About Me

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Spofford, New Hampshire, United States
Jeff Newcomer has been a physician practicing in New Hampshire and Vermont for over 30 years. Over that time, as a member of the Conservation Commission in his home of Chesterfield New Hampshire, he has used his photography to promote the protection and appreciation of the town's wild lands. In recent years he has been transitioning his focus from medicine to photography, writing and teaching. Jeff enjoys photographing throughout New England, but has concentrated on the Monadnock Region and southern Vermont and has had a long term artistic relationship with Mount Monadnock. He is a featured artist in a number of local galleries and his work is often seen in regional print, web publications and in business installations throughout the country. For years Jeff has published a calendar celebrating the beauty of The New England country-side in all seasons. All of the proceeds from his New England Reflections Calendar have gone to support the Pulmonary Rehabilitation Program at the Cheshire Medical Center. Jeff has a strong commitment to sharing his excitement about the special beauty of our region and publishes a weekly blog about photography in New England.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Getting to Know Your New Camera

Indian Pond : Canon 5D Mark IV : Nice Dynamic Range

Sure is Pretty
I have been shooting with my trusty Canon 5D Mark 2 for about 7 years.  Seven years is an eternity for digital technology, but Canon has not been quick with innovation in there 5D series.  I decided not to upgrade when the Mark 3 came out.  I just didn’t feel that the improvements were worth the increased in price.  It was missing many of the features that I was looking for as part of a truly innovative step forward.  I thought that advanced features, such as GPS, WiFi, intervalometer, increased image bracketing, a touch screen with an articulated LCD screen, 7 fps, and 4k video would come quickly, but Canon had stuck with the Mark 3 for years.  Now that the Mark 4 is finally out, with almost all these features and more, I had to breathlessly take the leap.  

Upward : Mark IV

From my early experience with this camera, I am very pleased.  Compared to my Mark 2, the image quality is in another world and the features meet most of what has been on my wish list.  The one disappointment is that the articulated LCD is missing.  Given the ubiquitousness of this feature, it seems an unnecessary omission, but I’m not here to quibble.  I’ll just glory in all the new stuff I get to work with.

Sunset Shore, Spofford NH
Canon 5D Mark IV

It has been awhile since I acquired a new high end camera, and I thought it would be a good time to discuss a few key elements and functions with which to becoming familiar in any a new camera.  Fortunately for me, when compared to my 5D Mark 2, the Mark 4 has a familiar layout of controls.  I don’t have to retrain my muscle memory for many of the essential buttons and dials, but there are still some basic steps required to become familiar with these remarkably capable tools.

The Basics

As soon as you open the box, before the new camera smell fades, and before you take a single shot, there are a few basic steps to get your camera ready to go.

Charge the battery and get a second battery to keep charged and ready in your bag at all times.  You should never risk running out of juice in the middle of an important shoot.  There are few electrical outlets in the forest.

Confirm that you have the right memory card and have extras.  With bigger sensors, image files are getting massive.  Make sure that your cards have sufficient capacity and that they are fast enough to keep up with the pace of your shooting.  Especially with 4k video, only the fastest read speeds will serve.

Before I take my new camera out into the nasty, dusty, environment, I always take measures to protect my lens.  Sure, new cameras always come with a lens cap, but it has been my experience that you can’t capture many pictures with the cap on.  A simple clear, or UV filter, can provide an extra level of protection

Disaster Avoided
when you are shooting, and I will often order the filter when I order the camera.  Some photographers question the value of placing an additional piece of glass in front of your lovely expensive lens, but for me, this simple protection has avoided disaster on numerousoccasions.  It is shocking how expensive these simple filters can be, but I never skimp on my filters.  Don’t put a piece of cheap plastic in front of your beautiful multi-coated, multi-element glass.  

While we are discussing filters, you might as well add a polarizing filter to your order.  It is THE one essential filter especially for landscape photographers. 

LCD Protection
You can choose to get a piece of plastic or glass to protect the LCD from scratches and cracks.   Just make sure that your touch screen will work through the added layer, and that the screen is clean before you apply the protector.  I never took this precaution on my Mark2 and, after seven years, I do have a few scratches and even one small crack, but nothing that has affected the camera’s function.

·   Struggle with the Camera Strap:
Anything you can do to reduce the risk of dropping your precious baby is definitely worth the effort.  I like to replace the corporate strap with one that is more comfortable, functional and that doesn’t scream to the world that I am packing an expensive, mugger attracting, camera.

·  Camera Bag:

Bagophilia, a Common Affliction
Do I need to say that you should protect your gear in a camera bag that is comfortable to carry and provides easy access to your camera.  I belong to a bag support group which helps me deal with my pile of thirteen bags!  Again it is a good Idea to look for a camera bag that doesn’t LOOK like a camera bag.

·   Add Your Camera to your Insurance

Whether you have separate insurance for your photography business or add your camera equipment to a rider on your household policy, you should not waste any time getting your new camera listed, including the value and serial number.  Stuff happens!


Ok.  I suppose you actually want to take pictures with your lovely magic maker.  There is a lot to consider as you become acquainted.  Here are just a few suggestions, but it all comes down to, practice, practice, practice. 

Practice, Practice, Practice

Make Lots of Mistakes, Learn from them
Read the Damn Manual

Most camera manuals have “QUICK START” section which should get you going in a couple of pages.  Don’t expect to get through the full manual in one sitting.  My manual for the Mark 4 is almost 700 pages long.  Most of it is a reference, not a novel and it will be solving my insomnia for months to come.

The first, and the most obvious, point to make is that practice is essential in becoming familiar with your camera’s controls.  Experiment with all of the settings and carefully review the results.  Don’t take a new, untried, camera on an important shoot.  You don’t want all the pictures from that critical family gathering to be hopelessly overexposed and out of focus. 

Foot Photography
I always suggest that you settle onto the couch, enjoy a glass of wine and try all the setting while shooting pictures of your foot.  Fortunately, with digital cameras, the results can be immediately reviewed and corrections made.  Learn how to figure out what went wrong by examining the details from each shot, not only by reviewing the LCD screen, but also by studying the image’s EXIF Data.  The EXIF data is embedded in each image and includes a mass of information, including the f-stop and shutter speed, ISO and file type.  Eventually, you may not want all the image data to show up on the screen after each shot, but while learning, it is essential to have that immediate and specific feedback.

Start by understanding the location and function of the essential controls.

Find the Essential Controls:
Discover what is familiar and what is different from your previous camera.  Even cameras from different manufacturers tend to follow similar schemes.   Find the labeled diagram with all the buttons and dials.  Only a few will be needed to get you started.  It all starts with the shutter.


  • Shutter(duh)
  • Shooting modes (Aperture & Shutter priority, manual),
  • ISO 
  • Exposure Adjustment

  • Auto Focus

  • Image Types

Once you have found the essential controls it is time to start playing.   Isolate the individual controls and experiment with them one at a time. Resist the urge to run out and shoot randomly.  I know the feeling, but you will get there faster with a systematic approach.

Exposure Control

Add caption

Shooting modes, Aperture and Shutter Priority, Manual, and ISO, all have their effect on exposure, but they also have secondary effects.  These include depth of field, motion capture, sharpness, and noise, that are important to understand during the early exploration of your camera’s features

Know the Secondary Effect

Aperture Priority: Depth of Field
 In aperture priority exposure is determined by the size of the opening.  That is simple enough, but you should explore the depth of field with various apertures.  DOF is dependent on the size of the aperture, but it is also affected by the size sensor.  For any f-stop, the DOF is much greater on the tiny sensor of an iPhone than from the ‘full” size sensor of many DSLRs.  

Shutter Priority:  Shake

Slow Shutter : Cotton Candy
Shutter speed directly controls the exposure, but it also affects your ability to capture motion.   The shutter speed’s impact on freezing or blurring motion is obvious, but as you first explore your new camera your question should be, “How fast does the shutter need to be to make it possible to hand-hold a shot”.  Most modern cameras or lenses have some form of shake reduction and a bit of experimentation is needed to determine how slow a shutter speed can be before some form of external stabilization is required.  Of course the “shake limit” is not strictly related to the camera.  It is also dependent on the focal length of the lens, and the amount of coffee you have consumed.  I’m not as stable as I used to be and I keep my monopod or tripod close at hand.

ISO: Noise

Modern cameras have remarkably sensitive sensors that can, with high ISO levels, shoot in low light situations, but, with increased ISO, noise inevitably becomes aproblem.  Again systematic experimentation is necessary to determine how high the ISO can be pushed before the noise becomes unacceptable to your eye.  Larger sensors tend to have less noise at high ISOs, but every camera is different.

ISO Noise Test

Automatic Exposure Schemes

Most camera have an array of choices for evaluating the amount of light reaching the sensor and adjusting the exposure in response.

Different exposure patterns can be selected, including center weighted, spot or various evaluative modes. It takes practice to understand how to select between them, and which works best in different lighting situations.  Evaluative might work well for generally even lighting, while a center weighted mode will be better to deal with the challenges of strong back-lighting.

Auto Focus:

9 point auto Focus : Canon 5D Mark II

Sharp focus is an essential part of capturing a great image, but it is not only about seeing clearly.  The location and depth of clear focus can direct the eye to the important parts of an image and de-emphasize the effect of distracting elements.   

63 focus points : canon 5D Mark IV
Manual focus is functionally simple, but often difficult to nail precisely, especially when viewed through a small, dark viewfinder.  Live view can help zero in on focus, but the ability of auto focus to find and lock on to precise focus is remarkable.  It is a matter of knowing how to give enough direction to the auto focus system so that it knows where you are looking.     

Learn how to activate and hold auto-focus over the desired part of the image.  Most cameras start with the “half press” shutter approach to achieving focus, but you might eventually consider the advantages of “back button focus”.  This typically requires a deep dive into the mysteries of your camera’s menus, but you will find that it can be worth the effort.

Image Types

Images can be recorded in a few different formats, typically Raw, JPG or both.  If possible, RAW is generally the best choice to capture the most amount of image data for eventual editing, but not all camera can shoot in RAW.



That is a very brief look at the first few pages of your massive manual.  It should get you started on an exciting exploration of the incredible capabilities of a modern digital camera.  Don’t be intimidated. To paraphrase a familiar quote, “ 99% of cameras are smarter than 10% of photographers”.   

So just enjoy the journey, and take it page by page.

Jeff Newcomer, NEPG


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