Posted on January 18, 2012
I was always the gal who carried whatever little slippery call-dropping phone was free with my cell plan. While taking aquaculture photos (at a fish farm), my flip phone leapt like a hybrid striped bass from my pocket into a bait well. Despite my catlike reflexes, dismantling the phone in seconds and resting its pieces on my sunny dash until I could get home to a bag of rice, it was a catastrophic gear loss. (Well, not so much.) But I recall that being the opportunity to try and buy a better phone. Fast forward a few more years, I bought the iPhone 3G and was amazed — mostly because the buttons were actually visible and almost the size of a fingertip. Such a miraculous and useful idea!
Last fall, when the iPhone 4S was introduced, it just so happened my wireless contract was up for renewal. Although I’m not one to rush out to buy the latest technogadget, I stopped into the AT&T store near my house just to see what all the buzz was about. It was late in the afternoon, and I’d heard how people had preordered the 4S phones for weeks and had lined up at Apple stores in the wee hours. I waited about five minutes — long enough for my son to eat a free treat and sip some juice — before upgrading to the iPhone 4S. That $199 was very well spent.
I love my iPhone 4S for so many reasons. Here are nine of them.
1) I can point it into a dark paper bag and take a decent photo. Not that such an action is necessary, but it’s so liberating to leave the big camera at home. The impressive optics of the 4S elevate the term camera phone from gimmick to always-ready photo and video tool. The free Instagram app encourages sharing random snaps, and “phoneography” enables me to actually capture the shots I compose on a whim since that’s the way my brain works. Oh, and does anyone else use it for home decorating? Snap a photo of that lamp, chair or ottoman, and when you get home you can see how it looks in your space before you commit.
2) It comes with a charming assistant with a good sense of humor. Good help is hard to find, and I’m grateful to have my skilled intern named Siri. Sure, she moonlights, but I’m okay with that.
3) Sinatra said we should never be “without a song.” Whether the kids are cheering, “Tell Siri to play ‘What Kind of Cat Are You?’” or I choose a Pandora channel, I can play my faves in the car or during a workout. Speaking of exercise, I need more, and…
4) Did I mention it comes with a personal trainer? Nike Training Club is a fab, fast and free app for the ladies.
5) Face Time enables virtual tuck-ins. My husband is Up in the Air more than George Clooney, so this nifty Jetsonesque feature facilitates giggles with Daddy even while he’s on the road.
6) I can tell it to remind me to do things. And it does! With my sieve-like brain, I don’t have to wait until the perfect storm of productivity (synapses fire, paper procured, pen that works within reach). Instead, I just push the button and say, “Remind me to return the library books tomorrow.” And Siri does. Next, I’ll try, “Remind me to stop snacking while editing” and “Ask me if I’ve worked out yet.”
7) I can pin loveliness while I’m stuck in traffic. Not that I ever would. But I do enjoy a little Pinterest on occasion.
9) I can tote my portfolio in pixels and respond lickety split to brides-to-be. With all the holiday engagements, I’ve had a flurry of inquiries this week. With a quick scan of the calendar (on my iPhone, of course), I can send an email, call prospects back, tweet a reply as quickly as Wonder Woman in jets off in her invisible plane.
There you have it. What’s the actual retail value of all this? Phone + camera + HD video + video chat + jukebox + personal assistant + personal trainer + scrapbook + flashlight + portfolio + email device + parking garage finder + restaurant locator + GPS + address book? Makes $199 look like a bargain.
Posted on June 16, 2011
After a hopping spring photographing lots of wedded bliss, I can honestly say that I’m pretty set with my gear lineup these days. Over the past couple of years, I have slowly added to my lens collection as I’ve earned money, and I now have two full-frame cameras, a nice range of prime lenses and one zoom that’s proven useful in tight spaces at events and receptions. (And how did I live without my 27″ iMac?! Love it.)
But like most photographers, there are always a few other things that would make me giddy should I happen to pull a coat out of storage and find a $1500 bill in a pocket. And with a birthday approaching, I figured it couldn’t hurt to document my wish list.
First up, in the name of professional development, is this Visual Supply Co. workshop featuring Jonas Peterson and Sean Flanigan, among other very talented photographers, brand wizards and graphics gurus. Let’s face it — photographers could easily spend all their profits attending workshops in hopes of having remnants of greatness rub off on them. I’ve yet to travel to any conferences or workshops, although I have gleaned goodness from a few informative classes online. While I know it would be a fun few days to just revel in the creative process with people whose work is so inspirational, it doesn’t seem like a realistic priority as a play-at-home mom of two energetic tots.
But, if I had a spare $1500, I would beg my hubby to cash in some miles for a free ticket to San Francisco. I might even encourage him to join me for the weekend prior to the workshop and we could make a quick trip back to Point Reyes (one of our honeymoon spots) and dinner at Manka’s Inverness Lodge. Alas, the workshop fee (and lodging) would just be the beginning. Surrounded by talented photographers and designers, I would surely succumb to an expensive “re-branding” in hopes of defining my vision and brand and playing with the big kids. Guess I better stick to exchanging ideas with local photographers and studying online resources. For now.
Second is this stealthy retro camera, the Fuji X100. Another camera, you say? Sure! At the end of last year, after deliberating for a while, I bought a Canon G12 hoping to score an awesome point-and-shoot with great image quality and manual options that would keep me from feeling guilty about not hauling my hefty camera bag everywhere. The macro feature is nice, as is the HD video. However, the images from my G12 often lack sharpness, and it’s frustrating. Also, the menus are so full of options that it’s a lot to navigate through. Even when I don’t mean to change my settings, I hit one of the tiny buttons that leads me into a maze of choices. (“Press 5 if you didn’t mean to Press 3. Press the Star key if you’d like to speak with a human.”) I just want to press the shutter button and take a photo! Occasionally, I miss a decisive moment because of this menu madness.
Enter the Fuji x100. Built like a tank, it’s compact and delivers superb image quality with high ISO. It’s a fixed 35mm, just like the old days. It wouldn’t be ideal for every type of shooting, but everything I read about the lucky people who’ve been able to get their hands on one makes me want one a little more. Fuji X100s are out of stock everywhere, and when a store gets a handful in, they’re already claimed by wait-listed people who have probably feel like they’ve won the lottery. Instead, they’ve “won” the right to purchase this $1200 gem. I want to be like them. Read these reviews by Ryan Brenizer and Steve Huff, and you’ll want one, too.
(Hmmm. Late-night brainstorm. I’m sure this ubercool cam is included on some lists of Father’s Day gifts for the dad who has everything. Maybe I could give one to my husband? Surely he’d let me borrow it.)
Third, is this camera bag. Clearly not as exciting as the previous choices, but I figured I should list something realistic. Actually, the quest for the perfect gear bag is a continual one for many snaphappy people. And we all have multiple bags for different purposes. What this Epiphanie bag offers is a means for safely toting a camera and a few lenses (and even my MacBook) in a bag that doesn’t scream “Expensive Photostuff Here.” There have been other girly gear bags that people love, but this one is a my fave blend of function and design with the bonus of groovy braided handles and a poppy color. For those occasions and meetings where I need to run an errand before doing something camera-related, this bag would be the answer. In fact, I could have thrown my laptop in it earlier today when I met with a bride. Instead I toted my tattered black backpack from my days as a Kodak rep.
In the rare event you’ve made it this far, thanks for “listening” to my self-indulgent babble about stuff I think I can’t live without. What’s on your wish list?
Posted on January 8, 2011
Friends and clients occasionally ask me questions about gear. I’m no expert, but my knowledge has increased considerably since my days as a Kodak rep, when I sold hundreds of point-and-shoots during in-store demos with the industry’s first nifty little printers. The most common question I field comes from folks who have entry-level DSLRs and are looking for a lens recommendation. Often, their question is posed like this: “Which zoom lens do you recommend for a beginner?”
I won’t be fooled with a leading question. Most people investing in a lens do want flexibility, but if you really want to learn the fundamentals and create the kind of photos your DSLR was meant to take, then pick up a fast prime lens. “What the heck is that?!” you ask.
FAST means a lens with nice, big aperture. Like the iris of an eye, the aperture adjusts to let in varying amounts of light. Most kit lenses are rather inflexible in this area. The one bundled with my first Canon Digital Rebel had an aperture range of 4 – 5.6. Boring! The faster the lens, the lower number of the aperture. An f/2.8 is nice, but an f-stop of 1.8 is fabulous! In fact, an f/1.8 will collect more than twice as much light as a camera set at f/4. What this means is you can get away with faster shutter speeds (to reduce the risk of motion blur, or kids-who-don’t-sit-still blur) and maintain lower ISOs (since higher ISOs introduce grainy artifacts, or “noise”). You also gain the flexibility of shooting indoors without a harsh on-board flash.
PRIME refers to a lens with a fixed focal length. You can’t just twirl the dial to move toward and away from your subject; you have to move your body. (And after the holiday excess, I’ll take all the bonus steps I can get!) My prime lineup currently includes 35mm, 50mm, 85mm and 135mm. There are zooms that might cover this entire range, but they won’t capture your subject with the clarity and depth of field that a prime lens affords.
To the left is a pic of my daughter I snapped in April 2008. I titled it “When It Clicked” because this was my first portrait with the “nifty fifty.” With an aperture of 1.8 (wide open), the backdrop (um, driveway) falls away and makes my cutie stand out. My composition isn’t perfect, the focus is decent (the eyes have it), but that’s when it came together for me. That said…
I recommend a 50mm prime as the best starter lens for anyone looking to take their DSLR photos to the next level. As a Canon shooter, I was able to purchase my Canon 50 f/1.8 II for under a hundred bucks. Just do it. Turn your little camera dial away from that green box (auto settings) and become adventurous! Start in aperture-priority mode (usually “Av”) and experiment with life wide open. Set your aperture to 2.8 or 1.8 for portraits that will make your subject pop off the background. Then work on nailing your focus. For fabulous landscapes, try f/11, f/16 or f/22 to make everything from the foreground to the far-away subject sharp.
It’s a little different for Nikon shooters (not the concept, but the investment). There is an entry-level option, the 50 f/1.8D, which works on some bodies like the D80, but it does not focus automatically on older models like the D40 or D60. You can learn to focus manually — a useful skill in its own right — or you can upgrade to a pricier prime that will focus electronically on your camera body. Consider the Nikon 50mm f/1.4G AF-S. You’ll double your light-collecting power by going from 1.8 to 1.4 (and from plastic to nice, hefty glass), but it’ll cost you almost four times as much.
There are also some decent lenses for both Canon and Nikon that are manufactured by other companies. I read that a Sigma 50mm is a good option for those seeking auto-focus on some older Nikon bodies. And my first zoom lens purchase (outside of the less-than-stellar 18-55 Canon kit lens) was a Tamron 17-50 f/2.8, which offered a decent compromise between affordable sharpness and flexibility. That said, it only works on crop-sensor cameras, which is most of the entry-level DSLRs. Oh boy, that’s a discussion for another day.
Hope you found my ramblings a little helpful. It’s tough to be succinct on the whys and hows, but a nifty fifty is a great way to spend a hundred bucks and make your images look like a million. Happy snapping!
Posted on April 24, 2010
My newest Lens has arrived, and I am Loving it! The Canon EF 135mm f/2 L. The Letter “L” and the thin red Line around the edge of the Lens denote Canon’s professional Level optics. Luscious collectors of all that is Lovely and Luminous. And my first in this category.
It’s another prime lens (my others are a 50mm f/1.4 and an 85mm f/1.8), meaning it’s a fixed focal length, so there’s no zoom other than what my feet provide. The beauty of primes is their speed (blur-free toddler action) and low-light capability, and the sharpness of Canon’s primes is revered by portrait photographers far and wide. (Most zoom lenses have a “sweet spot” where they are tack-sharp within a certain range, but primes are sharper throughout the full range of the aperture.)
After renting the hefty and popular 70-200L for a few weddings, I confirmed that for my shooting style, the stealthiness of smaller fixed lenses is preferred over the flexibility of a monster zoom. I toted the zebra-like 3.28-lb lens to my daughter’s soccer game and garnered many comments about the impressive size of my optics. I’ve even heard some photographers say that bigger gear helps people make the clear distinction between the paid professional and wedding guests with nice DSLRs set on Auto.
But I’d much rather people gush over my images than deem me Queen Photog based on gear alone. The proof is in the portraits. At least it should be.
And speaking of portraits, I think being unobtrusive is a plus. Kids may start a session being wary of me — a stranger. Apprehension is magnified if they’re followed by a faceless body wielding a telescope. That’s also why I prefer shooting outdoors, where children relax. They have no fear of my gear and are documented more like their parents see them — pensive, inquisitive, carefree. None of that freeze-and-grin discomfort that can occur during a scripted chain studio session. (And don’t get me started on the flat, lifeless backdrops simulating a beach, lush garden or holly jolly tree-ness. The Real Thing is the only thing. I’m a Coke Classic girl, too.)
Same applies to wedding guests. (Not the flat, lifeless part!) People can become self-conscious with large equipment pointed their direction, flashes blinding them periodically when they’re trying to have fun. I say let them eat cake. And enjoy themselves, too. I’ll be there to document the story; maintaining a low profile keeps me from becoming the story.
If you’re looking for a stealthy, easygoing family archivist, drop me a note to schedule a session for some prime time with my new Lens.