Exploring the natural and built environments through photography
If you’ve read my welcome note, you know I’ve already confessed to being a “Canon” guy and not a Nikon devotee. I actually don’t have any strong loyalty one way or another beyond my familiarity with Canon equipment and ignorance of Nikon’s offerings. I wouldn’t consider myself a Canon fanboy, it’s just what I use.
My first fully automatic SLR camera was a Canon 35mm EOS 650 in 1987 which I purchased while I was in architecture school with the proceeds from my first freelance architectural job. After learning how to process and develop in the darkroom and shooting quite a bit of film during college, I ultimately set aside my photography habit until the advent of affordable digital SLR’s. It only seemed to make sense that I would but a Canon so that I could continue to use the only lens I owned from my original 1987 kit. Little did I know that lens would quickly prove insufficient for my needs.
My first digital SLR was the Canon 40D, shortly followed by a refurbished 50D after the 40’s shutter failed after a little over a year of use. I quickly learned that quality glass was far more important than the sensor in many ways. As a result, I built a compact kit consisting of:
To me, these lenses offered the ultimate compact, high-quality range of focal lengths for travel with a “crop-body” Canon DSLR. The 24-105 is debatable, with other options such as the EF 24-70 f2.8L II USM, EF-S 17-55 f2.8 IS USM, or a EF 24-70 f4L IS USM all being excellent choices in my opinion. My choice was based on a couple factors. Even when I was purchasing the 40D, my sights were set on an eventual upgrade to a full-frame sensor camera, so I was trying to avoid relying on EF-S mount lenses, which only work on crop-body Canon cameras which ruled out the highly regarded EF-S 17-55. I also preferred the wider focal length range of the 24-105 over the 24-70, along with the image stabilization. This selection of a “walk-around” lens for my kit was by far the hardest choice.
Since I like to shoot a lot of architecture and landscape photography, I needed a real wide angle lens, and on a crop body camera, to me there was no option other than to go with the EF-S 10-22. The widest EF mount Canon zoom lens at the time was 16 mm, which would only offer an equivalent field of view as a 25.6 mm lens on a 35 mm full-frame sensor – wide, but not wide enough for my liking.
One of the best things about shooting with a DSLR instead of a point and shoot is the ability to create out-of-focus, blurred backgrounds in order to isolate a subject. In order to maximize the effect, you need a very wide open aperture. The effect is also reduced on a crop-sensor compared to a 35 mm full-frame sensor. This was one reason that drove me to buying a couple fixed focal length lenses with significantly wider apertures. The first was an EF 85mm f1.8 USM, followed by the EF 50mm f1.4 USM. In my opinion, these lenses offer incredible value compared to their much more expensive “L” series counterparts. Image quality is excellent, and they are great for isolating a subject as well as shooting in low-light conditions.
Finally with the arrival of the Canon EOS 6D in September of 2012, there was an affordable-to-me full-frame digital SLR from Canon. I had to wait until June 2013 to buy one (ok, it was actually a father’s day gift from my lovely wife). This camera fits me much better than the xxD series cameras I had grown accustomed to. It is better suited to deliberately composed photos and available light (read low-light) photography. The trade-offs were quickly obvious – this camera is not nearly as “zippy” as the 50D that I was used to, with a slower burst rate, as well as a focus system that is not nearly as quick.
Regardless, I love this camera. One thing I quickly noticed is that it made me appreciate the 24-105 lens much more than I ever had in the past. I can’t put my finger on it, whether it was that the focal length was more usable, or if somehow the f4 max aperture resolved better on the full-frame body. As this is the kit lens available with the 6D, I suspect many photographers are going to be pleased with this setup.
All of the lenses in my kit now provided a wider field of view on the full-frame body than on my old crop-sensor camera. Of course, I could no longer use my EF-S 10-22, so I needed a replacement for super wide angle work. I was initially determined to get the top of the line EF 16-35mm f2.8L, but after borrowing a friend’s EF 17-40mm f4.0L, I was so impressed with the light weight and image quality from the much more affordable (1/2 the cost) 17-40, that I went with that lens instead. This choice was consistent with my preference for reasonably affordable, light weight, high-quality glass. This lens served me well until about a year after the purchase, Canon announced the EF 16-35mm f4.0L IS. Fortunately, high-end lenses retain their value quite well, and I was able to sell my 17-40 for the original purchase price, and upgrade to the EF 16-35mm f4.0 L IS for a minor additional investment.
The image quality of the EF 16-35mm f4.0 IS lens is incredible, and the image stabilization at wide angle, along with the high ISO capability of the 6D allows me to shoot in very low light conditions without a flash. The 16mm focal length is wide enough for any of my architectural and landscape needs.
Once I started shooting architectural projects professionally, I was finally able to justify the ultimate wide-angle lens upgrade – the Canon TS-E 24mm f3.5L II tilt-shift lens. This lens is a beast. It is heavy and amazingly well built. The image quality is incomparable to anything I’ve used before. For those unfamiliar with tilt-shift lenses, they basically allow movements similar to what is possible with a traditional view camera. In most basic terms, shift movements allow for perspective correction, while tilt or swing movements allow manipulation of the focal plane. Detailed discussion will need to be the subject of a future post. Many people use tilt-shift lenses for the “miniaturization” effect. I haven’t done much in that regard. My use for this lens is primarily for perspective correction when shooting architectural subjects, and for creating super-sized panoramas by stitching together multiple “shifted” images taken without rotating the camera which introduces parallax distortion.
That basically gets you up to speed on my current kit with some how and why I made my selections. I rely heavily on the reviews at www.the-digital-picture.com for information, and I would encourage you to do the same.
Here is a picture of my packed travel bag in a Lowepro Slingshot 200 bag including Canon 6d with EF 70-200mm f4.0L IS mounted, plus the EF 24-105mm f4.0L IS, TS-E 24mm f3.5L II, and EF 16-35mm f4.0L IS. Charger and extra battery are in the pocket on the left, below the 24-105, top pocket fits all lens hoods, memory cards are in the inside pocket at top, and another outer pocket fits a couple B&W circular polarizing filters.
One of my biggest fears is that when I die, my wife will sell my camera gear for what I told her I paid for it.