Archive for March, 2007

Pixar Exhibition in Edinburgh

Saturday, March 24th, 2007

Last summer I visited the ‘Pixar: 20 years of Animation’ exhibition in London. Anyone with a passing interest in any of Pixar’s films will find it fascinating, and having toured around a bit, the exhibition has now setup shop at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh, running from March 2nd to the 28th May. It’s essentially the same exhibition shown in other countries, but they’ve apparently added in some new items related to the forthcoming Ratatouille film.

I haven’t been to see it yet in Edinburgh, but will be certainly doing so, the Toy Story Zoetrope is worth the admission price alone. They’re also running quite a lot of related events; film screenings, animation workshops, and talks by those in the animation industry. In particular the Meet the Pros talks seem particularly interesting, but although I was annoyed not to be able to make it to the first one with Pixar’s Elyse Klaidman, Curator and Dean of Art and Warren Trezevant, animator, all of these talks are going to be available via a video podcast. Highlights of this first talk that was held on the 2nd of March are now up for download, with the full version coming soon, and remaining talks becoming available shortly after they’re held.

There’s links to subscribing to the podcast over on 55degrees.

The Pixar Zoetrope

My first digital SLR

Wednesday, March 21st, 2007

So back when I first posted about my photography in late October I was just starting out, seeing if it was something that really caught my interest. It didn’t take long for me to discover that I really enjoyed the experience, and as I got to know my camera (the Panasonic Lumix FZ-50) some of my shots started coming out closer to how I actually wanted them to look. The main thing (other than just getting out there and taking photos) that I can attribute to this becoming a passion of mine is actually Zooomr. The positive comments, and favouriting of my photos by many members of Zooomr over the last few months has given me that encouragement to keep at it. It’s a funny thing uploading photos to a site like that, you never know what photos are going to attract the most interest, and more often than not it’s the photos you almost didn’t put up at all that turn out to be the most popular. It’s also very inspiring seeing the diverse range of photos taken by Zooomr’s users around the world, I’ve built up a great set of favourites over the last few months.

But this post isn’t really about Zooomr, there will be plenty more of that very soon when Mark III comes out no doubt (although if you haven’t visited there recently, you might be interested to know that Zooomr now allows everyone unlimited uploads of their photos without any restrictions on resolution of photos). No, this post is more about the big step I’ve taken – to put aside my trusty FZ-50 and buy my first digital SLR.

Don’t get me wrong, the FZ-50 is a lovely camera, and I’ve been very pleased with the quality of the photos taken with it, but in situations where the light is low, moving up from ISO 100 gives some pretty noisy images. No, I wanted to go the SLR route, and give myself a far greater freedom and quality in my photos. I didn’t expect that the decision on what SLR to go for would be so difficult, but it was. At an early stage I decided I’d go for either Nikon or Canon, they’re the top two choices in the camera world. Fine, but which of their cameras should I look at, and how much did I really want to spend? Initially I looked at the Nikon D80, and the Canon EOS 400D, they seemed to be around my price range, and are both very popular cameras from reading reviews and making use of flickr’s camera finder tools (Zooomr NEEDS this feature). They both seemed great, but I wanted something a bit more robust with a little more size and weight behind it. Which is the point at which my decisions became even harder.

Nikon have the D200 which by all accounts is a fantastic camera, and Canon has the EOS 30D. By the time I got to this stage though, I was erring towards Canon as my preferred option. They just felt like the sort of camera that made the most sense to me, and although I shouldn’t fall for it, Canon market their cameras in an attractive way that’s hard to resist. I handled both models in the local Jessops camera shop, and the 30D seemed like the gal for me. But it’s not as simple as that, because all the way through this search for my first SLR, I’ve been aware of the best option of all, the Canon EOS 5D. Handling wise, this camera’s pretty much identical to the 30D, there’s not much of a weight difference, and the body itself is essentially the same (although there are some different functions obviously). But where it really shines is in the full frame sensor, and large view finder. Almost all other SLRs use a cropped sensor which keeps the costs down but means that if you buy, say a 50mm lens you’re actually getting something more in the 80mm range because the image is cropped. I’m not very good at explaining this, so Google’s your friend if you don’t understand what I’m going on about, but essentially the 5D seemed capable of some truly high quality photos provided the photographer behind it can do his/her stuff obviously.

It’s not a cheap camera by any means, and going into this I didn’t intend to spend anything like that, but although people say you should buy a cheap camera body, and invest more of your money in the lenses, there was also a part of me that figured that down the line if ever I moved up to the full frame sensor, not all the lenses I’d bought would still be of as much use. I’ll go into my lens decision shortly, but basically if I’d gone for the 30D, I’d have probably bought the 10-22mm EF-S lens to get my wide angle shots when outside, and maybe a 35mm or 50mm prime lens for general shots, particularly of people. The 35mm or 50mm would have been to get the equivalent of a 50mm or 85mm lens, and although I could use them on a 5D or equivalent down the line, their purpose would have changed as a result. The 10-22mm would have been unusable later on, as Canon’s EF-S lenses are designed specifically for cropped sensor cameras, and will actually physically damage your camera if you were to try and push one on to a full frame.

No, in many ways the 5D seemed like the camera for me, and although I would still be spending a lot on lenses too, they’d be more likely to be with me for a long time to come (provided I don’t damage them). So, after a fortnight of deliberation and studying, I had decided on the actual camera. Good.

But what about the lens? Well, I’ve kind of touched on it a bit above, but this was also really difficult. Going into this, I needed to do quite a bit of research on the many varieties out there, just making sure I had a sound idea of what Canon’s huge number of lenses are capable of. To begin with I really wanted a wide angle lens (the wider the better) to get some cool perspective shots when roaming the countryside, and really anywhere outside. For that, the two choices were really the EF 16-35mm F/2.8L  and the EF 17-40mm F/4.0L, as I wanted something really wide, but that had a bit of flexibility. There’s not a huge difference in the actual range of these cameras, but the 16-35 is a faster lens. It’s also significantly more expensive than the 17-40 though, and there’s a new version of the 16-35 about to come out replacing it. I didn’t want to buy the 16-35 only to discover it had gone down significantly in price. The 17-40mm seemed like the perfect lense then, the F/4 wouldn’t be great for fast low light shots, but most of the shots I would take with it would be outside either in daylight, or on a tripod, so this wasn’t much of a factor.

I also wanted a lens for general photography, but which was good for portrait shots of people. I wanted a prime lens for that to get the highest quality, and fastest speed, and really I was deciding between the EF 50mm F/1.4 and the EF 85mm F/1.8. The 85mm is probably more suited to portrait shots, but the 50mm seemed like a nice fast lens to really cut my teeth on with my new camera, and down the line I may be tempted to buy the EF 135mm f/2L which Thomas Hawk (CEO of Zooomr) swears by.

As well as the 135mm, I also have my eye on eventually getting a Macro lens for some nice close up shots, but for now I had to stop somewhere, and the 5D with two lenses was burning a big enough potential hole in my pocket as it stood.

So, if you’re still reading, that’s exactly what I’ve bought. After some initial problems getting an untouched brand new 5D from Jessops (they only had one left and it had been on display, no thanks), one was sourced from the Inverness branch up north and sent down to Aberdeen for me to collect the very next day. So I bought both the 5D, 17-40 lens and a couple of UV filters from them last Friday. I bought the 50mm 1.4 online from cameras2u which is actually also a Jessops company but their price on that site is far cheaper than buying instore or from the Jessops website. I know not why.

Happy days. I had a great weekend getting to know my new toys, and although I don’t have any photos to show just yet, I think I’m getting the hang of it, and the various properties of the lenses I’ve bought. It’s a bit of tight squeeze getting the large 5D into the camera bag I’d bought previously for the FZ-50 (a Lowepro Slingshot 100AV, great bag but I think I need the 200AV to get more space), but other than that it’s been a fantastic camera to get to know. I think it’s going to be awhile yet before I’m as familiar with it as I’d become with the FZ-50, and certainly when I go and pick up my Panasonic it feels very light and tiny now, but the Canon controls seem really logical and easy to understand once you’ve had a quick squint at the manual. I think it’s going to be well used for many years (I can’t afford for it not to be!).

I thought it might be useful to list some of the sites that proved useful when trying to make all these decisions in case anyone happens upon this blog and is trying to research a digital SLR purchase. I should also say that really any of the cameras I mentioned are excellent, I just became really picky the more I looked into things, and ultimately the 5D was the right camera for me. Nothing beats going and actually just trying these cameras for yourself if you can, don’t blindly buy these things online!

Camera Decisions – Thomas Hawk’s the CEO of Zooomr, so obviously I’m interested in what he has to recommend. This is a link to his post back in November about what Digital SLR to buy. Great post, and some good follow on advice in the comments. – There’s a ton of reviews and news on cameras here (not just SLRs either), and they’re very in-depth. – Some of the reviews here comparing the Canon models with each other as well as a couple of the Nikon models were very good for helping me make my decision.

Photography BLOG – Lots more reviews (you can never have enough opinions) although they don’t go as deep as dpreview do (no bad thing necessarily). – A few good reviews of some of the cameras I was considering, and some lenses too. They also do some video reviews which nobody else seems to do for this kind of thing. – And finally, yes – more reviews, but this lot let you compare cameras easily and offer some good advice depending on what you want from your camera.

flickr Camera Finder – If you want to know what the most popular cameras out there are, and see shots taken with them, this is a great place to look. I said it earlier, but Zooomr could really do with this feature too.

Lens Decisions – Again, Thomas Hawk has a great post about what lenses are in his bag which I found useful when deciding on what Canon lenses to go for (I couldn’t afford to exactly follow his advice, but it was useful nonetheless).

FM Reviews – Thousands of user reviews for each and every lens out there (whatever the manufacturer). There’s camera user reviews too, but I really just used this site to try and get an overall idea for what each lens was capable of.

Flickr Canon DSLR User Group – This one is Canon-specific so really belongs below, but once I had decided on Canon as my camera, it really helped seeing what others had done with a given lens. – And another Canon-specific link, but this site has reviews of all the various Canon lenses as well as an overview of the Canon Lens series.

Canon Specific

Canon Digital Learning Centre – Run by Canon, but there’s a lot of good information and tutorials on the EOS series of cameras here.

Canon EF Lens Work III Book – This is a great find, there’s links to all the PDFs that make up the Canon EF Lens Work III book which covers all the Canon lenses and provides advice on how to make the most of them. Can’t remember how I discovered this, but it took me a bit to find the link again just now having saved out the pdfs a couple of weeks back!


And finally, if you’re based in the UK, the best site for finding a good deal on cameras, lenses, memory cards, bags etc is which pointed me in the right direction without me having to do all the hard work – it’s basically a price comparison site specific to cameras. I’ll leave you with the final photo I took with my Panasonic Lumix FZ-50, and probably the last from that camera that will appear on Zooomr. Lovely 🙂

Ben Mark IIBen Mark II Hosted on Zooomr