Sunday, January 20, 2008

Avoiding the Latest and Greatest

Nick Cernis over at "Put things off" has a great piece on avoiding the urge to buy the latest and greatest. His piece was prompted by the new Macbook Air, but is probably MORE applicable to us photographers, between our cameras and computers.

I’ve avoided this for my camera gear (still using my trusty Nikon D70’s professionally) but made the mistake with my laptop last year when I bought a new Vista laptop the week Vista was introduced. TOTALLY screwed up my workflow for an extended period of time…


Monday, January 14, 2008

The Best Deal on a Pro Zoom Lens

I am amazed by the top-of-the-line zoom lenses that Nikon offers. I call them the "four-figure" lenses because of their plus $1000 price tags. Wonderful lenses to be sure, but the price tag puts them out of my reach. These lenses also tend to be big and heavy, and I'm not sure I want to lug a couple around for an entire wedding.

But if you look on eBay (or other sources of used lenses) you can find a pro-grade, auto-focus Nikon zoom lens for between $200 and $300 dollars: the Nikkor 35-70 f2.8 AF zoom.

This lens was originally designed as a "framing zoom" for full-frame (FX) cameras, being centered around th 50mm "normal" lens mark. An interesting thing happens when you use this on a DX-format camera: it becomes the equivalent of a 52-105 zoom, which makes it an ideal portrait zoom. I use this lens for engagement sessions and portrait sessions and it is wonderful.

Why is this lens so cheap on eBay? Well, there are several factors at work here. First off, the lens was not that expensive to start with. I dug through some old photo magazines, and 18 months ago it was selling for $650 new. Secondly, it isn't the latest Nikon mid-range pro zoom, having been replaced by the 28-70 f2.8 AFS lens and now the new 24-70 f2.8. Third, there seem to be a goodly number of them available, since a lot of 35-70 owners upgraded to one of the the newer lenses and decided to put the old one up for sale. Lastly, since it is an older design, the lens has features many consider undesirable: push-pull zoom (actually reverse push-pull), no AF-S (leading to slower autofocus), and a rotating front element.

What you do get is an incredibly sharp lens that is built like a tank. Professional build quality and professional image quality. But at the same time, this is a lens that is smaller and lighter than current pro zooms.

I have one and I love it on one of my D70. I paid $200 for it on eBay. For portrait work, or low-light photos, it is amazing. If you shoot with Nikon gear, you owe it to yourself to try out this lens. If you're patient you can get a good deal on eBay. If you later decide you don't like the lens, or upgrade to a newer model, you can always sell the lens for what you paid for it (but I don't think you'll want to...)

The First Photo Tip I Ever Used...

The first tip or trick I ever picked up dates from the mid-1970s. I was still in high school, on the yearbook staff. One of the photo magazines (this being before the internet, blogs, and whatnot) had an article on "Photo Tips from the White House Press Corps". On of the suggestions in the article was to take two rear lens caps and tape them back-to-back. This allows you to remove the cap from one lens while simultaneously putting it on another lens. As an added benefit, you only need two hands to make the change, without having to set a lens down.

30+ years later, this is still a handy tip. With dSLRs it is even more important, as a way to minimize how long the camera is "open" for dust to get in. Just make sure you clean the insides of those endcaps fairly often, so they don't accumulate dust which will eventually find its way inside your camera and onto the sensor.

When I first did this, I used black electrical tape to tape the caps together, since black was "more professional" (naturally). I now have access to the same kind of tape, but in a variety of colors, and I'm now thinking of redoing the caps with a brighter tape that would be easier to see in dark reception halls.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

New 16-85 VR Nikkor Rumored

Apparently Nikon is planning on a 16-85 VR lens as a replacement for the excellent 18-70 that served as the "kit lens" for the D70. Photos of the new lens were leaked from Thailand and are circulating on the forums. Best estimates are that the lens will be introduced with either a D40X replacement or a D80 replacement, sometime this year.

I currently have the 18-70 that came with my original D70. It is definitely a cut above what you normally think of when you hear "kit lens". It is currently my main lens, especially for wedding work. Almost all the flash photos I take during a wedding are shot with this lens. For most of 2006 I also used a Nikkor 24-120 VR that I picked up used off of eBay for only $300. I really liked the lens, and used it quite a bit, because it had a longer reach than my 18-70, and it also had VR. But I was always hindered by not being able to go wider than 24mm, particularly at the reception, and often had to switch back to the 18-70.

If this new lens is available at a reasonable cost, and is optically as good or better than my 18-70, then I am definitely going to get it. Having the extra reach on both ends, and having VR to boot, this lens would be a great all-in-one wedding lens. Having the extra width means I can put off having to get a wide zoom (like a 12-24) for a while. The only question becomes whether the 16-85 or 18-200 makes a better wedding lens. Both will have VR, and both appear to have similar construction. So it comes down to which range is more useful and whether both are optically acceptable. Cost might also come into play, although I suspect that initially, demand for the lens will out-strip supply (as has been the norm for Nikon with new lenses) and the lens will probably be selling on eBay for $50 to $100 above the MSRP.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Are You Shooting EVERY Day?

So, if you are a professional photographer, is it OK to NOT take a photo on any given day? If you are a professional, SHOULD you be taking photos EVERY day?

In a word: "YES!" It doesn't matter what the subject is. It can be a big self-assignment, or it can just be your family, or something you spot while out walking with your camera. You don't even have to save the files if you don't want to. The important thing is, you're out shooting.

Shooting every day gives you a chance to develop your technique and your eye. You learn what looks good, and what doesn't. You learn what the best way to photograph a certain subject is. You get a chance to try a new technique you read about, or a camera setting you've never used before. And hey, you may even get an interesting photo out of the deal.

Shooting is practice, the more you practice, the more proficient you are handling your equipment. You also pick up on the idiosyncrasies of your equipment. The camera really does become an extension of yourself So when the pressure is on, and the client is watching, you're not sitting there fumbling with your equipment.

Shooting every day also makes sure you have some lasting memories. It is too easy to get wrapped up in "assignments" and "Professional Photography", that you forget to get those "Kodak moments". You end up with lots of photos of other people's families, and none of your own.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

What's in a Name?

OK, so we have a new blog here, and the first question you might ask is: why did you choose to call it "Photo Foundry"? Well, first off, I needed something slightly more interesting than, you know, "Paul's Photo Blog". I also wanted something that reflected the fact I was in Pittsburgh, and referenced the city's rich steel-making heritage.

But I think the name also speaks to the process of creating a photo. That it is work. That you need equal measures of creativity, technical expertise, and common sense. That it is often an iterative process, which may require several cycles before you get it right. You start with the raw material (or is it RAW material?) and shape it to match you vision.

One thing I hope to emphasize is out-of-the-box thinking. Creative solutions to problems that aren't the "normal" or "accepted" way of doing things. And to be honest, I may not have the best/easiest/cheapest solution, and if you have a better approach I would love to see a comment. Blogs are supposed to be about interactivity, so any suggestions or alternative ideas are appreciated.

So welcome, and thank you for taking the time to read this. Feel free to email me directly if you would rather not leave a comment.

Paul Richard Wossidlo