A what you say? Where have you been hiding out!
The Nifty 50 refers to a 50mm prime lens which is considered a portrait lens on most entry level DLSRs such as the Canon rebel series or the Nikon D3100 or Sony Alpha range.
If you are a beginner photographer and your main subject is your kids you will undoubtedly compare your pictures to those of the pro photographers that you have paid in the past to come and photograph your kiddos.
You want to be able to recreate those same types of photographs with your own DSLR. You can get junior to smile and pose and look super cute but what you you REALLY want to know is how to get that BLURRY background like the pro did. The lovely creamy background where it doesn’t matter whereabouts you shoot, your subject stands out, pin sharp against a soft out-of-focus creamy, dreamy background.
Well over half of my students come to me with this woe – “How to I get a blurry background?”
As they learn a little bit about shooting out of auto mode they discover the concept of Aperture and learn that by controlling the Aperture, they control the depth of field, hence they have the ability to create a blurry background!
Hurrah! They’ve cracked it. They’ve discovered they key…that is, until they try to shoot at a wide aperture with their camera’s kit lens – i.e. the lens that comes with the camera. No matter how wide the open the aperture – usually f/4, the cannot achieve the blurry backgrounds they dream of. Their photos still look flat compared with those shot by the pro. Sound familiar?
Well, the main big difference between your shots and the Pro’s shots is most likely choice of lens. And that’s where the so-called nifty 50 comes in to play. The nifty 50 is a 50mm Prime lens i.e. it it has a fixed focal length of 50mm and therefore doesn’t zoom. If you want to get closer you gotta move your feet! This focal length of 50 mm is a nice distance for portraiture photography on entry level DSLRS and you’ll often hear it referred to as a portrait lens. But this is not where the secret lies. The best thing about the nifty 50 is that is has an extremely wide open maximum aperture which means it will give you a much blurrier (is that even a word?) background than your standard kit lens.
Consider my fancy slide below:
Most kit lenses can only open the aperture to somewhere between f/3.5 and f/5.6, depending on the focal length in use. In the grand scheme of things, this isn’t a wide open aperture at all.
Our friendly nifty 50 however comes in 3 versions with a f 1.8, f 1.4 and f 1.2 maximum apertures for most camera brands. These are considerably more open that the kit lens, allowing you to photograph inside in natural light with out the aid of flash, and more importantly for this discussion, rendering a beautiful creamy blurry background.
That’s the key! Use the best lens for the job and you’ll get the results that you are after. The camera is only half the story…
And the other awesome thing about the nifty 50? It’s probably the cheapest bit of photography gear you’re likely to purchase. Most pros shoot with either the f1.4 or the f1.2 but you can nab a f1.8 (like me!) for about $100. (Be sure to check out your own camera’s compatibility with any lens before you buy)
And trust me, you will blow yourself away with the results. Pin sharp, works in low light with beautify blurry backgrounds. So what are you waiting for? Go grab one today!
P.S. The nifty 50 is such good value that it is one of the only lenses I recommend buying new – your can check it out on Amazon for the best deals.
Over the last few weeks I’ve been promoting my new online photography course – “Master your DSLR,” and it was brought to my attention several times that many of you might not be sure what exactly a DSLR is. For many beginners in photography this is where you take the leap from just taking snapshots to being a little more creative with your photos. As part of my Digital Camera Buying Guide series let’s look at the “Big Daddy” which is the DSLR.
A DSLR camera (Digital Single Lens Reflex camera) consists of two parts – a camera body and an interchangeable lens. The body houses the camera sensor (where the image is made), all the electronics and a mirror system that allows the photographer to see exactly the image that the camera is recording. This camera body also has the ability to add on additional flash through a hot-shoe on the top of the camera but on most entry level DSLRs there is also a pop up built-in flash unit.
The interchangeable lens is what really makes the difference between an DSLR and and compact camera. Usually a DSLR will come with a standard “kit” lens which will allow you to take a variety of shots at various focal lengths, from wide angle to telephoto. If you require additional lenses for a specific purpose, these are purchased separately and they usually don’t come cheap!
There is also a plethora of other accessories that can be used with your DSLR to enhance your photography such as tripods, lens hoods, filters, lighting systems to name a few.
If your someone who feels stifled by their Point and Shoot’s lack of creative control or someone who wants to really understand photography then a DSLR is really the only way you are going to learn and will ultimately be what will take your photography to the next level. The size of the lens alone should be an indication to you of how much better your pictures can potentially be. The beauty of today’s entry level DSLRS is that you can use them in full auto mode where the camera still does all of the thinking for you, through semi-manual shooting modes where you begin to have creative control, right through to full manual setting where you can control every aspect of the photograph.
One of my pet peeves is to see people wielding these big DSLR cameras only to switch them into Auto mode and use it like a big hefty point and shoot camera. Why bother? They are using about 10% of the camera’s functionality and paid a nice price for the privilege. If this is you I suggest you get out of your comfort zone and start experimenting! Sure your gonna end up with a few dodgy pics in there along the way, but it’s only with this experimenting that your gonna LEARN anything about photography and eventually you will improve.
Buying a DSLR is a considerable investment so it’s important to do your research and find the one that’s going to be best for you. The two top brands that are always competing head to head are Canon and Nikon. Personally I’m a Canon girl – always have been always will be I think!) but that’s only because that’s what I started out with. Nikon are equally as good and in some models boast superior features.
1. Has anyone in the family/ friends got either a Canon or Nikon.
This is important to consider as you might be able to swap and borrow lenses from them and they might be able to help you out with technical problems
2. What feels good in your hands?
Some say Canons are for girls and Nikons are for boys. While this is not true, some of the entry level Canon cameras may feel small in a guys hands and where the buttons are etc. will have an effect of the cameras ease of use for you. So although I’m a great advocate of shopping online, I also feel that its a good idea to get your hands on a few cameras before you buy. Ask a friend or go to a specialty store to get a feel for the different models. You might be surprised at their weight or by how light they are. Some people like a lightweight and others want to feel they are getting their money’s worth by the pound!
3. Special deals or twin lens kits.
In some stores you will see cameras bundled as twin lens kits with the standard lens bundled together with an additional zoom lens and sometimes a kit bag, a book, a card etc. These can be really great deals but this depends on whether or not you really think you’ll need that particular zoom lens. For example, landscapes might be your thing so in that case it might be more prudent for you to invest in a super wide angle lens at some point. Be aware that just because a lens has a huge focal length – i.e can zoom in really far away, it doesn’t mean its a great lens. There are lots of factors to consider so only buy what you need for now and buy the best you can afford – it should last you quite a while.
4. Finally, think about factoring in the cost of some education to learn how to work the thing.
There is no point in spending a lot of money on a fancy DSLR only to stick it in Green Auto and to try and learn about photography from the user manual. You will drive yourself batty! Buy a book, read a blog, take a course for some direction but put some effort into learning about your camera and you’ll be rewarded with unique photos for the rest of your life!
PS If you feel like your someone who could benefit with a little guidance on using your DSL R to it’s potential, check out www.CameraShyClasses.com for my online courses which will help you do just that!
Last week I did something I’ve never done before…I faced the crowds and the stores in search of a bargain. Well, actually, I was working with a client – helping her choose some new photographic equipment. Amongst other things she was looking for the best tripod and was totally overwhelmed by the choices available to her. While shopping with her I could only come to the same conclusion that it is bewildering to even the seasoned photographer when buying a tripod and trying to figure out the best tripod for your needs. So I decided to put together this short guide in case any of you guys are heading out to shop for this vital accessory.
Anyone who considers themselves a serious photographer really does need a tripod. I know, I know! They’re heavy and awkward to lug around but if you REALLY want that shot, that award winning, hang on the wall, amaze your friends shot, then you need to think seriously about using a tripod. Especially if you are a landscape photographer or shoot in low lighting conditions. For landscapes shot with a very high f number eg f/22, you absolutely need a tripod to steady your camera. In low light conditions, its absolutely pointless trying to achieve slow shutter speeds (anything slower than the focal length of your lens) without a tripod’s help. Macro photographers will also
drive themselves slowly insane without using a tripod and even in studio portrait shots its always useful to have a safe place to put your camera during takes. For still lifes, mounting your camera on a tripod allows you to change various settings while keeping the distance/ focal length exactly the same. This can save a lot of hassle when your trying to get the shot just right.
Anytime you go shopping for new photographic equipment you know your going to be dropping some (quite a bit of ) cash. Tripods are definitely not one of the cheapest photographic accessories but there are a wide variety of price points available. Your budget will dictate several things such as weight, added features, ease of use and functionality. One thing I will say is however try to extend your budget as much as possible because trying to use a cheap tripod could well put you off photography for life! For one, you don’t want to put your expensive camera body and lens on a flimsy – one puff of wind will knock it down- tripod. Also getting fingers pinched in difficult to maneuver leg hinges will drive you to distraction. Be prepared to spend a little more than you though you’d have to.
Not necessarily as a heavy tripod that stays in the closet is no good to you compared with a light one that you are more inclined to bring with you! That being said you need a certain degree of stability – that’s the whole point right?! You can generally choose from Aluminium tripods or Carbon fibre tripods. My student ended up opting for the carbon fibre version of a Manfrotto she was looking at which was about $200 more than the aluminium one. She felt that given the amount of traveling she’d be doing with it, and all of the new weight restrictions on airline luggage limits it would be worth it to save the few pounds.
Aluminium tripods are heavier but can still provide decent support. If you’ll mostly be using your tripod in the same place then these would be fine. If your buying your tripod online – I highly recommend Amazon, do a weight comparison and physically get out the equivalent weight of bags of sugar or free weights if you have them, to see how heavy 5 lbs really is.
Entry level tripods are generally a single unit of legs that are permanently attached to the head, which has a removable plate that can be screwed into the base of your camera. These are cheap and cheerful and can serve the beginner in photography very well. As you go up through the models of tripods you will notice that the legs and the heads can be purchased separately. This is to give the photographer more choice in the type of tripod best suited for his needs.
Check out the type of hinges on your tripod legs. They need to be able to released and locked quickly and easily (without pinching your fingers!) I like the quick release hinges as opposed to the screw-type ones as they maneuvered more quickly. Check and see how high the legs extend without raising the center column and also how low to the ground they go. This ability is really useful for macro shots, product photography and shooting sweeping landscapes with a great perspective. Added features here can be the middle column extending out to the side or inverting so that the camera is almost at ground level. The Manfrotto 055XPROB is an example of legs that have these features.
The head is the top part of the tripod which holds the camera and allows you to adjust it’s position. Again, here you have a few choices to make and again it will depend on the majority of the type of photography you shoot. If you do a lot of architecture and landscape photography a three-way pan head would be suitable for you. This allows you to fine tune and adjust each axis of the head individually. Great for precision but a little slow to use.
I much prefer the Ballhead type head. These are as they sound, like a ball and socket joint which allow you to manuever your camera in any direction quickly, easily and most importantly smoothly. My student opted for a grip action or joystick grip ball head which is super easier to manipulate and she loves it!
As like all things in the photographic world there are so many choices available and each person has a variety of needs I recommend that you do you research before running out and buying a tripod.
- Think about the things I’ve outlined above
- Think about the types of photography you’ll mostly be using it for
- Think about it as an investment
- And compare several products till you find the right one for you.
A great place to start is by checking out the Manfrotto range. I’ve been using (and selling) Manfrotto for 10 years and I find them excellent with a great range suitable for the beginner to the seasoned pro. You can check them out here at Amazon.com.
Happy (steady) snapping!