Choosing a Camera

Just recently I was in the market for a new camera. Our little family are going on vacation to Europe soon and I did not want to bring the trusty Nikon with it’s panoply of lenses, speedlights, memory cards, etc. The total weight is somewhere the other side of a neutron star and it is so uncomfortable and restricting that 9 times out of 10 you’ll end up leaving the whole lot back in the hotel room.

I did still have a few requirements for a walkin’ around camera. Interchangeable lens, shooting in program auto mode as well as manual and aperture priority mode. A few other “like to have” items filled out the wish list so off I went to check out what was available.

Oh my! I fairly quickly started to whittle the list down. Several likely looking options from Nikon, Canon (yes I even looked on the dark side lol), Leica etc were dismissed because of cost. So I start looking at Sony and Samsung, as well as some cheaper options from Nikon.

It became apparent fairly quickly that mirrorless was the way to go. Also at that point I insisted on a viewfinder. I just cannot see how anyone can compose properly using the lcd screen and holding the camera at arms length. Perhaps on a tripod, yes. Hand held in front of the Eiffel Tower… not so much!

By now I was scouring web sites and comparing features as only a photographer can. Checking review sites, weighing options….

Finally I ended up with the Sony NEX-6. Mirrorless, electronic viewfinder, interchangeable lens and an APS-C sized sensor. It has a 10mm-50mm lens and while this kit lens is nothing spectacular more research led me to the Sony store.

And there I found the gorgeous 50mm Planar T F1.4 Zeiss lens. This was pared to a Sony Alpha 7R full frame camera. Oh boy. I was shocked at just how good this tiny camera felt in my hands. The camera oozed quality through its all metal construction. I should not have to tell you that the lens is just optical butter…and bacon! Just gorgeous!!! At $1,500 not too bad if you say it quickly!

There is a fully range of lenses and accessories for these cameras and I have to say that I am seriously considering making a swap to Sony in the near-ish future. The quality of image from these small cameras is amazing and the size means that you can get into places that you’d struggle to with a full frame full sized dslr. As a veteran of well over 20 years using Nikons this is not something I would undertake lightly but….. I’ll keep you posted!


Build your own lighting and other stuff!

The LEDs Lighting Project

A while ago I was chatting with a colleague and he showed me a web site of a guy who had built his own led lighting array. Given the advantages of continuous lighting, especially as more DSLR’s have pro video capability, it was worth taking a look and that is what did. It did take me a while though…

Now to build an led light panel you need…. LEDs! I checked out and found a 5 meter (16.4 feet) reel of ‘warm’ white LEDs for a ridiculous price. Here is the link warm white LEDs

So that was the LEDs taken care of, I know they are not daylight balanced and I found that daylight LEDs did appear to be a lot more expensive. Given that I always shoot raw I knew I could white balance in post.

Next was what to put them in. I have an electronics store nearby so I went browsing their shelves and found a small metal project box, something like this project box. I think mine was a little cheaper though, wink!!


I found a deal on Amazon where you’d get the LEDs and a power adapter for a very reasonable price and then I had to get a soldering iron, wire, and solder.

Yep, you have to do some delicate soldering to get this thing to work. In my past, my WAAAAAY back past I used to ‘do’ electronics but its probably been at least 25 years since I soldered anything. However, it’s like riding a bike, right?

Well, I’d got all the bits assembled but with one thing and another, and summer, I really didn’t get around to this project for a few months. The parts were kicking around on my desk and it was getting embarrassing. Something had to give! Last weekend I had finally had enough and got to work.

The nice thing about these LEDs is that they are self adhesive so sticking them in the box was a breeze. I also got some black spray paint and painted the outside of the box black and the inside silver to reflect as much light as possible. I also had to drill a hole in the side of the box to accommodate that power lead. Now it was a case of sticking down strips of LEDs. You can easily cut the reel into a minimum of 3 LEDs. I found that I could use strips of 6 comfortably in the box and that 8 strips would fit giving 48 LEDs total, plenty of light!

The strips have tiny solder pads for the positive and negative terminals and I got the thinnest wire I could find but it is REALLY fiddly in there! A girls tiny hands would have been immensely useful instead of my great big mitts! However….


This was the initial progress! Looking okay so far, right? Another 45 mins or so… Oh, gotta tell you that drinking a lot of strong coffee while doing this project was NOT the right thing to do. Surprising how your hands bounce around when you’re trying to be cool and collected! Anyway, 45 mins later…


I know this picture is a bit jumpy, blame the coffee. I think my iPhone was struggling to figure out how to expose that shot. Also I think it was sulking about the iPhone 5 release!

So there you have it! These things cost at least $90 and up so I figure I built this for about $35 and have enough LEDs left for at least another one.

I’ve tested the panel and so far it works great. I’ve run it for several hours and it barely gets warm. I deliberately chose a metal case to act as a heat sink, just in case, but maybe a plastic case would have been fine. However metal should last longer!

Other Ideas
I intended this to be used as an ‘accent’ light that I could throw into a scene somewhere to light a foreground or background interest. To use it as a light you’d need to add either a hotshoe or lighting stand adapter to the box. Buying a defunct strobe and cutting the hotshoe adapter off to screw or glue to the bottom of the project box would work, same with a light stand adapter. I think I might need a drill stand to attempt that.

Also I am thinking of a completely self contained version, using two project boxes screwed together with the second containing a battery pack, that would be cool!

Also adding some kind of frosted diffuser to the front would be nice if I were to use this as a primary lighting source for portraiture. The fact that there are 48 light sources spread over a 4 inch by 6 inch area means that it does not behave like a contrasty point light source which is good!

I would apply a layer of varnish or protection to the outside as we’ll as I suspect the paint is going to scuff up a bit!

The Other Stuff

I’m very happy to announce that I’m going to be attending superstar wedding photographer Jasmine Star’s November workshop in Irvine, CA.

I am VERY much looking forward to it, of course there will be extensive reporting in my Nov 11th blog post. Jasmine, I have many questions! 🙂


All being well in three weeks my wife and I will have the keys to our new house. It really is new, it’s been under construction since May of this year and we’ve monitored every inch of the construction! When we move in ill post a little montage of the whole process. It’s been fascinating to watch!

It will also open up a few more interesting possibilities photo-wise for me! I have some more construction projects I want to tackle for my own personal work (hint, distressed copper sheeting and acrylics anyone?).

Now, off to Triple Scoop Music to pick out my prize music all thanks to Tamara Lackey and my terrifying dance performance at Photoshop World. Tamara, I do hope the nightmares have stopped by now? 🙂 Thanks Roy!

Finally, finally, in the next two months (don’t hold me to that, it could be three) I intend to offer a custom framing service. It’s something I have always wanted to do and it’ll mean I can produce as many funky sized prints as I want!!

Gear: What I Use & Why It’s Not Important! aka The Vision Thing!

Like all photographers every so often I get comments like “wow, that’s a great image, what camera did you use?”. Now like anyone I love the flattery but the question really bugs me!

So I’m going to quickly run through the kit I have and then tell you why I have what I have. I’ve been ‘taking pictures’ for many years, MANY years so this is the distillation of all that trying, testing and experience.

I have used Nikon cameras for about 20 years, film and digital. I currently own a D2x, F100, D100, and D4 in no particular order! I have a Sigma 15mm, Sigma 20mm, Nikkor 28-70mm f2.8, Nikkor 70-200mm f2.8 and Nikkor 85mm f1.8.

Lets start with the most unimportant part, but you’re thinking that it’s the most important part; the camera! If you have purchased a camera any time in the last 5-10 years you have a good camera! Period! Nikon, Canon and now thankfully Pentax AND Sony all produce great DSLR cameras! So that is taken care of, right?

So now the really important stuff. ‘kay, payin’ attention? The lenses or if you want to be a cool photographer guy, the glass!

Tip #1. My advice to any new photographer or anyone wanting to get serious or just wanting to take better pictures is “spend your money on your glass”. To give yourself the best chance of taking great images you need to have great flexibility and that means you need good, fast glass. f2.8 or faster means you can take shots in lower light than your f5.6 kit lens but crucially it means you can play in my favorite yard, selective focus.

It is magical when you have the ability to shoot a portrait with one eye in focus and one out of focus. You’ll start using worlds like bokeh with passion! Extra tip, bokeh is the fuzzy meaning word describing how an out of focus background looks e.g. that 85mm has great bokeh; sounds great at dinner parties btw)

I promised a “why” as to the kit I have so here goes. When I was buying lenses years ago and when I had the cropped sensor D100 and D2X I knew that eventually I would have a full frame camera, so I bought the best lenses I could afford.

Actually I bought the best lenses I couldn’t afford! It took a few years more than I thought but that leads us to the D4, which is a totally awesome camera by the way. You’ll find numerous reviews of it on the web so I’ll not bother adding my 2 cents. Now that investment in full frame good fast glass pays me back! My lenses now work the way they were supposed to. In particular my all time favorite, the 85mm f1.8. If you take portraits you HAVE to have either the f1.8 or f1.4 version of this lens. You just have to!

Tip #2, if you don’t have a fast 85mm BUY IT NOW! Get on eBay, auction a child, your wife, car, whatever but get this lens! See it’s all about perspective.

Tip #3 immediately follows, how many of you think that ’cause you have a cropped sensor camera, your 50mm lens is “just like a 75mm”? You’re wrong! What you’re seeing is just a crop of what you’d see with a 50mm lens. The perspective doesn’t change and when you’re shooting portraits perspective is everything! What you see when you shoot a headshot with a cropped sensor camera and a 50mm lens is a distorted view, in particular noses will look WAY too big! Shoot with a longer lens, even with a cropped sensor camera, and you’ll fix that perspective problem.

Tip #4, the really important one. It isn’t what you have, it’s the vision in your head! When you start to become a photographer, rather than someone taking pictures, you’ll realize a couple of things. Firstly, you’ll spend about 5% of your time actually taking pictures, next, you’ll spend the other 95% of your time THINKING about images.

When you start thinking about your images you’ll be starting to lose a focus on the technicals of your image making and begin to tell stories; you’ll be bonding more with your subjects and immediately your images will look so much better!

Back at the beginning of this post I talked about the question that bugged me. By now I think you can see why it bugs me! The camera DOESN’T matter, its your vision that matters more, then your lenses… the camera is WAY down the list of what matters!

So why do I have the latest Nikon, having spent this entire article telling you why the camera doesn’t matter. Well in certain situations the camera does matter BUT they are very specific. I love to shoot motor sports, I need a camera that can perform quickly, the D4 does, shooting up to 11 frames per second. When I’m panning on a Formula 1 car doing 150mph, I need that response.

High iso from the D4. Well I also shoot runway and those IDIOTS (LOL!) who design lighting for many runway shows (most notably NOT the really big events which are mostly, perfectly lit for photography) do not design it for the benefit of photographers. I will need to be shooting great looking images at iso settings of maybe 12,000! The D4 does that for me.

Finally, full frame! I want MY 85mm to BE an 85mm! You get that with full frame and fortunately now there are several cameras from Canon and Nikon which are reasonably priced and have full frame sensors!

So I know this column has bounced around a little but it was meant to get you thinking of the image, not the techy stuff! Get your vision firing and you won’t be so bothered about “camera envy” LOL!