Low End DSLR: digital photography on a budget

March 20, 2008


One of the key reasons for owning a DSLR is the ability to change lenses to suit a particular subject. There are zoom lenses and prime lenses. And there are wide angles, normals, and telephotos. And there are specialty lenses like macros and tilt/shift lenses.

When shooting people, you can use any of these lenses depending on what type of image you want to create. For portraits, the most flattering images typically come from normal to the short end of a telephoto lens, somewhere between about 50mm to 100mm. Several zooms cover that range, and both Canon and Nikon have primes aimed at the portrait photographer. Canon’s 85mm f1.2 L is considered by many to be the ultimate portrait lens, but costing nearly $1,800 it is a subject for another site to cover.

The 50mm lens is another sweet spot, particularly for those of us shooting on cropped sensors, as that puts the effective field of view at 80mm for a 1.6 crop factor. Canon sells three versions of a 50mm lens — the $1300 f1.2 L, the $300 f1.4, and the $90 f1.8.

All of these lenses have pluses and minuses. The f1.2 takes fantastic pictures with wonderful bokeh, but is big, heavy and expensive. The 1.4 is reasonably priced and fast, with some pleasing images, but can be soft around the edges. And the f1.8, or nifty-fifty, or plastic fantastic, is cheap, light, sharp and fast, but is slow to focus, especially in low light, and has the least pleasing bokeh of the three. But did I mention it is cheap? It is a great lens for the photographer on a budget (and Nikon sells a similar prime).

After a while, however, you might find yourself wanting a better build quality that is more responsive to your focusing needs; something like the f1.4, but that is sharp from edge to edge.

Enter Sigma. They appear to have recognized this particular need and recently announced a new 50mm lens. The specs look great (from their site):

  • Standard lens with large maximum aperture of F1.4.
  • It creates sharp images with high contrast and ensures superior peripheral brightness.
  • Incorporates molded glass aspherical lens, perfectly correcting coma aberration and creating superior image quality.
  • Super multi-layer lens coating reduces flare and ghosting.
  • Hyper Sonic Motor (HSM) ensuring silent, high-speed AF.

Now we wait to see if the lens lives up to expectations, and to see how expensive it is. If they can hit these sweet spots, Sigma may just have a hit on their hands.

(Thanks to Derrick Story for the heads-up on the new lens.)

Posted by Mark in: Canon | Equipment | Lenses | Comments (0)

March 19, 2008

Toothbrushing Illustration How-to

I recently published a life-hacker style post about my toothbrushing routine on another blog. I decided it would help to have an illustration, and figured, I’m a photographer, I should be able to provide just what I need.

I visualized what I wanted in my mind, and then thought about how to achieve that image. I decided a shot of me, toothbrush in hand, mouth full of toothpaste, grimacing into the bathroom mirror would be just the shot.

But mirrors are notoriously reflective, making it very difficult to get shot of one without also seeing the camera, off camera flashes, etc. And bathrooms tend to be lacking in spaciousness. Not to mention that the shot I was visualizing shows me face on, looking directly into the mirror, something like the picture below:

me, brushing my teeth in the mirror

Continue reading “Toothbrushing Illustration How-to”

Posted by Mark in: Canon | Equipment | Flash | Lenses | Photos | Photoshop | Tips-n-Tricks | Tutorials | Comments (1)

July 04, 2006

Sabino Canyon Sunset

A number of saguaro cactus silhouetted by a pink sunset

This image was taken on New Year’s Day, 2006. We had a great hike, and cool weather - but not at all cold. The sunset was spectacular, and I had a fun time capturing it.

1/125, f4.9, 80mm, iso 400

Posted by Mark in: 300d/350d | Canon | Digital Rebel/XT | Photos

July 03, 2006

Sabino Canyon in Black and White

A black and white picture of mountains, clouds and cactus

This conversion was done in iPhoto using the Adjust HUD to control saturation and add a slight blue tint by changing the white balance temperature.

1/200, f/2.8, 54mm, iso 100

Continue reading “Sabino Canyon in Black and White”

Posted by Mark in: 300d/350d | Canon | Digital Rebel/XT | Photos | iPhoto

March 14, 2006

A Digital Photographer's Worst Nightmare

If you are shooting film, you have to protect that film. You make sure it is completely rewound before removing it from the camera. You worry about sending it through the X-ray machine at the airport. You dread someone opening the door of the darkroom while you are developing, and you pray that you don’t have the “new guy” processing your precious prints at the lab.

As a digital photographer I am blissfully unconcerned about those issues. But I have my own fears to face. Hard drive failure and no back-ups (note to self, make sure my back-ups are up to date), losing a CF card, or having a CF card go south.

That last one hit me last night.

Continue reading “A Digital Photographer's Worst Nightmare”

Posted by Mark in: 300d/350d | Canon | Digital Rebel/XT | Photos | Software | Comments (14)

March 10, 2006

One Third - Photo a day number 10

One Third - Photo a day number 10
Originally uploaded by gnuhaus.

Playing off the idea of being one third done with the 30 day photo challenge and the “rule of thirds.”

Posted by Mark in: 300d/350d | Canon | Digital Rebel/XT | Photo a Day Challenge | Photos | Comments (0)

March 09, 2006

Crate - Photo a day number 9

Crate - Photo a day number 9
Originally uploaded by gnuhaus.

I like this one for a number of reasons - the lines, the texture, the light, the juxtaposition of the organic lines with the geometric lines, the color.

But I am biased since I took the photo. What do you think?

Posted by Mark in: 300d/350d | Canon | Digital Rebel/XT | Photo a Day Challenge | Photos | Comments (2)

February 21, 2006

New Camera, Lenses and Printer from Canon

Every year towards the end of February photo enthusiasts from around the world descend on Orlando, Florida to attend the Photo Marketing Association (PMA) show. Much like never buying a product from Apple right before MacWorld in January, it’s probably best to wait for the announcements various companies will make at PMA before buying anything photo related near the beginning of the year.

This year PMA runs from February 26-March 1, but that hasn’t stopped my favorite photo company from making some pre-show announcements. Canon has announced a new camera, two new lenses and a new printer. And if you can afford to drop the cash for any of these, you might not be in the low end of the market. But it’s nice to dream…

I’ll start with the printer. Compatible with Macs and PCs, the imagePROGRAF iPF5000 is a 12-color printer (red, blue, green, gray, photo gray, cyan, photo cyan, magenta, photo magenta, yellow, regular black and matte black). It switches automatically between regular and matte black, which is a boon to those who favor black and white prints. Plug-ins are included for both Canon’s Digital Photo Professional software and Photoshop. Printing at 1200x1200 dpi (2400x1200 is the maximum resolution), a 16.5 x 23.4 inch print will take about 3 minutes.

All this will set you back $1,945. Yep, not in the low end.

Continue reading “New Camera, Lenses and Printer from Canon”

Posted by Mark in: Canon | Equipment | Lenses | Comments (3)

February 17, 2006

The Canon Digital Rebel

Also known as the 300D, this is Canon’s entry level DSLR. Street price is about $700 with the 18-55mm kit lens. This is the camera I have been using (and learning to use) for about a year now.

Since it occupies the low end of Canon’s DSLR offerings, it does not have all the bells and whistles of it’s more expensive brethren, but I have yet to exhaust all the possibilities with it.

There options range from fully automatic, which lets the camera make all the decisions for you with regard to exposure and focus, to fully manual, where you are in charge of everything from ISO and shutter speed to f-stop and focus.

Since it is a digital camera, the time it takes to learn how all of these options work together to create a compelling image is greatly reduced. Being able to view the results immediately on the LCD viewer means making quick adjustments and reshooting is possible. And having all the EXIF data available when comparing shots on the computer makes it easier and faster to understand the relationship between ISO and noise, or f-stop and depth of field.

For me, this has been a great first SLR.

Continue reading “The Canon Digital Rebel”

Posted by Mark in: 300d/350d | Canon | Digital Rebel/XT | Equipment | Comments (6)

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