do eventually, but for now the gear I have on hand is up to the tasks it’s asked to accomplish.

My camera remains fully functional, has never required any maintenance and keeps on capturing the images I ask it to. As long as it continues to meet those requirements I have no need to grab the current best thing available. I’ve gotten a similar lifespan out of my MacBook laptop-albeit with some maintenance along the way. In the case of both of these devices, they continue to be fully capable of handling all the jobs I need them to and they’re reliable in doing this.

Purchasing prep

With both of these devices I did my homework before making my purchase to make sure they not only did what I needed them to do the day I brought them home, but that they had a bit of headroom in the capabilities so they could meet expanded needs in the future. Sure my old camera has long bumped up against its full capabilities, but until my photo needs grow beyond what it can do, I’m happy to keep using it.

I read reviews prior to making my purchases and for the computer, I also sought out reviews of people running the software applications I planned to use on that specific system. I even sent an email to the author of one review with a question, and the response I got helped me make my decision.

Once my purchases were complete, I made sure I learned as much as I could about how both devices work, what they can do and how to get at all of their controls. This is a good practice with any technology investment, whether it’s for personal or professional use. When I get something new, I not only read the manual completely, but I keep it around in case I need to double-check something in the future. Of course actually playing with the gadget, pushing every one of its buttons and watching the results is a good learning tool as well.

Timing an upgrade

Of course nothing is expected to last forever, so it’s always a good idea to go into a purchase with an idea of how long you hope to have something around. Sure sometimes machines break down ahead of schedule, but for the most part if the capabilities meet your requirements and you care for the device it should reach your planned lifespan.

By pushing it to those limits, the eventual upgrades become amazing leaps forward and make a technology you’ve grown familiar with exciting and new once again. The timing of those upgrades is easy to see as well. When the device is no longer able to do what it was purchased for, it’s time for it to be replaced.

That’s when the homework starts and it’s time to look at the newest in whatever technology category you’re looking at. There’s no sense in buying last year’s model to save a bit of money if you’ve planned for your new device to stick around for a while.

Today’s technologies are so powerful they often are more than up to the task at hand, and getting something that will reliably do its job for a long time should not be difficult. Sure something with a few more features will come along next week, but if one of those features was mission critical to your investment, you should have waited that extra week in the first place.

There’s always going to be something new on the store shelves and something even newer on the horizon, but that doesn’t mean technology should be disposable. These gadgets that are becoming more and more integral to our work and our lives can last for years. It comes down to making sure it’s the right technology from the start, it’s properly cared for and the full range of its capabilities are put to use.