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Photo Gear: Tripods

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manfrottohead

The Manfrotto geared head model 405.

Tripods are too often an overlooked accessory in photography. Most hobbyists, if they even own a tripod, too often settle for a model that is cheaply made and doesn’t offer the range of benefits a good tripod can offer. Plus, if you’re going to put your $1000+ gear on something, shouldn’t it be the best?

First, let’s discuss the basics: a tripod is composed of two parts, the legs and the head. The legs are, as you may already guess, the base of the tripod. It’s important, then, to get the best support possible.

I think the heavier the legs, the better. My favorite manufacturer in Manfrotto because I think this company offers the best product at the best price. I particularly like model 161MK2B (kinda boring name) AKA the “Super Pro Tripod Mark 2 Black (kinda long and still boring name). Despite the rather boring name, this tripod is fantastic. It’s very sturdy and has a high load capacity. This is a great base in which to begin.

As for tripod heads, I prefer what’s called “geared heads” because they are highly precise and easy to operate. In the Manfrotto line, I like the model 405 (now I think Manfrotto REALLY needs to working on product names) because its gearing system is needle-sharp. It allows for 360-degree panning and front and lateral tilt. This is very important for macro photography and landscape work.

I’ll warn you: This whole setup isn’t cheap. The tripod itself will set you back almost $500 and the head is about $400. Yeah, I know. Most hobbyists don’t want to set back nearly $900 for a tripod but, unlike most other photography gear, tripods don’t really go out of style. A good tripod now will last you probably your entire photographic career.

There are less expensive alternatives that are good but don’t offer the same quality as this gear. Be sure to look for these qualities when purchasing your next tripod:

  • Heavy-Duty Design: The heavier the legs the more stable the tripod. Try to pick gear that “feels” like it’s well made. If in doubt, move on.
  • Head Interchangeability: Can you change the head? If not, this probably isn’t the best tripod for your money.
  • Well-Known Names: Sometimes I’m not a fan of “brand names” because there’s some gear that may not be well known, but are great pieces of equipment. In tripods, I say go with the names you know. Manfrotto, Bogen, Slik – but only the “pro” rated gear and Swarovski Optik.
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Trip Through the Canon Store: Wide-Angle Lenses

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A lens is a tool. Most people forget that for some reason but simply enough, a lens is a tool that we use to make an image. Like all tools, at the risk of overextending the analogy, the better the tool, the better the finished project.

In our last installment, we discussed the basic facts related to lenses and then looked at Canon’s ultra-wide zoom lenses. If you didn’t read that article, you really should because it explains the basic mechanics of how a lens works.

Today, we’re going to look at the company’s fixed focal length, wide-angle lenses. I have always been a fan of prime lenses. Prime lenses are defined as lenses with a fixed focal length versus zoom lenses which have a range of focal lengths. I like prime lenses because they are generally very well made and typically cost less than zoom lenses. I also like prime lenses because they typically have a larger maximum aperture than zooms and often weigh less than zoom lenses.

There are, however, advantages to using zoom lenses. Zooms obviously cover a broader focal range, thus eliminating the need to carry multiple lenses. If you purchase a zoom, I highly suggest buying one that has a fixed maximum aperture throughout the entire zoom range. Although more costly, they are worth the investment.

Canon’s Wide-Angle Lens Selection
Canon currently manufactures nine prime wide-angle lenses. Of the nine, one lens is a fisheye and three of the lenses are L-series.

EF 14mm f/2.8L II USM: This pro-series lens has an amazing 114-degree angle of view and is a perfect lens for architectural applications. The lens also features better optical elements that reduce problems in edge-to-edge sharpness. It is dust- and moisture-proof and the ultrasonic motor (that’s the USM designation) means you’ll get faster and more responsive autofocus. This lens isn’t cheap, though. Expect to pay between $2000-$2200 US for this pro-series lens.

EF 14mm f/2.8L II USM: This pro-series lens has an amazing 114-degree angle of view and is a perfect lens for architectural applications. The lens also features better optical elements that reduce problems in edge-to-edge sharpness. It is dust- and moisture-proof and the ultrasonic motor (that’s the USM designation) means you’ll get faster and more responsive autofocus. This lens isn’t cheap, though. Expect to pay between $2000-$2200 US for this pro-series lens.

Canon's EF 15mm f/2.8 Fisheye lens: If you’ve never seen images made with a fisheye lens, you’ve missed out. The fisheye lens has a 180-degree angle of view and barrel distortion giving the image a curved look. With its f/2.8 maximum aperture, this lens works well for photographing fast-action subjects and with its 8 inch minimum focus distance, you can get really close and really wide. This is a specialized lens and you probably won’t use it everyday. But when you need to give your images a different look, this is a go-to lens to have in your camera bag. The lens isn’t priced too bad, either. You can expect to find this lens for about $625-$725 US.

Canon's EF 15mm f/2.8 Fisheye lens: If you’ve never seen images made with a fisheye lens, you’ve missed out. The fisheye lens has a 180-degree angle of view and barrel distortion giving the image a curved look. With its f/2.8 maximum aperture, this lens works well for photographing fast-action subjects and with its 8 inch minimum focus distance, you can get really close and really wide. This is a specialized lens and you probably won’t use it everyday. But when you need to give your images a different look, this is a go-to lens to have in your camera bag. The lens isn’t priced too bad, either. You can expect to find this lens for about $625-$725 US.

EF 20mm f/2.8 USM: This is a nice lens to have if you need to get wide and maintain a big maximum aperture. Plus, this lens is fairly well priced. You can expect to pick one up for about $450 US.

EF 20mm f/2.8 USM: This is a nice lens to have if you need to get wide and maintain a big maximum aperture. Plus, this lens is fairly well priced. You can expect to pick one up for about $450 US.

EF 24mm f/1.4L II USM: This is one of my favorite wide-angle lenses. First of all, it produces needle-sharp images from corner-to-corner. Second, its ultra-fast f/1.4 maximum aperture is ideal for photojournalists who may be shooting in tight spaces with less-than-ideal lighting. Also, this lens offers extremely pleasing bokeh (the out-of-focus, soft blur when using a shallow depth of field). The ultrasonic motor allows for highly responsive and quiet autofocus. Again, being a pro-series lens, the EF 24mm f/1.4L II USM isn’t cheap. Expect to pay between $1700-$1800 US.

EF 24mm f/1.4L II USM: This is one of my favorite wide-angle lenses. First of all, it produces needle-sharp images from corner-to-corner. Second, its ultra-fast f/1.4 maximum aperture is ideal for photojournalists who may be shooting in tight spaces with less-than-ideal lighting. Also, this lens offers extremely pleasing bokeh (the out-of-focus, soft blur when using a shallow depth of field). The ultrasonic motor allows for highly responsive and quiet autofocus. Again, being a pro-series lens, the EF 24mm f/1.4L II USM isn’t cheap. Expect to pay between $1700-$1800 US.

EF 24mm f/2.8: This lens is really ideal for students interested in photography but not ready - or able - to make a huge financial investment. The lens has a fast maximum aperture of f/2.8 and a great focal length to get into wide-angle photography. It has a minimum focus distance of 10 inches, which lets you get fairly close to your subject. You can pick this lens up for about $310 US.

EF 24mm f/2.8: This lens is really ideal for students interested in photography but not ready - or able - to make a huge financial investment. The lens has a fast maximum aperture of f/2.8 and a great focal length to get into wide-angle photography. It has a minimum focus distance of 10 inches, which lets you get fairly close to your subject. You can pick this lens up for about $310 US.

EF 28mm f/2.8: This lens is considered a good standard wide-angle lens. It’s a nice walk around lens because its both lightweight (185g) and offers a nice focal length for general photographic work. Again, this isn’t an expensive lens. You can find one for about $200 US.

EF 28mm f/2.8: This lens is considered a good standard wide-angle lens. It’s a nice walk around lens because its both lightweight (185g) and offers a nice focal length for general photographic work. Again, this isn’t an expensive lens. You can find one for about $200 US.

EF 35mm f/1.4L USM: This is another great lens I enjoy using. It has a super fast maximum aperture of f/1.4 and is a really well-made lens. For those of you who don’t own a full frame camera, which many Canon digital cameras have a 1.6x magnification ratio, this lens is a really nice portrait lens because it gives you an actual focal length of 56mm. The bokeh effect of this lens is also aesthetically pleasing. Like most pro, L-series lenses, this one isn’t too cheap. Expect to part with $1200-$1400 US for this lens.

EF 35mm f/1.4L USM: This is another great lens I enjoy using. It has a super fast maximum aperture of f/1.4 and is a really well-made lens. For those of you who don’t own a full frame camera, which many Canon digital cameras have a 1.6x magnification ratio, this lens is a really nice portrait lens because it gives you an actual focal length of 56mm. The bokeh effect of this lens is also aesthetically pleasing. Like most pro, L-series lenses, this one isn’t too cheap. Expect to part with $1200-$1400 US for this lens.

EF 35mm f/2: This is a less-priced lens that still offers the 35mm focal length and a fast aperture. Although it’s not as solidly built as the EF 35 f/1.4L USM lens, it still offers the photographer a compact, lightweight and relatively low-cost lens. You can purchase this lens for about $300 US.

EF 35mm f/2: This is a less-priced lens that still offers the 35mm focal length and a fast aperture. Although it’s not as solidly built as the EF 35 f/1.4L USM lens, it still offers the photographer a compact, lightweight and relatively low-cost lens. You can purchase this lens for about $300 US.

EF 28mm f/1.8 USM: A nice all-around lens, this model offers a super fast maximum aperture and sharp edge-to-edge images across the aperture range. A good student lens, you can purchase this model for about $450 US.

EF 28mm f/1.8 USM: A nice all-around lens, this model offers a super fast maximum aperture and sharp edge-to-edge images across the aperture range. A good student lens, you can purchase this model for about $450 US.

Sample image from the Canon EF 14mm f/2.8L II USM lens. (Photo Credit: Image from Canon)

Sample image from the Canon EF 14mm f/2.8L II USM lens. (Photo Credit: Image from Canon)

For our next installment, we’ll discuss Canon’s standard and medium telephoto prime lenses. Good luck and keep shooting!

Sample image from the Canon EF 24mm f/1.4L II USM lens. (Photo Credit: Image from Canon)

Sample image from the Canon EF 24mm f/1.4L II USM lens. (Photo Credit: Image from Canon)

Sample image from the Canon's EF 15mm f/2.8 Fisheye lens. (Photo Credit: Image from Canon)

Sample image from the Canon's EF 15mm f/2.8 Fisheye lens. (Photo Credit: Image from Canon)

Trip Through the Canon Store: Ultra-Wide Zoom Lenses

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A lens is a tool. Most people forget that for some reason but simply enough, a lens is a tool that we use to make an image. Like all tools, at the risk of overextending the analogy, the better the tool, the better the finished project. I hear from people asking about lenses and I spend some time trying to explain them. I will go into great detail about lenses in future posts but for the sake of time, let’s make a few things clear:

  • Lenses are Measured in Focal Length: The focal length is the definition of how strongly an optic system focuses (converges) or diffuses (diverges) light. The focal length is measured, as a rule, in millimeters and it is the measurement from the optical center of the lens to the focal point on the image sensor (or film).
  • Focal Lengths Based on 35mm Film Standards: With the popularity of 35mm cameras, the focal length is based on that measurement. IF you have a camera that has a image sensor smaller than a 35mm camera’s film surface, which most digital camera image sensors ARE smaller than film, there is a multiplier you must use. For instance, the image sensor on a Canon EOS Rebel XS is 22.2mm x 14.8mm. The dimensions of 35mm film is 35mm wide (actually, it’s 36mm wide but you have to take in consideration spacing between the frames and room for the perforations). So, the EOS Rebel XS in our scenario has a magnification rate of about 1.6x.
  • Do the Math: So if you purchase a 20mm lens, it would be at 20mm on a film camera or 20mm x 1.6 or 32mm – in case you don’t want to do the math – on a digital camera.
  • This is Photography, Not Math. Why is it Important?: Well, simply put, if your camera has a magnification ratio, then you’re not getting as wide of an angle as you want. Let’s say you really want a 14mm lens because you’re shooting wide landscapes or large groups. OK, but your camera has a 1.5x magnification factor. So, you’re really getting a 21mm lens.
  • What are the Alternatives: Camera and lens manufacturers have settled the problem for the most part. They have made “full-frame” sensors that are close enough to the size of 35mm film that the magnification ratio has little impact. Secondly, these companies have also made “digital specific” lenses that already calculate the magnification ratio into the millimeter measurement. For instance, the Canon 5D Mark II is full frame, so if you buy a lens, you’re going to get the focal length as measured for film. Also, Nikon makes full-frame cameras (called FX format), which includes the D3 and D700 plus they make DX format (digital specific) lenses, which already account for the magnification.

Enough with the math, right? Just remember, unless you’re buying a digital-specific lens or your camera is full frame, the focal length of you lens is multiplied by the magnification factor.

Aperture Settings
Professional grade cameras, for the most part, have a fixed aperture value versus a variable aperture. Fixed aperture lenses have a constant maximum aperture throughout the zoom range. A variable aperture lens changes its maximum aperture in regards to the zoom. For instance, a 28-70mm f/4-f/5.6 lens means at 28mms, the maximum aperture is f/4 whereas at the high-end of the zoom range (70mm) the maximum aperture has reduced to f/5.6.

Variable aperture lenses are not normally as well constructed as the fixed aperture counterparts. The advantages, however, tend to be less weight and lower cost. Remember, the aperture value effects the depth-of-field you can achieve.

Canon’s Ultra-Wide Lenses
Canon makes three ultra-wide lenses: the EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM; the EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM; and the EF 17-40mm f/4L USM.

16to35

The Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM

10to22

The Canon EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM

17to40

The Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L USM

EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM
This pro-level lens (Canon’s professional lenses typically have the “L” designation) is perfect for those who need wide angle capabilities and a big maximum aperture. On any Canon digital that does not have full frame, this lens will give you the focal length equivalent of a 26-56mm lens while still retaining the f/2.8 aperture value. This lens is ideal for photojournalists, landscape photographers and wedding photographers who shoot big groups in often poorly lit churches. It’s a relatively heavy lens (640 grams) mainly because it needs big glass for the fast shutter. The ultrasonic motor (that’s the USM designation) delivers fast and silent autofocusing. This isn’t a cheap lens, either. Expect to pay nearly $1500-$1900 US for this piece of glass. Is it worth it? Depends. If you’re interested in photojournalism or documentary photography or have a goal of becoming a wedding photographer, then yes. This piece of glass will be around to stay.

EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM
This consumer-grade lens is designed specifically for Canon digital cameras that LACK full frame sensors, so basically most Canon cameras (You can tell by the EF-S designation that it’s for digital specific cameras). This lens is the equivalent to a 16-35mm zoom lens. This is also a variable aperture lens, meaning the biggest aperture setting is f/3.5 at 10mm and at 22mm it’s f/4.5. It’s a little more than half the weight of the EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM (385 grams). This lens will not, however, cost as much. You can find this lens for about $750-$850 US.

EF 17-40mm f/4L USM
The last lens on our ultra-wide zoom lens list is the EF 17-40mm f/4L USM. Think of this lens as the compromise lens between the high-priced EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM and the consumer-grade EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM. This is still a pro series (L series) lens and still offers a great wide angle zoom range. For cameras that are not full framed, this is the focal length equivalent of a 27-64mm lens while still retaining the fast (but not real fast) f/4 maximum aperture. I like this lens and use it often. I find it to be a high-quality lens for a relatively low price. You can purchase this lens for about $700-$850 US. While not as wide as the 10-22mm lens mentioned above, I’ve never found myself too limited by its focal length. I highly recommend this lens as a good “walking around lens” because its range is going to work for a variety of assignments.

In the next installment, we’ll discuss Canon’s wide angle prime lenses.

Good luck and keep shooting!

Software Test Drive II: Tiffen’s Dfx Version 2

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This is the second installment of the Tiffen Dfx Version 2 test drive

I used to hate editing digital photos. I trained in the “film” days and preferred working in the darkroom versus in the “digital darkroom” aka a Mac computer and Adobe’s Photoshop version 4.0.

Original image (Photo Credit: Jeremy W. Schneider)

Original image (Photo Credit: Jeremy W. Schneider)

Now, things have changed. I use Apple’s Aperture 2.0, Adobe’s Photoshop CS4 Extended and a host of plug-in software that makes editing a little easier and a little less cumbersome.

"Faded" filter

"Faded" filter

So, I’m always excited to try out a new piece of software. After seeing the ads for Tiffen’s Dfx http://www.tiffen.com/dfx_v2_home.html software in numerous photo magazines, I decided to give it a look. Then, I wrote a media release about the software and posted to this Website. Now, I want to show you some quick edits you can make using the program.

Yes, you can do these effects yourself in Photoshop but using the plugin software is way easier … it’s a click of the button versus the trial-and-error process in Photoshop. Plus, once you’ve selected the filter, you can still tweak it out in Photoshop to make the look completely yours.

You can go to the Tiffen Website and downloaded a free 15-day trial of the program as a plugin for Photoshop.

"Antique" filter

"Antique" filter

There are 110 individual filters with thousands of customizable presets. The interface is extremely easy to navigate but I wished the gallery was a little more simplified.

I really like the fact the program supports 16-bit image processing and RAW files (I’m shooting RAW images with a Canon 5D Mark II) and I really like the layering feature so multiple filter effects can be layered.

As a whole, I will give the program a three-out-of-five stars.

Quick Look:
Product: Tiffen Dfx Version 2
Price: $299.95 for Photoshop and Aperture plugin; $99.95 standalone
Website: http://www.tiffen.com/dfx_v2_home.html
Rating: ✭✭✭✰✰

Nikon Introduces Versatile Ultra Wide-Angle 10-24mm DX-Format Nikkor Lens

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I will often publish media releases related to photography on this blog in order to help keep you informed. These media releases are created by the respective companies. I edit the releases for space as needed.

Nikon Inc. today announced the next addition to the expansive NIKKOR lineup with the new AF-S DX-NIKKOR 10-24mm f/3.5-4.5G ED lens, giving photographers the opportunity to capture a unique perspective in a variety of shooting environments. Compact and lightweight, the new 2.4x zoom DX-NIKKOR lens offers a focal length of 10 to 24mm, creating a picture angle ranging from 109-degrees to 61-degrees
(FX-format equivalent of 15-36mm) making it ideal for a variety of applications including restrictive interiors, architecture and sweeping landscapes.
af-s_dx_nikkor_10-24mm_f-3_5-4_5g_ed_01
“The development and release of the 10-24mm f/ 3.5-4.5 DX-NIKKOR lens continues Nikon’s tradition of providing expertly engineered tools for photographers to realize their unique creative vision,” said Edward Fasano, General Manager for marketing, SLR Systems Products at Nikon Inc. “The ultra wide-angle 10-24mm lens offers DX-format digital SLR shooters the outstanding performance for which NIKKOR optics are well-known and the opportunity to capture dramatic perspectives that only wide-angle lenses can achieve.”

The AF-S DX-NIKKOR 10-24mm f/3.5-4.5G ED lens offers an array of versatile Nikon technologies, including Nikon’s compact Silent Wave Motor (SWM) technology for quiet, fast and accurate autofocus performance. An advanced optical formula, featuring two extra-low dispersion (ED) glass and three aspherical lens elements renders stunning images while minimizing distortion, a common problem with ultra wide-angle lenses.

A rounded diaphragm opening, combined with the seven-blade aperture, contributes to the 10-24mm lens’ ability to capture images with soft background effects, referred to by experienced photographers as the “bokeh.” Additionally, the new DX-NIKKOR lens offers the user two focus modes; manual and automatic and features an M/A mode that allows the photographer to quickly switch between the two modes. Both use an internal focusing (IF) design that enhances AF speed and eliminates lens barrel rotation and changes to lens barrel length during focusing.

Fully compatible with Nikon’s complete line of DX-format digital SLR cameras – including the D300, D90, D60, D40 and the newly announced D5000 – the AF-S DX-NIKKOR 10-24mm f/3.5-4.5G ED lens enables photographers to broaden their view in new and interesting ways. FX-format shooters can also benefit from the AF-S DX-NIKKOR 10-24mm f/3.5-4.5G ED, as Nikon’s FX-format cameras – the D3X, D3, and D700 – will automatically apply the DX-Crop Mode when shooting.

The AF-S DX-NIKKOR 10-24mm f/3.5-4.5G ED will be available at Nikon authorized dealers beginning May 2009 at an estimated selling price of $899.95. For more information, please visit www.nikonusa.com.

Software Test Drive: Tiffen’s Dfx Version 2

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Once, I hated editing digital photos. I trained in the “film” days and preferred working in the darkroom versus in the “digital darkroom” aka a Mac computer and Adobe’s Photoshop version 4.0. That was the version Adjustment Layers were unveiled. “Save for Web,” the History Palette, and the “Healing Brush” were not even thought of yet.

The original version of the photo prior to filters. (Photo Credit: Jeremy Schneider)

The original version of the photo prior to filters. (Photo Credit: Jeremy Schneider)

Now, things have changed. I use Apple’s Aperture 2.0, Adobe’s Photoshop CS4 Extended and a host of plug-in software that makes editing a little easier and a little less cumbersome and I don’t mind editing so much.

Addition of the "Glamour" filter softens the skins and brings out the highlights for an overexposed look.

Addition of the "Glamour" filter softens the skins and brings out the highlights for an overexposed look.

So, I’m always excited to try out a new piece of software. After seeing the ads for Tiffen’s Dfx software in numerous photo magazines, I decided to give it a look. Then, I wrote a media release about the software and posted to this Website. Now, I want to show you some quick edits you can make using the program.

I went to the Tiffen Website and downloaded a free 15-day trial of the program as a plugin for Photoshop. I have to say I am completely impressed.

There are 110 individual filters with thousands of customizable presets. The interface is extremely easy to navigate but I wished the gallery was a little more simplified. I really like the fact the program supports 16-bit image processing and RAW files (I’m shooting RAW images with a Canon 5D Mark II) and I really like the layering feature so multiple filter effects can be layered.

By and large, I’m relatively impressed with this software. The only thing that concerns me is the price. The Adobe Photoshop and Apple Aperture plugin is $299.95. The standalone version, which includes three additional filters but basically the same package as the plugin is $99.95.

As a whole, I will give the program a three-out-of-five stars.

Quick Look:
Product: Tiffen Dfx Version 2
Price: $299.95 for Photoshop and Aperture plugin; $99.95 standalone
Website: http://www.tiffen.com/dfx_v2_home.html
Rating: ✭✭✭✰✰

Written by jeremyparce

April 11, 2009 at 8:00 am

Gear to Own: Litepanels Micro

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Good lighting equipment is fundamental to photography and there’s a variety of gear to choose from. One of the nicest pieces of equipment I’ve seen is the Litepanels Micro light.
Suited for both video and still photography – especially handy if you have a Nikon D90 or a Canon 5D Mark II – the Micro light is a constant output light source that can be mounted on the camera’s hot shoe or on a stand. It’s small, weighing in just under 4 ounces, and is perfect for filling in shadows and adding light to eyes. This is a perfect setup for portrait work.

The Micro has a dimmer switch that allows the user to dim the light from 100% down to 0, and is flicker- and heat free. The Micro operates on 4 AA batteries and can produce an estimated 1.5 hours of continual output on one set of regular alkaline batteries. Power can also be supplied through a 5-12V input jack.

The unit has won PC Photo magazine’s Editors’ Choice award and Digital Content Producer’s Pick Hit 08.

The street value is around $300 US, which is a little less than you would pay for a shoe mount flash.