Current Primary Camera
Canon EOS Digital Rebel XTi (2007-11-09 onwards)
Also known as the EOS 400D, this became my new all-purpose camera on November 09, 2007, and I have used it exclusively ever since. This is a 10.1 megapixel digital SLR camera. I had previously refrained from adopting digital because of the shutter lag, slow response time and questionable colours I often experienced with point-and-shoot digital cameras. However, this camera retains most of the features that I so enjoyed with my Chinon SLR film camera (reaction time, colour accuracy, SLR design) along with greater image sharpness and much more versatility. The 18-55 mm kit lens (29-88 mm 35mm equivalent) is decent, although it doesn't exploit the camera's full potential. In 2010 I purchased Canon's companion 55-250 mm IS lens for zoom shots, which is better than the non-IS kit lens, and in 2015 I finally replaced the original 18-55 with an IS version of the same lens. The vast majority of photos on this site have been taken with this camera.
Previous Primary Cameras
Ansco Vision Mini-MAF (Motorized Auto Flash) (1999 to 2003-04)
For many years, I used my first and only camera for train picture-taking, an Ansco Vision Mini-MAF that had no additional lenses or attachments. Almost all photos posted on the site before May 2003 were taken with this camera, which I got in 1993. Although picture quality was about on par with a disposable camera, it survived many hardships and was very simple to use.
Chinon Genesis GS-7 Reflex Zoom (2003-05-03 to 2007-10)
This was an automatic SLR camera from the early 1990s. I purchased it May 2003 and immediately took a great liking to it. With a 35-80 mm lens, infra-red autofocusing and a number of other features, it was a huge step forward from the Ansco camera. It served me marvelously for many hundreds of photos, with fast reaction time, accurate focus, correct exposure, 1 photo per second capability and solid construction. I bought a 1.3X teleconverter in 2006, which I used for a few telephoto shots. However, by 2007, as I began to take huge numbers of photos, film and development became too expensive and scanning and dust correction became a major hassle. This resulted in my conversion entirely to digital.
Canon Powershot S45 (2005-2006)
My first real experience with digital photography was with this camera, vintage-2003, which my parents owned. It was a 4.0 megapixel camera that I sometimes borrowed (and eventually bought) and that I used for photos at Exporail and in the MMA Sherbrooke yard. It was a very good camera for its time, producing images with a "smooth" appearance and good colours. It was fairly versatile, although it had a limited ISO range and was not particularly fast. The camera's downfall was a failure of the lens cover--a ridiculously complex sliding design that also acted as a power switch.
Sony Cybershot DCS-W50 (2006-2007)
I occasionally borrowed this camera (a replacement for the Powershot S45) mainly when I wanted to take numerous detail photos and/or didn't have my Chinon film camera handy. It was a solidly built pocket-sized 6.0 megapixel camera with generally good image quality and decent reaction time. It had somewhat less flexibility than the Powershot S45 and a limited useful ISO range. I used it while railfanning the SLR and MMA until I bought the Canon EOS 400D.
Kyocera Samurai X3.0 (2002-07)
This was a motorized SLR half-frame camera that I experimented with for a couple of days in the middle of July 2002, and it was capable of producing good photos. However, double-sized film grain and a terribly indecisive autofocus system made it useless for photos of moving trains. No photos from this camera are currently online.
Olympus OM-1 (2003-03-28)
I borrowed this camera to take pictures on the day of the 2003 SLR/SLQ derailment in Lennoxville, QC, since I wanted better quality than what my old Ansco camera could offer. It was a top-notch all-manual film camera that still worked flawlessly at 30 years of age.
Kodak Easyshare C533 (2007-01-14)
I was invited to try this 5.0 megapixel camera, and I used it for some photos in the MMA Sherbrooke yard in January 2007. It was a decent entry-level digital camera, but it left me unimpressed. It had middling reaction time and flexibility, and settings were reset every time the camera was turned off. Images suffered from purple fringing, grain and colour casts so odd that they could not be corrected.
HP Scanjet 5100C flatbed scanner
Up to 2003, prints were scanned with an HP Scanjet 5100C. It was a good scanner for its time, but the outdated parallel port on the back has long since relegated it to retirement. Very dark areas tended to get a blue cast. There are still a couple of very old scans floating around on the site that were made with this scanner.
HP S20 Film Scanner
In July 2003, I purchased an HP S20 to scan the negatives, to take advantage of much-improved image quality from the Chinon GS-7 camera. In the following years all previous photos were rescanned with this scanner. The HP S20 is a consumer-level film scanner capable of scanning up to 2400 DPI. Colour balance, contrast and shading are accurate, and the easy-to-use software allows many possible corrections or crops. The scanner does produce some noise in dark areas, which is why shadow detail tends to be better with negative film than with slide film.
Film and Digital Imagery
The Eternal Debate: Film vs. Digital
At one point, I was firmly convinced of the superiority of 35mm film over digital. I resisted converting to a digital camera right up to 2007, since none of the digital cameras I had tried could offer the performance and consistency that I was obtaining with 35mm film and the Chinon GS-7 camera. Chief among my concerns were the slower response times, questionable colours and limited dynamic range I had experienced with early digital cameras. With full-resolution scans of good 35mm film, I was getting clarity similar to a 6 or 8 megapixel digital image, which at the time was beyond the range of consumer cameras.
Then I discovered the digital SLR—and in particular, the Canon Digital Rebel series.
Forget theoretical charts of colour depth, dynamic range and line resolution that attempt to prove the merits of 35mm. After visually comparing hundreds of online photos from a Canon Digital Rebel XT to my own 35mm film scans, I concluded that the image quality—the sharpness, the colour accuracy, the absence of grain—completely blew 35mm film out of the water, including films much better than what I was using. I arrived at this conclusion very reluctantly, but it was the last hurdle in the face of digital's other major advantages in terms of cost, time and flexibility.
So I converted entirely to digital, with a new Canon Digital Rebel XTi. By 2014, the XTi had surpassed 21,000 photos total—with over 10,000 of them being train photos posted on this site. The equivalent film and development costs would have been astronomical. Sadly, the Chinon GS-7, a fantastic camera that still works perfectly, hasn't taken any photos since.
There are two programs that I use for editing the images before posting them online. One is Digital Photo Professional, a simple but full-featured program for image-editing and batch-processing that came with the Canon camera. The second is IrfanView, which I use mainly to create thumbnails without EXIF data (which is not possible with Digital Photo
Professional). For scanning film, I use the software that was provided with the HP S20 film scanner, which I still use occasionally to re-scan older images.
The standard film I used from 1993 to 2004 was Kodak MAX 400. Starting in 2004, I experimented with other films after the Chinon camera and the HP film scanner revealed the grain of Kodak MAX 400. My final choice (from 2005 to late 2007) was Fujicolor Superia Reala 100, after which point I converted to digital.
Sound Recording Equipment
I started recording trains with an old Radiola N2234 tape recorder. The recording quality was pretty good for a 30 year-old recorder with a built-in mono condenser mic. On a summer 2002 trip to Europe, I bought a Sony Cassette-corder TCM-939 to record the trains there. While at first the sound quality seemed adequate, I later found it to be much inferior to that of the Radiola recorder when the two were compared. The Radiola recorder was subsequently used for all analog recordings.
Similarly to what happened when I bought a digital camera in 2007, I eventually gave in and converted to digital for the recordings—without looking back. In May 2011, after three years of only sporadic recordings, I purchased a Roland R-05 digital audio recorder. This allowed me to finally create high-quality stereo recordings directly in a digital format.
A radio scanner should be standard equipment for any dedicated railfan, and I currently have a Radio Shack Pro-83 radio scanner. Although it sees only moderate use, it comes in handy when waiting to see a train.