March 21, 2008

The Picto Box Side Quest

Filed under: digital,toys,Uncategorized — mhoye @ 7:22 pm

As you might see below, I now take pictures of stuff. I’m going on a trip in a few weeks, so I decided that now is as good a time as any to gear up and buy a decent camera and after I did a little research, got what has proven to be extremely good advice from Kev, I found a good camera store in my area and picked a moment they were having a decent sale. Cameras, like a lot of things now, are at a point where the stuff that’s a generation back and very reasonably sale-priced can still be pretty shockingly awesome. As a result I’m very happily set up right now, as follows:

  • One Nikon D40 camera body,
  • The standard 18-55mm autofocus-and-kind-of-zoomy lens. The documentation, for reasons I am not privy to, doesn’t describe it as standard-issue autofocus-and-kind-of-zoomy, but documentation has always been a weak spot for the technically inclined.
  • An extremely entertaining 1.8f 50mm fixed lens, and
  • One Nikon P5100.

The D40 is a fantastic camera. Especially at night; everything comes out looking like HDR photos even though I’ve barely figured out how to turn off the flash. Light just seems to fall into the lens. The only problem I’m having is that my hands aren’t steady enough to take decent night shots so I usually end up propping the camera on whatever’s around for long exposures; a tripod might be the next order of business.

The 50mm lens is a bit tricky, but much less so than I thought it would be – it’s manual focus, but the camera’s smart enough to know when the images is in focus even if it can’t control it and tells you with a little indicator. This is the lens that gives you that very short depth-of-field that has one thing in focus and softy-blurred backgrounds, very artistic. Hard to work with if you’ll be shooting anything that moves, but since once you’ve got the gear photography is basically free now, the cost of screwing up a few hundred pictures figuring things out is pretty much exactly zero. Add to that the fact that a two-gig SD card is within a couple of dollars of also being free and happily holds more than six hundred pictures, and all I really need to worry about is making sure that the good ones are filtered out every couple of days.

The p5100 has excelled in its role as being as small camera to take pictures fast, and it hangs off the side of whatever bag I’m carrying now. It’s got great rubberized grips and a very solid feel, and like its big brother seems to pull in light that´s only barely there. doing a terrific job as a quick-draw, point-and-shoot workhorse. Not small enough to be pocketable, but totally serviceable nonetheless. It feels very nice in my fat hands, and like its big brother the automatic modes are way smarter than I am, smart enough that almost everything comes out looking at least competent.

Sadly, this little shopping spree has pretty much blown the doors off my widget-parity agreement with my wife, so no more toys for me for the foreseeable future. If these did not make me so happy, that would definitely make me sad.


  1. I can’t recommend the Gorillapod highly enough. It’s enabled me to take some otherwise impossibly difficult pictures, and it’s hard to beat it for portability.

    Comment by Skwid — March 21, 2008 @ 8:14 pm

  2. I know the D40 has some weird autofocus shenanigans going on, but it should be able to autofocus with the 50mm (unless your 50mm is one of the older ones – like mine – and can’t do modern AF). I recommend you look into it, because the 50mm is an amazing lens for candid pubs or gatherings. I used to be a diehard manual focus guy but then happened to pick up a nice lens that actually autofocused on my camera (I used to buy used 30 year old lenses at ebay/pawn shops because I’m cheap and adventurous like that). It’s nice to have that option :)

    also, depth of field is directly related to your aperture, which is why the 50mm is so awesome. that, and the fact it’s got amazing bokeh (the soft blur in the background you like).

    glad you like it. I just switched to somewhat of the same setup to nikon from canon, and i definitely feel your pain on the lack of gadget buying power. so much for that ps3..

    Comment by Oren — March 21, 2008 @ 9:00 pm

  3. I wasn’t clear when I mentioned that the lens I have, this one here, theoretically allows autofocus on nikon bodies that have some sort of extra gear that the d40 body doesn’t have. More advanced models do but they, you know, weren’t on sale. But so far, I don’t think autofocus is even all that desirable in this lens – I occasionally want to be able to focus on a thing without having it be the center of the shot, for example. So, not perfect? But only missing a nice-to-have, not a must-have. As you say, it’s still a ton of fun.

    Comment by mhoye — March 22, 2008 @ 12:08 pm

  4. ah. I see that one doesnt do AFS, which is, iirc, the only AF protocol the D40 speaks because it doesnt have it’s own AF motor (AF-S means a lens has its own built in motor)

    I hear ya on the focus point problem with AF. I dont like it for the same reason. I tend to get around that by first pointing at the spot I want to focus on, focusing (i.e. half pressing shutter release on my camera, ymmv), and then framing and doing the rest of the shutter release.

    my gf who uses a 30d (canon), is a bit more professional than me. she actually uses the built in focus points in her camera. not sure if you’ve played with that, but you can actually tell the camera what exact point you want to focus on. on my d70 its a d-pad. not sure where it would be on yours. it’s only as good as the number of points your camera has (mine has 5. Sarah’s has 9, which is a significant difference), and the interface to setting them. this latter has absolutely sucked on almost all SLRs I’ve ever used.

    Comment by Oren — March 23, 2008 @ 9:27 am

  5. Yeah, one of the super-awesome things about Nikon cameras is that their lens brackets haven’t changed in something like forty years. I hadn’t realized this when I bought it, but it’s a significant win. Your pawnshop+garagesale lens shopping idea is a pretty awesome one.

    Comment by mhoye — March 23, 2008 @ 1:08 pm

  6. yup. its one step ahead of just getting a screwmount adapter and buying 40 year old soviet glass on ebay.

    if you like the idea, read up on flange focus distances (the focal length on the back of the lens). this is key for being able to really use found lenses to full potential. there are some manufacturers that you can use, and some that you shouldn’t bother.

    Comment by Oren — March 23, 2008 @ 10:52 pm

  7. One more recommendation: get a domke 1″ camera strap with quick release swivels. it replaces the bright yellow “steal me” target from your shoulders, and is a much nicer strap. domke weaves rubber cord into the webbing, so it sticks to your shoulder pretty much like glue. they’re $15-20, and worth every penny. I got mine through an eBay-er in Quebec who I’d recommend, if you’re interested.

    Comment by kev — March 24, 2008 @ 8:23 pm

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