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Photography on a Budget

Updated on October 3, 2014

Get More from your 35mm Camera Equipment

Single Lens Reflex Cameras have stood the test of time. They are as viable as ever, when time is not a factor ...

This lens is about making the most of your SLR film camera, getting the best mileage out of it, and knowing when and how to go digital.

Check back often for the latest buys in camera equipment!

Making the Most of Your SLR Film Camera

If you're using a film Single Lens Reflex camera, you may feel like you're riding a horse and buggy in the car age. But you CAN get more mileage from your equipment.

These sturdy 35mm cameras, the old media workhorses, are as capable as ever for high quality, professional images -- when large volumes or immediacy are not essential. So you may want pay-as-you-go for film and milk them for what they're worth, instead of paying for their digital equivalents.

Make the most of your equipment by shooting slide film for more accurate, vibrant color. Then get your best slides scanned at high resolutions, from 2000 to 4000 dpi, to maximize their potential. Be sure to shop around for pricing and build extra time into your production schedule.

A local service is preferable if you can get a good price, but it may be worth your time to order scanning through an online service. Be sure you are pricing comparable scans and find out where the processing occurs. Is it at their plant, or is your film reshipped, possibly outside the United States?

Expect to pay 50 cents or more online per scan, plus shipping. It's well worth it, considering larger-pixel images will help you compete more effectively with digital camera photos.

After trying a few scanned photos you'll know if the results are satisfactory for your purposes. If they are, you may want to consider shopping for used lenses to expand your capabilities. An all-purpose zoom for travel, a wide angle, a telephoto, or macro lens are good options.

Look for these lenses locally at photo stores, or online at Ebay, but check for scratches. If you expect to eventually buy a digital camera, look for lenses which can be used interchangeably with both types of cameras. This will keep costs down when you transition because you can buy just the camera body. (See shopping tips below.)

I own a Tamron AF 28-300mm F/3.5/6.3 XRDi lens which is interchangeable for Canon mount film and digital SLR cameras. It operates like a 44-465 mm with APS-C size digital cameras.

Those relying on a built-in flash may want to consider buying a used flash unit to broaden shooting capabilities in low-light situations.

Though you may get by awhile longer on a film camera, you may find yourself eyeing others' digital cameras. You may wonder if you can afford one, or if you can justify the expense.

Keep reading for more information about making the switch. And know that, no matter what camera you're using, you'll get the best product by improving your photo composition skills, learning more about your camera settings and how to create artistic effects.

Going Digital -- When Making the Change Makes Sense

Options are shrinking as the world goes digital

For the hobbyist, or part-time professional, film cameras still provide a viable option -- but let's face it, a lot of folks are abandoning -- or already have abandoned -- film!

When I visited my local photo shop recently, they had one -- yeah, you read it right -- one roll of slide film. It wasn't the kind I wanted, but there wasn't much choice. It's all they had! So I bought it and plan to shoot it, then send it off to be developed one place and scanned another.

Those with deadlines and who shoot larger volumes, may find the process just too cumbersome and retire their old film cameras...

If the truth be told, you can still get a higher quality image from a high quality scan, unless maybe you own a professional grade SLR retailing for $7,000 or so. But you won't want to pay for high-quality scans for your entire roll!

Users must ultimately make the best choice for themselves. Will they shoot just a few pictures every month, requiring only an occasional high-quality image? If so, paying $20 plus shipping for a great scan is no big deal. Or will they shoot higher volumes where medium quality is sufficient? If so, digital may be more practical. They may be in the market for an entry SLR digital camera like the Nikon D100 or the semi-professional Canon 30D or 40D.

Let's face it, if you don't have to pay for film you may shoot more pictures. That will likely improve your skill. But what is your ultimate goal? Do you have a market for the pictures you like to take? Is it just a hobby and how much are you willing to spend on it? Only you can decide what's best for you..

Shopping for a Digital Camera

Keeping Costs Down

Buying an SLR digital camera isn't cheap, so you'll want to do your homework before making the transition. Here are some tips to make the process easier.

* Check reviews on SLR digital cameras to determine which brand and product best meets your needs and budget. Consider sticking with your same name brand SLR camera, if lenses are compatible.

* Get prices from various resellers, but beware if the prices seem too good to be true. They just might be! Legitimate businesses can't afford to sell their equipment for less than wholesale, unless they make it up on accessories. If price is a factor, consider buying used equipment from a reputable seller. You may want to shop EBay, but consider a Power Seller, check the seller's ratings before you bid, and be sure to use your credit card.

* Know what you are getting for your money. Your SLR will require a battery and battery recharger, a flash card and reader and/or cord, and a host of other possible add-ons such as a camera strap, bag, tripod, filters and lenses for assorted uses. You can choose to buy the body only or a kit with one or more lenses. You may have a built-in flash unit, or you may want to buy a more powerful flash unit.

* Don't expect your lenses to give you the same focal lengths as they did on a film camera. Even when buying new, check to find the digital equivalent. For example the Canon EF-S 17-85 mm has the focal length of a 28-135 mm on a film camera, or 1.6 times the value.

* If you're not sure what you want, consider borrowing or renting equipment before you purchase.

If your budget won't allow a digital SLR right now, you may want to consider a long-range plan, limiting your purchases to lenses which will serve you now -- and in the future.

About the Canon 40D

The Canon 40D is no longer the latest digital camera model. Like its predecessors the Canon 20D and 30D, it had to give up its precious ranking. But the Canon 40D continues to be more than enough to suit my photography needs.

The Canon 40D is a 10 megapixel camera which takes better photographs than I used to get with a 35mm camera and drug store scans. Admittedly, the 35 mm is capable of more with a drum scan, but for the everyday 35 mm film and scanning, the Canon 40D produces a superb product. With the Canon 40D, there are photography jobs that are beyond my camera's capabilities. Even in RAW mode, it cannot stand its own against its pricier cousins in the Mark line. But for the price difference, I'll stick with the Canon 40D.

It is capable of greater than 8" x 12" prints at 300 dpi, with shots taken in the compressed .jpeg format. To get the most from your digital camera, you'll be advised to shoot in raw mode, but it takes a lot of disk space you may not have. So for the time being, I am shooting in jpeg with no regrets.

The Canon 40D opens up lots of new horizons for me since I am no longer tied to film and drug store scanning. I can shoot with a different mindset. I can experiment. Sure my hard drive can fill up, but I need to work against that urge to hoard and I'll be lots better off. With the Canon 40D, I can shoot lots of new pictures and improve my skills. I can test the markets and find those best for me.

Canon 40Ds and More on Amazon

I own a Canon 40D and I recommend it for semi-professional photographers, eager amateurs who want to expand their skills and go pro, and for professionals who want a camera that doesn't look, well, quite so professional. Maybe they want to take pictures without having everybody and their brother trying to get a free photo shoot, you know what I mean... Or maybe they don't want to alert thieves to all the expensive camera equipment they have stashed in the car...

What to Expect When You Go Digital

You'll likely drop a bundle when you buy a digital single lens reflex camera, so do your homework first. The camera body is no better than its lenses, so plan to have good ones.

Technological advancements mean your camera likely won't be the latest and greatest for long. The digital camera you buy also will likely be a bit more complicated to operate than an old film camera.

But the sheer freedom of not paying for film will likely entice you to take more pictures. This will improve your skills, enable you to add more photos to your inventory, and hopefully sell more. The downside is that all those pictures will take up hard drive space, so you'll need storage. Get into the practice of purging inferior/duplicate photos and you'll keep the storage space required to a minimum. Eventually you may be in the market for a portable hard drive. If you've found successful markets for your photos, it can be a business tax deduction...

Making the transition is easier if you buy convertible lenses to reduce upfront costs when you convert.

Storage for Your Digital Photos

When you have a digital camera or digitized (scanned) photographs, you'll want a place to store your photos. Check out these portable hard drives.

Cheryl Rogers
Cheryl Rogers

Meet the Author

I learned photography on the job at my first newspaper. In those days, I was using a manual typewriter and a 35mm camera. A lot has changed. Now the 35mm is a way to get great pictures for less money. You just need to have that film developed.

These days I own a Canon 40D. I sell my nature photos on print-on-demand products through my Zazzle stores, where I share my original Scripture poster designs, along with mugs, invitations, flyer backgrounds and more. Images licenses are available upon request.

As a freelance writer, I write on magazines online and off. I also write ebooks for readers of all ages to share my faith. Among my ebooks are Lost in the Woods: A Bible Camp Mystery and Fast Track to Victory, A Christian Guidebook.

You can learn more about me at my online magazine.

© 2008 Cheryl Rogers


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