Monday, 25 December 2006

Cheap And Simple Camera Lens Protection

After two very long articles on how to choose a digital SLR camera and lenses, I will keep it short and simple this time ;-)

Stubby Holder + Lens = Protected Pens

Try at your own risk ;-)

Sunday, 17 December 2006

What lenses (=glass) to choose for a Canon Digital SLR Camera

Glass makes all the difference. The impact of the lens on the quality of your final product – the photo – is much larger than the camera’s. A 350D and a 20D have no difference in image quality – the difference is in the ergonomics. Investing 300 US$ more in a lens will have a significant impact. That’s why lens selection is critical!

As you could read in my last article “Buying a Digital SLR Camera – Canon Or Nikon”, I went with Canon for a couple of reasons. Therefore this article is only for buyers who consider Canon.

There are basically 3 options on how to get started

  • Minimum budget available, every $ counts
  • Plan for/ buy a solid, medium-quality, value-for-money lens collection
  • Plan for/ buy a high-quality lens collection

All prices mentioned are as of Dec 2006 in the US. But let’s start with the beginning.

If you already have a digital SLR, you will most likely know what lenses you want. However, for the first time buyer this is a big challenge. And as there is quite some cash involved, it is worth spending time on research and recommendations what lenses to buy with your camera. Otherwise you might be disappointed or have to buy twice. What to buy depends on

  • What would you like to shoot? In what light conditions?
  • What is your preference on “value for money”/ “quality for money”? (E.g. Are you willing to pay 100% more for a 20% increase in quality)
  • What is your budget?

If you know your preferences upfront, you will be able to negotiate a better deal or profit from large package rebates. Canon normally has the “Triple Rebate” program (for US citizens) on in Nov/ Dec each year. You can save (and spend) a lot of money here. In summary, the more you buy the larger your discount will be. You can easily save 300-500 US$, when buying a camera body + 2 lenses. Just search for “Canon Triple Rebate”. At the moment you can find the form here (2005 version), but it might get removed:

There are similar offers in other countries (e.g. “Cash Back Program” in Australia).

Your lenses will last years, maybe a decade. Compared to a camera body, which gets upgraded about every 3 years. Lenses are a long-term investment. Also high-quality lenses hold their value relatively well, in case you want to sell.

When buying a lens, you pay for
  • Optical quality
  • Built quality (plastic or metal lens mount / barrel construction)
  • Features (zoom vs prime, weather-sealed, IS (image stabilisation), USM (ultrasonic motor for fast, silent autofocus)

I strongly recommend to try before you buy. Go to a camera shop and ask to put the lens on the same camera you are using or want to buy. Check the feel and weight. Bring your own empty memory card and take a few shots. Decent camera shops will have no problems with that. If you want to stretch it a bit, put the camera on a sturdy surface and take few shots with different settings. Do the same for each lens you are considering. Go home and inspect the results at 100% in Photoshop to compare the quality.

A few things ahead:

Canon’s EF-S lenses
EF-S lenses only work on cameras with an EF-S mount (=crop body camera = APS-C size sensor = non full frame sensor size) like the 400D (= Rebel XTi in the US) and 30D. EF-S lenses will not work on a body with full frame sensor size like the 5D. In case you upgrade to full-frame later, you will need a new lens. EF-S lenses are smaller and lighter than comparable EF lenses (EF fit on all Canon digital SLRs). However, there are some EF﷓S lenses with a great reputation and very good optics. Be aware of these facts and decide for yourself!

Sensor Size And Focal Length
Because of the smaller sensor size (=APS-C sensor size) of the 400D and 30D series (compared to the full frame 5D), all ranges are multiplied by 1.6. This means a 17-85mm lens is practically a 28-135mm lens on a 400D/30D. This is very handy for telephoto as a 200mm lens on a 30D has the same range as 300mm lens on a 5D. The drawback is that 17mm becomes 28mm, which is not really wide if you are going to shoot architecture, interiors and landscapes.

Canon L Series Lenses
L glass (L for luxury?) is Canon’s high-quality lens line-up. These lenses offer the best optical performance and are solid built. Most of them are large and heavy. All have the famous red stripe around the end of the lens barrel. Prices start at about 600 US$ for a 70-200 F4L USM. The 100-400 f/4.5-5.6L IS USM costs 1300 US$ and weighs 1.5kg. And yes, for 7000 you can get a 600mm F4 IS USM ;-))

IS = Image Stabilization
As a rule of thumb, a shutter speed of 1/focal length is required to get a sharp photo. E.g. 1/200 sec at 200mm. With a slower shutter speed (e.g. 1/25) the result can be blurred due to the shake of the camera in your hands. IS is a technology integrated in some Canon lenses to compensate the camera shake. You gain about 2 stops. Means at 200mm a sharp photo can be taken at 1/50. A 4 times slower shutter speed (= 2 stops). That helps in low-light situations, which require a slower shutter speed. As you can guess, you will not need IS if you work on a tripod, you must switch it off.

Ultrasonic motor for fast and silent autofocus.

Prime vs Zoom Lenses
Prime lenses have a fix focal length (e.g. the EF 50mm F1.8) and therefore the field of view cannot be adjusted. You cannot zoom. You have to walk closer or further to the object. Prime lenses are easier to build and most have excellent optical quality. Therefore Primes are relatively cheap compared to zoom lenses (with a similar high optical quality). Zoom lenses are much more convenient.

I would not recommend a prime for a complete beginner as the only lens! However, some do! With a prime lens you will learn a lot about focal length, perspective and technique in general. E.g. the optical great, but cheaply built (all plastic) EF 50mm F1.8 II can be collected for 100 US$, new. (50mm prime is very easy to design/ manufacture).

3rd Party Lenses
Lens manufacturers like Tamron and Sigma sell lenses that fit Canon cameras as well. Some of them only fit cameras with EF-S mount just like the Canon EF-S lenses. When looking for high quality zoom lenses, there can be significant price differences between a Canon and a 3rd party lens. Research the web before you buy. Some models are considered poor. Some have an excellent reputation (Sigma 24-70 2.8, Tamron 90mm Macro).

3rd party manufacturers are the only ones offering large zoom range lenses for Canon like the 28-200 or 18-200. The large zoom range comes with a compromise in optical quality. However, I like my Tamron 28-200 as a light-weight, small travel lens. If you are backpacking, hiking or want to travel light you might want to check out the Tamron 18-200 or 28-200. Stop them down to F8 and they deliver solid results outdoors. Yes, I envy the Nikon crowd for the Nikkor 18-200 VR (750 US$), which is supposed to deliver outstanding results.

I personally see 3 options on how to get started, when buying a digital SLR for the first time

· Minimum budget available, every $ counts
· Plan for/ buy a solid, medium-quality, value-for-money lens collection
· Plan for/ buy a high-quality lens collection

Minimum budget available, every $ counts

To get started into the digital SLR world as a student can be tough. You can get a nice package deal for a camera + lens + memory card. That gets you started.

Current offers at B&H (Dec 06)

400D (silver) + EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 USM + 2 GB CF card: 830 US$
350D + EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 USM + 2 GB CF: 650 US$
350D + EF-S 17-85mm f/4-5.6 IS USM + 2 GB CF: 990 US$

The Canon low-end kit lens (EF-S 18-55mm) has a bad reputation. It will get you started and you can learn the trade. Use it between F8 and F11 for maximum sharpness. But you would get much more out of you camera with a nicer lens. You can consider the 50mm F1.8 prime (see “Prime vs Zoom Lenses” above) for 100 US$, but make sure you try before you buy. Not everybody likes prime lenses.

If you have a few dollars extra, consider the EF-S 17-85mm f/4-5.6 IS USM or the EF 28-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM. The 17-85 often gets offered with a discount (100 US$) in an “advanced kit” when bought with a camera.

Both lenses have a solid optical quality and offer IS (image stabilisation) and USM (ultrasonic motor for fast, silent auto-focus). If you prefer wide-angle (landscapes, architecture) go for the 17-85. If you like “to zoom in close” choose the 28-135. These are lenses worth keeping with a digital SLR to build a lens collection for different photographic purposes.

Again, please try both on the same camera before you decide. Check the zoom range, try to get a large building/ bridge in the frame. Be aware that the 17-85 is an EF-S (see for limitations above!) Pls also read the next section, as it will depend on what other lenses you are planning for.

Plan for/ buy a solid/ medium-quality/ value-for-money lens collection

EF-S 17-85mm f/4-5.6 IS USM + EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS USM
If 17mm is wide enough for you and you don’t mind using EF-S lenses, this is a great combo. Both lenses are around 500 US$. The 17-85 is available in discount kit offers.

You can also consider the EF 70-200 F4L USM instead of the 70-300. The 70-200 F4L is a high-quality L lens and considered a bargain. Compared to the 70-300 you loose some range and IS (image stabilisation). Weight and size are similar. An IS version of the 70-200 F4L was released this year, 1100 US$

If you don’t like to buy an EF-S lens, I would recommend the EF 28-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM as a starting point. However, if you would like to add a wider lens, it becomes really, really difficult! There are not many options:

EF 17-40mm f/4L USM (650US$): You will spend 150 $ more than on the suggested combo above (17-85 + 70-300) and only cover 17-135. This is a nice lens a) on a full frame camera and b) in combination with other L lenses. It does not really match the focal range of the medium quality zooms.

Sigma 12-24mm f/4.5-5.6 EX DG HSM: 700 US$, 615g, heavy, so-so reviews

The only other alternatives to go wider are lenses that fit only EF-S mount cameras. So if you would like to go wider than 17mm and don’t mind buying EF-S,you can plan for

EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM + EF 28-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM + EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS USM
The EF-S 10-22 costs 680 US$ and gets excellent reviews! This lens does not include a lens hood. The Canon original model (EW-83E Lens Hood = little plastic piece) sets you back an other 40 US$. Other alternatives are the Tamron 11-18 (530 US$, including hood) or the Sigma 10-20 (500 US$). Both have a smaller focal range than the Canon.

Plan for/ buy a high-quality lens collection

If you want the best quality, go for the L series lenses. You might not be able to buy all at once, but if you are confident that you want to go down that path, do not waste a penny on anything else.

EF 17-40 F4L + EF 24-105 F4L + 70-200 F4L
This combo will cover a wide range. If you need a longer lens, e.g. for outdoor sports, consider the 100-400mm 4.5-5.6 L IS USM.

Do you need/ want “fast” lenses for low light work (without tripod/ flash)? If so, consider the F2.8 zooms: EF 16-35 F2.8 and EF 70-200 F2.8 USM / EF 70-200 F2.8 IS USM. Or choose a prime with a focal lens that suits your needs.

Popular prime lenses are:
· 50mm 1.2L
· EF-S 60mm 2.8 USM
· 85mm 1.8 US
· 100mm 2.8 Macro

I hope this is a good summary and will give you some indication on what to buy. Do your own homework and take great photos ;-))

Tuesday, 12 December 2006

Buying a Digital SLR Camera – Canon Or Nikon

Buying a DSLR (Digital single-lens reflex camera) is an exciting task. It’s like buying a car … or a house. Be warned, once you start this addiction, there is no way back.

SLRs are much more flexible than compact cameras due to interchangeable lenses. Shooting Architecture, Sports, Insects … no problem, same camera, just change the lens. The image quality is far superior to compact cameras as well. You “pay” for that with money, size and weight.

So, it’s not (only) about the camera. Cameras come and go. Normally you will upgrade the body (=camera) every 2-3 years. However glass (=lenses) last for years or a decade. Accessories will cost you too. That’s why you are buying into a system!

It simply means if you go Canon, all your lenses and accessories will work on Canon cameras only. The good thing is that – in general – all lenses that fit a current model, will also fit the next model of the same brand. However, if you bought into one system (= brand), there is no way back … unless you are willing to buy everything again. Just to stretch the point, an entry-level body costs you about 800 US$, but each lens will cost you between 300 and 1500 US$. High-quality lenses start at about 600 US$. High-quality telephoto lenses can cost you several thousand. (Prices Dec 2006)

That is the reason why I highly recommend: Do not compare two camera bodies (e.g. Canon 400D (= Rebel XTi in the US) vs Nikon D80) alone. Also compare the entire lens range of the brand. Remember, the camera goes in 2-3 years, the lenses will last.

Ok, let’s get practical. In reality there are only two brands to choose from: Canon and Nikon. These are the two established manufacturers with the most experience and the widest range of lenses and accessories available. On top of that there are also other companies (Sigma, Tamron, …) that manufacture lenses that fit Canon and Nikon bodies.

The Canon vs. Nikon debate gets battled out in every photography forum on a daily basis. Again, people are passionate about their toys and like to show off. That’s all fine, just be aware that you might not always get the reaction you expect. The truth is, both companies make excellent cameras (and lenses) that will produce fantastic results … in the hands of a talented photographer.

So how to choose? Easy - 2 criteria: Ergonomics and Affordability.

Ergonomics: Check out the camera, take it in your hands (!), change the settings, and look into the menus. If one model is more intuitive to use and feels better in your hands, you should consider this one.

Canon’s entry-level model (currently 400D = Rebel Xti in the US) has the reputation of being small, light and cheaply built (=plastic). However, persons with small hands who like to travel light actually like that! Be careful here. When I bought my first DSLR, I liked the low weight and also preferred the silver body (only available for the entry-level SLR cameras). Also the silver body is about 30 US$ less than the black one, same camera! In the end I decided to buy the mid-range body, 20D (magnesium alloy). The larger body adds stability to larger lenses. Also changing settings on the mid-range models is much more intuitive and faster than on the smaller entry-level models. The mid-range models have more buttons and reels to change setting. Entry-level cameras often require on-screen/ display menus to change settings. You might miss what you want to shoot.

And by the way, black is much better than silver, trust me on this one ;-))

Quick tip: If you like the Canon entry-model, but think it is too small for your hands: Ask for the “vertical battery grip” and try it then.


I personally think Canon offers more “bang for the buck”. That’s why I went with Canon. You can get great technology from Canon in their mid-range products, e.g. USM lenses (fast and silent ultrasonic autofocus motor) and IS (image stabilization). Also the F4 L range lenses (L for luxury?!) offer top class optical and built quality for a “relatively” good price (17-40, 28-104, 70-200 mm). If you lost me at F4, don’t worry about it for now … you will get there.

If you want to get similar technologies from Nikon, you will need a bigger budget.

Currently (Dec 06) a Canon entry-level package (400D + EF-S 18-55mm + 2 GB CF card) ships for 850 US$. That is the absolute minimum to get you started (not considering used gear). Well, currently you can still get the previous model Rebel XT (=350D) + EF-S 18-55mm + 2 GB CF card for 650 US$, new. Consider this set-up only if you really have to look at every $$$. You will get much more out of this camera with a better lens.

Other Considerations

  • Nikon is supposed to be superior when it comes to wide-angle lenses
  • Optical quality of Canon’s low priced/ kit lenses is not as good (especially the 18-55mm kit lens has a bad reputation)
  • Nikon has the 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6G ED-IF AF-S DX VR II, most likely the best all-in-one lens (750 US$) available. If you walk/ hike a lot, want to travel light and don’t like changing lenses (outdoors), consider it! None of the all-in-one lenses for Canon will match this one.
  • If you have a good friend or family member with a huge arsenal of Canon or Nikon lenses, do not hesitate. Buy the same brand … if they are willing to borrow their glass that is

Usually Canon has large rebates in November / December each year in most countries. That is for buying a body plus one or more lenses of a selected range. Very interesting if you want to buy a body and lens(es) are the “Triple Rebates” for US customers. You need to be a US citizen to participate, but you can save (and spend) a fortune here. Look into it!!!

An important remark here: Canon’s EF-S lenses only fit their “crop bodies” (400D (= Rebel XTi), 30D). They do not fit the Canon full frame bodies (eg 5D). So if you decide to upgrade later, these lenses can’t be used anymore. The EF lenses do fit all digital Canon SLR models. More on what model and lenses to choose when buying for the first time in an other post.

Good sites for tests and reviews:

Bye for now.

Sunday, 10 December 2006

How to Choose A Digital Camera

One thing ahead: Go digital! There is no reason to shoot film anymore. Digital quality is on par with film for most applications. And convenience and cost make the digital experience far more enjoyable.

What camera you should buy depends on

1) What you would like to do with your camera
2) What your budget is

After thinking about these two points, you will be able to choose a category / type of camera that suits your needs. I will provide some brand / model recommendation at the end of the post. But if you think about the subjects listed first, you will be able to choose for yourself what suits you best.

So what would you like to do with your camera?

Think about the factors below, as they will most likely determine what will suit you best.

Usage: Travel photography, portraits, landscapes, snapshots, macro work, underwater, architecture, … Do you want to sell your work, consider a career in photography or become a full-time Pro?

Ergonomics and features: How does the camera fit into your hands! Easy and simple to use. Just press the button vs. full control of all parameters.

Size and weight: Do you want this tiny thing to disappear in your shirt pocket … walk/ hike a lot with your gear … prefer solid build quality …

Image size: Do you want to print your photos? What size? Or only display them on your PC, TV, online?

Image quality: Is snapshot quality for capturing friends and family sufficient or would you like to produce outstanding fine art photographs.

Your Budget

Digital Cameras start at about 150 US$. I wouldn’t recommend spending less. Chances are high that you will regret it soon and wish you could go back. If you choose a Digital SLR, there is practically no upper limit ;-)

My personal approach is
1) Determine what suits my needs best
2) Do I have the required budget? Do I want to spend that amount of money?
3.1) If yes, compare prices and buy it
3.2) If no, find alternatives and get the best I can afford

Always compare prices! Within one large shopping mall the prices can vary up to 15%. Write emails to the camera stores around you and ask for the best cash price they can offer.

Buying online can be risky. There are lots of scams out there. Also dealing with warranty issues and online stores can be trouble. One US store with a top reputation is B&H: They ship internationally, but there are issues related to warranty, duty and taxes. Read their help to find out the details.

Generic indications on usage and prices

An other heads-up: If you want to get “seriously” into photography, you will need a “big and bulky” Digital SLR (single-lens reflex camera), which offers interchangeable lenses. You can get started for under 1,000 US$, but you will spend much more along the way. I will have a separate post on “how to get started with a SLR system”. So please skip the rest of this post if you want to sell your work, make a career in photography or simply want a Digital SLR.

Size and weight
In general there are 3 size types of cameras available: Pocket-size, Compact and Advanced Cameras (“bulky”). Choose for yourself what you prefer. You pay extra for Pocket-size compared to Compact in case of similar quality and functions. The “bulky” larger Advanced Cameras normally offer a solid built quality, additional functions, better image quality and better zoom range.

Image size
This determines the amount of Megapixel you will require. To make it simple, you do not need more than 6 Megapixel. This resolution is good enough for large prints like 10x15 inch. A photo does not look better with more Megapixel. It’s a pure marketing instrument to sell the latest model. Read the following if you want to know the details:

Image quality: Determined by the optical quality of the lens.
Ergonomics and Function: Determined by electronics, used materials and form.

There a gazillions ways to compare image quality and technical parameters. Keep it simple: Go to and read what they say. They have the best reputation in providing independent information.

Brand Recommendations
I personally prefer Canon. Simply because of good experience plus they are an established brand. Nikon, Olympus, Panasonic and Fujifilm make good digital cameras too. However, for digital SLRs Nikon and Canon are the only real options.

There are endless possibilities what you can do with a camera. You have to find out for yourself. However, I have a couple of hints and recommendations.
When it comes to models/ prices, please keep in mind that this is of Dec 2006.

Pocket size: Small is trendy. Look at Canon’s SD series (SD600, SD800IS, …). Fuji has a good reputation with small cameras as well.

Underwater: If you want to do diving or surfing with you equipment, you will need an underwater cover. These cost almost as much as the camera itself. Consider a waterproof camera like the Pentax Optio Wpi or Olympus Tough 720SW. A cheap alternative for fun water snapshots is Comes with a wrist-band, handy for surfers.

Long zoom: I like a large zoom range. Simply because you have more options on what to shoot. A larger zoom requires a larger lens. All super-zoom cameras (10x / 12x optical zoom) are larger Advanced Cameras. Current models are Canon PowerShot S3 IS (known for it’s good movie mode), Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ05, FZ7 or DMC-FZ30, Sony DSC-H5 and the Fujifilm FinePix S series.

Value for money: There are many compact cameras with a good image quality and nice feature set for an affordable price. E.G. Canon’s A series (A710IS).

TIP: Buy a card reader (which fits your memory card type) to download your photos from the memory card to your computer. This is one of the cheapest and most convenient accessories you can get (approx. 15 US$).

Again, If you want to get “seriously” into photography, you will need a Digital SLR. And that will be a completely new chapter.

Sydney Opera House, shot with Canon S1 IS

Thursday, 7 December 2006

Why Photography? Because it’s Fun!

Photography is fascinating. You are using both sides of your brain - it’s technical and art at the same time. A great way to express yourself and find yourself. Highly individual. And there are many ways to experiment and find your own way.Photography definitely has it’s spiritual side. Freezing a moment of time, which would have passed otherwise … think about it.

Capture what is important to you. Friends, Family, Pets, Cars, Hobbies, Work, Landscapes, Nature, Architecture, Underwater Life or create your own fine art prints … and frame and/ or sell them. The possibilities are endless. You will enjoy what you do and impress others as you progress. Have fun.

With digital cameras photography is easier than ever. No more waiting for development or prints, easy editing in Photoshop at home, no cost for film and technology is becoming more and more affordable.

I became serious about photography when I left my home country Germany and moved to Australia. With the internet at your fingertips it is a convenient way to share memories and experiences worldwide.

Have a look at my photo webpage:

Later I will share some more infos on photo sharing web pages. There are many of them and offers vary widely …

My Photo Sharing Page, 2006

Tuesday, 5 December 2006

Hi There – First Post

Here I would like to share the discoveries on my current journey into the photography world … and this is my first post. I am not a Pro Photographer by any means and there is still lots to learn for myself. However, I invested quite some time (and money) into this exciting hobby and learned a few lessons I would like to pass on.

More soon, first photo below.

Early Morning At Dee Why Beach, Sydney