New Toys

Some guys get their jollies from new power tools. Others, from a new set of golf clubs or a drone to fly around the neighborhood. We all, with any luck, have interests outside of putting food on the table and paying the bills, and often those interests have “toys” that support them.

 I’m a guy with a lot of interests. Sometimes they’re intangible, like a curiosity about how the universe works, or in a good work of fiction, or what the world looks like three countries over. But I also have more gear intensive interests, and have recently acquired some new toys to support my photography hobby.

(Warning: this post contains a fair bit of photography jargon. For those who’s eyes glaze over simply reading the term “photography jargon”, feel free to skip forward to the pretty pictures.)

I mentioned the primary piece of new gear a few posts back – I got a new DSLR camera. The old one still worked well, but it was 8 years old, an eternity in camera technology. As I was due to level up to the next class of camera, I made the jump from an entry level Nikon D5000 to a “prosumer” D7200.  Not pro level, but a significant step up. The kit lens was also an upgrade, from an 18-55 zoom to an 18-140 zoom. I started showing results from the new camera in the “Snow Patrol” post.

Since then I’ve been gradually upgrading more gear: a new 70-300 telephoto lens, a used 12-24 super wide angle lens, a travel tripod, filters, and a carrying case.  All I needed was a break from the near constant recent rain to go out and play with the new toys.

The Super Wide Angle

You might argue that the 18 end on the 18-140 is plenty wide, and it does take in a lot of turf. But for those who relate those focal length numbers to the old days of 35mm film cameras, there’s a caveat.

Digital cameras use sensors rather than film, and the size of the sensor impacts on how much of an image you get from a lens. Most pro level DSLRs have “full frame” sensors, i.e. the sensor will see the same results as the old 35mm cameras.  The D7200 has a smaller sensor and falls into the “crop sensor” category. What this means is, as the sensor only sees part of what the lens projects, it’s effectively cropping the outside edges of the frame and magnifying the image. For the D7200 the magnification factor is 1.5, so that 18-140 zoom become equivalent to a 24-210 zoom from a full frame perspective.

The second part of the story is about lens quality. The 12-24 (effectively 18-36) lens is a pro level lens whereas the 18-140 is simply average – a good quality lower end lens. That pro level quality is also why I got a used one, a new one would cost as much as the new camera and the 18-140 combined. Hopefully, it’s used status will not result in degraded images. Here are some results.

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Ok, so it’s not normal to use a super wide for flowers unless you didn’t have enough elbow room to back up, but hey, it was a new toy, I had to try it – right?

A more likely target is big landscapes, the real reason I got it. But I also picked up a new tripod, in part with the idea I could start doing panoramas.  In this case I took it to an extreme, combining the widest end of the super wide with panorama stitching (multiple pictures combined in a computer.)  Maybe too extreme, it was hard to get past the distortion. I subsequently learned from wiser heads I shouldn’t go below 18mm for panoramas on a crop sensor camera.

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180-degree vista, four shots at 12mm stitched together
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Three shot panorama

That tripod should come in useful later too, for long exposures after dark or with special filters for effects.

More conventional shots from the super wide will be featured in the next post.

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One last shot from the super wide, with a spin. The weather didn’t suddenly turn wintery – I converted this shot to black and white. Looks kind of old-timey, eh?

The recent new toys were not limited to hardware, I picked up and have been studying new photo editing software too. It turns out there’s a Portland-based company that puts out a nice product called On1 Photo RAW – I’ve used it on most of these images. Historically I’d used Paint Shop Pro and its companion Aftershot Pro, but it was time to upgrade there too, but not all the way to the pricier Adobe Lightroom/Photoshop tools. Having said that, for this B/W conversion I used an older tool called Silver Efex Pro 2, part of a “Nik” toolset from Google. They don’t support it anymore, but the good news is it’s now free. It works standalone or as a plug-in for the On1 and Adobe tools. Those tools do B/W conversions too, but not as well.

The Mid Range: 18-140

While the 12-24 wide angle was the main new toy that afternoon, I had the 18-140 mid range zoom handy as well. It does flowers too…

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Shot at 50mm on the 18-140
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Shot at 140 on the 18-140 and cropped

The Telephoto

I scored the new 70-300 telephoto as part of a package deal with the camera, saving me a couple hundred dollars.  I did have a 55-200 zoom already, but was looking to extend the range for birds, other critters, and the occasional landscape shot. Remember that crop-sensor factor (1.5)? It turns the 70-300 into a 105-450 telephoto – that should do the trick.  It’s not the heavy high-end telephoto the pros use, but I’m liking it.

The nice weather that afternoon was an excuse to set up the tripod on the back deck and ambush the critters in the yard after the neighborhood walkabout.

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Maybe they should just call it squirrel seed, seems like they get more of it than the birds do…
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Anna’s Hummingbird

Well, that’s the latest buzz. If you’re wondering why I haven’t been as active in WordPress lately, there’s the answer; I’ve been jonesing on photography more than writing. These new toys should help with the blogging too – the pretty picture posts are more popular than the general topic ones.  Maybe I need to buy a new toy for writing too – do they still make typewriters?

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47 thoughts on “New Toys

    1. The good news is you don’t have to know all the techie stuff to take good pictures. Maybe that’s why cell phone cameras are so popular. But even without the techie stuff, it still helps to know a little about composition.

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      1. Composition is definitely the key. There were some great photos taken with Box Brownies. I love modern cameras with their Zooms, and low-light sensitivity (which phone cameras don’t have) but really, I don’t want to know their secrets…

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    1. Yes, I was thinking the stone building and the tree might make for an interesting black and white, then when I went to the conversion software and saw a variation on that look in presets I thought it was a winner. The rest is history.

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    1. Just having interchangeable lenses says something, and auto is fine for most pictures unless you’re looking for a specific effect. While I don’t use full auto I use semi-auto variations on a regular basis. I’m looking forward to more excellent photos too, as that suggests I’ve gone somewhere with interesting subjects.

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  1. Oh Dave – welcome to GAS. Gear Acquisition Syndrome. Actually you don’t have it – I do. So I am living vicariously. New camera equipment does get the creative inspiration flowing – not that you seem to suffer from lack of inspiration. But you will have fun! Congrats on the new equipment. Curious what kind of tripod you got?

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    1. Glad to give you a vicarious thrill. This’ll probably be my last acquisition for several more years (famous last words) so I’m enjoying it. The new tripod is a Vanguard VEO 235AB. Folds down to 15″, weight 3.3 lbs, load capacity 13 lbs.

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      1. Ah, a belly button camera. I think my Mom had one of those for a while and I may have played around with it a bit, but I never did any photography with it.

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    1. That’s as much photo editing as camera. The trick is to try and make the pictures pop without over-saturating the colors to the point of looking fake. It’s easy to get carried away.

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  2. You have no idea how jealous I am that you not only have a camera that can take such wonderful photos, but you actually know how to use it. And you understand the various settings and lenses! I would love to be better at photography, but the whole thing is like advanced calculus to me: so complex that it is beyond my tiny little brain’s power to comprehend.

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    1. Like I told Denise (toutparmoi), you don’t have to know all the techie stuff to take good pictures, just a bit of composition. And it’s really not that hard, I bet if you took a class (and there are plenty of free/cheap ones on the internet), you’d understand it in no time.

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      1. I may give it a shot. But I have problems with my little point and shoot digital camera, although that may be because it doesn’t seem very user friendly. I’ll look into the classes on the internet, though. Thanks for the tip!

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  3. That’s a nice shot of the hummingbird, you’ve got there. It could make for a pretty interesting black and white image. I’m glad you’re having so much fun with your new photography kit, Dave. You’ve certainly got a great collection to work with.

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    1. Good thought with the hummer, I’ll give it a look. I was just thinking it turned out well despite the harsh side lighting, although it took some editing. Yep, this gear should be good for years.

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  4. Wow Dave. I’ve previously mentioned that I’m a fan of your photography skills, so I won’t be redundant again (see what I did there 😉 ). But I will say that the hummingbird photo does look amazing. Pretty sure I can’t capture these moments with my iPhone.

    Hope you continue to have fun with the new toys, and that we continue to be the beneficiaries.

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  5. Put me down for another vote on the b&w tree, but the hummingbird is one impressive bit of photography!
    I have some flowers growing by my patio table that a pair of hummingbirds love. The other morning I was out there and the male came within inches of my face, just staring at me. I’m not sure if he was challenging me or what, but I switched seats. That appeased him and he went back to feeding. Any picture by me would have just been a blur!

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    1. I haven’t had one stare me down from such close range. I do sometimes wonder what they’re thinking when they come check us out. Stronger hooch please? What are you doing in my yard? You smell like flowers – can I lick your face? 😉

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      1. Yes, this little guy definitely considers himself Owner of the Yard. He chases away all interlopers, and often surveys whatever new plants I bring in. And yes, I have let him influence what plants I bring in. 😊

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  6. I’ve always appreciated your photos, Dave, so I’m happy that you’ve got some new toys for your hobby. That’s always a good feeling. So far, the results seem really positive. Great shots!

    I’ve been trying to learn more about photography as of late. I have a long way to go, but I feel like I’m coming along. I even understood some of the photography jargon!

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    1. Learn core composition ideas: rule of thirds, leading lines, natural frames – you’ll be able to take better pictures even if you only shoot auto. The next step: learn the exposure triangle (shutter speed/f-stops/ISO) and how to use different combinations to make the same exposure, but with potentially different effects. It sounds complicated but once you get the gist it’s pretty straightforward. As for people pictures, the biggest mistake I see is not filling the frame with the folks involved – you hardly see their features because they’re too far away. There’s lots of resources on the internet, have fun learning.

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      1. Thanks Dave! That’s a lot of good advice right there, and I’ll be sure to keep it in mind as I go along. I’m currently digging into core composition ideas, much like you suggested, so hopefully my shots will slowly start to improve. If I can get my photos to a fraction of the quality of yours, I’ll be happy!

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