I think the road from where I started to where I am with my camera usage to where I am now is quite a curvy one! During my travels, I thought I knew exactly what that trip would be. I couldn’t be more wrong. Needless to say, be into photography as much as I am now!

The Start

I guess the start of my photography journey started when I thought of taking images for more important, every-day life things which started around 2004. I was also doing a lot of motorcycle road-trips, which I hope to be doing again very soon, and taking pics during those trips. The iPhone had just come out a few months earlier and it had a pretty lousy image sensor. It was probably also a hassle to get images off of it as well.

The Canon PowerShot

I really loved these cameras. They were priced on the cheap side but felt sturdy. Plus, Canon is the 800lb gorilla in the photography industry. Canon is the best. Right? As I started writing this article, I reviewed some of the images from then. It’s funny how the range of quality is with each of them.

The thing with Canon, their biggest thing maybe, is their color science. How colors look in the image. They just look good. Even with their cheap, pocket cameras, colors look really good. Done well, there is something pleasing about the colors.

Image: Canon USA

For what I was using the PowerShots for, they were excellent. So good that I went 6 years using three different models. I think they eventually broke usually through my own fault most likely or I lost them. But I remember them being great cameras. They did what I need them to do.

The Panasonic LX-3

Around 2010, I decided to try the Panasonic DMC-LX3. Why? Well I started reading up on photography and the LX3 had gotten great reviews. A pocket camera for the serious photographer. It had a Leica lens. I had no knowledge of Leica other than what I read in the review. Great quality. It also came with a 10MP sensor which at the time, wasn’t the biggest, supposedly was better than the larger ones on other cameras of the same size.

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To say there was an image-quality improvement would be an understatement. It was very obvious that this camera was in a whole other league. Images seemed more dimensional. It’s certainly the quality of the lens and megapixel count. But there is something called ‘micro-contrast’ that certain lens manufacturers, especially Leica, is famous for. The PowerShot images just looked flat. Pretty typical from cheaper lenses. Even now in 2020.

The Canon 50D

In 2011, I bought my first DSLR! A used Canon 50D. While I wasn’t travelling as much, I was thinking about getting more into photography somehow. While I loved the LX3, I read that a DSLR was the way to go for more serious photography. The 50D is the last of its breed: The Prosumer APS-C.

I was attracted to the magnesium allow body that it was built around. The Canon Rebels, while fine cameras, were all plastic. I just didn’t feel good about that. While 15MP and cameras were already in the 18MP range, I liked that the little diodes in the sensor that collect the image were bigger than the 18MP version and would allow it be better in low-light conditions. Bigger is better for light.

My Baby! The Canon 50D. Image: Ricardo Gomez

My Baby! The Canon 50D. Image: Ricardo Gomez

So what is APS-C? Image sensors come in different sizes. Full Frame sensor-sized cameras are basically digital 35mm film equivalents. APS-C are a nudge smaller. And are considerably cheaper to make. At the time, Full Frame sensors were more difficult to manufacturer and APS-C was a way to get to that sensor size while saving considerable money.

Unfortunately, a month or two after I bought that camera, there was an attempted mugging and after the event, my camera was damaged beyond usability. I was able to get some money for it through a camera repair shop. I was quite broke but managed to scrape some money together to get another. I loved the camera that much. And still have it.

When I bought the first camera, it came with a Canon 28-135mm f/3.5 – 5.6. It’s what’s called a ‘kit lens’. A freebie that camera makers include with the sale of a camera. So it’s cheap. However, I had a ton of fun with it! Images had some decent quality as well.

The only real issue I had with the camera was the auto-focus. It was so lousy, I just manual focused everything. You might, and many others still think, it’s the end of the world. Well, there were plenty of images back in the film days done with manual focus. Auto focus can be great. Absolutely. I use it all the time. But not having good auto focus really forced me to be fast and good. I just didn’t care after a while.

So one of my hobbies and forms of practicing camera operation was photographing the local salsa dancing events that I attended as both dancer and photographer. FANTASTIC camera practice. Try getting a sharp image with a manual lens! Most attendees knew or knew of me and were totally fine with me photographing them and and posting images on Flickr for them to download. No money. Just for fun. And everyone enjoyed it!

One of the best things though was with my friend Oscar. He was a film producer that I knew through an office-sharing service. He told me that I should leave my camera in ‘Manual’ mode until I learn how to take pictures using it. Manual mode basically teaches you how exposure, aperture and ISO all work together. I was like ‘Nooooo!’ and he said ‘Yeeeeeeees!’. He was totally right. Maybe the biggest thing that educated me on the science and art of photography. And one I tell others. With little success. I still shoot in manual mode with the exception of shutter speed. I want to keep aperture and ISO to certain settings. I’ll adjust the ISO then to keep it above the minimum speed at a certain level. But that’s it. Still manual. I know way to many photographers who still use ‘P’ mode.. And no, it doesn’t stand for ‘Professional’….

The Zeiss 50mm f/1.4

A lens. Not a camera. A vastly more experienced photographer friend told me that Zeiss lenses were amazing and I had to try them out. He was absolutely right! I was renting Canon lenses for special occasions and mostly, because they were Canon lenses. But when I tried Zeiss for the first time, that was it! Remember that micro-contrast that I mentioned about Leica with my LX3. Like that except on another level. I mean, it should. The lenses cost several times the cost of the LX3 itself and the sensor on the Canon was much larger. So yes, the quality should be better.

My amazing Zeiss 50mm f/1.4 Planar lens. Image: Ricardo Gomez

My amazing Zeiss 50mm f/1.4 Planar lens. Image: Ricardo Gomez

I found the Canon lenses, even the expensive ones, to have a flat image. Like the PowerShots I used before. Some people would say “Well, you can just make adjustments in post-production”. Well, yes. But there is a definite difference in the way you can do it in post and the way a lens will do it. You speak to any, high level professional photographer, you want the image to come out of the camera as close as you want the final product. It’s just better on many levels.

I was spending a lot of money renting lenses and finally decided to buy a Zeiss. I had rented 35mm and found it too wide-angle for what I wanted to do. I decided a 50mm focal length was best as it’s regarding as the best ‘all-around’ focal length. You can use it for many different types of photography. Completely manual focus. But since my camera’s AF was horrible, it didn’t matter! As I was still quite broke, this is what I had to do. And it would totally work for the next 5 years and over 30,000 images later.

The Canon 5D Mark II

I think the biggest reason I bought the Canon 5D Mark II camera was because of the brainwashing of many lesser photographers that you have to go big or go home.

Canon 5D MKII. The camera that changed the industry. Image: Ricardo Gomez

Canon 5D MKII. The camera that changed the industry. Image: Ricardo Gomez

Now, the quality of the image coming out of this camera is definitely an improvement over my Canon 50D. But it’s not huge. I paid 2.5x more for this camera new than I did on my 50D. Was it worth the improvement? The more I look at my 50D images, the more I’m inclined to say ‘no’. But hindsight is always 20/20. I always felt the ergonomics of the camera to be awkward. I never enjoyed using it.

I kept the camera for 3 years and before I moved to New York, sold it. I wanted as much money as possible for the move and thought my 50D would be enough. Never regretted that decision. In fact, this was my last photo shoot before I left for New York and had already sold my Canon 5D Mark II when I did it. I mean, would I love this image any more with it?

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Ricardo Gomez Photography

Originally from San Francisco, Ricardo is now a New York-based photographer specializing in editorial and commercial photography.
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