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Choosing a Telephoto Zoom Lens

Along with a good mid-range zoom lens and a wide-angle zoom, a telephoto zoom will round out your collection of lenses quite nicely. A telephoto lens will zoom in further and magnify the subject more than a typical mid-range kit lens. This makes them great for "reaching" those far away subjects like wildlife, sports and even detail shots on landscapes.


This is 200mm on a full-frame camera (equiv. to 125mm on a small-frame)

When selecting a telephoto zoom lens, you'll have to consider a few things (in addition to budget). First, the higher the focal length number, the more "zoomed in" the lens can go. Meaning, a 70-200mm lens won't reach as far as a 100-400mm lens. So if you need to reach as far as possible, go for the higher focal length number.

You'll also want to look at the lens' maximum aperture. The maximum aperture is the widest the aperture can open on the lens. A wider maximum aperture will let in more light and, thus, allow the camera to use faster shutter speeds. So if you think you'll need fast shutter speeds when using the lens, you might want to consider getting the lens with a wider maximum aperture. The lens' widest maximum aperture is always indicated in the title. For instance, the Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II lens can open all the way to a maximum aperture of f/2.8. Whereas the Canon 70-200mm f/4L IS can only open to an aperture of f/4. To learn more about how to understand lens nomenclature, check out this post.

Here are the telephoto zoom lenses I recommend:


Canon 55-250mmCANON

Entry-Level
Canon EF-S 55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS (buy - $255)

A great starter lens for those looking to get a little more reach out of their Canon DSLR. It's a mere $255, which shouldn't break the bank for most people, and it zooms pretty far out to 250mm. Although this isn't as far as the next lens, which reaches to 300mm, 250mm ain't half bad for a lens under $260. At this low of a price, though, the autofocus motor isn't as fast or as quiet as the more expensive lenses. But at least it has image stabilizer, which is a very nice perk on long lenses like these.

Canon 70-300mmMid-Level
Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS USM (buy - $549)

This lens has a few benefits over the 55-250mm discussed above. First, it reaches 20% further out to 300mm. When photographing wildlife or sports, that extra 50mm turns out to be quite a bit. The build quality of this lens is a little bit better over the 55-250, too. Sure, it's no magnesium-alloy tank like the professional series lenses, but it will feel a little more robust than the 55-250mm. Most importantly, this lens features Canon's Ultrasonic Motor (USM) auto focus system. That means this thing will focus much, much faster and much more quietly than the 55-250.

Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L ISHigh-End Option 1
Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS (buy - $1,349)
Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II (buy - $2,499) 

For your first high-end option, I'd recommend the Canon 70-200mm. At 200mm this lens really doesn't reach that far. Truthfully, it just isn't enough zoom for most wildlife photography. But for sports and portraits...it's phenomenal. That being said, Canon offers both a 70-200mm with a maximum aperture of f/4 and one with a maximum aperture of f/2.8. Both varieties come with or without image stabilizer, too (get it with stabilizer included - no doubt about it). As part of Canon's L-series professional line of lenses, both feature Canon's top-of-the-line optics, construction, weather-sealing and ultra-fast USM auto focus motors.

But now the real question: do I get the f/4 or f/2.8 version? Here's my short, no-nonsense recommendation: If you want to shoot portraits or sports and you won't have to hike long distances with this lens, get the f/2.8. The 2.8 max aperture will let in 1 stop more light than the f/4, which may be the difference between a shutter speed that's just fast enough or one that's just a little bit too slow for sports. And as for portraits, the ultra-blurry background at f/2.8 will make you drool. But if you're planning to use this more for photographing detail shots in landscapes or if weight will be an issue for you, go with the f/4. It's over a pound-and-a-half lighter than the 2.8 and it's only 1 stop loss of light, which is usually no big deal when shooting still subjects. Oh, and it's over $1,000 cheaper.

Canon 100-400mm High-End Option 2
Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS (buy - $1,699)

If wildlife is your thing, then I'd recommend the Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L. It reaches over twice as far as the 70-200mm and features the same pro-level build, optics, weather-sealing and image stabilization. At 3.04 lbs, it's no lightweight, so be prepared. But hey, the 70-200mm f/2.8 discussed above still has a quarter of a pound over this baby. The extra reach here will be worth the loss of light (which is actually quite a bit). And with today's modern cameras going up to 6-digits on the ISO in some cases, the lack of light won't be much of an issue.

 

NIKON

Nikon 55-300mmEntry-Level
Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 55-300mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR (buy - $397)

Much like the Canon 55-250mm discussed at the top of this post, this Nikon 55-300mm is a great starter lens if you're looking to zoom in a little further for sports, wildlife, portraits or kids. It has Vibration Reduction (which is Nikon's brand of image stabilizer) and has a decent auto focus motor. Truth be told, though, this thing feels pretty chintzy in your hand. The focus rings always feel loose to me. I really think this lens should run more around $275 than $397, but again, good for starting out. It'll last you a couple years or less, then you can graduate up to a more rugged lens.

Nikon 70-300mmMid-Level
Nikon AF-S VR Zoom-NIKKOR 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6G IF-ED (buy - $587)

This is a great mid-level telephoto that works perfect for those photographers looking to shoot the occasional kid's baseball game or the local air show. Like all lenses in this mid-level price range, it won't let in a ton of light, which may become an issue when photographing in dim environments, but the price and weight are just right for the casual shooter. The build quality is slightly better than the 55-300 above, but the zoom and focus rings still feel loose to me. It also has Vibration Reduction to help combat camera shake.

Nikon 70-200mmHigh-End Option 1
Nikon AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II (buy - $2,397)

For close-range sports, portraits and scenic details, the Nikon 70-200mm is a superb choice. Its max aperture of f/2.8 will let in a boatload of light, allowing you to use faster shutter speeds and/or lower ISOs - perfect for capturing action. The build quality is leaps and bounds above the mid-level lens discussed previously. Rugged construction and weather sealing ensure this lens will go to hell and back with you, and never miss a shot. The optics, of course, are top-notch and the Vibration Reduction will be a godsend when handholding this puppy. It's pricey, but you won't need to replace it for years and years.

Nikon 80-400mm

High-End Option 2
Nikon AF VR Zoom-NIKKOR 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6D ED (buy - $1,679)

If you need more reach than the 70-200mm can give you, the Nikon 80-400mm may be your best bet. It's rugged, tough and sharp - all good things when it comes to photographing wildlife. And with double the reach over the 200mm, you won't find yourself wishing for "more lens" as often. Don't get me wrong, though, you'll still want "more lens." Wildlife always leaves you wishing you could reach further. The loss of light with the smaller max aperture may be an issue when photographing in dim environments, but with ISO performance the way it is on newer cameras, it won't be a problem most of the time. Be prepared to carry the weight of this beast, though.

Photo Books: Blurb vs. Adorama

I decided recently that it was high time I put together a physical portfolio of my work to use as a tool for approaching galleries about my fine art. I've made portfolios on the past, but it was always the traditional print in a plastic sleeve type. Although they look just fine, I was never crazy about the cheap plastic covering my beautiful photographs. So, with all the companies now offering reasonably priced custom photo books, I decided that would be a better way to go.

Adorama vs Blurb Photo Books

This post is a review of 2 different services I tried: Blurb and Adorama. There are tons more options out there for photo books, but Blurb is a big hitter and Adorama has a unique style. The review here is a realistic critique of the products themselves. I'll be looking at color accuracy and reproduction, quality of materials and general presentation. I won't be touching on all the different options these companies offer because that's all information you can find on their websites. I also won't really address each company's design software or available templates, because I created the pages and covers for my books with a simple design using Adobe Photoshop. The idea with these books was to showcase the images in a clean, simple, effective layout free of the typical clutter that comes with fancy borders and text. I'm also just not a big fan of templates because a template means someone else has a book that looks almost exactly like yours. I wanted mine to be unique.

Color Reproduction
Winner: Adorama 

Most important to me in a photo book is accurate color reproduction. After all, the book is all about showcasing your images, so if the images don't look perfect, then what's the point? And as far as color reproduction goes, Adorama is the clear winner.

Blurb and many other big photo book companies utilize a printing process called offset printing. The ins and outs of offset printing aren't necessary to know, but it is important to understand that it utilizes CMYK inks, or Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black inks. This process is also common with printers of business cards, brochures, etc.

Adorama books, on the other hand, utilize the same printing process for printing digital photos, which utilizes an RGB color space, or Red, Green and Blue.

Why does that matter?

Well, your camera records in RGB, your computer monitor displays colors with RGB and your image editing program uses an RGB color space. Basically, your pictures revolve around the RGB color space. So if you then utilize a CMYK printing process to print your images, colors won't translate perfectly.

In my experience, printing my RGB photos with a CMYK printing process, results in colors that are just a little bit off. The shift seems to be most obvious with reds, greens and blues (how about that!). This inconsistency was no different with Blurb's CMYK process. To put it simply: the colors of my pictures looked spot-on with Adorama, and just a bit off with Blurb. Since Adorama uses RGB, colors were accurate to my RGB images.

Blurb Photo Book Review

It's difficult to reproduce here, but the Blurb book's colors (above) are just slightly off. The Adorama book (below) has excellent color reproduction.

Adorama Photo Book Review

Take Adorama's RGB printing and couple it with my perfectly color-calibrated monitor, and the result is pictures that perfectly match my monitor.

Print Quality
Winner: Adorama 

Second only to color reproduction is image sharpness and general print quality. Once again, Adorama wins out by a wide margin.

With the Blurb book, all the pictures looked grainy and lacking in sharpness. Areas of the images that were supposed to be smooth tones (like clear skies) had noticeable grain and "banding" - that's where you can see repeating little lines traversing the entire image. It wasn't a high-ISO graininess because most of the shots were taken at ISO 100. Also, the graininess was gone on the Adorama book. This graininess in the Blurb book is actually from all the little droplets of ink on the paper used in the printing process. It looks like a low-resolution image blown up too much.

The Adorama, book, though, had excellent gradients and edges with very good sharpness. As it says on the Adorama website, "All pages are printed on real photographic silver-halide paper with a lustre finish, bright saturated colors and excellent flash-tones. You just can’t get all this in press print books." This is no BS. The images in my Adorama book had much better saturation than Blurb. Contrast was far superior and blacks were deeper.

Blurb Photo Book Review

Close-up of Blurb book (above) and Adorama book (below). Notice the pattern of the ink droplets in the Blurb book.

Adorama Photo Book Review

 

Blurb Photo Book Review

Close-up of Blurb book (above) and Adorama book (below). Notice the difference in detail.

Adorama Photo Book Review

Paper and Binding
Winner: Adorama 

This is where it gets a little bit apples and oranges because I ordered 8x8 and 10x10 hard covers from Adorama and an 8x10 soft cover from Blurb. But let's start with the quality of the covers.

Blurb's soft cover is high gloss and looks horrible. Excuse my bluntness, but it's true. The Blurb book arrived with a bunch of a hairline scratches all over the cover. You know those little spider-web-looking scratches you see in black cars that haven't been waxed? That's what it looks like. Also, it's a big magnet for fingerprints. You handle this thing just a little bit and it looks beat to hell.

Blurb Photo Book ReviewThe Blurb cover gets beat up and scratched pretty quickly.

The Adorama book isn't perfect in the cover department, but it's leaps and bounds above Blurb. The lustre finish is much more resistant to scratches and finger prints. It's easily wiped clean, too, if you do get some finger prints on it. My only gripe with the Adorama cover is that the binding starts to crease after it has been opened a lot. No biggie and that's just the nature of using a book, but the cracking along the edge of the cover makes it look a little beat up.

Adorama Photo Book ReviewA crease will form on the cover along the binding of the Adorama book after you've opened it a few times.

The pages on the Adorama book are thick and don't crease easily, which is nice. They feel as though you took two digital prints and glued them together back-to-back. That's about the thickness you get. Gives it a nice, professional feel.

The Blurb pages are thinner more like a traditional book. Some may prefer the flexibility of these thinner pages, but not me.

Miscellaneous
Winner: Adorama 

One huge gripe I have with Blurb is that unless you want to pay an extra fee, the Blurb logo will be stamped on the title page and last page of your book. You'll have to shell out a few extra nickels if you don't want your book to look like an advertisement for Blurb.

Blurb Photo Book Review Want these Blurb logos off your book? It'll cost ya...
Blurb Photo Book Review

A great feature on the Adorama books is the lay-flat pages. Facing pages are essentially seamless and don't have a deep crease in it for the binding. This means you can lay a book out flat without the need to hold it open, like with the Blurb book. Plus, you can do 2-page spreads with no interruption in the image. This is great for panoramas. Try doing this on a Blurb book and you'll lose the center of the image in the deep crease of the binding.

Adorama Photo Book ReviewThe lay-flat pages of Adorama's photo books requires no holding it open.

Blurb Photo Book ReviewThe traditional binding of Blurb's photo books don't lay flat.

Adorama Photo Book ReviewLay-flat pages are great for 2-page spreads.

I'm not going to comment much on price for these books because they aren't far off and the superior quality of the Adorama books kind of makes it a moot point. Adorama seems to run a lot of sales, though, which is cool. Check out Blurb's prices here and Adorama's prices here.

Customer Service
Winner: Tie 

I didn't have any customer service issues with Adorama, so I can only comment on the fact that the order came through without a hitch. It was relatively quick, they sent me a tracking number and it's pretty much as you'd expect from Adorama. I did have to ask them one technical question on the print DPI before I ordered (which is 300, by the way), and they were very quick to respond with a clear answer.

I do have to say that Blurb has excellent customer service. I actually ordered 2 identical 8x10 books from Blurb. On the first one, the print quality was horrible, which turned out to be an error on my files. But when I contacted Blurb to figure out what happened, the woman who helped me was very knowledgeable and very quick to remedy the situation. I didn't have to wait a long time for an answer, I didn't have to talk to someone overseas and she readily gave me a full credit so I could order a replacement with the proper files. It was my fault, but they still sent me a free replacement. Can't beat that kind of customer service.

Summary

The Adorama book trumped the Blurb book in nearly every aspect, but especially in the most important aspects: color reproduction and print quality. When you really boil it down, Blurb is using a printing process more suitable for large-volume posters, brochures, business cards, letterhead, etc. etc. But Adorama is creating actual photographic prints that they have ingeniously compiled into a hand-crafted free-standing book. With Adorama, you get photos. With Blurb, you get a brochure.

Adorama vs Blurb Photo Books

So head on over to Adorama and get your first book ordered! Oh, and feel free to drop my name as your referral 😉

(By the way, I'm in no way affiliated with Adorama and they did not solicit this review - this was all me)

 

OC Weekly

The OC Weekly did a review of the Irvine Fine Arts Center 30th Anniversary exhibition in which I had a piece on display. Although the article is disparaging for the most part, the majority of the piece centers around how great the photography was. That, I suppose, makes it a positive review of my work and of the other photographers involved. My piece received one line that isn't critical, but the best part is that they used my piece as the one and only picture for the article. Kinda nice having a picture of my work big, front and center in the OC Weekly (even if the color balance is all wrong - especially in the online version). You can read the online version here.