Buying your next camera in South Africa

I’ve written this in response to a couple of people (one or two – I don’t mean they were

You will never own the most modern camera for long

married) who asked. The following is a bit of a guide to consider before venturing forth into a camera shop and being influenced by the seductive tones of the salesman.

It’s worth bearing in mind that it’s the salesman’s job to sell you the most expensive camera in the shop, and your friends will probably recommend cameras they are most familiar with. Thus it is, that neither of them will necessarily recommend the camera most suitable for you.

In South Africa, none but the obscenely rich can afford to pop into a camera shop and walk out bristling with lenses and a couple of top-of-range camera bodies. In most cases, those wealthy bods will ensure their pilot, stylist or chauffeur is handy with a camera anyway – and what they miss, the paparazzi will definitely get. For us ordinary mortals, therefore, an outlay of such a magnitude requires us to do the necessary research to avoid the situation where an inappropriate camera is relegated to the back of the cupboard.

So how does one decide on a suitable camera? I think the best way is to define your requirements. This works whether you’re in search of a camera, computer, Hi fi system, Russian mail order bride, well, almost anything. Once you’ve defined what you need in terms of equipment, you will be less vulnerable to the tactics of the sales person. So here are some questions and tips I’ve learned – sometimes from painful and expensive experience.

  1. What kind of photographer are you now and what kind of photographer do you want to be?
    1. The photographer at parties, social gatherings, I generally take holiday pictures; From time to time I want to take photos of a sunset or a flower etc. but nothing more than that.
    2. I currently take the pics as in (a) above, but I want to learn to take better photos – I’ll still only take about one or two pics a month.
    3. I’m currently a member of (or want to join) a camera club and make photography a main hobby. I’d like to do close-ups, wildlife, portraiture, landscapes, contemporary, photo-journalistic type pics.
    4. I am a serious amateur and want to become a professional.
    5. I’m a complete wbanker. I have squillions of Rands at my disposal. I don’t have a blue clue about photography – don’t even know which end to look through – but I revel in the envious glances of other photographers when I flash my kit about. We’ll ignore this kind of photographer, because, as you’re actually reading this article, we’ll assume you’re a person of tremendous perspicacity and discernment, not to mention great wit, and colossal dollops of intelligence.
  2. Are you currently – or do you have a desire to become familiar with the principles of photography – such as depth of field, focal length, shutter speeds, film speeds, rules of composition, reciprocity, light wavelengths etc. This knowledge is not a pre-requisite, for taking decent pictures, but photography in general is an absolutely fascinating subject, comparatively easy to get to grips with, and the journey of learning is filled with fulfilling results from your efforts.

As with everything, the more you learn, the better equipped you are to explore the boundaries. If your answer to question 1 is either (a) or (b) then a good ‘mik en druk’ (that is ‘Point and shoot’ for our foreign readers) type camera is totally adequate. Brands like Canon, Nikon, Fuji and Sony have tremendous models with spectacular technology built in And can give you burst speeds of about 5 frames per second, image stabilisation, and some can do pretty impressive close-up pictures.

Also – don’t be misled by the ‘mega pixels per square acre’ nonsense that the sales people will try to tell you. A good quality 10 Mega pixel camera can deliver a better picture than a cheap 12 mega pixel camera. Metering is done either totally automatically or with a few presets and you, the photographer, only have to concentrate on composition and/or zooming.

Many of the models around the R4000 mark have additional technology built in, to provide the ability to do Black and white pix, sepia toning etc. The disadvantage of these models is that you are restricted to the lens that is attached to the camera. This pretty much excludes any wildlife pix – unless you happen to be REALLY close – which is bloody difficult, that’s why it’s called Wild Life.

Another important note: The built in flash on a camera – whether it’s R2,000 or R12,000 is JUST A FILL-IN LIGHT! With 99% of your pictures it will be nothing more than a source of frustration and may cause you to resort to language that could bring an interesting shade of puce to a sergeant major’s cheeks. But remember to budget for additional accessories such as a decent flash unit, another memory card (Please don’t go cheap), a tripod (good landscapes and portraits come from being totally steady), a camera bag, spare batteries etc.

If your answer to question 1 is (c) or (d), then I would strongly recommend one of the main DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex) brands – Nikon or Canon. The reason I suggest the main brands is because of the availability of an impressive array of optics and lighting. If you’re going to take photography as a serious hobby/profession, then optics (lenses) and lighting are going to be REALLY important to you.

An acceptable budget for a camera body is about R10 000 – and that will buy you an acceptable all-round lens too. A flash unit can be purchased from about R3000 upwards. HOWEVER: If you would like to pursue photography in a semi professional or professional capacity, then you’ll have to consider selling the kids and/or a kidney because a decent camera body (no lens) will set you back from R25 000 and lenses from about that amount too. I’ll summarise by saying, try to buy the best you can afford.

Don’t ever buy an electronic ‘thing’, simply to say you have the top of the range. That satisfaction lasts only until the next (better) model is released. Do LOTS of reading – ask lots of questions – and remember, the only stupid question is an unasked one. So you can see, as enticing as photography appears – it can be viewed as just another black hole in the universe into which you will pour an unending stream of hard earned money. But it’s a whole lot better than smoking – because emphysema is damn difficult to frame and hang on the wall.


About Freud Fission Chips

Despite the banality of the name, FFC has led an intensely varied life. Grateful for surviving almost three years as a 'troepie' (soldier for non-South African Readers) in the Angolan war, he determined to wring as much out of life as possible. Currently providing Business Analysis services, trading on the stock market and developing web pages to pay the bills, FFC also dabbles in wildlife, landscape and people photography, writing, and far too many interests for his own good. He has also travelled extensively in southern Africa (working on the sound theory that a moving target is more dificult to hit). These peregrinations also include over 1500kms on foot through some of the worlds most spectacular scenery. It hasn't all been plain sailing, beer and skittles, and endless beds of roses... Chief amongst the prerequisites for surviving Africa, with its mind-bending characteristics, is an appropriate sense of humour.... So, for now, he will be recounting the amusing among the annoying, the frustrating wrapped in the funny and extracting the mirth from the melancholy... Oh yes, there might be some alliteration too.
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2 Responses to Buying your next camera in South Africa

  1. The Lass, Sass says:

    I’ve often considered selling one of my offspring – never seriously though until this point!
    I have an 8 year old and a 4 year old (with a 16 year old mouth) – what sort of equipment could I get for this? I’m looking at the semi professional/hobbiest/taking pretty pictures of flowers type of person….

    • Selling the kids doesn’t always bring in satisfactory returns and a camera generally won’t perform as well in a sweatshop. So I’d recommend shoplifting the new Canon 500D camera. At Makro last weekend, they had a special – the camera body with 2 lenses for about R8000. I will write more about it to you in a personal mail.

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