Philosophy of Lenses for Amateurs

Amateurs get a raw deal when it comes to lenses .. There are the professional built-like-a-tank big, heavy and terribly expensive lenses .. and there are the cheap consumer lenses .. In-between, most lens manufacturers make some amateur lenses .. So amateur lenses are probably double the price of consumer ones, and are better built in that they are weather sealed, have full-time manual focusing, silent ultrasonic wave motors and metal mounts.

Beyond that .. Amateurs have to think of the range .. a wide angle, a standard zoom and a tele-zoom, plus a macro lens.

In full-frame an example would be the Canon 17-40 f/4 L, 24-105 f/4 IS L and 70-200 f/4 IS L. In Nikon the equivalents would be the AF-S 16-35 f/4 VR, 24-120 f/4 VR and 70-200 f/4 VR or 80-200mm ED. I would also add a 50mm f1.8 of sorts and a 100mm f2.8 macro ..

To me the main and most important lens is the walk-about 24-105/120 lens, which I use 80% of the time .. I do cityscapes, landscapes, still life and portraits.

Those who do sports, racing, or wild-life may find this setup very short or slow for them .. I envy those photographers who do only one type of photography .. like a macro hobbyist only needs a 100mm f2.8 macro .. !!

How to choose a photo printer

I did a lot of research to decide which photo printer to go for.

A4 or A3+. I decided that an A3+ printer would be ideal, especially as prices of A3 printers have gone down.

Dye or Pigment ? I understand that for Glossy paper dye is better, while for Matte, pigment is better. However in the real world I personally prefer the dye gradations to the contrasty pigment inks. I went for a dye + second pigment black. If you use CISS (continuous ink system) or re-fillable cartridges, you can obviously vary the type of ink, although I understand you have to then use some cleaning cartridges between type changes. I have never personally used an ink type (dye and pigment) that is not recommended by the manufacturer, and I do not know whether that voids the warranty.

How many inks. Most have CMYK (cyan, magenta, yellow and black). Some have two extra lighter cyan and magenta. Some have Red and blue, and others have different blacks or greys.

Droplet size makes a difference to both gradations of colour tones and resolution, and they vary between 1-5 picolitre, with most new printers between 1-3. Type of paper makes a big difference to result though, and one has to use recommended or original papers or paper from long-standing manufacturers using standardised  products.

What resolution. Most photo inkjet printers nowadays have enough resolution to print very high resolution prints on up to A3+, and the resolution is also very much dependant on the droplet size and the print algorithm. I still lean towards the higher resolution machines for a more natural print.

Epson, HP or Canon. The three big players in photo printers. Epson use Peizo-electric heads, with a longer print cycles than the bubble or thermal heads used by HP and Canon. On the other hand, HP has head in cartridge, so every cartridge change includes a new head, and therefore more expensive. Canon has a very accessible and removable print head that can be easily changed, and costs about one third the price of the printer. Here the choice is difficult, although I personally tried all three.

Wi-Fi and network connection or not. This is now getting to the practicalities. I have 10 USB ports on my computer, and therefore went for the cheaper option of USB only, but for some, go for the network connection (Ethernet or Wi-Fi) if you need it.

Glossy or Matte paper. I prefer Matte for artistic effects. I also like textured paper and canvas. But for many users (portraits, weddings and the like) glossy is a better option.

Original or compatible cartridges, or CISS. For serious work I prefer original ink and paper to get the best results, although compatibles and CISS (continuous ink systems) are good for proofing and draft work.

Printing is a very serious business, if it is to be done properly, and requires a lot of calibration of equipment and standardisation of inks and paper, at least to get a consistent result.


Have you calibrated ?

Calibration and colour management are very critical to all photographic activities, from the second you take your photo, to the time you process it and display or share it either in print or digital form.

Most people are not initially aware of colour management, until the picture in the camera doesn’t match the scene, the picture on the computer screen doesn’t match the camera, or the print doesn’t match what they see in either or both.

The least that can be done by any photographer is to have a monitor calibration device that calibrates the colours, brightness and contrast of their computer display. In this way they are at least sure that what they see on the screen will be matched by professional prints, and by any calibrated display.

To get the right colour from the scene requires either shooting a test shot at the scene using ideally a photographic grey card, or at least a white sheet of paper, and maybe a colour chart. This calibrates the camera at the scene or works in post-processing for RAW files.

The last bit is calibrating the printer, as the colour profiles change with change of paper and ink, and the generic manufacturer profiles don’t usually do a very accurate job. The spectrophotometers for scanning prints are not as cheap as the display ones, but once a colour profile is produced for the printer/ink/paper combination the result should match either the original scene or at least what has been captured in JPEG or RAW, before or after computer processing.

So have you calibrated your workflow yet ?

Photo Processing

Most people, me included, are very excited after a shoot, and they want to use and show off their photos immediately .. what people usually miss is the excitement of going through the photos very slowly and processing them properly;

  • Renaming for organisation
  • Inserting keywords, tags and labels
  • Rating (stars and colours)
  • Discarding bad photos
  • Basic processing (White balance, exposure and contrast)
  • Intermediate processing (lens corrections, perspective corrections, colour corrections, noise and sharpening)
  • Advanced processing (area and spot corrections, vignette, graduated and colour filters)
  • Cropping and levelling
  • Creating several versions with different processing options
  • Artistic processing (Photoshop)
  • Exporting for sharing, printing, publishing, and archiving

Ansel Adam’s ‘The Zone System’

Ansel Adam’s ‘Zone System’ is something that all photographers have to be aware of

To put it simply, any scene is divided in brightness from 0-9 (IX), with zero being pure black and IX being pure white with no details .. and zone V the middle neutral grey 18% which the camera metering always aims for .. with each zone or stop double the one below in brightness or vice versa ..

Although originally developed to understand and control the processing of black & white negatives and prints , it is still as relevant to the digital process as ever ..

Understanding this system helps setting the right exposure either in manual mode or by setting EV in program mode and also proper RAW processing in software ..

It is such an important cornerstone in photography that many books and articles were written about it .. and here are some nice comprehensive links about the subject:

, and I am sure any Google search would produce tons of results .. so happy researching and hopefully applying ..

Design and Composition

I am trying to gain some insight into the science and art of photography by reading books about design, composition and the scientific basis of photography .. as well as looking at works of famous photographers

I, like most people, concentrate on gear and technical matters .. all of which take but not make pictures unfortunately .. It is important to understand and master the instruments .. but the instruments will not play music without the player first learning it ..

Another analogy for not learning how to make good photos is like concentrating on brushes, canvas and colours without learning how to actually draw .. thinking that knowing how to dip the brush onto a colour palette and moving it across the canvas will produce a painting .. far from it unfortunately ..

After many thousand shots over several years I know better now ..

I know that I could have done better if I did not let my brain get tangled by matters to do with lenses and cameras .. I learnt a lot about gear .. but not about photography .. which really involves sensing, appreciating, thinking, making and then sharing pictures ..

I now appreciate that the design of a photo is extremely important .. You may have a well composed photo which doesn’t say anything .. just pleasing to the eyes .. but it would be a strong photo if it also tells a story .. you can’t however have a good photo without good gear, technique, and composition however how compelling the story was ..

Simpler Glass is Always Better

People argue about zoom lenses and prime lenses and which are better ..

Here is the score .. Some really expensive Zooms can be quite sharp and high resolving as primes and are definitely more practical ..

Primes will remain cheaper, smaller, lighter, sharper, allow in more light for same aperture due to less loss of light in transmission, and need more discipline to use and more hassle to carry several lenses and change in the field ..

Basically if you are out photographing different things on the hop then zoom .. if you are photographing an occasion or a set piece or in a studio or macro then go for prime .. or if you are learning or if you are advanced and want to convey an artistic message or if you want to go really crazy with f1.2 and achieve a really blurred background with an extreme Bokeh .. or if you want maximum light for very exact focusing .. then prime ..

So for anything artistic and not in a hurry prime otherwise zoom