Canon Digital Rebel

The main camera I use for my photographs is my Canon Digital Rebel.  This is a 6.3 MP Digital SLR (Single Lens Reflex) that is a couple of years old now, but I find it has nearly every feature I need.

I love using this camera because it fits my hand well, does fairly well in low light situations, and I enjoy playing with the Depth of Field that only an SLR can provide.  The nice thing about Canon SLR’s are because of the way they are designed, they can fit lenses from many other manufacturers including Leica, Carl Zeiss, and older Pentax and Nikon lenses which can be found on eBay very cheap.

I’ve taken my Canon SLR all over the place and I couldn’t be happier.  If you are looking into getting into photography, definitelyconsider getting a Digital SLR, even if you are tight on budget, see if you can find a used one.  Consumer super zoom cameras just cannot come close when it comes to Noise, Depth of Field (Probably the most important reason), focus speed, and lighting flexibility.  An SLR camera will also be able to grow with you as you progress.  Think of it more of an investment.  With digital SLR’s you can invest in higher quality lenses such as Canon L lenses that will last you for years, no matter how the camera bodies evolve.

Nortown Camera Service

Nortown isn’t actually a retail store. They are a camera repair and service center.  My Canon Digital Rebel was having problems with taking photos (err99) and I called up Futureshop with which I had an extended warranty with.  They suggested Nortown for quick local repair so I drove my camera in and dropped it off.

The repair was incredibly quick.  They said repairs usually take 2-4 weeks.  In fact I got my camera back within 2 weeks.  My copy of the invoice says a chip was replaced, contacts cleaned, and the usual firmware update type things.  I would have to say I’m very happy with the repair and especially the speed of which it was carried out.  If your having problems with your camera definately check out Nortown.  They service all makes and do repairs for Henrys as well as Futureshop.  So you know they have a fair amount of work and inventory of parts on hand.  They seem to specialize in Olympus cameras but for sure they do Canon’s because I was told by the Canon rep all Canon cameras are to be sent there.  They were located on the west side of Toronto near Dundas and Hwy 427.  A bit of a drive for me from Markham but not too bad.

Replacing Canon’s Eyecup

I’m sure most people have this problem with their SLR cameras.  You have to press your eye right up against the camera, and all the grease and oil on your face smudges the LCD on the back of your camera.  It’s even worse if you have glasses, or if there is some glare from behind you.  I’ve even heard of peoples noses hitting buttons and controls.

This isn’t a problem just for Canon owners, it’s with pretty much every consumer level SLR I have seen. The good news is there is a quick, easy, and cheap solution.  I replaced my standard Canon eyepiece with a new Eye Cup from eBay. It was barely over $10 CDN after shipping, but the relief it provides is excellent. I no longer feel my face pressing against the camera, I don’t have to wipe oil off my screen between shots, and I can shot with my Glasses on now!

The aftermarket eye cup I purchased is much more comfortable as it comes out from the camera. The rubber cup surrounds your eye, and allows the use of glasses when shooting.

Installation is very simple, you just slide up your old eye piece from Canon, and you slide this one on in it’s place.  The fit was excellent, and it doesn’t look like it will be accidently sliding off.

Every person who wears glasses should like into getting one of these.  It’s such a small piece of equipment, but it really improves how you use your camera.  I purchased mine from Treasuresale who I whole heartedly recommend.

Canon EW-63II Lens Hood

A lens hood is an accessory often overlooked by the begginning photographer.  But if you start to pay attention to more experienced photographers you will notice probaly almost all of their lenses have these big ugly things sticking out the front of them.  Since the Canon 28-105 USM lens is one I often walk around with and that I use a lot, I decided to spend the money on the original Canon recommended hood.  This is the hood Canon recommends for this SLR lens and is designed to work well with it.

A lens hood helps improve contrast, sharpness and reduces flare in certain conditions. It can also help to protect your lens from damage.

The EW-63II lens hood is petal shaped to help block out stray sunlight.  This is especially useful when shooting into bright light.  Digital cameras are especially susceptable to lens flare because the CCD or CMOS sensors are highly reflective.  Lens flare is not only ugly in it’s shape when it’s in a photo, it also reduces contrast and sharpness in a photo.  So helping improve photo quality is one huge benefit of this little accessory.

Another great benefit is it can help protect the lens for scratches.  A lot of times if your lens bumps into something it’ll hit the lens hood instead of the front glass element.  I sometimes even place my lens in my bag without the cap in a rush because I know the lens hood will protect it from scratching anything in my bag.

When using this particular lens hood I find it possible to still use a Circular Polarizer at the same time.  I have one of the HOYA SMC Slim ones.  You have to put the hood in first and than the polarizer on second.  It can be a little difficult to use, but the combination of the two is quite neccessary to achieve a photo you want sometimes.  If you have large fat fingers you might have some problems with this combo and I definately wouldn’t recommend the slim model to you.

This is an excellent accessory and has helped me get some photos that would’ve otherwise been ruined.  It’s well worth the small investment and should stay on your lens all the time.  Even if your shooting low light it can offer additional protection to your lenses.

Use your filters on all your lenses with a Step Up Ring

If your anything like me you probaly have lenses of various diameters.  Some of the more common ones for Canon Lenses are 52mm, 58mm, and 72mm.  Well, I spent a fair chunk of money to get a very high quality Circular polarizer in the Tiffen unit.  But a couple of my favorite lenses are my Nikon 135mm, and Canon 50mm 1.8 Mk2.  Both of these lenses are actually smaller than the 58mm polarizer.  As well they are actually smaller than all of my filters.  So you might think I had to buy another set of filters for these lenses.  We’ll, your wrong!

You can actually use the 58mm filters you already purchased with these lenses.  You can simple go into your local camera shop and ask for a 52mm to 58 mm step up ring.  One end fits the 52 mm size of your lens, and as the name implies the other end allows 58mm filters to be screwed in.  This is a great thing to have, especially for things like ND Grad filters which you may not use everyday.  You can now simply by one set of high quality filters and use them on all your different lenses.

The adapter ring is very easy to use. You just screw it on your lens, and than add the filter you wish to use. There is no glass elements and these should be very cheap at your camera store.

Wireless Flash Trigger

The key to any studio or even photography in general is having good control over your lighting.  In that sense an on camera flash really isn’t that controllable.  It is from an awkward angle, and can’t be directed. Using a studio strobe or off camera flash can be an excellent way to achieve dramatic and flattering lighting effects.  I opted to try out one of the Wireless Flash Trigger’s found on eBay.  Mine was sold by Photoland168, and is of the RF 4-channel type.  There are some pretty nice advantages to going with this unit.

Most importantly to me was going to be cost.  Pocket wizards are probably one of the best wireless flash trigger options available.  There is also the new Microsync device which is very tiny.  But these options are extremely expensive.  The money I would need to spend on these would actually cost more than the lighting I have.  In fact I could’ve easily spent more than my camera is worth.  So these were not an option.

A really interesting option was actually to pick up a 2nd flash unit such as Canon’s 580EX or the Sigma Super units.  These could be used on camera and act as a master to my 420EX which would than be a slave.

The only disadvantages to this option is that the master flash has to be mounted on camera thus limiting it’s usefulness, and that because it’s an infrared signal the flash units would have to have some kind of line of sight, and it wouldn’t work that well outdoors.

There are a couple of huge advantages though.  First you’re getting a 2nd flash unit, and a 2nd light source.  Because the flash is on camera, you would actually have full E-TTL functionality with this setup.  The camera would be able to control the flash unit how it sees fit.

I choose to go with these low cost wireless flash trigger units for a few reasons.  One being cost of course.  At only $30 CDN it didn’t cost much at all.  They provide good range.  These work on a radio signal so they are not disturbed by Flash triggers like the Wein, or bright lights.  They can even be used around a wall.  The cost to expand the system is cheap as well.  Adding more lights to the system doesn’t increase cost too much.

The biggest downfall in my situation was my 420EX.  It is fully automatic flash unit.  It does not have controls for power output.  Therefore it is fired at full power every time when it’s not on my camera or controlled by a master unit.  So the only way to control the unit is by distance and coverings over the head.

A good solution is to get some cheap Vivitar 283/285, or Sunpak flash heads. These can be manually adjusted and are very cheap.  I personally think it’s an excellent way to learn about lighting.

Mine actually happens to be Model YHDC-B. The sender unit is on the left, the hotshoe adapter in the firont right, and the reciever in the background.

The system consists of a radio sender unit which sits on the flash hotshoe of your camera.  When you take a photo it sends out a radio signal to a receiver unit.  In my case my receiver unit actually plugs into a hotshoe adapter since the 420EX also has no connections like a PC Sync.  The units can be operated on 4 channels, so if you get interference you can always change. It also means you can set off different lights by co-coordinating lighting on different channels.

The range is good with my unit.  It’s at least as good as the range of my 420EX.  I’ve never tried it from down the street because otherwise the flash would be useless.

I have also found battery life to be good.  There is no real on-off switch with these devices.  I just unplug them and put them back into my bag.  I plug them in when I want to shoot and it just works.  The receiver is the only unit that actually requires a battery and I have yet to change mind after hundreds of shots, and a few months of use.

I would highly recommend these units for anyone who wants to start out in studio photography. It’s an excellent and cheap way to go, and the advantages of this system far outweigh any disadvantages it might have.

One tip I would suggest is to use some Velcro on the receiving unit and your flash head so you can attach the two when you are using the system. That way it doesn’t just hang down by the cord.  Also don’t forget to hit the test button every few minutes otherwise the 420EX will actually shut off to save power and you will have to go manually cycle the power.  I find this particularly annoying when I’m trying to setup a shot.

Canon RC5 Wireless Remote Trigger

Having a wireless remote trigger for the shutter of your camera is extremely convenient. Instead of waiting for the 10 sec timer you can remotely trigger your camera to take a photo with this handy little device.  The unit is compatable with both the Canon Digital Rebel and the Rebel XT.  The range I’d say is about 15 ft, but if your using it in strong sunlight outdoors, it may be reduced some.

To use the remote control, all you have to do is set the camera up in timer mode, point the RC5 at the camera and press the button.  The light on the camera flashes and takes a photo after a 2 second delay.  I find this very useful when I wanna be in a portrait with the family.  Instead of running like a madman into the scene, I can casually walk over and prepare myself.  I also find it helps when I do product photography.  I can take a photo of a product remotely, re-arrange or adjust lighting, and fire off another shot without having to go back to the camera.

This is a must have accessory for anyone doing a lot of family shooting.  It can be found for about $25 CDN and I use mine all the time.  The only downside is it is just a basic remote. I doesn’t have any zoom, aperature, shutter speed adjustments.  The only unit that seems to be able to do this is the much more expensive Canon Wired controller.

Canon 250D Close Up Filter

Macro photos are a favorite of mine, and a lot of people enjoy taking them.  They provide a unique perspective into the world, and it’s especially fun to find something to photograph in and around the house.  The Canon 250D Close up filter is actually a double element close up lens. It is of excellent build quality, and is not to be confused with some of the cheaper close up filters on the market.

The lens itself has a metal frame, and is quite heavy. It comes packed in a pretty clear round case with a screw on cap. The cap can come loose if not put on tightly.  The Canon 250D and 500D close up lenses work by screwing on the front of your lens the way a filter does.  They then reduce the closest focusing distance of the lens.  So say your lens normally can only focus as close as 1.5m, with one of these filters attached you might be able to focus as close as half a meter.

The quality of the optics is actually very good.  These are better than the +1, +3, +5 type filters you might find online, or in stores.  Those tend to be single element lenses and will distort the picture more.  Edge sharpness will especially suffer with those lenses.

When shooting with the close up filter you will tend to have a very narrow DOF.  That is very thin area in front of your camera will be in focus.  If you imagine a photographing a ruler flat on a table from a 45 degree angle maybe only a few mm of that ruler will be in focus.  So it’s very important to use a tripod or have a very steady hand.  You will often want to shoot at f10-22 to put more of your subject in focus and thus requiring even more light.

This is a great way to get into macro photography.  You can stick the 250D on a good quality medium zoom and have a pretty macro lens.  The 250D is recommended to be used on lenses in the 28-135mm range, while the 500D is meant for 100mm-300mm lenses.

This high speed water drop shot was with my Canon 28-105 USM lens and the Canon 250D Close up filter attached. It allowed me to get extremely close to the drops and provide great detail in this macro.

Manfrotto 724B

My Review of the Manfrotto/Bogen 724B

This is one of the tripods in Manfrotto’s “digital” entry level series.  Not everyone needs or can afford a $300 tripod.  This is where the digital series tripods come in.  I would consider them higher quality versions of the cheap Silk and Velbon tripods found in Japan Camera and Futureshop. My 724B had fairly good build quality and wasn’t too bad for the money.  But I did have some problems with it.

I originally went with the 724B because of the build quality, and I liked that it was black.  It also comes with a carrying case which is useless for me since I carry my tripod around strapped to my Lowepro bag.  The 724B also reached a height I needed, and it comes with a Ball head.  The unit itself isn’t too bad depending on what you’re using it for.  Weighing in at only 3.1 lbs it is actually 2 lbs lighter than my 486RC2 and 190Procombination.  It actually is a few inches shorter when folded down as well, so portability is definitely a selling point of this little unit.

However this unit obviously isn’t as stable as my 190Pro and 486 ball head.  This unit in fact cannot support my Digital SLR, coupled with 28-105 USM lens, macro adapter and 420EX speedlite.  So it isn’t that suitable for when I’m doing macro photography.  Where this unit shines is in its portability.  You have to make sure you’re not using heavy lenses such as L glass, or long zooms with this unit.

Another disappointment is that the ball head can’t be detached and replaced.  I would’ve liked to be able to use this small ball head on something like a monopod, but I won’t be able to use it.  As an investment it is a dead end.  If you read enough articles on my site, you’ll find investment value is a big selling feature for me.

I would recommend this only for times when you are going to be using a Point and Shoot camera, or you really need to travel light, but can’t afford a Carbon Fiber tripod.  Otherwise it isn’t the greatest investment, and the small ball head and weak legs won’t be a great support for your equipment. If you are extremely tight on budget it is better than a cheap Velbon or Silk tripod though.  I would spend the extra few dollars on the new Manfrotto 190 classic and 484 ball head.  It’s not too much more, and a much stronger tripod and it’s a better investment.

Manfrotto 486RC2 Ball Head

Review of the Manfrotto/Boken 486 RC2 ball head

Manfrotto also known as Bogen in the US is very well known for their tripods and support equipment.  I had been using a Manfrotto tripod and ball head for the past while, but it was time to upgrade to something a little heavier duty to support my camera equipment.  The 486 Ball head was an excellent size for me, and it’s from a company I trust.  If you have never tried a ball head for photography, you should read on to find out why most serious photographers use a ball head.

Using a ball head on a tripod is one of those things you will have to experience for yourself. Traditional 3 way pan-tilt heads are for camcorders, and not cameras.  I never understood what the big deal was until I tried one myself.  It lets you frame your shot quickly and easily. It lets your tripod do what it was meant to do; support your camera.  With a 3 way pan and tilt head that most people are accustomed to, especially if you bought your tripod at an electronics retailer or small photo printing store in the mall is actually like putting hand cuffs on your camera.  It lets you move around somewhat, and you can look it in place, but you don’t have real freedom.

A ball head attaches to your camera and lets you move it around freely while on a tripod. The best feeling in the world is having your camera attached and following action around at like a baseball game. You get excellent control so you can follow a batter swinging, and while he’s running around the bases.

So I was in the market for another ball head.  The biggest concern when shopping for tripod equipment should be, well this support my equipment? There is no point in getting a tripod, or head that can’t hold your camera, lenses, and accessories properly.  When looking at a brand like Manfrotto you know you can trust their ratings for max weight. With some other cheap manufacturers around I wouldn’t go anywhere near their max load ratings.

The 486 was a good size for me as it would be able to hold not only my camera, but my camera when fully loaded.  Don’t forget macro adapters, flash heads, camera grips, or anything else you might have when shopping.

The price is excellent on these ball heads as well.  A good ball head can be in the several hundred dollar range.  While I’m not going to say this is better than a $450 Markins Ball head it is excellent quality for less than 1/4 the cost.

The ball head is pictured on the left, with the quick release plate on the right. You can see the locking mechanism as well as the safety pin on top of the head.

The 486 has a single lever which locks the ball in place.  This same lever also locks the base from panning as well. So if you do a lot of panning type shots (at a race track for example) you probably will want to opt for the 488 which has separate locks for the panning and ball movements.  There is no spirit level on this head either, unless you opt for one of the other quick release plates.  I have never felt a spirit level totally necessary, although it would be useful for panoramic shots.

The 486 adds 10cm of height onto your tripod, and is rated to hold up to 6kg of equipment.  The ball movement is pretty smooth, and the locking mechanism is strong.

The Manfrotto quick release plate is actually fairly nice to work with.  It is easy to screw on to your camera, and the extra clip to help you really tighten it is very useful.  It takes all of 1 sec to release and snap back in place.  A lot of people will recommend going with Arca Swiss style release plates and L clamps, but that is another $200 I could be spending on lenses and lighting so it’s an option I did not go for.  If funds became unlimited it is something I would look into. But for now the Manfrotto release system is more than adequate.

This is a ball head I would recommend if budget is of concern. If you have a little more to spend, get the 488 for the separate locks.  And if your budget is unlimited, look into the RRS, and Markins heads.   The Manfrotto 486 RC2  is a head that will suit your needs and get the job done.