Archive September 2012

How to Buy DSLR stuff

Posted by on Sep 23, 2012 in Blog | 1 Comment

I wrote an earlier blog on how to sell your stuff on the internet.  So now I felt it was time to write about how to buy DSLR stuff.  I think I have a pretty good method.  I am not a pro but over the past 5 years I think I have bought and sold about $20,000 worth of camera stuff.  And I have always been happy with what I have purchased.   So here is my method on how to buy DSLR stuff.

What do you want ?

Entry Point DSLR

Top of the Line DSLR

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is important.  If you do not have this figured out there is a high likelihood that you will eventually NOT be happy with what you got.

If its a camera then you need to think about what you will be using it for.  Will it only be for family and friends, for the art of it, to sell prints or images, sports, planes, flowers, insects, babies?  Are you a beginner, somewhat experienced, a pro?  Are you a first time DSLR buyer or are you upgrading from previous cameras.  There are just too many possibilities here to offer advice for all of them.  But I think the key thing is that you need to spend some time thinking about what you want to do with it.

If you are new to dslr’s and are just not sure what you want.  I would suggest this.   Get a basic DSLR ( like the one shown above on the left a Rebel T3).  I would suggest Canon or Nikon because they are good cameras with lots of lenses to grow into.   And lots of better models to buy when you know better what you want.   Also, unless you are made of money.  Get a used camera from a reputable seller (More on this later).

If you a more experience buyer then think about what is lacking in your current camera.  Not enough AF points.   Want a bigger sensor for higher quality images?  Want faster frame rate?   Think about that  first.

Canon “nifty 50” 50mm f1.8

Same advice for Lenses.  If you are brand new I will suggest one of two things.   If you want to be a purist about it.  Get the basic 50mm f1.8  lens.     Use your body to be your zoom.  I think this will help you a lot with learning about how to frame a shot.   If you are lazy, like me, get the basic zoom that is both a wide angle and telephoto like an 18-135 or 200mm

Canon 18-135mm

Canon 18-200mm

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For you more experience photographers, again,  think through questions like:

  1. What is the widest aperture that I really need?
  2. How far away are my subjects usually?
  3. What is the field of view like for the distances that I will shoot at?
  4. Is Sharpness really important?
  5. Is really good bokeh important?
  6. Is resale value important?

What can you afford ?

 

Home much Money do you Have?

Well… only you can determine this.  But here is some good news.   While the really expensive cameras and lenses are usually very very good,  there are some excellent cameras and lenses at affordable prices.   In addition, if you buy these items used….. they are even more affordable.  AND…..  I have found that if you buy a used camera or lens, and the condition is good, and it comes with the original box…. And you do not ding up the hardware…. You will be able to sell it for about the same price that you bought it.  How great a deal is that!  I have done that many times.  But here is a hint…. Keep all of your boxes, bags, wires, straps, cases, warranty cards, manuals.  They are worth their weight in gold when it comes to selling items.

Also keep in mind that there are cameras in between new and used.   I am referring to Refurbished by Manufacturer.  I actually think this is the best type of item to get because its cheaper than new yet had just gone through a full manufacturers check and calibration.  Here is the Canon Site and the Nikon Site who does this.  I highly recommend this kind of buying.

So, for you beginners,   you can get a basic used DSLR with a basic used Lens.   A year later you have saved your money…. Sell one or both of the items.  You get most of your money back and now upgrade!

I have done this starting with a Canon Rebel XS and a basic zoom lens.  Four years later I have a camera (had two but sold one) and the best of every lens I need or want.  I supplemented this effort with money that I earned in microstock.

How do you know whats best ?

 

 

 

 

 

 

First on camera brands,  I would stick with Nikon and Canon.  Why?….  I think they have the best collection of lenses and from my experience usually come out with good quality cameras.  For lenses stick with your camera company’s lenses except that I have also found that Sigma and Tamron make some pretty good lenses.   Ziess if you are interested in high lens quality MF lenses.

What about which model.   First know what you want (see above).  Next … go on the internet.  My favorite site is Dpreview.  This site has an excellent section on comparing different cameras (they do lenses too) here.

From these comparison pages there will usually be a link to a pretty thorough and impartial review.  Other good sites are Fred Miranda, Luminous Landscape, Photo Camel, Photography on the net, and Steve’s Digicams.  And there are many others. Some specialize more in lenses like Digital Picture, Photo Zone, and others.

I would also recommend that you participate in the forums of each of the sites (DPreview is my favorite).  Ask a question and you will get more help than you could hope for.  There are lots of friendly photographers who would love to help you.

Another idea is to join a camera club.  Google your town and camera club and you are bound to find one.   I have used the Meetup Groups for photography groups… There are lots.  They are friendly and very welcoming to any questions that you may have.

When you narrow it down to one or two products I would suggest renting them for a day or two.   You may find that the product is everything you had hoped for or you may find that it does not meet your needs at all!  I have done this several times and it has convinced me to buy and sometimes to avoid buying a product.

Also keep in mind that once you buy it you can always (if you bought from the right seller) return it.   Its much easier to do this at your local camera store but you can do it at the other merchants as well.

Where should you buy it ?

I have bought cameras and lenses at the local camera shop, on Craigslist, Ebay, Fred Miranda, AdoramaB&H, Abe’sCalumet Camera, Amazon and directly from Canon.  Probably the best place to buy camera is at your local camera shop if they had competitive prices. Luckily mine does.  When I lived in Sacramento the most well known shop sold at prices that i would never pay.  But after hunting around I found a smaller shop that priced items the same as Adorama or B&H.

Easy Answers

  1. You want the best quality camera equipment that you can afford.   Only buy top reviewed equipment.  Or new just released stuff from high reputation companies.
  2. Only buy from high rated low risk sellers.  For instance if I were buying on Ebay I would only buy from a seller with over 100 sales and a rating of 100%
  3. Make sure there is a good return policy

Local Camera Shop

This is the best place assuming they price stuff competitively and have a good reputation and a good return policy.  I will always pay a little more for something, as long as its only a little mor, to be able to talk to someone face to face.  I am luck here in Portland to have one of the best camera shops that I have ever seen.   It’s Portland Pro Photo Supply.  They have all of the items that I discussed AND they rent.  I found them through Yelp.  And they were highly recommended in the Photography Meetup Group that I am in.  I have also found that they will have new release products as soon or before others.

Craigslist

I have bought some inexpensive and my most expensive purchase (Canon 300mm f2.8 lens) via Craigslist.   It always makes me nervous and I tend to stay away from them unless it is a cheap or unusual item.  You get to be face to face but then you never see them again and there is no rating , like in ebay, and no incentive to promote dependable returns.   On the other hand it has always worked out for me.   The reason I got the expensive 300mm is that I wanted the older cheaper model, and I wanted it used because it is so expensive.   And I could not find it anywhere on the internet….but it was in my city on Craigslist.   BTW  I found out that I hate large heavy lenses so I ended up selling it on ebay and got the same price I bought it for.  If you do buy on Craigslist I would reserve it for cheaper stuff or an item you can’t get anywhere else.   Do the transaction at a crowded place.   Check out the item well.  Pay with cash.

Ebay

I have bought many items on ebay.   But I probably have sold many more.  The nice thing is that you can get some good prices here, particularly on used items.  The downside is that it is not face to face and you will not see the product until after you have paid.   I have never had a problem here.   The key is to only buy from sellers with at least 100 sales and a 100% good rating.    There will also be a stated return policy.   Read it.   The seller is incentivised to keep their 100% rating so, normally, they will honor a return to avoid a bad review.

Fred Miranda

I have only used this once and it worked out fine.  Its a well respected photography site with a section for people who buy and sell.   There are no sales fees.  There is also a rating system for sellers.   I think its a little riskier than ebay or the face to face options.   But the people who use this site swear buy it and my transaction, on an expensive lens, went very well.

Adormana, B&H, Abes of Main, Calumet

These are some of the big retailers.  I have bought from all of them.  I have used B&H the most.   This is a HUGE online store and even HUGER retail store in NYC.   I had the chance to go there in the past year.  Its like 3-4 floors of camera and video stuff.    It was packed and run by what looked to be Orthodox Jews.   That is not a site you would see in Portland.   If you ever get to NYC and your a photographer, then you should visit the place. I think Adorama and Calumet are similar but smaller.   I know less about Abes except that they will try to sell you more than you need…. and hard sell it too.   So I avoid that store.   Most of these stores have a “used department” and I have purchased from them as well.   Other than your local shop these guys will have some of the lowest prices and they are low risk dependable stores.

Amazon

I have bought many items here as well.  I would recommend only buying items that ship from Amazon.  When they go to another company delayed deliveries and returns get a little complicated because Amazon is acting as a go-between.  They also have competitive prices

Conclusion

I find the whole process of shopping, reading, researching, comparing, and talking about new camera stuff almost as much fun as buying it.  If you do your homework you will get a great new lens or camera or other stuff at a great price that will give you lots of fun and satisfaction.   So go buy something!!

 

Sigma 70mm f2.8 Macro Lens and my journey to get there

Posted by on Sep 6, 2012 in Blog | 2 Comments

This blog post is about this great lens that I have found, the Sigma 70mm f2.8 Macro Lens.  I did a video summary of this blog here;

I covered part of my thoughts on this in my blog about How Zoom Lenses will make you Lazy.    This post is sort of an extension of those ideas with more detail on the Sigma.  Before I tell you about the Sigma I think it would be helpful to go through about how I ended up with this lens.

Even though I have been doing photography for 50 years ( Only the last 4 years seriously),  I am still learning and some things that should be obvious are not.   A good golfer will walk up to his ball and look at the lay of the course, the distance, the wind and he/she will make a decision of what golf club will best suite this situation.   Its the same with photography but I don’t always guess right on the lens.  For me its more trail and error.

On top of that I also needed to determine what are the kinds of shots that I, most often, like to take.   And there are many many photo specialties.  Protraits, macros, landscapes, motion, abstract.   The list goes on.  Then there are the subjects, insects, mammals, birds, flowers, architechture, planes, trains, cars, people, kids, babies and on and on and on.  I think to know what you really need for a lens is based on what kind of images you like to take and what kind of subjects.   In addition what context you want.   Context meaning,  is it all about ONLY the subject or is it about the surroundings.

So it took ME  a while to figure all of this out.  This is how I got there.

With point and shoots and later with the APS-C and first full frame cameras it was about having zoom capability.   I did not know what I was going to see but I wanted to be prepared to take any image in any what I wanted.   The zoom capability of the point and shoots and the zoom lenses on the DSLRs let me do that.   I took lots of pictures.   First of the places that I went, then family and friends, and finally ended up doing microstock.   The quality of the images had to go up with microstock so that pushed me to own the DSLR’s .   With the APS-s frame camera (Canon Rebel XS, then 50D, then 7D) my favorite lens was the  Canon 17-55mm f2.8 IS.  I wanted better low light performance and higher image quality so I went to full frame.  The Canon 5DMkII and now the 5DMKIII.   The 17-55mm is for APS-c frame cameras so I had to upgrade to Canon’s 24-70mm f2.8.   I missed the IS capability but it took great shots and I have sold a lot of them on microstock sites.   Recently I upgraded that lens to the Tamron 24-70mm f2.8 VC (vibration control)

Ok…..so now 3yrs after I started seriously using DSLR’s, mostly with the 24-70mm zoom lenses,   I started to figure out what kind of photography I liked to do.    I also discovered that the tools (lenses) that I had were not quite getting me where I wanted to go.   I discovered that I really enjoy taking pictures of fruit and vegetables at the market,  flowers in flower beds or nurseries,  elements of inanimate objects (trains, planes, cars, buildings, water fountains, etc).   I liked if I could pick the most interesting feature of my subject and get a really sharp focus view of that.   And then have the backround give the subject some context but in a soft focus manner.  An example is a strawberry at the farmers market.   I like taking a shot where a single strawberry or a portion of the strawberry is in perfect focus but then the background drifts off into soft focus that looks like a sea of strawberries.

But I was not getting that with my zoom lens.  I was getting close but I knew that there had to be a way to do better.

I had a Canon 100mm f2.8 IS Macro.   It got me close.  But the field of view ended up being too small to provide a more full context than what I was looking for.  I also had a 50mm f1.4 lens.   But, because of minimum focus distance issues,  I could not get close enough.

I keep all of my images on Aperture 3  (a great Mac program).   And looked at all of my highest rated images for the most common focal distance used with the 24-70mm lens.   Well it was mostly near 70mm.  Hmmmmm that ought to be a clue.   And I wanted to get close.  Hmmmmmm close means Macro.  Sharp images…… Prime?

So could there be a good quality Prime lens that takes sharp images around 70mm with macro capability and good bokeh (f2.8 or better).

Well….. I did not have to shop around.   There is only one that will work with a Canon (or Nikon)  the Sigma 70mm f2.8 DG Macro.  And lucky for me…. its a good quality lens and not expensive ($500) at Amazon.

Sigma 70mm f2.8 Macro Lens

This lens is great.  Here are the specs.

Lens Construction 10 Elements in 9 Groups
Angle of View 34.3º
Number of Diaphragm Blades 9
Mininum Aperture f22
Minimum Focusing Distance 25.7 cm / 10.1 in
Filter Size (mm) 62
Maximum Magnifications 1:1
Dimensions
(Diameter x Length)
76 x 95 mm/3.0 x 3.7 in
Extended Dimensions / 5.7 in
Weight 525g / 18.5oz.
Corresponding Mounts
Sigma
Nikon
Canon
Sony/Minolta
Pentax

 

There are not a lot of reviews on it, but here are some good ones.

1.  The Sigma Site

2. The Phoblographer ( I liked this one)

3. Photozone (with nice analysis)

What I can add to these reviews are my impressions.

Pros

  1. It looks cool.  Very professionally built.  Solid. Professional.
  2. Its very affordable at $500 versus the Canon 24-70mm at $2300
  3. Its takes very sharp high image quality images
  4. The Auto Focus gets sharp images
  5. Solid metal hood
  6. Tight manual focus ring so no problems with lens creep
  7. Focus stays pretty sharp in corners and no appreciable vignetting.  But since my images tend to be soft focus in the corners by intent I am not sure if I am evaluating this well.

Cons

  1. Tight focus ring for Manual focus.   Hard to move without overshooting/ undershooting focus point
  2. AF is slow.  Fine for inanimate objects
  3. Odd filter attach point (put filter on hood)

 

Summary

Its the only lens that I have found that fits exactly what I am looking for.  Its affordable at $500.  And the images are tack sharp with a nice bokeh in the background.   The focus ring and slow AF are not much of a problem for me.    I am finding that I have much less rejects using this lens.  What can I say…. Its my new walk around lens.

Here are some of the recent images that I have taken with this lens.

 

 

Blowing Dust away with the KOH Hepa Jet II Air Blower

Posted by on Sep 2, 2012 in Blog | 1 Comment

This blog is about blowing away dust on your DSLR camera and lenses and in particular about the KOH Hepa Jet II air blower

I did a youtube posting a while ago about changing lenses in the field.  You can see it here.  Its a little long winded but at one point I blow on the lens before I reconnect it to the camera.    I have gotten several comments about how this is an awful thing to do.   You can end up putting spit or saliva on the lens.   How gross and it WILL stick to the lens and it WILL gather dust.

But in the field I want to minimize what I carry.   A lens or two,  a DSLR body or two,  some filters, God-Forbid a tripod……..   I don’t need to carry a blower with me.   So I have found that if you are careful that you can blow on a lens and NOT get any spittle on it.   I have checked with a lens magnifying loupe and verified that this is possible.   But there is a risk when you do it.

At home is a different story.   You can be more careful and you have all of your cleaning tools right there.   So before I go out on a shoot  I inspect and  clean everything.   I will cover the more intensive cleaning processing that I use in other blogs but the easiest thing to do is to blow any dust away.

For years I used a what I called a “Pocket Rocket” air blower.

Giottos AA1900 Rocket Air Blaster Large

Its a great little air blower.  You can get it at AMAZON here for about $11.  The problem with it is that it will blow dirty air right through the bulb and into the camera or lens.   So this made no sense to me.   And how hard could it be to put a filter on it so that it would not do that.

Well….  I did a google search and sure enough someone had thought about that.   I got the KOH HEPA Jet II.

KOH HEPA Jet II Air Blower

That little red thing at the bottom houses a small hepa filter.   So NOW you are blowing in clean air!!!    You can get it here for about $25.  Its more than twice the cost of the other blower but spending $25 for NOT putting dust in my camera is worth it.   And this will last forever.

I did a little youtube video of what I am talking about here.

http://youtu.be/vDHWLa0qlJQ