Bellamy Hunt examines if your glass is half-full or half-empty.
The question that everyone asks me when they have decided to buy a camera is usually “which camera should I buy, oh wise one?“ (Well, maybe no the wise one bit, but you know what I mean). This is a bit a a loaded question really, as there is no right or wrong answer other than “whatever suits you best”. You could spend hours pouring over the net, reading magazines and reviews or listening to the bloke down the pub, but until you actually hold a camera you have no idea.
What I usually tell people is this, find a camera that suits your needs and your style, and most of all, one that feels good in your hand and next to your eye. Because cameras come and go. This is certainly even more relevant now, in the digital age. The average digital camera has a ‘cycle’ of about 3 years, which means that just as you are getting comfortable with your camera, the next piece of eye candy is out there on the shelf flaunting its megapixels at you.
From my experience, by far the most important thing that you can do is invest some money in good glass. Good lenses pay dividends, and will far outlast your camera. This is especially true with manual focus lenses, that seem to last forever. But you need to be careful, because there is glass, and then there is glass. One man’s dream lens, might be the horror of horrors for the next. But there is one thing that we can all agree on, that kit lenses are rubbish. If you are even slightly serious about photography, ditch the kit lens and spend a bit of cash on a reasonably fast zoom. You don’t have to spend mega bucks either, Japan has one of the best used camera markets in the world. There are shops all over Japan that sell top condition camera gear, and the average Japanese camera nut is extremely careful about the care of their gear, so you can get some real gems.
If you really want to test yourself, go out and get a prime (eg. 50mm) manual focus lens, or any other prime for that matter. This will teach you self discipline and control. If you are not ready for the plunge, you could always go for an AF, there is no shame in that. But don’t be tempted by the big shiny fancy gear with UltraSonic this and VR that, most of this stuff is completely unnecessary for the average photographer. Sure, if you have money to burn go for it, but as most of us don’t just buy what is within your limits and have fun with what you get.
One thing to bear in mind though is looking after your glass. In Japan the relative humidity is high, and it plays havoc with your gear. If you have a kit lens and you don’t really care, then skip the next bit, but if you have spent a bit of money then you should make sure that you get your gear out of the bag at least once a month (I get mine out almost every day). Get it out and let it breathe, check it, clean it, love it and care for it. If you have the space invest in a humidity cabinet that keeps your gear in a temperature controlled environment. If you don’t you could always use a couple of large plastic tubs with some silica gel sachets inside, this will do just as well. The summer heat can destroy your lenses, so make sure that you take care of them.
So, what is in a glass? An investment that pays dividends, as long as you look after it.
Some useful links:
MapCamera: two shops in Shinjuku, Tokyo, with a good selection of digital and film bodies; old and new lenses. Go for the extended 1year guarantee when you buy used. 3% of the value of your purchase and piece of mind for all things including dropping the camera.
Fujiya Camera: excellent shop in Nakano, Tokyo, with extensive selection of film and digital gear. Usually better deals on trade-ins than Map.
Sukiya Camera a.k.a. The Nikon House: on the corner of the main crossing in Ginza [near Ginza subway station Exit B5.]. A must-visit for Nikonians.
Crosspoint: This is Alfie’s local shop in Omori, Tokyo. Great deals for anyone mentioning Alfie or Japanorama. Usually best for the older glass, film bodies from 35mm all the way up to 5×7 inch large-format.
There are dozens of other great used camera shops in Tokyo and we’re aiming to produce a little survey of them very soon.