BetterPhoto Q&A
Category: New Questions

Photography Question 
Jen E. Cubas

Mechanical or SLR ?

I've only ever learned photography with an SLR. (which was given to me by my uncle without the manual) As much as I still love the camera, I feel it's time for an upgrade. I basically am looking to improve my skills with proper classes this time arounnd...

The Nikon F mount series is world renowned, and seems best to learn with. But would it be best for me to just get another SLR?

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4/24/2005 3:16:08 PM

Kerry L. Walker   What camera do you have? I really do not understand your question. The Nikon F series is an SLR. Some SLRs are mechanical. Some are electronic. Clarify what you are wanting to know and we will do our best to help you.

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4/25/2005 6:12:24 AM

Jen E. Cubas   Forgive my confusion...

What I was really aiming to say was that I have been using an automatic/Manual SLR (Canon Rebel), and would like to upgrade my equipment. I am torn between purchasing another SLR with both Automatic/Manual settings or the Nikon Fm2 or Fm3a which is only manual.

Eventually, I will buy both types sooner or later, but as I am still an amateur, I am only interested in perfecting the fundamentals.

I'm confused as to which type will help me do that better.

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4/26/2005 11:55:50 AM

BetterPhoto Member Since: 5/28/2002
  You don't have to look too far because you already have the best learning tool. Setting your Rebel to M mode is like using a Nikon FM2, FM3A or FM10. The Rebel has more features than the Nikon manual cameras but you don't have to use them all. I would suggest using the current camera (unless it is not working any more) for learning because you are already familiar with it. Hope this helps.

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4/26/2005 12:12:43 PM

Kerry L. Walker   I agree with Andy. Stick with what you have for now. The FM3A is an awesome camera, built like a tank. It is manual focus but does have the option of aperature priority autoexposure. If you really need a new camera, go with this one. If not, use what you have until it won't serve your purposes anymore.

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4/26/2005 12:29:57 PM

Christopher A. Vedros
BetterPhoto Member Since: 3/14/2005
  Which Canon Rebel do you have? You can find manuals in PDF format for many cameras either from Canon or other places.

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4/26/2005 12:43:19 PM

Jen E. Cubas   Thanks for the advice. I have a Canon EOS Rebel S II, and it is in working condition.

Though I am still considering getting a second camera, in that case, what would you recommend?

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4/27/2005 10:38:31 AM

Andrew Laverghetta
BetterPhoto Member Since: 9/13/2004
  For the second camera that you're considering, what are you looking for in it? Since you were wanting a totally manual camera, do you want MORE features on the second camera? Since you already have a Canon EOS, you might try checking out something like the Canon EOS Elan 7N. You will be able to use any lenses you might have for the Rebel but any that you get for the new one would also work with the Rebel (assuming you get some kind of Canon EOS).

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4/29/2005 6:58:20 PM

John Duda   I would suggest you buy an old mechanical SLR, like a Nikon F2. You may think that you can shoot manually with an automatic camera on manual but until you shoot with both you'll never know what you don't know.

Using a meter only camera can be much simpler way to learn photography because you become so intimately attached to the camera and it's use that you soon learn what your doing photographically instead of fighting an automatic camera to do something very simple.

You shoot night landscapes with a manual camera with the same time/fstop for all adjusting occasionally for an extreme condition. With an automatic camera on manual you loose sight of what you’re doing. You have to find an initial setting with the automatic camera and you'll learn that that is so much easier with a manual, assuming you’re after the knowledge along the way.

You use an automatic camera, even on manual and you'll never get intimately acquainted with the art/technology because you'll always be overwhelmed by the knowledge the camera "gives you".

With the camera I mentioned you can take out the batteries and keep shooting, at least with a modern print film to give you a little fudge factor.

You were right to think about a mechanical SLR. Go with your intuition. You seem capable of making very sound decisions in an age of easy answers.

Contrary to popular gingo you can use a lot of old Nikon glass on current digital cameras. Assuming you just want to take pictures as opposed to doing it all automatic.

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5/27/2005 10:56:27 PM

Gregory LaGrange
BetterPhoto Member Since: 11/11/2003
  -but until you shoot with both you'll never know what you don't know-anybody know what that's supposed to mean?

If you have a choice of buying a manual camera, then later getting a camera that has manual/auto modes, and it isn't a question of price, dosen't make sense to suggest getting a manual one now with plans on getting another later, when using the manual/auto camera on manual is the same thing as using the manual camera.
That would be like planning on buying a car that could swith from auto to stick shift, and buying one that was only stick shift so you could learn to drive a stick shift.

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5/28/2005 1:10:55 AM

Bob Cammarata
BetterPhoto Member Since: 7/17/2003
  If you are adrift on a lake in a rowboat with an auxillary outboard motor and a nasty storm kicks up, are going to fire up that motor and head for safety.
If the boat HAS no motor, then hey, gotta row!

Automation can be beneficial but it can also be a crutch and could inhibit the learning process.

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5/28/2005 6:21:21 PM

Gregory LaGrange
BetterPhoto Member Since: 11/11/2003
  If you say you want to learn how to row, you use the oars and row, not the motor. Common sense.

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5/28/2005 8:03:59 PM

John A. Lind
BetterPhoto Member Since: 9/27/2001
  Bob C. brings up an excellent point. An auto-everything can become a crutch that impedes rather than helps.

I use aperture priority auto-exposure quite a bit with my 35mm SLR's, but it's because I can trust it to do what I would do under most conditions, and I know when to override it with an incident reading with a light meter or spot readings (with camera or light meter). In addition, versus a "program" mode that magically picks a shutter and lens aperture combination, I know what lens aperture I set, can see the shutter speed that would be used and my brain can make a sanity check of that based on film speed and the level of subject illumination. Even though the camera TTL metering will do its thing, I'm still in control of it by knowing what will happen unless I override it.

This knowledge comes with using completely manual exposure equipment . . . what I cut my teeth on . . . becoming familiar with exposure settings under a variety of conditions and the effects they have. It's one of the reasons much beginning formal photography instruction still insists on manual exposure control . . . to instill in the students the need to exert and maintain control over every aspect of making a photograph. It's not done as a "Rite of Passage" but to create a mindset about the need for control and give them the "sanity check" tools with which they can tell when an automagic system is not going to do what's desired.

Don't avoid something that has an auto-exposure system, but do look at its manual control mode, whether it's easy to override the automagic stuff, and whether operating it manually is straightforward or cumbersome.

-- John Lind

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5/28/2005 8:23:39 PM

John A. Lind
BetterPhoto Member Since: 9/27/2001
  One of the more interesting camera bodies came to mind . . . the Nikon FM3a . . . offers both manual mode similar to the FM2 with mechanical shutter timing and an AE mode similar to the FE2 with electronic shutter timing.

I have only seen them, but never used one so I suggest it as something to look at and consider. Price used shouldn't break the bank and they're a relatively recent model. They are not auto-focus, they the "F" mount lenses one would use on their manual-focus bodies (F2, F3, FM2, FE2, etc.). If I were in a situation in which I needed to completely replace all my 35mm SLR gear (bodies and lenses) it's one I would most definitely consider.

-- John Lind

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5/28/2005 8:33:07 PM

George Anderson   "One of the more interesting camera bodies came to mind . . . the Nikon FM3a"

Great body, if you are going with MF Nikkor lenses. Very rugged. The meter is quite accurate if you know how to use a center-weighted design, and the screen display legible even in dim light. Has AE-lock, TTL flash, fast flash sync, DOF preview, fill-flash button, all the good stuff. The best features of both the FM2 and FE-2 IMHO. Some reviewers (on other forums) have overextended the FM2/FE2 comparisons a bit, because the FM3a did require a completely new housing and completely re-engineered mechanism and component parts. The FM3a is reasonably priced for what you get, one of the few new production old-school SLRS left with metal housing, and, most important, metal gears and ball bearings in place of the usual plastic/nylon transport mechanism.

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7/8/2005 4:19:08 PM

Larry T. Miller   Andy's got the answer......

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3/27/2006 1:30:11 PM

Christopher A. Walrath
BetterPhoto Member Since: 4/25/2006
  If you want my opinion, go as manual as you can. Less distractions can lead to more focused and advanced learning. Go manual. And don't look back.

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5/9/2006 8:52:46 PM


BetterPhoto Member
  Hi Jen;

To give you an example of what everyone else is saying, I own a KM Maxxum 5D and a Minolta X700. In most cases, the 5D sits in the case, and the X700 is being used with a handheld light meter. I really prefer full manual. I learned on a Praktica MTL-3 Manual 35mm.

Have fun and keep shooting,
Mark H.

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5/9/2006 9:24:29 PM

Paul Tobeck
BetterPhoto Member Since: 12/19/2005
  I'm probably gonna catch hell for this, but here goes..
Everyone here that took a photography class in school probably all started with an all manual camera. It's great to learn all the technical exposure stuff, but personally I know a lot of photographers who take perfectly exposed crap.
My best advice, and take it for what it's worth, save the money you would have spent on a manual camera and get yourself a couple of nice prime lenses such as 50mm or 85mm and also a 24 or 28 wide angle. If auto-everything made photographers lazy, then zooms put them in coma. The single focal length lenses force YOU to move around your subject to find the best composition, not just sit there and turn a ring. To me, learning subject matter/composition is overlooked and undertaught.
Don't get me wrong, learning exposure is very important, especially the relationship between aperture and shutter speed in the creative process. But don't neglect developing your eye for an interesting subject/composition. In an outstanding image, technically perfect exposure ranks third behind an interesting subject and a great composition. I know I'm still learning to develop my eye. I've been shooting off and on for 20 years, and 95% of my shots are "perfectly exposed crap"!
Set your Rebel on manual, and get Bryan Peterson's book on exposure. It's a great book that has everything you'll ever need to know. Then go out there and explore your subject from every possible angle. Try to express how you're feeling about the subject in your images. And take notes, lots of them. You'll quickly learn what works and what doesn't. Most of all, have fun!

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5/10/2006 5:25:34 AM

David Flynn   I totally agree with Paul - If you can get a feel for manually setting up the shot with your existing setup, then go for it. If on the other hand, you really want an excuse to buy some new gear, then the Nikon option is a good one. They really are awesome machines. I have to say that there is nothing like those old SLR bodies for ease of use, and they're built to last.

Paul is right when he says there is a lot of 'perfectly exposed crap' out there. Understanding how to get a correct exposure is very important, but means nothing if the image is badly composed. It really is an instinctual process that gets easier with time - and I've always found that it's important to 'bond' with your camera. It sounds a little nuts, I know, but that connection to your equipment makes the creative process one that you'll find easier as you get to know it's quirks and limitations.

I do think Paul is right about having some nice prime lenses (I shoot wide a lot these days), but I also think there are times when a good zoom can be handy (when you can't physically get any closer, for instance).

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7/18/2006 9:00:36 AM

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