Thursday, October 7, 2010

Lens Advice

As I've mentioned previously, glass (photographer slang for lenses) is what you should be putting your money into.  What do you need to know about them, though?

First and foremost, if you have the option of buying branded glass, you should almost certainly do it.  By that, I mean lenses built by Nikon or Canon.  There are a few special cases (that I can detail) where an off-branded lens is in some way superior to it's branded equivalent, but that's a rare occurrence.

Nikon 35mm f/1.8G

Generally, if you can buy a prime lens, that is, a lens that have a single focal length (for example, 35mm) instead of a zoom, that is, a lens that has a range of focal lengths that you can zoom through (for example, 18-200mm).  Zooms are far, far more complex operations as far as the optics are concerned, and generally it can be said that image quality suffers: zooms sometimes have complicated distortions that can't be easily removed through post-production.

Nikon 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G

Zooms that are also "fast" lenses (lenses with a maximum aperture of f/2.8 or greater) are not very common, difficult to design, and generally are much more expensive.  For example, Nikon's 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 (the range of apertures denoting the maximum aperture at 18mm and 55mm, respectively) retails for around $120 (and is a steal at that price, for an amateur just starting out), whereas the 17-55mm f/2.8 (indicating that the lens has a maximum aperture of f/2.8 through the entire length of the zoom) retails for around $1350.  The 17-55mm lens has almost exactly the same focal range (17mm is a bit wider than 18mm but in general it shouldn't make much of a difference) but because it is a much faster lens (and therefore is much more versatile) and because it is a professional lens (made almost entirely of metal, instead of the all-plastic 18-55mm), it is obviously much more costly.

Nikon 17-55mm f/2.8G
Zooms may seem much more convenient and versatile, but it can be much less expensive to buy fixed-focal length lenses instead, and you may well get a better lens for your money.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Photography Time!

Something else from me.  Have a look, use it as a wallpaper if you want!


Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Nikon or Canon?

Another question I get very often: should I buy Nikon or Canon?

First, you may wonder why only the choice between two manufacturers?  After all, Sony, Olympus, Panasonic, Pentax and Sigma all make DSLRs.  The answer is simple: these are not professional manufacturers.  Maybe they were, once upon a time, but not now.  Even Nikon had fallen from professional grace for a decade or more and is just now recovering.

So, Nikon vs. Canon?

Nikon D3 vs. Canon 1DS Mk3

I myself shoot Nikon.  My choice was largely made for me; when I was learning to be a photographer, my mentor shot Nikon, and it didn't make any sense for me to be shooting Canon when he had so much experience with Nikon.  So Nikon is what I bought.

There are not a lot of differences between the two manufacturers.  Both of them have been at this game, building camera bodies and lenses for decades longer than I've been alive.  They're both phenomenal at it, too: there are Nikon lenses good enough that Canon users buy adapters to mount them on Canon bodies (vice versa is not possible because the Canon lens mount is larger than the Nikon, so they just won't fit, regrettably).

EOS to F-Mount Adapter

As with many other competing companies, Nikon and Canon tend to leapfrog each other with regard to who has the better camera.  They also largely have the same developments regarding optics; there are some Nikon lenses that Canon hasn't replicated yet, and some Canon lenses that Nikon hasn't worked out on their end.

So this is really up to personal preference.  Certainly if you have any money vested it does not make sense to sell all that and start over.  Once you pick one manufacturer, stick with it.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Photo Time!

I refuse to call this "Amazing Photo Time!" because I'm posting a sample of my own work.  It's up to you fine folks to make the call on whether or not you find this to be amazing.


This should link to an image background-sized so you can use it as a wallpaper.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Spending Money

Just a quick article.

It is important, these days, for people who are buying DSLRs to realized that the camera bodies themselves are not the thing in which you want to invest the majority of your cash.  Camera bodies come and go, and the rate by which this occurs seems to be going up and up, but there is one thing that is almost certainly a sure bet: lenses.

Lenses people bought twenty years ago, thirty years ago, are still not only valuable as pieces of camera gear, but also as actual financial investments.  The Nikon 28mm f/1.4 sold new in 2006 for $1700, and now sells for well over $4000 on eBay.

So when you're trying to figure out what to spend your money on, spend it on lenses.  Almost every camera body Nikon releases (and Canon, too, but who wants to buy those) these days is a top piece of kit, and will take fine photos for years and years.  Unless you're fantastically rich, don't buy every new camera.  Do buy all the fine lenses you can afford, though.


HDR seems to be the newest thing in photography these days.  But what is it?

First of all, HDR stands for High Dynamic Range.  The dynamic range of a photograph is the distance between the darkest black and the lightest white in the photo, and how much room there is between each value.  An HDR photo therefore has a much larger space between absolute black and absolute white, allowing for much more tonal definition and a reduced tendency for blacks to "crush" or whites to "blow out".

To create an HDR photograph is very simple.  All one needs to do is "bracket" an exposure.  This means, given any scene, to shoot one shot properly exposed, and one or more shots underexposed and one or more shots overexposed.  The more shots in each direction, the wider the dynamic range.

Some cameras have HDR modes on them, and will take the appropriate shots automatically, and even tone map them (more on that in a minute) and even if not most DSLRs have an automatic bracketing feature that will at least set the shots up for you.

So once you have those shots, what do you do with them?  You need to merge them together with a piece of software.  Adobe Photoshop can do this, but I find it easier to work with a third-party piece of software like Photomatix (my favourite).

All you have to do is tell Photomatix which shots to use, what their exposure values are relative to one another (-2, -1, 0, +1, +2) and it will merge them together.

An HDR photograph, however, is no good if the monitor doesn't also support this dynamic range, and most do not.  So the next step is to do what's called "tone mapping", which pushes the HDR image back into the dynamic range of most monitors.  Isn't that counterproductive, though?  Isn't the large dynamic range what we wanted in the first place?

Sort of, yes, but if nobody can view it then it doesn't make a difference.  Tone mapping gives us sort of the best of both worlds, though, because it gives us more detail in the shadow and highlight ranges, which is what we were looking for.  After tone mapping, you'll get something like this:

You can see in this shot that it is possible to make out detail in all areas of the photo, so the blacks aren't "crushed" and the whites aren't "blown".

HDR is an art form, and takes some practice not to make a photo too fake looking.  With that practice, though, you can create some great looking images.  Give it a shot!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Amazing Photo Time!

This time the image (and I will endeavor to do this henceforth) is sized to be used as a desktop wallpaper.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Digital vs. Film

I think I can safely say that, by now, late 2010, for almost all intents and purposes, film is dead.  At the enlargement sizes that 99% of the population is using, and for the subjects that 99% of the population is shooting, digital is now indistinguishable in detail and resolution to film, and has absolutely blown it away as far as convenience and usability is concerned.


Film is a pain in the ass.  It always has been but when there were no other choices we took what we could get.  But film doesn't give you the option to see what your shots look like NOW, doesn't give you any feedback as to whether your exposure is set properly, doesn't let you confirm that focus is correct, nothing.  I don't recommend "chimping" (looking at every single shot right after you shoot it), and in fact I recommend keeping any automatic preview setting turned off (so as to save on battery power), but the ability to peek at shots when you want to, instead of waiting days or even weeks for lab turnaround is a powerful ability indeed.

So, unless you're a crazy person, blowing stuff up to billboard size and still demanding detail from three feet away, digital is king.

What Kind of Camera Do I Want?

I get asked this question all the time.  The answer, to be honest, is fairly straightforward.  It all depends on what you plan on doing with your camera.

Do you want to take pictures in the dark?  In a club or on the streets at night?  Most point and shoot cameras like the one above don't perform very well in darker settings.  This has to do with the small size of their sensor, the piece of electronics that detects and records the light of the scene you're shooting.  In a P&S camera, this sensor can be as small as your pinky nail, and because that sensor is so small, it's not nearly as sensitive to light as a larger sensor would be, causing images taken in the dark to be noisier (kind of like film grain but not as pretty, frankly).

If you are planning on taking pictures in the dark, you either need to use a flash, or if that's unappealing to you, use a camera with a larger sensor, like a digital SLR:

A digital SLR (SLR standing for Single-Lens Reflex; more on that in subsequent articles) has a sensor sometimes as large as a 35mm film frame, and is much much more sensitive to light.  They often can be used with what are called "fast" lenses (lenses whose aperture is f/2.8 or greater -- again, more on that in another post) which also help.

No matter where you're using it, though, the camera you have with you is far better than the camera you don't.  If a DSLR is too big for you to carry around all the time, you won't have it on you and then you're missing the shot regardless.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Amazing Photo Time!

Hope to make this a regular feature: posting an amazing photo I've seen recently.

I love long-exposure shots of waterfalls like this.