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Choosing a Wide Angle Lens

Wide angle lenses are great. They give a view of the world that just seems to be more interesting than how we see it. They are great for a lot of different subjects, but especially as a landscape photographer, my wide angle lens puts in a ton of hours.

16mm View on a Full-FrameThis is 16mm on a full-frame camera (equiv. to 10mm on a small-frame)

In this post, I will lay out my recommendations for a super wide angle zoom. But before we get into it, let me explain that term "super wide angle zoom." First of all, the term "zoom" does not mean "zoomed in" or "magnified." A zoom lens is simply a lens that isn't stuck at a single magnification. By rotating the zoom ring, you can change how magnified your subject is.

I personally prefer zoom lenses over prime lenses (lenses that don't zoom). They are much more convenient and there is no major difference in image quality these days.

Secondly, "super wide angle" is a pretty loose term. There isn't a set cut off as to what makes something "super wide angle." But I'm going to go ahead and say anything wider than 24mm on a full-frame camera or 16mm on a small-frame camera could be considered "super wide angle." Plain old "wide angle" would be about 24-35mm on a full-frame and 16-24mm on a small-frame.

So that being said, let's look at the lenses I recommend.

Canon 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5

For A Canon Small-Frame Camera
Canon EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 (buy)

This lens is the widest-angle lens Canon makes for their small-frame line of cameras (excluding fisheye). At 10mm, you'll get an angle of view around 107 degrees. That's plenty wide for those sweeping vistas. It also has a USM (Ultra Sonic Motor) Auto Focus drive. That means ultra fast and ultra quiet focusing. At about $750-$800, it's not super cheap, but it gives you a lot of bang for your buck. Every serious landscape photographer using one of the Rebel series cameras, the 60D, 50D, 40D or 7D should seriously consider adding this lens to their collection.

Canon 17-40mm f/4LFor a Canon Full-Frame Camera
Canon 17-40mm f/4L (buy)

Canon offers 2 super wide angle zooms for full-frame cameras: the 17-40mm f/4L and the 16-35mm f/2.8L. Both are professional-grade lenses, delivering the finest quality optics Canon has to offer. I personally use the 16-35mm, but I'm going to recommend the 17-40mm. First of all, the 17-40mm runs about $700-$800, whereas the 16-35mm runs about $1500. That's a big difference in price. The 16-35mm obviously has a slightly wider view, but really, that loss of 1mm with the 17-40mm is no issue at all. Plus, with the 17-40, you get an additional 5mm in the long end. Yes, the max aperture is a bit smaller at f/4 vs f/2.8, but that's no big deal either because you won't often be using the widest aperture - especially not for landscapes. And lastly, the 17-40mm has a 77mm filter thread. The 16-35mm has an 82mm filter thread. 77mm filters are a little easier to come by and the Cokin P filter system (of which I'm a strong supporter) tops out at 77mm.

Nikon 10-24mm f/3.5-4.5For a Nikon Small-Frame Camera
Nikon 10-24mm f/3.5-4.5G (buy)

For you Nikon small-frame shooters, I'd say go with the Nikon 10-24mm lens. 10mm on a Nikon small-frame will give you an obscenely wide angle of view (equivalent to 15mm on a full-frame camera). The Silent Wave Motor means fast, quiet focusing, and a filter thread diameter of 77mm means this lens is compatible with the Cokin P filter system. Runs about $875. Another option is the Nikon 12-24mm f/4G. The optics are a little better than the 10-24, but it's pricier at $1200 and you lose 2mm on the wide end of the lens. 2mm doesn't sound like much, but a 2mm increase on a 10mm lens is a 20% loss of focal length. I'd say stick with the 10-24mm.

Nikon 16-35mm f/4GFor a Nikon Full-Frame Camera
Nikon 16-35mm f/4G (buy)

A lot of people in the Nikon world make a big deal out of the Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8G. They rave about its image quality and the fact that it can zoom out ultra wide to 14mm, which gives the widest angle of view I'm aware of from a non-fisheye lens. I'm sure the image quality is great and, yes, the super wide view of 14mm is pretty cool, but this lens has one colossal flaw that few people ever address: it doesn't have front filter threads. That means you can't use any of those vital-for-landscape-photography filters like a polarizer or neutral density. Split NDs are definitely out of the question with this lens. So as far as I'm concerned, this lens is practically useless for landscape photography. Oh, and it costs $2000. Instead, I'd recommend the Nikon 16-35mm f/4G. 16mm is as wide as you'll ever need, it has excellent optics and, best of all, it has a front filter thread for 77mm filters. Plus, you'll save almost $900 over the 14-24mm.

DSLR Camera Recommendations

With the holidays upon us, you may be in the market for a DSLR camera to give as a gift (or keep for yourself), so I thought I'd write up a blog post summarizing my thoughts on what to buy according to your budget.

Let me tell you up front that although there is a mix of Canon and Nikon here, I almost always urge people to go with Canon cameras. I've taught well over 200 students on just about every single DSLR Canon and Nikon have to offer. Both manufacturers make excellent cameras and you'd surely be happy with either, but I just find Canon's controls to be quite a bit more user friendly. Also, Nikon cameras have a few quirks that I'm not too crazy about. But really, it's the photographer, not the camera, and truth be told, I find the whole Nikon vs. Canon debate about as useless as arguing over who's dad would win in a fist fight. So please, no letters, Nikon guys.

Let's start first with camera and lens kits:

Canon Rebel T3Under $600
Canon EOS Rebel T3 with EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS Lens (buy)

Canon's Rebel line of DSLR cameras is their "entry level" series aimed at novices, but that certainly doesn't mean these cameras are incapable of even the most advanced photography. They contain all the features an aspiring or intermediate photographer would need, and the Rebel T3 is a great choice at about $500 including the lens. Its 12.2 megapixel sensor gives a lot of bang for your buck and will allow for big prints. A high max ISO of 6400 and a built-in flash will make shooting in low light a breeze. The 18-55mm image stabilized lens isn't a super long range, but it's a good all-around starter lens, nonetheless.

Canon Rebel T3i$600-$1,000
Canon EOS Rebel T3i with EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS Lens (buy)

The T3i is a decent upgrade to the T3 mentioned above with a more robust 18 megapixels and a nice articulating LCD screen to help with those shots where you just can't get your eye to the viewfinder. It also has a slightly faster frame rate of 3.7 frames per second (compared to 3 fps on the T3). Add to that an image stabilized lens with a longer zoom range and you've got yourself a winning combination. Priced around $1000.

Canon EOS 60D$1,000-$1,500
Canon EOS 60D with EF-S 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 IS Lens (buy) --OR-- Nikon D7000 with 18-105mm DX VR Lens (buy)

The EOS 60D is the first upgrade out of the Rebel series cameras from Canon. Its controls are far more convenient to use than the Rebels and it has a much higher max ISO of 12800. You get the same 18 megapixels that the T3i has to offer, but a much faster frame rate of 5.3 fps, which makes the 60D way more capable when it comes to photographing action. You still get that sweet articulating LCD screen, too. The kit 18-200mm lens is a super long range, good for everything from landscapes to portraits to sports. Price is around $1300-$1400. In my opinion, the extra $300-$400 over the T3i is worth every penny.

Nikon D7000Although the Nikon D7000 has a few less megapixels at 16.2, its 39-point auto focus system blows the 60D's 9-point AF out of the water. The 3D Tracking Auto Focus feature is unbelievable, too. It's a major boon when shooting action. The D7000 also has a much more professional build and feel to it that the 60D can't match. The 18-105mm lens doesn't reach quite as far as Canon's, but the auto focus system alone on this Nikon makes the extra $100 or so over the 60D totally worth it. Priced around $1400-$1500.

Canon EOS &D$1,500-$2,500
Canon EOS 7D with EF-S 28-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM Lens (buy)

In my opinion, the EOS 7D is the best camera in Canon's lineup right now. A built-in electronic level, electronic viewfinder, an insanely advanced 19-point auto focus system, a blazing fast 8 fps frame rate, a high max ISO of 12800 and a gorgeous 18 megapixels - it's all top-tier on this camera. This thing is designed for wildlife, sports and other action, but it's just as comfortable in the hands of a landscape or portrait shooter. And don't worry about that digital crop sensor. You don't need a full-frame camera. Priced around $1600-$1700 with a versatile 28-135mm lens. Worth every penny.

Canon EOS 5D Mark II$2,500+
Canon EOS 5D Mark II with 24-105mm f/4L IS USM (buy)

The 5D Mark II is Canon's update to the industry-changing 5D. I currently use a 5D (the older one, not the Mark II) and I love it. The Mark II has a huge 21.1 megapixel full-frame sensor with an obnoxiously high max ISO of 25600. Works great in low-light and it's an excellent landscape camera. The auto focus system on the 5D, though, is out-dated and may have a hard time keeping up with action. Also, the 5D Mark II is due for an update. It's been around for awhile now and will most likely see a refresh early next year. The kit 24-105mm f/4L lens is top-notch. It's actually a lens I wish I had. Priced around $3100-$3200.

 

If you're looking at getting just a camera body, check out these recommendations:

Canon EOS 60D$600-$1,000
Canon EOS 60D (buy)

If you already have some lenses or maybe you're thinking of upgrading your Canon Rebel, the 60D is a perfect choice. See the notes above for details on what makes this camera great. Priced around $875-$975.

 

$1,000-$1,500
Nikon D7000 (buy)

An awesome camera with a superb auto focus system. The D7000 would be an excellent upgrade for you Nikon shooters. Runs about $1100-$1200.

Nikon D300s

$1,500-$2,000
Canon EOS 7D (buy) --OR-- Nikon D300s (buy)

Either of these cameras would be a great upgrade to someone who already has a budding collection of Canon or Nikon lenses. The 7D runs about $1500-$1600 and the D300s is around $1700. The D300s has a mind-blowing 51-point auto focus system and an impressive 7 fps frame rate. Much like the Canon 7D, this thing is designed for shooting action. Great build quality, too, but a max ISO of only 6400 isn't too impressive for a camera at this price range. Also, its 12.3 megapixel sensor leaves a little bit to be desired these days.

$2,000+
Canon EOS 5D Mark II (buy)

See the notes and disclaimers above regarding this camera. The body by itself runs about $2300-$2400.


10 Essentials for the Outdoor Photographer

10 Camera Bag Essentials for Outdoor Photography

In the world of hiking, camping and backpacking, there are the “10 Essentials.” It’s a universal list of 10 things you should always have with you when setting out to explore the wilderness. It includes things like a first aid kit, water, food, a map, sunscreen, matches, etc.

If you plan on heading into nature to take some pictures, you should keep the 10 essentials in mind — even if it’s just a short local trip. Things can turn bad in an instant and many people who die or nearly die in the wild were no more than a few miles from the nearest help.

But in addition to the 10 essentials, I thought I’d share with you my list of “10 Camera Bag Essentials” for the outdoor photographer. These are items gleaned from 11 years of shooting that I’ve found to be invaluable for outdoor photography. Some items will stay in your bag all the time while others you can throw in at the last minute.

So in no particular order, here they are...

10 Camera Bag Essentials for Outdoor Photography - Lens PenLens Pen

Whoever invented this thing is a genius. A lens pen is a $7 item that’ll last you years and will come in handy more times than you can count. It’s shaped like a thick pen (wouldn’t you know it) and consists of a retractable brush on one end with a soft chamois pad on the other. The brush is great for sweeping dust off your lenses and filters while the chamois pad will buff out finger prints and smudges. With a handy clip built in, this thing slides nicely into a shirt pocket so it’s always at the ready.

Lens Cloths (lots and lots of lens cloths)

Put a lens cloth in every main compartment of your bag, inside and out. It seems every time you really need a lens cloth, the colors in the sky are at their peak and you only have about 90 seconds before the moment is gone forever. You don’t want to be fumbling around trying to find that one pocket where you keep your lens cloth, so just stash one in every single compartment you can, then you’ll always find one no matter what pocket you check first. And if you have some extra cleaning cloths from your sunglasses, just throw those in — they are the same ones you buy at a camera store.

10 Camera Bag Essentials for Outdoor Photography - Multi-ToolMulti-Tool

Two words: 127 Hours. If you saw that movie, you know what I’m talking about.

...alright that’s not the real reason you should have a good multi-tool in your bag. You should invest in a decent multi-tool with pliers and screwdrivers because they are an endlessly valuable tool to have at hand when dealing with mechanical equipment like cameras and tripods. They can be used for everything from fixing a loose tripod screw to extracting a fishbone lodged in your brother’s throat (which is something mine has been used for). Also, throw any allen wrenches into your bag that may have come with your tripod.

Handkerchief

You could also pack a small towel in your bag, but I like handkerchiefs because they fold up small, they’re lightweight and they can be used for a multitude of tasks. If your camera gets drenched from a rogue wave, it’ll mop up the seawater. If you find yourself in a light rain, you can drape it over your camera for some basic shielding. Or if it’s just too damn hot out, you can soak it in a creek and wrap it around your neck for some good relief.

10 Camera Bag Essentials for Outdoor Photography - Flashlight and HeadlampFlashlight/Headlamp

I’d recommend bringing both a headlamp and a flashlight. An LED headlamp is great for keeping your hands free while you work in the dark. A flashlight with better reach than your headlamp is good for the walk/hike back to the car. I use a Petzl headlamp and an LED Mini Maglite flashlight myself, but there are tons of great brands out there.

Warm Clothes

Weather can change in an instant, especially once the sun drops, so I rarely leave for a photo shoot without a jacket in my bag — even in the summer. In fact, I leave gloves in my camera bag at all times. Gloves are the kind of thing that hardly ever come in handy, but when they do, they really come in handy...uh, no pun intended. But get some gloves with a good grippy palm so you can still handle your camera.

10 Camera Bag Essentials for Outdoor Photography - CompassCompass

Aside from the obvious “find your way out of the wilderness” implications, a compass is a great tool to have in your bag so you can better predict a sunset or sunrise. It’s easy to get turned around as to which way is west when you’re in a new location, especially in the middle of the day. A compass will aid you in figuring out where to be for when the sunset or sunrise rolls around.

Smart Phone

With thousands of comprehensive apps out there, a smart phone is a smart item (haha - I kill me...) to keep with you on a shoot. I have apps for checking the tides, the sunset and sunrise times, the moon phases, moonrise times and more. Also, you can take notes about what filters you used, what your thought process was or any little tidbits you want to remember when reviewing the pictures later. But don’t rely on your smart phone for something more important than just tide information or sunset times. Don’t count on it for a compass or GPS because your smart phone has batteries, and batteries die.

Cash

Many places you’ll want to shoot require a parking or entrance fee that must be in cash. Of course, when you show up, that’s the one time you forgot to get cash. So, you may want to just leave $20 in your camera bag at all times. Break it up into some ones and fives, too, so you can cover those $3 honor system parking fee drop boxes.

10 Camera Bag Essentials for Outdoor Photography - BatteriesBatteries

Yeah. This is a no-brainer. But it’s so important that I’m pointing it out anyway. Make sure your camera batteries have a charge before you go out and bring some extras if there’s any risk they’ll die before you can get back to a wall outlet. But make sure to bring batteries for any other powered devices you might have with you. That includes batteries for your flashlight, headlamp and GPS unit.

So there you have some good “10 Essentials” type basics to think about when packing your camera bag. I keep these in mind even if I’m just hitting a local beach that’s no more than 3 minutes from civilization.

I also tend to bring water with me no matter how long I plan on being out. You’re usually out longer than you intended and you’ll burn a few more calories than you thought you would. Nothing sucks more than leaving a good sunset early because you just couldn’t take the thirst anymore. Same goes for a snack. Throw some trail mix in your bag and never miss the good light because you were starving.