New Camera Lenses: Where Does My Money Go?

August 7th, 2011

For the past 18 months I have been playing around with a Canon EOS 500D, taking photos around my town and generally having fun. Up until recently the only lenses I had to suit it were the kit lenses, an EF-S 18-55mm F3.5-5.6 IS, an EF-S 55-200mm F4-5.6 and an EF 50mm F1.8. They are all decent lenses, and they’ve served me well so far but I felt like it was time to invest in some decent glass.

My main reason for having an SLR is for travel photography while touring on the motorcycle, and for street photography when I can drag myself out of the house. So this mainly consists of landscapes while travelling and the majority of the remaining shots not requiring very high focal lengths. I’ve had my heart set on a Canon EF 24-70mm 2.8L lens for almost a year now, and I was planning on buying one with my tax return this year (along with all the other photography gear I need for an upcoming holiday). Unluckily, I didn’t count on the tax office deducting a large chunk of my return this year to repay my university loans. This mean I couldn’t afford the Canon lens. I still needed something though, and after looking around on B&H for a few days I settled on the Sigma equivalent, the Sigma 24-70mm f/2.8 IF EX DG HSM, and a Bower 14mm f2.8 Wide Angle.

I have had these lenses for 3 weeks now and I can say with complete conviction that the Sigma lens isn’t performing anywhere close to the standard I expected. I know a lot of people who already own a pile of L-series lenses will say “That’s what you get for buying an third-party lens”, but I spent some time comparing these lenses, and comparing the specifications side by side one could be forgiven for expecting them to be of similar performance. Both have Ultrasonic autofocus, both have an aperture of 2.8 across the zoom range, and both are priced at $US1400 retail. This isn’t consumer price-territory. The most glaring issue I have with the Sigma is the autofocus. It’s a common complaint with this lens, and a few minutes with Google will reveal hundreds of instances of people having trouble with the autofocus performance of this lens. In my case, it’s neither consistent or accurate, sometimes it will focus forwards of what I am actually focusing on and other times it will focus too far. Switching off the autofocus is the best thing I did, and focusing by eye instantly increased the sharpness of the photos coming out of the camera. This lens is sharp and optically I cannot fault it, there is very little distortion or aberration in any of the images I shot with it. I was really suprised.

But that’s not what I paid for. I already have several manual lenses that perform just as well as this lens optically, and they did not cost me over $1000. What I paid for is a lens that is just as sharp as those older lenses with the convenience of fast, quiet and accurate autofocus. The time I have to spend focusing with this lens means many shots will simply be missed, or won’t be captured in anything other than a blurry approximation of what I wanted when I was looking through the viewfinder.

I e-mailed Sigma and after showing them some example of the lazy autofocus their solution is to send the lens, and my camera, to their service centre in this region for calibration. After considering it for a few days I said Poppy to that and I’m sending it back to B&H for a refund and I’m buying the Canon EF 24-70mm 2.8L like I planned to in the first place. While I did get the lens for $US899, quite a lot cheaper than the $US1400 retail price quoted by Sigma, I still have had to pay over $200 in import taxes, and I am looking at another $100 in postage to get this lemon back to B&H. All this has taught me is that if I’m going to buy a electronic lens for my camera I am better off in the long run buying one from the camera manufacturer.

I did mention earlier I also got another lens, a Bower 14mm f2.8 Wide Angle. After reading my experiences and how I feel about the Sigma, anyone would think I would want to return this lens with the Sigma and get the Canon EF 14mm f2.8L II USM wide angle. Certainly the Canon is the better performer, and with USM autofocus it’s easier and faster to use, and at 650g it’s near enough to make no difference to the Bowers 600g. But the Canon lens costs $US2239, more than 5 times the price of the Bower which costs a mere $US419. It performs well enough for what I want it for which is mainly landscapes, but it’s also quite reasonable up close as well:

Quite Reasonable

I’ve only just started playing with this lens but every time I take it out I love it just a little bit more. The manual focusing and aperture control take a little while for anyone who hasn’t used a manual lens to get confident with, but that’s really only a small issue when you’re getting a lens that has the potential to perform very well while costing what is practically peanuts compared to similar lenses. Unlike the Sigma where I really need the autofocus to be fast and accurate to avoid missing shots, I really only want this lens for landscapes so I can afford to stand there for half an hour taking photos and adjusting settings without a problem. If you need a lens that you can just bring up to your face and shoot with minimal fiddling around then this lens probably isn’t for you, but for me, it’s perfect.

Take Care, Take Care, Take Care

June 25th, 2011

I listen to a huge variety of music, including (but not limited to) electronic, rock, house, classical, punk and jpop. One of my favourite genres however, particularly when I am working on the computer is instrumental post rock. There are whole radio shows dedicated to the genre, but one band in particular stands out as a clear favourite in my mind. Explosions In The Sky have been composing their brand of soaring instrumental music for over a decade, and it’s something that they have an innate skill for. In fact, the reason I wanted to write this post is the release of their first music video.

Last Known Surroundings from Explosions in the Sky on Vimeo.

To date they have release six studio albums, and I recommend all of them to some degree. If I had to choose though, my favourites have to be their first album, All Of A Sudden I Miss Everyone, and their latest album, Take Care, Take Care, Take Care. They are one of those rare bands whose music I get something from regardless of my mood, whether I am feeling down, angry, happy or bored and that is something I have not found with many other bands.

Phases, or Why I Can’t Seem To Get Anything Done

May 25th, 2011

People thrive on different things. Some people love to work, others love to relax, to spend time with their families, engage in sport or simply socialise. And then there are those who have hobbies. I am most definitely one of the latter, having too many interests for my own good. My dad collects stamps. Well, he at least collected stamps while I was impressionable. Like me, he divides himself between many interests, though he is able to spend more time with each one before feeling the urge to move on.I suppose that’s where I get it from. But as I’ve grown up and older I’ve taken an interest in other things.

Disassembled Pentax Spotmatic F
Credit: http://www.toddmclellan.com

My most recent interest is in film camera restoration, particularly those from 1960-1989. It really deserves its own post but to give a summary I was given my grandfathers Praktica LTL SLR and his “Agfa Super Silette rangefinder by my grandmother. Both were not working and needed repairs. Not wanting to break them trying to fix them myself I had them repaired by a professional service technician and everything was swell. This piqued my interest in film photography, which led to a friend of mine giving me all of his old camera gear, including a Pentax Spotmatic. This was fortunate as these are a very well built, easy to repair camera with mountains of information on the web covering just about every possible problem they suffer from. Naturally, when I disassembled it I got slightly too enthusiastic and ended up causing more problems than originally existed, but after a month or so of tinkering and researching I have gotten it back into almost perfect working order. In the same way I went overboard disassembling my Spotmatic, I also went overboard looking for my next project and bought a pile of vintage cameras in various states of repair. I will post a list some time soon. Of course, this whole interest stemmed from an interest in photography. I have a Canon EOS 500D, certainly not the best camera on the market but it serves me well and doesn’t miss a beat. If anything, I don’t think I’m doing justice to its capabilities. Yet despite this it, like all the digital SLRs I’ve tried, is a very clinical camera. The digital SLRs just don’t seem to have the charm, the magic that the vintage cameras are steeped in. When I do travel, I take the 500D, but I just don’t feel as much attachment to it as I do to my old cameras.

Nixie Clock

Chronotonix V400 Nixie Clock by nixieclock.net

I have also gone through an electronics phase, firstly because I needed a power regulator to smooth out the power coming out of my motorcycle so I won’t have to be as paranoid charging my iPod or iPhone with the engine running. This didn’t take long, so I went on to make several solid state headphone amplifiers and am in the process of making an arduino-based shutter speed tester. Not to mention I keep coming back to Nixie Clocks despite hating working with high voltages. That said, I’ve always been partial to electronics since I was very young and it’s a hobby I always come back to sooner or later.

These are only my most recent obsessions. Before camera restoration or DIY electronics I have always been extremely focused on computers, originally simply for gaming but then for overclocking and now for gaming once again. Even after finishing school and going to university I was still The Computer Guy amongst my friends and housemates, and now where I work I hold the same reputation. Apparently I have some sort of silicon pheromone that lets those in my immediate area know that if their computer breaks they should harass me about it. But it’s the only hobby I have that I have obsessed over constantly for almost 20 years. Putting it like that I actually feel quite old now. But, back on topic: I have been building, breaking, and repairing computers since my dad brought home our first PC, an Intel 386 desktop running DOS. Not as old school as some, but everyone has to start somewhere.

Because I have too many hobbies, and all men must Make things to be manly I decided I needed to make a work bench using some old tables I was given and some cheap timber from the hardware shop. Initial results weren’t promising. The bench is a little wobbly for my liking and not really stable enough to lean on with all of my weight. But it was a learning experience, and I felt extra manly at the end. All that needs to be done is a bit of extra reinforcement and a change to the base and everything will be swell. The problem is I have started eyeing quite a few power tools every time I go to the hardware shop and thinking to myself “I will possibly need that in the future”. It’s a battle of self control every time I go in there these days, particularly on paydays. I do need a new entertainment unit to replace the one I currently have, which only have enough room for the Xbox 360 and the Playstation 3. What I want it one that has enought room to fit the media centre, the blu-ray player, the reciever, the PS3 and the XB360. One more project to add to the pile.

After all of these though, I think the most expensive thing I love doing is alf and half between riding my motorcycle and touring on my motorcycle. Early 2010 a friend and I rode 7300 kilometres down along the Great Ocean Road and on to Adelaide, then back home through Broken Hill. This was in the middle of summer which meant that we were hot for most of the trip. It was amazing. The main difference between riding a motorcycle somewhere and driving somewhere is this: When you drive, you are in your car which is going through a place. There’s a disconnection from the places you’re going through. On a motorcycle this disconnection is gone, and even when you don’t stop you still experience great things while you travel. It’s a great experience. So great, in fact, that we’re planning a much longer and more difficult trip for the near future. While this means more great experiences, it also means I have to spend a lot of dosh buying gear, getting the bike check out and set up and generally doing a lot of running around before we set out.

So these are the main ways I’m spending my time and money these days. By no means am I exceptional at any of them, but they’re interesting or fun and that’s all that really matters in the end, isn’t it?

Photography – A Themed Challenge

May 25th, 2011

I’ve been thinking about what my first post here should be. My previous blog was heavily focused on anime and a little on gaming, but these days I don’t watch much anime and gaming just doesn’t strike me as a very interesting thing to write about. Especially when these days there are many people who write much more compelling blogs on the subject than myself. Some things I have been focused on in my spare time lately are Photography and Camera Restoration.

A friend of mine recently put me onto a Deviantart blog post as a challenge for us to take a stab at withour photography. There are 5 variants of the challenge, and after looking through them all I decided the first sounded the most promising for myself. Assuming I don’t forget or lose interest, I will post my results both here and on my flickr (which really hasn’t ben getting much love lately either.

As a way to keep track of my progress, I will be checking off the items as I go in the list in each post and I will use this the list in this post to link to each individual photo.

Hopefully I don’t get distracted too much in the meantime, but I suppose all I can do is see how I go. My list of themes is:

  1. Introduction
  2. Love
  3. Light
  4. Dark
  5. Seeking Solace
  6. Break Away
  7. Heaven
  8. Innocence
  9. Drive
  10. Breathe Again
  11. Memory
  12. Insanity
  13. Misfortune
  14. Smile
  15. Silence
  16. Questioning
  17. Blood
  18. Rainbow
  19. Gray
  20. Fortitude
  21. Vacation
  22. Mother Nature
  23. Cat
  24. No Time
  25. Trouble Lurking
  26. Tears
  27. Foreign
  28. Sorrow
  29. Happiness
  30. Under the Rain
  31. Flowers
  32. Night
  33. Expectations
  34. Stars
  35. Hold My Hand
  36. Precious Treasure
  37. Eyes
  38. Abandoned
  39. Dreams
  40. Rated
  41. Teamwork
  42. Standing Still
  43. Dying
  44. Two Roads
  45. Illusion
  46. Family
  47. Creation
  48. Childhood
  49. Stripes
  50. Breaking the Rules
  51. Sport
  52. Deep in Thought
  53. Keeping a Secret
  54. Tower
  55. Waiting
  56. Danger Ahead
  57. Sacrifice
  58. Kick in the Head
  59. No Way Out
  60. Rejection
  61. Fairy Tale
  62. Magic
  63. Do Not Disturb
  64. Multitasking
  65. Horror
  66. Traps
  67. Playing the Melody
  68. Hero
  69. Annoyance
  70. 67%
  71. Obsession
  72. Mischief Managed
  73. I Can’t
  74. Are You Challenging Me?
  75. Mirror
  76. Broken Pieces
  77. Test
  78. Drink
  79. Starvation
  80. Words
  81. Pen and Paper
  82. Can You Hear Me?
  83. Heal
  84. Out Cold
  85. Spiral
  86. Seeing Red
  87. Food
  88. Pain
  89. Through the Fire
  90. Triangle
  91. Drowning
  92. All That I Have
  93. Give Up
  94. Last Hope
  95. Advertisement
  96. In the Storm
  97. Safety First
  98. Puzzle
  99. Solitude
  100. Relaxation

This will be fun!

Camerapedia Addon For Firefox

March 29th, 2011

I have been hammering eBay lately buying broken cameras for salvaging parts for a camera I am currently restoring, but I am constantly distracted by the other bargains I find along the way. One thing that has annoyed me a few times is finding an auction with only minutes left, and missing out because I was poking through Google results while researching the camera being sold. To make things a bit easier for myself I whipped up a Camerapedia addon for the Firefox Search Bar so I can quickly check Camerapedia for camera details.

It’s simple. I have been using it for a few weeks now and I haven’t run into any major issues. Hopefully it helps a few people out somewhere along the line.

It can be downloaded HERE

Update: Reviewed and ready to go.