entry-level DSLRs – what to look for and what to buy in 2018

This article might be worth a read if you’re about to invest in a new entry level DSLR.

If you’ve outgrown your point-and-shoot camera or are no longer satisfied with the snaps you get from your smartphone, and feel like you’re ready to take your photography to the next level, then an entry-level DSLR is the most obvious choice.

Entry-level DSLRs deliver a big step up in image quality from a compact camera or smartphone, offering far more manual control and the ability to change lenses to tackle a huge variety of projects. Don’t worry though – there are also a host of auto modes to help you out until you’re comfortable with the more creative controls that a DSLR offers. Read on

anyone recognise these images @ Gettys?

Eagle eyed readers might recognise the image showcased on Getty Images above.. 2 from this series are on the home page of this site! The image comes from a set of 3 which depicts a poor little money spider that had become trapped and encapsulated on the washing line in our garden in Surrey in 2016.

It was the most nerve-racking shoot ever as I used an all manual Laowa 60mm macro lens, camera was on a tripod but it was still windy and the washing line kept moving. I was extremely aware that not only was it difficult to capture the moving target, the raindrop containing the deceased spider could drop at any second and the opportunity would be gone. Fortunately it didn’t and the shot has now become a popular image and was just purchased by a children’s book company in the US for one of their new book series.

confessions of a macro photographer – dof, cheating & a green silk dress

Things are not always how they seem.. Using the Vivitar 55mm lens talked about in a blog post below, I wanted to take a few shots of some rather pretty flowers. My aim was to have the flowers in focus and the grass behind be completely out of focus, making the flowers really “pop”.

Unfortunately, the position of the flowers in the garden didn’t lend itself to easily making this happen so my only choice was to artificially create that kind of ambience by picking a couple of flowers and taking them into my studio..

By placing my wife’s silk, green ballroom dress into my lightbox as a background, I was able to carefully control the distance between the subject and that background as well as placing the light exactly where I needed it. For all intents and purposes, the final image looks like a flower in focus with a very shallow depth of field back to the grass in the background but as we now know, not a single blade of grass exists in this particular set of images. That blurred background is often referred to as “DOF” or sometimes “bokeh”. Yep, cheating is not exclusive to football!

vintage gems – vivitar 55mm f/2.8 auto-macro (komine)

If you’re new to photography it’s easy to get caught up in buying the “latest and greatest” cameras, lenses and equipment. If you decide to do some research and head onto the various photography or equipment forums, most of the reviews will be of lenses within a given manufacturer’s current line-up. The newer lenses are great but are also very expensive and it won’t take long to blow a £1k budget. There are, however, in most of the main systems (Nikon, Canon, Pentax etc..) legacy lenses that are real gems to use and can be bought for relatively small amounts, simply because few people know about them anymore. Now and again I’m going to try to high-light some of those gems and give you some tips on great lenses for small money. Keep in mind that just because a lens has, say, a Canon mount, that doesn’t prevent it being used on a Nikon body together with a simple and cheap adapter. You may lose the ability of the lens to electronically communicate with the camera’s computer but if you’re comfortable working in manual mode and don’t need auto-focus and auto-everything else, then these lenses will still provide you with exceptional results. One of genres where these kind of lenses can be easily employed is “macro photography”. Why? Well, macro photographers know that you rarely use auto functions when shooting subjects so small and so close. Focus is critical and you’ll want to do that manually so the focus is on exactly the right place and tack sharp. You’ll often be working on a tripod, too, so you won’t need any of the new-fangled “vibration control” and shutter speed and aperture will all be controlled manually! You’ll know how to do all that because you’ll already have attended one of our workshops, right!!? :)

OK, gem number one is a dedicated macro lens and a very good one. The Vivitar 55mm f/2.8 Auto-Macro (Komine) is a cracking lens from the 80s and it’s tack sharp. It can be picked up for around £75 and is sold in various mounts so it’s normally possible to find one that will attach directly to your camera without the need for an adapter. It will still be used completely manually but some of the results with this lens are on a par with the Nikon 60mm Micro series, a lens which in it’s current guise costs over £400! Keep also in mind that just because a lens was designed and marketed as macro lens, doesn’t mean to say it won’t also give stunning results used as a portrait lens! Many of the 105mm Nikon macro lenses are used extensively as portrait lenses and always have been. Don’t been afraid to experiment and see for yourself!

photography workshops – are they worth the money?

This is a question that you’ll have to weigh up if you’re considering investing in a photography workshop so here’s a few things to think about.

Many years ago I frequented an online Leica Photography forum. Leica cameras were and are notoriously expensive and the lenses even more so. A typical kit of camera and 3 lenses covering the basic focal lengths will set you back £10-15k and even on the used market you’ll be right up there.
One of the members of that forum would each week post images for critique. He was one of the members who’d spent nearer £20k on his photography equipment and loved to announce his new purchases to the forum. Unfortunately, he hadn’t a clue how to use his newly acquired equipment and each time he posted an image for critique the forum erupted with a barrage of abuse. His images generally consisted of out of focus shots of his cat in the kitchen and if I’m honest they used to make me giggle. I never quite fathomed whether this was somebody trolling the forum members or whether he literally had no idea how to use his camera. His popularity wasn’t helped when he one day announced he was to publish a book!

Anyways, I digress but you see my point. No matter how much you spend on equipment, if you can’t use it with any degree of competence then you’ve really wasted your money. Even a cheap £150 used lens is of no use if you can’t get the images from it you desire.
To this day I still get professional photographers asking me for help with some of the most fundamental and basic aspects of photography. Whilst they’re at least attempting to address the problem now, I can’t help but look at their huge array of lenses and conclude they’d surely have been far wiser skipping one of those lenses and investing that money into a course or workshop instead.

If you’re going to sell your images their value lie in their quality. What people are effectively paying for is your skill, knowledge and experience, all wrapped up in a beautiful image that clearly demonstrates those attributes. They won’t care whether that image was shot using a Leica M9 or a box Brownie camera and in all honesty, a photographer with skill and experience will probably be able to produce the better image with the Brownie in his hands than the person without knowledge and the Leica M9 in their little mitts.

We generally don’t buy a car without first training and obtaining the prerequisite license and ability to drive it, so why would we spend a similar amount on a state of the art camera kit without first learning how to use that? Whether you’re a rank beginner, keen enthusiast or new professional, when you pick up your camera you want to fundamentally understand what you’re doing and hopefully get better and better as your experience and knowledge progresses. And there’s the key for me: you’ll get better and better as your knowledge and experience progresses, not as your camera kit grows and grows!

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