Because I have so much free time.

Can you believe this made it to the tree?I must be the King of Beginning Projects. I have decided to pick up a new hobby over the last few weeks. I was trying to take a picture of our Christmas tree (for posterity – no doubt the Smithsonian will be calling within a week or two) three or four days before Christmas, which led me to fooling about with Spouse’s point and shoot digital camera. It’s a relatively fancy point and shoot, so far as those things go, and it has a “manual” mode where you can set the aperture and exposure time. I had the camera on a tripod to make a timed exposure of the tree using only natural light. A couple of my attempts turned out to be not half bad, which was just enough encouragement to convince me that I should get myself a digital SLR and learn how to take a decent picture.

The purchase was not entirely impulsive; Spouse and I have been debating whether to take the plunge for several months. I had even (somewhat unusually for me) done some research into what specific camera I would purchase. The winner: a Canon Digital Rebel XTi – otherwise known as an EOS 40D in some countries. Much of the twenty-four hours has been consumed by my attempts to learn how to operate the gizmo. Aside from the picture above, here are some of the results of that learning process:

  • got mocked by Spouse for taking a still life – very artistic, black and white you understand – of her slipper;
  • a very puzzled cat and a dog with mild flash-blindness; and
  • three and a half hours of waiting in a freezing parking lot, after I managed to deposit the car keys in the trunk of the (locked) car while hiding my precious new toy during a quick trip to Chapters to obtain some “how-to” literature on digital photography.
  • On this last item, I first called for assistance from the pirates you know as “tow-truck drivers” at 1:10 p.m. I was told by the pleasant and helpful dispatch operator that someone would arrive to help us in “about 45 minutes.” An hour passed, approximately fifty minutes of which I had spent standing next to my stranded vehicle in the windswept and icy parking lot, enduring the quizzical and sometimes derisive looks of my fellow citizens as well as the astonishingly brisk Canadian cold. I called the towing company and spoke to the very same cheery dispatcher. She assured me that the driver would be along in “about fifteen minutes.” My testicles were beginning to feel like they were just about ready to ice down a couple of margaritas, so I popped inside a nearby Starbucks to enjoy 16 oz. of tea for the low, low price of about four dollars. I knocked back the four dollar tea in about six minutes and headed back out to stand sentry over my car. Another hour passed. Twice I called the dispatch number; by this time, they were clever enough to be ducking my calls and no human would pick up the phone. At 4:00, a full two hours and fifty minutes after my initial contact, the tow truck arrived.

    I am still trying to warm up and calm down.

    By junior

    Guitar owner and silly person.


    1. As the owner of a Nikon D70, I am sure that you will enjoy your Canon very much. I applaud you in trying to learn how to take a proper picture with your SLR. Since purchasing mine I have yet to actually use the manual setting to any degree of success. I still, quite regularly, rely on the Auto mode and various preset modes to take my pictures. It’s funny, way back when, when I was using my old school Nikon N2000 I was really good at taking shots in manual mode and was quite positive that they were going to turn out fine even though I had to wait for their eventual development and processing at the local camera shot. But now that I have immediate results to my photographs I see that the camera shop must have been doing some VERY serious VooDoo in order to make my over/under exposed shots look right. Keep up with the learning and tell me what you’ve learned.
      As far as advice, all I can suggest is that a very fast lens is important to have. It allows you to take shots in lower, more natural light without the need for a tripod or flash. Most zoom lenses that come with the camera in a package aren’t very fast and are great utility lenses. Set focal length lenses tend to be faster and produce better shots. You just have to be prepared to buy a few different lenses and carry around the ones that you think that you will need for a particular photographic outing. I suggest using the zoom lens for a while and then examining the focal lengths used for the majority of pictures that you take. If you seem to be taking most of them at 50mm then your choice for a new lens is pretty obvious.
      Anyway, my $0.02. Good luck and get a good digital photo organizing system. Also start playing with shooting RAW format when you get bored of big JPEGS and good at taking pictures.

    2. @Taiwan Photo Dept.: Thanks for the good wishes – don’t worry, this isn’t going to reduce the demand for quality images from our Far East friends…

      @ Doug: Fast lens? Qu’est-ce que c’est qu’un “fast lens”? I got an (I think 18-50 mm) Sigma lens, but I can’t remember the other specs for it – instead of the lens that Canon supplies in their kits. All the stuff I read online suggested that the stock lens was relatively weak quality, so I figured the money would be better spent towards something halfway decent.

      Do tell…! By the way, no comment on the B.A.S.S. ornament making it to the tree?

    3. Hey Junior —

      What Doug’s talking about are prime lenses, one focal length, no zoom. Here I hear (I’m a Nikon user exploring the 4/3rds system, so of no particular use to anyone, in other words) that the Canon 50mm f/1.8 is a pretty good (and cheap) lens. That f/ number (f-stop) is an indication of the amount of light that the lens transmits, and is best regarded as a diameter (of the maximum lens opening, or aperture). Thus a 50mm f/1 (Canon makes one, and if you have to ask, no, you can’t) would have, theoretically, a 50mm maximum diameter aperture (similarly, a 28mm f/1 would have a 28mm max dia. aperture).

      When they say “fast lens”, that means that the f-stop is a low number. A f/1.4 lens is one stop slower than a f/1 lens; a f/2 lens is one stop slower than a f/1.4; and so on and so forth according to a squared series (remember that light is an areal function, so it scales by the square of the diameter). One stop faster implies that if the meter says to shoot at 1/50th second and f/2, you could instead have an equivalent exposure at 1/100th and f/1.4. Hence the term “fast” — you can use shorter shutter speeds, hopefully reducing camera shake and blur.

      “Fast” lenses are all relative to focal length. Generally, because you need glass elements at least as big as the maximum aperture, something like a 300mm f/5.6 lens isn’t going to run you nearly as much as, say, a 1200mm f/5.6 lens (Canon makes one of these too — custom order only — but assuming you have a spare $100K, I believe B&H have a used one for sale) simply because there’s a lot less glass in the 300mm lens. All things equal, the faster lens will be more expensive (fast lenses usually also require more glass anyway to correct for the speed — compare the Canon 70-200 f/2.8 with the 70-200 f/4). But really, it’s the exotic designs that make up the price of the lens — look at the very long or very short lenses, and it’s not the speed that matters as much as the focal lengths (coupled with the naturally limited market that bears the costs of developing such lenses — Nikon sells millions of 50mm lenses, so they’re cheap; they sold probably less than 10,000 13mm lenses, and they’re incredibly expensive).

      Um, welcome to the addiction, by the way. Can you convince theVet how much I need that Zuiko Digital 7-14mm f/4? (yeah, me neither).

    4. ^What he said.^
      And yes, I did make a comment regarding the B.A.S.S. ornament, only aloud and not tipity-typity like I had originally planned.
      That’s a nice fish.

    5. Aggggghhhhh!!!! Doug….. B.A.S.S. ornament…… Agggghhhhhh………. Our Christmas tree is now sporting a remarkably unmatched bass fishing/ Toronto Maple Leafs/ Pink Panther (ala Inspector Clousea) ornament collection. Thanks so much for adding to it!!! Thank God there is a “back” side to the tree — We can never, ever have a Christmas tree anywhere other than the corner of our living room!!!

    Comments are closed.