New dSLR for Construction Project Documentation, etc.

Discussion in 'Digital Photography' started by bcombs, Jan 30, 2006.

  1. bcombs

    bcombs Guest

    Hello! Firstly, I'd like to thank all of you for providing such a great
    forum and your patience with those of us in the ignorant category. This
    was posted to, but things are somewhat slow so far, so I wanted
    to see what your thoughts were. As can be seen below, I have attempted
    to answer the following questionnaire as accurately and fully as
    possible to provide a good idea of what I'm looking for. The camera
    would be used for taking photos for project documentation and,
    occasionally, of my (daytime) fishing excursions (sharks & swordfish
    should make for interesting subjects). Much of the construction occurs
    at night (we are a GC specializing in Caltrans freeway work), and would
    need an additional flash to capture the area well (most all shots we've
    seen out of our junk Canon A80 were warm, blurry messes!). Durability
    is a factor, as well as the ability to catch action (as I said, mostly
    at night), such as a crew shot or an event. The camera, ideally, would
    have decent (or better) protection from dust and dew (not rain/water).

    * What budget have you allocated for buying this camera? Please be as
    specific as possible.
    * What size camera are you looking for? Or does size not matter at all
    to you?
    * How many megapixels will suffice for you?
    * What optical zoom will you need? (None, Standard = 3x-4x, Ultrazoom =
    * How important is "image quality" to you? (Rate using a scale of
    * Do you care for manual controls?
    General Usage

    * What will you generally use the camera for?
    * Will you be making big prints of your photos or not?
    * Will you be shooting a lot of indoor photos or low light photos?
    Will you be shooting sports and/or action photos?

    * Are there particular brands you like or hate?
    Are there particular models you already have in mind?
    *(If applicable) Do you need any of the following special features?
    (Wide Angle, Image Stabilization, Weatherproof, Hotshoe, Rotating LCD)
    I should add that if my search for a dSLR for my needs comes up empty
    (which I really hope it won't), I am considering a few pro 35mm film
    SLRs. This statement is not intended to begin a digital vs. film
    exchange; merely to add that I would rather go digital than to have to
    process film for the subject photos for which this camera is being
    purchased. The time delay in film processing would be detrimental to
    the positive effect of the intended use.

    Again, thanks for your help!
    bcombs, Jan 30, 2006
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  2. bcombs

    Pat Guest

    I won't recommend a particular camera because others have more
    expertise about all of the various models available out there, etc.,
    but I would like to throw out a few idea for you.

    First, if you are shooting outside a lot, you might want to consider a
    flash that takes a battery pack you wear on your belt (or else invest
    in a battery company). A set of regular batteries, at night, might
    only last 50-75 shots -- less in total darkness.

    Second, most of the better flashes have the ability to fire by radio
    signal and still use all of the metering etc. If you will be aways
    back from what you are shooting, you might consider that so that you
    can stay where you are and send someone else down closer to the site
    with just the flash. Also, you might consider the same setup with
    multiple flashes (say one on your flash and one down the road with a
    construction worker) so you can illuminate a larger area with your
    flash. You might also want to consider a rain hood for it if you are
    working in the rain (unless it never rains in southern California).

    For a construction site, I would also recommend a good metal camera
    "bag" so it looks like a piece of equipment, not someone's gym bag.
    It'll last longer, be better protected from dust, and generally take
    more abuse that way.

    As for the camera, I think any of the mid-line Canon or Nikon dSLRs
    would be good choices.
    Pat, Jan 30, 2006
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  3. bcombs

    Nick Fotis Guest

    Hm, why you cannot just use a small tripod as well?

    Very few portable flashes will give enough light power to light up
    everything beyond 15 meters (more if you raise the sensitivity), and you
    run a real risk of "burning out" the nearest parts in the image.

    Nick Fotis, Jan 30, 2006
  4. bcombs

    bugbear Guest

    Hmm. Given the light sensitivity of a good dSLR
    you might consider choosing a very sensitive
    camera and a fast lens - to make the most of the light
    you have, instead of (or in addition to) using a flash.

    Arbitrarily looking at a recent Canon:

    We find that it claims ISO 3200 as an option!!

    bugbear, Jan 30, 2006
  5. bcombs

    Frank ess Guest

    To get really good night photos is a chore. My memory of the Cal-Trans
    construction sites I've encountered at night is that they are pretty
    well lighted (although that perception may be influenced by the
    adaptation to night driving prior to arrival at the work scene).

    Seems to me the tripod idea is a good one. Combine it with a small
    aperture, long exposure, and a walk-around hand-fired flash that
    recharges quickly (for filling in the blank spots), you might come up
    with something like--if not comparable to--the classic railroad photos
    someone here will be able to refer us to.

    A little experience and experimentation with the basic wide
    angle-to-mid zoom on an 8MP body should yield satisfactory or better
    exposures. This sounds like too much fun to be work (dangerous,
    though). Where will you be doing it?

    Frank ess
    "In this universe there are things
    that just don't yield to thinking
    -plain or fancy-Dude".
    -J. Spicoli, PolyPartyPerson
    Frank ess, Jan 30, 2006
  6. bcombs

    SMS Guest


    In that price range, the first thing you need to forget about is f2.8
    lenses, it isn't going to happen.

    I'd advice the Canon 20D kit with the EF-s 17-85mm Image-stabilized
    lens, and a 580EX flash. This takes you to about $2100. The IS will buy
    you some f stops. Later maybe get the new 70-300 IS lens.

    Forget about protection from dust, these are digital cameras with open
    sensors. You need to change lenses where it isn't dusty.

    See "" for more information on making your
    SMS, Jan 30, 2006
  7. bcombs

    bcombs Guest

    You're right, much of the time (I say much, but not all) the individual
    crews and work areas are lit with 4x1000W metal halide light towers
    (floods). However, this is not always the rule, and even with them on,
    pictures tend to burn near them and underexpose not far away. It will
    probably take some trial and error, and practice, to get the right
    balance. I can see getting a tripod- makes sense to me. Dangerous,
    yes... last project we had many high-speed chases go through (and end
    in, at times) our work zone. We also had two shootouts not 200' from
    us, and then there's essentially the "rest"- poor/careless drivers who
    either don't know how to drive, or the drivers who could care less that
    the people working on the side of the road are human and will be killed
    by their Honda Civic with a muffler. We work throughout Southern
    California, and currently have projects in Long Beach (710), Los
    Angeles (5, 60, 101, 10), Pomona (57, 60, 71, 210) and Thousand Oaks
    (101, 23, 27). With a good camera (and, more to the point, a good
    camera operator!), we should be able to take some very interesting
    shots, besides the normal legal documentation-style photographs.
    bcombs, Jan 31, 2006
  8. bcombs

    Nick Fotis Guest

    Another way would be to use a small and cheap portable video light (don't
    laugh), with a rechargeable NiCad battery. The video light with its
    continuous light can nicely "fill up" the dark spots (the technique is
    called "painting with light").

    I love doing night train shots, and often I used this trick:

    Self-timer on, up to 30ยจ exposure (dictated by the light in the scene and
    the aperture available), with the on-camera (or an attached dedicated flash
    on full power), and myself with a small video light "painting" around the
    cracks. Of course, this method presupposes a tripod. At these apertures,
    even the cheap lenses sold with the small dSLRs can get very sharp photos.

    The resulting photos were very good with slide film (I used centre-weight
    metering, since evaluative metering tends to underexpose severely when
    facing a point source like a headlight).
    Obviously you can experiment as well with the digital camera.

    Good luck,
    Nick Fotis, Feb 2, 2006
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