Prime Time! Why I carry the equipment I carry.

In my last post, How did I get in this dilemma?, I mentioned my trip to Europe with my wife. I brought a Sony Nex-5 with a 16mm f/2.8 lens and that was it. Eight days in Europe; Lisbon, Barcelona, Florence, Rome, Naples, and Palma with one wide prime lens. I learned and became very comfortable with a very valuable concept.

I don’t need a zoom lens.

Shortly after the Europe trip, I got rid of my zoom lenses. I had the kit lens which came with my A390, the standard 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6, an old Minolta Beercan lens 70-210mm f/4, and a lens I picked up at a garage sale a Quantaray (Sigma) 75-300mm f/4.5-6.3. All of them sold. I was down to three inexpensive primes on my A390, the 30mm f/2.8 Macro, the 35mm f/1.8 and the 50mm f/1.8. And on my Nex-5 I had the 16mm f/2.8.

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This photo was taken in Andratx in Mallorca. (Sony Nex-5, 16mm f/2.8 lens)

I learned if I wanted to get closer, I could crop or walk closer. If I needed something wider, I could stitch or walk further away. When the A77 came out I sold the Nex-5 and the 16mm lens, the A390 and the three primes. The money I raised covered the A77 and an 85mm f/1.4 lens. I had been juggling used and cheap lenses for ten months when I A77 + 85mm combo. For the next ten months, 90% of my shots have been with this combination. Since then I acquired a 600mm mirror lens really cheap which I use to shoot the moon, and I have experimented with other lenses, the latest being a 24mm f/2 lens. The good thing about camera lenses is they don’t depreciate much if you take care of them. I took an accumulative $28 loss on the 30mm f/2.8, 35mm f/1.8, and 50mm f/1.8. I made money on the Minolta Beercan and the Quantaray Zoom at the end of the day. Camera equipment in general depreciates well. I sold the A390 body and kit lens at a $75 loss and the Nex-5 and 16mm lens at a $50 loss.

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Another shot of the moon. (Sony A77, Sigma 600mm f/8 mirror lens)

I travel a lot. In a one year span from mid-January 2011 to mid-January 2012 I visited 20 of the United States, Puerto Rico, Canada, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Thailand, and Malaysia. I really have to carefully choose the equipment in my bag. If I acquire a new lens, if I want to keep it in my bag I need to sell or shelf another to make room.

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This monkey really liked coconut. I took this in Malaysia. (Sony A77, 85mm f/1.4 lens)

Right now, in my bag I have the Sony Alpha A77 Digital SLT with an 85mm f/1.4 lens, a B+W XSPro UV filter, a 24mm f/2 lens, a Minolta 3600 HS flash, a SanDisk 32GB ExtremePro SDHC, battery charger, extra battery, and a Giotto’s rocket blower. I also carry various other little supplies including LCD wipes, sensor swabs, cotton swabs, white balance cards, and an extra 16GB SanDisk 16GB ExtremePro SDHC in a small tin. This is to supply my habit. I also have to carry a laptop, power supply, cell phone charger, cell phone, and anything else I am bringing with me. So minimizing the load I am carrying is crucial.

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(Sony A77, 85mm f/1.4 lens)

Why do I carry the equipment I carry? I wanted the Sony Alpha A77 for the sheer speed. It is capable of shooting 12 frames per second in a single burst of 24.3 Megapixel RAW+JPEG files at 30-35 MB per shot. It does continuous bursts of 6-8 shots without a dedicated mode. The A77 had the lens versatility I had in the A390 and some of the key features which attracted me to the Nex-5. It is not perfect by any stretch of the imagination. Once you get to the 12th or 13th shot in the large burst, the buffer fills up and requires a second or two to clear. This is why it is essential to have the fastest SDHC on the market with the SanDisk ExtremePro at 95 mb/s. There is one other camera on the non-Sony DSLR market capable of the speed the A77 has and it costs 4-5 times more. The A77 also does full HD 1080 60p video with autofocus. The only non-Sony DSLR better at video costs nearly ten times as much.

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I was in the third deck when I took this game-winning overtime goal. (Sony A77, 85mm f/1.4 lens)

I can shoot my kids in bursts and chances are, one or two will turn out how I want.

 

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Hopefully there aren’t bills in there. (Sony A77, 85mm f/1.4 lens)

I decided on the 85mm lens as it was better quality-wise than the cheaper 50mm f/1.8 I had, and the 50mm f/1.4 on the market. I was a bit uneasy about 85mm on an APS-C body as it was much longer than I was used to in the 50mm lens. My goals in acquiring the 85mm lens were simple; it needed to be bright, it needed to fit on a full-frame body if I ever upgraded, and it needed to review well.

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My favorite thing to do is shoot random flowers and plants, especially exotic locations, like this in Fajardo, Puerto Rico (Sony A77, 85mm f/1.4 lens)

The 85mm lens I acquired is the best lens I have ever shot with. It does precisely what I wanted, without me really knowing yet what I wanted. It looks good wide open. It is sharp enough to crop details out from shots where I would have thought I needed something longer. The 24.3 MP APS-C sensor on the A77 has to have a good lens to account for the pixel density. The 85mm f/1.4 ZA the bill. It’s not without fault. It uses a screw-driven autofocus, which is louder and a tad slower than the Smooth Automatic Motor or Super Sonic Wave Motor lenses. Wide open at f/1.4 in backlit situations it allows some Chromatic Aberration to creep in to the shot. The sharpness of the lens makes up for the shortfall.

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My little girl is my most cooperative subject. She dresses up for me. (Sony A77, 85mm f/1.4 lens)

With the A77 + 85mm combo, I have shot tens of thousands of frames. I have captured all three of my kids looking and smiling. I have gotten hockey pucks hitting posts and crossing goal lines at the exact moment they hit or crossed more than once each at different games in different countries. I shot a monkey 5 feet away and the shot has made its way into a coffee table book being sold for charity. And I finally got shots of my wife. 

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My beautiful wife at El Morro. (Sony A77, 85mm f/1.4 lens)

My latest lens excursion is the 24mm f/2. It works out to be a 36mm equivalent on the APS-C sensor, so it is close to the classic 35mm focal length. The jury is still out. I am still getting a feel for it. It seems like a good lens, but I always find myself getting back to the 85mm lens. Definitely a habit I need to break.

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The colors captured by the new 24mm f/2 lens are good, that’s for sure. (Sony A77, 24mm f/2 lens)

So what about software? That is a story for my next post.

How did I get in this dilemma?

I’ve always enjoyed photography, at least as long as I can remember being able to use a camera. My first experiences with photography, except for those where my parents didn’t let me play with their film camera with film in it, were with the little cardboard cameras you could buy at drug stores and return the entire camera when you were finished to get developed. My first camera which was actually mine was actually a digital camera. A 1.2 Megapixel Sony Cybershot DSC-S30 I got while I was in college as a gift.

I was an amateur webpage developer in college, I built pages designed to load quickly on 56K modem connections. So the Cybershot was stuck in 640×480 mode. I estimate I took over a hundred thousand shots with the camera. It witnessed a number of events in college, it produced photos which became fraternity rush posters, and many found their way on to various web sites. It was present at my job interviews, college graduation, my wedding, as well as my first and second child’s birth. In 2004 I took my wife and two young children to Colorado, where we visited Cripple Creek, an old mining town now home to a number of casinos. In getting my daughter in her stroller, the Cybershot fell out of the bag it was in and hit the concrete. Goodbye first camera.

Afterward, it seemed like every other holiday my wife or I received a new camera. We had Canons, Nikons, random off-brand digitals, even a Hewlett-Packard. Nothing took pictures like the Sony Cybershot. Hindsight being 20-20, I could have gone to eBay and found the same Cybershot model when the first one was broken. It probably would have saved me a fortune. Of course, I wouldn’t be writing this, either, had I gone down the path I did.

My wife Leilani asked for “a real camera” in 2006 or 2007 where she wanted it to be hers (and not used by anyone other than her). I was a bit of a lush when it comes to holiday spending, but usually in volume of gifts and not in quality. The first attempt I got her a 35mm film Canon point and shoot. She used it to shoot about a half dozen rolls of film. The next year I spent about $250 on a Canon Powershot. It never really did what she wanted. It took me a couple years to clue in. My wife also wanted a hobby that was all hers, and didn’t want me to pursue the same one. Unfair? Maybe. I understand now where she came from then, though I selfishly didn’t get understand it or like it at the time. Probably still don’t like it to a certain degree, but I understand regardless. I will say, although I may have acted selfishly, I don’t regret it. I regret being deceptive, which I will explain a bit in detail later, but I don’t regret taking on the hobby. 

In December 2010 I bit the bullet and bought my wife a Canon Rebel XS. I was absolutely thrilled with the results it produced. As an always-learning husband I knew better than to buy myself a camera alongside buying hers. My wife has never been okay with me buying her a gift and me buying the same one for myself. I waited about three weeks, maybe four before I bought myself a DSLR. I hid it from my wife for as long as I had it.

It was January 2011. My adopted brother Ernie was headed to Afghanistan and I used some of the airline miles I had accrued from travelling for work to surprise him at my going away party. I wanted to take my wife’s new camera but I was too scared to ask. So I went to Best Buy and bought the Sony Alpha A390 before going to the airport. It met the criteria I was looking for. It was the least expensive Sony they had. Little did I know, the money I spent that day would end up becoming something which would consume a good amount of my free time.

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One of the first photographs from my A390 in Colorado

How did I hide a DSLR from my wife? I travelled a ton that year. After visiting Ernie in Colorado, I went to 20 different United States, Sweden and Denmark. Photography as a hobby became what I did in my downtime on the road. The second or third week I had the DSLR I was in Oklahoma City and it snowed. My customer’s site was snowed out and the city was effectively shut down. I spent the day taking pictures of water coming out of the hotel water faucet. When I went somewhere new I would try to take pictures of skylines, or water, or trees – really anything different. I was challenged, I loved the results but I was never fully satisfied, either. It was the pursuit of the perfect shot. I didn’t know how to use my DSLR at first. I look back and the shots had horrific white balance, the ISO was too high or something else was wrong. I was still learning but the results were still better than I could get on my cell phone or my point and shoot camera.

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A photo of water I took snowed-in at Oklahoma City.
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Photographed in Kosta, Sweden.

My next challenge came in June 2011, just 5 months later. My wife and I were celebrating our 10th wedding anniversary (SIDENOTE: Yes, we had been married 10 years and I hadn’t learned to not hide stuff from my wife. We’re past 11 and I am getting better, I promise. I’m still learning!) and we were going on a cruise in Europe. I certainly could not go on a cruise or Europe without my camera! My wife would have hers, but I needed to get one that was different and did different things hers did so she wouldn’t think I was doing the same things. So I used some of the reward points I had accrued to purchase a Sony Nex-5 and I took it to Europe. My wife was not happy about me having a camera, certainly not one better than the one she had. I explained to her it did different things, but wasn’t better. I had a 16mm lens, she had two zoom lenses – an 18-55mm lens and a 75-300mm. Big difference. She could zoom in, while I was capturing high resolution wide angle shots. It allowed me to take pictures in Europe and it was easier to ask forgiveness than it was to ask permission.

After going to Europe, I had a couple interesting work assignments, including another trip to Denmark and Sweden. And I had two really good camera bodies in the A390 and the Nex-5. The A390 was good for framing shots, and I had acquired a couple of cheap prime lenses and a couple of old Minolta zoom lenses off of eBay. The Nex-5 was portable and had a couple of really neat features, it filmed HD movies and did stitch panoramas. In September 2011, Sony announced the A77. It did everything the A390 did and had the same features the Nex-5 had I liked. So I justified the purchase of the A77 by selling the A390 and the Nex-5. I received the A77 in November and didn’t look back. My wife didn’t know fully about it until earlier this year.

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This is one of my favorite non-human or animal subjects, a Japanese maple.

Let me get this perfectly straight. I’m not proud of the fact I hid these things from my wife. It was only a month or two ago I really got from her why she would be/was angry at me for picking up photography as a hobby. As much as I disagree and don’t like it, I understand where she’s coming from. I hope one day she’ll have the hobby alongside me, rather than parallel to me. As mad as she probably still is at me, I hope eventually she will see past it as I think she’s naturally better than I am and I know I could learn from her. I get where she’s coming from. I am a highly technical person and I pick up the complexities of camera quickly, which I imagine is intimidating. I can fly in the editing software. She wants to figure it out for herself, at her own pace, and certainly not have me show her. I also have the benefit of time. When I am on the road, I have downtime. Her job gets harder when I am on the road. When the kids are in school, she’s working, doing volunteer work, or cleaning the house. When the kids are home, she’s keeping them out of trouble, helping with homework, and getting them to do their chores. She likes to unwind at night. I like to take pictures of the moon.

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The moon.

As an artist, the most frustrating thing about my wife not knowing about my passion for photography was she was my most desired subject. My wife is beautiful. I really like photographing her. My second favorite subject, or the three little ones tied for second favorite had to fill the void for a very long time.

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My amazing wife, Leilani.

Photography fulfills a couple of things I need. First and foremost, it keeps me busy and gives me something to do. Secondly, I am a technical person, I work with computers for a living and I have a Mathematics degree. The technical details when it comes to focal length, aperture, shutter speed, ISO, color temperature and aesthetic details like the rule of thirds scratch a strange itch I have to use qualitative data to solve a quantitative problem. I’m never fully satisfied with any of my pictures and I am always looking for something better. Third, I am a technology junkie. No explanation needed. Finally, I find post-processing therapeutic. So much so, I rarely watch television when I am on the road. I spend a lot of my time fixing old photographs when I am not taking new ones.

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My wife and oldest son.

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My three kids!

I still have a ton to learn, and I feel like my approach is one many others strive to take. I don’t know if I can provide any value above and beyond the plethora of sites out there, but if I can strike up one conversation or give someone one inspiration to try something different, or maybe if there is a way I can explain something so someone can understand it differently, my time here will not be ill spent.

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Seattle, Washington USA

My next post, I will discuss the equipment I carry and the reason and rationale for carrying it. Until then, thank you for reading this far, and have a great day!

–Shawn

Introduction

Hello! My name is Shawn and I am a married father of three living in a town just outside of Charlotte, North Carolina. I am a consultant who travels frequently and recently I have taken “serious photography” as my primary hobby. The intent of this site is to show my approach, lessons learned, and maybe a horror story or two along the way.

I am not a professional photographer. I am a professional who likes to photograph. Photography as a hobby has revitalized my downtime. I travelled for my company for six years before I purchased my first “serious” camera. I used to go to the customer site, do my work, go back to the same hotel room as last time (regardless of location or hotel brand), and watch the same eight channels. Now I look for things to shoot.

More about me later…