Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Olympus E-450 announced

Olympus E-450 is basically identical as Olympus E-420 with the addition of some art filters (post processing image in camera), slightly better new processor and improved lcd screen.

In my opinion, this is purely marketing move. First, they can sell for higher price because it is a new model without any cost on ther Research and Development or production cost.

My advice: Check out for older model instead, especially if the price is cheaper such as E-420 or E-410.

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Monday, March 30, 2009

Top Ten most popular posts in March 2009

Here are 10 most popular posts in March 2009

1. Nikon D90 vs Canon 40D = 2900+visitors
2. Canon versus Nikon lenses = 1522
3. Canon 5D mark ii vs Nikon D700, Canon 50D = 819
4. Canon 50D vs Nikon D90 = 758
5. Tamron vs Canon lenses = 493
6. Pentax k2000/k-m vs Pentax k200D = 440
7. Canon G9 vs G10 = 439
8. Sigma lens vs Canon lenses = 416
9. Sigma 50mm f/1.4 HSM short review = 402
10. Nikon D90 vs Nikon D80 = 395

Don't forget to leave comments and Happy reading!

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Sunday, March 29, 2009

$1000 dSLR photography kit

So, after these years, you decided to go for Digital SLR photography. You have $1000 to spend, and confused what to to buy. This post will help you on deciding what system to get.

Accesories
There are many other essential accessories that you need to get. There are: memory card to store pictures, external flash, flash diffuser, camera bag and cleaning kit.

For memory card, I personally use 1 or two 4GB SD card, and they performs well. Look for reputable brand like Sandisk, Lexar or Kingston. Avoid generic one because they are not reliable. Most of the 4GB regular card cost less than $10 a piece.

For basic flash diffuser, I will suggest Stofen Omnibounce. This little plastic is small, cheap ($10-12) and lightweight but could make a great impact if used in certain condition (indoor with a lot of wall to bounce).

For camera bag, I suggest Canon 2400 SLR gadget bag even if you don't shoot Canon. This basic bag is spacious and a lot cheaper than other bag with the same capacity.

Ok here are the main course, the camera, lens(es) and flash

Canon EOS starter system: (Approx. $915 with accessories above)
Positive: Best entry-level camera, packed with many features, low light lens
Negative: No telephoto zoom lens ($250 to get Canon 55-250mm IS telephoto lens)

Nikon starter system (Approx. $999)
Positive: Nice low light lens lens equivalent to standard focal length
Negative: Camera lack of features and lens compatibility, no telephoto zoom lens.

Sony system (Approx. $915)
Positive: Telephoto zoom lens, standard kit lens has longer zoom, built-in stabilization
Negative: inferior flash, inferior kit lenses and camera lack of live view feature, no low light lens, and not so good in handling high iso images.

Pentax system (Approx $895)
Positive: Telephoto zoom lens, built-in stabilization
Negative: No low light lens, inferior flash

Olympus four thirds (4/3) system (Approx $915)
Positive: Built in stabilization, telephoto zoom lens, good kit lenses
Negative: No low light lens, noise handling is inferior

My recommendation
As you see, every system has its positives and negatives, but in my opinion, Canon starter set is the best because of the camera is packed by feature especially live view, 7 points auto focus and compatible with all Canon lenses. If you value telephoto zoom lens better than low light lens for wildlife, or sport, then Olympus or Pentax system might be the best choices.

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Saturday, March 28, 2009

Shooting portrait with off camera flash

Shooting portraits with off camera flash has many benefits compared to using only available light or light from camera flash. The biggest benefit of this system is we can direct the light from whatever we like. The second advantage is the ability to use umbrella or soft box to diffuse and soften the light. Not only that, we can combine multiple flashes in various setting and combination of positions to create lighting that we want.

With the off camera lighting system set up, we can basically control the light and control the result, any time throughout the day. We are not limited on how strong and how good is available light in certain moment anymore.

So what is requirement to set the lighting system? The basic equipment you will need is a light stand. Any kind of light stand will be good if you are working in studio. But if you mostly work outside the studio, then I recommend you to get a more portable, light weight, compact light stand such as Bogen Nano Light stand. If you work mostly outdoor with a lot of wind such as in high ground, I will suggest you to get a heavier light stand or get some sandbags to keep your light stand in their position all the time.

Next, you will need one or more external flashes. Older models are fine as long you can set manually. Third party flash like Vivitar 285HV (only $80) is also sufficient for this kind of work.

Next, you need a connector between your camera to your flash. There are several ways to do it, first you can use cable sync cord either coiled or not. The longer is better. You can also get a wireless trigger system like Pocket Wizard. It is very reliable but it is also very expensive ($300 or more for a set). The other alternative is wireless trigger from Phottix. It is around $35 in ebay. It might not works all the time, but so far It is very good value for the money.

Shoot through white umbrella is the next piece of equipment you will need. It is reasonable reasonable cheap and produce great result. If you are shooting on location, consider buying collapsible umbrella.

And then you might make some filter gels for creative effects.

For example:

To get the result like above, simple set up lighting stand, connect your wireless trigger/sync cord to the flash, set up your flash on top of the light stand, set up your umbrella in front of the camera (if you use Phottix trigger, you can just slip inside, if not you need shoe clamp) filter your flash with tungsten (orange colored gel). and then position it to the right side of the camera. You will get image like above, where light coming from left of the object.

In conclusion

Advantages of this lighting system
  • Able to direct the light
  • Able to "kill" the ambient light
  • Able to control and use multiple light sources for more creative unique image
  • Umbrella will soften and diffuse the light better than direct flash
Disadvantages of this system comparing to available light or on camera flash
  • More equipments means more money
  • Less portable, takes time to move from one location to another
  • Image is not as natural as using available light
  • Need more space

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Thursday, March 26, 2009

Shooting Ludacris concert

This spring 2009, I have chance to shoot Ludacris concert in Bucknell University. This is the third music concert that I shoot. Last year, I shot Third Eye Blind concert and O.A.R concert. Sadly, this is the last concert that I shoot in Bucknell University because I will soon graduated YAY!

I already wrote two posts about shooting music concert (check out bottom of this posts), so I won't repeat so much about how to shoot a concert. But I will try to summary what you will need to pay attention too and some new tricks to get the job well done.

Note: I am shooting in the pit (which is right below the stage dividing the stage and the audience). To be able to shoot in the pit, you need to get media pass from event coordinators.

Equipments
DSLR camera is almost a must. beginner dslr like Nikon D40, Canon XS is okay, but if you have higher-end camera which has high continuous shoot speed, it is more preferable.

Because it is hard to switch lenses in the middle of the concert, I think two cameras will yield the maximum result. Three cameras or more will impede mobility. Mount one camera with fast wide angle zoom lens and the other camera with fast telephoto lens or telephoto prime lens.

Sometimes, lens flare happens because the light go through the lens.
To limit the lens flare, lens hood will help.


For the lens, the bigger the maximum aperture is better, for example f/2.8 or f/1.4. If you are short of budget to get f/2.8 zoom lens. I recommend 2 prime lenses. 24mm f/2.8 and 50mm f/1.8.

Kevin Rudolf and his band opens the concert

Camera settings
Before, I use shutter priority to lock up the shutter speed. But now I use manual most of the time. I think it is the result is more consistent eventhough I have to check the exposure once in a while.

If you decided to use spot metering or other metering mode that are available, be sure to check the highlight. You can check it in the histogram, the most right collumn is the blown highlight zone. If it is blown up (completely white), then you need to set exposure compensation to -1/3, -1 or greater. Also make sure that your shutter speed is high enough to prevent blurry image by boosting ISO appropriately.

Locking shutter speed is more important than aperture because slow shutter speed will blur the image. The shutter speed will depend on the focal length of the lens you use and how fast is the singer move (Ludacris moves around very fast) 1/125 to 1/250 is needed.

The new trick that I try in this concert is registering my setting in the custom functions. Most dSLR has customer function (C1, C2.. etc). The reason I use custom function is so I can switch setting easily. I dedicate C1 to shoot the stage and C2 to shoot audience. There are huge discrepancies of light between stage and audience. In practice, I switch from C1 mode to C2 mode when I am shooting audience and vice versa.

Don't forget to shoot the photo in RAW mode, because it is the highest quality the camera can bring, and if you sharpen, correct the color balance and exposure without significant lost in image detail and quality.

Audience react to Ludacris energetic performance. Usually the audience is very dimly lit, and the color is not attractive either, So I convert this image to black and white. I feel it is stronger than in color.

If you are interested in music photography, don't forget to read my other posts:
Good luck!

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Shooting Lacrosse

Lacrosse is a very interesting sport to photograph. The game is very active and dynamic. Players run all the time, and often fly in the air. Many interesting interaction amongst players.

The strategy and technique to shoot a Lacrosse game are similar to other fast paced sports such as basketball and soccer(football).

To get optimum shots, you need a digital SLR camera with a telephoto lens mounted. I personally recommend an advanced dSLR with high continuous shooting speed (5 frames per second or higher). For example: Canon 40D or 50D, Nikon D300.

For the lens, I find 70-200mm is very versatile for the job. If you need longer lens or like to do very tight shots (to capture close-up face expression) you might need 300mm or longer.
Some sample photos in this article are taken by Canon 40D and Canon EF 70-200mm f4 IS lens.

Techniques and setting
Like other sports, you want to set a high shutter speed, 1/500 or faster. For aperture, it will depend on how thin you want the depth of field will be. If you like your object to be pops up and make the background completely blurred, then you want to go to maximum aperture of your lens. For example, f/2.8 or f/4.

Shooting and metering mode
Because daylight is changing all the time, I usually use aperture priority (Av). Then I will set the ISO to 100, and then check out the shutter speed. If the shutter speed is 1/500 or faster, I will leave it that way. If not than I will start boosting ISO to 200, 400 or greater to get the desired shutter speed. As the day become darker, I will boost more ISO to maintain the shutter speed. This is important because low shutter speed will create blurry images, even if you have stabilized camera or lens.

Metering Mode
If the light is evenly distributed in the environment, such as a clear daylight, I will use evaluative metering mode. But if the light is unequal, for example in the evening/late afternoon, I will use center-weighted average metering or spot metering mode instead. This mode will help correctly expose the skin of the players.

Constant Light
In constant light setting, like indoor or night scene, I also often use manual mode. I will calculate the light, try a few shots and check the review in the lcd screen. After I got the correct exposure, I will just stick with it.

Other things
Like other fast-paced sports, you need to be very alert because timing is essential. Also learn about various composition to make your photos more pleasant to look at. One of the composition rule is rule of the thirds.

I hope this article is helpful and check out my other articles especially about sports photography. Enjoy!

Related post:

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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Nikon D60 vs Canon XS / 1000D

Nikon D60 and Canon XS / 1000D are both entry level DSLR cameras for beginners. They have many similarities but also some significant differences.

How they are similar:
  • 10 megapixel
  • 3 fps continuous shooting
  • 2.5 inches (230k dots) lcd screen
  • bundled with 18-55mm stabilized lens
  • Aproximately equal in noise handling
  • Same size (small and lightweight)
  • Anti dust to combat dust in sensor
However, Canon XS has advantages on
  • 7 Auto focus points instead of 3
  • Ability to connect the camera and shoot from your computer
  • Live view mode which allow you to use lcd screen to compose your shot.
  • Compatibility of all Canon EOS lenses
  • Currently, it is cheaper in US market
Conclusion
Canon XS clearly shows many advantage over Nikon D60. Beginners that move from compact camera will likely appreciate the live view mode, 7 point auto focus points and anti dust system. Advanced users will appreciate the compatibility of all lenses Canon EOS offers from EF-S and EF lenses plus ability to command and get the image directly from the camera from a computer. For users in tight budget, XS' price is also more appealing.

For users who plan to build a photography system, It is disappointing that Nikon D60 is not compatible on old Nikon AF lenses. Many excellent Nikon prime lenses are not compatible with Nikon D60. While you still can use the lens, you need to manually focus the lens.

In choosing the camera, of course there are other factor other than the specification, such as how the camera fits in your hand (ergonomic), and if you have tied up in particular set of brand. Many people consider Nikon D60 body and handling is better and vice versa. It is wise to consider this before you decide to get one.

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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Canon EOS Rebel T1i vs XSi / 450D

Canon announces Canon EOS Rebel T1i / 500D today. This camera inherited most of the features from its older brother Canon 50D plus the full HD movie recording capability. This camera will be likely to be a successor of Canon Rebel XSi / 450D.

Canon T1i vs Canon XSi / 450D
There are improvement from many areas such as:
  • 3 extra megapixels (15mp vs 12mp)
  • Up to 3200 ISO expanded to 12800 (before 1600)
  • Full HD video capture at 20fps, 720p at 30fps
  • 3 Inch hi-res LCD screen but can't swivel as rumored
  • Creative Auto which found in 50D and 5D mark ii
  • The same 3.4fps.
  • The same 9 points AF.
  • The same body
  • Street price might be around $150 more expensive than XSi
Competitors

Nikon D90
D90 has advantage of better built quality, faster continuous shooting (4.5 fps) and very clean image in high ISO. It also has ability to record movie but only at 720fps.

Olympus E-620
Recently announced E-620, has advantage on better viewfinder, slightly more compact, and swivel lcd screen. It does not have ability to record movie.

Canon 40D
Older model Canon 40D is significantly faster continuous shooting (6.5fps) and has weather resistant body made by magnesium alloy. 40D does not have ability to record movie and only has 10 MP resolution, but for users that need tough and reliable body and speed, 40D is the way to go.

So does it worth the upgrade?
It will depend on how much you value these new improvement. For me, the most significant improvement will be the expanded ISO. (I believe it will be at least similar to Canon 50D, so it will be aprox. 66% cleaner image in high ISO), and the video feature. If you don't need those improvement, then XSi will serve you as well as T1i.

If you have compact camera that want to upgrade to DSLR for better image quality, then I will recommend Canon Rebel T1i strongly because some features like Creative Auto, 3 inches hi-res lcd, higher ISO range for low light shooting, and also full video recording might blown you away. It is a complete beginner dSLR camera that are very easy and enjoyable to use.

Canon Rebel T1i is surely will be a very versatile camera for beginners, and I can see this camera will reign the best sellers top chart next year very easily. Good Job Canon!

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Sunday, March 15, 2009

Billingham Photo Vest Review

The most popular way to carry photography equipment is using camera bag. But there is another alternative that you might want to check out. It is a photo vest. While photo vest is not a new innovation, but in some condition, it is better than using camera bag.

The main advantage of wearing a photo vest is accessibility, you don't have to scour your camera bag to get equipment you need. The second advantage is you might don't have to carry a bag at all, so you don't have the extra weight with you. Photo vest distributes the weight into your body so overall you feel lighter than carrying bag full of equipments.

Photo vest is popular among wildlife and nature photographers, because vest allow them to change equipments faster, and to move easier.

Material
The Billingham photo vest is one of the most well-made for photographer. It looks like regular vest, very modern and fashionable. The quality of the material is top notch. It is manufactured from textured multi-filament Cordura 500. Supple and quiet for wildlife photography, hand crafted for years of rugged use. It has ventilation in the back, to increase comfortability especially in hot and humid weather.

Design and Pockets
The design of the pockets is also very sophisticated. It has eight pockets with various sizes. The biggest vertical pocket runs through your right shoulder to the waist (660mm X 300mm). It can hold almost any photographic equipments from super telephoto lens to tripod. Six of the seven pockets are accessible from outside.

Click image above to see the division of pockets

In general, it will stores your
  • 1 or 2 camera bodies
  • 1 long telephoto zoom lens or a compact medium-sized tripod
  • 2 or 3 wide angle zoom lenses
  • 1 flash and/or other camera accessories
  • small notepad, 2 pens, memory cards
In addition, the shoulder and collar pad enhance your comfort when carrying monopod and long lens on your shoulder. Furthermore, the twin epaulets on the shoulder make sure that your camera strap stay in place.

Read More...

Downside
The drawback of this product is it might not practical to use in hot temperature location or in summer. And the price is relatively expensive ($250) comparing to other photo vest such as popular Domke vest or Vested Interested photo vest.

The other disadvantage is the lack of color choice. While light khaki is a fine color, but some photographer might prefer darker color such as olive green or black.

There are also other alternatives on carrying equipments without bag, such as Newswear chestvest or Think Tank Photo modular set.

If you are shooting outdoor and in relatively cool temperature, and you want a vest that well-designed and will last forever, then Billingham Photo Vest is made for you.

Build quality: 5/5
Practicallity: 3/5 (general photography) 5/5 (outdoor and/or in relatively cold environment)
Value: 3/5

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Friday, March 13, 2009

Tips: Using flash with flash modifier and bracket

Many beginners make mistake by shooting with flash pointing to the object directly all the time. While it works, there are many other options we can do with external flash, especially indoor, where we can bounce the flash to the ceiling to create more natural light. With some flash accessories and bracket, we can direct the light to a certain degree.

Here are some samples by using your external flash different ways

# 1 Natural Light from the room
Equipment used: Canon 40D and EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS

you can use any camera and lens to achieve this, but in indoor, the light is generally low, so lens or body based image stabilization will help.

Even natural light looks relatively good than using flash, but in many instances, it is not achievable because the low light condition. Therefore, extra light from flash is needed.




#2 Direct Flash
Equipment used: Canon Speedlite 430 EX. Notice that the shadow cast is to the left to the object. It is because the position of the external flash in portrait orientation.

If you want the shadow to be centered, then you need a flash bracket which allow you to align the lens and the flash.

Generally, direct flash creates strong shadow cast on the wall, and usually many people do not like it.




#3 Bounce Flash
This image is achieved by bouncing the flash to the ceiling. It is easy and generally produce close to natural result. How to do it? simple just direct your flash head to the ceiling.

While it looks very natural, the different with shooting without flash is the shadow cast. There will be a deeper shadow below the object (look at the shadow below the monkey's mouth. It is more pronounced than natural image (#1).




#4 Stofen Omnibounce direct flash
Equipment used: Stofen Omnibounce

I attached the Stofen Omnibounce to the flash and shoot it direct to the object. The result is similar to direct flash without Omnibounce.

Why? Because Omnibounce does not soften the light, it merely send the flash light to everywhere. Large concentration of the light is sent to the front. That is why it is also called bare-bulb flash.





#5 Stofen Omnibounce bounced
I direct the stofen to the ceiling so it send light to everywhere.

The different from regular bounce light or natural light is there is soft shadow in the back of the object.

This is because Stofen also sends some light to the front.









Read More...
#6 Off Camera Direct Flash
Equipment used: Canon Camera off camera cord

Here, I get the flash out from top of my camera, connected it with off camera cord and then direct the flash directly to the object from the left side.

The result is a directional hard light from the left. It is almost the same as direct flash, but now the light is more directional. It creates a 3D looks.





#7 Off camera 45 degree bounce
Almost the same as #6. I get the flash out from top of my camera by off camera shoe cord, and then direct it to the top of left ceiling.

The result is more natural with directional light coming from top right of the object.

The directional light creates more dimension to the image.






#8 Flash Bracket 45 degree left bounce
Equipment used: Demb Flash Bracket

This flash bracket allows me to do two things at once. First I am now able to locate my flash on the top of camera when I shoot in portrait orientation. Second, I am able to point the flash direction to the specific angle I like.

Same concept as #7, but now the flash is not off camera. This is nice if you need to be move all the time and also one of your hand is free because you don't have to hold the flash with your left hand.


#9 Flash Bracket right bounce
Exactly the same concept as #8, but now I direct the flash to the right side.
















In Conclusion
This post shows you the basic of what you can do with your camera flash and some accessories to achieve more creative look. Each flash accessories has their strength and weakness. I sum them up below:

Without any flash accessories:
Strength: No need to spend extra money, no extra weight or bulk.
Weakness: Can not align the flash with the lens when shooting in portrait orientation, limited in directing the light.

With Stofen Omnibounce
Strength: Send and the diffuse the light everywhere in the room, light weight
Weakness: Can't not align the flash with the lens when shooting in portrait orientation, limited in directing the light.

With Off shoe camera cord
Strength: Able to direct the light in any direction as long as the cord goes
Weakness: Need to use one of your hand to handle the flash, or a tripod, or an assistant to hold it for you.

With Demb Flash bracket
Strength: Align your flash with your lens when shooting in portrait orientation, Able to direct the flash to certain degree of angle.
Weakness: Extra weight and bulkiness, relative expensive compare to accessories used above.

There are many other flash modifiers and brackets in the market, such as Demb Flip It, Lumiquest Soft Box, Big Bounce, Gary Fong's Lightsphere, Presslite Vertex, Stroboframe flash bracket etc. Each has its strength and weaknesses. You can also combine several flash modifiers if you like, for example you can use Stofen Omnibounce with flash bracket.

I hope this information is helpful and see you in another article.

Related Post:


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Thursday, March 12, 2009

BlackRapid R Strap RS 1 Review

I heard about BlackRapid R Strap a while ago when I browsed a video from vimeo. The wedding photographer in the video is very enthusiastic about this strap. He said the strap is very good for fast retrieval and also if you use two cameras.

After several months, I decided to buy one. I bought the RS-1 type, which is the original and the thinner version. Here are my experience using this strap:

Assembly Instruction
There is no printed instruction manual for this strap and it is a little disappointing. The only instruction is a video from BlackRapid website. Fortunately, the instruction video is quite helpful. but I have to struggle around 15 minutes to figure out how to work this out.

User Experience
I find using this strap is a joy. Mainly because the shift on weight now is to your shoulder, not in your neck. If you often use heavy camera with heavy telephoto lens mounted in it, you will likely benefit with this strap.

Read More...
The second benefit is the camera is more stable especially when you are walking. With regular camera 'neck' strap, the camera is likely to bounce around side to side when you are walking.

Disadvantages
There is a little bit trade off tho, for user that use vertical battery grip, you will find quite challenging to use the second shutter, because the strap fastener blocking the way (look at the picture). Also, because it uses camera tripod socket as a point of connector, you can not use flash bracket.

The other one is when you attach a telephoto zoom lens, it is hard to change the lens. why? Because you connect the fastener to the tripod socket, so when you un-mount the telephoto zoom lens, you need to unscrew the fastener and screw it to the tripod socket in the bottom of your camera. So it is not so practical if you need to change from telephoto zoom lens to wide angle lens.

Fast retrieval
Because the camera is hanging upside down, it is faster and more natural to retrieve the camera and start shooting.

Safety concern
Some people might concern about hanging the camera upside down with only 1 fastener. But in my experience, if you lock the fastener correctly and tightly, it won't be a problem. The other safety concern I might have is the camera is now in your side/back, because of that, you can't really see it all the time. In the crowded environment, it could be stolen by professional thief by cutting the strap with you never know it.

This camera strap is ideal especially for
  • For photographers who use two cameras
  • For photographers who don't want to look like tourists
  • For wedding photographers or photojournalists
  • For street photographers
  • For anybody :)
Built quality: 5/5
Practicality: 4/5
Value: 3/5

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Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Photography Tips: How to get gears that you want

When you visit photo sharing website, such as flickr, and search for "camera bag", you will see thousands of people showing off their camera gears. And you might wonder, they must be professional photographers or rich people, because photography equipments are bloody expensive. But I believe that not all of them are rich (at least I am not rich), and less than 1% are doing photography for their living.

So how they can afford these gears? To be frankly I don't know, but I will show you how I can afford to get the gears that I want.

1. Be Frugal
Have a frugal mindset is very essential, especially dealing with photography gears. Frugal can mean many ways for many people, but for me, frugality means optimizing your cost-benefit to yield optimal satisfaction. To be frugal, you will need to research about the gear that you want to buy. You will need to research about the price. Internet has given consumers the power to compare price among vendors very easily. You can go to website such as Amazon.com, Pricegraber or other. But beware, they are many scams out there. If the price is unrealistically cheap, then you need to be extra careful. Check out the out Reseller Ratings website to see the reputation of the vendor.

2. Buy based on your needs
Many people buy expensive equipment just for showing off, or just because they can afford it. If you are not rich, then you need to ask yourself, do you really the features of that particular equipments? Will you use it often? How this piece of equipment can improve your photography?

3. Do it yourself
Can't afford to buy fancy equipments? Build it yourself. Many websites have tips and tutorial how to make or use equipments that you already have to its optimal potential. For example: DIY photography and strobist.com

4. Sell your old equipments before buying a new one
Don't be an equipment collector especially if you are tight on budget. Sell your old equipments. Also sell equipments that you rarely use. The price of some photography equipments go down very fast.

5. Buy used equipments
Buying used equipment might save you a lot of money, but be careful especially if you are inexperience. Ask your more experienced friend to check the equipments.

Read More...
6. Buying older models
During the year, photography manufacturer launches many new photography equipments, as a result, the older model drops in price. Buying older models could save you a lot of money.

7. Be careful of bundle or package deals
In a glance seems like getting bundled deals are a very good deal. You can get the camera with lenses, and many accessories. But most often the quality of the lens and accessories are very poor or outdated. I have discussed about it here.

8. Renting, borrowing equipments
If you are not so active in doing photography, let say, you only take photos 3-4 times a year to document family gathering or vacation. You might not need to buy equipments, you can rent professional equipments in store or online, for example at Rent a Glass.

9. Get a full time job or freelance job related to photography
By getting a full time job, such as newspaper or photo agency, you will get access on their equipments. For example, Gettyimages, a photo agency, lend their photographers 2 professional camera body and a myriad of expensive pro lenses to work with for free. Working in the camera store, or open a business also get you access to camera equipments.

10. Live a minimalist life
Be frugal in daily life, avoid eating out too many times, rent a dvd instead going to movies, take a walk o ride a bicycle instead of driving a car. Sell stuff that you never touch in six months etc. There are many self-help article in the net, for example 50 tips from Zen habits.

I hope you enjoy this article and able to get the gears that you want. If you have suggestions, please share with us. Thank you.

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Sunday, March 8, 2009

Nikon D90 vs Nikon D200

Actually, Nikon D90 and Nikon D200 fall into different class. The D90 is mid level dSLR camera for amateur and enthusiast, on the other hand, D200 is for semi-pro and professional photographers. But because D90 is a new camera and D200 is an older camera, they almost have the same price. D90 has more new features. Let's compare the cameras main specifications.

Nikon D90 advantages
  • 1 stop better noise handling (better in low light)
  • 2 extra megapixels (12 vs 10mp)
  • Bigger lcd screen (3" vs 2.5" inches)
  • Higher lcd resolution (960k vs 230k dots)
  • Live view mode with face detection feature
  • Movie recording capability
  • smaller and lighter body
  • use cheaper and smaller SD card instead of CF card
Movie recording in Nikon D90
Although live view and movie mode of D90 might be cool, but it is not perfect, for example, there is a "jello effect" when you move the camera quickly. The camera capture 24fps video means that it will be a little bit jaggy. Users can only record 5 minutes of movie in high definition and 20 minutes for other modes. Albeit its imperfections, it is still a fun feature to capture casual video clip for family friends or web. The nice thing about this video is you can use many kind of Nikon lenses to get a different effects. For example fish eye lens and fast lens. You can control depth of field to create a nice background blur that only can be achieved by expensive video equipments.

Nikon D200 advantages
  • Magnesium alloy body, weather seal
  • Slightly faster continuous speed (5 vs 4.5 fps)
  • Better handling and control, able to change popular setting faster with dedicated switches and buttons
In conclusion
Nikon D90 is a camera that try to incorporate all with recent technology breakthroughs such as live view mode and movie recording capability. Nikon also improved its continuous shooting from D90 predecessors, D80, from 3fps to 4.5fps. Noise handling and maximum ISO is also increased by 1 stop (3200-6400). And finally the image resolution is increased by 2 megapixels.

The main and the only significant advantage of Nikon D200 over D90 is better quality body and better handling. So, if you like a better quality body and handling for example, primarily taking photos outdoor, taking sports picture, D200 might be a better deal because you have better continuous shooting and able to quickly change control of your camera. But for general purpose and low light condition, Nikon D90 is more than adequate with many new features you might like.

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Canon Rebel XSi / 450D vs Pentax k200d

Many people immediately think of Canon or Nikon when they want to buy a digital SLR camera. It is partly because of the quality of their products, partly because of their marketing. Pentax's marketing definitely is not as aggressive as Canon, Nikon or Sony, but they have unique digital SLR cameras to offer. One of it is Pentax k200d. Let's take a look on the main differences between Pentax k200d and Canon Rebel XSi / 450D. Both of the camera shares a similar price range when I write this article.

Pentax k200d advantages
  • Higher quality weather sealing body
  • Top lcd screen but no backlit
  • Built-in body image stabilizater called Shake Reduction (SR)
  • Use 4 AA batteries (This can be advantage or disadvantage)
  • 11 points auto focus vs 9 points
  • Compatible with Pentax lenses collection
Canon XSi advantages
  • Aproximately 100g lighter and smaller form factor
  • Slightly larger lcd screen (3" inches vs 2.7" inches)
  • Faster continuous shooting speed (3.5 fps vs 2.8 fps)
  • Faster and more accurate auto focus in low light condition
  • 2 megapixels extra image resolution (12 vs 10mp)
  • Better auto color balance
  • Compatible with Canon EOS lenses collection
Summary
From this comparison, we can see that Pentax has significant advantage especially in the quality of camera body. This camera is tough and top lcd screen is helpful especially in bright daylight when it is hard to see the main lcd screen. Pentax also has built-in image stabilization that might save you a lot of money in the future. Canon and Nikon charges more for lens based-stabilization. They also does not have stabilization in their prime / fixed focal-length lenses.

But there are two general weakness of Pentax k200d. First it is not as responsive as Canon XSi in term of auto focus speed in low light condition. Pentax also has slower continuous burst. Second, the jpg output from auto mode might not be satisfactory. When you use Pentax, most often, you need to set auto wide balance manually, apply exposure compensation or post processing using photoshop or other imaging software.

About lenses collection, Pentax arguably has most of the lenses you might need, from exotic ultra small pancake lenses to general purpose super zoom 18-250mm, although Canon has more extensive collection especially fast telephoto zoom and fast lenses with aperture below f.1.8. Check the lens comparison table here.

One unique thing about Pentax k200d is the use of regular AA batteries instead of rechargable nIMH battery that is common with most of dSLR. This has benefit and disadvantage. The benefit will be you will not ran out of power because you can stock up and get AA batteries almost every corner of the world. The disadvantage is you will need to change batteries more often and you need to invest on bunch of batteries or rechargeable battery system.

To sum up, Pentax offers unique qualities than Canon XSi, if you do not mind of its weakneses, this camera will provide you an excellent value for your money.

These camera are for..
Pentax k200d will be suitable for enthusiasts that love to use manual setting and tweak camera settings based on condition. It is also good for outdoor photographers because of higher quality body with dust, moisture and weather seal.

Canon XSi will be suitable for beginner and/or enthusiast. It is relatively small and lightweight, produces better output in automatic setting and supported by many great Canon lenses and accessories. It is also slightly faster and more responsive especially in low light condition.

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Canon Rebel XSi vs Panasonic Lumix DMC G1

Canon Rebel XSi or 450D is Canon entry-level dSLR camera, while Panasonic G1 is a new camera breed that have many similar features of dSLR minus the size. Panasonic camera is part of micro-four third sensor which means the sensor size is in 4:3 ratio unlike the common 3:2 ratio. Four third sensor is also slightly smaller. Micro four thirds does not provide space for a mirror and a pentaprism, allowing thinner bodies to be designed. Because Panasonic G1 does not use any mirror, users look at electronic view finder instead of SLR viewfinder. Electronic view finder is generally found in superzoom bridge camera.

Panasonic has also designs several new smaller lenses for this system. If you have collection of Four Third system lenses, you can use it on micro four third system by special adapter.

Canon XSi / 450D advantages:
  • 1 stop better noise handling especially from ISO 800 and above
  • Compatible with all Canon EOS lenses
  • Availability of optional vertical battery grip and other Canon EOS accessories
  • More responsive, less shutter lag (0.160 sec vs 0.372 - 0.357 secs) and processing time
  • Longer battery life (500 vs 300 shots)
  • dSLR Viewfinder although only 95% coverage
  • Better kit lens (Lens that bundled with the camera)
Panasonic Lumix DMC G1 advantages:
  • Smaller form factor, solid feel
  • Swivel 3" inches lcd screen
  • Higher resolution lcd screen (460k vs 230k)
  • 100% coverage electronic viewfinder
  • Available in many colors such as red, black, blue
In conclusion
Panasonic Lumix G1 is a new system that challenge the superiority of dslr. The system main advantage is in the size and development possibility of becoming multimedia gadget such as advance video and audio recording. The main disadvantage of this camera so far is the responsiveness. Even though it is faster than compact cameras, but it is still two to three more times slower than entry-level dSLRs. Electronic viewfinder has advantage of 100% coverage but the processing speed to deliver the electronic imagery is still lagging.

Because it is the first micro four third camera, there are still many room for improvement. Recently Panasonic just announce Panasonic DMC G1H which based on this model and include HD video recording capability.

Panasonic G1
will be suitable for people that value small and compact more than speed, while Canon XSi will appeal to general audience because of its versatility, compatibility to many lenses and accessories. It is significantly more responsive for fast action shooting such as sports. XSi/450D also performs better in low light condition.

You might also want to check

Top: Canon XSi/450D without lens. Bottom: Panasonic Lumix DMC G1 with kit lens

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Friday, March 6, 2009

Canon vs Nikon lenses revised

I have updated the Canon vs Nikon lenses comparison.
Check it out and let me know what you think.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Cameras for street photography

Street photography aims to capture interesting moments in an ordinary human life. It is usually linked to photojournalism but it has some different characteristics. While photojournalists try to capture peak action, reaction and dramatic scenes. Street photographers strive to get close to the scene and capture simple interactions between people and its environment.

By Henri Cartier-Bresson

Some influential street photographers are Henri Cartier-Bresson, Eugene Atget, Lee Friedlander and so on.

Nowadays, we enjoy so many choice of photography equipments especially in digital SLR age, but there are only few equipments that are optimized for the job.

So what is the consideration?
  • Ideally, the form factor of the equipments should be as small as possible. Why? Because you don't want to be center of attraction by carrying one or several big cameras mounted with long telephoto lenses around. In addition, carrying oversize bag for extra equipments or accessories could impede your photo taking experience.
  • Why not compact cameras? Because image quality of compact camera especially in many areas such as color depth, dynamic range, sensor size and sensitivities are far behind dslr camera. Compact cameras are also not as responsive as digital SLR cameras.
  • Second, you will need one or several lenses that are not only small, but also can shoot in low light environment. These lenses are usually called fast lens. These lenses usually have big maximum aperture such as f/2.8 to f/1. The other benefit of fast lens is ability to do selective focus by making background blurry.
  • Third, you need a responsive camera that have minimal shutter lag and easy to change various settings when you needed it.
Based on that configuration there are some modern digital equipments that are most suitable for this kind of photography.

1. Olympus E-420 + Olympus 25mm f/2.8 pancake lens.
This camera might be the smallest slr right now. The downside side is the limitation of the lens collection. The only prime lens Olympus has is the 25mm f/2.8. The camera body does not have any image stabilization like many of its competitors. However, E-620, a new Olympus camera which is a bit taller, has built-in image stabilization.
Price: $525 with pancake lens.
Suitability rating: 3/5

2. Pentax km/k2000 + Pentax Limited Pancake lens collection
Pentax km might be a bit bigger than the E-420, but Pentax already has collection of small lenses. Pentax km also has built-in image stabilization that is helpful in low light condition.
Price (with 18-55mm lens and AF200G flash) : $525, Pentax 40mm f/2.8 lens : add $250
Suitability rating: 3/5


3. Panasonic Lumix G1 and G1H
These are not DSLR because it uses electronic viewfinder. But because these cameras use the same sensor like most of the dSLR, they deliver roughly the same image quality like others dSLR. The camera has a small form factor, almost like super-zoom cameras. This system is still very young and haven't many lenses yet, especially small and fast lenses. The viewfinder is not as good as dSLR and the camera could be more responsive. In the future, many experts predicted that this system could have a lot of potential.
Price: G1 with basic kit zoom kit lens: $630
Suitability Rating: 2/5










Lumix G1 (left) have almost similar size with Pentax km, but it is noticeably thinner.

4. Samsung NX
Newly announced in March 2009, Samsung NX have the same concept as Lumix G1, but it use slightly bigger sensor (CMOS) instead of the four third system. As a result, better noise handling in high sensitivities (for low light shooting). Currently there is no information about price and specification.

5. Sigma DP1 and DP2
DP1 and DP2 are compact cameras but it uses Foveon sensor. The size of the sensor is like we find in most dSLR cameras. As a result the image is quality is very high, also the Foveon X3 technology bring out amazing colors. The upside of this camera is the size, the downside is you can't change the lens. It has build in prime lens, (equiv. 28mm f4) and DP2 (equiv 41mm f/2.8). The other big downside of DP1 is the small maximum aperture (f4) and also the shutter lag (.5 sec). The price is also not appealing for general consumers. We hope that DP2 which is in production, performs better than DP1.
Image on the top left is Sigma SD15 and Sigma DP1
Price: DP1 $650
Suitability Rating for DP1 : 1/5


6. Olympus Micro Four Thirds Carrot prototype
Judging from the size, this camera is promosing, but the colorful camera might not be the best for street photography. Since there are no specification yet, we don't know how the camera will performs.




6. Leica M8
This camera looks like classic rangefinder in film camera era. It is compact and compatible with many Leica legendary lenses. The downside of this camera is the price. It is very high, $5000+ This makes it is more of a luxury item rather than a workhorse. In the street, you won't like to lose this camera to theft. Many Leica lenses does not have Auto focus and also no photo review in its LCD screen.
Price: $5500+ body only
Suitability rating for general consumers: 2/5
For old-school professionals: 4/5

In conclusion, it is nice to see many new hybrid system (DSLR with compact body) emerges. Street photographers will be likely to love these system. Since several decades ago, DSLR cameras are growing bigger and heavier, and it is not good for consumers especially street photographers and photojournalists. Bigger gears strains neck and arms. Super zoom lens make us lazy to move closer to the scene (or be part of the scene) to get the best angle.

Five years later, I want to see these hybrids camera will emerge to the top, and Big regular dSLR might be only used in studio or non-time critical indoor shots. Hopefully!

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Monday, March 2, 2009

Sigma new lenses for Canon Nikon Pentax and Sony 2009

Just a day before PMA 2009, Sigma announces new lenses. All of them are designed for APS-C sensor camera or non-full frame cameras such as Canon X0D, Rebel series, Nikon D40, D60, D90, D300, All Sony cameras except A900, all Pentax cameras but not for Olympus.

Previously announces last year, Sigma 24-70mm f/2.8 DG HSM and Sigma 18-250mm OS are available for sale. I think Sigma 24-70mm will do very well especially for Nikon shooters, especially full frame shooters ex: D700, D3 and D3X who is looking for cheaper alternative. The 18-250mm OS will face competition with Tamron super zoom lenses.

1. 18-50mm f2.8-4.5 DC OS HSM

This will be alternative or upgrade for kit lenses. The different is in mechanical quality with HSM (fast autofocus) and also the max aperture is better. For built quality and size, it is almost the same as kit lens. If priced the same as the kit lens, this lens could be a good deal. It also depend on image quality. Kit lenses generally produces pretty good image qual

2. Sigma 50-200mm f4-5.6 DC OS HSM lens

This lens will compete with entry level telephoto zoom. The only different will be the HSM. The fast auto focus will definitely help in sports or wildlife. Again, it will depend on image quality, if it is the same and the price is the same, this will be good alternative.


3. Sigma 10-20mm f3.5 EX DC HSM lens

This ultra wide angle lens is an upgrade from Sigma 10-20mm f4-5.6 EX . It will compete with Canon EF-S 10-22mm and also Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8. Will this be better than Canon or Tokina version? we'll see.

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Sunday, March 1, 2009

Recommended Lenses for Nikon D700 D3 full frame

If you invest on full frame camera like Nikon D700, theoretically you are ready to invest on excellent lenses. If not then I will ask you to reconsider getting a full frame camera because with the average or cheap lenses, you will get average image quality which can be achieved by regular or even entry-level DSLRs.

Unfortunately, most of the lenses designed for Nikon full frame cameras are expensive, There are: Nikon AF-S 14-24mm f/2.8, AF-S 24-70mm f/2.8, and AF-S 70-200mm f/2.8 VR

The total purchase of the lenses roughly costs $5200 USD. That is quite amazing! Unless you are highly paid professional photographer that have a lot of assignments, there are slim chance that you will get your money back from your investment.

Fortunately, there are some "frugal" alternatives

Standard zoom Sigma 24-70mm f/2.8 HSM
This new lens (announced late 2008) has professional grade image quality and also has fast and silent auto focus. The length (133mm vs 94.7mm) and weight (900g vs aprox. 500g) are significantly lower than Nikon 24-70mm. The downside is the filter diameter is 82mm instead of the usual 77mm. If you use filter a lot, you might need to buy new filters. Your copy might be front or back focus, but in full frame camera you can adjust the AF by AF fine tune. The lens significantly cheaper than of Nikon's 24-70mm AF-S f/2.8 ($1900 vs $900). So I will conclude by saying that this lens is very cost effective.

For telephoto zoom, there are no alternative if you like to get Vibration Reduction/Image stabilization type lens, but if you can live without VR (which I do), then there are two good alternatives.

First, it is the Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8. According to lab test, this lens are very sharp, close to Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8. The price is superb, $650 compare to $1700 of Nikon's. The downside is the Auto Focus speed is sluggish, and the built quality is not as good as competitors. If you are shooting mainly for studio, portraits, and still life, which you can repeat the shooting as many times as you like, this lens will be the best for your buck.


Second, it is Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 HSM II. This lens is not as sharp as Tamron and Nikon, but center sharpness is very good, image quality is satisfactory, built quality is excellent, and the bokeh/background blur is smooth and creamy. The strength of this lens is in the AF speed. It tracks fast moving sport action very well. The price is also reasonable at $700 USD. Check out my impression about this lens.


For wide angle lens, unfortunately there are not many bargain alternative. But I will recommend you to look at prime lenses, such as Nikkor 20mm f/2.8 or Sigma 14mm f/2.8 HSM

For general all-purpose lens or super zoom, I recommend $325 Tamron 28-300mm f/3.5-6.3 XR Di AF. This lens is good for full frame or crop frame sensor. Don't get the VC (Vibration Compensation) version because the image quality is not good and it is more expensive. Besides, you will less likely to need VC when you are traveling during the day. In low light condition, you can bump up ISO to compensate, full frame camera like D700 or D3 can handle noise in high ISO setting.

For street photography Nikkor 35mm f/2D and Nikkor 50mm f/1.4D will serve you well. Why not the new 50mm f/1.4G? Because 1.4D is sharper in max aperture, focus faster in full frame body, and the most important of all, it is significantly cheaper ($335 vs $500+). You can also get 50mm f/1.8D ($115) which is also very good, but the built quality is fragile, and in street photography, many times, f/1.4 is needed.

Other lens that I recommend is the classic 85mm f/1.4D aprox $1000. This lens are ideal for portrait or wedding photography. Check out my review here. Finally, for macro photography, Sigma 70mm f/2.8 ($400).

In conclusion
There are two way to save money: First there are many alternatives outside Nikon brand lenses that provide close or similar performance with half the price. Not many third party lenses are good, some of them are optimized based on the price or other variables so beware.

The other way to save money is to invest on fixed focal length prime lenses. Even it is not as versatile as zoom, they are significantly smaller and lighter, They have big maximum aperture, sharp and relatively cheap. With the same amount of money, you can get five or six primes instead of one zoom. The downside of these prime lens, of course you need to change lens and move around more often.

Good luck!

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