Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Photography as a Hobby

I am a serious hobbyist in photography. From my days in high school with film, until now in the digital era - photography has been a nagging interest in my life. For a certain period of time, it's virtually missing in my life - because of a simple reason: my camera was stolen. Since that point, for about 4 years, I did not own a camera - until my dad bought my wife and I a Nikon D70.

Holding the camera and pressing the shutter button triggered the journalistic memory from my high school and early college days. My film camera was a Nikon and the D70 that we had still use the same lens mount (it is called F-mount for Nikon). When I got a chance, I took all my old lenses and tried it and they worked!

Nikon vs. Canon
I am a little bit biased to Nikon because I owned Nikon equipments, including some of my old gears from the film days. Ultimately, they are a matter of preferences and your legacy equipments. So when you are already invested in Canon gears, it makes sense to continue on that route, same thing if you are in Nikon. If you are already invested in a brand, it is quite costly to switch - and this alone (depending on your seriousness level in photography) will be a strong cause to NOT switch brand.

I like Nikon bodies, their ergonomics, single functioning dedicated buttons, sub-command dials, shutter placement, etc. On the other hand, Canon is a step ahead in lenses variety. For 70-200mm alone, Canon provides 4 varieties (70-200 f/2.8 L USM IS and non-IS, 70-200 f/4 L USM IS and non-IS) with their price differences while Nikon only provides 1 model (70-200 f/2.8 AF-S VR). Nikon on the other hand is way ahead on lighting/flash technology.

Each brand also has bodies that range from early beginner up to the pro model (from $450 to $8K). So take your pick and stick with it. People ask me all the time about this and usually my answer is for them to try them out and pick for themselves. One benefit if you going with Nikon if you are my closer friends is that you can borrow my lenses and other Nikon equipment.

Crop Sensor
Most digital SLR now have crop sensor. What that means is that the sensor area is smaller then the area of a regular 35mm film. If the sensor area is the same as 35mm film, we call it "full frame" sensor - this usually only applied in the highest model line (Nikon D3, Canon 1Ds, etc) or close to highest (Nikon D700, Canon 5D). The smaller sensor area means that there is a crop factor in comparison to the 35mm area. For Nikon, the crop factor is 1.5 and for Canon is 1.3 or 1.6 (depending on the model). Crop factor 1.5 means that the digital sensor is 1.5 times smaller in area compared to 35mm film.

There are several implications to this factor:

  • Wide is no longer wide. Since there is a crop, what used to be wide angle shot become not so wide anymore. Camera with crop sensor requires a WIDER lens to achive 35mm film/full-frame sensor width. So if you use a 20mm lens in a camera body with crop sensor, it will produce the similar result as if you are using a 35mm lens on a full-frame camera. 35mm = 1.5 * 20mm. To accommodate the need for wide angle shot, lens manufacturer create lenses especially for crop sensor that is super wide - but cannot be used in full-frame camera (or it will produce a fall-off or vignette).

  • On the other hand, a 200mm tele lens becomes a 300mm tele lens in a crop sensor camera! So in a way, crop sensor body provides more reach.
Lens line up
So what is a good lens line up that spans from wide angle to tele for hobbyist? There are virtually endless possibilities, but I will try to provide several options based on budget. A good line up usually spans from ultra-wide (20mm or wider) to tele (200mm). In daily usage, it is rare you will need beyond this range.

OK, here we go - I am going with Nikon in most cases btw, if you want Canon, there are equivalent lenses - Google it!
  1. Going SUPER EASY - crop factor (DX) - 1 lens fits all
    • Nikkor AF-S 18-200 f/3.5-5.6 VR - $650
  2. Going SUPER CHEAP (< $350) - crop factor (DX) - 2 lenses
    • Nikkor AF-S 18-55 f/3.5-5.6 DX - $110 ($170 if get the VR)
    • Nikkor AF-S 55-200 f/4.5-5.6 DX - $170 ($220 if VR)
  3. Going CHEAP (< $500) - crop factor (DX) - 2 lenses
    • Nikkor AF-S 18-70 f/3.5-5.6 DX - $250 (NO VR)
    • Nikkor AF-S 55-200 f/4.5-5.6 DX - $170 ($220 if VR)
  4. Going COMPROMISED (< $750) - crop factor (DX) - 2 lenses
    • Nikkor AF-S 16-85 f/3.5-5.6 DX VR - $580
    • Nikkor AF-S 55-200 f/4.5-5.6 DX VR - $220
  5. Going QUALITY (~ $1,000) - crop factor (DX) - 2 lenses
    • Nikkor AF-S 16-85 f/3.5-5.6 DX VR - $560
    • Nikkor AF-S 70-300 f/4.5-5.6 VR - $460
  6. Going PRO ($$$) - DX or FX - 3 lenses
    • Nikkor AF-S 14-24 f/2.8 - $1,600
    • Nikkor AF-S 24-70 f/2.8 - $1,600
    • Nikkor AF-S 70-200 f/2.8 VR - $1,600
Obviously, this list is not exhaustive. There are more possibilities out there. Configure your own from this list!

If you are into MACRO, you want to get a MACRO lens, OR ... a reversing ring, so that you can use your PRIME wide angle or normal lens in reverse to get a magnification close to a MACRO lens (or maybe more - depending on how you configure it).

Currently, have quite a line up:
  • Sigma 10-20 f/4-5.6 DX - since I am using a crop factor camera, this is my ultra wide angle lens (equiv to 15-35 in full frame or 35mm format)
  • Nikkor AF-S 17-35 f/2.8
  • AF-D 50mm f/1.4
  • AF-S 70-200 f/2.8 VR
  • AF-S 18-200 f/3.5-5.6 VR - my walkabout and daily lens
In this line up, I am still missing the normal zoom range - so I probably going to get AF-S 24-70 f/2.8 in the near future (or when I can finance it).

There you go! Photography hobby is not cheap - so buy only what is necessary and flee from trying acquiring the latest greatest every time, because it is a never-ending buying process if you allow it to be so. Photography can be very satisfying and if you are really good, you can make money of it too! Here are some of my photos:

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