Blue-Violet Iris Interior

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The New Camera

My new camera with the macro lens.
I've long had two big plans for my disability back benefits money: to pay off my student loan, eliminating all of my debt, and to buy a "fancy-pants" camera. So when I was granted disability last month and the $9000 hit my checking account, it was time to put those plans into action. The loan was easily paid off in full (I didn't have much left to pay) and so there was nothing left to do but start researching cameras. The starting point, actually, was researching lenses. I figured this was the one time I'd have a large chunk of money at my disposal and so the smartest way to spend it (in terms of cameras, at least) would be to invest in the very best macro lens on the market and pair it with whatever camera was necessary to do it justice. I did enough reading on the internet to familiarize myself with the terminology and the various options and the general price ranges. There was one lens in particular that stood out: the Canon EF 100mm 1.28L IS USM. I was already leaning towards getting a Canon because I've been so impressed with my Canon PowerShot point-and-shoot, so it was nice to see that they made some excellent macro lenses. So, with that little bit of research to back me up, on Sunday I went to Kenmore Camera, where my family has always purchased our cameras, and told the clerk that I had a sudden windfall, was ready for my first DSLR (that's the fancy camera body), and that despite being a DSLR novice, I wanted the best macro lens that money could buy. Vinny, the guy who served me, was extremely helpful, very patient, and I felt quite gratified when I mentioned a) I liked Canon and b) that I wanted the best macro lens that he immediately reached for the box behind him containing an EF 100mm 1.28L IS USM. I also really liked that he went out and picked a geranium from somewhere behind the store, sprinkled a little water on it for a dew effect, and then put that on the counter as my test subject while I checked out the lens, the camera body features, various ring lights, and tripods. In the end, I walked out with a Canon Rebel T3i with a 18-55 IS II lens, the 100mm macro lens, a ring light (it's a circular light that fits around the lens, eliminating the need for the harsher light of a flash), a super-heavy-duty one of those bendy tripods, a special mounting ring for the tripod, and a large memory card. I spend nearly $2,500 (which was what I was expecting to spend, so there was no sticker shock!), but I consider it an investment in my future as an artist.

Me and my new toy!
I love my new camera. I love the heft of it. Unlike my point-and-shoot, which weighed just six ounces, this camera, when the macro lens is attached, weighs nearly three pounds! I love having to support the camera by cupping my hand under the lens: it feels so professional! I love the sound it makes. I've only had it a few days, so there's going to be lots more to learn about it, but the camera itself and the lens are easy enough to use in automatic settings that I've been able to start right in on taking pictures. There are all number of things that could be played with and there are some involving focus--such as how to select certain areas to focus on--that I will attempt to learn sooner than later, but it's certainly user-friendly enough that I've been able to have a good time already!

Hello, Abe!
At the maximum macro 1:1 level, this is what a penny looks like. As you can see, it more than fills the image! That's pretty small! There is one crazy macro lens out there that can focus down to the point where a grain of rice fills the image, but I don't need to zoom in that close! And with 18 megapixels, the clarity of the images is amazing. For example, you can not only see each beautifully colored kernel of Indian corn in this picture, but all the dust between the kernels as well! While there may be situations when the camera might give you almost too much information, it is very cool to be able to capture so much detail. My interest in macro photography is rooted in being able to show how amazing ordinary things are when viewed closer than the eye can normally see, so while occasionally you might run into some dust, the results are still amazing.

This lens's very shallow depth of field (the distance between the nearest and furthest points in focus in an image) creates a few challenges, though I'm sure with practice I will become even more adept at making the most of it. I've gotten used to taking photographs of objects at an angle, but that can result in images like the purple daisy below, where not even the whole center of the flower is in focus. It looks pretty smashing, but there are occasions when you'll want to have a slightly larger area as the subject of your picture! I'll have to adapt my practices slightly to make sure I always get the look I'm going for.

The shallow depth of field and the resulting blur can be used for artistic purposes, however. I was just reading about the so-called practice of "bokeh" (from the Japanese word for blur), the intentional use of blurriness in photography and now I'm finding myself in possession of a camera capable of producing beautiful blurs.

In this picture, for example, the tiny foreground flower is in focus, while the background flowers dissolve into what looks like a watercolor painting.

I like the way it separates out just a few blades from this sea of dry grass.

In the case of these fuchsias, it is just the nearest tip of one of the pink petals that's in focus, causing the rest of the scene to appear as though through a dreamy haze.

You can't see it so well at this size, but there is some incredible detail visible on the sides of these tiny flowers, which I think contrasts nicely with the simplicity of form and brilliance of color in the less-focused areas of the image.

Another things that really impresses me about this camera is its ability to function in lower levels of light. I bought the macro lens with additional image stabilization built into it (that's the IS in the lens name) because I often have a slight tremor in my hands, something that can be disastrously magnified when trying to take macro photographs and low light makes it even worse. There used to be all kinds of places in my house or times of day or even times of year that were off limits for photography because there wasn't enough light for my point-and-shoot to handle in the macro setting. Not so with this camera! Here's a comparison between the two:

This is the lock on our sheltered front door as captured by my old camera.

And this is what the new camera was able to "see."  The difference is amazing! I can even take photos inside at night with standard house lamps without needing a flash! The ring light will provide soft, even lighting for situations when I do need more light than the camera can capture, but it's so fun to be able to pick up the camera at any time of day or any weather and snap pictures at will. Being able to make use of lower, softer, cooler light is also great from an artistic standpoint, since it evokes a lovely, wistful mood, as you can see in this photo of a pile of well-worn toe shoes.

The clerk at the camera store mentioned that this lens also worked well for portraits, which I've found to be very true, at least when it comes to my dog. 

This is simply the single best picture of my dog ever. That's EXACTLY what she looks like!

I also captured this cute picture of Abbey sleeping hard with her paw over her nose. She was afraid of the new camera initially, but she's quickly gotten used to me sticking it in her face!

So while there's more to learn, there's already been lots to enjoy with my new camera! Here are a few other recent favorites.

So look out, world, there are going to be even more pictures to come!


  1. Colleen, I am simply in love with your photography!!! <3 Yay for your new camera investment!

  2. Congratulations on your new camera! Your pictures are just stunning...and even more so now (although I would not even have thought such a thing possible)! And I love looking through all of your pictures and your explanations. Good job investing in yourself. That's the way to do it! ;-)