Thursday, 25 October 2012

Crumpler 6 Million Dollar Camera Bag

What is it with photographers and camera bags? Much like some women with shoes, we seem to have a wardrobe full of them, to suit any occasion and gear configuration.

I'm as guilty as the next guy, so when I got my Nikon D90 and changed my lenses, naturally I also decided it was time for a new bag to fit it all in :-)

But this time, rather than simply adding yet another bag to the pile, I sold several of my other, less frequently used bags (some of them basically brand new), and really put some serious research into what I might replace them all with.

I have kept my trusty and faithful Lowepro Mini Trekker backpack - a bag I've had and used extensively for about ten years, and it's still going strong. I use it on all the weddings I go to, but it's the sort of bag that gets very heavy once full of all the gear I take, and needs an assistant to lug around for me all day. I've also used it on landscape shoots, but I find a backpack style bag awkward to use at a beach or forest when I want access to other lenses etc. You really need to take the pack of and put it down - sometimes not really ideal in harsh environments.

What I decided to go for was a 'messenger' style shoulder bag. Something that could still carry a reasonable amount of gear, but allow for easier access to changing lenses out in the field. I had previously owned a 'slingshot' style backpack which was supposed to do the same thing, but I hated it (your experiences may of course vary) and wanted a more traditional messenger bag instead.

I visited lots of camera bag websites, read the interweb reviews, and watched the youtube videos, to find out what others had experienced with their bags. In doing so, I kept coming bag to one brand and style in particular - the Crumpler 6 Million Dollar Home.

From what everyone was saying who had experience with the Crumpler it seemed to be the 'Goldilocks' of messenger bags - not too big and not too small... just right. Big enough to fir a DSLR body with grip, a couple of extra lenses, flash, batteries, cards etc... Basically, the ideal bag. So, without any further ado, I bought one.

They come in lots of funky colours, but the auction I won was for the basic black model (although as you can see, it has a pretty cool fluro green interior).  The interior has a large central space for the camera and two side areas that are sectioned off to make four extra spaces. In these slots go the flash and other lenses you want to carry around for the day.

A mesh pocket in the top flap is enough to carry spare cards in, while a velcro front opening holds spare batteries and a card reader. At least that's how I've set my 6 Million Dollar Home up.

All the internal dividers are removable, so you can set it up in other ways if you prefer, but the way I have described above is how the bag comes set up initially - and how it seems to make the most sense.

As you can see, you can fit a lot of stuff in the 6 Million Dollar Home - although of course the more stuff you get in, the heavier it becomes. Shown above is a Nikon D90 with grip, with the Sigma 10-20mm attached. An SB600 flash, 18-105mm VR, 50mm f1.8D, 35mm f1.8G, two spare batteries, SD card holder, and Kingston card reader - that all fit comfortably into the Crumpler. That's pretty much all my gear, and I certainly wouldn't take it all with me on a day shoot. Although I could.

I'm very please with the size, ruggedness and usability of Crumpler's 6 Million Dollar Home. DigitalRev TV have just done a camera bag review in which the Crumpler came out on top in most of the categories. If your looking for a messenger style bag, that can hold a decent amount of gear comfortably over the course of a day, then I highly recommend you consider the Crumpler 6 Million Dollar Home. I couldn't be happier.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Sigma 10-20mm f4/5.6 EX DC HSM Ultra Wide angle

I'm determined to get out and about as much as I can this summer with the D90 and I'm looking forward to the many fantastic shots we'll take together. Weddings aside, it's the landscape images I'm most excited about taking, and a large part of this is having the Sigma 10-20mm f4/5.6 ultra-wide angle lens in my kit.

The weather has been miserable lately, but we finally got a fine day on Sunday, so I went out late afternoon to one of my favorite coastal beaches to try the 10-20mm out.

9 Mile Beach - Nikon D90 with Sigma 10-20mm @ f8
I must confess I've never really been an ultra-wide fan, although I have previously owned a Sigma 15-30mm (the one with bulbous front element and built-in hood) that I really enjoyed using. It was a sharp and fun lens to use, and restored my faith in Sigma lenses after having a couple of disappointing prior experiences.

The Sigma 10-20mm f4/5.6 EX lens is a solid, compact lens with a fast and quiet HSM focusing motor, which allows for full-time manual 'tweaking' of the focus, even when you remain in autofocus mode. Not that you really need to tweak the focus on an ultra-wide. Set it to f8 and just about everything from front to back will be in sharp focus (see above).

Same settings as above. Why change a winning formula :-)
The 'EX' designation means that this is one of Sigma's 'pro' series lenses, although it is specifically designed for the smaller APS-C sensored cameras like the D90. If I was ever to move up to full frame, I would have to sell the lens - but that's a long way off yet, and may never happen?

The lens is finished in the famous Sigma 'matt black crinkle' which also, famously, tends to wear off - although my lens shows no signs of that at the moment. I must admit I'm not a huge fan of this type of finish and I think in more recent models Sigma has moved away from this to a more traditional (harder wearing) finish.

Lots of detail and heaps of colour - that's what ultra-wides are made for!
Whether the finish eventually wears off or not is neither here nor there though - what really matters in a wide angle landscape lens is the colour, contrast and sharpness - and the Sigma has this in spades! The smallish petal type lens hood does a reasonable job of shading the 77mm glass frontage, although I would be careful (i.e. avoid) shooting directly into the sun. When zoomed all the way out to 10mm (the equivalent of 15mm in full frame!) you can still have the sun glaring into your view when it feels like it's behind you!

The huge field of view that this lens afford is what makes it such fun, but also what makes it rather tricky to use effectively. Tilt the lens down and horizons will start to bow, yet not alarmingly so. The lens is actually well designed to avoid any massive distortion - but you can make it happen if you really try (and if you like the effect). Focus was fast, snappy and silent on my D90 - and the large zoom ring turns smoothly and is a joy to use.

NOT taken with the Sigma 10-20mm. I just like the shot :-)
Sigma's 10-20mm f4/5.6 EX DC HSM is a fantastic lens and a great inclusion to any landscape photographers arsenal. Some may disregard this lens for its 'faster' (and more expensive) brother, the 10-20mm f3.5 - but why? Seriously, if you're looking at an ultra-wide angle lens to isolate your subject and blur out the background with a wide open aperture, then you're looking at the wrong lenses my friend. Yes, you will most likely be using these lenses in low light - but you should also be using them at around f8 anyway, and your camera should be on a tripod! Even if I had the f3.5 version, I wouldn't shoot with it wide open, that's just not what these lenses are for. At f8 to f11, both lenses will be practically identical - so save yourself some money and opt for the 'slower' f4/5.6 version. This is landscape photography, not portraiture.

I'm very happy with the lens, and with the first images I've taken with it. Hopefully, over the course of this summer, there'll be plenty more where that came from.

Saturday, 6 October 2012

Nikkor 35mm f1.8G is the keeper

My last few posts have been about lens selection for my D90 - and it is amazing to me how tied up in knots I still manage to get myself over lens selection after all these years.

I thought I would shoot only primes on the D90 - but I've come to realise with DX that this is somewhat unrealistic. Before coming to this realisation, however, I managed to buy a 24mm, 35mm and 50mm! This really only gives me a 35-70mm equivalent reach with all three lenses. Surely the 35mm could do the work of all three - couldn't it?

Back in the film days, I never would have thought of buying a 35-70mm lens - it was considered a 'lazy man's 50mm', since the 50 could pretty much cover this range if you 'zoomed' with your feet. Since the 35mm f1.8G is 'roughly' equivalent to the standard 50 of the film days, I set about to see if it really could replace the other two - and just how much 'feet zooming' would be involved.

Very unscientifically, I went outside, marked a line on the grass, and took a photo with my 35mm.

Nikkor 35mm f1.8G @ f8

This was my field of view (fov) with the 35mm lens - and represents my 'landscape' shot. It equates to a 'standard' 50mm fov when shooting with a cropped sensor DX body like the D90.

I then took a photo at the same spot with my 24mm lens.

Nikkor 24mm f2.8 @ f8. Shot at exactly the same spot as the 35mm
It is certainly wider - about a 35mm fov in traditional terms.

Then I used the 50mm as well...

Nikkor 50mm f1.8 @ f8. Shot at exactly the same spot as the 35mm
So we are certainly getting closer - and with the three images have the same images we would get by zooming in and out with a 35-70mm lens on a DX (or film) body on the same spot.

Now, how much zooming with my feet do i have to do to replicate the 24mm and 50mm shots with the 35mm lens?

I stepped back 5 of my paces (I'm 5"10', so probably went back roughly 5 meters) and took this shot with the 35mm...

Nikkor 35mm back 5 large paces
Compare it with the shot taken with the 24mm and the fov is pretty close. The 24mm is giving a little more exaggerated foreground perspective, but the images are very similar.

OK. So then, back from my starting position, I moved forward two large paces (about 2 meters) and took this shot...

Nikkor 35mm forward 2 large paces
I'm a little off on the framing, and maybe could have taken half a step more forward, but basically I'm there or there abouts with only 2 steps forward.

So to all intents and purposes, taking two steps forward, or 5 steps backwards, is all the 'zooming' I need to do with the 35mm to cover the fov of a 35-70mm lens, and get rid of the 24mm and 50mm primes from my bag in one fowl swoop.

And it turns out it's even easier for portraiture.

35mm @f2.8 - 3 meters away
Here's a quick shot of my son Joshua taken with the 35mm about 3 large paces away. He's 11yrs old, and fills the frame easily.

50mm @f2.8 - 3 meters away
Same spot, this time with the 50mm attached (acting like a 75mm on the D90).

Step forward so I am only 2 meters away, and took another shot with the 35mm...

Nikkor 35mm @f2.8 - 2 meters away
So only one step forward with the 35mm gets me into 50mm territory when shooting portraits.

Nikkor 50mm @ f2.8 - 2 meters away
Switching back to the 50mm and taking a shot obviously gets me even closer still. Now we're talking 'classic' head and shoulders (although Josh is only 11 and not fully grown yet :-).

Move 1 step closer with the 35mm - so there's only about 1 meter between you and your subject (probably as close as you want to get to without invading someone's personal space - unless you know then really well), and you match the 50mm for head and shoulders portraiture...

Nikkor 35mm @ f2.8 - 1 meter away
As I said at the beginning, this isn't particularly scientific. But it was clear enough to convince me that 'zooming with the feet' with a 35mm could effectively cover all three lenses within the 35-70mm range - comfortably enough so that I am now selling both the 50mm and the 24mm primes.

Yes, there will be times when it's not possible to back up 5 meters, or maybe even go forward 2 meters - but then there's always cropping of the standard 35mm image if you really are desperate.

And besides, the 35mm f1.8G is just a drop dead gorgeous lens to use! I really love the look of Nikon's newer 'G' lenses, so I'm happier to part with the other two for now. I'll test the 'bokeh' another time - this seems to be the down-side of the 35mm 'G', but I wan't to test this out for myself. Will post my thoughts when I do.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Sigma 10-20mm on its way.

What was I thinking!

Why would you try to make a DX prime lens kit? Three lenses was only going to give me the equivalent of a 35 to 70mm in traditional film photography terms - and I would never buy a 35-70mm lens in my wildest dreams! I repeat - "What was I thinking!?"

Well, I've come to my senses now, and have embraced all that is good and right and true about the humble zoom lens. Forget all this 24mm prime rubbish - I've gone and got myself a real wide angle lens for DX shooters - the Sigma 10-20mm f4-5.6 EX DC HSM!

Finally - a 'real' ultra-wide lens
On a D90 with the x1.5 crop factor, this 10-20mm lens will give the equivalent of a 15 to 30mm lens - that's seriously wide.

And being an EX lens means that it's well built, uses 3 aspherical lens elements and 3 SLD (special low dispersion) elements to correct for lens aberrations. The HSM (high speed motor) gives it quick and quiet auto focusing, and the front element doesn't rotate, making the use of filters easy.

See... this is the kind of stuff you need to have in today's lenses - the kind of whiz-bang techno stuff that helps you create sharp, colourful, contrasty images. Why fight it, when you can embrace it and use it to create the kind of images you only dreamed were possible in the 'good old days' of 24mm primes  :-)

Bother! I havn't even got the 24mm yet and I'm already thinking of selling it!

Well, as I said last post - it's all a learning curve. And even after 25 years in this game, I'm still learning.

Friday, 28 September 2012

Nikkor prime trio

My search for a 'wide' angle prime is over (for the time being). No, I didn't buy the 20mm f2.8 - too rich for my blood (bank account) at the moment.

Nikkor 24mm f2.8 'wide' angle
I've 'settled' instead for the Nikkor 24mm f2.8 prime - which really only gives me a 36mm equivalent focal length in traditional terms. Not great, but the start of wide angles at least.

So this now gives me a trio of prime lenses, with a range equivalent to the old 'standard' zoom range of around 35-70mm. Not great, but better than nothing I suppose?

The 24mm equates to a 36mm f2.8, the 35mm is a 52mm f1.8, and the 50mm turns into a 75mm f1.8.

I will post a shot showing the three different focal lengths for the same scene once the 24mm has arrived. And then I'll decide whether or not I can actually achieve the same results by just stepping forwards or backwards with the 35mm f1.8G, and can sell the other two? :-) Maybe I'd be better suited by just having two primes -  a 35mm f1.8G and a 85mm f1.8D?

It's all a learning curve.

Monday, 24 September 2012

DX wide angle candidates

In my last post I bemoaned the fact that Nikon (or anyone else for that matter), don't offer a wide angle prime for DX shooters.

Further research has proven that this isn't quite true - although it may as well be - depending on your wallet size, and definition of 'wide'.

Nikon's rare 18mm f2.8D
From 1994 to 2006, Nikon produced an 18mm f2.8D prime lens to cater largely to the photojournalism market. Unfortunately, Nikon only sold 7000 over the 12 years it was in production, mainly due to its incredible price! It was the first lens to include an aspherical element in its construction and this didn't come cheap (well over $2k for a prime lens I do believe).

As an 18mm f2.8 lens, it would be a prime (excuse the pun) candidate for a wide angle for a DX shooter - but its rarity and price all but disqualify it from being a serious contender. Pity, because the focal length is prefect. Anybody from Nikon want to resurrect this lens for the digital age?

But all hope is not lost, depending on how much you want to stretch your definition of 'wide'. Because Nikon also make a 20mm f2.8, and with the 1.5x conversion factor, you get a reasonably respectable 30mm lens.

Nikon 20mm f2.8. A real wide angle option?
Built almost as solidly, and certainly as good optically, the Nikkor 20mm f2.8 seems to be the only real option we Nikon shooters have for an 'affordable' DX wide angle prime. Sigma also make a 20mm, but theirs is a f1.8 which is twice the size and twice the weight of this Nikkor - and it's a Sigma :-)

I'd rather stick with Nikon - so this 20mm f2.8 is really it. There's one going on Trademe at the moment for $500NZ, but I don't have the money, so it is apt to pass me by. And even then, I have to ask myself, "Is 30mm really wide enough?"

My answer, if I'm honest, is beggars can't be choosers. And while I'd rather it was 28mm (I've always felt the most comfortable at this focal length for wide angle shooting), 30mm will do. Now all I have to do is be able to afford to buy it :-)

18-105mm f4/5.6G ED VR.

In the meantime, I will have to make do with the wide angle coverage I get from my 18-105mm VR lens. Yes, I've decided to keep this lens over my beloved 18-70mm f3.5/4.5 - even though it has a plastic lens mount!

I'm very impressed with the fit and finish of this lens, not to mention the image quality and extended reach I get with it. And I suppose I've been charmed somewhat by the VR.

So it's out with the old and in with the new. At least until I can afford that 20mm :-)

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Nikkor primes for a DX Shooter

My D90 arrived yesterday and so I took it out for a quick spin after work. Love it! What an amazingly responsive, compact yet solid DSLR. I put on the 18-105mm VR kit lens, and despite my phobia against plastic mount lenses, I was also pleasantly surprised at how well this lens felt and performed. Very good 'walk around' combo.

Nikon D90 with 18-105mm VR kit lens. B&W conversion in Photoshop

With any new body, I start thinking lenses. And whatever I choose, it's always a compromise between features, image quality and price. I'm always looking for the best 'bang' for my buck. I want the best image quality I can get, for the least amount of dollars.

I'd love a Nikkor 14-24mm f2.8G, 24-70mm f2.8G, 70-200mm f2.8 VR, 500mm f4 etc, but my kids wouldn't eat, my wife would kill me, we'd loose our house... you get the idea.

So I start looking around at the hidden (or not so hidden) 'gems' in a manufacturers line-up, to see if I can build a decent (cheap) kit from there. The only lens I'm keeping from my recent kit, the Nikkor 18-70mm f3.5/4.5 is, I believe, one such 'gem' of a lens - with a fairly handy walk-around focal length too. This will form the 'basis' of my new lens kit. But what to add next?

Nikon's 'Nifty' 50!
Actually, that's a pretty easy question to answer - it has to be the 'nifty fifty'. And this time, it was even easier to answer, because a 50mm f1.8D came with the Nikon D90 I bought. Sweet.

With the 1.5x 'crop factor' of a DX body like the D90, a 50mm lens becomes a 75mm f1.8 - a pretty decent portrait lens. The 50mm f1.8D is my 'go to' lens when I'm with the bride as she is getting ready. I can get in nice and close, but still maintain a reasonable working distance, and get beautifully smooth out-of-focus backgrounds at f1.8. All-in-all, a classic 'must have' low-light portrait prime for a DX system, which also happens to be Nikon's cheapest lens. Can't go wrong really.

The more I considered lens choices for the D90, the more I found myself toying with the idea of a 'prime' lens kit. I'm seriously thinking of stopping weddings - and find the idea rather freeing in terms of lens choice. I would never have had the nerve to take an all prime lens kit on a wedding with me, worrying too much that I might not have the 'right' lens and miss an important series of shots. But if I'm now only shooting for myself, a lot of that fear goes away. And if I am just shooting for myself, I want to keep the weight down as much as possible. So a couple of small, light primes makes a lot of sense to me.

Nikon's 'new' 35mm 1.8'G' prime
Enter the Nikkor 35mm f1.8G lens -  a Nikon DX prime lens that gives us back the 'standard' field of view. Attach this to a D90 and you get a 52mm f1.8 - close enough to the 'normal' 50mm lens of old.

Because it's a newer model AF-S (Silent focusing) lens, it's not as cheap as the 50mm f1.8D, but at $300NZ is still a reasonably cheap buy. But it is a DX lens, so you want to be sure that you are sticking with the DX system (I am), since it won't work on an FX (full frame) body.

A mint condition 35mm appeared on Trademe a few days after I won the D90, and I snapped it up. This will give the start of a prime lens kit, with a 35mm and 50mm - with the 17-80mm zoom lens thrown in as my back-up/wedding zoom.

I'm not much of a 'telephoto' shooter - don't really shoot sports, nature, birds etc, or anything that requires a lot of pulling power. Although having said that, when I do shoot the odd sporting event, I really enjoy it. But it's hard to justify owning a big expensive telephoto for a once-a-year sports shoot.  If I'm serious about sticking with primes, then the telephoto end won't be a problem. Nikon have that covered in spades... and I can see an 85mm, 135mm or 180mm in my future at some point. But not at the moment.

When I go out to shoot for myself, I concentrate mainly on landscapes, so it's in the wide angle area that I really need to be looking for my next lens. But if I want that lens to be a prime, then Houston, we have a problem. Nikon (or any other company to be fair) don't make a DX wide angle prime - something like a 17mm f2.8G - and maybe they never will? They do make a 20mm prime (for $1k) but with the crop factor this only really gets us to 35mm - not 'really' wide enough. Something like a 16mm (non-fisheye) or 17mm would be ideal, as this would give us DX shooters a truly wide angle 24mm lens - hopefully with a reasonable price tag to go with it. Is that asking too much?

With a 16mm DX lens (or there abouts), a 35mm and a 50mm (and maybe an 85mm thrown in for good measure), I'd have all my shooting situations covered, with super fast sharp primes - for around half the price of a 17-55mm f2.8G.

So how about it Nikon? When are we going to see a truly wide-angle prime lens for the DX faithful? What's wrong with a 17mm f2.8G?

I for one am going to start lobbying Nikon for just such a lens. It would be a sure fire winner - wouldn't it? How many Nikon DX shooters are there in the world? 1 million, two million, ten million? There's got to be a market for this lens, doesn't there? Or is it just me?

If it's not just me, then I suggest you start lobbying Nikon too. Let's all ask for a wide angle lens for the DX format - something like an AF-S 17mm f/2.8G so that we can finally go wide with a DX prime lens. And oh yeah, at about the same price as the 35G please. Thanks

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Should I stay or should I go.

Having used my D200 over the last wedding season, I'd have to say that we didn't exactly 'bond' together. Why? I don't know. Can't explain it at all really. We should have gotten along swimmingly (as they say), since it's very similar to the D300 - and I loved the D300. But the D200 and I ... - not so much.

Maybe it was too much of a change after the disappointment of drowning my Canon 5D? Maybe it just wasn't quite up to the standard of the D300? Or maybe it was just one of those seasons? There were good weddings, but there were no really 'great' weddings (except maybe one). And that's my fault as much as anyone else's, but there it is. The D200 and me just didn't hit it off.

So what to do? Well, I haven't shot a wedding in a few months, the new season isn't starting for a few months, and so it's that time of year again. The time of year when I review my gear, and decide what stays and what goes.

And not surprisingly, the D200 is going.

But then again, so is a lot of the gear that I bought, not that long ago. Tokina 12-24mm f2.8 - gone. Nikkor 60mm Micro - gone. Nikkor 70-300mm ED - gone. Rokinon 85mm f1.4 - gone. Yonguo 565EX flash - gone (and good ridance!).

Blimey! What exactly am I keeping? Well, not much by the looks of that. I'm keeping the Nikkor 18-70mm f3.5/4.5 lens and SB600 flashgun. And that's it. So yes, I'm sticking with Nikon.

Although sticking with Nikon wasn't an easy decision, and I was only swayed in the end by a too-good-to-miss kind of a deal on Trademe.

I've been considering finishing up the wedding photography, and have found this decision (although not yet made completely) actually quite freeing. It made me stop and ask myself, "If i wasn't having to turn up to shoot such and such a client, to take such and such a shot, then what kind of gear would I be happy to shoot with?" With this question in mind, I seriously began to look at some of the Sony cameras. And in as much as they 'sound' like whiz bang amazing bodies (10fps for crying out loud), I just couldn't quite get over the electronic viewfinder in the newer SLT series of bodies. So it's a 'no' to the Sony's.

So then I thought I might go full frame again and soot all primes. Oh how very art-school trendy of me. But I didn't want to go 'back' to a Canon 5D (too many painful, wet memories), and can't really afford a 5D MkII or MkIII - so full frame was also out. I've never really had a problem with cropped sensor cameras anyway. I flaunted with the Canon 40D and 50D for a while - and almost bought a 40D, but the shutter counts were pretty high on most of them.

I downloaded all of the brochures, read all of the reviews, and finally decided that if I got top dollar for my other gear, and really stretched my budget, I could get a new Nikon D7000 and I'd be sorted. in many ways it's a bit more camera than I actually need, but I'm future-proofing myself, right? This camera will see me through for the next five or six years :-)

And then I saw it. At a price I couldn't really refuse. A Nikon D90 - the venerable D90. On Trademe, hardly used (only 1000 shots on the clock), with a 50mm f1.8 amd 18-105mm VR, for a LOT less than a D7000 was going to cost me - body only! I couldn't help myself. And I know I've made the right decision (read my last post).

In terms of digital camera's, the D90 is practically Methuselah-like! It was first released in 2008 and was the first DSL to have video capabilities. But trust me, I did NOT buy the D90 for its video!

When I looked at the spec sheets, between it and the D7000, I decided that the D7000 didn't bring anything else to the table that was worth spending the extra $$$ on. 12MP is more than enough for me - don't need 16. Likewise, 4.5fps is fine as well - don't need 6. Autofocus isn't an issue either - I always default to the central focus point 99% of the time no matter what camera I'm using. And on it goes. Feature after feature, I decided that the D90 was more than enough camera for me - no matter what I was wanting to do with it.

So I'm sticking with Nikon, I'm waiting patiently (not) for the arrival of my 'new' D90, and I'm looking forward to actually spending a lot of time with this camera. I think it might be finally time for me to settle down with one system for a while. Will wonders never cease!?

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

It's not about the gear, stupid.

Bumped into a photographer friend this morning in town on the way to work, and after we parted (about 15 minutes later), I realised that all we had talked about was 'gear'. 5DMk3 this, 70-200mm that, Nikon blah blah, Canon hoo haa.

What is it with photographers and their gear? Do dentists who bump into each other talk about the latest drill? Do mechanics talk about the latest spanner? Maybe they do? (Any dentists or mechanics out there who can verify this?).

I'm obviously as guilty as the next bloke - although I do fluctuate between two complete polar opposites in the gear vs talent debate. It's been very fashionable for a while now to put the 'gearhead' aspect of photography down. You have to have been living under a rock for the last few years not to have heard the 'best camera is the one you have with you' mantra bought up time and time again by the insanely gifted. To which I say - CRAP! Oh, and by the way, what do these 'what you have with you' exponents have with them most of the time? Canon 1DX's or the latest iPhone 4G of course. Quite frankly I'm thoroughly sick of the whole 'I just take my iphone with me on holiday and get beatiful 8x10" prints' brigade. I've got an old iPhone 3 and the camera on that thing is just crap (oh no, I said 'crap' again!)

Go up to a sport photographer at the Olympics and tell him his gear doesn't matter. Go on, I dare you. Would he swap that new 12fps Canon 1Dx for my iPhone 3? I think not. And I wouldn't expect him to either. I find the whole 'gear doesn't matter' thing so condescending it makes me want to spit (in case you hadn't already noticed).

BUT - (and yes, there's always a 'but'), nor do I hold to the whole 'got to have the latest and the greatest' gear mentality either. Do you use a Canon? Do you use a Nikon? Or, heaven forfend - do you use a Sony? To which I say - who gives a flying...... what brand of camera you own? Use a Pentax for all I care - although really, why would you!  :-)  (joking people, joking).

Has it got 6MP, 8MP, 12MP or 36MP!? Who cares? I've owned three of the four megapixel ratings mentioned (guess which is the odd one out), and no client has EVER asked me how many megapixels my camera has. Granted, I'm not shooting for billboards - or cropping heavily - but if you are, or do, then it becomes a real question of need - not merely of keeping up with everybody else. And who really cares whether those 12MP came from a Canon or Nikon? I mean, really....

Most of us are shooting for the web, or computer screen viewing now anyway, aren't we?

Here's a test for you...

Can anyone tell me, just by looking at the image above, whether it was shot on a Canon or a Nikon? Is it from a 6MP, 8MP, 12MP or 24MP camera? Was I wearing sneakers or bare feet when I took the shot? Are any of these questions relevant?

Of course not. All that really matters is whether I've taken a 'good' photo or not. And this is where the 'technical' capabilities of the gear come into play. Am I happy with lens choice, depth of field, is it sharp where I want it to be?

How about another image...

What about this shot? Is it digital? Is it film? Was it cropped to a square image, or shot on medium format? Was it converted to black and white from colour? Again - is it Canon, Nikon or Sony?

More important, for my growth as a photographer, I'd much rather ask - is it a good composition? Does the image have something to say? Is it graphically pleasing? Have I taken it at the right angle so that it expresses what I wanted to say? Was the camera working with me, or against me (the 'gear matters' part of the picture equation).

And finally...

All the same questions as the previous image apply - even though the two photos couldn't have been captured more differently.

When we stop, and concentrate on the image, then 'no', the gear doesn't matter. BUT - of course it does matter, by allowing you to take the kind of image that you have in your mind's eye in the first place. With technology moving at such an alarming rate - and no sign of this slowing up any time soon - the line between want, and need, can easily become blurred.

In the end, though, all I really 'want' to be is a better photographer. Do I really 'need' the latest Nikon D4? Of course not. Will simply owning it make me a 'better' photographer? Ah - no.

And for the record - the first image was taken on an Olympus Pen EP3 - as was the second image. The last image is... film. Taken on a Bronica S2 medium format 6x6 camera. And it also happens to be my favourite image of the bunch.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Out and About with 3 new lenses

I finally got myself up and out of bed early last weekend to go and take some photos. We've been having some great weather leading up to winter, so I decided to head out to Lake Brunner with a bag full of lenses - to try them out.

Nikon D200 with Tokina 12-24mm @ f8
First shot of the day - taken at about 7.00am. I started with the Tokina 12-24mm, mainly because I knew I was going to shoot predominantly landscapes, but also because it was the first lens I purchased after getting the D200 and I hadn't taken any shots with it yet! Pretty pleased with the above result first up. I'm such a sucker for a good jetty shot :-)

Trees in the Mist. D200 with Nikkor 70-300mm @ f5.6
The mist was rolling in from the lake - which I knew it would - and I had hoped to take some moody 'boats in the mist' type shots. Trouble is, there were no boats out on the lake, so I had to settle for trees instead. The wide angle wasn't getting me close enough, so I changed to the 70-300mm, shooting right at the 300mm end on a tripod. The 'slight' softness at 300mm only adds to the mood of the shot - although it's still plenty sharp enough.

Te Kinga Morning. D200 with Tokina 12-24mm @ f8
There wasn't much else happening at Lake Brunner, so I drove the five minutes to Te Kinga - one of my favourite places to shoot in any weather. The reeds in the foreground stand out in sharp and stark contrast to the misty background - and converts perfectly to monochrome. At the 12mm end the Tokina has quite a bit of edge distortion - but this becomes less evident towards the middle of its range.

Pontoon. D200 with Tokina 12-24mm @ f5.6

Even with a bag full of new lenses, I feel that my photography is suffering from a bit of familiaritus at the moment. I'm not really getting very inspired whenever I go out with my camera - familiarity is breeding contempt. The above image, however, is a bit of a departure for me - a bit abstracty (artsy) - and I like it. I was originally drawn to it because of the light that was landing on the floating metal platform thingy - but when I took the shot it became more about the shapes, as well as the light. Anyway, it's not my traditional landscape image and maybe that's reason enough to like it.

I also took some images with the Rokinon 85mm f1.4 - but they were mostly boring rubbish - so I haven't even bothered processing them. I'll take some portraits with that lens and post them. It's really what I bought it for - not landscapes.

So despite my general photography 'funk', I enjoyed my early morning excursion with the D200 and lenses. I hope it's just the start of many more.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

After the dust has settled...

It seems that all the buying and selling is now over, and I can sit back and reflect on my new kit.

I did buy a D200, and am very happy with its condition. Very good nick - low shutter count, clean lcd, and overall 8 out of 10 condition. Having used it over the last couple of weeks I have found it responsive, with very sure auto focus and quick processing times. Yes, it's a little more 'noisy' at high ISO's, but I certainly don't worry going up to 800, and would use 1600 if I absolutely had to get the shot.

So with the body out of the way, I obviously turned to lenses. And the first lens I went for, given my reasonably tight budget, was the Nikkor 18-70mm f4.5/5.6 EF-S lens.

Yes, it's a 'kit' lens - but I still maintain it's one of the best kit lenses ever built - period. I even saw it recommended by a pro wedding photographer in England as his favourite wedding lens and I have to agree. For a Nikon shooter on a budget, there's just no better walk-around, everyday medium-range lens than this beauty. For the price (I paid $250NZ) it's fast to focus, silent, smooth, well built (metal lens mount) and very sharp. It's not perfect - no lens is - and I would like VR, but you can't have everything (especially not for that price). It stays on my camera 80% of the time, and is my go-to shoot anything, walk-about lens. Brilliant.

My next lens purchase took care of the wide-angle / landscape end of my shooting needs, and is another high quality lens that I consider a real bargain - the Tokina 12 to 24mm f4. At half the price of the equivalent Nikkor, but with almost exactly the same image performance and quality construction, the Tokina is a no-brainer.

It may be a little soft at f4, but that's not what this lens is geared towards. At f5.6 through to F16 this baby is tack sharp, right where you need it to be for a landscape lens. I will probably use it on weddings for the large group shots - again at f5.6 of f8, right in the sweet spot. But it will get most of its use out in the field, shooting landscapes. I will review this lens when I get a chance and post some landscapes I take with it. Can't wait.

Early on, when deciding on the lenses to get for my new kit, I knew I wanted a 'standard' lens that was reasonably 'fast' (large aperture) that I could use in fairly low light, indoors, that could double as a portrait lens (roughly in the 80 to 90mm field of view when taking the cropped sensor of the D200 into consideration).

I figured this would be a Nikkor nifty fifty (50mm f1.8D) that I always recommend to my photography students and use a lot myself on weddings for hair, make-up, getting ready and assorted detail shots - especially in doors.

But I have always wished I had a Macro lens on these occasions as well - especially when doing detail and ring shots on a wedding - so I decided to combine both and found a 60mm f2.8D Micro Nikkor for a fantastic price - basically the same price I would have paid for the standard 50mm. What do I loose? Well - two full stops of light for a start - but after that, not much else. And to be honest, I'm often wary of using the 50mm at f1.8 because of the very shallow depth of field, so usually open up to around f2 to f2.8 anyway. And what I'm gaining, of course, is the macro capabilities - as well as a super sharp lens. I haven't tested it out yet, but I also expect it will perform well as a portrait lens, wide open, for bride and groom shots. Again, I will test the lens out for both macro and portraiture and report back.

No kit would be complete without a telephoto lens, but to be honest, it's not a lens that I use a lot. I didn't want to go for the ultra-cheap Nikkor 70-300mm G lens - the reviews aren't great and I have an aversion to lenses with plastic mounts. But since it's not a lens that was high on my priority list, I also didn't want to have to fork out almost $1k for a 70-300mm 4/5.6 VR lens!

I briefly considered the new Tamron 70-300mm with Image Stabilization and a Sonic Motor - it's getting some amazing reviews and I almost bought one. But even $600 was a bit too much for a lens I knew I wouldn't use much, so I held out until the lens that I really wanted eventually came up for auction - the Nikkor 70-300mm f4/5.6 ED.

A 'little' better built than the 'G' lens (it's got a metal lens mount) and fitted with one ED lens element, it's a lens that I've owned before, and is a solid performer (if a bit soft at 300mm). But again, for a lens that I really won't use all that often (but is there when I need it), it was an absolute steal! It cost me $150NZ - less than some of the basic 'G' lenses are going for, so I was very happy and at that price really can't complain (even with poor 300mm performance).

So that rounds out my lenses now, right? Well no, not quite. My last lens was an impulse purchase that I bought almost out of curiosity more than anything - and is very 'left of field', even for me.

While looking on-line at Trademe one night, I came across an auction for an 85mm f1.4 for $350NZ. I almost fell out of my chair and had to re-read the auction to make sure I'd read it right the first time around. An 85mm f1.4 for $350.00 is just crazy stupid - even second hand they should go for $800 to $1000 (and up). What was wrong with this one?

And then I read further and the 'catch' dawned on me - the lens was a 'Rokinon' and is only manual focus - so it's got to be crap, even at that price, right?

Just out of curiosity, I did a Google search for the Rokinon 85mm f1.8, expecting to come across numerous reviews moaning about 'horrible this', and 'rubbish that'. But instead, what I actually read were glowing reviews, very happy owners, and excellent test scores when compared with the equivalent Canon and Nikon 85mm f1.4's. I got very excited!

The Rokinon is sold in America, but is actually a Korean lens (it just seems to get worse really, doesn't it?), made by Samyang and also sold as Bower and Vivitar branded lenses. As mentioned, it is a manual focus only lens, with an aperture ring, although the Nikon version I ended up getting (yes, I couldn't help myself) does have an electronic chip that allows full aperture control on the D200. It also means that the focus confirmation dot lights up in the camera viewfinder to confirm you're in focus, so manual focus needn't necessarily be a chore without the aid of a split-focusing screen.

With so many glowing reviews, both in terms of build quality and lens quality, I just had to grab it and see for myself what this lens was like to use. I have always loved the 85mm focal length for portraits, and have owned both the Canon and Nikon versions of the 85mm f1.8. The f1.4 versions have always been far too rich for my humble bank account to cope with - but here we have an 85mm f1.4 with outstanding image quality - all be it with the 'limiting' factor of no auto focus. Is this really such a problem? Well, apart from getting it out of the box and taking two random shots indoors with it set to f1.4 (and focusing wasn't a problem), only time - and a decent hands-on test, will tell. But ironically, out of all the lenses I've purchased for the D200, this is the one that excites me the most. I can't wait to get out and take some photos with it.

So five 'new' lenses, to go with my 'new' Nikon D200. It might sound like a lot, but I got them all for really great prices on-line, and managed to sell my existing Canon gear for equally good prices (this time in my favour), so came well within budget. I even managed to buy a brand new flash - a Chinese rip-off of the Canon 580EX. But that's another blog post...

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

It's official - back to Nikon again!

The last couple of weeks have seen me pouring over internet reviews, blogs and brochures, trying to figure out what system I will go for if my Canon 5D has bitten the dust (and officially, as of today, it has).

My last post saw me leaning very strongly towards a Nikon D2x, and I have been following one on Trademe (NZ's version of eBay) for the last few weeks. It hasn't sold yet, but unfortunately I just don't have the cash to put down on it, and probably won't for a while.

So then there's plan B. I want to take this opportunity, with my Canon 5D gone, to make a change. Canon make great gear - don't get me wrong. I've used Canon for over 25 years. But maybe that's the problem? Canon cameras just don't really inspire me anymore. And when they do make a change - I don't really like the result (a-la 60D). The Nikon D300 I sold when the 5D got fixed was, in many ways, the better camera - for me. I really like the Nikon way of putting almost everything on a dial, button or knob on the outside of the camera - very much like the Sony (Minolta) 700 etc...

Which is why, after much thought and deliberation, I've hit upon the Nikon D200.

No - don't try to talk me out of it. And anyway, it's too late. I've already bought one, and it's arriving tomorrow. As well as the vertical grip (a must have for any kit as far as I'm concerned). And viola - a 'D2x' for half the price :-)

Unfortunately it's not coming with the Nikkor 70-200mm f2.8VR shown above - I'll have to save up for that. I'm looking for a used 18-70mm 3.5/4.5 instead - a great lens in the Nikon line up that was the D70 kit lens (would you believe) but that performs way better than any kit lens has the right to.

10MP - magnesium alloy body - 11 focus points - 5fps - 2.5" LCD screen. Not bad for $500NZ.

The grand plan is to use it as my main camera for a couple of wedding seasons, and then buy a new (D400?) body and keep the D200 as a backup. Good plan I reckon.

Thursday, 1 March 2012

And back to Nikon again...

So I took my Canon 5D swimming with me at the end of the last post. Bad idea.

It's been sent away to Canon for an assessment, but I can tell you now, it's one dead unit. And not only the body, but the battery grip that was attached to it, together with the 28-135mm IS lens. All kabloey!

The insurance company has already forewarned me that I'm only likely to get $2000NZ for everything, since it wasn't itemized out on our content policy (there's a trap for the uninitiated). So, of course, now my mind starts mulling over what I can actually get for 2k.

Never one to shy away from a complete system re-think, I'm now actually favoring a move back to Nikon. More specifically, the Nikon D2x.

Sexy, sexy, sexy...  :-)
Why the D2x, and not the D3x? Well yeah, the D3x would be nice - but it's also way over my price range. We are talking about twice the price, and I just can't justify that kind of expense on a body.

As it is, to make the switch I will have to sell all my accumulated Canon gear - and not necessarily replace it all with equivalent Nikon gear. I'll win some, and loose some in the process.

The money I get for the insurance claim, together with selling my 70-200mm f4L, 20-35mm, 50mm f1.8, 20D body with grip, 18-55mm EF-S, 70-300mm, 580EX flash and 420EX flash, should give me about $4500NZ to 'play' with.

A mint cond. D2x body will hit the $1.5k mark (or thereabouts), and if I add to that a Nikkor 17-55mm f2.8 (for about the same price) - together with an SB700 flash and Nikkor 70-300mm f4.5-5.6 VR, then that will about do it. Not a bad kit really.

Not bad from the back either!
What will I do for a back-up when I shoot weddings? The same thing when I owned the Nikon D300 - I'll take my wife's D70.

Why the D2x over a D300 or newer D7000? Well, that's a great question, and one that I'm still struggling with. Having already owned the D300, I know what a fantastic camera it is. I'd be more than happy with another one. And the new D7000 is getting good raps from reviewers and users alike - with outstanding high ISO performance, great handling, and a lot of 'pro' features borrowed from the D3. Sounds like the obvious choice, does it not?

Well maybe. But for me, the allure of a 'real' pro camera has its appeal. At 12.4MP it's exactly where I want to be in the megapixel race and, needless to say, it's built like the proverbial brick! It's questionable at high ISO's over 800 - but I don't shoot over 800 with any camera (even when I owned the D300), and having NO video at all suits me right down to the ground. And just look at it... it's gorgeous!

When I wrote reviews for D-Photo, I had a pretty good relationship with the boss at Nikon NZ, and he loaned me a D1x (I think it was) for a few months. It was only 4MP (from memory), but the images were gorgeous, and I fell in lust with that camera. I didn't want to give it back to Nikon, but in the end they had another use for it, and we parted company. I expect the same lust for the D2x - even if it is 'old' technology - and am pretty excited about the prospect of owning such a beast!

Of course the other alternative is to look out for a Canon 1D MkII for probably around the same price and just stick with all the lenses I already have. It's a possibility, I suppose. But where's the fun in that?

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Trash the Dress (Camera!)

'Trash the Dress' shoots with brides have been popular in America for a few years now - but they haven't really taken off here in New Zealand. Maybe it's the hard sell of getting a bride to 'trash' her wedding dress (although there are certainly different levels of what constitutes 'trashed'). Maybe we wedding photographers aren't pushing it enough? Or maybe it's just a gimmick?

I've always wanted to do a 'trash the dress' shoot, but have never had any takers. And then, a year ago, I was approached by a woman (Danice) out of the blue, who said she wanted to do a 'trash' sessions with me - even though she isn't getting married! She had seen some images from a shoot done in America, loved the photos, and wanted some of her done in a similar way - just cause it looked 'cool'. She had bought a cheap dress on-line, and was ready to go whenever I was.

Unfortunately, due to a full season last year, the shoot never happened. I lost touch with Danice, and figured that was my chance gone. Recently, however, I met up with her again, and the shoot was back on! A year late - but better late than never, right?!

I had scouted out a forest near where I live (only 10 minutes away), that has a very relaxed walk to an amazing waterfall - everything you could want on a 'trash the dress' shoot. We choose a day that looked clear and sunny on the long range forecast, and the shoot was all go!

The day did indeed dawn clear and bright, and we met in the car park before the walk at 9.30am. I had to collect me kids from school at 3.00pm, which left about 5 hours - including walking time - to get the job done. Plenty of time, with no need to rush.

Danice had a friend do her hair and make-up, and she tagged along with us for the first couple of hours. I had my assistant, Nicky, with me to help carry gear, and position the lighting or reflectors whenever they were needed. I find it's always helpful to have a couple of others along on the shoot - not only as extra hands, but to make everyone feel more 'safe'. I didn't really know Danice - and she didn't know me - so I think it would have been very uncomfortable for us to have been alone in a forest taking photographs. Common sense really.

For a lot of the 'Trash the Dress' shoots, water features quite prominently. Which is why I chose a walk that ended in a waterfall. But you need to build up to getting in the water, not least of all for your models comfort. So I planned on using the forest for the first couple of hours, making our way slowly to our final destination - the waterfall.

Since you've spent quite a bit of time with the bride by then (and presumably prior to the shoot on her wedding day), there should be a great amount of trust between you, so that when you do say "ok, now I want you to jump into the water in your wedding dress", she trusts you enough to actually do it!  :-)

And anyway, using the forest as a setting in which to take amazing images is by no means the poorer option. Even if we'd never made it to the waterfall I would have been happy with the images from the day.

Eventually, though, we did make it to the waterfall - and this is where the real fun began.

We reached the falls around noon, where the position of the sun was less than ideal. Most of the waterfall itself was in brilliant sunlight, and was blowing out on the histogram something crazy! Positioning Danice where I wanted to, meant either shooting her in silhouette, or using flash, reflectors etc. I had bought both flash and reflectors, but it was tricky using them in the middle of a waterfall - so I went to plan 'B' and stuck mainly to the shady spots by the side of the bank. I was still able to get a hint of the falls in the background, but couldn't really use them as the kind of main feature I though I would. But then that's the challenge with any photo shoot. Plans change.

All of the shots from the session have a moody, dark quality to them, which is exactly what I was going for based on the images that I liked from similar shoots overseas. I had a blast, and so did Danice - and we are both very happy with the final result. She's got some photos of herself that she really likes, and I've got some images I can use to promote these types of shoots with prospective clients. Brides who are game enough to create these kinds of images  - because let me tell you, that water was COLD!

And dangerous. The title for this post is 'Trash the Dress', with 'Camera' in brackets. Yep, you guessed it - these 'free' promotional images are going to end up costing me a new camera! The rocks beneath the surface were very slippery, but I had managed to maneuver my way to where I needed to be all day, right up to the end of the shoot. We were getting ready for the final, all-in, immersion style shots, when - on queue, I did. Camera and all. My 5D with battery grip and lens were completely drowned (as was I), and are now totally buggered!

Fortunately (if I'm looking for some kind of silver lining), I had just changed to a new card - although I suspect the card could have taken a dunking and still be alright anyway.

Unfortunately - and here we have a word of warning - my house and contents insurance doesn't cover me for the full cost of replacement because the gear was not listed separately on our insurance policy. The insurance will only pay out a maximum of $2000NZ on camera equipment if it isn't listed separately! It's going to cost me a lot more than that to replace the 5D, with lens and grip - so I guess I won't?

Will this facilitate a move back to Nikon (I do miss the D300)?  Or do I simply get a 40D/50D style body and new lens? What about a 1D mk II for roughly the same price? Or a Nikon D2x and use my wife's 70D as a backup when I shoot weddings? These are all possibilities I suppose? Got to get 2k from the insurance company first though...

Thursday, 23 February 2012

More sports shooting

OK, just to prove that I've still got a long way to go with this sports shooting malarkey - below are some images I shot today at my kids school swimming sports.

Joshua's backstroke action. Canon 20D , 70-200mm f2.8L

The swimming sports is held at the aquatic centre - an indoor stadium that isn't exactly set up for great lighting. There aren't that many lights, and what are there are miles away in the roof. No 'natural' lighting whatsoever, so pretty low-light conditions with which to shoot reasonably fast-moving sports.

I shot with the 20D again to give me 5fps, and kept the camera in jpeg mode to give me a good series of bursts (see last post on Reefton Rodeo). Bumping the ISO to 800, and opening up to f2.8, I was still only getting 100th sec shutter speeds! Not really enough to 'freeze' the action in the way I would have liked.

Emily's freestyle action. 20D and 70-200mm f2.8L

Consequently, all the images have a slight blur to them - simply because I couldn't get the shutter speeds up fast enough. A newer camera would have allowed me to boost the ISO another stop, up to 1600, but that would still be cutting it fine with the shutter speed at around 200/250th. Ideally I would have liked a 500th to a1000th, but I just don't think it was going to happen with the lighting I had. Hands and water are blurred, although I've gotten away with it if the faces are 'reasonably' sharp.

Josh going for gold. Canon 20D with 70-200mm f2.8

All-in-all, within the limitations that I had to work with, I got a couple of 'okay' images. Good enough for the family album - but nowhere near good enough to use as portfolio shots - they're just not 'quite' sharp enough. Maybe I'll rob a bank and get myself a new 1DX that I can shoot at 6400 and still get noise-free images! :-)

Ah well. Dreams are free.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Reefton Rodeo

Yesterday I went on the first photography field trip of the year with my local camera club - to the Reefton Rodeo. I was really looking forward to it, since it would give me a chance to shoot in a fast, action sports style that I don't often get to shoot in.

Bull Riding. Canon 20D with 70-200mm f2.8

I decided to use the 20D, since it shoots at 5 frames per second, and would add a 1.6x cropping factor to any lens I used. I own a Canon 70-200mm f4L, but for the Rodeo I knew there would be quite a lot of background distractions, so wanted to blur the background as much as possible. So I borrowed a friends 70-200mm f2.8, as well as a Canon 1.4x extender, just in case I needed extra reach (I generally didn't).

What goes up...
I also shot using a monopod to keep everything steady, and to save my arms from having to support the f2.8 lens all day. Even if I had been using a lighter lens, the monopod would still have been a great idea, as it keeps everything stable.

... must come Down!
I shot in jpeg, since it meant that I could shoot 26 frames continuously before the buffer was full - whereas if I'd shot in RAW it would have only allowed me 5 frames before locking up. As it was, shooting in jpeg meant that the camera never locked up and I could shoot at the top frame rate without missing any shots. It also helped that I was using a fast (200x) Lexar CF card to speed up file transfer times.

Ropin' and Ridin'
This set up allowed me to shoot all day, wide open on f2.8, at about a 2000th of a shutter speed. But during the roping demonstration, I wanted to pan with the riders and get some blur into the image to indicate the sense of speed that the riders are moving. So I set the camera to ISO 100, and closed the aperture to f11. This gave me a 60th of a second shutter speed, allowing me to blur the background, but the front horse that the camera auto focus locked on to is in pretty sharp focus.

Over the course of the day I shot around 600 photos. Later that evening I whittled this down to about 100, and of that 100 I probably have 20 that I would consider as 'keepers'. Why did I get rid of 580 shots from the day? Well, about half were slightly out of focus, and many of the others had a background that I wasn't happy with. Given the way the rodeo was set up, there wasn't much i could do about the backgrounds. I just had to wait to see if the cowboy was going to stay on long enough to clear the gates and the clutter. Many did, and they were the shots that counted. And then I just had to hope that the camera nailed the auto focus - which it did about half the time. I would expect a better hit rate with a newer camera, since the D20 is a fairly old body.

So next year, my haul of great images should be bigger? We'll wait and see.