Saturday, May 31, 2008

Review of Canon Rebel XSi (XSi vs. XTi vs. 40D)

Phil Askey over at DPReview has recently posted his review of the new Canon Digital Rebel XSi. This is a very comprehensive review and includes a detailed comparison between the Rebel XTi and the Rebel XSi.

You can read the entire review here. If you want to skip to Phil's conclusions, go here.

As of 5/31/08, here are the current prices on the Rebel XTi, XSi & 40D on Amazon:
  • Canon Rebel XTi body only $599
  • Canon Rebel XTi with 18-55 kit lens $689
  • Canon Rebel XSi body only $799
  • Canon Rebel XSi with 18-55 image stabilized kit lens $849
  • Canon 40D body only $954 (price includes Canon $200 instant rebate)
  • Canon 40D with 28-135 image stabilized lens $1129 (price includes Canon $200 instant rebate)
In all cases, I'd also recommend getting the body with the kit-lens. For a more detailed post regarding lenses for your first Canon DSLR, go here.

Reasons to buy the XSi over the XTi?
  • You're buying 1 year newer technology
  • Bigger Screen
  • Much better high ISO performance (ISO 800/1600) (100% usable). This enables indoor flash-free photography (best done with a prime lens: Example 50mm f1.8 $80)
  • 12 MP vs. 10 MP
  • Faster overall operation
So, the Rebel XSi offers some very nice improvements over the Rebel XTi, but it's also $160 more. Your decision.

If you're really thinking of the XSi, you should also give serious consideration to the 40D. With the current Canon $200 instant rebate on the 40D, it's now only $140 more than the Rebel XSi. (when comparing body-only prices.) The 40D has a very similar feature-set to the Rebel XSi, but gives you:
  • A much beefier build-quality: Magnesium alloy body (vs. Rebel XSi plastic body)
  • Much beefier and more comfortable grip
  • Can shoot at 6.5 frames per second (vs. 3.5 frames per second on the XSi). This is great for shooting sports.
So, the 40D has a number of nice advantages over the XSI, but it's about $140 more (camera coby only). Your decision.

You can see current prices and purchase the Rebel XTi/Rebel XSi/40D on this page on Amazon. Please support this blog by clicking through these links when purchasing your Canon DSLR. You pay the same price as normal, but I get a tiny commission from Amazon.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Point-and-shoot vs. DSLR

This is one the questions I get asked all the time -- why don't I just buy one of these 7+ megapixel digital point and shoots? Well, this is an option, and the digital point and shoots do have the following benefits:
  • small
  • easy to carry
  • some models have very good image quality at ISO 100 (example: Canon PowerShot G9)
  • some models do have good creative controls (example: Canon PowerShot G9)
The negatives to the digital point and shoots are:
  • really slow auto-focus (since the digital point and shoot uses the same sensor for both auto-focus and image-capture, auto-focus is really slow.) This is big cause of missed shots--it drives me crazy.
  • most have mediocre to poor image quality above ISO 100. On my point-and-shoot, anything about ISO 100 is all mushy and noisy.
  • no (or limited) ability to use different lenses.
The big advantages of the DSLR over the digital point and shoot are:
  • Lighting-fast auto-focus (the DSLR has 1 sensor for image capture and a separate dedicated auto-focus sensor)
  • Most new DSLR models have excellent image quality up to ISO 800 (in some cases even ISO 1600.) This enables me to 1) get more shots using natural light vs. having to resort to using the flash 2) do a better job of shooting indoor sports.
  • Ability to use different lenses for different situations (wide angle, telephoto, macro, fish-eye, prime lenses, etc.)
  • Superior image quality due to the much larger sensor (Rebel XTi sensor size = 328 sq mm vs. PowerShot G9 sensor size of 38 sqmm). Read those numbers again. The quality difference between point-and-shoot vs. DSLR at ISO 400 to 1600 is HUGE. There are tons of photos I take where ISO 400-1600 is required to get the shot.
If you will always be photographing static subjects at ISO 100, don't need to print at sizes bigger than 14 x 11, and the integrated zoom lens that comes with the point-and-shoot meets all your needs, a high quality digital point and shoot like the Canon PowerShot G9 is an option. But, if you want to shoot moving subjects and value the flexibility of being able to shoot at higher ISO's and still get excellent image quality, you'll want a DSLR. The digital SLR also allows you to fundamentally change your camera by allow you to change lenses. In addition, the Canon Rebel XTi with a kit lens (about $675) is very similar in price to the Canon PowerShot G9 ($479.)

The DSLR has a 'full auto' mode, so you can still use your DSLR like a 'point-and-shoot' if you want.

For me, it's not an 'either/or'. I have both. But I try and use my 5D whenever I can because it gives me far superior photos to my little point-and-shoot. Then again, if I'm going on a bike ride I take the 'point-and-shoot' because 1) it's smaller and lighter 2) I wouldn't be heart-broken if I broke the $200 point and shoot.

Compare prices on the Canon XTi, XSi & 40D at Amazon here. Support this site by clicking through these links when you buy your Canon DSLR.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Amazing Canon Instant Rebates!

Canon is offering the following instant rebates from 5/18/08 to 7/19/08:

The best rebates are (great gear & excellent values) are:
  • Canon 5D Camera $300 [effective price $1900 @ Amazon]
  • Canon 40D Camera $200 [effective price $940@ Amazon]
  • Canon EF 70-200 f4 L Lens $40 [effective price $560@ Amazon]
  • Canon EF 17-40 f4 L Lens $40 [effective price $650@ Amazon]
  • Canon EF 100 f2.8 Macro $35 [effective price $455@ Amazon]
  • Canon 430EX flash $15 [effective price $245@ Amazon]
  • Canon EF-s 60 Macro $30 [effective price $370 @ Amazon]
Other Canon instant rebates (rebates on some higher-end, more expensive Canon glass):
  • Canon EF 50 f1.2 L Lens $50 [effective price $1300 @ Amazon] ($950 more than the 50 f1.4)
  • Canon EF 70-200 f4 IS L Lens $75 [effective price $1025] ($500 more than the 70-200 f4 above)
  • Canon EF 70-200 f2.8 IS L Lens $125 [effective price $1574 @ Amazon] ($1000 more than the 70-200 f4 above)
  • Canon EF 85 f1.2 L Lens $125 [effective price $1745 @ Amazon] ($1350 more than the 85 f1.8)
  • Canon EF 16-35 f2.8 L Lens $100 [effective price $1350 @ Amazon] (about $600 more than the 17-40 above)Canon 100-400 f4.5-f5.6 IS L [effective price $1360 @ Amazon]
  • Canon EF 35 f1.4 L Lens $100 [effective price $1080 @ Amazon]
  • Canon SpeedLite 580EX II $30 [effective price $390 @ Amazon]
Here's a link to the rebate flyer on the Canon website. This is an 'instant-rebate', so there is no 'claim form' or paperwork to fill-out. You get the rebate at the time of purchase. The prices listed on the Amazon website INCLUDE the rebate. This is very convenient and saves you all the time/trouble of submitting a 'claim form' -- thanks Canon!

Here's a link to all these items on with pricing. I checked-out pricing on these items on Amazon and Amazon is selling these items at the same or less than B&H, Dell, etc. Support this site buy clicking through the links on this page when you buy. Thanks!

Some additional notes:

Canon 5D @ $1900 is amazing. This camera originally came to market for $3300. Full-frame for $1900 - wow!

Canon 40D @ $940 is also an amazing deal.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Photos of Bill Clinton on 5/17/08

Bill Clinton came to Hood River, Oregon today to 'stump' for Hillary. Here a couple photos:

Canon 5D Camera, Canon 200 f2.8 lens, ISO 200, Shooting mode of Aperture Priority (Av), Exposure compensation of -1, Aperture of f2.8. Shutter speed of 1/200 (selected by the camera), white balance set to 'shade', picture style of 'faithful' (saturation +1, contrast +1), hand-held.

He was impressive. Very knowledgeable and very eloquent. I was told afterwards that this was his fifth 'pitch' of the day--it felt like his first.

Photographs from Zion National Park

Below are the some of the best photographs from Zion National Park. We spent 2 days in Zion during our southwest US road trip:

Canon 5D camera, Canon 24-85 lens, shooting mode Aperture Priority (Av), ISO 400, Exposure compensation (EC) -2/3, Aperture f6.3, focal length of 46mm, shutter-speed 1/3200 of a second, white balance of 'shade', picture style 'landscape', hand-held. [note: this really should have been shot ISO 100, Av, F11. I had been shooting the kids in the shade and these were the correct setting for that.]

Canon 5D camera, Canon 17-40 lens, shooting mode Aperture Priority (Av), ISO 200, focal length 17mm, Exposure compensation (EC) -1/3, Aperture f13, shutter-speed 1/320 of a second, white balance of 'cloudy', picture style 'landscape', hand-held.

Canon 5D camera, Canon 200mm f2.8 lens, shooting mode 'Program' (P), ISO 200, Exposure compensation (EC) -1, Aperture f5.6, shutter-speed 1/800 of a second, white balance of 'cloudy', picture style 'standard', hand-held.

Canon 5D camera, Canon 24-85 lens, shooting mode Aperture Priority (Av), ISO 400, Exposure compensation (EC) -2/3, Aperture f5.6, focal length of 24mm, shutter-speed 1/80 of a second, white balance of 'shade', picture style 'standard', hand-held.

This is another location where I could have spent a week photographing the entire park. You can't really do the park justice in 2 days. Since we were traveling with the kids, the trip focus wasn't photography.

I tried to get some unique landscape shots (like the ones above), that aren't the 'cliche' Zion landscape shots. When I found myself framing the same landscape shot I found in local galleries or my hotel room, I just stopped. To duplicate the same shot that has been taken 1000 times by other photographs wasn't interesting to me.

Sidebar: Although my Canon 24-85 lens covers a useful range for hiking with the kids it's just 'mushy' at it's wider apertures. If I shoot it at f8 - f13 it does produce good results. I may have to 'pony-up' for the 24-105 L at some point.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Photos of kids mountain biking in Moab

As part of my recent southwest US trip with the family, we spent 5 days mountain biking in Moab, UT. This was my favorite part of the road trip. We would do a 2-3 hour adult ride in the morning and then take the kids to play on the Slickrock trail in the early evening. The Slickrock trial is about 20 square miles of petrified sand dunes. Here are a couple of the best shots from these evening rides with the kids:

Canon 5D camera, Canon 200mm F2.8 lens, shooting mode of Aperture Priority (Av), ISO 200, Exposure compensation (EC) -1/3, Aperture of F4, shutter-speed of 1/5000 (selected by the camera), picture-style of 'standard', white-balance of 'cloudy', hand-held.

Canon 5D camera, Canon 200mm F2.8 lens, shooting mode of program (P) [this was an accident, the control dial moved from Av to P when I pulled the camera from my bag], ISO 200, Exposure compensation (EC) -0, Aperture of F10 (selected by the camera), shutter-speed of 1/320 (selected by the camera), picture-style of 'standard', white-balance of 'cloudy', hand-held.

Canon 5D camera, Canon 200mm F2.8 lens, shooting mode of Aperture Priority (Av), ISO 200, Exposure compensation (EC) -0, Aperture of F3.5, shutter-speed of 1/3200 (selected by the camera), picture-style of 'standard', white-balance of 'cloudy', hand-held.

Canon 5D camera, Canon 200mm F2.8 lens, shooting mode of Aperture Priority (Av), ISO 200, Exposure compensation (EC) -1/3, Aperture of F3.5, shutter-speed of 1/3200 (selected by the camera), picture-style of 'standard', white-balance of 'cloudy', hand-held.

The mountains in the background are the La Sal's. I did purposely bring the kids on this ride right before sunset because I knew this would have the best light. I also positioned myself so I would get the La Sal mountains in as many background.

I borrowed a friends Canon 70-300 f3.5-f5.6 IS lens specifically for shooting mountain biking on this trip. I used this lens for 1 day and then put it away. It produced 'decent' images, but was not in the same league as my Canon 200 f.28 prime. The 200 prime (not zoom) worked great and if my subject got 'to close', I would switch to shooting in portrait mode, if he still got closer I would go for a 'head and shoulders' shot. As always, I'm thrilled with the results from the 200 prime. Compared with the 70-300 zoom, the 200 prime delivered shallower depth of field, better colors, better contrast and better sharpness. The 70-300 still produced some pretty good results, but the photos from the 200 prime we superior.

I shot at f3.5 and f4.0 instead of f2.8 because I wanted a little more depth of field to keep the moving subject in the plane of focus. I was worried that at f2.8 I might get too many photos where the subject outside the plane of focus.

The 'ingredients' that made these photos work:
  • attractive subjects
  • great scene (the La Sal's & slickrock)
  • great pre-sunset light
  • subject isolation and blurry background (from 200mm lens @ f3.5-f4.0 apertures)
  • white balance set to 'cloudy' 'warms-up' the images
  • picture style of 'standard' makes the photos 'pop' (this picture style increases contrast and saturation)
  • Using a telephoto lens to 'pull-in' the background (the La Sal's)
I carried my 5D + 200 f2.8 in my DaKine Drafter backpack. This is a mountain biking specific backpack for carrying a water bladder, tools & windbreaker. The 5D + 200 fit fine in the backpack, even with a 3/4 full water-bladder. My big LowePro camera backpack was too big and heavy for carrying on long mountain bike rides. Yes, I was a little nervous about damaging the camera from a crash and yes, it was a lot of weight to lug around -- but I'd rather take a little risk and carry some extra weight to get spectacular photos, than concede to the 'point and shoot' digital camera and just get 'snapshots'. I do concede to using the digital point-and-shoot for skiing/snowboarding because I find the risk from water damage to my 5D unacceptable.

I'll do a separate post with some photos from the adult rides.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Why I shoot in RAW

There is the constant debate of shooting in JPEG format vs. shooting in RAW format. I wanted to share my personal preference on this topic with the group.

I should probably start with "What is the difference between RAW and JPEG?"

With JPEG, the camera is producing a 'finished' photograph based on all the parameters set on the camera at the time the shutter release was pressed. With RAW, you are doing the following:
  • Saving the raw data collected by the cameras imaging sensor
  • Saving the parameters that were used at the time of capture, including Picture Style, white-balance, saturation, contrast, Exposure compensation, etc.
  • You can then 'tweak' all these parameters on a computer before you produce a 'finished' JPEG or TIFF file.

I shoot in RAW because:

  • I can change Picture Style, white balance, exposure compensation, contrast, sharpness and noise reduction all after the photo has been taken. These are very easily changed when processing the RAW file. When shooting JPEG I find it more difficult to 'mimic' various white-balance and picture-styles using Photoshop (or something similar.) Although you can't change shutter-speed or aperture in the RAW converter, you can 'tweak' most of the significant parameters related to the photo in your RAW converter. Very handy in my opinion.
  • Sometimes, using a new technique or new RAW tools I can do a substantially better job processing a RAW file now, then at the date I capture the image (perhaps years ago). I find my post-processing skills improve significantly over the years (I cringe when I look at some of my early post-processing -- why did I feel the need to over-sharpen and over-saturate everything?). In addition, RAW processing tools improve over the years. I suspect that in the future I will be able to do a superior job processing the RAW files I capture today.

There are additional reasons other folks choose to shoot in RAW, but these are the reasons I shoot in RAW.

There are a bunch of different RAW conversion tools, including: Adobe Photoshop, ACR, BreezeBrowser, Canon Digital Photo Professional (DPP), Adobe Light Room, Apple Aperture, Capture One, etc.

I use Canon
Digital Photo Professional (DPP) because:
  • You can change picture style during RAW conversion (not all RAW tools allow this. 'Picture Style' is a very Canon specific parameter.)
  • It does a good job
  • It's free with most (if not all) Canon DSLR's

I concede that I have not tried all the different RAW converters. I found one I like (which is free) and I have stuck with it.

Most RAW converters also allow you to crop the image.

Once I process an image from RAW to JPEG, I don't typically do any additional modifications in Photoshop (a 'fine art' photograph being the exception.)

Converting files from RAW to JPEG one at a time is a slow process. I typically 'tweak' a bunch of photos from a 'shoot' in DPP and then 'batch covert' them from RAW to JPEG. In most RAW converters, you can also easily apply the same 'settings' to many photographs easily (example: exposure compensation of -1/3, Picture Style = 'standard', white balance = 'shade'.) The batch conversion of RAW to JPEG takes about 15 seconds per photo (depending on the speed of your computer.) While DPP is batch processing files, I can browse the web, grab a snack, etc.

While there are benefits to shooting RAW, there are also some negatives to shooting RAW, including:

  • larger file size than JPEG (approx. 10 MB vs. approx. 3 MB)
  • requires larger memory cards
  • requires larger hard drive
  • requires larger backup medium
  • RAW photos must be 'processed'. Depending on your work-flow, this may increase your post-processing time per photo.

Here are the different file formats that modern Canon DSLR support:

  • RAW
  • JPEG
  • RAW + JPEG (the camera saves the file in both RAW and JPEG)

I've shared why I shoot in RAW, but others may find that shooting in JPEG or RAW+JPEG works better for them. I concede there are many different ways to manage a digital photo work-flow, mine is one of many acceptable work-flows (with it's own pros & cons.)

If you have any questions, please post them.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Useful Canon DSLR photography tips

I find some of my posts are 'more useful' than others. Below are the posts I feel have been the most useful so far (listed in order of value):

4 things to take your photography to the next level
Getting that 'blurry-background'
Conveying motion
The landscape photo with everything sharp
My fix for garish-color, high-ISO indoor shots
Creating cool light trails
Good portrait & good sunset
It's all about the light
Making great photos in a bar
Warm-up your photos with correct white balance
Rock star
$3 for 18"x12" archival photographic prints
Drop-deal gorgeous photo books
First Canon DSLR: What lenses to by?

If you find this blog valuable:

1) Please
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2) Send an email to your friends with Canon DSLRs sharing this blog with them... I've even written the email for you:


I found this great little blog about 'making great photos with your Canon DSLR'. The blog is written for the beginner/intermediate photographer looking to control the camera to create the images you want. It's a useful little blog. You can check it out here:

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Photos from Slot Canyons

The following photos are from a couple slot canyons in Grand Staircase National Monument. These 2 canyons are called 'peek-a-book' and 'spooky'. You have to drive about 30 miles down a dirt road to get to the trailhead and then hike in about a mile. It was a great photo opportunity and one of the kids favorite activities from our 2 week southwest US road-trip.

Canon 5D Camera, Canon 17-40 f4 lens, focal length 17mm, ISO 800, Shooting mode 'program' (P), Exposure compensation of +1/3, f5 aperture, 1/50 of a second shutter speed, white balance set to 'shade', picture style set to 'standard', hand-held.

Canon 5D camera, Canon 200 f2.8 lens, Shooting mode of aperture priority (Av), ISO 800, f2.8 aperture (to gather as much light as possible & isolate the subject), shutter-speed of 1/160 of a second (selected by the camera), Exposure compensation -1 (to have the picture reflect the dark early evening lighting], picture style set to 'standard'.

Canon 5D camera, Canon 17-40 f4 lens, focal length 17mm, ISO 800, shooting mode of 'program', exposure compensation (EC) -1/2, aperture f4, shutter-speed 1/15 of a second, picture style set to 'standard', white balance set to 'shade', hand-held.

Canon 5D camera, Canon 17-40 f4 lens, ISO 400, shooting mode of 'program', exposure compensation (EC) -1, aperture f4, shutter-speed 1/25 of a second, picture style set to 'standard', white balance set to 'shade', hand-held.

Canon 5D camera, Canon 17-40 f4 lens, focal length 17mm, ISO 800, shooting mode of 'program', exposure compensation (EC) -1, aperture f18, shutter-speed 1/800 of a second, picture style set to 'standard', white balance set to 'cloudy', hand-held.

Canon 5D camera, Canon 17-40 f4 lens, focal length 17mm, ISO 250, shooting mode of 'program', exposure compensation (EC) -1, aperture f8, shutter-speed 1/1250 of a second, picture style set to 'standard', white balance set to 'cloudy', hand-held.

The kids were running and scrambling very fast through the slot canyons and I was running as fast as I could to keep up.

Here are some of the techniques I used to make these photos work:

Because the slot canyons were so narrow and I would also be needing to use my hands to climb in sections, so I just brought the camera with my 17-40 wide-angle lens mounted. No tripod, no camera bag (as it was, I had to take make Camelback off in sections to squeeze through a couple very narrow sections.)

If the kids hat not been with me, I would have brought the tripod. The tripod would have allowed me to shoot at ISO 100 and f13 apertures, delivering better quality enlargements and kept 'everything sharp.' But, this was more of a 'family hike' than a photo shoot.

I used an ultra-wide angle lens so I could capture as much of the slot canyon as possible (Canon 17-40 f4 lens.) If I had been shooting a crop-body, I would have used the Canon 10-22 lens.

Since the slots canyon were so dark, and I was shooting without a tripod, I set ISO to 800 so I would get fast enough shutter-speeds. I dialed ISO down to 400 if I came to a sunny section. I was switching between ISO 800/400 a lot.

I shot in 'program' mode so the camera would choose the best combination of both aperture & shutter-speed (I wanted both the aperture & shutter-speed to 'ramp-up' when more light was available.)

I used exposure compensation to get the exposure correct. In most cases the meter was getting the exposure 'wrong', so I was using +/- exposure compensation to get exposure right.

I also shot in RAW, so I could have additional exposure compensation latitude in post-processing.

Compared to some of the other parks we visited, Grand Staircase was more remote and undeveloped, which I liked. We stayed at the Slot Canyons Inn (Bed and Breakfast), which was very nice.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Light Graffitti with the kids

If you haven't used your Canon DSLR for 'light grafitti', this can be a lot of fun.

Here are some examples. I explain 'how' at the end of this post.

Canon 5D camera, Canon 50mm f1.4 lens, shooting mode of 'manual', ISO 200, shutter-speed of 15 seconds, aperture of f4, external flash 'on', white balance set to 'flash', picture-style set to 'standard', tripod.

Canon 5D camera, Canon 50mm f1.4 lens, shooting mode of 'manual', ISO 200, shutter-speed of 15 seconds, aperture of f4, external flash, white balance set to 'flash', picture-style set to 'standard', tripod.

Canon 5D camera, Canon 50mm f1.4 lens, shooting mode of 'manual', ISO 200, shutter-speed of 15 seconds, aperture of f4, external flash, white balance set to 'flash', picture-style set to 'standard', tripod. A dark background is desirable.

You're basically leaving the shutter open for a long time while you use a light source to 'paint' the graffitti. The flash illuminates the subject. A tripod keeps the camera steady while you're doing the light graffitti. I used 'manual' mode so I could select both the shutter-speed and aperture. I tried a couple combinations (of shutter-speed and aperture) until I got it 'just right'.

I used the screen of my blackberry smart phone to 'paint' the grafitti. A colored light source might work even better.