Go soak your gear!

It pays to review your web traffic periodically because I just learned a way that your bathtub can be used for photography!  Not only is it a good place to mellow out after a stressful shoot, but it also makes a heckuva softbox!  I was on a forum that had referenced the blog and a guy had some product that he placed in his tub.  I thought it was an interesting idea, and decided to give it a try.  As it turns out, the tub is a great place to put your gear!  Granted, not to soak it (sorry, but I had to tease the title that way), but to act as a great background and softbox combined in one.

Here’s a few sample shots.  For all the tech-types, these are pretty much straight out of camera (or sooc) – all I did was adjust the WB for Flash and adjust the ACR sharpening from 25 to 75.  All are resized to 650px wide for the blog.  Here’s the setup:  I took the Canon kit lens (18-55) on my 40D, threw on the 550EX, and set everything to default values.  Shutter at standard sync speed of 250, aperture at f8 and ISO at 100.  I powered the 550EX at it’s standard setting, on camera (relax strobists – I can hear you shuddering from here),  and started firing a few shots.  I pointed the flash to camera right and got this:


Yup, that’s a God-awful shot, with a nasty shadow.  Perhaps I could ditch the shadow.  Since we’re not exactly using conventional wisdom here, let’s try it with the flash pointed straight at the subject:


Hey!  That’s actually not too bad.  It’s not that great, and still definitely a “Meh” kind of shot as it’s still got something of a shadow.  So, I spun the flash to fire above me and bounce off the ceiling:


Voila!  You know what?  For being a spur of the moment thing, and without a lot of pre-planning or preparation, that’s not bad at all.  And, it was shot in a bathtub!  Anyone else out there have a bathtub?  Try some shots in it for different items.  I used a tape measure, but what about a pen, or a microphone, or a printer, or even a lens?  I bet you could get some pretty cool results with very little setup!  Anyone else have some odd or unusual ways to get clean backgrounds and even lighting on the cheap?  Feel free to share your thoughts, ideas, and feedback in the comments.  Feel free to link your own efforts there too!  Happy shooting all and we’ll see you back here again tomorrow!

The Life of a Lens

Yesterday we looked at things to consider when getting a new camera body…while the idea is all well and good, lenses are another story, and since we are likely to invest more in glass than in cameras (Have you seen the costs of some of the really good glass lately?), the life of a lens is something worth considering.

In all things technology-related, there is a principle called Moore’s Law which states that technology will advance at a rate of re-doubling roughly every two years.  While this principle was developed primarily for computers, we can draw similar analogies for digital photography too, with the sensor being analogous to the transistor.  The rate of increase has not quite been on par with re-doubling every 2 years, but the increases can be noted pretty impressively going from a mere 4 in 2001 to a current rate of  21 MP per frame for DSLR cameras (I am only looking at the Canon line-up here:

  • Canon 1Ds Mark III = 21MP (2007), Retail
  • Canon 1Ds Mark II = 16 MP (2004)
  • Canon 1Ds = 11MP (2002)
  • Canon 1D = 4 (2001)

Lenses aren’t like that though – focal lengths don’t change that much.  Instead, technology has allowed lenses to become faster at the longer end of the given focal lengths.  We’ve also seen the introduction of image-stabilization technologies.  The addition of new technologies in lenses does not necessarily deprecate previous generations – it merely antiquates them!  This means your lens may not have the bells and whistles of future generations, but it should work indefinitely if treated properly.

Keep in mind though that there is a distinction between full frame and crop sensor cameras here though, because Canon has two lens lines, the EF line and the EF-S line.  The EF-S line is intended for the crop sensor cameras and cannot be used on the full frame mounts – if you try to use an EF-S lens on a full frame body, the mirror could slap down and shatter the back element of the glass, so avoid this scenario if at all possible!  (There are some converters on the market that will extend the gap between the mirror and the element to avoid this, but I’ve not used them.)

Lenses are also different from camera bodies because there are no moving parts that can fail.  Well, that’s not entirely true because zooms do have moving parts when you rotate the lens, and these can fail. * However, because the lens is always a closed item, the susceptibility of a lens to parts failure is not as high as it is for camera components.  Shutters, for instance, have a certain lifespan for which they are rated, (usually somewhere between 50,000-150,000 actuations).  Lenses don’t fail after a certain number of focal adjustments (assuming you are handling the lens correctly), and in the case of fixed focal length lenses (primes), this is even less the case.

So, a lens can literally last for as long as the vendor makes a body that will accept the mounting mechanism, and in the case of most vendors, I don’t see that changing any time soon.  I’ve had my kit lens from Canon when I got my first Rebel XT back in 2004 and it still works great on my 40D – it may not be in the lineup anymore (neither is my 40D either, but I digress…), but any EOS body will accept this lens and the image quality has not deteriorated at all over time!  Lenses can last forever!

How long have you kept your lenses?  Do you have any “go-to” lenses in your bag that you anticipate will always be there?  Let me know your favorites!

On a blog administrative note, don’t forget that there’s still a little time left in the Flickr Giveaway thread for December, so if you have any shots (the holidays are good times to capture those “Giving” themed photos), make sure to get one in for a chance to win that $400= prize package!  Happy Shooting and we’ll see you back here again tomorrow!

*ETA:  Special thanks to Marco for pointing out in the comments that there are quite a few moving parts in even fixed focal length lenses.  In addition to the focusing ring, there is also the diaphragm that moves which closes down the aperture to the correct setting for every actuation of the shutter, so there are moving parts in any lens, including fixed focal lengths.)

Hardware Review: The Canon EF-S 18-55mm

After a couple diversion-driven weeks of postings, hardware reviews are back in full swing, and this week the 18-55mm lens from Canon undergoes analysis. Since the lens has already seen a great deal of feedback and reviews in the community, a discussion of the technical features of the lens is somewhat meaningless.  Instead, here are a couple great resources that talk about the quality of the lens in great detail:

Photo.Net Review

Photo Notes

So, why talk about the lens if it’s already been covered so well? For two reasons…first because the lens really offers a great range of focus and image quality for its size and cost (it’s light and cheap), and because it really has become more of an historical note as it’s been replaced.  It’s new cousin is the 18-55mm IS lens with improved optics and the Image Stabilization feature that has become popular among photographers and aficionados.  So, since this is a lens that will probably not be around much longer, other than auction sites like eBay, not only is this a review post, consider it also a eulogy.

This really is a great lens given it’s relatively low cost.  It allows you to go fairly wide, yet also zoom in nice and tight for close-ups.  Granted it’s not going to zoom very far as it’s not intended to be more than a standard range lens.  On a crop sensor camera (it won’t fit on a full-frame due to design) the range adjusts from the design range of 18-55 to a broader 29-88.  This actually means this lens is good for anything from architecture to portraiture and landscape subjects.  Sure, there are other lenses that will produce better results, primarily because their optics are more refined and the “sweet spot” is wider, but if you want to go light and mobile, the 18-55mm is definitely one to consider if you can still find it.  Lucky me, I kept mine from the XT days when I first entered into Digital Photography!

Here are some sample shots from this lens that I took recently for this review/eulogy:

Wide Open
Wide Open

Zomed to 55mm
Zomed to 55mm

An Abstract Perspective (at 18mm)
An Abstract Perspective (at 18mm)

The same abstract from 55mm
The same abstract from 55mm

A few sunflowers
A few sunflowers

And if you like the sunflower shot, then take a look at the small gallery I put together here (all with the 18-55)!  Sure, I had some lighting help and it was a controlled indoor environment, but it just goes to show that just because it’s dated, doesn’t mean it’s bad.  Coming up next week, another product review/eulogy from the Canon arsenal that is no longer made:  The Canon 550EX  (the light used in the gallery above). In the meantime, don’t forget that this is the last week fr contributing shots to the OnOne Software Plugin Suite 4.5 Giveaway.  The Flickr thread is here and links to all the contest details.   Good luck, and until tomorrow, happy shooting everyone!