With a Little Help from My Lens…

…in this case, very little. OK, that’s an exaggeration, but I’m starting to wonder if I wasted my money on the lenses I bought to pair with my SL1. I still love the camera itself, and in no way think that was a waste of money, but the 40mm pancake lens isn’t turning out to serve much purpose other than being small, and the zoom lens may not be all that needed either, although I’m less disappointed with that one at the moment than I am with the 40mm. 

The 40mm on my 7D

Part of the issue is that I’m still figuring out exactly how I’m going to use the Canon SL1. I like how easy it is to throw in my car and take with me just about anywhere – which I do, although so far I haven’t used it spontaneously very much  – but when the results of using it have really made me happy have been when I’ve paired it with my 50mm lens. There’s quite a bit running through my head at the moment about the whole thing, so I’ll try to sort it out as clearly as possible.

A pic of my brother, taken with the SL1/40mm lens combo – he’s concerned you should probably bail on this post while you still can

I have tended to use the SL1 in more candid, walkabout situations such as this afternoon, when I went to a family barbecue to celebrate my two nieces graduating from high school. The last time I took pictures of a family gathering was Christmas Eve, and although the 7D took nice pictures, it did get quite heavy and cumbersome to use (I had the 17-40mm lens attached as well as a Speedlite). So I’ve known for awhile that this is the sort of situation where the smaller camera would be useful – not to mention the reduced need for studio-quality photos because the shots are more for family and memory’s sake than anything else. Unfortunately, these are generally low-light situations as well, and while the 40mm pancake lens is fast at f/2.8, I get another full stop out of the 50mm; add in that the two lenses are pretty close in weight, and there’s no real reason I need the 40mm at all.

My sister’s dog; a nice enough shot, but as you can see it came out pretty dark

Except for the fact that it’s so tiny, and as far as that goes the jury is still out as to whether or not that is going to be useful for me. Certainly the reviews are impressed with the lens for more than it’s small size – it is crisp and sharp and the build quality is quite good for the price – but the unobtrusive nature of the lens is the most highly touted factor. People who love it mention being able to put it in a pants pocket because it’s so small, or being able to pack it easily when traveling, things like that, and I’m not sure that’s ever going to be a big need for me. And the fact that it makes a camera body less obvious to others is negated, in my opinion, by the fact that you have to get right up on your subject for it to have any interest. When reading up on the lens today I came across a review by B&H photo which described it as having “a focal length that places it squarely in that bland category known as Normal,”  and I can’t think of a better way to describe the results I’ve been getting with the lens – bland. Sure, it’s not far off in focal length from my 50mm, but as I already mentioned, with the 50 I get a wider aperture and better performance in low light that allows me to keep the ISO settings lower. Now granted, because I’m still so fixated on keeping the SL1 as light as possible, I’ve not been willing to put a Speedlite on it, which is something I’ve never hesitated to do with my already-heavy 7D, so I probably have to get over that and realize that even with an external flash attached I’m still benefiting from a much lighter camera – in that case, the 40mm would keep things a touch lighter than the 50mm, although not by much. I’ll give it some more time to see if it ever becomes handy, but it may end up that the 50mm still wins. Moving on.

The collage I made out of the rest of today’s photos because they all came out BLAND – or grainy, if they were taken with the telephoto.

Since I was so bored by the focal length of the 40mm today, I quickly switched to my new EF 55-250mm to give that one a go, but at f/4 it was a bust. An f/4 aperture is at the edge of what’s considered fast, but I’ve never been able to get one to work in low light (my wide-angle 17-40 is a f/4 as well) without a Speedlite or a pretty high ISO setting. I liked the better framing I could get with the zoom lens since I could focus in tightly on people without being up in their faces (I tend to like portrait-length pictures even in crowds, rather than large group shots) but I had to push the ISO up to 3200 to allow enough light into the shot, and the results were way too grainy to make me happy. Perhaps the 7D would have done a better job at such a high ISO setting, but then I would have been lugging around the heavy camera again, so I still vote in favor of putting the 50mm (or even the 85mm, which is also very fast at f/1.8) on the SL1 and calling it a day. Either that, or get past my Speedlite aversion with the SL1 so we can all move on.

Testing the 55-250mm out on the waterfall in my backyard with the 7D – shutter speed 1/1000 and ISO 3200. Pretty grainy but otherwise not bad.

I still think the 55-250 might be useful as a zoom lens on either camera, because it’s so much lighter than my 70-200 and works nicely on the SL1 in outdoor situations, if nowhere else. And as I mentioned above, I could use it with the Speedlite when needed – I do still have my old 430EX that’s a lot smaller than my newer external flash (the 600-EX-RT) and that whole combo on the SL1 would still weigh a lot less than my 7D with the L-Series telephoto. And when using the 70-200 as a walkabout while photographing planes or whatever, the 55-250 might be nice to have in a bag nearby to use with my 7D when my arm starts getting tired. So I’m going to hang on to that one for now. And I guess the 40mm could be useful if I ever take the SL1 somewhere that I think it might get knocked around, because in that situation the compactness of the lens would keep it from getting damaged. So perhaps this whole long ramble sums up by saying that I’m still learning how to use the new camera, which I think I said somewhere up there at the beginning of all this mess. I guess the bottom line is that yes, I got a nice, new, small, cute, fun, light camera, and that’s all well and good, but to make it perform the way I want I’m still going have to attach some bells and whistles that add some weight, and that once again I’m going through the learning curve anything new requires. Thanks blog, for helping me work through all of that. Moving on.

Another weird waterfall shot – this time with the SL1 and the 55-250, same shutter speed and ISO as the 7D

Now, if you’ve actually waded through all this nattering, I applaud you. Or maybe I just console you. I have more macro shots to share tomorrow, I promise. I just keep getting derailed with shopping trips and failed lens experiments lately…


10 thoughts on “With a Little Help from My Lens…

  1. I like the shot of the dog and don’t think it is too dark. Your hair is getting long and you don’t look like anyone else except one of your sisters, the one closest to you in age?

    What always concerns me is that one has to actually buy these darn things to find out what they will and won’t do for us, with our particular preferences. I will be posting next week on my tiny little foray out with the Nikon and 35mm lens. It has been so long since I used a 35mm (my old Pentax) that I forgot how limited it is.

    I haven’t downloaded the experimental Nikon pictures yet — they had better be crisp and clear, otherwise, I don’t see the point of that lens. I spent a bit more to get a decent 35 and forego the kit lens, so I expect something.

    I am now spoiled by the wideness of the fish eye, which reading at all those places, like B&H, when done right doesn’t have to be distorting. So, aaaaaggh, I have to spring for the $800 10-24mm to get what I wanted. I will say I like the crisp, tight, quick action of the Nikon. But, no way is it smaller or lighter than the Canon, just the bodies each weigh over a pound or more.

    I did literally get thrown out of the store I went to yesterday with my friend down the street to get birthday stuff for my MIL. More on that next week. Anyhoo, at least you can pop this camera in your purse — it has to be far better than a pocket point and shoot. I am skipping a family gig today where I could have taken more pictures, but I have work, so I am anchored to my office.

    Great, informative post – I will have to copy down some of these ideas because they are still a bit complex for me. I am still in first grade on this topic. 🙂

    • Yes, I have two older sisters, and I favor the one closest to me – in fact when we were little people often thought we were twins.

      You can rent lenses to try them out, something I’ve never done before, but as I start to eye lenses that cost well over $1000 I am going to start doing. I want to rent a 50mm f/1.2 first. I do find with most new lenses or cameras, I have to be patient and give the equipment time to communicate to me how it’s going to be useful (or not). But there is still some re-selling and exchanging involved. Sometimes you are just so sure of how useful a lens is going to be and it just ends up being a bust. I hear loads of people rave about the 35mm focal length, but maybe that’s just on a FF sensor. Or is your new camera a full frame?

      And yes I got tossed from a store once for taking photos, it was unpleasant and not something I found amusing at all like some people would. I am not one of those people who likes breaking rules to take photos – which means I’d be terrible at certain kinds of photography (street stuff and urban decay come to mind) – so i was pretty mortified. I know Rebecca got asked to stop filming once when she tried to take a video at a local mall, and Flickr Rick has been asked to stop shooting pics at various locations before too, so it does happen.

      • I never thought of renting! I am going to check on that before I plop down a grand for another item. We have no decent camera stores near us any longer – all the mom and pops departed and the nearest is Samy’s Camera in Pasadena – 40 minutes away. But, they are huge so they may have a rental program. That is such a great idea. We are going to keep all the lenses. I am done getting lenses for the Canon I have until we decide whether we are skilled enough to move up to a full frame. The Nikon is not a full frame — although, there is a full frame Nikon that is just about $1300, only a few hundred more than what we paid. I am just not sure that for lugging things around the way we do, a heavy, large camera and heavy lenses is practicable for me. We now have two, efficient, camera bags, generic, that we can sling over our shoulders and carry one body and one lens in each. So, when we go out (usually it is G, me and sometimes his business partner tags along with his video cam), Geoff will carry one (he never takes pictures, he is my pack-horse) and I the other and that will be two lenses on two cameras for that foray. But I simply have to get that wide angle for the Nikon — now I am jonesing for it and that means it will appear. 🙂

        • OMG it is always so funny to hear people from other cities/states talk about distances. 40 minutes is a NOTHING drive here! Hell it took me 30 to get to work for years until they opened up a new toll road in my area (now it’s 15). LOL!

          It is such a challenge to get all the factors right when choosing a camera/lens, etc. and I suppose you never get it exactly right. To gain in one area you lose somewhere else. That’s why it’s best to have a lot of gear to choose from, unfortunately. it goes against my anti-clutter nature as well as the part of me that does not like having to make complex decisions, but it is what it is.

  2. You are right — that is the NYer in me coming out. Distances are typically long in LA too. When we worked for Geoff’s dad’s satellite company, I commuted 90 minutes each way for years. It is just the psychological barrier that living in Sta Clarita over a mountain range, creates. Pasadena is south and east of that range and so we feel (it is probably just me, not G.) like it is a major haul to climb up over that mountain, so to speak. LOL, purely mental. We now have so much new camera stuff that we are actually thinking of turning the Christmas room into the camera room. 😉

    • LOL – my friends I was referencing who consider my typical drives ‘too long’ are from New Jersey, LOL! So that makes sense.

      Well, you Christmas room bites the dust, as did my cozy little office…so it goes!

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