Yet another new camera

Don Ho died yesterday. Now I can’t get “Tiny Bubbles” out of my head. But that’s not the topic today.

I decided a few weeks ago that I wanted a new camera. I have loved my Canon SD800 IS since I bought it last September. As seen in the Japan blog entries, it is capable of taking a damn nice picture. Colors are lovely, focus is usually pretty good, it starts up really fast, and it’s very small. But I’ve taken more than 14,000 pictures over the past few years (can you imagine the cost if those had been film rather than digital?!), and before I’d even seen it happen, photography had become… my hobby. AEJ took great joy in pointing this out to me a few weeks ago — that yes, I had a hobby. Fortunately, thanks to this blog, my hobby is tax deductible.

As nice as the SD800 is, I wanted more control over the picture. I wanted to be able to determine exactly what would be in focus in a given shot, and how much of the background would be in focus with it. My biggest complaint with the SD800 was the lack of focus point flexibility. You either let the camera pick the focus point, or you could put the focus point in the center of the frame. My previous camera — the Sony DSC-T9 — had a manual focus point setting — allowing for photos like this (note that the focus point is at the very bottom of the frame):

But then the Sony broke, and when it came back from service, it was in worse condition than it had ever been, with blown-out colors and awful white balance. That camera lives in a drawer, if anybody wants it.

The best way to get full control over your pictures is to use an SLR — meaning one of those big ol’ cameras that looks like a “traditional” camera. Digital SLR cameras are very expensive (compared to sub-compact digital cameras like the Sony and the Canon SD800), and they’re much more complicated than a point-and-shoot. (Of course, they don’t have to be complicated. They have “auto” modes, but if you’re just going to let the camera do everything, why get an SLR?) SLRs are also large. These definitely don’t fit in your pocket.

Fortunately, there’s a sort of “in-between” level of camera — a manual digital compact, like the Canon PowerShot Pro S3.

It still won’t fit in your pocket, but it lets you set the focus point, aperture, shutter speed, etc. What you can’t do with this — what you can do with a real SLR — is change the lens. But an SLR starts around $750, and this little guy is only $300 — and it has 12x optical zoom! — so I ordered it. And, it sucked. The aperture options were greatly limited, the image stabilization didn’t seem to do much, and worst of all, the focus was off. This, I’ve learned, is probably a lemon, and not indicative of what you should expect from this camera, but before I figured that out, I returned the S3 to Amazon and went ahead and ordered an SLR.

I went with the Canon Rebel XTi, a 10.1 MP, light weight, fairly-small, entry-level digital SLR. (This one is dirt cheap for a D-SLR. You can spend $7000.) It comes with a very inexpensive lens, and we played with that for a while on Friday afternoon. It seemed pretty good, but we wanted to see what the camera could do with a spectacular lens, so we drove over to Pasadena to Samy’s Camera — sort of LA’s closest approximation of B&H Photo. Samy’s has a rental department, so we rented three lenses: the Canon EF 50mm f/1.4, the Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro, and the sort of benchmark pro lens, the Canon EF 24-70 f/2.8 L zoom lens. Holy damn, these were nice lenses. (Total value, had we purchased them: around $2000.) Here’s Loki, having a bath in the sun, photographed with the 50mm 1/4. Check out the detail — even at this excessively reduced size — of the jagged little spines of his tongue. No wonder it hurts when he licks me. The background is much softer than Loki’s tongue.

Remember that shot above, of the phone with only the bottom row of numbers in focus, as shot with the Sony DSC-T9? Here’s a similar picture, shot with the new XTi camera and the 50mm lens. (This is not a macro shot like the Sony shot, but it’s interesting to see how dramatically the focus falls off almost immediately. It’s pretty cool.)

Here’s another shot of Mr. Kitty, just chillin’.

And here’s Loki’s yearbook picture. Who was voted Most Likely to be Cute? (You have to read that last sentence in a baby voice.)

It’s a great lens. Basically just aim the camera at something and take a picture, and it looks fantastic. Focus is immediate and spot-on, and the background looks beautiful. I’m definitely going to buy this lens. Next we attached the Macro lens. This is not Loki.

The macro lens is cool, but it’s very large, and quite heavy. It requires quite a bit of light to focus accurately. Still, it’s fun. Here’s a picture of me shooting a reflective lamp, as reflected in my mirrored sunglasses.

And if you’re using a macro lens, you have to shoot flowers, right?

Okay, so those are Lego flowers from AEJ’s Lego Princess Palace that I bought her for Christmas last year. But it was 1am, and that was all we had in the house. The background soft reflection is again from my mirror sunglasses. The 100mm macro is pretty cool, but it felt like a big production to get an interesting photo. Using this lens effectively would require a tripod — one much more substantial than my tiny tripod that I use with the SD800 in restaurants.

Next up: we loaded on the massive 24-70 f/2.8 lens. Weighing in at over two pounds and measuring over 5-inches in length, it’s a beast. So we decided to take it for a walk around the reservoir, just to see how hard it would be to haul such a thing around.

Holy wow, this lens takes nice pictures. It should, at over $1100 (for just the lens!). Like I said, it’s a rental.

If you go for a walk with a camera, you end up seeing things you’ve never noticed before. The two-mile walk around the Silver Lake reservoir now seemed like we were at some crazy arboretum.

AEJ took this one (and most of the other good ones).

Isn’t this the friendliest fire hydrant you’ve ever seen? It’s like he’s saying, “right this way, kids!”

Somebody’s lovely landscaping.

A lovely white flower, with red roses behind it.

Another lawn had a patch of purple flowers. This shot makes it look endless, when it was really only about 15 feet long.

Who knew there was wildlife like this in LA?

There was a crazy wind storm here a few days ago, and this branch couldn’t handle it.

This rose is so perfect, it looks like some cheeseball greeting card.

It was pretty overcast during our walk, but then the sun came out behind us. The sun, shining on this white building, with a dark, gray sky behind it, was pretty cool.

There’s a crazy old guy who lives on our street. He’s a hoarder. His entire lawn — on a property probably worth $1 million — is covered with boxes of paper that he won’t throw away. His van is also packed with paper. Did I mention that he seems to be quite the ladies man? I mean, the dude drives the LayStation.

When we got home from our walk, Loki sang us a song. He’s a belter, and he loves “I Will Always Love You.” Poor little guy has no taste.

The new camera is pretty big, but it’s a blast to use. We’re going to start by buying the 50mm f/1.4 and the 24/105mm f/4 L lenses. The plan is to travel with the 24/105mm because it can get just about any shot (and has a little more zoom than the 24/70 we used for these trial shots), and leave the 50mm on the camera when I’m home, since it’s so easy to use (and very, very light). I leave you with one final picture of the cat, because thanks to this new camera, Loki will soon be the most-photographed kitty in the world.


Travis Taylor says

That's a damned nice camera, the photos are amazing quality. My friend recently bought an SLR, and it cost him $1,000.00+ but it was originally a $3,000.00+ camera.

But I don't know much about cameras, so y'know I'm just happy with my 7 mega-pixel Kodak.


Newman says

I should talk, but this is some pretty spectacular procrastination you've got going on. Sept. 1, John. Sept. 1. ;-)

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