05 January 2012

Rebel with a cause

So I know it’s the new year and all, and I keep talking about Christmas. Sorry about that. See, in addition to those silver polishing cloths, I got some reeeal nice presents, like scarves and cardigans and books and a new coat and all eight Harry Potter movies OMG. But the one I want to tell you about today came from Mr. P: a new telephoto lens for my DSLR. Squeeeee!

I’ve mentioned my little photography hobby here and there, but haven’t discussed it at length much. With this new lens, plus the one I got from my parents for my dissertation defense, plus several conversations about my camera over the holidays, I figure it’s high time to chat about my photography gear.

For starters, I shoot with a Canon Rebel XS (1000D) digital SLR, which was also a Christmas present from Mr. P in 2008.

I don’t want to get into a primer on DSLRs here, but for those who are light on photography education, suffice to say they allow you to carefully control the amount of light that enters the camera by adjusting the size of the aperture, the exposure (shutter speed), and the ISO (sensitivity of the sensor to light). Adjusting these in certain ways allows you to be super-fancy and play with focus and depth-of-field and metering, which makes for gorgeous shots. In general, DSLRs are capable of taking better photos than point-and-shoots, but they’re not as easy to use – which means there are many disappointed people out there who purchase a DSLR only to find that they don’t magically take better photos. They require practice.

And boy, have I practiced. I’ve made the effort to learn what each button does on my camera, both by reading about it and then using it (take a photo, see what happens, adjust it, take a photo, see what happens, ad infinitum). It’s still a work in progress – it was only during our honeymoon in Italy that I discovered about the magic of metering. The discovery occurred on a cloudy day around the Spanish Steps, and it rocked my world.

Those are two different photos, straight-out-of-camera. Promise. No extra highlighting on the “after” photo. Indeed, METERING IS AMAZING.

So it’s taken three years, but I have sorta-kinda-mastered the settings of the camera body. As for the lens, until recently, I used the “kit lens” that Mr. P purchased with my Rebel. It can span from 18mm (wide angle) to 55mm (zoomed), and the aperture can be opened up to 3.5 (lower number = wider aperture). This lens has certainly served me well for the past three years! Every photo you’ve seen here on the blog until December was taken with that lens. And with practice, I’ve figured out how to take beautiful photos with it. Some of my favorites are from our travels. I like to take travel photos that accurately represent what I experienced, and photos like this... well, yeah. The view from our hotel room in Manarola really was that incredible.

But I’m thrilled to add these two new ones to the repertoire. The first, a gift from my parents, is a 50mm “fixed” (meaning there is no zoom) lens that can go down to 1.8 aperture. Because a wider aperture means a shallower depth-of-field, I’ve been able to take photos where only the subject is in focus and the rest is blurry, producing that beautiful bokeh effect.

One of the trivially nice things about this lens is that it’s nice and short, which makes the camera lightweight. It’s become my go-to lens for around the house.

See how the lens is small? And also how the camera and my hands are in focus, but my crazy-eyes are not? Shallow focal plane!

The newest lens, from Mr. P, is a 55-250mm telephoto lens. And it is kind of redonkulous. You see, the portrait lens from my parents is 50mm, which is in the same “zoomed in” range as my 18-55mm lens that I’ve used since I got my camera. But anything over that, like, say, 250mm? Totally new territory for me. And it’s ginormous. This is how big it is “zoomed out” (it becomes twice as long zoomed in):

Speaking of zoomed in:

Yes it’s a bit blurry (I’d only had about five minutes’ worth of experience with it) but holy moly that is crazypants. I didn’t do any cropping on the photo – I’m literally so far away from that ornament that you can’t even see my reflection.

I was standing on the other side of the room when I took that one. Again, no cropping; that’s what I saw through the viewfinder. And the end of the lens is in an entirely different focal plane from the rest of me not because of the aperture, but because it’s so long. Taking this lens to the zoo this spring has become a top priority.

So those are my two new lenses – one with powerful depth-of-field, one with amazing telephoto capabilities. And you know what? I’m finding they’re like children. They each have their own quirks, and the rules I apply to one, I can’t necessarily apply to the others. They also each have abilities that don’t overlap with other lenses. For instance, the 18-55mm is still the ideal “vacation” lens (versatile for whatever situation arises), the 50mm is perfect for around the house (open aperture helps with low light, and zoom isn’t needed), and I discovered while visiting family that the 50-250mm captures gorgeous candid moments (I can be across the room, so they don’t know I’m shooting!)

In any case, the new additions needed a nice home, which called for a reorganization of my camera bag (a coordinated Christmas present from my parents, when Mr. P bought me the camera):

What’s that wide-angle adaptor I pointed out? This thing:

It’s a little $7 gizmo that converts my 18-55mm into a crazy wide-angle lens. To continue the theme, this was one of my Christmas gifts from my in-laws last year. It does produce a bit of “vignetting” (the dark circle around the edges) when the lens is totally zoomed out and sometimes the edges are wonkily out-of-focus but dude. Seven dollars. And it allows me to capture entire rooms:

Even with all that gear that has been very generously given to me, though, I have to admit that I still rely on another powerful tool...

*hangs head in shame*

One of these days, I’ll master my camera (and its many lenses) well enough that I don’t have to rely as heavily on Photoshop. But for now? “I’ll fix it in post” works well enough.

Even with my fancy gear, I still have a long way to go. For one, I don’t shoot in RAW file format. You get way more control in editing (which I’d love) but the file size scares me. I still can’t read a histogram properly to save my life. And above all, I am awful about remembering to start projects in daylight, when light is ideal for taking photos. So I have a lot to learn, still.

But if the photography bug bites you too, drop me a note! Amateur photographs love to chat about amateur photography tips!


Christal said...

you have amazing skills!