My Photo Gear

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Birds on a WireThose who have been patient enough to continue with this blog know that I have been blogging less about academic matters and I am more often sharing photos that I have taken. The primary reason for this is that my administrative duties keep me rather busy, allowing less time for the kind of research and reflection necessary for thoughtful posts on biblical and rabbinic literature. That is what also led to my return to photography.

Some of you lucky folks may be getting a digital camera for Christmas. If so, enjoy! Today you can do a LOT and make exceptional pictures with a $50 camera. The cameras in smart phones are so good that many are predicting the end of the point & shoot camera. Just take a look at some of the pictures I have shot with my iPhone! I encourage you to get out and simply take lots of photos, but be sure to go back and look at your pictures. See what you liked and didn’t like and try and duplicate or change what you did. Most of all, have fun with it!

I was fortunate enough to get a new, very nice camera for my birthday in September, a Nikon D7000, and this fall I have had a LOT of fun exploring the camera and our region (not to mention my children’s sports events!). Photographers will tell you that buying the basic body and lens is just the beginning. I am just starting out with my new kit (I had been shooting a Sony Alpha for the last few years and loved that camera as well) and since many have asked what I am using now thought I would share what basic items I am using now and hope to get in the near future.

My friend who has several Nikons as well as the three professional photographers that I work with at the university all recommended that I get a Nikon. The reasons were somewhat varied, but the key points were: great bodies (using Sony sensors!), excellent lenses, and a solid investment as my hobby grows. Canon is of course the other main pro camera, but Sony is starting to come on strong. (The Canon-Nikon debate is as hot and passionate as the Mac-Windows, I have learned.) I was finally persuaded to the D7000 (review here) which is a “semi-pro” model since it offers a lot of excellent features, a strong body, and it has an autofocus motor built into the body. This last point is key since it allows me to purchase less expensive, older lenses. It is still a DX format (roughly 1.5x smaller than 35mm film) but it can use FX lenses. (The side effect of the smaller sensor relative to 35mm film cameras is that while we still describe lenses in the same manner, for example 55mm, the DSLR is actually “seeing” at 88mm, 1.6×55.) For those looking for something on the high-end of the consumer range I would also recommend the D5100. So, let’s get to the kit:

Lenses

50mm f/1.8D AF Nikkor lens

  • This is a fairly standard zoom with f/4-5.6. The smaller the “f-stop” the larger the aperture and the more light that can be let into the sensor and thus the faster you can shoot. This zoom works well in sunlight outside and is OK inside, but I have to push the ISO in order to really capture my son playing soccer indoors. Not ideal.
  • My Christmas present from my wife was a 50mm f/1.8 lens. This is a prime lens (as opposed to zoom, it has a fixed focal length) and a very low f-stop meaning it can shoot in very low light. I am eager to try this when my daughter is in the play this spring. This is also an example of why I got the D7000. This is an AF lens, but it requires the autofocus motor to be in the body of the camera. The result? This lens is only $125, $75 less than the lens I would need for the D5100 (and the optics are a bit better on this one!).
  • On my wish list is another small prime lens, the 35mm f/1.8. My folks surprised me with this lens! Lovely gift. Because the D7000 is not a full frame camera (like the D700) the 35mm lens is roughly the equivalent of a “film” 55mm lens. This makes it ideal for shooting inside at parties, receptions, family get together and the like. Since I often take pictures in the classroom this would be a great lens to have, but I do love me some wide-angle distortion…
  • Which is why I also have a fisheye lens on my wish list. The Rokinon 8mm f/3.5 fisheye lens is a relatively inexpensive (under $300) fisheye. I have always wanted one since I was about 12 years old and was a finalist in a national photo contest. The finalists’ pictures were displayed in the New York City Nikon store and they had the biggest fisheye I have ever seen. (This 6mm is up on eBay for a mere $27,500!)
Accessories
  • Flash – the built-in flash on most DSLRs today are really very good. But eventually you will want to get a nice external flash. Unfortunately the Nikon SB-900 AF Speedlight is not cheap at $450 or so. Fortunately for me, one of my Nikon toting friends has lent me his indefinitely.
  • If you want to take family portraits you will want a remote. The timer is nice but since you can get the Nikon ML-L3 remote equivalent for under $3 it is worth it.
  • A tripod is a must for anything other than basic snap shots and sports photos. (I do have a basic Targus monopod for under $15 for use at the soccer field.) Manfrotto makes some of the best tripods out there, but they can be very expensive, especially in carbon fiber. Beyond my needs and budget. This basic Manfrotto tripod is under $60 and is very highly ranked.
  • Filters, extra batteries, and fast memory cards are all items that you (and I) will want to add as you go along.
 

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