Saturday, November 29, 2008

Buying a dSLR part four Lens selection

This image was taken with the D50 using the 50mm f/1.8 lens.  Settings: ISO 1600, Aperture f/2.5 1/25 second converted to B&W in Lightroom. 

When you purchase a dSLR it is imperative you take into consideration why your are purchasing a dSLR.  Once you understand the reason for the purchase it is easier to determine which lens you can begin to shop for and which lens to avoid.  I find the 50mm lens to be a very valuable lens to keep in my bag at all times.  It is a very 'sharp' lens and is great for not only low light situations but tremendous for portraits too.

Nikon 50mm f/1.8D AF Nikkor Lens for Nikon Digital SLR Cameras

It focuses fast and can be used in low light situations.  If you are purchasing a lens to use to take pictures of your baby then you will want to limit the amount flash needed.  The 50 mm can be used in most situations when shooting at birthday parties and other family events where the need to zoom with the lens isn't critical. If you are taking large family shots then this lens might not fit the 'bill'.  In a future post I will discuss the 17-50mm range zoom options.

This image was taken with the D20 using the 50mm f/1.8 lens.  Settings: ISO 640, Aperture f/2.8 1/45 second.
It is a small lens and will fit in a bag without taking up much room and the cost is approximately $125 new or if you are a Canon shooter less than $100 for new.

Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II Camera Lens

It is one lens that I recommend for most photographers.  The cost is low, the performance is great and the opportunities for great photos is limited only by the imagination of the photographer.

If you have more to spend and want a 'faster' lens then check out the f/1.4 version.  Those that use it state it is much sharper and faster than its f/1.8 sibling.

The Canon version is over $300 new.

Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II Camera Lens

The Nikon version is $280 new.

Nikon 50mm f/1.4D AF Nikkor Lens for Nikon Digital SLR Cameras

If you decide to purchase this lens used and do not like it, you should be able to resell it for the same cost you purchased it.  Its value doese not seem to move from the $100 price range.  It is one of those lens that folks call a 'work horse' lens.  If you do own this lens then open it wide open to f/1.8 and experiment with different 'looks'.  Below are two 'close up' shots with the 50mm f/1.8. 

This image was shot with the 50mm on my D50. Settings: Aperture f/1.8, ISO 800, shutter speed: 1/40 second

Friday, November 28, 2008

Buying a dSLR part three

This was taken with the Nikon D200 in a very cold snow storm mounted on a tripod [yes, my first post image on my new tripod]. f/10 @ .7 seconds ISO 200 with the Tamron 17-50 @ 50mm

This will be much shorter than the previous post. "Which camera brand should I buy and which is the best?" I shoot Nikon but that does not indicate I believe Nikon is the only brand to buy. In the past I shot with Sony, Canon, & Minolta.

  1. I would stick with Canon or Nikon but that does not mean Olympus, Pentax, or Sony doesn't make great cameras. Why would I stick with Canon or Nikon? The majority of dSLR's sold are either Nikon or Canon. There is a tremendous amount of resources and information surrounding both manufacturers. Hence, my reason to stick with the major two. But my next point might change your mind.
  2. Buy a brand your friends are using. Why? So you can swap stories, tips, gear, etc. I switched to Nikon two years ago because a buddy had Nikon and it has been very easy to discuss tips and swap lenses when needed.
  3. Keep in mind that when you buy a camera body you are buying into the manufacturer's system. When you purchase a new lens the mount must match the camera manufacturer. If you buy a lens for a Nikon camera, it works on the Nikon and you cannot swap it with a friend that has a Canon. My Tamron 17-50 f/2.8 is a Nikon mount lens. It does not mount on a Sony or Olympus dSLR.
  4. Finally, for today's post. Buy a camera body that suits your shooting need. If you plan on shooting in low light and you have the money then consider the Nikon d300, d700, or d3. However, you are now getting into much more money and in the case of the d700 or d3 you will be spending thousands and not $500 for the body. The Nikon d700 sells for over $2500 for only the body.
Nikon D700 12.1MP Digital SLR Camera (Body Only)

Have fun and enjoy capturing the beauty of life!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Buying a dSLR part two

This image was taken with the Nikon D50 using the Tamron 17-50 f/2.8. Settings: f/2.8, ISO 1600, 1/40 second

In part one we discussed two important concepts when purchasing your dSLR. 1 How much do you have to spend and 2. What do you intend to do with the camera. If you decided you have $1000 to spend for everything including the lens purchase but do not want to buy a used camera then I suggest a different route.

  • Buy a new camera body but not the 'latest' body. For example the Nikon D200 is a tremendous camera and many online stores still sell it new. However, buying it new plus a lens will take us over the $1000 budget we decided to stick to.
  • Both Canon and Nikon continue to sell new entry level cameras that do not have the 'latest' features but most folks will never 'miss' the features. For example, a Nikon D40 is less than $500 new and will meet the needs of most photographers. [Keep in mind that many of Nikon's entry level cameras do not have a motor drive in them and only the 'newest lens models work on these bodies. (e.g. the Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 will not work on many of the entry level bodies.) More on this subject later] If you like Canon over Nikon then look at purchasing a Rebel [earlier version] or a 30D. (If you want an 'older' body that works with the cost effective 50mm f/1.8 then I suggest the Nikon D50.
  • If you decide to purchase a Nikon D40 for less than $500 you will have $500 to spend on lens, bag and storage. (Adorama is selling this camera used for less than $400) If you want a good walk around lens [although it is not fast] you can purchase the Nikkor 18-200 VR used for $500. The problem with this lens is it is not fast to focus and it is not a 'fast' lens. e.g. at 200 mm the aperature wide open is f/5.6 which is not good in low light situations. Both Sigma and Tamron make an affordable 18-200mm lens but they do not have vibration reduction. However, they can be bought for $200 or less and will fit the needs of many photographers. The 18-200vr will make a tremendous travel lens or general all-purpose lens.
  • Another alternative if you want a good wide to medium zoom is the Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8. [This is my standard walk-around lens.] It is a constant aperture lens and produces tremendous results. It is not a long lens and you will need to add a telephoto if you want to shoot anything from a distance.
  • Back to the camera body. If you have smaller hands then these entry level cameras could be your answer. The bodies are smaller and they are not a beast to carry around all day. My wife uses the D50 for general day to day shooting and does not like the size and weight of my D200. [If you add the 17-50, a SB600 or Sb800 to the D200, you have a large heavy camera.] Select a D50 combined with the lightweight 18-200mm lens and the camera is not much bigger than many higher end point and shoot cameras.
  • Finally for today: You might be thinking; 'don't I need the latest and greatest camera so I have 12, 15, 20+ megapixels? No. Do not get caught up in the megapixel hype. The D50 and D40 have 6 megapixels but produce very nice prints. How large do you plan to print your images? I have very nice 11x14 and 12x18 prints from ny D50. If you only shoot for the web or nothing larger than 11x14, you do not need all those megapixels. Check out this article about the megapixel myth. From my experience, most folks print nothing larger than 8x10 and many only post to the net. A 6 megapixel D50 will produce much better images at 800-1600 ISO than a small point and shoot with more megapixels. My D50 produces tremendous images at 800-1600 ISO.
Nikon D40 Digital SLR Camera with 18-55mm II AF-S DX Lens + 16GB SD Card + Case + Cameta Bonus Accessory Kit

Have a great Thanksgiving!

This image was also taken with the D50. Settings: ISO 1600, f/2.8, shutter speed f/2.5. Lens: 50mm f/1.8

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Buying a dSLR part one

One question I am asked often is which camera is best to buy. I will do my best to summarize my opinion when buying a dSLR [especially your first purchase].

1. How much money do you have to spend?
2. What do you plan to use the camera to shoot?

These first two questions are the most critical when it comes time to purchase a dSLR. Especially when it is your first purchase. When you obtain some experience using your camera, your second, third, and all subsequent purchases are easier.

Too often, folks look at the purchase of a camera as the most critical part of the purchase. However, [in my opinion] the purchase of the lens is more critical than the camera body purchase. I understand there are many different nuances and options associated to each camera brand and camera body. For this example we will use $1000 as the amount of money available to purchase the first camera [including lenses].

Many folks walk into their favorite big box store or warehouse club store [Costco, Sam's Club, etc.] and see all the boxes of nice new cameras on display. They are greeted with the Nikon D60 or the new D90 which includes two lenses, a case, and a free memory card with a price range between $650 - 1400. Another stack of boxes displays the new Canon Rebel with a price dollars under $1000 and they stand their wondering which camera to purchase.

What most people do not understand is the lenses bought in a kit might not meet their needs. Without fully understanding the purchase, they make a purchase after answering question one only. Most kit lenses will not meet the need of the family purchasing a camera to photograph little Suzie's volleyball game or dance recital. Why? The kit lens is too slow. With an aperture of 3.5-5.6 the lens will not be able to capture the low light events. Can the cameras perform at ISO 1600? Yes, but consider the fact the lens when zoomed to 200mm or in some cases to 250mm will be opened to f/5.6 which will not allow enough light in to 'freeze' the action. Therefore, all of the images will be blurry. After a few events the family will be frustrated and put the camera in the closet thinking they wasted $1000 of their hard earned money.

Knowing the answer to question 1 & 2 brings us to a possible answer. The family wants to spend $1000 total and they want to shoot family events [most are indoors or dimly lit stadium games]. My first suggestion is to visit many of the online stores [and I will list the few I used] and purchase a 'body' only first then one to two lenses depending on the ultimate amount of money they want to spend. I strongly recommend looking at purchasing used online from reputable dealers. B&H photo, Adorama, Cameta Camera, and a few select stores on that sell the body only.

Nikon D90 DX 12.3MP Digital SLR Camera (Body Only)

Nikon D60 10.2MP Digital SLR Camera (Body Only) [at the time of this post a new d60 body only is less than $500]

Another alternative is to buy used from any of the above listed vendors [there are many others] or if you are interested in a Nikon you can purchase gently used camera gear from Which is my first recommendation when looking to purchase a camera. Over the past few years, I purchased three different camera bodies from members of Nikonians with no problems in the purchase or equipment issues. Typically, the camera body [or other gear] will come with the original box and paperwork. The purchase price is between the seller and buyer with no middle person getting a cut of the price. Therefore, the price is usually lower than from an online store. Keep in mind, there is usually no warranty left on the camera and the deal is an as is deal. If you choose to buy from there is a used buying guide in the want to buy forum.

If you choose to go the route used you will be able to purchase a more 'robust' camera body used than you can buy a newer model new. For example, if you purchase a used D200 [which is an excellent camera] and at the time of this writing is an 'old' camera body you can purchase it from Nikonians for $700 or less. This same camera when first introduced a few years ago was close to $1800 new. Most of the images on this blog are shot with either the D200 or some were shot with my older D50 which can be bought from Cameta used for $200. [It is an excellent camera but it is an older style.]

Nikon D200 10.2MP Digital SLR Camera (Body Only)

The image at the top of this post was taken last winter with my Nikon D50 hand held at ISO 800, f/9.0, shutter speed 1/3 second in Chicago. I was leaning against a pole and wanted to capture the motion of the traffic. Keep in mind it is the skill of the photographer and the photographer understanding their equipment that will make a memorable shot. The camera gear is only a tool.

More on this subject in the next post.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Baby portraits Chris & Kate's baby

This past weekend I had the honor to photograph Chris and Kate's baby.  All three were so cooperative and fun to photograph and I did not want the session to end.  I used the flash off camera to create the different light effects.  In the first image the flash was held by my great assistant [my wife] behind and to the left of Kate's head.  It created a very nice soft light to bathe the image with soft light.  No diffuser was used since the flash was off camera.  It was set to TTL and the camera was set to aperture priority.  Settings: f/2.8 1/60 second ISO 200.  I converted to an antique B&W in Lightroom 2.1

In the second image the flash was held above the couple with the goal to light the face of the baby.  Settings f/5.0 1/60 second ISO 200.  I used 5 vs 2.8 to get more of the image in focus with a greater depth of field.  The B&W was created in Lightroom 2.1.

There are many other images that are 'my favorites' but these are a few that highlight a beautiful family.  As always, get out and capture the beauty of life!  Oh yea, don't forget your camera on Thanksgiving.  Take some creative poses.  Maybe the kids/family praying, thanking the Lord for His blessings on our lives!