Camera and lens advice for the amateur

Making Pictures With John Enman

Digital technology has been around long enough so that I occasionally forget there are many people that have never used anything but film cameras, and if they have used a digital camera it likely has only been a small-sensored digicam.

I recently talked to an amateur rodeo photographer who was planning to discard his old film cameras and wondered which DSLR he should select. Later, he sent me an email stating among other things that he would “need the whole meal deal,” and I am not sure what he actually meant by that.

The complexities of a DSLR with its variety of choices are so different from that of a film camera, and likely to be totally foreign to him, but I believe he should be thinking about the “camera and lens” combination.

What should my advice be to that aspiring rodeo photographer? I would start by telling him to go online and search out sport photographer sites. Sports photography is very popular right now, and camera manufacturers appear to be paying attention to photographers in that industry more than any other.

Photographing sports has become very technology driven and manufacturers are aggressively marketing to those photographers; and because of that used equipment is always available.

He should begin by choosing a camera that is durable, capable of taking some abuse, and sturdy enough to be bumped around, because I think that’s a pretty rough and tumble world he’s participating in.

If he wanted to discuss megapixels I would inquire as what size of print enlargements he thought he might be making.  As a starter, if his images were only going to be online, or no larger than 11×14, he could get something used with less megapixels, e.g., an older 6mp would work just fine.  In addition, both Canon and Nikon have made professional 4mp cameras specifically designed for sports, that focused almost any lens extremely fast, and are easily capable of excellent high quality 11×14 enlargements.

About cameras; professional rodeo photographer Rick Madsen writes, “The camera body is the most basic piece of equipment and is often the most debated because each rodeo photographer’s preference is different. . . . I shoot all digital and have for almost thirteen years now. I feel that a good quality SLR with 6-8 megapixels is quite adequate for rodeo shooting. Remember the camera is just a tool. When a hammer is used, it is the operator who makes it strike the nail. The same concept applies to a camera. It is just a tool and it’s what the photographer does with that tool that makes the difference between a good and a mediocre image. You must take the time to learn the camera’s operation and then utilize that acquired knowledge through practice to become proficient. You have to pay your dues.”

Indoor arenas with low lighting will necessitate very high ISO settings, so if that’s the expected venue I recommend looking at (and expecting to pay more for) models capable of higher ISOs; but at outdoor arenas during daylight hours any used camera, even those eight or nine years old with lower ISOs, should work just fine.  I would save my money on the camera and spend it on the lens, as my real concern would be to get a quality lens. A saying I have heard over and over ever since I have been in this medium is that “it’s all about the glass,” referring to the lens.

From my readings, most rodeo photographers recommend 70-200mm or 80-200mm lenses, and I also think a 70-300mmm would fit the job as well.

Photographers, like any craftsperson, need the correct tools. However, training and experience are also crucial. I recall reading about a photographer who specialized in football photography, and he said he knew the game very well and “watched the body language of each athlete,” and then could anticipate what a player was about to do, capturing the action as it happened.

Peter Skinner, author of How to Capture Action and Emotion, writes, “Practice your focusing technique: Even with auto focus, getting sharp images of fast moving sports subjects takes practice and auto focus is not infallible. The best way to increase your chances is to practice.”

These are my thoughts for this week.  Please don’t hesitate to contact me. Email your comments and suggestions to me at or phone 250-371-3069

John Enman owns and operates Enman’s Camera at 423 Tranquille Road in Kamloops, selling an interesting selection of used and new photographic equipment and offers professional wedding photography and photographic instruction.  Check out