In Cool Kit, we examine some of the latest equipment and tools currently available
And in this edition, we pose a question do you still need a Digital
Single Lens Reflex (DSLR) camera for professional photojournalism?
Or are some compact (and much cheaper) cameras now sophisticated enough for
pros to use on a regular basis?
Certainly, the cost of DSLRs has fallen sharply and what would only have been
available for many thousands of dollars five years ago can now be bought for
fewer than three thousand. And the new cameras are far technically superior.
We are talking about models with full-size sensors producing thirteen megapixels.
But then, thats just for the body. A top-quality lens can cost another
two thousands dollars.
Many professionals do carry a compact camera for backup but at least one award-winner
manages very well working only with a compact costing just a few hundred dollars,
though he does carry several of them at a time.
Magnum photographer Alex Majoli
was shooting stories for Newsweek Magazine
in 2003 and the following year picked up several top awards including the U.S.
National Press Photographers Association's Best of Photojournalism Magazine
Photographer of the Year Award and the U.S. Overseas Press Club's Feature Photography
And far from using one of the bulky and costly DSLRs of the time, he was happily
working with a five megapixel, fixed-lens point-and-shoot Olympus C5050.
"I was interested in finding a camera that gives me some new way to approach
the subject," Majoli was quoted as saying at the time. This camera,
you can shoot in a different way.
He had employed an even lower-specification four megapixel C4040 on an early
"I found the C-4040 amazing," he said. "So small. And it made
a great file. So this was the big thing, the size of the camera and the quality
of the file."
Alex tells Enter that he now uses the Olympus 7070 compact but as the company has not developed a newer "point and shoot" model, he does also carry the E-3 DSLR.
There are drawbacks to using compacts he says - they don't react as quickly and there is the question of quality, though that is not as important to him. And he does not encounter very much resistance from photo editors when they discover his images have been captured on a compact.
The fact that a compact is much smaller and therefore less obtrusive and obvious
than DSLR cameras as well as being lighter to carry is seen by
some pros as a big advantage.
And compacts have developed well. Although for the consumer market some manufacturers
have dropped RAW file ability, at the top end of the range specifications really
do have a professional look about them.
Canons new G9, for instance, offers 12 megapixel RAW file shooting with
six times optical zoom in a camera which will fit in the pocket although, of
course, it is still fixed-lens. Other manufacturers market similar models -
such as the Nikon Coolpix P5100 - though few offer what many picture editors
often consider the all-important RAW file format.
There are at least two other advantages of small cameras with high resolution
capabilities and better lenses. Optical zooms are sufficiently powerful so the
digital variety, which easily destroy image quality, can be left well alone
at all times. And with memory cards now cheaper than ever, pictures should be
taken at the highest quality setting as a matter of course.
So how soon will it be before newspapers and magazines are comfortable commissioning
shoots with compacts? Not in the near future, it seems.
Volker Lensch, Sterns
picture editor, tells Enter: It always depends on the story. If we assign
a photographer to do reportage he should be equipped with a professional camera
and able to transmit, just in case. We always need a very high technical quality
besides the perfect eye of the photographer.
When starting the layout we dont know which photographs might be
published as a spread. So we ask the photographer to set the camera on the highest
But it could be important to carry a compact camera. In some situations it
would be dangerous or disturbing to use professional equipment.
Compatriot Tina Ahrens, a senior photo editor for the GEO
magazine group based in New York says: We definitely want photographers
to be frank about the equipment they use. We can check the Metadata anyway and
we always ask for the RAW files, too. We discourage photographers working for
us to use compact cameras.
"We are not a newspaper, we are a high end magazine, and we produce our
magazine with rotogravure printing, so flaws in the files will always show.
For us, equipment is not a minor issue.
But what about the new generation of compact cameras offering high-resolution
images bordering on those from a DSLR? If a major news story has been captured
only on a compact, would that matter?
It really depends on the particular file in question, says Tina.
We ask - is it printable and it does not only depend on file size, but also
on focus, possible luminance and chroma noise.
We don't rule out an image categorically because of the camera it has
been shot with. Our main concern is that it is compatible with GEO standards.
So, if the subject matter is sufficiently valuable and the file printable
we would publish that image.