2.21.2017

I was consulting for a client this month and I recommended a camera to them. I'm sure the camera I recommended will surprise you.

Shooting by the shores of Lake Ontario. Warm as toast. Photo: Courtesy ODL-Design.
4K video for a project, courtesy Sony RX10iii. 

I'm a big fan of mirrorless cameras and an even bigger fan of cameras like the RX10iii which seem to be able to handle just about everything. But when a good client came to me and asked me to consult for their company about equipping a warehouse with an imaging system I made what might seem to be a contrary recommendation.

Here's the backstory: The client is a medical device manufacturer with offices on several continents. They have a wide range of products and an even wider range of replacement parts. Their warehouse needed a photographic solution that would allow them to shoot small to medium (smaller than a shoe box) products and parts on a shadowless, white background. The images would be uploaded and used on websites, and they wanted a solution that would not require post processing.

I researched and sourced a self contained light box. It's a box that's 30 x30 x30 inches in size, black on the outside and silver on the inside. There are two stripes of (quite good) LEDs across the top of the interior of the box and one can insert a white, plastic material as a cyc. There is a round opening in the front of the box that allows you to poke a lens through and shoot. It's a bigger and better version of the pop-up white light tents that some people use to shoot products destined for sale on Ebay.

The box is pretty much fool proof. We tested it today and the light, softened by a diffuser, is even and bright.

We also sourced a very inexpensive, Manfrotto tripod with a two axis head. It's not a big, carbon fiber Gitzo but it's adequate to hold the camera steady and, if handled with care, should last for a while.

Finally we come to the camera. Since we were working within a tight budget, and we needed a camera that was easy to operate and has straightforward menu, I opted to recommend the Canon T6. It's an inexpensive choice which, along with the 18-55mm kit lens, sells on Amazon for around $425-$450, depending on which sales and rebates are on offer. 

The camera is decidedly unsexy. But....it has an extremely uncomplicated menu system. It features 18 megapixels of resolution. It has a decent live view implementation. The kit lens is very decent and focuses down fairly close. It's very easy to train someone to use. And it's cheap.

Sometimes we forget that not every imaging situation demands an elegant and state-of-the-art solution. My client will dedicated this camera to the backroom of a warehouse in a city in a different state. We'll make a step-by-step chart for its use. It won't be seeing kids' soccer games, fast breaking Olympic sprint finals or fashion locations that feature Stygian darkness. It will spend it's life looking down on Flugal Joints and Bristom Arches; as well as mounting screws and radiation deflectors. Sitting happily on top of it's companion tripod, peeking furtively through the round window, onto the small white stage.

When someone calls and there is confusion about a product someone else will be able to put it into the box, turn on the camera and take an 8 or 4 megapixel Jpeg, and send a reasonably good and detailed photograph to the original someone to confirm that the part is or isn't what said someone requested.

My client spent about $700 for a complete imaging solution, carefully selected for ease of use, image quality and budget constraints. In this case the Canon camera was the wise choice. It is reliable, a good imager and has about 1/8th the number of menu items found in the typical Olympus or Sony camera. It's not difficult to see why people on tight budgets gravitate toward these cameras. They fill a need without the added encumbrance of pretentious spec-manship.

Would I own one? If my budget was under $500 for a good camera and lens system? You bet I would. And it would probably deliver images that would be fine for most work. Am I planning on minimizing my photo footprint to this distilled level of gear? Not on your life.