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21 March 2010

What lens to buy?

I am often asked via email or via various forums, what lens to buy. Of course it depends greatly on what budget you have and what purpose for which you intend to use the lens. Firstly on budget. My advice is always "by the best you can afford". While there are many photographers who take superb images with cheapie lenses, they are very few and far between! With the exception of the reasonably priced Canon 100 f/2.8 macro, all my lenses are "L" lenses and for one main reason. They are good. And secondly, they hold their price. I have bought and sold camera bodies over the past ten years and they do not hold their price. My first digital SLR camera was the Canon D60 and I went to great lengths to find one. I eventually tracked one down to a CameraHouse store in Hobart. They were the only store in Australia which had this much sought after camera. I paid the extraordinary price of A$5,200 - for a six megapixel camera with the dubious distinction of being one of the most "noisy" (grainy) cameras on the market. But it was a good introduction to digital SLR photography. I have since bought (and sold) the Canon 20D, Canon 5D (the first full frame dslr) and now I have superb Canon 5DII which hopefully will last me for a long never mind!

Back to lenses. I don't shoot a great deal of landscapes, but I have had the Canon 17-40 f/4 L for as long as I have had digital cameras. Its clearly one of the best landscape lenses and is very reasonably priced (for an L lens). While one may not like the "distortion" one gets with this lens on a full frame camera, I love it. For portraits, you cannot go past the Canon 135 f/2 L, one of the best prime lenses that Canon has produced. For a walkabout lens, I have the Canon 24-70 f/2.8 L and its rarely off my 5DII. Its great for assignments also. I also have the Canon 70-200 f/4 L IS telephoto zoom lens which is also good for portraiture and even good for landscapes. I used to have the non-IS version and to be honest, I cannot find a great deal of difference between both versions. For zoo shots, my lens of choice is the Canon 300 f/4 L IS, a tad heavy but an excellent lens. It was one of my first L lenses. For macro work, of which I do little, I have my only non-L lens but the Canon 100 f/2.8 macro holds its ground amongst its L brothers! It's also good for portraits. You can find my various galleries dedicated to Canon lenses on Canon 5D Mark II, Canon 5D and Canon 20D.  You can also find reviews of most cameras and lenses (Canon, Nikon, Olympus et al) on review site at Fred Miranda

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After Topaz

Using Topaz Spicify, the image has been enhanced in both colour and "pop". This may be a tad OTT but when printed out, it looks rather good (even if I say so myself!!).

Elderly gents

Image enhancing filters

I have recently been experimenting with different filters for post processing images. Topaz has been one of them. Using the adjust filter, one can change rather dramatically an image which may (or may not) need enhancing. Purists argue that one should not enhance or change an image but in this era, we are bombarded with enhanced movies so it seems a natural progression to enhance still images. The pic directly above is the original image (shot RAW and converted using Adobe Camera RAW).

Rather boring shot of Sydney Harbour

I am going to show how a somewhat boring shot of Sydney Harbour (if there ever could be one!) can be turned into something a little more spectacular. Below is the original shot (shot in RAW format with my Canon 5D) and taken off the back of the Manly ferry.

Sydney Harbour

Sydney Harbour
Rather boring shot of Sydney Harbour


Using Adobe Camera Raw ("ACR"), I converted the raw image with parameters: Blacks 7, brightness +31, Contrast +61, Clarity +77, Vibrance +7, Saturation 72 and a bit of Curves which brought me to the below image.



Flood filter conversion

I then produced a "reflection" using Flaming Pear flood filter. For those unfamiliar with this filter, it gives the image a perception of a reflection (poetical!) and I see it often in publications and I find myself examining ALL images with reflections to see if the photographer had used this very handy filter. I have details of the conversion if anyone is interested but to post it would be a tad boring. Flaming pair flood filters can be found here


Sydney Harbour reflection using flood filter

Sea of Hats

I was on my lunch hour when I was strolling around The Rocks area of Sydney when I saw a group of private schoolgirls on an excursion. As soon as I saw their hats, I knew that there was a good opportunity to get a good snap. As luck would have it, they started to cross the street to where I was standing. I knew in my head the image I was looking for and I had to be above them. With an enormous amount of good fortune, a ramp up to a shop in this old area of Sydney was a few metres away. I raced up the ramp and shot this image. It was taken with my Canon 70-200 f/4L at f/5.6 which gave me a shallow depth of field leaving the centre hat in sharp focus and the rest of the hats out of focus. I submitted this image in late 2005 to the Black and White Spider Awards and it won Outstanding Achievement - People and also won me the Photographer of the Year 2005 - amateur. It really is nice to get recognition of one's work and even though I am now a professional, it still gives me a warm feeling when I look at my certificate!

Sulphur crested cockatoo in flight

This is an image on which I have added a "flood" filter. It is quite effective and quite a nice shot in any event. Flood filters can be found here and they are worth every cent. There is always a debate regarding "Photoshopping" images but as long as one is honest about the origin and digital changes to the image, I think its legimate. The original image, taken in our garden, of the cockatoo actually landing on the lawn, had a piece of its left hand side wing missing so I "replaced" it in Photoshop CS4. Cockatoos actually dislike water and when they start attacking the timber balustrades on our verandah, all I have to do is get out the spray bottle and walk towards them. They are endearing creatures, very intelligent but are enormously destructive. They are very long lived (up to 80 years) so don't even think of buying one unless you plan to outlive it and put up with the high decibels of squawking! I really hate seeing them in cages and they must long to be free when they see a large flock passing by.

Surfing the storm

Late one afternoon, I was snapping at Avalon Beach, Sydney, when a storm approached. This did not stop a late surfer. This image is available as a print via my RedBubble site. Click on image which will take you to the print site.

Sydney Opera House abstract

An abstract look at the famous icon. It is very difficult to take any pics of the Opera House as everyone and their brother has done it before. For this particular image, I used Optikvervlabs filter.

Leopard seal

I took this shot of a leopard seal exhaling bubbles at Taronga Zoo in Sydney. This is, apparently, one of the few leopard seals in captivity. Apparently it was found injured awhile back and is happy in its huge enclosure at the Zoo along with its mate. Through a stock library, this image is to appear as a full page in a textbook.


A portrait of an elderly lady
This is one of my favourite images of Alice, an elderly aboriginal lady who sadly is now deceased. I would occasionally see her at Circular Quay in Sydney and she would often smile at me. I used a Dragan filter to bring out more texture to the image. I am often asked if I have ever been challenged when photographing candid subjects. Only on one occasion, I was asked not to take a photograph of a female street performer which was odd as that is where they often make their money. So, of course, I acceded to her wishes. Many buskers or street performers expect payment for taking their photograph and its something I always do as its their living, as taking photographs is mine. One of my most popular galleries on my website is one of Sydney Aborigines and I have many kind comments on my work. I did have one person, a Sydney academic, who actually called me a thief as she was under the erroneous impression that I was selling images of these colourful folk without payment which in fact is not true. I have model releases from many and I have made subsequent payments to them.

The smoker

The smoker
An elderly man puffs on a cigarette

Mudda Mudda

Mudda Mudda
My favourite subject
Mudda Mudda (aka Cedric) is an aboriginal busker who is often found at Circular Quay, in Sydney, accompanying other aboriginal buskers. He has such a great face and this image won me a UK award last year for traditional portraiture here