My photography setup (Part 1)

In my latest video I show off my equipment and setup for shooting miniature figures. I thought that I'd add a bit to what I talk about in the video.

My Camera

When I first started my YouTube channel I was using what I had available to me to shoot video. At that time I had an old flip phone and a web cam. You can still see those early videos. They're pretty bad, quality-wise, but it did get me started on my way and I was still able to convey information with those tools. I did have a nice still camera, though. I bought my first Nikon DSLR in 2005 or 2006 (a Nikon D50) and later upgraded it to an even nicer one (a Nikon D300). I have been working on my miniature photography skills for a lot longer than I'd been doing YouTube videos so the still camera had always been a priority.

At some point I realized that people were starting to shoot real video with their DSLRs and that perhaps I could kill two birds with one stone. My D300 didn't shoot video. It was a wonderful still camera and I really didn't want to give it up, but since I couldn't justify owning two cameras I sold off the old camera and bought a Nikon D3200. Sadly, I was never completely satisfied with this somewhat lateral move. Yes, I could now shoot video with the new camera. Yes, I could shoot still photos on the new camera, but the whole thing just felt clunky.  I was satisfied with the final product that I got with both my still photos and my video but in both cases it felt like I was constantly fighting with the camera's controls.

Since my still work at that point had become almost entirely miniature photos, getting used to the new user interface didn't take too long for that purpose as once you get things set up you rarely have to change anything. Perhaps most of my complaints come from it just being different from the last camera (plus it was missing some of the mechanical functions that got buried in the UI). It was really the video that constantly seemed to vex me. Problems like not being able to adjust the aperture or shutter speed on the fly while the video was shooting. It's little things like that that just add to the overall time it takes to get the work done that really bother me. On top of that I don't think that I ever fully got used to the menu system. I would end up spending a lot of time looking for that one function that I know that I had seen before... it was annoying. It was really sad because of how much I had loved my previous camera.

About a year and a half ago I spotted a video on one of the photography blogs I follow where a pro photographer was going on and on about the virtues of the Sony A6000. I'm sure it was a placed feature created by Sony to promote the camera but it intrigued me. The A6000 is one of the now numerous mirrorless digital cameras on the market. In case you don't know, the mirror in a camera is what gives you the ability to see through the lens of your camera (via the viewfinder) before you shoot a photo. It adds a lot of bulk to the camera. Mirrorless camera's are much like your cellphone (or most point and shoot camera) in that they do away with the mirror to save space. The downside is that your viewfinder is only as good as the video display of the camera. The upside (aside from space savings) is that you should be able to see exactly what your picture is going to look like before you shoot - which is something you don't get through a traditional viewfinder.

On top of the mirrorless benefits, the camera had a bunch of features that you generally only see in cellphones. the ability to upload to social media sites directly, apps, and even the ability to view the shot and shoot from your cellphone. The other thing that they touted was the simple UI. The menu system did seem like a big step up from what I was currently using. 

A few months later I sold my Nikon and bought the Sony A6000.

It's been a year now and I'm not even thinking about upgrading. Well, that's not entirely true. I'm still considering a dedicated video camera. Let's face it, a thing built to do a specific task will generally be better than I thing that does that task in addition to the thing it was primarily built to do. I am satisfied with the Sony. It fixed all of the problems that I had with the Nikon, save one. Both had a 20 minute cap on shooting video before you had to push the record button again. I'm not sure why. In any case, you have to keep that in mind while you're shooting or you could (as I have) waste several minutes before you realize that the camera stopped recording. Still, the UI is nice. I can generally find what I'm looking for quickly. I can change settings while the video is recording, it's super-light and not at all a pain to take places and the photos and video that I get from it are fantastic.

It's funny, though. when I used to take out my old DSLRs in public you would sometimes get various looks from people because they're big and seem to make a statement that you're serious about what you're doing. With the Sony not only is that absent, but people who think that they know about photography will generally write me off when they see my camera. At first glance it's a crappy point and shoot. They don't know that it's every bit as good as that bulky thing that they're carrying.

My Lights

There's not too much to say here. The lights I'm currently using are these tabletop studio lights that I bought from Amazon. I was previously using some cheap floor-stand studio lights that also worked fine but I thought that the tabletop lights would save on space. I'm currently having to rethink how I set things up whenever I shoot because I'm still adjusting to the change. I feel like there must be a better, more flexible lighting system out there somewhere but I haven't yet found it.