He Says… Getting the picture (Part #1)

I thought I would post today about something a little bit off topic: photography.  I have had some readers comment or email asking about what gear I use, and I thought I would post about what I use, and some basic tips for improving your pics.  I am not a professional photographer, but shoot video professionally, and taking stills is a passion of mine (and it follows many of the same principles as shooting video).  My camera has gotten more use taking pics since Owen was born, and I sometimes worry if he only recognizes me as half human/half camera.  If he calls me “Canon” instead of “Daddy” then I know we have a problem.

What gear I use:

I shoot with a Canon 7D DSLR camera.  It’s not cheap, but does fall in the sort of upper-mid range in the Canon line of their DSLRs.  You can pick up a 7D body for around $1500.  I actually got it because it shoots really great HD video as well, and I use it frequently for work as a video camera (and for a lot of the videos on this blog).  I like the Canon line of DSLRs, and they start around $550 with the Rebel XS.  The newer Rebel T2i (about $700 for the body/no lens) is also a great entry into DSLRs,  and also has the great HD video mode of the 7D that I use.  In the Nikon line, I would look at the D3100 or D5000 as good starting points.  The D300 (I know, all these numbers are confusing) is pretty comparable to the Canon 7D at around $1500 for the body (although the video mode it has is lower quality).  Panasonic also has some nice cameras in the GH1 and GH2, although I’ve never used those.

A lot of the quality in pictures comes from the lenses, and that is largely where the expense comes in.  Most cameras that come with a “kit” lens, use a lower quality lens.  These are usually quite fine for bright light, outdoor shots, but don’t excel when it comes to indoor, low light shots.  I opted to buy my 7D without the kit lens and bought several nicer lenses instead.  These can get quite expensive, and especially nowadays when the camera bodies are less expensive, you can spend more than the camera on a single lens.  So unless you are an avid hobbyist or looking to get into photography professionally (or have deep pockets) some of the expensive lenses I use may be impractical for you.  But, if you get a camera with the kit lens (which is usually a zoom in the range of 18-55mm, which is a good wide to medium close-up lens), and want one nicer lens, look at getting a fixed focal length “prime” lens with a fast aperture.  The aperture (or f-stop) is what dictates how much light can be brought into the lens.  The lower the number, the more light you can let in.  Canon sells a relatively inexpensive 50mm lens with a f1.8 aperture for around $100 (Nikon has a similar one too).  This is a great lens for indoor or low-light shots, and nice for taking pictures of people.  It’s a medium close-up lens so works well for portraits.  The lower aperture, in addition to letting in more light, creates a shallower plane of focus (depth of field) so it’s easy to blur out the background.  This is often quite desirable for shooting people and makes them stand out more in the photo.

If you are looking for a nice zoom lens, look for ones with lower apertures (usually f2.8).  They are pricier and heavier but are the best for low-light.  Also, the “off-brand” lenses are generally less expensive so if you have a Canon or Nikon camera body, look at Tamron or Sigma lenses.  Some don’t work as well as the Canon or Nikon lenses, so just check reviews.  Most work great though.

Next week I’ll write about some shooting tips that you can use (with any camera) for getting some better or more interesting pics of your babies, families, friends, etc.  But in the meantime, if you have any questions feel free to ask.

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6 responses to “He Says… Getting the picture (Part #1)

  1. I have the Canon XSi and that has been a great entry into SLR photography for me! I love the 50mm/1.8 lens. I also just recently bought a 75-300mm – it’s been tricky to learn how to have a steady hand with it!

  2. Love this! I can’t wait for the next post. Will you teach us how to get good photos of MOVING TARGETS? Even with what I’ve learned I still can’t seem to get the ghost trail to disappear!

  3. Oh this is great! I just got a Canon Xsi second hand that came with the kit lens, 28-80mm and macro extension tube and am just learning how to use it. Of course I’ve learned virtually nothing so far having an 11 week old, so looking forward to your tips!

  4. Wow, $1500? And I thought my Canon Rebel XS was expensive, but it was only a third of the cost. >_<

  5. I love this!! I’m looking forward to more photography posts. I have the t2i but sometimes I pretend it’s the 7d just for kicks :).

  6. helpful info. i noticed you’re a camera operator. i am as well. what shows do you typically work on? i just bought a 60d, couldn’t afford the 7d =). love your pics and videos though. what other gear do you use? particularly for your dolly shots.

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