Photographing Türkiye: Technical Challenges

the 35mm 1.8 is more than enough for hand-holding a low light cityscape.


Traveling with a group is difficult. It is quite incredible that I got the results as good as they are considering that I had to travel in a pack of thirty people in a very tight, inflexible schedule.

I want to take a moment to talk about some of the challenges in the technical sides of things and how I overcame them.

I brought a messenger bag, a backpack, and a suitcase with me. I had my toothbrush, water, umbrella, and other personal items along with my FM2 and a DSLR kit that is more appropriate for the location in my Lowepro bag. My other DSLR system, change of clothes, and some other things that I did not need on me at all times stayed in the backpack which was usually left in the bus when I was out and about. Most of my chargers, along with  clothes and other things that I only need in the hotel room stayed in my luggage, which was stored in the tour bus’s compartment during the day.

Only in the rarest occasions I had both my DSLRs in my Lowepro bag. In fact, the D7000 and the primes stayed in the backpack most of the time, and I relied on the 550D with the Kit lens for most of my shots.
Only in the rarest occasions I had both my DSLRs in my Lowepro bag. In fact, the D7000 and the primes stayed in the backpack most of the time, and I relied on the 550D with the Kit lens for most of my shots.

Being part of group tourism means staying with the pack at all times – finding the composition when I can, where I can. Even if it is not the best angle or location, I need to find a way to work with it; think fast, take the shot, and move on. It actually quite suit my style: I was more keen on taking the shot when it presented itself. Another positive way of looking at it is that because I am not going to be on the site for a very long time, the only pictures I can take home with me are the best pictures I could have taken. Hence, there is less pressure.

Unlike most of the times I take photographs, there was plenty of sun while I was in Turkey. I could use a Polarising filter, stop down all the way to F/11, stick with ISO200, and still maintain a good enough shutter speed. I found that at apertures above f/9, the Canon’s 550D (T3i for Americans) and 18-55mm IS combo delivered incredibly sharp results. With the FM2, I used the Portra 400 film. Even on F11 with a CPL, I could shoot at 1/125/s or 1/250/s shutter speed. On the Nikon side, I usually shot below 2.5, and was actually shocked by the sharpness of the photos. For a se’scond I was scared: “was Canon’s IQ that much better than Nikon?”. Then I realised that the images were stopped down on Canon’s side.

I am a sucker in landscape photography. I was surprised that my results were as good as they are. They certainly are not great, but I honestly expected worse. Looking back, spending $30 on a CPL was the best decision I could have made. I can see that using a CPL helped so much just by looking at the histograms. Based on my findings, you  don’t always need the absolute best CPL unless you are shooting straight into the sun. As expected, so long as I am not looking straight into the sun, there was almost no blown-highlight areas at all. Even when I am looking at the ocean under the mid-day sun, I had a nice, even, hill-like histogram.

There was nothing notable of a challenge that a little bit of determination (more like attitude) and a CPL could not solve. One thing that continues to come back to me though, is that overcoming these technical challenges was not about buying more expensive stuff.  Following is the total tally of cost of (equivalent) equipment I had brought with me to Turkey:

Nikon D7000: Currently found $500 or even less used
Nikon 35mm 1.8g dx: Less than $200 brand-spanking-new. A lot cheaper used.
Nikon 50mm 1.8g: around $200. A lot less after rebate. Even cheaper used.
Nikon 18-55mm VR (II) Kit lens: $200ish. I did not have one, but the digital rebel and its kit lens which I brought delivers practically identical results, albeit the extra two megapixels.

Nikon FM2: around $200 used. (Any film camera is good nowadays)
Sigma 35-70 3.5-4.5 lens: You are lucky if you can buy this thing for Nikon mount. It is a rubbish lens. No one sells it because it no longer holds its value. You can get the manual 50mm lenses around or below $200. The greatly underpriced 35-70 f/2.8 AF-D can also be found in the $200~400 range depending on the current S&D status and the condition.

Kodak Portra 400 135 format 36 shots: around $7 per roll. I used only four rolls.

Total: $1628+tax&shipping if you opted for the 35-70, and didn’t shop smart enough. If you know your way around ebay, you could have gotten away with spending around over $1300.

$1300. It’s a lot of money for a lot of people. But I saw a guy with an Olympus E-5 (over $2,000 in Korea) and what appeared to be the Zuiko 14-35 f/2 (also well over $2,000 in Korea). Yet, I am certain that I took a lot better photos. I have not seen the photos he had taken, but I know his wife gave him a (seriously) hard time after seeing the photographs I have taken before and during the trip. She was rather infuriated when I told her the price tag of the equipment I was using. He tried to justify the price of his stuff with the full-frameness perspectiveness and f/2 zoom versatility of his lens and such. I quietly rebutted his arguments (within his wife’s earshot) with aps being a standard film format before the digital world, and cheap primes being just as good or even better for that kind of focal length range within our context. Above all though, I stood to made better pictures.

Anywho, the essential point is: It’s never about the camera. In the digital world, APS-C, 35mm, and the digital medium format’s characteristics in perspective rarely make a difference. (I still think M4/3 is a bit too small though) Yes, some rock-hard nuclear-reactor hard-core bokeh whores will need full frame. Yes, some street shooters must use 35mm format to get that same look and feel. Yes, some fashion and magazine shooters will need to get the camera with the biggest sensor to emulate the medium format look. But for the casual (and even many professional) shooter’s practical needs and wants, a solid aps-c system is more than enough.

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