With the most primitive means the artist creates something which the most ingenious and efficient technology will never be able to create.
Kasimir Malevich, Cubo-Futurist, Suprematist
Kasimir Malevich, Cubo-Futurist, Suprematist
But I've been working through the Canon system and I've discovered two things: 1. I like the cropped frame cameras like the 60D and the 7D more than the 5D2 even though it has the bigger (and supposedly better) full frame sensor. 2. I wanted a lens that was in the equivalent range of 50 to 60mm for that format. I don't always use primes but when I do I want them to conform to the way I see and not the other way around. I've come to understand that no matter how hard you try to make something work it's not going to work unless your brain is willing to accept it. And my brain is really bossy. When it wants to see things in a certain way it gets bitchy about substitutions.
Canon 35mm f2. It corresponds to a 56mm lens on a full frame camera which puts it right into the middle of my sweet spot. The price is good and it's usable on my full frame camera. I hadn't had a chance to really break the lens in until today so, after doing some mandatory yard work, I grabbed the 7D and the 35mm and went out for a Sunday walk around downtown Austin.
The lens is probably the lightest lens I own. It has no special features. No special glass. No IS. No big hood. No bragging rights for the aperture. And I fell in love with it the moment I looked through it. It's sooooo neutral. No wide angle affectations. No "portrait-y" feel. Just a solid, middle of the road focal length and no big anomalies to speak of. It focuses quickly with the 60d and the 7D. And, at 3.5 and 5.6 most test reports show it matching the performance of the 35mm 1.4 pretty handily. Did I try the 30mm Sigma? Yes. I owned one back in the Nikon days and found it to be no great shakes. I sure wasn't interested in doing it again. It's sharp in the middle and by the time you hit 5.6 it's probably as sharp all over as this lens, but at twice the price.
I can guess why everyone loves exotic zoom lenses and exciting, extreme focal lengths but I'm finding a lot of good, cheap lenses in the Canon line up that I think are overlooked. For example, when most people consider actual 50mm lenses the "wish" lens is the 50mm 1.1.2 L. But why? It's rare that you'll find subject matter that works well at the maximum aperture of that lens and it weighs a ton. And costs even more. The 50mm 1.4 is widely acknowledged to be soft at 1.4 and f2 but sharpens up nicely at f4. And that's a good thing? So, people buy them only to stop them down? I think a sloppy 1.4 made sense back in the manual focus days because the limited depth of field made it easier to see when a lens popped in and out of focus. But with the dominant use of autofocus? Doesn't make a heck of a lot of sense. Then there's the "nifty fifty", Canon's 50mm 1.8. I have one. I use it and I find that it too needs to be stopped down to at least 2.8 and really to f4 before it behaves and delivers good performance over most of the frame.
Hell, my $700 Carl Zeiss 50mm 1.4 falls into the same pit of performance as the above two lenses. So why is it that, when we're out shopping for opinions on all the forae, no one ever gets around to mentioning the 50mm 2.5 macro lens? I played with one, found it to be sharp at f2.8 (sharper than all the lenses mentioned above) even better at f4 and remarkably crisp at 5.6. And it's cheaper than all but the nifty fifty. What gives? Is it really so declasse to use a non-USM lens? And it too is well under $300. I was so impressed I picked on up. And guess what? It's light enough to keep in the bag and take anywhere.
70-200 2.8 or even a single 85mm 1.1.2 lens. Guarantee you'll have more fun with these than any group of zooms that cover the same lengths and you'll be doing it with lenses that let you shoot at wider apertures than even the L zooms will with very, very good results.
I shot a function, an event, with the 7D last week. It does a better job with flash than the 5D2. The focus locks on quicker in subdued light and the finder is just as beautiful. I've learned how to lock in a flash pre-flash spot reading and get the same kind of results with flash that I used to get with the Nikon gear. I understand the general fascination with full frame equipment but I'll readily admit that you could do endless amounts of very professional work with the cropped frame cameras. At least that's my recent experience. I'm glad I have both. I'll save the 5 for picky clients. For myself? The 60D and 7D are mostly interchangeable and great. I'm happy to have them as tools. The lack of inference makes them invisible to me when I shoot. I like that.
The next thing up falls into the category of Best Lighting Thing I've Bought for Next to No Money.
160 LED panel I bought from Amazon recently. I think one plant in China makes all of the 160 bulb panels and then five or ten distributors buy them up and brand them. At least they all look identical..... I call this.....my 160 LED panel.
And I've used it on a full day of corporate location photography with especially good results. The light is pretty powerful, runs for an hour and a half on a rechargeable camcorder battery and has a dimmer control. I'm working on a video right now and find that two of these panels take care of about 50% of my lighting needs on location. When more light is called for I can lean on all the "plug in the wall" big panels I've accumulated. I even stuck one in the camera bag when I went to shoot event stills the other night at the Four Seasons but I didn't have the experience with fast moving events to use continuous light on an important shoot for a client. But I've been reading a blog from Neil van Niekirk and he's doing just that. He's using the small panels for quick fill and accent lights on wedding shoots and so far the results look really great.
Once I've shot a few projects that way I'll post some more details. Until then you might want to check out Neil's blog here.