Sunday, April 29, 2007

Hardware Inventory

[This is a work in progress, and probably will be a work in progress for a while. If you have specific questions about an item, leave a comment and I'll tell you what I can and/or update the page.]

I've decided to put up a list of everything hardware-related I've bought for photography, similar to what I tried back in this post. The hope is that this information will be useful to other financially-impaired photographers with similar equipment needs. Furthermore, it should really highly how many accessories are really needed for photography, back when I started, I had no idea how many little things I'd need as time went on. A major hidden cost, if you ask me...

For each item, I list where I got it (if I remember), the primary good and bad things about it, and the details of how it left my possession if I don't have it anymore. Because I like color, I've color coded the entries: blue is purchase/sale related, green is something good about the item, and red is something bad about the item. My general comments are in black.

I also include a wish list because, well, photographers always want more gear, even if they don't need it.

Current Inventory:

Canon Digital Rebel XT (350D) w/o Kit Lens

  • 12/06 Purchased from B&H Photo, used, $400 + $10 S/H.
  • Camera-wise, I'm really happy with it. A solid little camera, every feature you really need to get started, and very fast and responsive. You can't go wrong with its price-performance ratio. Is it better than a Nikon? Probably not, comparible, but not better. I have to admit I had some brand loyalty going in, which nudged me towards the Canon.
  • My main gripe about the camera is that the grip is a little too small, especially if you have a large lens on it. Makes my right hand ache after a long session, but nothing horrible.
  • The compact flash slot came damaged (some idiot tried to jam a CF card in backwards) but it seemed to work when I got it. Once B&H's 90 day warranty ran out, it started to get a bit flaky (a loose solder joint I expect, since I have no bent pins). But I've been putting off opening it up to repair it like I planned because it has been working pretty well. For now, removing the card and popping it back in usually does the trick.
Canon 20D Body
  • 6/07 Purchased from eBay (nyagent), refurbished, $606 + $34.95 S/H.
  • I'll let you know my thoughts when I receive it.
Tamron SP AF 17-50mm f2.8 XR Di-II LD Asph IF[my review]
  • 3/07 Purchased from Cameta Camera, new USA version, $439+$12 S/H (-$10 rebate)
  • My standard walk-around lens right now. Good optics and well-built. I have no complaints about it yet.
  • Not quite as sharp as the Canon 70-200mm F/4L USM and the lens barrel has a little slop, but I'm pretty happy with it. I've never encountered an image where I felt it let me down.
Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L USM [my review]
  • 5/07 Purchased from Amazon, new USA version, $487.38 total (free shipping, double $50 rebate)
  • An amazing lens. Relatively light, super sharp (sharper wide open than the Tamron stopped down), minimal CA, fast focusing, great USM. Well worth the price.
  • The F/2.8 would have been nicer, but costs a lot more. I do miss that added bit of light and background blurring though (but not the weight).
Canon 50mm F/1.8 II
  • 12/06 Purchased from, new USA version, $69.94+$0 S/H (super saver)
  • I use it pretty much whenever I can: portraits, reversed for macros, copying papers, whenever I need 50mm.
  • Super sharp, super light, super small, and super amazing optics (because they are so simple).
  • Very cheaply made -- completely plastic with a lot of slop in the focus system. But if I break it, I'll just buy a new one!
Nikon Nikkor-H 50mm F/2
  • 4/07 Purchased used on eBay for $11.37 + $7 S/H.
  • It has worked well as a dirt-cheap 1:1 macro lens (comparison to other cheap lenses).
  • The controls are very handy and useful when reversed (especially the lever that makes it open up to full aperture).
  • Seems to have some optical defects (I just can't seem to get perfect resolution). This could partially be my technique, and possibly the lack of coatings newer lenses have.
  • No focus because it is reversed, cannot increase field of view that you could with a real macro lens.
SanDisk 2GB Ultra II Compact Flash
  • 12/06 Purchased at for $39.99 + $0 S/H (super saver).
  • There was a sizeable rebate on it ($20?) but I may have forgotten to send it in (damn them!).
  • It has always just worked. I thought this card might be the cause of my 350D's flakiness, but swapping it out, I realized this card was doing better than the others. Speed-wise, I notice no difference between this card and my slower ones.
Rosco Cinegel Swatchbook [link]
  • 2/07 Purchased at B&H for $0.01.
  • A free book of assorted gels that are the perfect size for a flash... How could you go wrong? Get one every time you order!
  • Currently out of stock.
Generic 1100 mAh Battery (NB-2LH clone)
  • 3/07 Purchased at Eforcity ( storefront) for $5.94 + $4.99 S/H
  • Everybody needs a second battery. This one works ok: doesn't last as long as the Canon NB-2LH and the 350D battery indicator drops to 2/3 after a few pictures, but then stays there a long time. Good backup for the price.
Kingston 512MB Compact Flash (2x)
  • 3/07 Purchased at BlueProton ( storefront) for $4.58 ($2.29 ea) + $11.70 S/H
  • And everybody needs backup compact flash. May be slightly slower than SanDisk Ultra II, but I've never really noticed. These cards do seem to be flakier in terms of the 350D CF slot problem I have.
Kingston 2GB Ultimate 133X Compact Flash (2x)
  • 6/07 Purchased at MPEX for $30.95 * 2 + $6.50 S/H - $15 * 2 rebates = $38.40
  • Reasoning for the purchase here.
Sunpak Super 383 Flash
  • 2/07 Purchased new from B&H for $79.99 + $2.95 S/H.
  • This is my main flash, the one I usually use when I need only one flash. Most of the time I use it on manual.
  • Good power, tilt & swivel on head is very nice. I don't miss the zoom that much.
  • Recycle time is slower than the SB-20.
  • Back controls can be hard to operate sometimes.
  • Auto mode seems to overexpose by a stop or two.
Nikon SB-20 [my review]
  • 2/07 Purchased used on eBay for $0.99 + $10 S/H. He said it didn't work when he put batteries in.
  • The problem was just a little corrosion on the battery contacts -- a little sandpaper and it worked fine.
  • Great flash, not as powerful as the Sunpak 383, but I like the controls a lot better and it recycles faster. Durable too, I dropped it on concrete and other than a little rattle, it works great still!
  • Good off-camera flash for a cheap price on eBay.
  • Funky tilt-zoom doesn't make gels very easy.
Velbon Tripod

Optical Trigger (hot shoe)
  • 2/07 Purchased on eBay for $12.06 (including S/H)
  • Works well indoors at close range. Reliable and pretty solid. Dirt cheap.
  • Had trouble getting it to sync outdoors or if the other flash is in an umbrella.
Hot Shoe to PC Adapter
  • 2/07 Purchased new from B&H for $9.99 + $2.95 S/H
  • Hasn't gotten much use, especially since the wireless triggers go right on the hotshoe. Probably wasn't worth purchasing.
  • The PC connection has an off-center center and doesn't always connect to the Sunpak 383 signal well.
RF Receiver and Adapter

Bower 67mm Filter Set (UV, CPL, ND4)

52mm Reversing Ring for Canon

(tons more to post soon)

Previous Inventory:

Tamron AF 19-35mm f/3.5-4.5 [my review]
  • 12/06 Purchased on eBay, used, for $90 + $15 S/H
  • A nice inexpensive wide angle lens for the 350D (or super-wide if you have a film camera. Has some flaws (small zoom range, slow optically, soft wide open, poor red sensativity) but good for the price.
  • 4/07 Sold on eBay, for $81.51 + $13 S/H (to a nice guy in Canada)
Tamron AF 70-300mm F/4-5.6 LD Macro [my review]
  • 12/06 Purchased on eBay (w/ 67mm UV filter), used, for $81 + $9 S/H.
  • 6/07 Sold on eBay (w/ filter), for $106.48 + $28 S/H (to Italy)
  • Great price for probably the best cheap telephoto out there. Covers a wide zoom range, includes 1:2 macro mode (using switch) at long end, pretty well-built. An excellent way to cover the telephoto range on a tight budget and highly recommended if you need a $100 telephoto.
  • Soft wide open or near 300mm, slow lens (making indoor shots nearly impossible without a tripod), and lots of chromatic abberation at the long end (nearly impossible to remove in software). Those flaws have left me wanting to upgrade. But what I've learned from this lens is well worth it.

Wish List:

Canon EF 100mm F/2.8 USM Macro
  • I'd like a mid-range macro, also considering Tamron 90mm F/2.8 or Sigma 105mm F/2.8
20D Vertical Grip
  • Be nice to have, but not super necessary.

Friday, April 27, 2007

A "Friendly" Model Release

One of my long term goals is getting to the point where I can make some income on the side as a (portrait) photographer if I want to. Whether I'll actually pursue the semi-professional avenue, I'd like it to be open for me. Also, it gives me a long term goal to work towards, and everyone needs something to look forward to.

I'm at that point where I want to start building my portfolio and get some experience photographing someone not related to me. And a necessary part of that is writing up a model release to protect my rights and the rights of my models.

A long time ago in a land far away...

First, a little bit of back story. A few months ago, I decided that I wanted to photograph a stranger (more as an exercise than anything else). Of course, approaching strangers is a pretty scary proposition, but it is necessary skill to get photos since most good photos involve people and I only know about 0.0000002% of the 6.5 billion homosapiens crowding this planet. So, I brought my camera to work with me and spent my lunch break walking around looking for someone bored, not intimidating, and willing to be photographed.

It turned out to be a pretty terrifying experience... until I actually walked up to a young woman (who I'll call Emily) doing homework and asked if I could take her photo. Then it was pretty thrilling. That's the thing, as scary as that first step is, whether in public speaking, riding a roller coaster, or jumping off a diving board, once I'm in the moment the nerves fade away.

Anyway... Emily agreed to let me photograph her so we stepped under a nearby tree, chatted, took some pictures, chatted more, she took some pictures of me (she was also interested in photography, but didn't yet have a camera), and exchanged contact info. None of the pictures were groundbreaking, mostly due to my inexperience. But, ultimately I considered it a success and thought a few of the exposures really captured some of Emily's personality. I asked her if I could post them on my blog, and she seemed hesitant, so I told her I'd e-mail them to her first before I did anything.

Please note that I never mentioned having Emily sign a model release.

So, I got home, processed some of the images, sent them to her, and asked if I could post a description and some of the picture on my blog (without revealing any details). After a week, she got back to me and said she thought she looked 'pale' and did not want me to post them.

Now I was stuck in a position where I couldn't really post the images, and without the images, the description wouldn't be very interesting. Well, I probably could have posted the images legally, but ethically there is no way I can do that. So I put off responding to her and re-editing the images, and put it off, and eventually forgot about it.

You want me to sign what?

So, from that experience, I've decided that whenever I photograph someone not in my family that I may want to use later, I'm going to get a model release that explicitly states the rights of both parties.

The past month or so I've been (gently) asking my friends if they'd let me photograph them or their children and I have a few that are interested. Again, this is all for $0, mostly just experience and to build my (non-existent) portfolio. But I want to write up a model release anyway just to avoid possible problems in the future.

The basics of the release (in plain English, not lawyer-speak) are:

  • I deliver a CD with edited full resolution photos. The model would have full rights to print, post, e-mail, or whatever. But, no commercial use (they can't use them to obtain any payment).
  • I have copies of the (digital) negatives and I'd retain the copyright on the images.
  • I am allowed to use the photos for self-promotion (printed portfolio, online portfolio, or on my blog) but in a way that protected their identity (only first names, or even made-up first names).
  • I am NOT allowed to use the photos for commercial use. If I found someone who wanted to buy rights to a photo or I wanted to submit it to stock, I'd contact the model and renegotiate.
Remember, these are my friends -- it is not my goal to build a stock library with these photos. Mostly it will be their kids and I understand they don't want those showing up on a billboard extolling contraception.

If in doubt, find someone smarter than you.

I was going to write up a legaleze version of above (stealing borrowing from others I found on the web) but decided it might be better to ask around a little bit on the DPChallenge forums to see if I was missing something important. So I'll see what they say, and hopefully draw up some lawyer-speak in the next day or two.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Book Review: Understanding Exposure

In my last post, I talked about taking control of focus. Well, in this post, I'll tell you how to take control of your camera's exposure. Or rather, I'll refer you to a book that tells you how to take control of your exposure.

Bryan Peterson's Understanding Exposure (revised) is a simple book at heart. Peterson, a working photographer (web page), describes the simple yet powerful ways of getting exposure right (and when I say 'right', I mean how you want it) whether you use a digital camera or film camera. To do so, he explains the basics of aperture, shutter speed, film speed, and the exposure meter built into almost every single modern camera.

Most of this information is available elsewhere, but Peterson does an amazing job of describing describing exposure in practice rather than theory. This is not a book where he spends two pages describing the mathematics behind an aperture increasing by a factor of 1.4 but doubling the light that hits the film. This is a book where he describes and easy way to get the exposure you want, and then he explains why to do it. Furthermore, he illustrates his lessons with appropriate pictures from his portfolio.

How about an example. Suppose you are taking a picture of a black cat snoozing on a dark blue couch. The cat is black, so you want a low-key picture with a black cat. But most cameras, if you use a semi-automatic mode (like aperture-priority or shutter-priority), will produce a gray cat on a medium blue couch. The problem is the meter in the camera: it sees a mostly dark scene, but it can't distinguish between a scene with lots of light and dark objects or a scene with light objects and not much light (think snowy landscape at night). I don't want to steal Peterson's thunder (or his book sales) but the solution is to meter your camera off a known source like a gray card or the palm of your hand. Outside, the main metering aid is the sky.

Personally, creatively using exposure is my next challenge that I would like to master and I borrowed Peterson's book from the library at the perfect time. In fact, I'm not yet done with it and haven't had a chance to start putting a lot of the ideas into practice. But Peterson's in-camera meter approach is so accessible anybody can learn to do it without doing any math. When faced with a backlit scene at dusk, the camera doesn't automatically know if it should expose for the sunset or the model, the photographer does. Peterson is all about taking control of your tools, and I like that.

So, buy the book, borrow it from the library, or borrow it from a friend. You won't be sorry.

Next up: Taking control of your children. (I wish!)

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Quick Tip #4: Take Control of Focus

I'll admit it...

I like to be in control.

Other than generally frustrating my wife (and causing some awkward moments with the TV remote), wanting to be in control means I tend to choose the manual option instead of the automatic option. I didn't get a car with an automatic transmission until we needed a mini-van. It took me five years to sign up for payroll deduction of my rent instead of sending in checks. The first few times I did my taxes I did them on paper instead of using a web site. (did I mention I was stubborn too?)

I want to be the boss when I take pictures. Then if they turn out bad, I only have myself to blame.

Modern cameras have auto film winding, auto exposure, auto white balance, auto focus, etc. I started out letting the camera auto-everything, but as time goes on, I'm taking control back bit by bit. The first bit of control I've taken back is focus -- I find my 350D does a great job of focusing on an object, but leaves a lot to be desired when it comes to choosing which object to focus on.

Think about it: given an object to focus on, it is an engineering problem to make the lens focus (Wikipedia has a good page about autofocus technology). Those camera companies are great at engineering. But, choosing what to focus on given a crowded scene, that is a hard artistic problem. Sometimes your kid will be in the front of the crowd, sometimes in the middle, sometimes at the back. The camera doesn't know which kid is yours (although, given time, I'm sure they'll engineer that in too -- Nikon already does face recognition).

Most DSLRs use a group of focus detectors built into the viewfinder to determine if and when focus has been reached. These detectors will focus optically using the scene in front of them (not to be confused by infrared focusing in point and shoot cameras). Cheaper cameras typically have three to five sensors (or sometimes just one) while more expensive models have nine or more. Either way, the camera will focus using the sensor which detects the closest object. There's also a distinction between the type of lines the focus sensor will work with (cheap sensors detect vertical lines, expensive cameras can detect both horizontal and vertical lines with the same sensor).

So, what if you are taking a close-up of someone's face? Instead of focusing on the eyes (where humans usually look first) the camera could focus on the nose or hat. Or, worse, if you try to take a picture through a fence or a dirty window, the camera might focus on the fence, or worse, get confused and keep switching back and forth, hunting for what it should focus on. Or, in the case of the picture that opened this entry, what if you are trying to shoot a small lizard in a deep crevice between rocks?

Luckily, modern DSLRs let you select which focus points to use (or you can choose all of them). So I keep my camera set to only the center sensor most of the time. That lets me do the old pre-focus and pan trick: point the focus center at what you want to be in focus, hold the shutter release half-way to make the camera autofocus on it, then reframe the scene how you want it and press the shutter. With practice, all of that can happen in a second or two. If you are shooting through a fence, you can either thread the needle through the fence or focus on something away from the fence (but at the same distance as your subject) and then point back to your subject to get the shot.

This is basic, basic stuff which most people probably already know. But since I've been practicing it (and I usually use the focus and pan method 90% of the time) I've had a lot less images that aren't in focus. Like 5%. So now, I can concentrate on getting the right look on someone's face or getting an interesting point of view.

What about that other 10% of the time when I use the group of sensors? That's usually when action is fast and I won't have time to get focus and reframe (such as sports, large groups of people, or kids on a playground). Actually, for fast action like sports, there are extra modes on my 350D which focus constantly (instead of once). I have yet to master those, though, but maybe I'll talk about them at a later date.

Oh, and the lizard pictured in this page? I found him at the cactus garden. At first, he was doing little lizard push-ups (I can't figure out if that was to intimidate me or to use parallax to figure out if I was still there). Either way, I got tons of pictures of him and got pretty close before I finally got too close trying to take macro shots. After that, he (and his mate) kept eyeballing me from between two large rocks. So I plunked my Sunpak 383 down at 1/16th power and took a few shots with the flash illuminating the inside of the rocks.

And yes, to get the photo I pre-focused on his eyes and then reframed the shot.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Anatomy of a Photo: Fuchsia

[Over the weekend I noticed my hits increased a lot as a result of this post on Strobist... if you count going from two random hits a day to six random hits a day a lot. Apparently just mentioning Strobist gets me traffic, so Strobist, Strobist, Strobist! Look at me, Mr. Hobby, I'm pilfering your traffic! Strobist! Strobist!

In all seriousness, a little birdie (named Google Analytics) told me that my first Anatomy of a Photo was the most popular page, so I hurried and got this one up. Of course, my kind of hurry involves watching three Sopranos episodes last night instead of working on it. Needless to say, I'll try to keep them coming if people like them.]

Two years ago my parents gave us a fuchsia plant on their yearly visit to the left coast. We promptly killed it... almost. Once we realized it preferred shade and moved it out front, it recovered pretty well. Although, even on a good day, it usually looks like a bunch of sticks with a few leaves on it.

This spring, for whatever reason, it bloomed hard. Large, exquisitely shaded flowers that inspired the name of a color. So, of course, I have to get some pictures. In my mind, I envisioned a brilliant flower on a black background with a few green leaves in the picture. So I set to work making that happen.

Originally I planned on clipping some flowers and shooting them inside. Of course, my wife wasn't wild about that, but she consented. About a week ago after tutoring, I came home to a pretty perfect night for getting photos: no wind and still pretty warm for this time of year. I ended up taking the pictures with the fuchsia hanging in it's usual spot, right by the front door.

First, I set up a black blanket behind the flower and stuck a Sunpak 383 a stand, shooting through an umbrella. Two of the earlier shots were the one at the top of this entry and the one to the left. I shot in RAW because I knew I'd wanted to keep the images high resolution and I would probably need to adjust exposure, highlights, and shadows.

I chose my Canon 50mm f/1.8 because I just didn't see the need for a wide angle and I wanted the camera to have the best chance at focusing. Plus, the 50 f/1.8 prime is super sharp, possibly sharper than my new Tamron 17-50mm.

Keep in mind I was doing this just after dark, and by design, I was overpowering what little ambient there was with the flash so I didn't need a tripod. I liked how the shots looked on my tiny 350d LCD, but focusing was definitely a problem with the low light. So I grabbed a flashlight, propped it up on the ground aimed at the underside of the blooms, and used that as a focusing light.

After a few more shots I noticed the light coming from underneath the flowers made them look really cool. So, I grabbed the Nikon SB-20, stuck it on my tripod right under the blooms, and set to work balancing the two lights. The end result was the Sunpak at about 1/2 power and the SB-20 on 1/16 power. I found I also needed a snoot (taped together from a box I grabbed from the recycling bin) to keep the light underneath from brightening up the background behind the flowers too much. The setup is pictured to the right.

I can't say enough how much I use the family's scotch tape when I shoot. You can tape all your stuff up, then just take it off with no sticky residue! One of these days I need to actually make a snoot though (once I get some gaffer's tape).

I got a ton of good results from the setup like the unage to the left. It can be a bit difficult getting the balance and aim of the lower light correct, and a nasty side effect is it will show any imperfections (like pollen, which seemed to be all over everything). But the hard light can really give the blooms a little extra glow to them and make the image pop just a little.

With everything in place, I also reversed the 50 f/1.8 and shot some macros. I had a lot of trouble focusing though, even with the flashlight, since the reversed 50 f/1.8 needed to be stopped down all the time and my flashlight started running out of batteries. In addition, the wind was starting to pick up, which made it harder to keep focus once I got it. I did get a few good pictures, such as the one below. The fuchsia is still blooming, so I still might take the opportunity to clip one and then really try to get an interesting close-up or macro shot.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Quick Tip #3: Learn To Hold Your Camera

The image above probably doesn't look very remarkable, but it is. Let me explain...

On Wednesday I chaperoned my son on a field trip to Coyote Point Museum in San Mateo. In addition to touring the museum and zoo, we were treated to a Birds of Prey class by Carl M. Oosterman, Director of Education. After hearing about the traits of birds of prey, such as their sharp claws and beaks designed for tearing, Carl went behind a curtain to get one of their injured birds to show the class.

Five minutes went by as we heard Carl coaxing the bird out of its cage. Of course, at this point, the children's eyes were as big as saucers, expecting to see a large bird with dangerous claws. Instead, Carl came out behind the curtain with a tiny little owl about four inches high!

I usually use field trips as excuses to take lots of pictures and practice with the camera (in addition to documenting what my son and his friends see and do). So, of course, I wanted to get a picture of this little owl, but it would have been rude to stand in front of the children to get close enough to get a good picture. So I decided to switch to my long lens (Tamron 70-300mm f/4-5.6) and see if I could get a shot from where I sat, 10 feet away. And the best of my shutter releases resulted in the image at the start of this entry.

Why is a boring, slightly fuzzy picture of a tiny owl remarkable? Let me list the EXIF stats (if you don't know what they mean, see the Glossary):

  • Camera: Canon Digital Rebel XT (350D)
  • Lens: Tamron AF 70-300mm F/4-5.6 Di LD 1:2 Macro
  • Focal Length: 271mm (equivalent to 440mm on 35mm)
  • ISO: 1600 (film speed equivalent)
  • Shutter Speed: 1/25s
  • Aperture: f/5.6
Really, I was banging into the limits of the camera and lens. I was at the highest (noisiest) ISO, almost the maximum focal length, and the widest aperture. There was nothing else I could do to get more light to the sensor, I had to use a 1/25 second shutter speed, and I didn't have a tripod.

The general rule of thumb for getting clear images when hand-holding your camera is to use a shutter speed that is the reciprocal of the 35mm equivalent focal length -- in this case, I should have had a shutter speed of 1/400s or better. Note this doesn't guarantee a sharp image, but a decent photographer can get a good image most of the time. Human hands just shake too much to have a decent chance at getting good images at a slower speed.

There was nothing I could do, so I made my own tripod: right hand on the camera grip, left hand braced under the lens palm up, both elbows resting on my knees as I sat on the floor. I fired off 4-5 shots and hoped I got a decent one. Remember, taking pictures at slow shutter speed is a matter of probability. After I took the shots, I realized that Carl's arm was wobbling as he held the owl, so I didn't expect much. Later, when I reviewed the images, I was pleasantly surprised by the above shotwhich accurately depicts what my son saw and is worthy of passing on to his teacher.

The point is, learn how to steady your camera when you hold it. There will be times when you need to get a shot quickly, without the use of a tripod, and good camera-hold mechanics are critical. The best way to do it is with practice, just like any sport. The more you hold your camera, the more it becomes a part of you and the better your pictures will come out, on average.

There's an easy exercise to get a steadier shooting hand: pick a small object, long lens, and slow shutter speed, and practice different techniques of holding the camera and releasing the shutter. Just like target shooting, much of the technique is based on squeezing the shutter release instead of pushing it. I guarantee that you'll improve a lot with only 15 minutes of practice!

Good luck, may all your shots be steady!

Friday, April 20, 2007

Anatomy of a Photo: A Lens for eBay

[This is the first of my Anatomy of a Photo series. This one is pretty basic but I hope to get more advanced with time. Personally, I love to see what goes into a photo, especially if it is non-obvious. I always feel like I can learn something new to help me.]

Let's suppose you are looking at a $200 lens on eBay (or Craiglist). You like the description, even though it is a bit short, but then you scroll down to the pictures... they look like someone took them with a cell-phone camera and a case of the shakes. Would you buy from that seller? Probably not.

Good pictures increase an eBay sale price more than anything else. If someone is supposed to be a photographer selling their old equipment, I expect to see pretty good pictures. If I don't, I get really suspicious and adjust my bids according to the increased risk.

The simple fact is that taking good product pictures is quite easy.

For instance, take the image above -- it is near catalog quality, right? Well, I took it using a few flashes, an old box, some printer paper, and some tape. And you could do it too. You don't even need flashes, a desk lamp or two will work fine. All you have to do is create a simple light box, for which the basic process has been spread around the internet far and wide:

Strobist's DIY $10 Macro Photo Studio
Fresh Fodder
Strobist's Advanced Gizmo Studio
Digital Photography School

In all honesty, I don't have a lot to add to their descriptions. They all approximate light tents (available online for $50 or more) for a few bucks. But I wanted to share my setup which worked really well for my recent eBay auction selling the Tamron 19-35mm f/3.5-4.5 above.

The basic set-up is based on the box I made for my watch:

I took a small box (maybe 9" x 12" x 9"?), placed it on its side, and cut the top and right side out. Then I covered the inside with photocopy/printer paper, and used a single sheet of paper to produce a seemless white background. The result is shown in the picture at right. In order to keep the bottom of the box from blocking the shot, I trimmed the flap a bit and hung it over the edge of the table.

Lighting required both of my available flashes. I could have easily used the same desk lamp I used for my watch but continuous lighting usually requires a tripod. The flashes allowed me to hand-hold the camera and rapidly snap pictures from different angles. The image above (click to make larger) shows the set-up with a Sunpak 383 lying on the table and a Nikon SB-20 in the light stand.

I tried lighting from the top and right but it just didn't look right -- too much light on the top of the subject and not enough on the left side. So I decided to light from both sides of the subject except I was too lazy to cut a hole in the box on the right side. Also, since the box is shallow and a bit too small for the lens, I wanted to move the light forward a bit. So, I used the SB-20 to light up the left side of the box by putting it on a stand to the right of the box entrance and projecting its light on the far wall/box flap.

The projected light spilled onto the object a bit, so I used a random piece of paper and some tape on the curved front of the SB-20 to control the spill. The picture above shows the pattern created, essentially providing a soft, large light to the left of the subject.

I didn't try this, but you could probably light with a single flash by using a piece of paper on the right side as both a diffuser and spill control. In other words, the flash would be aligned to hit both the left wall and the right diffuser (angled like the SB-20 in the picture, but farther).

Finally, after taking the pictures at the lowest ISO and largest aperture possible, I cleaned them up on the computer by dodging (lightening) the background highlights in Paint Shop Pro XI, crop, resize, sharpen, and done. An easy way to get 20 good pictures in 30 minutes or less.

And the result is much, Much, MUCH better than the typical 'living room carpet' eBay picture. The technique also has a huge margin for error, meaning almost any way you set it up, you'll get some pretty good pictures.

Better picture = more money, and I like money (so I can buy more camera equipment!).

[Read Part II for more information, including a more advanced lighting scheme and post processing details.]

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Quick Tip #2: Saturate your images!

When I first started shooting, my photos did not seem to have that 'punch' I was looking for and I couldn't figure out why my DPChallenge entries just didn't look as good as many other photos, even though the subject and composition seemed similar. It was a great revelation to me when I realized that I need to apply more saturation.

What is saturation? Saturation is the purity of the color. White, black, and gray are unsaturated, while a pure red (or any pure color) is fully saturated. Higher saturation means purer color.

The picture below was taken for a DPChallenge landscape challenge but I decided against submitting it because it didn't have the best composition (mostly because it lacks a subject to draw your eye). The only processing I did on this image was resizing and adjusting contrast/brightness.

A pretty nice image, with ok color, but it is kind of dingy. This is pretty much what you get straight from the camera (Digital Rebel XT/350D) although I did use a polarizing filter to clarify the sky a bit.

Watch what happens when I increase the saturation:

It has a lot more color now and is much more eye-catching! Almost all photo-editing software will allow you to modify the saturation (usually a tool called Hue-Saturation-Value). Increasing the contrast distinguishes subjects from each other and draws the eye in. There is a reason flowers are bright and colorful -- to attract attention!

Digital photos, especially for the web, need to be adjusted from the camera capture to bring out the color. This is especially true of the default settings of Canon cameras. My theory is that it is a difference between the non-linear sensors in the human eye and the linear sensors in a digital camera.

What about film cameras, though? Well, it is all in the film, and if you want a lot of saturation, you use a film like Fujichrome Velvia.

As a digital photographer though, all this means is you should make sure try increasing the saturation when you are editing pictures. For some pictures, you may want to do the opposite, and reduce saturation or even fully desaturate the image to gray-scale.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Brief Glossary of Photography Terms

Some of the material on this site may use terms that are unfamiliar to those new to photography lingo. The glossary below may help, I'll keep it updated as I see terms that should be on this page. For more detail, follow the Wikipedia links or check out one of these more comprehesive glossaries:

  • 100% Crop: This means the image is shown pixel per pixel on your monitor. A 200% crop means each image pixel takes four pixels (two horizontal, two vertical) on your screen.
  • Chromatic Aberration: a lens problem where different colors of light bend travel through the lens slightly differently and cause purple or cyan halos around edges of high contrast. Mostly a problem for cheaper lenses.
  • Composition: The placement or arrangement of the elements of a photo. Composition is really hard to define, but it is essential a measure of how interesting the picture is, on the whole. Often, composition is more of a function of the shapes, colors, and intensity of an image than the subject itself. While composition is relatively subjective, most people will often agree if an image is well-composed or not.
  • DSLR (or dSLR): SLR camera which uses a digital microchip sensor instead of film.
  • Film Speed: The sensitivity of film to light, where lower values are less sensitive, require longer exposure times, yet have less grain (noise). Typically measured in terms of ISO, such as 100 ISO is a pretty slow daylight film with small grain (low noise). A 400 ISO film is useful indoors because it requires 1/4 of the light to generate an exposure, but has more grain. Digital cameras also use the ISO linear scale to electronically control the tradeoff between sensitivity and noise of the imaging chip.
  • Focal length: An optical specification (usually in millimeters) of a lens reflecting how much of the scene the lens can render on the sensor. For 35mm cameras, 50mm is a normal lens (approximating the eye), 35mm or less is a wide-angle lens, and 80mm or more is a telephoto lens. On digital cameras with a sensor smaller than 35mm size (such as the Digital Rebel series, 20D, and 30D) you need to adjust the true focal length to get the 35mm equivalent. For most Canon cameras with smaller sensors, this multiplier is 1.6.
  • Glass: Slang, meaning lenses and optical equipment.
  • Grey-market: Something (usually electronic equipment) bought overseas and then shipped to the USA. Usually identical to the USA version but the manufacturer won't honor the USA warranty for a grey-market item.
  • ISO: See film speed.
  • Saturation: The purity of a color. For instance, a bright, pure red is highly saturated while a pastel red has low saturation.
  • Shutter Speed: The amount of time the film (or digital sensor) is exposed to light from the scene. Typically measured in fractions of a second.
  • SLR: Single-Lens Reflex. A type of camera which uses a single lens for both the viewfinder and taking the pictures, so what you see is what you get (mostly). The reflex refers to the use of a moving mirror to allow dual use of the lens.
  • Soft: When referring to an image, it means the image is not sharp and out of focus. When referring to lenses, soft means the lens produces unsharp images even when focused well.
  • Vignetting: a lens problem where the corners of the image are darker than the center.
  • Wide-open: A maximum-size aperture setting (for the 50mm f/1.8, an aperature of f/1.8 is wide open).

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Tamron Reviews: 17-50mm f/2.8 vs 19-35mm f/3.5-4.5

[The glossary page may help with any unfamiliar terms.]

Everyone needs a wide angle lens. And usually you get a kit lens with your camera, which does wide angle, but at a good price. For instance, the Canon EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 II (which comes with the Rebel XT/350D) is a pretty good lens. My used 350D didn't come with a lens, so I needed a wide-angle lens to complement the Canon 50mm f/1.8 II (a required lens for any Canon camera). Instead of buying a used Canon 18-55mm (which goes for $70+shipping on eBay if you can get a good deal) I decided to get a slightly better lens.

After doing my homework, I settled on the Tamron AF 19-35mm f/3.5-4.5. I found a number of good reviews on it. Not spectacular, but for a $100 lens (used, on eBay) it seemed like a worthy step up from the kit lens and a good complement for the 50 f/1.8. I used it, it worked for me, but the time came to upgrade.

My new lens (which came two weeks ago) is the Tamron SP AF 17-50mm f2.8 XR Di-II LD Asph IF [Amazon link] (geesh, what is wrong with these companies... why the crazy-long model names?). It has had some sterling reviews and it should -- it costs $440 new (used Tammy 17-50s are few and far between since they are so well-liked and only came out last year). As a new photographer, I'm sure you are wondering what makes the 17-50mm worth over four times as much as the 19-35mm, I know I was. So I've decided to do a short comparison of the two lenses (including visual aids!) before I sell the 19-35mm on eBay.

General Comparison:

So, let's compare them by listing the advantages and disadvantages of each lens:

Tamron 19-35mm f/3.5-4.5:

  • Much cheaper... Only ~$90+shipping for a lens on eBay.
  • Lighter: 11.2oz (317g)
  • Full frame coverage. Use it as a super-wide on a 35mm EOS camera.
  • Includes petal-shaped hood.
  • Cheaper construction, but still quite good. Metal mount, feels solid and well made, but there is more backlash in the autofocus and the end of the lens moves a little in relation to the base.
  • Good sharpness, as long as you aren't wide open with it.
  • Good color reproduction, if you adjust in software.
  • Smaller zoom range -- you DO notice the missing range and it can be annoying to switch between the 19-35 and the 50mm f/1.8.
  • Smaller aperture, especially if you take into consideration the need to stop it down a bit to get good sharpness.
  • Larger 77mm filter size = more expensive filters.
  • Slower autofocus.
Tamron 17-50mm f2.8 XR Di-II:
  • Smaller 67mm filter size = cheaper filters.
  • Faster autofocus -- maybe 1.5x faster?
  • Seems better built -- very little backlash in the autofocus, tight zoom, no play of the end of the lens in relation to the base.
  • Large aperture, sharp even when wide open at f/2.8.
  • Good sharpness through the whole range.
  • Good color reproduction.
  • Includes petal-shaped hood.
  • Expensive... $380+shipping for gray-market, $430+shipping for warrantied lens.
  • Noisy autofocus! Like angry bees.
  • Heavier: 15.2oz (430g)... I really noticed the heft when I first got it, but don't notice any more.
  • Only works for APS-C sensor cameras (smaller digital sensor, terminology is EF-S for Canon, Di-II for Tamron).
  • More barrel distortion at 17mm than I would generally like.
You'd expect to see more positive things for the more expensive lens. But I'll level with you right now, the 19-35mm is a very usable lens, the main reason I upgraded was to get a little more telephoto range and get a usable wide aperture for indoor shooting. Hand-holding the 19-35mm is difficult in all but the brightest interiors because of camera shake, but it is a lot easier to get a fast enough shutter speed with the 17-50mm.

Image Comparison:

Before we go further, let me present some real-world images from the lenses in question. These images were taken using the same camera settings as much as possible (manual mode on my 350D, tripod mounted using remote release, best quality JPEG, parameters "Parameter 1", cloudy color balance, 24mm focal length, f/4 (1/500s) and f/8 (1/125s)). A matrix of overall images is shown below (click to see a larger, but not full-size, version).

The main thing to notice here is the 19-35mm has some vignetting wide open (f/4 is wide open for 24mm focal length) and the 19-35mm makes slightly bluer images. Actually, one thing I noticed even before I got the 17-50mm was the 19-35mm seemed to lack 'punch' in the colors. I noticed it, but I couldn't really come up with hard facts until this test.

Turns out the 19-35mm attenuates the red (and blue, to a lesser degree) channels compared to the 17-50mm. The histograms at right (from Picasa) really demonstrate the problem. Noticeable, especially in a direct comparison, but easily fixed in a photo-editing program if you are aware of it. Or better yet, do a custom color balance before shooting and then don't worry about it. This may be the 'special coatings for digital cameras' they tout in the 17-50mm literature, since the 19-35mm is no longer made and was designed for film cameras.

This next comparison lets you see a 100% crop of the corner of the building in the middle-upper right of the frame. Click to see it at full resolution (blogger doesn't show the 100% crop version on the main page).

Many other sites have done more detailed tests of both of these lenses, so I've placed this here just to confirm my suspicion that the 19-35mm was soft wide open but gets quite sharp as you stop down. Maybe the 17-50mm is slightly sharper at f/8, but really only the 19-35mm at f/4 sticks out like a sore thumb with nasty softness and chromatic aberration.

And that's what you pay the extra $350 for: better performance at the wide-open end of the range and slightly better color balance. Worth it? Probably not when you are starting out on a short budget, maybe never if you only shoot outdoors.


For a general walk-around lens, you can't go wrong with the Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8. It is very sharp, even at a large f/2.8 aperture, and over the past few weeks, I haven't noticed any problems with my images (other than barrel distortion at the wide end). That's the key, you can use it without worrying about it.

On the other hand, if you are on a tight budget, go for the kit lens, the Canon EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 II instead. If you have film camera too, then I recommend the Tamron 19-35mm since it has a better build quality and you'll get double-duty out of it. Otherwise, it is worth saving a little bit of money and getting the extra zoom range. Yes, with either of those lenses, you'll have to worry a bit more about shooting wide open and getting a decent shutter speed, but the $300+ you save on a wide-angle lens can be used to get an entry-level telephoto lens, a tripod, some flash equipment, an extension tube set, an extra battery, etc. Starting out on a short budget, you are much better off learning to use a wide variety of equipment than getting super-quality glass. That way, when you get some cash, you'll know how to use that cash most effectively.

Then, when it comes time to upgrade and you have the money, get the Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8. It is an excellent lens. And if you still want to upgrade after that, maybe the Canon EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM is appropriate (or one of the Canon L series lenses).

Acquiring the Lenses:

Now that I know how to use the eBay widgets, I figured I'd save you some time and put up the searches. For the 19-35mm (for which eBay is pretty much the only option):

Obviously, the 17-50mm can be bought new at a lot of places, but Amazon ($430 at this time with free shipping) typically has one of the best prices. You can also find good deals on new and used ones on eBay (at best, maybe $10-20 less than Amazon, but make sure you consider shipping costs too -- mouse over to see them).

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Quick Tip #1: Cameras Don't Take Pictures, People Do

[I'm starting a Quick Tip series. These are brief posts about fundamental photography concepts I've learned (or am trying to learn). Most will have pictures to demonstrate the idea (but not this one).]

I'm sure you've heard of the old saying: Guns don't kill people, people do.

(or, if you are in Texas, the bumper sticker reads: Guns don't kill people, I do)

Well, the same goes for photography. The photographer defines the picture, not the camera.

Give your $1,000 dSLR to your 2 year-old son (or a trained monkey, pretty much interchangeable) and see if he takes any good pictures. If you are lucky, he might have some in focus. If you are unlucky, you'll be in the ER that night getting optical glass picked out of his feet.

Photography at its root is not about the camera, lighting, focus, sharpness, lenses, or extension tubes. It is about capturing an image that someone (most likely the photographer) cares about. Yes, absolutely, you need a camera and some necessary equipment to get good pictures. But you can make some good pictures with a cheap plastic point and shoot.

Show of hands, how many have had these thoughts:

  • "If only I had a 5D (or D200, or large-format) I could have made that shot work."
  • "I really need that second strobe to get decent portraits."
  • "I really need a 70-200mm f/2.8 IS. I can't get lacross pictures without it."
  • "I want to try out macro photography, but I don't have the money for a macro lens!"
This site is all about making due with a minimum of cheap equipment. Heck, even purchasing inexpensive equipment can be difficult for those of us on tight budgets. If you think about it, a camera is just a light-proof box with a photo-sensor (film or microchip) on one side, a hole on the other (lens), and a bunch of ways to control how the light hits the photo-sensor (shutter, aperture, etc).

Do you need a top-of-the-line camera to make emotional and engaging pictures? No. You just need an imagination to figure out what to point the camera at and how to control the light. If you want to try macro photography with a dSLR, just take your lens off, turn it around, and hold it in front of the lens mount. It blew my mind the first time I did it and actually took interesting macro pictures. Cost? Free!

I have had to keep reminding myself just to get out and shoot with what I have. I have plenty of equipment to make good pictures, all I need to do is figure out how to do the hard stuff. Like get the light to hit my model just right to bring her out from the background. Get the right expression on my son's face. Get to a scenic overlook at the right time of day. Get a rodeo clown to try ballet.

It is tempting to put off pictures until you have the right equipment, but the good photographers are the ones who make them now with what they have on hand.

[Oops. Maybe that wasn't so quick.]

Friday, April 13, 2007

Welcome To 'Please Excuse Me..."

This is the new 'starting' page for this blog -- read on to learn about who I am and what this blog is about.

Executive summary:
This blog is aimed at financially-impaired amateur photographers shooting using digital SLRs. I focus on:

  • Acquiring useful hardware on a budget
  • Combining acquired equipment with cheap do-it-yourself solutions
  • Technique (including the lessons I've learned)
  • My personal progression as a photographer
About Me:
I am a graduate student studying Computer Science (focusing on robotics) at Stanford University. I am a husband, father of two, an SAT tutor/teacher with Revolution Prep, and an amateur photographer. My overall goal is to become a better photographer and eventually get to a point where I can make a little money on the side from photography if I choose to.

My main photographic interests are nature and people, especially macro photography and portrait photography. But I like to try a little bit of everything.

Oh, and I shoot Canon. But this blog is far from Canon-centric.

About This Blog (and some history):

Back in January, I started this a photo-a-day blog named Stanford Photo-A-Day. The primary goals were to get me to shoot more often and publish pictures, both of which happened. What I didn't foresee was my life getting more busy from my second job and eventually posts degenerated into a picture with a sentence or two saying something like "this is a tree". So, after almost three months, I abandoned posting a photo each day.

The nice thing about the PAD experiment was I really did take a lot of pictures and there was (is?) a definite progression as my skills in taking the pictures and processing them got better. For that reason, I am leaving the archives up, but don't be surprised to see similar pictures on successive days as I was scraping the picture barrel.

Since I started, I realized that there really is a niche on the web for information on cheap entry-level camera gear. Most informational photography sites on the web are from professionals, so they really have no need for a $100 lens. Yet, if you try to get into this hobby on a budget, you'll probably only have $1,000 to spend (if you are lucky) and you'll need to fill your equipment needs with $100 lenses and used e-bay accessories. To make my selections I've often had to spend hours searching in Google, old forum posts, and cobbling the information I need together from a number of sources before I send $30 out for the item I want.

I think putting a lot of that information in one place could be really useful for some new photographers with limited funds. That is my goal.

I must admit the biggest influence for the retasking of this blog has been David Hobby's Strobist. Until I saw Strobist, I didn't realize how a simple blog structure could be such a great resource for a novice (many blogs are... well... scattered). But, rather than being quite as focused as Strobist, I'm going to let other parts of my photography leak into the blog (and some parts of my life). I'd like to continue to document my learning curve and the lessons I've learned along the way.

For now, the name of the blog is Please Excuse Me While I Clean My Lens, but I actually don't like it very much. Over the next few weeks I'm going to figure out a better name that fits the subject of the blog a bit better. For historical reasons, I've left the url as but I may change that in the future as well (please don't sue me!).

Navigating this Blog
Borrowing from Mr. Hobby, I'm going to bend the usual blog conventions and edit previous posts to reflect up to date information when necessary (such as this post).

The best place to start is the site navigation links at the upper right of the page. It includes links to each of the series of posts, including Articles (essays using my photographs to illustrate), Quick Tips (simple ideas that have helped me make better pictures), Reviews (both hardware and software that I use), and the Anatomy of a Photo series (where I break down the process that went into a given photo).

At the right I've also provided links to the sites which I have found most useful or visit every day.

Finally, feel free to look through the archives... if you dare!

[Useless disclaimer thingy: The opinions expressed on this blog are mine alone and don't reflect opinions, policies, or anything related to Stanford, Revolution Prep, or my wife. If I say something stupid, blame me, not them. Oh, and I don't hold any trademarks of anything on this page. But I do hold the copyrights on my original pictures on this blog.]

Update: If you are still interested, the next post you should read is the brief overview of 2007. It includes handy links to all of my most popular tabs and is an easy way to hone in on your interests.

Also, I'd love to get feedback on what you like and don't like about the site and the 2007 in Review: Sound Off! post is a great place to do it. Thanks!

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Article: Tussock Moths

[I've decided to take groups of images, glue them together with some words, and label them Articles. Amazingly new concept, I know. This is the first]

Last year Stanford had a huge infestation of caterpillars and it appears to be starting again. The little suckers hang down from the trees by threads and ambush unsuspecting cyclists. So, what should I do? Take pictures!

This post has actually been over two weeks in the making -- mostly because I'm lazy and plenty of procrastination when into typing it up. But I learned some things.

The building where I work is one of their favorite cocooning places. They've been fattening themselves up and now are starting to trek to the wall near my office in large numbers to begin metamorphosis. This will continue for a few more weeks until the wall is covered with furry cocoons, and then a few weeks later I expect the friendly guy with the power washer to come through.

Oddly enough, the infestation around my office is one of the worst across Stanford campus. My family and I took a long (it was epic!) 2 hour walk around campus drive and, while the caterpillars are everywhere, there are many spots with the same kind of trees as those next to my lab yet not nearly as many caterpillars.

According to the literature, the most common caterpillar is the larvae of the Western Tussock moth. All of my pictures below are of Western Tussock moths. Technically you aren't supposed to handle them because they can give you a rash, but obviously I did handle them, and I'm fine (so far).

They really do have a presence about them. The inch-long furry army rappels down from trees while the gentle patter of, err... something... maybe caterpillar excrement... surrounds you like a light rain. Speaking of the trees, I believe they prefer live oak (but I'm no arborologist), which also have the unpleasant side-effect of making me sneeze.

A lot.

Really, lots of Kleenex have been harmed lately.


A week ago I caught a caterpillar (or three), and in the spirit of aiding caterpillar travel, relocated it to another tree near the cactus garden that was easier to photograph. I figured out a few things:

  1. They are hard to photograph.
  2. They are interested in white shiny objects (who isn't?). He kept looking in the direction of anything white I had near him -- I expect this is how they know to climb trees.
  3. They like to eat whatever type tree or bush I put him on.
I'm honestly not super-pleased with these photos, but they get the point across.

I still have a lot to learn about macro photography. For instance, maybe I should get a cheap Nikon 50mm off EBay for reversing. Then I could easily control the aperture, and I've heard rumors that the old Nikon lenses reverse better than Canons.

On the bright side, DPC has an insect challenge coming up, so I think I know who I will be photographing.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Camera Equipment: It was the best of times...

First the good news:
my Tamron 17-50mm F/2.8 Di-II arrived yesterday. It is supposed to be a really good lens. The pic above (near my work) was taken with it.

I haven't shot much with it yet, but my impressions so far are:

  • It is heavy -- probably just need to get used to it.
  • The zoom is pretty stiff
  • The autofocus is really fast, but really noisy.
Above all, even though this is my first decent lens (i.e. it cost me more than $100) it really drives home the idea that the photographer takes the pictures, not the camera. The few shots I've taken have been pretty bad, but that's because the lighting was horrible, and I was too lazy to try a different composition. I'm going to shoot a little outside this afternoon, so we'll see how that goes.

And yes, now I can sell the Tamron 19-35mm f/3.5-4.5. Not a bad lens at all, and before I sell it I hope to do a quick comparison of the two lenses. What really makes the 17-50mm worth $300 more?

PS, I went with Cameta Camera to buy the lens (they sell through e-bay listings) because they had a slightly better price than B&H, no sales tax, yet still provided a USA warranty. Quite happy with their service.

Then, the bad news: my Canon 350D (Rebel XT)(Rebel XT) is sick. And since I saved $100 buying used from B&H, I have no warranty (B&H's 90 day warranty on used equipment ran out about a month ago).

There is something wrong with the compact flash connector. When I put in a CF card it will often flash a ERRCF (or error code 2) when it goes to write data to the flash. I expect that there is a broken connection (the pins look perfectly fine and unbent when I look in the slot).

This may be from damage I noticed when I got the camera -- the CF slot is a little bent up since someone obviously tried to ram a CF card in upside down (duh -- if it doesn't slide in, don't force it). When I got it three months ago, I decided I'd just ignore the damage since it was a used camera and it worked fine. Well, a few weeks ago, it started getting these errors, and they are occurring more and more often. I bought a new CF card (hoping it was just a crappy card) but it didn't help.

Obviously, if I had a warranty, I'd just go to Canon's web site and follow the links to find the closest factory certified digital EOS repair shop (appears to be Irvine, CA for me). But I have no warranty. So, looking online, I found a few places that fix it for $125+shipping or more (see Lezot Camera (also does eBay ads: search for repair rebel XT) and MCVR). But the camera cost only $400!

So, I've decided to do the repairs myself, or at least assess the damage myself. I fixed my old camera (Canon S110) when it got a little too sandy, so I might as well take a shot at my 350D. Honestly, I'm pretty experienced with electronics and surface mount soldering, and I work for free -- I'll just put that $125 towards a Canon 70-200mm f/4 :).

The main reason the cost of repair is so high is because the XT (and pretty much all digital cameras) are chock-full of circuit boards and you have to take a lot apart. But, if you know what to expect, you can reduce a lot of the danger. I found some good information on disassembling the 350D at Ash's Modified XT Page and LifePixel (both pages that describe IR filter removal, but lots of pictures). Also, a good index page is at Repair4Camera.

So, that being said, my wife has delayed me until after Easter to make sure we get decent pics of the kids. I'm hoping to document the disassembly and repair here.

[Update 5/07: I have yet to attempt the repair because the camera hasn't been getting any worse. I noticed a number of google hits on this page for people with broken XTs, so I added some useful links that helped me. Don't sue me if you break your camera by trying to fix it though! Remember to ground yourself!]

On another note: I'm realizing that one direction I'd like to take this blog in is equipment information. I figure it'd be a good way to help out some other people (I found ZERO information on the web about fixing the compact flash slot, yet tons of references to the fact that it breaks easily).