Ask James: Is My Gear Good Enough?

Hi James,

I enjoy photography – actually I am intrigued and possibly even fascinated by photography.

A few years back I had a half decent (I beleive it was anyway) which consisted of a Canon EOS 600D coupled with a Sigma 50-270mm PZD lens.

Whilst I managed to take several reasonable (some even good) pictures many were either just average or downright poor!

In my mind I needed lessons or schooling – neither of which were readily available where I live which is in a fairly remote part of Spain and, of course, I never had the time!

So, in a moment of madness or a fit of exasperation I sold the kit. Back to a point-and-shoot camera…

However, our point-and-shoot was a Sony DSC-HX60V, a compact which took good quality pictures and this has sort of relit my desire to be able to do more.

A good friend of ours purchased for me (on the way back through Dubai – tax free!!!) the big brother of the Sony compact – a Sony DSC-HX400V.
http://www.sony.co.uk/electronics/cyber-shot-compact-cameras/dsc-hx400-hx400v

So now to the ‘Ask James’ bit…

Is this camera good enough to restart my photography aspirations?
Are your courses suitable for this camera? (should that be the other way around?)

I am looking to take better photos and am interested in: –

Better framing and focussing
Correct use of aperture vs. shutter speed – which should take preference?
Different aspects of photography – portrait, landscape, close up, low light, etc.
Filters – do I need them?

Can you help?Steve

Hey Steve, great questions! The saying that came to mind as I was reading your email is, “the best camera is the one that’s with you.” Whether it’s an iPhone, an old film camera, a compact point and shoot, a DSLR or the latest mirrorless camera; you can always start taking pictures with whatever you’ve got. So the short answer is yes, the gear that you’ve got now is more than sufficient to reboot your pursuit of photography!

The Sony DSC-HX400V is a great camera and it will take great pictures. It will be perfect for rekindling your love for photography and you can use it as you begin to dig deeper into photography by learning how things like shutter speed, aperture and ISO work. You’ll also be able to get out of the automatic modes and shoot in Manual, Aperture Value and Shutter Value modes. The one thing I couldn’t find on the specs page is whether or not you can shoot in RAW with this camera. I’m sure it’s an option, and if so it should be one of the first menu items. Just switch from JPG to RAW and you’ll be good to go.

Where these entry level cameras typically begin to fall short is ease of use when shooting manually and low light performance. Pro-level cameras will have a dial for adjusting your aperture and a dial for shutter speed (Sony Alpha cameras also have a dial for ISO). This means that making adjustments in the field is super easy and quick, whereas with your camera you will likely have to hold down different buttons and then spin that one single dial. Not a huge issue, but an issue nonetheless.

I have no idea how well the Sony DSC-HX400V performs in low light, but I did see that the max it can go is ISO 3200. That is plenty high enough to photography the night sky and get a great looking Milky Way but the big question is the image quality. That you’ll have to find out for yourself.

The last issue you’ll run into is that it doesn’t look like you can remove that lens and attach other lenses. This won’t be a huge issue at first but glass can play a HUGE role in the way an image turns out and what you can achieve in the field, so eventually you will want a camera that can accept other lenses. In addition to not being able to change lenses, kit lenses like that one that comes on the Sony DSC-HX400V has a variable aperture. This can be confusing to comprehend, but that basically means that as you zoom in on the lens, you will be losing available light due to the aperture getting smaller and smaller. This won’t matter as much during the day, but it can really cause issues in low light. That’s another reason why it’s good to have a removable lens; so that you can invest in high quality glass with the ability to stay wide open all the way through the zoom range.

Your last question was asking about my educational materials and whether or not you’ll be able to get something out of them with the equipment you have. The answer is “absolutely!” I’d suggest both of my main ebooks for starters: Tack Sharp and Sunset & Beyond. These are both ebooks that will help you better understand the fundamentals of photography as well as some more advanced topics as well.

  • Justin Reeders

    Hi Steve
    I have purchased both Tack Sharp & Sunset & Beyond that James recommended, very good books and great value for money.
    Thank you for keeping your books at very reasonable prices James

  • Phil James

    James, surely, Aperture and shutter priority are automatic modes with some facility for the photographer to over-ride some of the auto settings. Set the aperture and the camera will choose the shutter speed. OK you can over-ride the exposure to some extent with exposure compensation. Change ISO value and the camera will adjust shutter speed in Av and aperture in Tv mode. The only significant user control is exposure compensation.

    Pushing ISO higher may let you get the aperture you want for dof or a shutter fast or slow enough for the movement you want to capture but the camera is still programmed to give the ‘right’ exposure which only compensation can change.

    The only way to get out of auto completely is Manual or Bulb (if you remember to turn of auto-focus). That said, my camera spends most of its life in aperture priority as that suits most of my photography and about 10% each in Tv and manual (maybe a bit more if I’m working inside).

    Keep on giving your great advice and recommendations etc. Amongst other things I think I must have all the e-books you’ve recommended and everything of yours. Very helpful!