Low End DSLR: digital photography on a budget

April 04, 2008

Classifying lenses: the telephoto lens

This is part of an ongoing series of short articles about lenses and how they are used on Digital SLR cameras. The series currently contains the following articles:


These lenses have focal lengths that are longer than normal. Wildlife and sports photographers favor the longer versions of these lenses (200mm and up) as they allow you to get in close to the subject while still shooting from a distance.

Many portrait photographers like the shorter telephoto lenses such as 85mm or 135mm. These focal lengths make it easier to create a shallow depth of field, blurring the background and isolating the subject.

portrait taken at 200mm showing the blurred background that helps to isolate the subject

Continue reading “Classifying lenses: the telephoto lens”

Posted by Mark in: Equipment | Lenses | Tips-n-Tricks | Tutorials

April 03, 2008

Classifying lenses: the wide angle lens

This is part of an ongoing series of short articles about lenses and how they are used on Digital SLR cameras. The series currently contains the following articles:

Wide angle

Lenses with focal lengths that are less than normal are refered to as wide angle lenses. These lenses are best suited for capturing large areas and are preferred by landscape photographers who desire to capture stunning vistas. As lens manufacturing technology has improved, extremely wide angle lenses have been created, as well as fish-eye lenses that give a nearly 180° field of view. The wider a lens is, the more noticable the barrel distortion that these lenses create becomes. Many photographers use this distortion to artistic effect (whether you appreciate the art is another matter).

Wide angle lenses create images that have a lot of depth to them - they exagerrate the apparent distance between foreground and background. This tends to introduce distortion into images in a couple of ways.

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Posted by Mark in: Equipment | Lenses | Tips-n-Tricks | Tutorials

Classifying lenses: the normal lens

This is part of an ongoing series of short articles about lenses and how they are used on Digital SLR cameras. The series currently contains the following articles:

What is normal?

A normal lens is one that creates an image that is very close to how our eyes perceive the world. In other words, images made with these lenses “look normal.” There are no distortions introduced, or apparent compression of space that you might get with other lenses.

What is normal for a given camera depends on the size of whatever is doing the imaging. The formal definition is a lens whose focal lenght equals the diagonal of the image size. So a view camera with a 4" × 5" back has a diagonal of 154mm (96 × 120mm), and therefore a normal lens would be a 150mm lens. A large format 8 × 10 camera would have a 300mm normal lens.

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

Classifying lenses: the crop factor

This is part of an ongoing series of short articles about lenses and how they are used on Digital SLR cameras. The series currently contains the following articles:

Crop Factor

Most digital SLRs use sensors that are slightly smaller than the size of 35mm film. Film has an image diagonal of 43mm, while these smaller sensors have image diagonals of 27mm. The lenses they use are still designed to create an image on a piece of 35mm film. What happens is that the image that is created is effectively a crop of what the image would have been if it were a full frame or film camera. The ratio of full frame to the smaller sensors comes out to 1.6, and many times these cameras are referred to as having a 1.6 crop factor.

The image above should help make this clearer. This is Tunnel View looking east over the Yosemite Valley toward Half Dome. The circle is the image that is projected on the back of a 35mm camera. The red rectangle represents 35mm film, or the area of a full frame sensor. Note that the circle is a bit larger than that area, and in practice probably has even a bit more overlap.

The yellow rectangle represents the area of a 1.6 crop sensor. Notice that nothing about the projected image has changed. The smaller sensor simply records a smaller area of the image, like a croppped area of the image.

Continue reading “Classifying lenses: the crop factor”

Posted by Mark in: Equipment | Lenses | Tips-n-Tricks | Tutorials

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

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

November 16, 2006

No (or at least fewer) excuses

Nikon today announced the D40, a $600 entry into the low end DSLR market. This 6.1 megapixel camera includes several features aimed at the amateur enthusiast who is probably making their first slr purchase. From in camera editing features (cropping, red-eye reduction, etc.) and 8 shooting mode presets, to the ability to preview how changing a setting, such as f-stop or shutter speed, will effect the image (via sample photos on the 2.5" LCD screen) and an animation that explains the relationship between aperture size and f-stop number, Nikon is clearly trying to bridge the gap between point and shoot cameras and DSLRs.

I’m not so sure that “the end is neer,” but it will be interesting to see how well this sells once it becomes available in December.

More thoughts on the Nikon D40 from around the web:

Posted by Mark in: Equipment

November 08, 2006

Some advice from the internets

The Tech Lounge offers up 10 reasons you might want to buy a DSLR, and a few reasons not to as well. And if you do end up buying one, or are in the market for a new memory card or two, you might want to read this post from David Pogue about whether the new high-speed cards are worth the investment.

Posted by Mark in: Equipment | Tips-n-Tricks

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 Megapixel Myth

David Pogue recently posted some interesting insight from a reader regarding just how many Megapixels we need in a camera. In a previous column Pogue quoted Chuck Westfall of Canon’s camera marketing group as saying, “Seven- and eight-megapixel cameras seem to be more than adequate. We can easily go up to a 13-by-19 print and see very, very clear detail.”

His reader wrote in to agree, stating that, “Round about 6 megapixels was always going to be a tipping point, because at that density, the average person won’t see any difference in quality when using a standard lens and printing at reasonable size.” This agrees with what Ken Rockwell has been saying for some time. In fact Rockwell goes so far as to say that for the average person, “a 3 MP camera pretty much looks the same as a 6 MP camera, even when blown up to 12 x 18!”

Continue reading “The Megapixel Myth”

Posted by Mark in: Equipment | Lenses | Comments (4)

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)

February 14, 2006

Why Low End?

Admittedly the hobby of photography is an expensive one. Digital SLRs (Single Lens Reflex) cost on the order of $1000 and up. And then there are the lenses, which can go for more than the cost of the camera body—some many times more. And what is the point of having a camera that can accept multiple lenses if you don’t have more than one lens to put on it?

Then there are tripods, carrying cases, flash units, storage cards, batteries, light meters, reflectors, and backgrounds. And you also need a computer to process the images, and software for the computer, and a printer to print the photos.

All of this costs money. The barrier to entry can be pretty intimidating. I know it took me quite a while to make the plunge. And as the name of this site indicates, I’m sitting at the low end of the range.

Over the next few weeks I’ll be posting about what equipment I have, and why I have it. From there I’ll discuss what I am learning about how to take better photos, and maybe be able to help you in your photography. I’ll leave comments open as I can so that you can chime in with your thoughts on whatever subject I am tackling.

I will also be sharing my photos with you, and maybe some interesting stories as they come up.

If there is anything else you’d like to know, or want me to cover, let me know in the comments.

Posted by Mark in: Equipment | Comments (1)

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