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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Len(ii) Portraits with Prime Lens - Requirements and expectations

In Part 1 of our lens selection exercise, Daddy share his newbie motivation for Portraits. From blogwalking, we see beautiful baby pictures, each telling a compelling story.

We dived into realm of DSLR, and you know the rest of the story (or pictures).
As our skills improve, we can expect even nicer photos to come our way, hooray !!

If you are still considering a DSLR, read our post on the benefits of DSLR.

1) Research
Just when Daddy thought he is satisfied with his DSLR toy, he overheard Prime lens. (also called Fast lens, or Portrait lens).
Primes are suitable for Portraits, having a narrow depth-of-field (DOF), you can easily get a blur background (bokeh), and sharpen your “subject”.

Now, it will be nice if we can grab some candids on our four little models :)
In Part 2 of our lens-story, we would like to share our Prime lens-selection journey.

Sample DOF effect. Only subject is sharp, and everything else blur.

As we investigate further, more jargons appear.
- manual/auto focus
-aperture F1.4 or F1.8 , how-many-stops
- DSLR crop-factor (eg x 1.5, or full frame )
- creamy bokeh, edible?

Luckily wiki can help explain most stuffs in layman terms.
Refer to our "Resources" section" below for more links.

Q1 - At the end of the research, ask ourselves. What is our objective and requirement for getting a new lens? (if clueless, it means we do not need a lens now)

2) Shortlist and Simulation
After identifying our objective (Tele,wide,Portrait,Landscape, etc), start shortlisting.
- budget and performance (need to compromise)
- requirements
- special considerations? (maybe usable for future when we upgrade our DSLR?)

Q2 - Should we use one lens for all (eg 18-200, covering 18mm Wide, portrait 50mm , 200mm Tele) or multiple lens for different occasion?
- during outings, do we have time to swap the lens? and risk missing candid moments
- do we want to carry heavier one-for-all lens?
- is performance or convenience more critical for us?

Any lens can do a portrait, but Prime lens are supposed to provide higher quality snapshots, under low light (inhouse).

a) With our kit-lens, we can try to simulate what a prime lens 35 or 50 mm "sees".
DOF - Daddy's bokeh experiment with Nikon 18-55 lens.

b) iso - We can repeat our trials with iso from 100 to 6400
c) shutter - Repeat shots for shutter speed from fast to slow
See how picture turn out differently with various settings.

d) Disable Auto-focus (AF), and try manual-focus (MF). MF can still focus sharply on static objects, look at our pens.

Once we understand ISOs, Apertures, ShutterPriorty.. we are rewarded with beautiful pics. With more understanding, we further Finetune our requirements:

- 35mm or 50mm (35mm for confine space)
- select Nikon, Canon, or third parties (sigma, tamron etc)
- F1.4 or F1.8 (the lower the number, more $$ the lens)
- Auto-focus or Manual-focus ( AutoFocus if you are shooting active children in low light.)
- read lens reviews/feedbacks.
- browse sample galleries of our favourite lens at Flickr.

We are now ready to trial and touch some lens.

3) Shopping Tips
- Be thick skin. Do not be afraid to ask questions.
- We need to ask those silly questions, in order to satisfy our selection criteria, and clear our doubts.
- when you go shopping, it is actually the best time to learn !
- bring your own camera, plug in the new lens, snap away.
- Do not bow to salesman pressure. If unsure, walk away. Try another shop!!

4) Other considerations :
- Choose a shop with good feedback and great customer service.
- should I spend more to get the better lens, is the quality/effect worth the extra $$investment?
- If we cannot tell the picture quality difference, pick the cheaper lens
- bring own camera, go take some photos at shop, review and compare your shots at home (not on the small camera LCD)
- Different users got different expectations.. once we are happy , do not compare anymore :p

5) Hands on, shoot away
Bought your lens? This is only the beginning..
Photography requires dedication.
- Keep shooting, explore new skills and frontiers.
- Expose ourselves to new perspectives
- It is always fun to learn (or copy) from some other gurus or forums

End of the day, the photographer is the crucial factor.
Daddy tries to portray a "Story", even before he snaps away.
Camera, is just a tool for Daddy to create his storyboard.

6) Resources (too many to list)




Video : Nikon 35mm F1.8 --> http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oOU74yKbzsc


This post took longer to conceive.
Daddy was concerned.. "write too much, talk nonsense"... "if write too little, readers might misunderstand lens-selection is straightforward" :p

Daddy tries to write this post from a newbie's perspective.
Objective of this post is to share the challenges a newbie will encounter, when he go lens- shopping. Although we are using Nikon D5000, we believe lens selection criteria and concepts, are likely similar across different brands.

DSLR is not necessary, but nice-to-have.
The photographer is as important as his equipment.
With imagination and composition, a passionate compact-camera can kick a DSLR !

Happy shopping !!

We leave you with this doggie pic from Klara
Now, you do not need to be a dog lover to appreciate this panting dog :)
When can Daddy reach this standard :p

Lens story
part i - our motivation and intro
part ii - requirements and research


  1. My standard walkabout lens is 18-200 IS. It is more than sufficient for normal usage.

  2. i would prefer separates, but only worried no time to interchange lens :p

  3. I have a few lens. 18-200 I have 2. I recently bought the IS (Image Stabilizer) version to improve low light shots. It is my general lens to use.

    I have the 50mm F1.8 prime lens. Cheap lens but great effects for protraits.

    I also have a 10-22mm lens for Wide shots.

    Finally, my seldom use 70-300 lens where I will bring if I go to zoo or bird park, etc. I used it to shoot macros last time.

    Sold away quite a number of other lens too. In the end after years of experimenting, I think I have more or less fixed my normal lens selection.

  4. wow, u got so many lens :)
    I will likely get one more 55-200, then close shop (i hope, as lens hobby is very $$)

  5. Nikon also has the 18-200 VR lens which scores quite well in many review places.

    But then it will be more costly than the 18-55, 55-200 combi.

  6. Great tips! :) I'm currently loving my 50mm f1.4. So far I hardly have to change lens, I just crop if I can't go near enough! And John 3:16's a great shop to go to try out lenses. No pushy salesmen & no grumpy faces if you don't buy something! And I agree, an Slr is not necessary for nice shots, person behind the lens is more impt!

  7. hello mamaj, thks for the compliments.

    316 John is solid, but you must be very patient, because Samuel and gang always full-house :p

    Nice chaps.

  8. I'm using a 17-55 and a 60macro lens now. Use to have 30f1.4 and 50f1.8 but find I seldom use it and its hard to frame a running kid so I sold it off. use the 17-55 most of the time and the macro for food shooting

  9. I usually get from Alan Photo at SLS. Anyway if you have time and have not read the book "Understanding Exposure" by Bryan Peterson before, go borrow form the library. Its a very good photo tips book.

  10. hi Vincent, when kids run faster and further, then we need to upgrade to zoom-lens with decent aperture.. our Prime lens can retire haha.
    Alan-I only look for Steven (uncle)
    hope to find some time to get your recommended book.

  11. investing in photography is a huge investment, I salute u people. I can only camwhore haha!

  12. hi camwhore queen haha :)
    Use Dslr camwhore a bit challenging, but quality confirm better :)

  13. LOL - I'm happy with my Point-and-Shoot!!! I think they take wonderful enough pics for me. haah.

  14. hi Sammi, as long as you are Happy, that's the most important factor for satisfaction :)


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