Saturday, June 13, 2009

Who Wants to Up Their Game?

If you're serious about your game, your photography game, and you're looking to spend a few bucks to help accomplish that, ignore the marketing hype about every new camera body that comes along on a frequent and regular basis and buy glass-- The best glass you can afford!

Nothing will improve your game, i.e., beyond learning more and practicing as much as you can, like good glass.

You think more megapixels is going to take you to the next level? Wrong. A better processor? Most likely not. Digital SLRs with all the state-of-the-art bells and whistles? Photographers, please.

Knowledge, practice, and glass is your ticket to photo Nirvana.

Beyond that, and assuming you're not strictly a natural light shooter, I'd suggest purchasing good lighting gear. Not just lights and modifiers, but also some quality grip equipment to help you deploy your lighting and wield your camera and glass like a Samurai warrior unleashing his deadly katana.

I know, I know, you're on a budget. Aren't we all? But, for some reason, every time Canon or Nikon releases a new camera body plenty of photographers seem to find the money to buy them. How do I know this? Cuz I'm clairvoyant! Actually, because I spend enough time on photography forums to notice the flurry of threads that announce the OPs' new camera acquisitions every time a new camera body is released by the Big Two. (OP being the Original Poster.)

And how about all those hyped-up rumor-mill posts that pop up all over the net, the ones about new camera bodies on the horizon? It's amazing how those rumors make so many shooters wet... from the saliva drooling out of their mouths.

Then, of course, the rumored camera is released, lots of people buy them, and those people then post new pictures snapped by their new cameras. Frankly, I rarely see much improvement over the old pictures they snapped with their old cameras.

I'm not down-playing good camera bodies. Certainly upgrading from a cropped sensor to a full sensor will usually show improvements in the shooter's photos. But still, those improvements are often marginal without the addition of good glass and effective lighting. Re effective lighting: I'm not referring to those, as I mentioned, who are mostly available and/or natural light shooters. But good glass, of course, will also and always "up" a natural light photographer's game.

Currently, I own three lenses: A Canon 17-40mm f/4L, a Tamron AF 28-75 f/2.8, and a Canon 70-200 f/4L. Optically, they're all great lenses and they adequately and effectively cover all the focal lengths I need for my line of work, i.e., from 17mm on up to 200mm on a full-frame-sensor camera body. (The Canon 5D.) For those times when there's other glass I need and don't have, I can always beg, borrow, steal, or rent it.

Besides a couple of Canon Speedlites, I also own 4 monolights: Three Novatron M300s and one Novatron M500. The Novatrons are hardy, robust, and effective. They are medium-priced lighting instruments: In and around the $400+ price range. They are incrementally adjustable, keep color temperature nicely, recycle quickly, offer plenty of practical accessories, and output enough power for the work I most often perform.

I have a decent-enough collection of light modifiers and controllers: A 35.5" Mola Euro beauty dish, a 5' Photoflex Octodome, plus various other soft boxes, reflectors, scrims, flags, and umbrellas. I also have enough grip to utilize most any and all of the lighting gear I own in a multitude of ways. Add to that some Pocket Wizards, a light meter, and other things I carry with me and I'm well prepared for most anything I do photographically. As a former Boy Scout, the concept of being prepared was effectively beaten taught to me. Leastwise, when it comes to photography, it stuck.

Thanks to the good folks at Innovatronix, I also have some terrific portable power gear which means I'm very mobile with my lighting and grip, freed from the bonds of available A/C power!

If you're a hobbyist, do you need that much gear? Maybe not. But if you carefully consider what you most often shoot and where you shoot it, you should be able to come up with a list of things that will make your photos shine. And one of the LAST things on that list should, if you've done your homework and/or are listening to my advice, be the latest and greatest camera body from our beloved marketing-savvy camera manufacturers.

The pretty girl at the top is Kita from a shoot this past week. Kita was shot and lit almost identically to Charmane, who was featured in my last update. Like I mentioned in my last, I shot 4 pretty girls that day. MUA was Nikki. There are days when I feel like the Henry Ford of pretty girl shooters.

Here's another snap from behind-the-scenes showing the lighting, albeit this time I oriented the camera for a landscape aspect ratio shot. Man! My client's white cyc sure could use some paint!


cj said...

Thanks for the reinforcement of a concept I've been trying to drill into my head: better glass+better knowledge=better images. I also appreciate the behind the scenes images you've been posting, they're really helpful!

Ed Araquel said...

Another reason to get the best glass: if your pictures suck, you can't blame your lenses :)

For me, I'm a low-light shooter so I have the 50mm f1.2, 85mm f1.4, and 200mm f2 in addition to a 16mm fisheye, 14mm, 17-35mm, 24-70mm, and 105 macro all at f2.8.

I used to have a 70-200 f2.8 lens but I found that I was either at the 70 or 200 end of the lens so I switched to primes instead. I'll probably get a 135 f2 DC lens before all is said and done.

jimmyd said...

@Ed Araquel,

Wow! dude! You got game AND glass!!!

BTW, I actually LUST after that 135 f/2L, as kinky as that sounds. And I WILL have one. Oh yes. I will.

Anonymous said...

You are spot on here Jimmy, it is funny how people buy cameras like the EOS 5D MKII, 1Ds MKIII, Nikon D3,D700, D3X, etc. And they pair it with a f/3.5-5.6 200 bucks crappy lens :|...and they "feel" their photos are coming better... I mean C'mon!!! OI people wake up!

Instead of wasting 2,500 to 7,900 bucks in a new camera body buying glass and lighting is the way to go! I mean replacing a blown shutter costs around 150-200 bucks in the USA and it is cheaper in some other countries :P...

If they already have good glass those 2,500 to 7,900 bucks could be used for photo education seminars with good photographers, 1 on 1 instructions, books.

We come back to an earlier post you did, how can they say that they are going to pay 2,500 to 7900 bucks and they don't want to pay the fee of a great and experienced model and a Kick ass MUA?

It goes beyond me :|....

Kinda off topic: I think that american lighting manufacturers need a really urgent b*tch slap with a brick... their web sites are abismal at best... in this globalized market they need to put a better face to the public: Speedotron, Novatron and a couple of other brands could be thinking a little bit more on spending some bucks on getting something better for their internet presence :/ in the end how am I going to be compelled to buy their brand when there is so little info and no photos, and too many layers to really get to the thing I want to see in their site...

I really hope you are doing well Jimmy :)
My best wishes


Ed Araquel said...

I'm actually a Nikon shooter so the 135 f2 that I'm talking about is the one that has Defocus Control where you can adjust the amount of spherical aberration in the lens to enhance the bokeh of foreground or background out of focus elements.

Does Canon have something similar?

kim guanzon said...

great article... i've survived for the longest time with three major lenses that I use:

17-40, 50 1.4, and the 70-200 2.8. if i were to buy another lens that would be a 135mm f2L.

Frank Wise said...

Hey Jimmy, great post, with extremely relevant material as always.

And yeah, I got me a 135 f/2...

Anonymous said...

Hmm. I often wonder if it is the glass or the man behind it. I have been fortunate to own and work with many different camera systems. The pictures taken with simple Minolta glass verses Canon, Vivitar and Nikkor rarely looked different.

I would put more emphasis in the lighting equipment, especially the modifiers. Too many just put up a large diffuse light source and call it done.

Snoots, grids, parabolics, barn doors, flags, cookies, dots and fingers and scrims all need to become a part of our working repertoire again.

Seeing the light and balancing the light will do more for your pictures than "L" verses "Non L" glass.

Lou said...

Dead on here, Jimmy. Granted, the new bodies such as the 5DmkII have features that are beneficial to some people (such as full HD and awesome low-light sensitivity), but it's not going to make your average shots $2700-worth of awesome.

I've only had my 50mm f/1.8, just got the ol' 70-210mm f/4, and despite my love affair with the 50mm, the new lens is becoming my primary--pretty much due to the fact that my 50mm is a tad soft, it seems. Definitely a bummer, so one of these days I'll bump up to the f/1.4.

Lighting? I've got none other than a cheap $50 Phoenix hotshoe non-ttl flash and a couple of old minolta (and similar) flashes from the 70s/80s. If I had the money to dump into camera gear, it'd be on lighting and a new lens or two. I'm perfectly fine with my 20D, because I realize that the glass and light make way more of a difference than an extra 12mp and full-frame.

Now, if a new Canon had built-in IS in the body, that's a WHOLE other story hehe.

Anonymous said...

I think it's pretty well deserved.
I don't follow ANY blog regularly - I visit yours about once a month or so, so I'm not the best judge. But when I've visited, I've always learned something. And you always write clearly - plain, frank talk about your subject - usually shooting pretty girls, or cameras, or tools, or even the public's attitude about those subjects. Good stuff, IMO. Congrats, sir.

John Ford