The First Nikon Df Guide – Now Available!

Nikon has recently introduced the Nikon Df, a unique, retro-inspired full frame dSLR. Its fusion of manual control dials and digital technology offers photographers a new (but perhaps familiar) way of shooting.

Nikon Df Experience, my latest Full Stop e book and the first Df user’s guide, is now available! This e book goes beyond the manual to help you learn the features, settings, and controls of the unique, powerful, and highly customizable Nikon Df. Plus most importantly it explains how, when, and why to use the functions, settings, menu options, and controls in your photography – including the new “manual” exposure controls, the sophisticated autofocus system, and the in-camera features such as Multiple Exposure, HDR, and Interval Timer Shooting.

Nikon Df Experience book guide manual how to dummies setup quick start tips tricks how to lens menu

Written in the clear, concise, and comprehensive style of all Full Stop dSLR guides, Nikon Df Experience will help you learn to use your full-frame Df quickly and competently, to consistently create the types of images you want to capture. This e-book is available in either PDF or EPUB format for reading on your computer, tablet, iPad, e-reader, etc.

Learn more about it, view a preview, and purchase it here:

As one reader has said about Full Stop guides, “I don’t know how I could fully take advantage of all the features the camera has to offer without this publication! It’s well-organized, easy to understand, and succinct enough to keep your attention while still containing a wealth of information to get the most out of your camera.”

Take control of your Nikon Df, the image taking process, and the photos you create!

Nikon Df book manual guide use learn controls dummies how to quick start tips tricks tutorial   Nikon Df book manual guide use learn controls dummies how to quick start tips tricks tutorial

For Intermediate and Enthusiast Photographers – This guide is designed for enthusiast dSLR photographers who wish to take fuller advantage of the capabilities of their Nikon Df and shoot competently in A, S, and M modes; take full control of the versatile 39-Point autofocus system; and learn how, when, and why to use and customize the unique controls, buttons, and features of the Df. It covers basic dSLR camera functions and exposure concepts for those learning digital SLR photography, and explains more advanced camera controls and operation such as Metering Modes, Exposure Compensation, and Histograms.

For Experienced Photographers – This guide explains the new and advanced features and settings in order to quickly get you up and running and taking advantage of these capabilities including the 39 point autofocus system and its Focus Modes and AF-Area Modes. Plus it explains the retro-styled camera controls and how to customize them, the in-camera HDR and Multiple Exposure features, in-camera image processing and editing, introduces back-button focusing, and guides you through all the Df Menu and Custom Setting items in order to help you best set up and customize the camera for your specific shooting needs. It also explains how to set up the Df to make full use of your legacy Nikkor lenses.

Nikon Df book manual guide use learn controls dummies how to quick start tips tricks tutorial   Nikon Df book manual guide use learn controls dummies how to quick start tips tricks tutorial

Sections include:

-Setting Up Your Df – All of the Df Custom Settings, Playback, Shooting, Setup, and Retouch Menus, with explanations and recommended settings to set up and customize the advanced features to work best for the way you photograph.

-Aperture Priority (A), Shutter Priority (S), and Manual (M) Modes – How and when to use them to create dramatic depth of field, freeze or express motion, or take total control over exposure settings.

-Auto Focusing Modes and Area Modes, and Release (Drive) Modes – Learn the AF Modes, AF Area Modes, and AF Custom Settings, how they differ, how and when to take advantage of them to capture both still and moving subjects.

-Exposure Metering Modes – How they differ, how and when to use them for correct exposures in every situation.

-Histograms, Exposure Compensation, Bracketing, and White Balance – Understanding and using these features for adjusting to the proper exposure in challenging lighting situations.

-The Image Taking Process – Descriptive tutorials for using the settings and controls to take photos of both still and moving subjects.

-Lenses – Setting up the camera to take advantage of older Nikkor lenses, including AF, AI, and Non-AI lenses.

-Composition – Brief tips, techniques, and explanations, including the creative use of depth of field.

-Photography Accessories and Books – The most useful accessories for digital photography including accessories specific to the Df.

This digital guide to the Nikon Df is an illustrated e-book that goes beyond the manual to explain how, when, and why to use the features, settings, and controls of the Df to help you get the most from your camera.

Nikon Df book manual guide use learn controls dummies how to quick start tips tricks tutorial   Nikon Df book manual guide use learn controls dummies how to quick start tips tricks tutorial

Learn more about Nikon Df Experience, view a preview, and purchase it on my Full Stop website here:

The Favorite Trinity of Canon Lenses

Now is the time to buy the favored trinity of Canon lenses – very likely the three most popular L-series lenses for professionals, semi-professionals, and aspiring professionals:

Why? Because they are all on sale at B and H, and you can save a grand total of $700 on the trio! (sale price should be shown at checkout)

Canon lens L trio trinity
A trio of Canon L lenses

If you’ve become serious about your photography, or are attempting to make the leap to being a pro shooting, you have likely realized that – as painful as it may be to your wallet – you pretty much need all three of these, or at least one or two of them and a slightly cheaper alternative for the others (such as the EF 17-40mm f/4L USM for the wide angle and the EF 70-200 f/4L IS USM version of the 70-200mm).

You can learn more about each of these lenses and the various alternates in my post about the best Canon lenses here.

Be sure to follow the price trends of the lenses on Canon Price Watch here.






The Secrets to an Interesting Photo – Unlocked!

A few days ago Reuters published a collection of the Best Photos of the Year 2012. This collection, similar to the Atlantic’s 2012: The Year in Photos, is a sometimes inspiring, often depressing look back at the events of the past year. The content and subjects of the images aside, they are both excellent presentations of some of the best in photojournalism and image making for the year, and I encourage you to not only look through the images, but to analyze the ones that you like or that move you, and determine what it is about the images that makes them so powerful. Look at the position and point of view of the camera, the aperture settings used (shallow depth of field vs. deep dof), the composition including wide vs. tight and what was put in the frame and what may have been left out, how the elements, forms, and colors in the image relate, the moment captured, etc.

Reuters photographer Joseba Etxaburu is knocked down by a wild cow during festivities in the bullring following the sixth running of the bulls of the San Fermin festival in Pamplona July 12, 2012. Etxaburu suffered some scratches on his right elbow but was able to continue shooting afterwards. Canon EOS-1D Mark IV, lens 70-200mm, f3.5, 1/640, ISO 500.

In an interesting exercise, someone has compiled the type of cameras and lenses used for the photos, and the exposure settings, and then put it all into easy to read pie charts. To turn this information on its head, it seems that to have the best chance of make an interesting image, what you need is a Canon 1D Mark IV with a 16-35mm lens (likely the EF 16-35mm f/2.8L), set your aperture at f/2.8, shutter speed at 1/320, and use 200 ISO.

But to look seriously and more in-depth at the information compiled and presented in the charts, one can learn a lot about how photojournalists in the field operate:

They seem to prefer Canon dSLR cameras, with Canons used in about 90% of the images* – or it perhaps merely shows that Reuters provides, supports, and/ or encourages Canon equipment. (For example, they likely have a collection of Canon bodies and lenses at their offices for the photojournalists to use or to supplement their equipment when they need a specialized lens.) The top camera used, the Canon 1D Mark IV is a very rugged and reliable professional camera, which is interesting to note has “only” 16 megapixels (though it has a much higher quality image sensor than consumer cameras). It has recently been replaced with the more current Canon 1D X.

Prime lenses were used (rather than zooms) in about 55%* of the images, and the most common favorites were nearly equally divided over the 24mm, 50mm, and 16mm (each used about 8% of the time overall when including all lenses*).

With zoom lenses, the wide angle 16-35mm (EF 16-35mm f/2.8L) was used most often (about 19% of the time overall with all lenses*), followed by the 70-200mm (likely the EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS version I or II). (The lens links here are for Canon lenses – I’ll try to get back to this and add similar Nikon lens links.)

(*these numbers may be off, as the numbers on Reddit seem to be inconsistent/ incomplete)

What this tells us is that wide angle lenses really are the “bread and butter” lens of the photojournalist, used to capture a wide scene or to place the subject or the action into a larger context – which is often important in telling a full and accurate story in a single image. It also means that the photographer was typically very close to the subject, right in the middle of the action. Sometimes however, a close-up portrait or detail best tells the story, or a photographer can’t get as close as desired, and that is where the 70-200mm comes in.  It is interesting to note that when I did extensive research into choosing lenses at the start of my professional career, I followed many working photographers’ advice and settled first upon these exact lenses – the 16-35mm and 70-200mm. You can do a lot of great travel and photojournalism work with those two lenses alone. One problem you will run into if you are only using one body, however, is that you sometimes have to quickly switch to the other, and that is where the more versatile 24-105mm f/4L or 24-70mm f/2.8L lenses can be more practical.  And you can see that these mid-range zooms were two of the other, lesser used zooms in the chart.

After some time with the zooms, most people want to try their hand at a prime lens – to increase image quality, help them work a bit more at composing and framing, and to provide even shallower depth of field. And as you can see, the wide primes are the most popular among photojournalists. The 50mm f/1.2L or the more affordable 50mm f/1.4 will give you a field of view approximating your normal vision (hence they are called “normal” lenses. The 24mm f/1.4L and 16mm focal lengths are much wider. These also show that the photographers were right up in the action.

The photojournalist’s expression used to be “f/8 and be there” but based on this data, it will obviously have to be modified to “f/2.8 and be there.” The most common aperture setting in these images was f/2.8, used in about 29% of the photos, followed by f/4, f/1.4 (which is possible with some of the prime lenses), and f/3.2. What this means is that they are most often using a very shallow depth of field, usually in an attempt to visually separate the subject of the image from the background, and to call attention to exactly where in the image they want the viewer’s eye to fall. Plus the wide aperture lets in lots of light, which may help them be able to use the fast shutter speeds and low ISO settings they desire.

The “f/8 and be there” expression has been interpreted in a few different ways, but what it seems to say is have your camera ready, and then just be at the scene. The camera settings aren’t nearly as important in photojournalism as simply being there to capture the action.  It also shows that with f/2.8 (and other wide apertures) being used as the most common aperture setting today, photography has likely made a shift over the past few decades where shallower depth of field is much more common.  This would be interesting to investigate, but it could be the result of autofocus systems, allowing a photojournalist to be much more sure of their focus and able to use shallow dof – where as before they had to quickly manually focus and a slightly deeper dof allowed some focusing lee-way. It could also have to do with lenses now being sharper at wider apertures.

The most often used shutter speeds were 1/320, 1/250, 1/800, and 1/640. A photojournalist is often capturing action or precise moments, and thus a fast shutter speed is desired. The best thing to do in these types of situations – especially if working in Aperture Priority Mode so that you have full control over your depth of field – is to set an ISO speed (based on the lighting of the scene) that will allow the camera to select appropriately fast shutter speeds. The best shutter speed depends on the situation and how fast/ what direction the subject might be moving, but from these results it shows that anywhere from 1/250 to 1/800 can work for many scenes – although 1/1000, 1/2000, or faster will be needed for sports and fast action. So set an ISO speed that will result in this shutter speed range when your aperture is set around f/2.8 or f/5.6 (or whatever aperture range you plan to use). The results show that the photojournalists seem to choose the lowest ISO possible for the situation (based on the lighting), as this will result in the least amount of digital noise – interestingly the most used ISO settings actually went in order from 200, 400, 800, to 1600. The fact that ISO 100 came in next, but at a much smaller percentage seems to say: don’t risk it with 100 ISO – just use 200 ISO so that you don’t inadvertently use too slow of a shutter speed when the lighting level decreases but you aren’t paying attention to the exposure settings. The noise and sharpness difference between 100 and 200 is pretty negligible for most current cameras.

Don’t quite understand all these settings and the terminology?  Have a look at my Full Stop dSLR camera guides, such as Canon 5D Mark III Experience and Nikon D600 Experience, which cover not explain the functions, features, and controls of Nikon and Canon dSLR cameras, but more importantly how, when and why to make use of them in your photography.

full stop dslr photo photography camera manual guide for dummies canon nikon


New Nikon Camera and Canon Lenses

There is a lot of exciting news today, and not just with the US Presidential election but also on the dSLR front. Nikon has announced the new Nikon D5200 upper-entry-level dSLR and Canon has announced the Canon EF 24-70mm f/4L IS USM lens.  Yes, a 24-70mm with Image Stabilization! Plus they announced  the EF 35mm f/2 IS USM lens.

The Nikon D5200 is a pretty big leap for an upper-entry level camera in that not only does it boast the 24 megapixels of the new Nikon D600, it also incorporates the 39-point autofocus system of the D7000 (and D600).  This is a sophisticated, complex AF system that was challenging for many experienced enthusiasts to learn, so it is going to be an interesting challenge for those with much less dSLR experience. A very interesting move by Nikon.

Nikon D5200 dslr 39 point autofocus AF

The new Canon 24-70mm F/4L IS, with Image Stabilization, is designed to be the kit lens for the upcoming Canon 6D, though it will also make a great lens for any other Canon dSLR. It is going to create a very difficult decision for photographers who will have to weigh the pros and cons of the 25-105 f/4 IS (with Image Stabilization too), the original 24-70 f/2.8L or newer 24-70 f/2L II (both without Image Stabilization), and the brand new 24-70 f/4L IS – which adds Image Stabilization.

Canon 24-70mm lens ef is image stabilization f4 f/4

The original 24-70 f/2.8L quickly became my main walk-about lens immediately after obtaining it, so I can say that it is a wonderful lens and a great focal length.  Have the additional reach of the 24-105mm f/4L IS would be great, but I didn’t want to give up the wide f/2.8 aperture which creates even greater background blurring. Now people are going to have to analyze the Image Stabilization vs. the f/2.8 or f/4 aperture vs. the additional reach of the 24-105mm (especially on a full-frame camera) vs. the price vs. image quality vs. size and weight.  Not an easy decision! Perhaps when I get a chance, I will try to break it down and try to help with the decision.  Just know, before you lose your mind analyzing the pros and cons of each element, each of these lenses has amazing performance, built, and image quality.  You really can’t go wrong with any of them. Just pick one and start shooting!

And perhaps most exciting, Canon has introduced the Mark II lens caps! Finally, a center-pinch cap that can easily be accessed inside a lens hood.  I know you had to copy Nikon to do this, but thank you Canon!

Canon lens cap center centre pinch new

Top Ten Accessories for the Canon T5i / EOS 700D

Now that you’ve decided on the Canon Rebel T5i / EOS 700D (or Canon Rebel T4i / EOS 650DCanon Rebel T3i / EOS 600D) you’ll want to get the basic, essential accessories. Don’t get carried away yet with elaborate flash modifiers and color balance correction tools before you gain some experience and determine which advanced accessories you will really need and use. But you can’t go wrong with these initial 10 additions to your camera bag. Click on the links or the images to view and purchase them on or from the manufacturer (and help support my blog by doing so – thanks!)

1. SanDisk Extreme 8GB or 16GB Memory Card – You are going to need a high quality, high speed memory card to save all those images and capture those videos. Go with the best and don’t risk corruption and errors – a SanDisk Extreme. Perhaps a couple 8GB, 16GB, or even 32GB capacity Secure Digital (SD) cards to capture and store your photos – more if traveling. Use at least class 6 cards, or better yet class 10 if you will be shooting video.  Be sure to check the Sandisk site for current rebates.

2. Canon LP-E8 Battery – You will probably want a spare battery, especially if you are traveling, or just for those times you forgot to charge the battery before going to an important event. Go with the official Canon brand and avoid battery communication and charging issues. If you are a fan of the optional battery back / vertical grip, the one for the T3i and T4i is the Canon BG-E8. The battery grip allows you to use 2 LP-E8 batteries for extended shooting, or six AA batteries, and also increases the size of the camera body, which some users find more ergonomically comfortable, especially when shooting in the portrait orientation.

3. Canon T5i/700D Experience e-book (or Canon T4i Experience E Book or Canon T3i Experience E Book) – You will want to go beyond Auto and learn to use the advanced functions and settings of your sophisticated camera, so be sure to check out my e books, Canon T5i/700D Experience, Canon T4i Experience and Canon T3i Experience. They will help you to take control of your camera so that you can consistently take better images – the images you wish to capture. You’ve invested the money in an advanced camera, now invest the time to learn how to use it to its full potential! (There is also a Canon T2i Experience book available.)

Canon Rebel T5i 700D EOS book manual guide dummies how to tutorial tips tricks learn use setup     Canon T4i EOS 650D book ebook how to manual dummies field guide    

4. Black Rapid RS7 Strap – This sling-style camera strap provides a more comfortable and practical – and somewhat more discreet – way to carry around your camera, especially if you have a larger lens on it. They also make a couple of slightly different versions of the sling-strap, such as one designed for women, and a active “sport” version.

5. Manfrotto 055XPROB Tripod Legs and Manfrotto 496RC2 Ball Head:  This is an excellent “starter” combination of tripod legs and head for the enthusiast.  They are sturdy and durable yet affordable.  If you know you will be doing a lot of tripod work, such as for studio, landscape, or travel photography, it is best to invest in more advanced (expensive) versions, including lighter carbon fiber legs, four section legs that close to a shorter length, and a head with additional or specialized features.


6. Giottos Large Rocket Blower – Blow the dust off your lens, camera body, interior, and sensor safely with the Rocket Blower. Get the large size for maximum “whoosh!” Use with the LensPEN Lens Cleaning System to clean those fingerprints, smudges, and mysterious spots off your camera lens (filter) safely and quickly with the LensPEN. Brush off the loose spots with the brush end, “charge” the tip with a twist of the cap, then clean by “drawing” in a circular motion. Read the manufacturer’s instruction for complete details.


7. Canon 430EX II Speedlite Flash – Upgrade to the Canon Speedlite Flash to obtain more flash power and control for your low light pictures. Take advantage of the T3i’s wireless remote flash capabilities. Rotate and bounce your flash for more flattering indirect light, diffuse it and scatter it for less harsh shadows. Consider the Canon 580EX II Speedlite for more advanced needs.

7a. Stofen Omni Bounce Diffuser – Diffuse and scatter the light from your Speedlite flash with the Omni Bounce Diffuser to eliminate harsh shadows. Use it with your flash head at a 45 degree angle up, or to the side or behind you, as it is designed to be used. Don’t aim it straight on, and don’t use it outside. I don’t care if you see others doing that, even if they have a 5D and a big lens – they don’t know that all they are doing is wasting flash power and not affecting the results.

8. B+W Brand UV Filter – Protect your lens from scratches, dust, and impact damage with a high-quality, multi-coated B+W brand UV filter. It generally shouldn’t affect your image quality due to its high quality glass and coatings, and it just may save you from a $200 repair. Leave one on each of your lenses at all times, unless you are using another filter like the circular polarizer. Be sure to get the right size filter for your lens.

8a. B+W Brand Circular Polarizer Filter – Use this high-quality, multi-coated filter to dramatically darken skies, increase contrast, and cut through reflections. Turn the rotating lens to adjust the amount of darkening or reflection.

9. Canon EF-S 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 IS Lens – After you’ve realized the limitations of the kit lens in both quality and focal range, pair your T3i with this high quality all-purpose “walk-around” lens, great for everyday and travel use. It provides the full focal range from wide angle to telephoto, and delivers excellent image quality, color, and contrast, as well as Image Stabilization to prevent blur from camera movement.

9a. EW 78D Lens Hood – And you will want the lens hood for the 18-200mm lens, to shade the lens from unwanted glare and flare and protect it from bumps and bangs.

10. M Rock Holster Bag – Carry and protect your camera and walk-around lens in a holster style bag from M Rock. I used the Yellowstone style extensively in my travels throughout South America, and I love its durability and extra little features like a built-in rain cover, micro-fiber cleaning cloth, zippered interior pocket, adjustable interior, and extra strap. Be sure to get the model that fits your camera body and lens-length.

Bonus. Understanding Exposure by Bryan Peterson – If you don’t yet understand the relationship between aperture, shutter speed, and ISO, read this book immediately. This knowledge is essential to understanding and using your powerful dSLR to its full potential.

For additional photography gear, accessories, and books, be sure to check out my dSLR Photography Gear, Accessories, and Books post!

Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L II vs. 24-70mm f/2.8L

Canon has just announced an updated, improved version of it’s high-quality EF 24-70mm f/2.8L standard zoom, called the EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM.  (To understand what all the notions mean, please see my Canon Lens Notations post.)

Some would call this the full frame standard zoom, though as an EF lens it can also be used on non-full-frame cameras such as the 7D, 60D, and T3i/600D.  The difference is that on non-full-frame bodies, it will act more like a 38-112mm focal length lens due to the crop factor of the smaller sensors.

Canon 24-700mm f/2.8L II lens new updated improved
New Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM – (image from Canon USA)

Many, including myself, had hoped for – or even expected – this update to incorporate image stabilization, but this was not included.  The image stabilization would have made it an even tougher decision between the new 24-70 f/2.8L II and the 24-105mm f/4L IS, which offers a similar focal length plus image stabilization, but has a minimum aperture of “only” f/4.0.

Canon states that the lens has been completely redesigned, and in addition to still offering great weather sealing like the original, the same .38m / 1.25 ft. minimum focus distance, and improved durability, it also now “features completely redesigned optics to provide outstanding clarity, image quality and durability. A compact design makes it ideal for carrying on every shoot, and a range of optical enhancements provide improved performance – capturing greater detail across the frame while reducing distortion throughout the entire zoom range, particularly at the maximum 70mm focal length.

With a redesigned optical system that includes two Ultra-low Dispersion (UD) and one Super UD aspheric elements to minimise chromatic aberration and colour blurring, the lens delivers consistently sharp, high-contrast images. Each lens element also features Canon’s optimised Super Spectra coatings to reduce ghosting and flare and ensure excellent colour balance. Additionally, a fluorine coating minimises the amount of dust, dirt and fingerprints that adhere to the front and rear of the lens, helping to maintain superior image quality.”

The original 24-70mm f/2.8L lens included “the use of two different types of aspherical lens elements and a UD (Ultra-low Dispersion) glass element for obtaining sharper image quality.”  (quotes from Canon press releases)

Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L original lens
Original Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L USM – (image from Cburnett, Wikipedia, GFDL license)
PLEASE do not put a cheap Tiffen filter on an L lens – use a high quality multi-coated B+W MRC filter

There are some significant differences in the design of the new lens vs. the older version.  They both have ultrasonic motors for autofocus and full time autofocus (you can override the AF by turning the focus ring without switching to manual focus).  And they both use an external zoom mechanism, meaning the lens extends as you zoom in and out.  However, the original lens extended as you zoomed toward the 24mm wide end, which is “backwards” from a typical zoom lens.  The new version acts as a more typical zoom, extending as you zoom towards the 70mm telephoto end.  They both include a lens hood, though the older hood attached to the main section of the lens and the lens extends inside of the hood, thus working more effectively as a hood throughout the entire focal range from wide to tele.  The hood of the new version attaches to the extending section, and thus is a smaller tulip style lens hood typical of most lenses.  Perhaps the new coatings and lens elements make up for any internal reflections that might have resulted from this less effective hood.  The new lens offers a lock switch for when it is retracted, though L lenses typically zoom so smoothly and tightly that they don’t tend to creep.

The sizes of the lenses are similar, though the new version is slightly shorter and lighter but wider.  Due to the changed design, the new lens boasts a larger 82mm filter size.  And the prices at this point are dramatically different.  As far as the image quality, it is certain that the new 24-70mm is going to demonstrate dramatically improved image quality, especially when paired with the new Canon 5D MkIII (Canon 5D X?) when it comes out, as it is rumored to boast 30+ MP, which is going to require excellent glass to fully take advantage of.

24-70mm f/2.8L
3.3″ x 4.9″
2.1 lbs (950 g)
77mm filter size
$1,269 at B&H
$1,299 on Amazon

24-70mm f/2.8L II
3.5″ x 4.4″
1.77 lbs (805 g)
82mm filter size
$2,299 at B&H available for pre-order, expected in mid-April

Ten Top Accessories for the Nikon D5100

Now that you’ve finally decided on a dSLR and chosen the Nikon D5100 you will want to get some basic, essential accessories. While there are countless accessories available that may look appealing or seem necessary, I suggest you first gain some experience with your basic equipment, and then discover through use which additional items you truly want or really need.  No add-on, whether an elaborate flash modifier or color balance correction tool, will instantly improve your images so concentrate instead on your image making!

nikon d5100 dslr camera unbox unboxing kit lens choose decide vs
photo by author – copyright 2011 – please do not use without permission!

But you can’t go wrong with these initial 10 additions to your camera bag. Click on the links or the images to view and purchase them on (and help support my blog by doing so – thanks!)

1. SanDisk Extreme 8GB Memory Card – You are going to need a high quality, high speed memory card to save all those images and capture those videos. Go with the best and don’t risk corruption and errors – a SanDisk Extreme. Perhaps a couple 8GB cards or 16GB cards.

2. Nikon EN-EL14 Rechargable Battery: It is always good to have an extra battery or two, especially when traveling or when photographing an event all day.  Go with the official Nikon brand and avoid battery communication and charging issues. If you are a fan of the optional battery back / vertical grip, there is a third-party offering for the D5100, the Neewer Pro Battery Grip for Nikon D5100.  Though Nikon did not design their own D5100 battery grip, this third-party option fills the gap, and accepts 2 EN-EL 14 batteries. The grip may make the camera easier to handle for those with larger hands, when working with a large lens, or if often working in portrait orientation.

Nikon d5100 battery en-el14

3. Nikon D5100 Experience e-book – You will want to begin to learn to use your camera, go beyond Auto, and start to use the advanced functions and settings of your sophisticated D5100, so be sure to check out my e book, Nikon D5100 Experience.  This guide will help you to take control of your camera so that you can consistently take better images – the images you wish to capture. You’ve invested in an advanced camera, now invest the time to learn how to use it to its full potential! There are also Kindle, Nook, and iPad versions of the e-book available here.

4. Black Rapid RS7 Strap – This sling-style camera strap provides a more comfortable and practical – and somewhat more discreet – way to carry around your camera, especially if you have a larger lens on it.  The RS-7 version has a nice curved shoulder strap, the RS-4 is not curved at the shoulder but does have a handy little pocket for memory cards, and the RS-W1 R-Strap is designed for women.

5. Giottos Large Rocket Blower – Blow the dust off your lens, camera body, interior, and sensor safely with the Rocket Blower. Get the large size for maximum “whoosh!”

6. LensPEN Lens Cleaning System – Clean those fingerprints, smudges, and mysterious spots off your camera lens (filter) safely and quickly with the LensPEN. Brush off the loose spots with the brush end, “charge” the tip with a twist of the cap, then clean by “drawing” in a circular motion. Read the manufacturer’s instruction for complete details.

7.  Nikon SB-900, SB-800, SB-700, or SB-600 Speedlight Flashes: Use one of these external flashes for greatly increased flash power and control compared to the built-in flash. They also have adjustable and rotating heads so that you can use indirect and bounce flash, and all of them can be used as remote flashes controlled by the built-in flash.  With the exception of the SB-600 all can be used as commanders to trigger remote flashes. The SB-900 Speedlight or the new SB-910 Speedlight is recommended if you need maximum flash power for events and weddings, etc. Otherwise the smaller SB-700 Speedlight is best for general use.

8. B+W Brand UV Filter – Protect your lenses from dust, scratches, and impact damage with a high-quality, multi-coated B+W brand UV filter. It typically shouldn’t affect your image quality due to its high quality glass and coatings, and it just might save you from a $200 repair. Leave one on each of your lenses at all times, unless you are using another filter like the circular polarizer. Be sure to get the right size filter for your lens.

8a. B+W Brand Circular Polarizer Filter – Use this high-quality, multi-coated filter to dramatically darken skies, increase contrast, and cut through reflections. Turn the rotating lens to adjust the amount of darkening or reflection as you place the sun to your left or right.

9. Nikon 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6G AF-S ED VR II Lens – After you’ve realized the limitations of the kit lens, especially in that area of focal range, pair your D5100 with this high quality all-purpose “walk-around” lens, great for everyday and travel use. It provides the full focal range from wide angle (for capturing the entire scene) to telephoto (for zooming in on details and faces), and delivers excellent image quality, color, and contrast, as well as Vibration Reduction (image stabilization) to prevent blur from camera movement.

9a. HB-35 Lens Hood – And you will want the optional bayonet lens hood for the 18-200mm lens, to shade the lens from unwanted glare and flare and protect it from bumps and bangs.

10. M Rock Holster Bag – Carry and protect your camera and walk-around lens in a holster style bag from M Rock. I used the Yellowstone style extensively in my travels throughout South America, and I love its durability and extra little features like a built-in rain cover, micro-fiber cleaning cloth, zippered interior pocket, adjustable interior, and extra strap. Be sure to get the model that fits your body and lens.


Bonus items:

Understanding Exposure by Bryan Peterson – If you don’t yet understand the relationship between aperture, shutter speed, and ISO, read this book immediately. This knowledge is essential to understanding and using your powerful dSLR to its full potential.

Nikon ML-L3 Wireless Remote or MC-DC2 Remote Release Cord: These remotes will allow you to trigger the shutter of the camera remotely, thus allowing either self-portraits or the ability to release the shutter without pressing the Shutter-Release Button thus preventing possible camera shake.

Nikon Capture NX2: If you are not using Photoshop, this software will enable you to process and retouch your JPEG or RAW files, and correct things such color, contrast, and sharpening.

For additional photography gear, accessories, and books, be sure to check out my dSLR Photography Gear, Accessories, and Books post!

Black Friday Deals on Canon dSLR Cameras

B&H is having some great Black Friday deals on dSLR cameras and accessories, including some Double Instant Rebates on Canon bodies and lenses including the EOS 60D, 7D, and 5D MkII.  If you are looking to pair a new body with a great lens or Speedlite, such as one of the 70-200mm telephoto zooms, one of the high-quality wide angle lenses like the 17-55mm f/2.8, the 580 EXII flash, or a number of macro and specialty lenses like a tilt-shift, this is the time to do it!

Note that B&H will be closed and not be taking orders between Friday evening and Saturday evening.  Below is a sample of the savings you can get with the 60D. Click here for the B&H Canon Savings or on the image to go to B&H and see the entire offer.  They also have a number of other Black Friday and holiday specials.

Amazon also of course has many Black Friday deals in everything including cameras and accessories, including several Canon point and shoot cameras such as the very high quality Canon Powershot SX230HSClick here to view Amazon Black Friday camera specials.

B&H Black Friday and Holiday Specials

Black Friday Canon dslr camera 60D 7D 5D speedlite flash lens rebate sale

black friday camera dslr canon deal sale bargain

Nov. Canon Rebate on Lenses, 60D, Flashes

Canon is running more Instant Savings Rebates on the EOS 60D, body only or with a variety of different lenses or lens combinations.  There are also rebates on several desirable lenses – including great wide angle, telephoto, and macro lenses, the nifty 50, and even tilt-shift lenses.  Plus Speedlite flashes.

It’s a great time to get a pre-holiday gift for yourself or those on your list!

Have a look at the options below, and head over to Amazon, B&H, or Adorama to start shopping – click these store links, or the logos at the left of the page, to shop at these stores and help support this blog!. Thanks!

Have a look at the Canon rebate site to see the details of the offer.

Canon Instant Savings on L Lenses and Speedlites

Are you ready to purchase a nice new Canon L series lens or a Speedlight flash?  Now is the time with their instant savings until Sept. 3, 2011!

Click here to visit Amazon and have a look at these lenses/ Speedlites.  Or please consider using my affiliate links for B&H or Adorama by clicking the icons on the left side of the page.

canon rebate instant save savings l lens speedlite flash speedlight


Nikon Instant Savings on Cameras and Lenses

Buy a Nikon dSLR including the D5100, D7000 or D3100, with one of the selected lenses, and save up to $250 on the purchase!  Here is a page on Amazon with the complete instructions.  It involves putting both items in your cart – camera and lens – and then using the proper coupon code:

Instant Savings Amount by Lens
$250 off Nikon 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6G AF-S ED VR II Nikkor Telephoto Zoom Lens. Enter code 33YES67Y at checkout.
$200 off Nikon 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6G ED IF AF-S VR Nikkor Zoom Lens. Enter code JSZW7NC9 at checkout.
$100 off Nikon 85mm f/3.5G AF-S DX ED VR Micro Nikkor Lens. Enter code TG5D8MXL at checkout.
$100 off Nikon 55-300mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR AF-S DX Nikkor Zoom Lens. Enter code V8DLU4TK at checkout.
$100 off Nikon 55-200mm f/4-5.6G ED IF AF-S DX VR Nikkor Zoom Lens. Enter code ESZBSIIK at checkout.
$100 off Nikon 55-200mm f4-5.6G ED AF-S DX Nikkor Zoom Lens. Enter code ZRB9VW8Y at checkout.

Head over to Amazon by clicking here, and save!


The instant rebate is also going on with other retailers such as B&H.  B&H has an informative page with visually spells it all out nicely (click the link or the image):

Nikon dslr camera sale savings rebate b and h B&H


Canon Lens Rebates on Telephoto Zoom Lenses

Just in time for summer vacations, safaris, and baseball there are new instant save rebates for some of the Canon telephoto zoom lenses.  You don’t need to do anything for the rebate or send anything in, it is an instant savings built into the sale price.

Canon lens rebate instant save telephoto zoom

EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS
EF-S 55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS
EF 75-300mm f/4-5.6 III

Click on the lens names above to see and purchase them from Amazon, with the sale price.

All of these are pretty basic quality lenses, but if you are looking for an affordable telephoto zoom to give you more reach for those sports, wildlife, and travel, now is a good time to buy.

If you are going to purchase any of these, I would suggest going with the EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS.  With any lens, you get pretty much exactly what you pay for, so pay a little more for better image quality, color, contrast, and image stabilization.  You can learn much more about lenses in the Lens Category of posts here.

Here is the information on the Canon instant save rebates.

If you are looking for a high quality zoom, consider one of the Canon L lenses such as:

70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM II

70-200mm f/4L IS USM

70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS  USM

Making Sense of Canon and Nikon Lens Notations

Click here to jump down to Nikon (Nikkor) Lens Notations

Canon Lens Notations

You have probably noticed that Canon lens descriptions have numerous notations, and may be wondering what some of those letters and numbers mean.  For example EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS is the full name of the kit lens that you may have purchased with the camera.  A lens with a somewhat similar focal length, but which is much more expensive, is the EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens.  Each of those notations is significant, and all are important to know and understand when you are researching additional lenses to buy for your camera.  And since I have a hard time remembering them all, I have also added a quick reference to the end for Nikon lenses and a link to a more thorough site.

Canon lens notation letter number mean meaning
Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II

EF and EF-S are two different Canon lens mounts.  EF lenses can be used on any Canon dSLR, while EF-S lenses are designed for, and can only be used on Canon dSLRs with 1.6x cropped sensors, including the 60D, all Rebels such as the T3i, plus the 7D, 50D and others, but not the full frame 5D or 5D Mk II.  The rear of EF-S lenses reaches further into the camera body, and thus will damage the mirror of the 5D cameras if you attempt to attach it.  These lenses are optimized for the 1.6X cropped sensor cameras, and have a shorter back-focus distance which gives them the ability to be more effective as wide-angle lenses on the cameras with smaller sensors.  EF-S lenses are mounted by lining-up the white square on the lens with the white square on the camera.  EF lenses match red dot to red dot.  If you someday plan to upgrade to a full-frame camera, such as a 5D Mk II or its eventual replacement, or if you suspect that in the future full-frame cameras will become much more affordable and replace most cropped frame cameras, you shouldn’t invest in too many EF-S lenses.

18-135mm or 24-105mm is the focal length of the lens.  These are both zoom lenses, which cover a range of focal lengths.  There are wide-angle zooms – typically within the 10-40mm range, standard zooms – typically within the 17-135mm range, and telephoto zooms – typically within the 70-300mm range.  See this page for all of Canon’s lens offerings:

A Prime lens has only a single focal length, such as 50mm or 85mm.  It will not zoom in and out, and thus you have to “zoom with your feet” as they say.  However, without the additional mechanisms required by zooms, you generally get more quality for the price with a prime lens, plus typically very wide apertures for great low light use and blurry backgrounds.

f/3.5-5.6 or f/4 indicates the largest maximum aperture.  See my post Fixed Maximum Aperture vs. Variable Maximum Aperture for more information on what this means and why one lens has a range of numbers and the other lens just has one.

L lenses are Canon’s top of the line lenses, identifiable by the red band around the front end of the lens.  L lenses are generally higher quality lenses than the standard lenses in just about every way possible.  They typically offer:

  • Better sharpness throughout the full range of focal lengths and apertures, as well as better sharpness, color, contrast, and image quality across the image frame from the center to the corners.  They accomplish this in part by precisely and accurately resolving all the light wavelengths (colors) on the sensor plane.  (Think of a cheap printing job you’ve seen where the colors don’t all align and thus the words or images always look out of focus.  This is an exaggerated example of what a lower quality lens might do.)
  • Higher quality and stronger construction, durability, and seals for increased dust, water, and weather resistance.
  • Higher quality glass (or even fluorite crystal) and coatings to prevent flare and internal reflections.
  • Larger maximum apertures and fixed maximum apertures.
  • Image stabilization.
  • Higher quality, quieter, and faster auto focus mechanisms and full time manual focus (ability to override auto-focus for manually tweaking focus while remaining in AF).
  • Internal zoom mechanisms, meaning the lens does not extend when you zoom, which also allows for better weather sealing.
  • Metal lens mounts (the part that attaches onto the camera) for better durability, sealing, and electrical connections (less expensive lenses sometimes have plastic mounts that wear and then the lens wobbles and loses electrical connection).

However, several non-L lenses, including some EF-S lenses, have many of these features and characteristics too, and some approach the L lenses in terms of quality.  One thing to keep in mind with lenses is that you almost always get what you pay for.  More expensive lenses offer higher image quality, construction quality, and features.

IS means image stabilization, and allows you to hand-hold your camera at slower shutter speeds and still obtain an in-focus image.  The IS system in the lens monitors vibration and moves the internal lens elements to counteract camera movement, which might normally cause camera-shake to blur the resulting image.  A lens with IS allows you to use a shutter speed up to 4 stops slower than normally possible when taking an image while hand holding the camera.  Image stabilization isn’t critical to have for wide-angle and standard focal length lenses, but becomes pretty important when working in the 150mm, 200mm or 300mm focal lengths.  This is because those lenses are typically longer and heavier, and because you are often zooming in on something further away and a slight movement of the lens translates to a large movement over that distance (think of trying to hold your view of a distant bird steady while looking through binoculars).  Image stabilization does not correct for subject movement, but rather for camera movement, such as from an unsteady hand.  You need to use a fast shutter speed to freeze subject movement.

USM stands for ultrasonic motor, and means the lens has a high quality, precise, rapid, and quiet motor for auto focusing.

II means it is the second version of that lens.  For example the 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM lens was recently replaced with a new version which now has a II in its name.  Most often, the second version of a lens boasts improvements in quality and construction.

Have a look that this other post to learn the difference between Fixed Maximum Aperture vs. Variable Maximum Aperture.

And the little “circle with a line through it,” found on the front of the lens, indicates the filter size that will fit on the lens, such as a protective UV filter or a circular polarizing filter.

Purchasing: If you plan to purchase a new lens from Amazon, or any other equipment, I encourage you to do so by clicking on the Amazon logo below (or on the links of the lenses mentioned above). If you purchase through this link, Amazon will give me a little something for the referral, which will help support my blog. Thanks, I appreciate your support!

If you are in the UK, you can click here for the UK Amazon referral link.

For those interested in purchasing through B&H Photo, Adorama, or directly from Canon, I have set up affiliate links with them as well – find them on the left side of this page.

Renting Lenses: If you wish to first try out a lens before buying it, check out LensProToGo, where you can get great prices on short-term rentals of any lens as well as the latest Canon and Nikon dSLR bodies.

Nikon (Nikkor) Lens Notations

Here are some the most common Nikon (Nikkor) lens notations of current lenses that you will run across, many of which deal with a lens’s ability for metering, aperture control, and autofocus:

F-Mount – This is the Nikon bayonet-type lens mount that was introduced in 1959 and is still in use on Nikon dSLR cameras today.

AF – Auto-focus:   Although these lenses are capable of autofocusing, they do not have a built-in autofocus motor in the lens.  They require a camera body with a built-in autofocus motor in order to fully function, such as a Nikon D7100 or D610.  These lenses will not autofocus with Nikon dSLRs that do not have an internal autofocus motor, such as the D5200, D3200, and D40. You will need to use and AF-S lens with those cameras if you wish to autofocus.

AF-S – Auto-focus with an integrated silent wave motor:  The autofocus motor is in the lens and thus not required to be in the camera body.  You can use these lenses with any Nikon dSLR, but know that you need AF-S lenses in order to autofocus with a camera that lacks an AF motor in the body, such as the D5200 or D3200.

CPU – CPU lenses are autofocus lenses that can communicate information with the camera, such as the aperture setting, via electronic contacts.

AI – These lenses have an Ai coupling system that makes use of a small lever on the camera’s lens mount to communicate the aperture setting between camera and lens.


Non-AI (also called A or Pre-AI) –

D – Distance:  The lens communicated the focus distance to the camera, so for example that info will be part of your image metadata and assists, I believe, with the flash metering.

DC – Defocus Control:  Allows the photographer to change the degree of spherical aberration in the out-of-focus areas to provide for better bokeh (background blurring).

DX – Made for non-full-frame (crop sensor) cameras, such as the D7000, D5100, D3100.

ED – Contains extra low dispersion glass elements, which helps to reduce various optical aberrations.

G – No aperture ring on the lens.  Since an aperture ring is no longer required with a dSLR, most common current lenses, with the exception of a 50mm for one, are G lenses.

IF – Internal Focusing:  Focusing movement occurs inside the lens and so no external lens elements are moving during focusing (well, other than the focusing ring of course).

N – Nano coating:  A crystalline coating on the lens elements eliminates internal lens element reflections, helping to reduce ghosting and flare.

PC – Perspective control:  Used to correct perspective (converging horizontals) such as for an architectural photographer.

VR or VR II– Vibration Reduction:  Image stabilization incorporated into the lens, which corrects for camera movement (but not subject movement!).

A more thorough list of notations, including older ones, and detailed explanation can be found here:

Top 10 Accessories for Your Canon Rebel T3i / EOS 600D

I have updated this post for the Canon Rebel T5i / EOS 700D and the Rebel T4i / EOS 650D, which you can now view on this blog here:

Top Ten Accessories for the Canon T5i / EOS 700D

All of the accessories still apply to the T3i and the T2i (EOS 600D, 550D).


The Canon 70-300mm DO Travel Companion

In some of my posts, such as the one about the Best Lenses for Travel and Humanitarian Photography, I venture to suggest a good single lens for travel. My recommendations have typically been the Canon 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 or the more expensive Canon 24-105 f/4L. Both offer a useful focal length range for travel, image stabilization, and excellent image quality (relative to their price, of course – the professional L lens is of much higher quality). The 24-104mm also boasts the fast and quiet USM focusing motor.

One lens that I have previously failed to mention is the unique Canon 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 DO IS USM lens. Its broad focal length range, image stabilization, and USM focusing motor with full-time manual focus* are all appealing features. (*you can over-ride or tweak the autofocus with a twist of the focus ring without switching to MF.) But what makes it a potentially great travel companion is its size and appearance. Due to its use of Diffractive Optics (the DO in its name) the lens is relatively small and light. And in addition, its exterior is black rather than the white of the L lenses. Thus it becomes a much more portable and much less obtrusive lens than the big, white 70-200mm and 70-300mm L lenses.

Canon 70-300mm DO lens diffractive optics
The unique green band of the Canon 70-33mm DO lens

The 70-300mm DO declares its uniqueness with a green band around the front of the barrel, where the red band of the L lenses sits. Diffractive Optics is a technology developed by Canon to reduce lens size while maintaining image quality and eliminating chromatic aberrations, and currently only two Canon lenses use DO. This lens has been around since 2004, and has overall received excellent reviews. For a professional photographer it will never quite replace a 70-200mm or 70-300mm L lens due to its slightly lower image quality and sharpness, and lack of the f/2.8 or f/4 maximum aperture throughout its full range, but for those just a little less demanding it could be the perfect travel companion for photographers not wishing to carry around a larger and more noticeable white lens.

Canon 70-300mm DO lens diffractive optics

There are mixed reviews on its sharpness. Some users claim it is sharp as can be, some say it loses sharpness at certain focal lengths and apertures, and other say with standard post-process sharpening there is virtually no difference between it and an L lens. One complaint that can’t be denied is its propensity for lens creep. Due to the weight of the lens elements and the fact that it zooms externally (unlike the internal zoom of the 24-105mm or the 70-200mm lenses) the zooming barrel will move on its own when pointed up or down. The lens has a locking switch for storage or for walking around, but otherwise it is going to creep. This DO lens also does not have a rubber weather-sealing ring at its mounting base, which is disappointing for a lens in this price range.

Optically the 70-300mm DO displays a couple unique characteristics as well. At certain apertures a hazy, often described as dreamy, outline will appear around bright out-of-focus areas. And due to the concentric circles of the DO optics (visible in the lens just by looking at the glass at an angle) out-of-focus spots of light also contain concentric circles, or “targets,” as shown in the image below. These rings also appear in areas of flare, so it is best not to use this lens if you are a fan of shooting into the sun to achieve purposeful lens flare.

Canon 70-300mm DO lens diffractive optics bokeh target bullseye
The interesting bullseye/ target bokeh of the 70-300mm DO lens, pronounced when at narrow apertures (f/16 here) – click image to view larger on Flickr.

The above image is a crop from the one below. Notice that in addition to the concentric circles, the bokeh of bright light spots becomes hexagonal at narrower apertures (like f/10 or f/16) as shown below, but it is nice and circular starting at f/8, without the targets being so pronounced at wider apertures (like f/5.6).

Canon 70-300mm DO lens diffractive optics bokeh
Canon 70-300mm DO lens – hexagonal bokeh with bullseye targets seen at f/16 – click image to view larger on Flickr.

So if you are looking for a high quality lens for travel with an exceptional telephoto zoom range, you may wish to consider the 70-300mm DO. It is not everyone’s ideal single lens for travel because its focal length starts at 70mm and thus lacks the wide angle range, but for those who like to zoom in close and capture faces and details, it could be a lens that stays on your camera much of the time. And even for those who already have a big, white 70-200mm lens, this could come in handy in many situations which you wish to be a little more discreet or even appear less intimidating to your subjects. Go to the store and play with one, and I think you may find that you love the size and feel of this lens, and can envision its great travel potential.

See and purchase the 70-300mm DO lens at

Have a look at some other reviewers’ posts to learn more about this lens, its technical specs, and its performance, as well as see images comparing its size to other lenses:

Review and description with size/ weight comparisons at

Review focusing on image quality at

Field test and very technical review at

Canon’s explanation of Diffractive Optics

Canon Lens Price Increase Feb. 01

Word on the street is that there is going to be a 5% price increase for many Canon lenses and Speedlites starting February 1, 2011.  Here is one list showing potential increases ranging from 1% to 11%.

Canon lens price increase
(I always find it a bit silly and obsessive when photographers take photos of their own gear but, well, I needed an appropriate image!)

So make that decision now and buy that awesome new lens you’ve been desiring, before the prices go up!  Don’t know which lens(es) to buy?  Be sure to check out one of my most popular posts, Best Lenses for Humanitarian and Travel Photography to get the run down on several recommended lenses (which also applies to general and everyday photography).

If you decide to purchase from, I would appreciate it if you use my referral links on that post, or use this link to enter Amazon and make your purchases!  Amazon will give me a little something, which helps to support this blog.  Thanks!

Holiday Gift Ideas for Yourself or your Favorite Photographer

I suppose I should join the photo blogger holiday tradition of putting together a holiday and Christmas gift guide for photographers or those who are shopping for the photographer in their life! If you plan to purchase any of these items through, I you can use the product links I set up throughout this post, which will bring you right to that product’s page on Amazon. (Amazon will then reward me with a small referral reward for my effort, which will help support my blog. Thanks! If you are in the UK or wish to purchase from B+H, see the end of this post for link information.) And now on to the shopping:

The first thing you are going to need is the Canon 24-105mm f/4 lens Mug or Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 lens Mug to drink your hot cocoa or hazelnut coffee as you are unwrapping the rest of your gifts. These extremely popular and awesomely realistic mugs, complete with rubber ring grips, have a wide f/4 or f/2.8 opening which enables them to take in copious amounts of liquid just as your lens takes in all that light. The lens caps protects your beverage when not in use – no UV filter needed.
Canon lens mug 24-105mm f/4 Nikon Lens 24-70mm f/2.8 mug

The best gift of the season for most photographers would most likely be a brand new digital dSLR camera to upgrade what they are currently shooting with – one with a few more megapixes, improved autofocus system, faster continuous shooting speeds, and some new bells and whistles.

For many photographers this will be the new Canon EOS 60D body only or the Canon 60D with 18-135mm kit lens. The EOS 60D has continued Canon’s tradition of ease of use, great ergonomics and controls, fantastic image quality and low light performance, plus added a swiveling real LCD screen. And full HD video with more frame rate options than the competitors.
canon eos 60d
For Nikon shooters the best choice is the brand new, highly sought-after Nikon D7000. The Nikon D7000 body only or D7000 with 18-105mm lens cost a bit more than the 60D, but they provide the additional features to justify the higher cost: faster continuous shooting rate, partial magnesium body, more advanced and customizable autofocus system, and two SD memory card slots to save all those shots and HD movies. Either one makes a excellent camera that is capable of producing high quality images.
Nikon D7000
Of course you are going to want some new lenses to go with these cameras. Why not step up to the professional quality lenses to see that immediate improvement in image quality, color, contrast, as well as lens and autofocus performance? For Canon this means the L series of lenses. Expand your focal range or fill in some gaps with a high quality wide angle zoom, standard zoom, or telephoto zoom.

For wide angle zooms, look at either the Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM or the EF 17-40mm f/4L USM

For standard zooms, which make for a great “walk-around” lens, consider the Canon EF 24-70 f/2.8L USM or EF 24-105 f/4L IS USM

And in the telephoto zoom range, look at the EF 70-200, f/2.8L II IS USM or the much less expensive and lighter EF 70-200, f/4L IS USM

One of these lenses in each pair will be both more expensive AND heavier, so be sure and handle them first before you decide on one.

This may also be a good time to start experimenting with prime lenses. Their extra wide maximum apertures will allow you to use them in much lower light, and will create great, smooth background blurring for awesome portraits. Depending on how closely you like to work to your subject, a few to consider are the Canon 35mm f/2, Canon 50mm f/1.8 II for about $100, Canon 50mm f/1.4 (a little more costly 50mm), or the Canon 85mm f/1.8.

An extremely fun lens to work with is the Canon EF 100mm f.2.8 Macro USM. It is incredibly sharp, has dramatically narrow depth of field at f/2.8, and works as a great portrait lens too. If you have never used a macro, go try one out and experience what makes them so cool. The 60D and D7000 images just above were taken with this lens, as well as the cool close up shots of the following post comparing the Nikon D7000 vs D90 vs D300s.

If you need just one versatile lens for everyday use or for travel, the three lenses to consider are the EF 24-105 f/4L IS USM in the L series lenses, or else the EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS or EF-S 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 IS.

Of course with any of these lenses, be sure to protect them with a clear or UV filter, preferably a high quality, coated B+W brand UV filter. You can read a lot more about these lenses and how to choose between them in my earlier post, Best Lenses for Everyday and Travel Photography.

Possibly the most comfortable way to carry your camera around all day, especially when using a larger, heavier lens, is the BlackRapid RS-7 Camera Strap. I highly recommended this strap, and I use the older RS-4 version daily. They have made some steady, welcomed improvements on them, including the curved shoulder pad of the RS-7, the quick release strap, and the improved connecting hardware. The base that screws into your camera is a lower profile, stronger single piece, and the securing screw surface on the clasp ring is smooth rather than knurled so that it will no longer scratch up your camera bottom. The strap is comfortable, easy to use, quick, strong, and rugged. I often use it in conjunction with wearing a backpack, and although the straps fight for space against each other on my shoulder, it still works fine. There is also now a version designed for women, the RS-W1 plus a new woman’s version in just black. They are also introducing 2 different pieces of hardware which will allow you to attach your camera to a tripod without removing the R-Strap’s base that is already attached to your camera.

You are going to need something to carry all this equipment around in. My current favorite is the Lowepro Compu Trekker AW backpack, which is now called the Lowepro ProRunner 350 AW. I use this as both my airline carry-on and my working bag during the day. The size works perfectly for both needs. It easily fits the airline carry-on size, including smaller international requirements in some regions, yet fits more that it would first appear. With careful configuration of the interior dividers, I can fit 2 Canon bodies, three lenses, a 580EX II flash, its diffuser, 2 external hard drives in cases, a couple memory card cases, and some filters. In the outside pocket, I have a couple battery chargers, extra batteries, medium Rocket Blower, miscellaneous cords, caps, and accessories. In the rear pocket designed for a laptop, I easily fit a 32″ 5 in 1 reflector. The pack is extremely comfortable, has tons of padding on the straps and the back so that its weight never bothers me and I don’t feel the reflector in my back. I often wear it for hours a day while working, and it is never a problem. The Pro Runner 450 AW might be a better carry on size so that you could carry more gear on the plane with you (if it fits the airline’s requirements) but it would be too big for daily use. There are also rolling versions of these, with an “x” in the name, thought the retractable handles and wheels add weight and size to the bags.

For adventure videographers, the item of the year is the GoPro HD HERO Cam, which you attach to your helmet, head, mountain bike, snowboard, skateboard, motorcycle, or whatever to shoot professional quality, point of view video. It comes in a variety of packages with different mounts. Film and share your adventures in full HD video! Click the image to see it on Amazon or click here to learn more and but direct at the GoPro website.

And to save all those images you are taking, memory cards will make great stocking stuffers. I like Sandisk Extreme 16 GB SD cards. If you still use CF cards, be sure to get the SanDisk Extreme 16GB CF cards. Use a Sandisk card reader to upload the images to your computer, rather than from the camera directly, in order to save the camera batteries. This Sandisk Card Reader is for the CF cards, and the 5 in 1 reads SD cards.

And for some basic stocking stuffers, here are a few simple but essential items for keeping your camera and lenses clean:

Giottos Medium Rocket Blower in the medium or large size. Always have it handy for getting dust off lenses in a hurry, because blowing on them – no matter how careful – leads to spittle on the lenses 5% of the time when it doesn’t matter and 95% of the time when you are in the most critical situations.

Pearstone LP-1 Lens Pen – Works great for cleaning off mysterious spots, smudges, and fingerprints that always appear on the lens (this is why I always use UV filters) as well as that a-fore-mentioned spittle. There is a retractable brush on one end and a cleaning head on the other end. Twist the cap to load the cleaning tip with the carbon based cleaning material, then remove the cap and use. Please read the instructions and visit the LensPen website to fully learn how to use it properly.

For more photography equipment and accessories like those above, be sure to see this previous post Equipment for Travel (and Everyday) Photography.

To edit and save all your photos, you are going to need some hard drive space and some software:

External Hard Drives – The Iomega Ego 1TB and a Lacie Rugged USB 1TB work great both at home and when traveling. There is a FireWire version of the Lacie Rugged 500GB also. Both are built solid and sturdy, and each fit perfectly in the Case Logic Portable Hard Drive Case made for these types of drives. Get the cases in different colors so you can quickly differentiate your different drives. For storage at home, consider a couple Western Digital My Book 1TB External Hard Drives.

Post-Production – After taking all these wonderful images with your new equipment, you are going to need to organize, edit, and work on all your photos. And for that, of course you are going to needAdobe Photoshop and/ or Adobe Lightroom 3. You can start off with the trial versions that you can download from the Adobe site, but sooner or later you are going to have to get the real versions. Use that student discount if you can!

Also be sure to consider all the great photo books to help you learn to use your equipment, improve you images and compositions, and be inspired. I’ve put together a post of several of my favorites that you can read here. The most recent addition to the bookshelf is:

The Photographer’s Mind: How to See and Shoot Better Digital Photos by Michael Freeman
Every time I read Freeman’s The Photographer’s Eye, I lament, usually aloud, “why doesn’t he have more books like this?” Well, my wishes appear to have been answered. His next book The Photographer’s Mind has just come out.

And don’t forget the eBooks I put together for setting up and learning to use you Canon dSLR:

Your World 60D – The Still Photographer’s Guide to Operation and Image Creation with the Canon 60D – an eBook user’s guide and tutorial I wrote to help get you up and running with the 60D, quickly and competently. You can learn more about it at this post here. In addition to the PDF version, which also looks great on the iPad, it is also available in a Kindle edition on here and a Nook verion on Plus, for the Rebel T2i / EOS 550D, I have written T2i Experience – a similar guide for Canon T2i / 550D users.

Purchasing: If you plan to purchase cameras, photo equipment, books, or anything else from I encourage you to do so through any of the Amazon referral links I’ve set up. Just click on the equipment name or book title within this post and you will be taken to that Amazon page. Or click here to go directly to Amazon or click on the logo below, and start shopping. Thanks, I appreciate your support!

If you are in the UK, you can click here for the UK Amazon referral link.

For those interested in purchasing through B&H Photo, Adorama, or directly from Canon, I have set up affiliate links with them as well – find them on the left side of this page.

Happy Holidays, and I hope you get everything on your list!

The Difference Between f/4 vs. f/2.8

This weekend I followed my own advice, and rented a lens to try out before deciding whether or not to buy it. As I suggest in my post Why You Shouldn’t Buy the Kit Lens, if you are considering purchasing an expensive lens or want to compare a couple similar lenses to decide which one to go with, rent one or both of them for a day or a weekend, and see how you like using them. Check with camera stores near you, or look into online lens rental sites that mail the lens to you, like I went to Calumet to rent, since there is a store near me and it’s pretty cheap for the weekend rate.

(click on any product links in the text to view the lenses on

I rented the Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L since I’m curious how it compares to the Canon 24-105mm f/4L IS. While they have a similar focal-length range and can each serve as a great walk-around lens for everyday use, they have some differences that make it difficult to choose between the two. The 24-70mm is larger, significantly heavier (2.1 lbs. vs. 1.48 lbs.) and extends externally as you zoom. The 24-105mm has an internal zoom mechanism, and also has image stabilization (IS). But a major difference is the maximum aperture: f/2.8 vs. f/4.

side by side bokeh
click here to view these images larger on Flickr – from the garden at the Longfellow House, Cambridge, MA

The wider maximum aperture of the 24-70mm makes it a “faster” lens, allowing it to be used in lower light, although the IS of the 24-105mm can make up for that shortcoming. Visually, the wider maximum aperture allows for shallower depth of field (dof) which provides more dramatically blurred backgrounds, or bokeh. While I have resisted using the term bokeh in my writing, I can’t really avoid it in this discussion because the difference between f/4 vs. f/2.8 is all in the bokeh. The above image demonstrates what that means. It refers to the “circles of confusion” of the out-of-focus areas of an image – their size, shape, edges, and quality. Both of the images are taken with the 24-70mm lens – at f/4 on the left, and f/2.8 on the right. You can see that while they both demonstrate dramatically shallow depth of field and background blurring, the image taken with the aperture set at f/2.8 shows a smoother blend of the background colors and contrasts. The images are from the garden of the Longfellow House in Cambridge, MA.

When I got my Canon 70-200mm f/4L IS lens, I chose the f/4 version rather than the f/2.8 IS version because it was smaller and significantly lighter, and I knew I would not dread using it on a long day of shooting as I feared I would with the 3.24 pound f/2.8 IS version. Three and a quarter pounds! (According to the Canon website. I’m not sure if that is right – Amazon says it is 2.9 lbs.) Anyway, that kind of weight might be an important consideration for someone traveling with a lens or using it for consecutive full days of shooting. I know it is a consideration for me. So, even though I got the f/4, I’ve wondered what I have been missing image-wise by not being able to open up to f/2.8. So I took these two images with the 24-70mm to see the difference, and it is more considerable than I had thought it would be.

I was very pleased with the 24-70mm. I had been concerned that I would want more range on the telephoto end, and I did end up with a lot of images taken at the 70mm focal length, but I didn’t usually feel like I needed or wanted to zoom in any closer. It really is a great range for everyday use. It is a big lens, but other than the weight, it feels great and is comfortable to use. You can’t deny its image quality, the bokeh is wonderful, but the weight is still a consideration and may dissuade me in the end.

Here is a great site at to compare lenses, side by side. You can compare test images taken at various focal lengths and apertures. I will leave all the pixel peeping and debating of the merits of the 24-70mm vs. the 24-105mm to the forums, and just share a few photos I took with the 24-70mm at the Harvard Museum of Natural History and the adjoining Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology. All the images are hand-held, without flash, in very low lighting. The leaves and flowers in the images below are from the world renowned glass flower collection. Yes, they are made entirely of glass! Even those fall leaves. It is mind boggling, especially when viewing them in person.

If you are considering buying any of these lenses from, please use the links above, and I will get a little something for referring you. Or use this link to go directly to I appreciate your support!

HMNH cat

HMNH bird-hawk

HMNH bird-dove

HMNH autumn leaves
glass leaves above, glass flowers below. yes 100% made of glass!
HMNH purple flowers

HMNH snake

HMNH fish fossil

HMNH Peru map

HMNH Mayan stones

HMNH Indian diorama

HMNH Indian diorama 2

Choosing Between the Canon 5D vs. 7D vs. 60D vs. 550D / T2i Part III

I continue to get a large number of visits from people who are comparing the current line of Canon digital SLR cameras – the 5D Mk. II vs. 7D vs. 50D vs. 550D / T2i. I go into detail about comparing the features of these cameras in this post, including the 60D and T3i, so that is probably the post you want to read first. However, it is a long, in-depth post. If you would like to read a summary of how to make this decision and find out which camera is right for you, here it is (however, I still encourage you to read that in-depth post which is a bit more educational than this post).

Before I start I want to mention:

I have written eBook tutorials for the Canon 60D and for the Canon T2i, which cover ALL the Menu settings and Custom Function settings, with recommended settings, plus in-depth descriptions of how and and why to use the cameras’ settings and features in everyday use – Canon 7D Experience, Your World 60D, Canon T3i Experience, and T2i Experience. Learn more about the eBooks by clicking on their titles.

Longfellow House
Longfellow House – Cambridge, MA

-New to digital SLR photography and want a really nice camera for casual home and travel use? Not really sure what all those buttons and symbols are and not really interested in knowing? Get a 550D/ T2i or a Rebel XSi.

-New to digital SLR photography and want to take really great, high quality photos, but don’t ever really plan to totally get into it? Don’t really want to spend months reading about f-stops and metering modes? Plan to use Auto or Program mode most of the time? Fall asleep 3 minutes into reading the manual? Get a 550D/ T2i or a Rebel XSi.

-New to digital SLR photography and want to learn the basics of exposure: aperture, shutter speed, and ISO? Want to learn to take the camera off Auto or Program mode, and experiment with partial or spot metering and manually selected focus points? Eager to read and understand the often confusing explanations of the manual? Get a 550D/ T2i, or a 60D.

-New to digital SLR photography and want to learn everything noted above plus want to take pictures of fast moving action: kids at play, sports, dance? Consider a 60D because it can shoot 5.3 frames per second vs. 3.7 fps of the 550D. This doesn’t mean you can’t focus on and capture fast moving action with the 550D, but it means with the 60D you can fire off a faster rapid series of shots, and thus hope to capture the exact right moment.

-New to digital SLR photography but super ambitious and know you are going to be committed and dedicated enough to learn about exposure compensation and back-button focusing? Ready for Av mode now, and plan to really take your photography to the next level over the next year or two? Already read the manual online? Want to consider the possibility of professional photography in the future? Get a 60D or get a 7D if you are super-serious and if you can afford it.

-Experienced with digital SLR photography and have outgrown the limited speed and menu/ custom options of the entry level cameras? Annoyed with digital SLR users you see on the street whose cameras are nicer than yours but are left on Auto or P mode? Want to take it to the next level and maybe test the waters of professional photography? Get the 60D or get a 7D if you can afford it. Consider a 5D Mk II if you are really, really serious.

-Experienced with digital SLR photography and plan to be a top notch amateur/ semi-pro or work towards being a pro? Carry your camera everywhere and want a sturdy tool that serves you and the way you work? Already have been paid to shoot some photos, portraits, or events? Have stopped trying to read the model number of other people’s cameras because you know your photos are better than theirs even if they have a nicer camera? Get a 7D, or a 5D Mk II if you can afford it, or wait for the 5D Mk III.

-Highly experienced with digital SLR photography and are dedicating yourself to being a part-time or full time pro? Already know and understand 99.6% of what you read in this other post? Just looking for reassurance that spending $2,500 is the right decision? Get a 5D Mk II, wait for the 5D Mk III, or get a 7D if you really can’t afford the 5D yet.

Cambridge City Hall
Cambridge City Hall – Cambridge, MA

You may have been convinced by forums, reviews, or online comments to question and compare image quality, auto-focus speed, high ISO performance and noise, dynamic range, etc., but those factors are all nearly completely irrelevant. All of these cameras have more than enough quality in each of those areas. Your choice should instead be based on your experience level and expected needs as a photographer, and on which camera best serves the way you work. Remember, you don’t need a top of the line camera to take professional quality photos. Instead you need mastery of the camera you have, combined with good knowledge of composition and lighting. I encourage you to have a look at some Flickr users’ photos taken with an “old,” 8MP Rebel XT to confirm this. When you are done selecting a digital SLR body, you canread some of my other posts to learn more about the Best Lenses for Travel Photography or Why You Shouldn’t Buy the Kit Lens.

Canon 5D vs. 550D / T2i – I get an unusually high number of hits from people searching for a comparison of the 5D Mk II vs. 550D / T2i. As you can see above, there isn’t a scenario where those two cameras are together as options, as they are on opposite ends of the spectrum. It is a strange comparison between an entry level dSLR and a full frame professional dSLR that, quite frankly, confuses me. If the 5D fits your expanding needs as a photographer, you would already pretty much know that you needed a 5D after your extensive time using a Rebel or a 20D, 40D, etc. Otherwise, getting a 5D means most likely you’d be investing in far more camera than you will actually need or use. Read more about why I say that here and in the Other Important Custom Functions section here (this post is about the 7D, but it will give you a feel for how a 5D / 7D differs from a 550D in terms of features that you may need but probably don’t).

AF Microadjustment 550D / T2i, 60D – A lot of people also search for AF Micro-adjustment or focus calibration for the Canon 550D / T2i for back focus or front focus issues. Due to quality control issues, acceptable tolerances, or more rarely but not unheard of bad cameras, your camera and/or lens may focus a few notches in front of or behind the subject you focused on. If your camera happens to be 2 notches on the plus side and your lens 2 notches on the minus side, well, you are going to have some issues. While the AF Microadjustment feature is not built into the menus of the Canon 550D or new Canon 60D, here is how you micro adjust for front or back focus: send the camera and/ or lens to Canon while it is under warranty, with instructions to calibrate them. You have to pay for one way shipping and insurance (+/- $30 for one item depending on weight and coverage). Ask them to include a detailed report of what the issue was and what service they actually performed (otherwise they just repeat what you wrote and say “lens was front focusing – electrical adjustment of AF mechanism” and you don’t know if it was the camera, the lens, or your mind that was off). Then send a letter to Canon asking them why a brand new expensive Canon camera paired with a brand new expensive Canon lens that you just bought does not focus properly, and why you have to pay $30 to send it immediately back to them to fix it. This process also applies to the AF Microadjustment of the 7D, 5D, and 50D and soon the 60D. It is best to first determine if the camera or the lens is the culprit, by testing the lens on another body or the body with another lens, but it may well be a combination of both since each lens and camera is uniquely faulty. See this great post, “This Lens is Soft and Other Myths” on for more info on this.

If you are pretty new to digital SLR photography and you decided on the 7D, check out this really great book I recently came across while browsing the photo section at a bookstore: Canon 7D: From Snapshots to Great Shots by Nicole Young. I think you’ll learn more from it than most other how-to photo books and expanded manual type books. Even if you have another Canon and not a 7D, you’ll still find it helpful for learning how to really use a digital SLR to take better photos. She is currently working on a version of the book for the 60D, Canon 60D: From Snapshots to Great Shots.
canon 60D great shots

And I, myself, have written eBook user guides for the Canon 7D, Canon 60D and for the Canon Rebel T2i / EOS 550D. You can learn all about them here:  Canon 7D Experience, Your World 60D, plus the mini-guide to the 60D Menus and Custom Functions (excerpted from the full version of Your World 60D), and T2i Experience.

Need a lens to go with your new camera? Read about choosing a lens other than the kit lens in this post Why You Shouldn’t Buy the Kit Lens, and learn about the Best Lenses for Travel Photography here.

Please leave a comment, ask a question. Let me know what has been helpful, and what you’d like to read more about.

If you plan to purchase any of this equipment or books, I encourage you to do so through the site I’ve set up with Amazon, Doug’s Picturing Change Digital Photography Equipment and Books or through this direct link to Purchasing through any of these links to, or the ones below, will help support my blog and my work. Thanks! And for those of you across the pond, click here for my referral link to Amazon UK. If you are in another country, click on one of my Amazon links, scroll to the bottom of the page, and click on your country for your local Amazon.
See the T2i on Amazon.
See the 60D on Amazon.
See the 7D on Amazon.
See the Canon 5D MkII on Amazon.