Having nearly worn out a Fuji S-5000 digital camera, and with a birthday coming up in June, my excellent wife prodded me into allowing myself to buy a digital SLR the other day. To satisfy the equipmentheads who may be reading this, it is an Olympus E-500 with 14-45 and 40-150mm lenses. One of my wife’s areas of excellence is in finding good deals, especially with power tools. Her latest achievement was finding me a $150 Milwaukee jigsaw for $50. As for the camera deal, it was the E-500 with both lenses for $420 brand new.
One of my strengths (or weaknesses) is looking at nearly every piece of equipment I buy as part of a system. In this case, I realized that I could not just buy a camera and carry it around in a dufflebag and use it as-is. Perhaps others can learn from my experience in setting up this rig for less than $550, including accessories.
Item #1: Clear and polarized filters. For outdoor photography especially, having some filters screwed on the lenses is a good idea. It is a lot cheaper to replace a scratched filter than it is to replace a lens. The polarized filter is probably the only filter that you cannot replicate in Photoshop, and is an obvious need for the outdoor photographer.
Item #2: Camera bag. I chose a Tamrac Expedition 3 backpack because it would carry the camera and an extra lens, and I liked the idea of the waterproof zipper cover. These will run anywhere between 50 and 75 dollars.
Item #3: Extra memory card. I chose a high speed 2 GB CompactFlash card. The extra few bucks for the higher-speed card means a faster write from the camera to the card, which translates into faster shooting.
Item #4: This one is free. Read one of the many tutorials on Digital SLR Basics on the Web. Then read the advice at Thomas Hawk’s website. His discussion of such things as ISO is a good addition to a basic tour of the camera. From one hour of reading, I was able to learn how to take slower shutter speed waterfall photos, how to manage ISO settings for low light, and aperture settings for different depths of field (i.e. how you can set your camera to have the hummingbird in focus and the background blurred). Of course, the other required reading is your camera manual.
Item #5: A beanbag. It sounds silly, but rather than a hard window mount, a beanbag is very versatile. While there are some on the market that reportedly do a passable job, the do-it-yourself system by Fred Hurteau looks like it should be hard to beat. He even posts patterns for sewing the Butterfly Beanbag on his website, along with other DIY accessories such as the Flying Saucer Ballhead. With the bag and the Flying Saucer, one should be able to do some pretty good shooting with a long lens over the car window, off a fencepost, or even from the ground. And it can be used for digiscoping or a spotting scope setup, as well. My wife’s sewing machine (and my woodworking tools) are going to get a workout.
Item #6: Sign up for Flickr. It’s free (or $25 a year for the pro account). There is a lot of expertise and inspiration lurking on Flickr, and it is the easiest to use photo sharing site I have come across. You can control permissions of your photos and keep certain photos private, share with only family and friends, or share with the world. It’s also a good way to organize and back up your photo collection offsite.
Future plans for the camera include a lens topping out at 300mm and a macro lens, but for now I have a machine to do the majority of what I have been doing with my mostly-automatic Fuji. I’m sure the Olympus E-500 will increase the quality of my photos, as well as provide me opportunities for shots I was simply unable to perform in the past.
You can view my wildlife and outdoor photography in the My Photos section of this blog. It links to my Flickr galleries.