Gear Guide & Recommendations {Part 2: Lenses}

Weeks ago was my first in a series, Gear Guide & Recommendations {Part 1: Camera Bodies}. Yet, today’s post may be even more fitting as I hope to recommend lenses for any level photographer, from Beginning to Amateur, Advanced Amateur to Professional.

It used to be the case that I’d recommend investing most of your money into lenses & still, in some cases, I’d say the same. However with the advancement of camera body sensors, autofocus & more, you have to consider the body too. That stated, buy as nice of lenses as you can afford; it makes a big difference. Most of the questions I receive from other photographers has to do more with the lens & it’s capabilities than it does the camera body. And, depending on what you want the image to look like, often depends primarily upon the robustness of the lens.

Today I want to offer recommendations on a variety of fixed focal length lenses. Most, with the exception of just a few, I’ve used numerous times & feel confident recommending. All have limits to their abilities, however, there are a few that seem to do everything I ask them to. I don’t own all of these lenses but I will differentiate the ones that I do (*) & regularly use. As well, I’ll try to offer a less expensive alternative when possible. As a note, about 1.5 years ago I made a decision to shoot primarily fixed length (prime) lenses. I found myself desiring to grow as a photographer & was eager for the extra image clarity when shooting with fixed glass. Although it requires more effort, it’s worth the labor. As I often say, I zoom with my feet! It’s proved a tremendous decision. I’ll begin this 3-part series with Part 1: Fixed-focal length lenses, followed by Part 2: Zoom Lenses & Part 3: Specialty Lenses. Further, I’ll look to find the equivalent for those Nikon users out there.

Lenses Part 1: Fixed Focal Length Lenses

Canon 24mm f/1.4L II*
I love so much about this lens. It’s tremendously fast; probably the fastest focusing lens I own. And, it will allow you to photograph with almost two more stops of light than most zooms. Aside from the 35mm 1/4, it may be one of the most ideal photojournalism lenses. I use it often for photographing architecture & interiors, children & families when indoor & restricted by space, & wedding receptions. You’ll notice some slight distortion on the edges if you’re not careful but it is easily manageable for my preferences. If you’re a Nikon shooter, you’ll want to check out the Nikkor 24mm f/1.4G ED.

Description (from Canon USA): Professional wide-angle lens with an ultra-large maximum aperture of f/1.4. This is the first EF lens to employ both a replicated Aspherical lens element to suppress distortion and spherical aberration, and a UD lens element to correct lateral chromatic aberration. Thanks to the floating construction, excellent corner-to-corner delineation is attained from 10 in. (25 cm) to infinity.

A variety of pics I’ve taken with the 24mm f/1.4L II:

undefinedundefinedundefinedundefinedundefined Canon 24mm f/2.8
A less expensive alternative. From Canon, the 24mm f/2.8 is a highly popular wide-angle lens featuring a large aperture. Good for casual snapshots as well as perspective shots. Floating rear focusing system corrects astigmatism and gives high contrast and sharp delineation. The Nikon equivalent is the Nikkor 24mm f/2.8D.

Canon 28mm f/1.8
I’ve found it appropriate to recommend this lens on several occasions. I prefer the build quality over the 24mm f/2.8 plus you get 2 extra stops of light… yes! And, it’s a little tighter than the 24mm, but not as much as the 35mm. If I were a beginner or amateur & could own three relatively inexpensive but robust lenses, it would include the 28mm f/1.8, 50mm f/1.4 & 85mm f/1.8. For the Nikon user, consider the Nikkor 28mm f/2.8.

From Canon, with the large maximum aperture, excellent background blur is possible with fast shutter speeds using the Canon 28mm f/1.8. The aspherical lens element makes the lens compact and corrects spherical aberrations. The image is sharp even at the edges.

Canon  35mm f/1.4
This is one desirable lens. As Henri Cartier Bresson stated, “The 35mm is THE CLASSIC Photojournalism lens.” The 35mm will likely be my next lens purchase. You could spend most of your career with this lens, coupled by the 50 f/1.2. I love the story-telling feel of this lens; I highly recommend it. In fact, if I had not bought the 24mm beforehand, I sometimes wonder if I would have ever purchased it. Nikon has an exceptional lens in their Nikkor 35mm f/1.4G.

Description (from Canon USA): L-series professional f/1.4 wide-angle lens with an Aspherical lens element to correct aberrations. The floating system enables high picture quality to be obtained over the entire focusing range. Autofocusing is quick and quiet with rear focusing and ring USM. Full-time manual focusing is also possible.

Canon 35mm f/2
A nice alternative to the Canon 35mm f/1.4. From Canon, this fast wide-angle lens with a minimum focusing distance of only 0.8′ allows you to approach the subject closer and still obtain a more natural wide-angle effect. Excellent background blur for portraits is obtainable. The Nikon equivalent is the Nikkor 35mm f/2D.

Canon 50mm f/1.2*
Let’s just say that I shoot with this lens 75% of the time; it’s my favorite. Until I recently purchased the 85mm f/1/2, the percentage would’ve been even higher. There are some things that I wish would improve with this lens, such as faster focusing & sharper images wide-open. However, when shooting at f/1.8 or f/2, it is somewhat unrivaled in color, clarity & bokeh (background blur). Plus, it fits my style nicely as it can convey an editorial/fashion feel. It is only limited by it’s focal length & therefore, I use it to shoot anything & everything.

Description (from Canon USA): The EF 50mm f/1.2L USM is a peerless new standard lens featuring an ultra-large aperture for a narrow depth of field and soft background blur so loved by photographers everywhere. The EF 50mm f/1.2L USM is suitable for any shooting situation; its lens coating and construction are optimized to minimize the ghosting and flare that frequently occurs when lenses are used with digital cameras. This high-performance, weather-resistant lens delivers all the superb image resolution and contrast you expect in a Canon L Series Lens.

A few examples of images taken with the 50mm f/1.2:

undefinedundefinedundefinedundefinedundefinedundefinedundefinedundefinedundefinedundefined Canon 50mm f/1.4
If all you had available was around $500 for a lens, without reservation, I’d point you here. It’s normally my first recommendation for beginners & amateurs alike. However, many professionals still keep it in the bag. This lens has most of the features of the 50mm f/1.2 yet at a fraction of the cost. It will look it’s best when shooting at around f/2, allowing you to shoot in less than ideal lighting environments. If you don’t have a 50mm, buy this now! From Canon, the 50mm f/1.4 is a standard lens featuring superb quality and portability. Two high-refraction lens elements and new Gaussian optics eliminate astigmatism and suppress astigmatic difference. Crisp images with little flare are obtained even at the maximum aperture. All Nikon shooters, check out the Nikkor 50mm f/1.4G.

Canon 50mm f/1.8
If you only had around $150, this is your lens. Although the build quality seems rather cheap, you get much more than you pay for. Compared to other lenses, it’s light as a feather. From Canon, the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II Autofocus Lens is a lightweight lens at a mere 4.6 oz (113.5 g). This compact and high-performance, standard lens features Gaussian optics that provide sharp delineation from near to far focusing distances. The color balance is excellent for a standard lens. The Nikon equivalent is the Nikkor 50mm f/1.8D. Canon 85mm f/1.2*
I love this lens. It has quickly become a competitor to my 50mm f/1.2. This lens produces the highest quality images I’ve been able to achieve. It is certainly costly & a bit of an indulgence but it will produce stunning portraits of your children or family & wonderful professional headshots. I use it throughout wedding days, especially bridal portraits & low-light ceremonies. It effortlessly pulls your subject off it’s background creating the most wonderful bokeh you’ve ever witnessed.  I’m pretty sure I’d sell my car before parting with this bad-boy. Nikon has a really nice alternative in the Nikkor 85mm f/1.4D IF.

Description (from Canon USA): Retaining the impressive optical performance and large aperture of the original EF 85mm f/1.2L USM, this new medium telephoto lens uses a Ring-type USM, high-speed CPU and optimized algorithms to achieve an autofocus speed approximately 1.8x faster than the original. The high-speed AF and circular aperture create a shallow depth-of-field that brings attention to the subject and blurs the background, which is ideal for portraits and weddings. The floating optical system, which includes an aspherical lens element, suppresses aberrations and ensures excellent imaging performance.

Stay tuned for examples of images taken with the 85mm f/1.2.

Canon 85mm f/1.8
If you’re a man or woman of practicality, this is your lens. An excellent alternative to the pricey 85mm f/1.2. Affordable, fast-focusing & strong build-quality are just a few of it’s strengths. From Canon, the Canon 85mm f/1.8 USM Autofocus Lens is a highly practical medium telephoto lens with superb delineation and portability. Images are sharp and clear at all apertures. Through computer simulations, the lens has been designed to give beautiful background blur. Since the front lens group does not rotate during focusing, special filter effects are not affected. Nikon makes the Nikkor 85mm f/1.8D.

Canon 100mm f/2.8 Macro IS*
My goodness this lens is sharp! I was looking for a somewhat wide-aperture mid-telephoto lens, coupled with IS (Image Stabilization), when I ran across this lens. Plus, the Macro feature is hard to beat for ring shots, flowers, & the tiniest of details. When I began shooting it, I really couldn’t believe how sharp the images. Now, for most wedding ceremonies, you’ll find it in use. And, for the price, it’s quite affordable. To my knowledge, Nikon doesn’t manufacture a comparable lens.

Description (from Canon USA): Canon’s newest “L” series lens is its first mid-telephoto macro lens to include Canon’s sophisticated Image Stabilization. With the highest quality optics available, combined with near-silent Ultrasonic focusing and life-size close-up capabilities without an adapter, the EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM is simply unrivaled. The Nikon user should consider the Nikkor-Micro 105mm f/2.8 VR.

A few examples of images taken with the 100mm f/2.8 Macro IS:

undefinedundefinedundefinedundefinedundefined Canon 100mm f/2.8 Macro
Since I own the IS version of this lens, I haven’t had a need for this lens, although I hear wonderful things about it. Many friends owned this lens before they came out with the IS version mentioned above. From Canon, the 100mm f/2.8 macro lens will focus over the full range from infinity down to life size (1:1 reproduction ratio). This lens will impress any serious photographer with its combination of versatility, image quality and superb handling. A high-performance ring type Ultrasonic Motor provides fast and silent AF throughout its focus range, and even more significantly, allows full-time manual focusing permitting the close-up or macro shooter to instantly override the AF whenever necessary. For the Nikon user, check out the Nikkor Micro 105mm f/2.8 VR or consider the Tokina 100mm f/2.8 Macro.

Canon 135mm f/2
This is a really fantastic lens. I owned it for a season & now regret selling it, often day-dreaming about it while on shoots. It is certainly on queue to be purchased again in the near future. You can easily shoot at f/2 pretty much exclusively & it happens to be one of the sharpest lenses Canon makes. This is a lens that is optically stunning and it’s focus is much faster than the 85mm f/1.2. I miss it! Nikon makes an equivalent, Nikkor 135mm f/2D.

Description (from Canon USA): The fastest 135mm telephoto lens in its class. Ideal for indoor sports and portraits with background blur. Two UD-glass elements correct secondary spectrum for outstanding sharpness and color. Compatible with Extender EF 1.4x II, 1.4x III and 2x II.

Canon 200mm f/2L IS
Everyone has the right to dream don’t they!? If I could afford a luxury lens, this would be my jewel. Coupled with a low aperture of f/2 & Image Stabilization, gives plenty of reason to spend more cash on this lens than my first vehicle. It’s ideal for indoor sports, theater work, fashion, and candids at events. Just consider the wedding ceremony images this lens could capture… wow! Nikon is well matched with their Nikkor 200mm f/2 G ED VR II.

Description (from Canon USA): This ultra-fast telephoto, a new member of Canon legendary L-series lenses, has totally new optics to provide better image quality. It uses fluorite and UD lens elements for excellent chromatic aberration correction and consists of 17 elements in 12 groups. The built-in Optical Image Stabilizer gives it up to 4 stops of stabilization correction. The inner USM and optimized AF algorithms result in fast and quiet autofocusing, and the circular aperture can even produce beautiful out-of-focus images. This ultra-high-performance lens also improves its durability – better dust- and water-proofing. The EF 200mm f/2L IS USM is outstanding for many available-light applications, including indoor sports, theater work, fashion, and candids at events.

Canon 200mm f/2.8
Back to reality now, the 200mm f/2.8 is a nice length with a fairly wide aperture. For my style, I find any lens that isn’t a f/2.8 or wider is too dark. Because I consistently find myself in low-light situations, I don’t own anything except f/2.8 or faster. I may consider adding this lens on down the road due to it’s focal length, affordability, & somewhat wide-aperture. Nikon boasts their Nikkor 200mm f/2.8 D ED-IF.

Description (from Canon USA): The EF 200mm f/2.8L II USM employs Canon’s famous rear-focus telephoto optical design that delivers outstanding picture quality throughout its entire focusing range. Like its high-end siblings, this lens also uses two ultra-low dispersion glass elements to ensure maximum image sharpness and accurate color fidelity. Canon’s advanced ultrasonic focusing motor & rear focusing design give silent, high speed autofocusing. It is perfectly suited for Canon’s EOS system cameras, placing special emphasis on manual focusing capabilities.

You may be asking, “Is 200mm as wide as you’re going?” As of right now, yes. Because I’m primarily a wedding, lifestyle & editorial photographer, I don’t usually find myself beyond these focal lengths. As you can see, there is no paucity in options. Lenses can be very expensive & in some cases, only worth the extra cash if you’ll have a return on the investment or can afford the nicer equipment. I’m a firm believer to buy the best lenses you can afford. If not, as you grow as a photographer you may find yourself frustrated with the limits of your lenses. When I started investing in fast, high-quality lenses, I was set free from many limits & only rarely find myself prohibited except by my imagination. In the near future I’ll share Part 2: Zoom Lenses. It will be particularly helpful for the majority of my readers who would rather invest in one or two all-purpose lenses. I’ll be glad to recommend my favorites! Stay tuned. Was this helpful? If so, let me know. Thanks!

  1. Jared Wilson Photography / We have very similar tastes. :)4.05.11 / 4:30 pm
  2. DeAnn / Thanks for the recommendations! My friend Heather McElligott introduced me to your blog. I have a Canon 5D Mark II and recently purchased an 85/1.2. I like it alot, but I seem to have difficulty mastering the focus. Any recommendations (other than practice)?4.05.11 / 5:01 pm
  3. Alan Brock / Nice post with good information! Everyone should own a 50mm of some sort.4.05.11 / 6:00 pm
  4. Tommy Botello / A 50mm is a definite must for anyone beginning in photography. Even if it's an inexpensive f1.8, it's great to learn with. In regards to a comparable Nikon Macro lens, Nikon has the 105mm f2.8. / 12:39 pm
  5. Ben Finch / @Jared, thanks my friend, that means I'm in good company! @DeAnn, I just sent you a message, hope it helps! @Alan, thanks, I agree, the 50mm is a staple for me! @Tommy, absolutely... the 50mm is my 1st recommendation & thanks for the link for the 105, I updated it in the post. I appreciate your Nikon knowledge... keep me updated!4.06.11 / 1:15 pm

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Trip to the Zoo {Chattanooga, TN}

Although I generally feel like we live in a zoo, yesterday we ventured out to the Chattanooga Zoo. For the past week plus, Brennan & Knox have been sick with RSV (Respiratory Syncytial Virus). Although they seem to be feeling much better, we didn’t think it would be a good idea to take them to church & have them be around other kiddos. We have no idea if they are still contagious. But, the weather has been wonderful the last few days & we wanted to get the kids out of the house. I couldn’t bear the thought of us being inside all day. So, we jumped in the Honda & went to Chattanooga for the morning. Here are some pics from the day.

We arrived before many of larger animals decided to venture outside; it looked like the Chimpanzees could use a cup of coffee.

undefinedMy hair looks quite similar when I wake up.
undefinedI almost didn’t post the picture of the Cobra Snake but decided to pair it with the hawk, imagining that the hawk was about to swoop down & snatch it up. Take that cobra!
undefinedThere’s a striking resemblance between our dog, Bailey, & this raccoon. That might explain some things. On another note, when I was younger I wanted a pet monkey. Now, unless it can get a job, I’ll pass.
undefinedundefinedundefinedThis pic was taken just prior to the boys escaping their stroller; it was like a wild goose chase from then on. The boys had a great time, although they didn’t quite understand why they couldn’t pet all the animals.
undefinedI like camels almost as much as I like llamas… that’s saying a lot because I LOVE llamas! If we let him alone for a second, we caught Knox trying to climb into the cages.
undefinedBrennan is a bit more reserved, choosing rather to stick only his arm inside. Thankfully, the goats weren’t too enticed by the rocks he was trying to feed them.
undefinedundefinedThe peacock was strutting his stuff; he followed me around for several minutes. Reminds me of my mother-in-law’s stories of growing up with a pet peacock. Apparently, she had one as a little girl & it would follow her around like a dog. Sounds like fun to me! Can you imagine having friends over for dinner… “And this is our pet peacock!”
undefinedundefinedLazy cat… aren’t they all!
undefinedCan’t you just hear him?! “Daddy… OUT!!!”
undefinedundefinedundefinedProbably my favorite of all the animals at the zoo; it’s a bit unnerving to see it lock it’s eyes on you.
undefinedWe ended the morning with a family picnic at Renaissance Park. It was a great day indeed! What are your favorite things to do as a family? Where are some places we should visit?

  1. Khloe Williams / Go to Cades Cove!! Early morning (around 8a) offers some of the best photos!!3.21.11 / 5:41 pm
  2. Alison Nation / These photos are great! The peacock photos are awesome! We've been wanting to go to the zoo but was unsure of the one in Chattanooga. But after seeing all the animals you guys got to see, it looks pretty fun!3.22.11 / 9:39 pm

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All Things New

About this time every year I’m filled with anticipation. For one, I anticipate a new season. I don’t know about you but I’m affected by the weather. Every February I find myself in the “funk”. I’m tired of the rain, the cold, the deadness & I’m ready for new life, a new season, new things. Where’s the sun for crying out loud!?

Second, I’m hopeful for personal growth. It seems the Lord uses Spring to remind me of His work in my life, to plant new dreams in my soul, & to again inspire me to pursue the things of God. I’m encouraged!

Third, I anticipate new adventures, new challenges, new work. Over the past year I’ve been privileged to shoot on behalf of some outstanding clients & friends. I love my job! Just last week I was on assignment in Chattanooga for a 4-day shoot & had a fantastic time photographing that incredible city. We were focused on downtown for most of the week & I was reminded at how much I’m drawn to downtown living. I’m deeply inspired by the city life & Chattanooga boasts one of the best I’ve seen. I’m quite certain that if they had an Ikea, the population would increase 10%… who’s with me?

But most of all, I anticipate the birth of our 3rd child. I can’t tell you how excited I am to welcome another little Finch. As I can’t imagine life without either of our boys, I know I’ll feel the same about our next. And as of around 1:20pm today, I found out that I better start getting used to little sundresses, painted toenails, tea-parties & more… we’re having a girl!!! I can only imagine how this is going to change our lives; I can’t wait for the days ahead. She already has my heart!!

  1. Kristine Neeley / Ah!!! HOW WONDERFUL!!!!!3.15.11 / 10:06 pm
  2. Wendy Uhlman / YEAH!!! I am so excited for ya'll. You definatley need a little girl to spice things up a little. There is nothing like them :O) Love Ya'll!!!3.16.11 / 2:36 pm

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Gear Guide & Recommendations {Part 1: Camera Bodies}

Almost weekly, I receive requests from other photographers as well as beginners who are interested in what gear I use. Those starting out in the field, whether by hobby or trade, are generally curious my recommendations. I generally suggest the same things, so my responses have become fairly standard. However, I knew it would be in my best interest as well as others if I delve deeper into the subject on my blog & spent a bit more time explaining my preferences. Because I’m a Canon guy, I’ll spend much of my time reviewing their gear; it’s simply what I’m most familiar with. At times though, I hope to branch out into the other worlds & provide insight to other brands, especially Nikon. At least, I’ll try to give you alternatives. I suppose it may be helpful at some point to explain why I’ve chosen Canon over Nikon; the reasons are probably less dramatic than you’d think. However, I’ll save that for another post. And since camera related technology advances so rapidly, there is constant need for updating. Consider this a starting point & I imagine this list will be ever evolving. Further, I’m in the process of building a dedicated page on my blog for gear guides & reviews… stay tuned for that feature. It will be a centralized location of the info from these posts.
{As a side note, the below links are my affiliate links, when purchasing through this blog it helps me continue to provide reviews, training & tutorials at no charge. Plus, it helps me provide for my family; thanks for your support!}

Camera Bodies

Canon EOS 5D Mark II
My weapon of choice is the Canon EOS 5D Mark II. I’ve been using these bodies for about a year and a half now & for the most part have loved them. If I had the extra $ I could easily reason upgrading to the Canon EOS 1D Mark IV, although there’s yet to present a situation that the 5D Mark II didn’t handle well. Plus with two kids & one on the way, it won’t be anytime soon! I realized the need for the upgrade from the popular 5D when I continually found myself in low-lighting situations that it couldn’t handle. Yet with the 5D Mark II you achieve incredible noise control even at high ISO settings (i.e. 3200), thus allowing you more flexibility in less than ideal lighting. For shooting stills, you’d be hard pressed to find a body that produces as clean of skin tones, colors & gradiations of tones. It’s really ideal for the photographer who’s looking to invest in a very solid prosumer body. You won’t be disappointed. And although I’m not a videographer, I would be remiss not to mention it’s video functionality as well. It boasts one of the largest video sensors on the market & has become quite the staple for filmmakers. Rumor is that one season of “House” was filmed with this bad boy. Ideal for the Advanced Amateur & Professional. Consider the Nikon D700 as a nice alternative, though not nearly as robust in my opinion.

Description (from Canon USA): Canon’s update to the wildly popular full frame EOS 5D is here, and it’s better than ever. The EOS 5D Mark II has a stunning 21.1-megapixel full-frame CMOS sensor with DIGIC 4 Image Processor, a vast ISO Range of 100-6400 (expandable to ISO L: 50, H1: 12800 and H2: 25600), plus EOS technologies like Auto Lighting Optimizer and Peripheral Illumination Correction. It supports Live View shooting, Live View HD videos, and more. It can shoot up to 3.9 fps, has 9 AF points plus 6 AF assist points, a new 98% coverage viewfinder, a 3.0-inch Clear View LCD (920,000 dots/VGA) and a rugged build.

  • 21.1 Megapixel Full-Frame Sensor
  • 3.0″ High Resolution LCD Display
  • Live View Mode
  • 1080p Movie Mode
  • Dust & Weather-Resistant
  • Self Cleaning Sensor
  • Broad ISO Range (50-25600)
  • 3.9 fps Burst Mode

Canon EOS 7D

The Canon EOS 7D. I find it somewhat hard to say anything negative about this body. In it’s price class, it’s unrivaled. If you want to upgrade from a consumer level body such as the Rebel series, I’d highly recommend this as your next step. You’d save around $1000 compared to the 5D & would see a considerable difference to your entry level DSLRs. There are only two reasons why I prefer the 5D Mark II. First, the sensor is considerably smaller than the 5D, 60% smaller if I’m not mistaken (1.6x crop factor). What does that mean? The smaller the sensor, the more noise you’ll get. Second, it’s performance in low light is inferior to the 5D. And quite frankly, that’s a big deal to me. As someone who prefers using available light, I like to be able to max out the capabilities of both my bodies & my lenses. Yet, the 7D has considerable advantages over the 5D in two areas. First, the 7D has twice as fast Frames Per Second burst rate (fps), 8fps verses the 5D’s 3.9 fps, which makes it perfect for action photography… sports, racing, small children! The second advantage is in regards to video. Most videographers would prefer it as it seems more suited for such. Ideal for the Amateur, Advanced Amateur & Professional. The equivalent in the Nikon world seems to be the Nikon D300s.

Description (from Canon USA): With a host of brand new features designed to enhance every facet of the photographic process, from still images to video, the new EOS 7D represents a whole new class of camera. Made to be the tool of choice for serious photographers and semi-professionals, the EOS 7D features an all-new 18.0 Megapixel APS-C size CMOS sensor and Dual DIGIC 4 Image Processors, capturing tremendous images at up to ISO 12800 and speeds of up to 8 fps. The EOS 7D has a new all cross-type 19-point AF system with improved AI Servo II AF subject tracking and user-selectable AF area selection modes for sharp focus no matter the situation.

  • 18.0 Megapixels
  • 3.0″ LCD
  • HD Video Recording
  • Selectable Video Exposure + Frame Rates
  • Dust & Weather Resistant
  • 100% Viewfinder
  • Self Cleaning Sensor
  • High Sensitivity (ISO 12800)
  • 8fps Burst Mode

Canon EOS 60D

I’ve yet to have the opportunity to test drive this new body but based upon the specs I can confidently say that it’s an impressive tool. When I’m able to test it, I’ll update this section. Ideal for the Beginner & Amateur. Check out the Nikon D7000 as an alternative.

Description (from Canon USA): With the new EOS 60D DSLR, Canon gives the photo enthusiast a powerful tool fostering creativity, with better image quality, more advanced features and automatic and in-camera technologies for ease-of-use. It features an improved APS-C sized 18.0 Megapixel CMOS sensor for tremendous images, a new DIGIC 4 Image Processor for finer detail and excellent color reproduction, and improved ISO capabilities from 100 – 6400 (expandable to 12800) for uncompromised shooting even in the dimmest situations. The new Multi-control Dial enables users to conveniently operate menus and enter settings with a simple touch. The EOS 60D also features an EOS first: A Vari-angle 3.0-inch Clear View LCD (1,040,000 dots) monitor for easy low- or high-angle viewing. An improved viewfinder, a number of new in-camera creative options and filters, plus HDMI output for viewing images on an HDTV all make the EOS 60D invaluable for the evolving photographer.

  • 18MP APS-C CMOS Sensor
  • 1920 x 1080 HD Video Capture
  • SD/SDHC/SDXC Memory Card Slot
  • Vari-Angle Clear View 3.0″ Flip-Out LCD
  • DIGIC 4 Image Processor
  • 5.3 fps Continuous Shooting
  • Works with all Canon EF and EF-S Lenses
  • ISO 6400 – Expandable to 12800
  • HDMI Output to HDTV
  • In-Camera Editing Options

Canon Rebel T2i

The Rebel series will always be a bit sentimental for me; it’s where I got my start. I talked Joy into letting me spend some of our savings on my first DSLR & we bought a digital Rebel. I probably only used it for a little over a year but I guarantee you I recorded tens of thousands of images; it was a workhorse. For the entry-level DSLR photographer, these bodies are simply hard to beat. Although missing many of the features that a prosumer camera would possess, they are quite impressive. The price tag on a Rebel appeals to a much larger audience & seems ideal for most people’s starting point. For the shopper in the <$700 range, it’s the right choice. If you can spend $700 more, the 7D is definitely worth the extra bling! Ideal for the Beginner & Amateur. The Nikon D90 seems to boast similar specs.

Description (from Canon USA): The new flagship of the EOS Rebel line, Canon EOS Rebel T2i brings professional EOS features into an easy to use, lightweight digital SLR that’s a joy to use. Featuring a class-leading 18.0 Megapixel CMOS Image Sensor and increased light sensitivity for low light photography, the EOS Rebel T2i also has an advanced HD Movie mode for gorgeous Full HD movies. Able to capture up to 3.7 frames per second, it’s ready to go the minute it’s picked up. Advanced Live View, a new wide-area screen, plus features like Canon’s brilliant Auto Lighting Optimizer and Highlight Tone features ensure brilliant photos and movies, easily.

  • 18.0 MP CMOS (APS-C) Sensor
  • Full HD 1080p Video
  • Advanced Live View
  • 3.0″ 1.04 Million Dot Clear View LCD
  • Up to 3.7 fps RAW, JPEG, or RAW+JPEG
  • ISO 100-6400, Expandable to 12800
  • 63-Zone Metering / 9-Point AF System
  • Compatible with SD, SDHC, and SDXC
  • Eye-Fi Menu Status Indicator Support

As you can see there are several great options for different user levels. Canon has done a pretty good job of meeting the needs of beginners, amateurs, advanced amateurs & professionals. There isn’t a body mentioned above that won’t capture fantastic images given the user’s ability to control the settings, properly compose a subject & shoot. You can’t underestimate the value of knowing your camera inside & out. And although camera bodies are a necessity, I find there’s an even better investment that will more rapidly advance your abilities as a photographer… the lens! Lenses have the ability to make good camera bodies look great. In my next gear guide it seems appropriate that I discuss my favorite lenses as well as my recommendations for alternatives at various price points. Until then, let me know how I can expand on these guides to better help you. I hope you enjoy!

  1. Elizabeth Mahan / This is an excellent review! One question, what made you first choose Canon over Nikon? Did you test them both before you bought? I have a Nikon D60 and tested it alongside the Canon Rebel, and I just liked the feel of the Nikon in my hands. Do you find the features on the Canon to be better than Nikon? Should I choose to upgrade one day in the distant future, this would be pertinent info. :)3.02.11 / 9:36 am
  2. Tommy Botello / This is a great resource for those looking at investing in their first DSLR or upgrading. I am curious though, have you experienced any issues with the autofocus system in your 5D Mark II? I first heard about it from Michele Anderson of Pinkle Toes Photography (she wrote a blog posting about it). She had the 5D Mark II and sent it in multiple times and Canon replaced the entire AF system each time, but it never remedied her problem. She ended up switching to Nikon's D700. After reading of her situation, I researched more and found others to have the same issue with their 5D Mark II. I have to admit I'm a Nikon shooter, though I have no prejudices against Canon. I find Nikon's AF systems and low-noise ISO performance to be a bit better, in my opinion. I feel that Nikon puts more emphasis on these traits than megapixels. I mean, the Nikon D3s only has 12.1mp but is probably the low-light king among DSLRs. So, megapixels shouldn't necessarily be a deciding factor. Nikon has since developed newer sensors however with higher megapixel counts while improving upon it's ISO performance. Video is a great feature to have in a DSLR, but I don't feel that someone should base their decision on a camera body because of it's video capabilities if they're only going to use it every now and then. If your focus will be on the video side, then the 5D Mark II is the one you want. Bottom line, I tell people to go and test the cameras in person before buying. Hold the body, see how it feels in your hands. Also, go through the menu system and see how easy/difficult it is to navigate. These were deciding factors in my decision years ago. The lenses you use are also a great determining factor in getting the images you desire. I look forward to your next post and seeing your thoughts.3.02.11 / 11:49 am
  3. Ben Finch / @Elizabeth: Thanks! Great question... I initially chose Canon when I was shooting film & bought my first SLR. I don't know if I had a good reason to select it over Nikon except that it was probably on sale & due to it's brand recognition... I've liked Canon since those Andre Agassi commercials. Ha! Then, when I purchased a DSLR, I chose the Canon because I already had a lens for the 35mm that I could use on the digital camera. So for me, I decided to stick with what I started with. Both Nikon & Canon have distinct advantages. I have many friends & photog heroes who are Nikon users. The placement of controls are so different than Canon that it takes a bit for me to get used to it... neither in my opinion is better, just different. I personally prefer the colors & skin tones of the Canon as well as the assortment of the lenses they offer (plus you can use Nikon lenses on a Canon but not vice-versa). Canon's lens variety & build is reason enough for me. But, Nikon, in my opinion boasts a more consistent AF (auto-focus) system & the user controls seem more fitting for those starting out in photography. That's likely why it felt better in your hands; they are fantastic cameras. In most cases I recommend sticking with what you began with; you'll be familiar with the settings & won't have to reinvest in lenses. As you grow as a photographer, you'll continually learn how to max out your camera's abilities. At that point, you may realize you need to upgrade. I don't perceive ever switching (pending an endorsement... ha!) but my Nikon friends say the same! @Tommy: Great to hear from you; thanks for your comment. You bring up some excellent points & nice suggestions. Although I've yet to have any problems with the AF in my Mark II, I have heard from others a similar story as your friend. I feel like the AF in the next generation 5D (or the like) is the most needed issue to be addressed. There were times I experienced some soft-focus but it was due to a lens that needed re-calibrated rather than the body. And, you're absolutely correct, there are much more important things than megapixels... great points!3.03.11 / 4:23 pm

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2011 Knoxville Addy Awards

In what would prove a generous night for many, Saturday night I was humbled & honored to sit beside & among some of the most talented designers, writers, developers, innovators (& more) in our region. Collectively, we enjoyed great food & drinks, a killer band, appropriate banter (& sometimes not… ha!) & the occasional mischief by a few. It was the 2011 Knoxville Addy Awards, hosted at the Crowne Plaza, an evening of recognizing the most outstanding work in advertising. And for some reason, they let me come!

Saturday night marked another milestone for me personally & professionally. To be proud of the work you produce is a worthy goal in itself & is only trumped when a thrilled client raves about your service or product. Yet to be recognized by peers & those more seasoned, inspires confidence & excitement. This year I was privileged to receive 4 Silver & 2 Bronze Addys for both photography & design work. I was grateful to have my beautiful wife, Joy, by my side. Below is a highlight of those projects.

The University of Mobile Website Design & Development {Silver Addy}
Credits: Ben Finch, Creative & Design Lead, Photographer; David Poindexter, Project Manager & Lead Developer, Nvisionative; Ansel Brown, Designer & Marketing Consultant, Nvisionative; Lesa Moore, Director of Marketing, University of Mobile; Brian Boyle, Vice President for Development, University of Mobile.

The University of Mobile Photography {Silver Addy}
Credits: Ben Finch, Photographer

Ben Finch Photography Self-Promo Collateral {Silver Addy}
Credits: Ben Finch, Photographer & Designer

Athens Area Council for the Arts: 2010-11 Arts Guide {Silver & Bronze Addy}
Credits: Ben Finch, Creative & Design Lead; Ellen Kimball, AACA Executive Director; Pat Armstrong, AACA Program Director

At Home TN Magazine Photography {Bronze Addy}
Credits: Ben Finch, Photographer; Nikki Aviotti Hodum, Creative Director; Lindsey Phillips, Managing Director; Adrienne Z. King, Interior Designer
As you can see, it was a wonderful evening. I’m thankful for the honors received & left inspired by the work that was showcased. Further, I’d like to congratulate a few friends for their incredible work. Our dear friends at Hornsby Brand Design had a hat-trick of Gold Addys as well as a Silver Addy for their work for KAT (Knoxville Area Transit). And the Pyxl crew won several Addys (1 Gold, 4 silver, & 5 bronze) as they keep “upping the ante” with their expertise in online marketing campaigns. Susie Norris of Orange Apple Branding Boutique received the 2011 President’s Award plus 2 Silver & 2 Bronze Addys. Additionally, Brian Potter, Clay Prewitt, Amanda Lewis & the many others at The Tombras Group who lead our region with outstanding creative excellence (they won too many awards to count!). And, congrats to Donna Hundley of UT School of Music for a Silver & Bronze Addy. Last, special thanks to my friend Meg Prewitt for organizing Ben Finch Photography as a Door Prize Sponsor. There are many others Agencies & Businesses whose work I thoroughly enjoyed… congrats to you & I hope to meet soon!

Here is the link to the red-carpet pics:

Here is the Knox Sentinels write-up of the night:

  1. Elizabeth Rhodes / Ben! Wow! That's so exciting and thrilling!! I love all the stuff you do and you're so very creative - I'm so thrilled for Joy, too, that she gets to be a part of all of that. Fun! Exciting stuff in the midst of the tedium of everyday life and paying bills, etc. Elizabeth.2.28.11 / 2:42 pm
  2. David Poindexter / Congratulations Ben! That's awesome news! We are all excited here! ;-)2.28.11 / 3:10 pm
  3. Donna Hundley / Congrats, Ben! Beautiful work. It was fun to see you there and meet Joy. And thanks!3.01.11 / 1:56 pm

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