Cheap Lenses Can Be Great

Sure, expensive lenses can be wonderful, but they aren’t mandatory equipment. You can make excellent images with the most basic equipment available.

I saw this sunrise and knew I had only a minute or two to grab the shot, so I raced to a hill top safely pulled over to the side of the road and grabbed my camera. All I had was my 50mm f/1.8 II, a.k.a. the “plastic fantastic”, on my camera body. No filters, no tilt-shift, no tripod, just the cheapest lens I could possibly have. So, I set the camera for Automatic Exposure Bracketing, held the camera in a portrait orientation, and took seven bracketed frames of the scene, for 21 total photos. Within a minute, the scene was gone.


Read Your Manual

I actually sat down the other night and read the manual for my new Canon camera. It was a boring night, what can I say? Anyway, I noticed something that I would never have thought of.

My camera has what’s called “Silent Mode”. I wish my old Nikon had this feature. Seriously! What is it? It’s used when you’re using Live View. Live View is when the mirror in your SLR flips up out of the way and the LCD screen on the back shows what the sensor is seeing, straight through the lens, in real time. The “view” is “live”.

Why do I like Silent Mode? When I would take an image while in Live View on my old Nikon, the mirror would slam down into the original position, crash up in the photo-taking position, the shutter would fire, then the mirror would slam down again, then the mirror would crunch up as it return to Live View mode again. Ker-thunk, ker-thunk, ker-thunk. … Ker-thunk. Very noisy, and tons of vibration. This is not good when you’re doing long exposures in the wind. Anyway, the Canon, when making an image while in Live View, will just fire the shutter. The mirror doesn’t make four round trips just to take 1 shot, in fact it doesn’t move. Quiet and smooth.

So, back to the topic. The 5D mark II has 3 settings for Silent Mode. Mode 1 allows continuous shooting when you are in the continuous drive mode. Mode 2, a.k.a. “stealth mode” I like to call it, will only take one photo when you press the shutter button. Aaaand, it will hold the camera as long as you hold the shutter button down. As best I can tell, this holds the shutter in the “fired” position, and the shutter resets when you release the shutter button. Very cool.

Here’s the trick. The third mode is Disable. I will quote the instructions:

If you use a TS-E lens to make vertical shift movements or use and Extension Tube, be sure to set this to [Disable]. Setting it to [Mode 1] or [Mode 2] will result in incorrect or irregular exposures. When you press the shutter button completely, the shutter will should like it took two shots. However, only one shot will be taken.

So if I put the TS-E on and forget to change the Silent Mode, I could be setting myself up for trouble. Who would have guessed??

I don’t usually read manuals, at least not very thoroughly, but I’m sure glad I did this time!!

Advice on Learning from Buddha

Believe nothing merely because you have been told it, or because it is tradition, or because you yourself have imagined it. Do not believe what your teacher tells you merely out of respect for him. But whatever, after due examination and analysis, you find to be conducive to the good, the benefit, the welfare of all beings, believe and cling to that doctrine, and take it as your guide.

Vision Quest

No, not the movie.


I mean photographic vision. Expression. Maybe even art.

It’s summertime for half the planet. If you’ve waited all winter to photograph fields of corn and wheat and sunflowers, and wildflowers and cherry blossoms and elk in full velvet and birds’ mating dances and bikinis at the beach, and all that great stuff … what are you waiting for? Now it’s too hot? The mosquitos are eating you alive and you’re worried about West Nile Virus? Your camera isn’t what you think it should be? You have no idea what to photograph?

I feel your pain. I can make excuses until long after opportunity has left town. But that doesn’t get me anywhere.

We don’t practice  this craft to learn how to realize our vision. We must stop worrying about reaching the destination, and start enjoying the journey. Expressing oneself is a life-long process, a process we must learn to love.

And it really helps if you love to learn. If you love to learn, you might just have an easier time enjoying the journey.


I write this as I prepare for a wonderful island vacation. Two weeks of tropical sunrises and ocean waves. How will I express how I revel in the island atmosphere and the ocean’s calm mystery?

I love the idea of “ready, fire, aim” instead of “ready, aim, fire”. Sometimes all the preparation in the world is not as accurate in the long run as making corrections in real time and trying again. Since photography is a life-long process, so why should we try to perfect it by midnight on Tuesday?

It’s like driving – you don’t just line up between the lines, point toward the horizon, and expect to drive perfectly straight from Chicago to L.A. You’ll be in a ditch before you can say “steering wheel”. It’s about making small corrections over and over, and appreciating the scenery along the way. What does this have to do with photography? If you’re stuck, make an image. Don’t like it? Change it up a bit and see if you like the improvement. Keep making images. Fire! Aim again. Fire! Make small corrections and try again. Let the process carry you. Pretty soon you’ll be making amazing images and showing everyone around who is willing to look. Just don’t call it “luck”. You worked to get that image.

Just don’t forget the mosquito repellant and extra water.

So it’s wintertime in the other half, huh? It would be wonderful to see what that’s like. Someday. 🙂

The Color Of A Lens

Do lenses render color differently? They sure do!


Zeiss 35mm f/2.0 Distagon T* ZF.2 @ f/5.6, SB900 flash bounced off near wall to the right.


Nikon 16-35mm f/4N VR, 35mm @ f/5.6, SB900 flash bounced off near wall to the right.

I notice no discernible difference in sharpness here. The Zeiss has a bit better bokeh, but that’s subjective anyway. No, the biggest difference I see is the color. Both look fine by themselves, but compared side-by-side, the Zeiss renders a bit cool and the Nikon a bit warm. Which is better? Again, that’s subjective, and probably changes by subject.

The glass in a lens can influence the color of the image. This includes when shooting raw in a digital camera – it’s affecting the light that the sensor receives. Is this a deal-breaker for one lens over another? Probably not, unless you’re shooting fine-art landscapes or high-fashion portraits in JPG. It is, however, information that any discerning photographer should be aware of. If you want to get a print of your image, and have it look exactly like you saw it, you should know how your lens affects the rendering of that image.