Why you should always carry a camera

If you hadn’t noticed, I love photography. A problem that I often encounter is being out doing my normal day-to-day activities such as going to work, running errands, visiting family and friends, etc. when something catches my eye or a spark of creativity strikes and I don’t have a camera. I miss the moment that can never be recaptured. After numerous moments like this, I decided I would try to keep a camera handy at all times so I don’t miss these moments. For this reason and others, I will explain why you should always carry a camera. 

Creativity

The main reason I decided to carry a camera  as often as possible is for the creative moments. I used to work at a university that had a beautiful campus. Areas along my commute were also candidates for photography. Even at my current position, some areas along my route look like ideal stops to snap some photos. Then there are times when the weather creates very dramatic or interesting scenes, even in areas that are otherwise uninteresting. These interesting weather conditions don’t usually occur often and depend on the time of the year in most places. There can even be spur-of-the-moment events worth capturing as well. 

On the drive home from the university, I regularly passed a small lake with a single weeping willow tree on a peninsula. I dreamed of stopping to capture a few shots towards this tree during sunset or sunrise but never had a camera on me. I could easily go on my own time, but the lighting isn’t always ideal on my own time and it’s just far enough that going back is inconvenient. I must also admit to my own laziness to not bringing a camera and plan it since I pass this regularly. However, there was one winter day in which the ice over the lake was just thin enough to still see the water, yet frozen enough to glisten in the sun. Snow had covered the grass, but as clear from the ice. I was driving home during the golden hour and the bright orange hue from the sun setup for an inviting scene and the contrast from the sun being lower near the horizon would have produced a dramatic shot. I absolutely would have stopped for this. I didn’t have a camera. I got home and wanted to go back, but the sun would have set before I returned. I thought to myself “I’ll get it tomorrow” and packed my camera for the next day. Sadly, the ice had melted and much of the snow had too. The scene wasn’t nearly as dramatic or interesting. I had missed my opportunity. 

A similar scenario occurred recently with the transition between winter and spring in the upper-Midwest. During the early morning rush hour, just after sunrise, dense fog had set in. Passing a field with a few trees scattered with the sunrise behind them and fog sitting just above the frost-covered grass, I wanted to stop. The scene would have captured the bare trees in silhouettes with the warm, orange hue of the sun tinting the overall image and a textured fog separating the sky from the horizon. This would have been a vastly different photo from my usual shoots and one I’ve been aiming to capture for quite some time. Except, I had nothing worth using to capture this shot at the time and the following day didn’t provide a similar scene. 

Phone =/= Camera

You may be thinking that I could use my smartphone to capture these shots. Yes, I could and sometimes I do. However, the image technology on smartphones is often lacking compared to normal cameras. When I do capture photos on my phone, they look fine on the my phone’s screen, but the noise captured in the photo is much more obvious on a PC and too much for a quality print. Reducing the noise in software often comes at a cost, losing details and softening the photo. Additionally, shooting in jpeg, which is default for all smartphone camera apps, usually leaves the photos compressed aggressively. This loses detail and can mean less than impressive prints. For this reason, I aim to shoot in RAW on my phone.

Some of these problems are software related, but others are the hardware. The biggest problem is sensor size. In order for a camera to fit on the thin bodies of smartphones, the image sensor needs to be small. The smaller the image sensor, the less surface areas there is to capture light. This means a smartphone will perform worse in low light than a normal camera, all things being equal. As technology improves, they do get better. However, as less light is available, ISO usually needs to be increased to compensate. Higher ISOs mean more noise. Newer smartphones address this by utilizing noise reduction software to fight this and it keeps getting better, but noise reduction doesn’t get applied to RAW photos. RAW is preferred because it’s uncompressed and offers more flexibility when editing in post. 

Finally, a smartphone lacks any zoom capabilities. The zoom that does exist is digital zoom, which is no different than cropping. This reduces the resolution of a photo, which can lead to less details and smaller print sizes, depending how extreme the crop or digital zoom is. The latest trend in combating smartphone zoom is including 2 rear-facing cameras in a phone with two different focal lengths. It’s an improvement, but still not quite there. Typically, a traditional camera will offer some type of optical zoom. There are some point and shoot cameras that don’t, many of which are high quality, expensive models. Zoom may not be important to everyone, but I do prefer to have some of that flexibility. 

Documentation

Finally, having a camera handy can be great for documenting unexpected activities. This may be an instance a smartphone camera might be acceptable. Situations when you want a camera can come of all types of situations. Some you want to capture for legal documentation, others because they’re important memories. 

One of the most important times to want a camera is during a car accident. One of the first things you should do, after calling for help, is document the damage and scene. This can serve as defensible evidence to prove your innocence if necessary and to provide to insurance in the claim process. You may even want a dash cam for this purpose as well, to document activities that lead up to an accident. Illinois law states that in an accident in which one car is rear-ended by another, the car behind the rear-ended one is always at fault without question. That means if you rear-end a car in front of you, no matter what the situation, you’re labeled as fault. However, if the car you rear-end cut you off with no room to stop, then slams on his brakes, you have no chance to stop and it shouldn’t be your fault. A dash cam would prove the situation and provide an exception to the rule, though I am not a lawyer and do not know the law well enough to say this for certain. 

Outside of legal uses, events of all sorta can quickly turn into moments you want to capture. Again, a smartphone might be acceptable, depending on what you value as important. I have a toddler and you never know when he’s going to do something cute or new worth capturing. My smartphone isn’t fast enough to keep up with him and it doesn’t handle difficult lighting very well. To keep up, I try to keep a camera with me to capture my memories with him. Keep in mind, too, the limitations of the quality of compressed images on smartphones and the limitations of the smaller sensor on smartphones, that I previously discussed. 

What kind of camera?

You might be wondering what kind of camera I recommend to keep on you at all times. The answer isn’t one I can provide, but I can share some guidance. Ultimately, the camera you choose is your decision and must be based on your needs. If all of our needs were the same, we wouldn’t have so much variety in camera choices. 

I own two cameras since Christmas. Once is a Canon 7D Mark II and the other is a Canon G9 X. The 7DII is a DSLR and the G9 X is a point and shoot. My Canon 7DII provides better image quality over the G9 X, but that should be obvious. The image sensor is larger, the lenses I own are sharper, allow more light to be captured, and are more versatile, and the focusing system is leaps and bounds better than the G9 X. If I had to choose between these 2 cameras, it would be my Canon 7D Mark II hands down. But it’s magnesium alloy body is heavy, the camera is large, carrying it can be bulky and potentially distracting to those around me, and it’s not as quick to be ready at the spur of the moment unless I already have it on my shoulder with a lens attached. It’s my go-to camera when I plan to shoot with intention, but not my go-to camera for spur-of-the-moment situations. Getting the camera out and lens attached could mean missing the moment. It’s also inconvenient to carry all of the time. It’s also too expensive to leave in my car for those spontaneous moments. 

My point and shoot Canon G9 X, on the other hand, is beyond convenient. It’s small enough to fit in a pocket, but I use a belt holster carrying case for protection. I can keep it on me at all times. The holster does look like a slight eye-sore, but it’s far less obvious than a DSLR hanging off my neck. The small size, even in my hands, is also less distracting to those around me to be more discreet with. However, more importantly, it’s fast to be ready. There’s no lens to attach, it powers on and is ready to snap photos in almost an instant, and it light weight. The it also features a 1 inch sensor, which is larger than most point and shoots and significantly larger than a smartphone. The photos I’ve captured from this camera are impressive for the little package. And it shoots in both RAW and jpeg, making post-processing powerful and sharing easy. For those moments I want to share quickly, the WiFi, NFC, and Canon Connect app let me share my photos to my smartphone for quick sharing anywhere I need. 

The camera you choose to always carry is up to you. Not all DSLRs are big and bulky or heavy. Mirrorless cameras are trending in the industry and serve as a good medium between full sized DSLRs and point and shoots. They offer interchangeable lenses and larger image sensors, but in a smaller, all digital body. They’re not quite small enough to put in your pocket, but they’re still small. Point and shoots come in all sizes and offer an endless combination of features ad varying price points. Some have small sensors comparable to what smartphones are using (defeating the purpose), others have large sensors as large as some DSLRs. Some have large zooms, others have a fixed lens without any zoom. I can’t tell you what camera to buy, but I would be more than happy to discuss features and use cases of anything you’re unsure about. To get yourself started, the first question you need to answer for yourself is “how do you plan to use the camera?” This should address the features you need to start narrowing down the choices to a few cameras. 

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