Category Archives: gear

Battery Grip

For an upcoming vacation overseas, I decided to purchase a battery grip for my DSLR.  Amazon has the Opteka battery grip and two LP-E5 batteries for the Canon XSi for $65.  It’s not a bad deal considering that the battery grip alone sells for $50 and the LP-E5 batteries cost $12 each.  Canon’s BG-E5 battery grip for the XSi currently sells for $117 but doesn’t even come with any additional batteries.

I was a bit hesitant about buying a battery grip at first but eventually decided to give in.  I’ve debated about whether to bring a DSLR on vacation at all assuming a compact camera would be fine; there are a number of reasons not to take the DSLR.  I like to travel light, so carrying around a lot of camera gear while on vacation in other countries is definitely not appealing.  Nonetheless, having nice photos of locations I’ll likely not return to in the near future is important to me as well.  Also, I ran out of batteries one day while in Europe last year, and I don’t want that to happen again.

The battery grip obviously adds weight and bulkiness to the DSLR, but I actually found that the additional surface area makes it easier for me to hold the camera.  My camera bag is big enough to accommodate for the extra size, so it’s not a big deal.  Surprisingly, the added weight also feels good when holding the camera to take photos.  Unfortunately, my neck and shoulders do feel more discomfort after carrying the camera and battery grip around for a while.

I am a bit concerned that a big camera will attract unwanted attention, but I can always take the battery grip off when I don’t want to lug it around.  For the price, the battery grip was money well spent.

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Upgrading My PC Finally

I’ve finally decided to get a new desktop PC.  I bought a refurbished HP 6130f on Woot for $389.99 + $5.00 for shipping.  I was a bit hesitant to purchase a refurbished computer, but the system comes with a 90-day warranty.  It’s no speed demon, but an AMD Athlon II quad-core processor, 6GB DDR3 RAM, and 1TB SATA HD should provide me with enough power to work with RAW images, Adobe Lightroom, Photoshop Elements, etc.  I also bought an ATI Radeon HD 5570 1GB graphics card for $62 (after a $30 rebate) to play Starcraft II.

My old PC, an AMD64 3500+ with 3GB of RAM and a 250GB hard drive, was just too slow to handle Lightroom and RAW images.  I’m still using my old desktop to watch TV shows on the internet via Hulu, so I’m not throwing it away just yet.

HD Video with the Canon XSi (Kinda)

HD video is all the rage now with newer DSLRs.  Unfortunately, my Canon XSi (aka 450D) doesn’t come with any video recording capabilities.  However, there is a hack that lets me record video in 720p HD (via PetaPixel) with my DSLR.  The method does have its limitations though.  First, your Canon DSLR must have LiveView and has to be tethered to a computer via the USB cable to record video.  This technique works in the studio/home setting, and you might be able to be a bit more mobile with a laptop, but it’s not very practical otherwise.  Another problem with this hack is that it doesn’t record sound.  You’ll have to use another device to record sound and add the sound to your movie after wards.

Despite the limitations, it is free and very easy to do.  Just download EOS Camera Movie Record and install it on your computer.  Plug your Canon DSLR into your computer (via the USB cable), start up the program, and you’re ready to record.  The software is pretty simple to use and produces movies in AVI format.  You can watch a YouTube video that takes you through the process.

I recorded a short movie of cars outside my apartment (see below).  I added music and titles with Microsoft’s Movie Maker, which comes with Windows.  Unfortunately, Movie Maker only allows you to save as a WMV file and only at 720×480.  I’m not sure why it’s a bit noisy – probably due to the low lighting or maybe a reflection on the glass.  Movies with the XSi (450D) I’ve seen on YouTube look pretty amazing.

DSLR Lenses: a Blessing & a Curse

One advantage of using a DSLR is the ability to change lenses depending on the type of photograph you want to take (see Three DSLR Lenses You Need).  Some will argue that lenses are just as important if not more important than the camera body (see Lenses Are the Real Key to Stunning Photos for an introduction to DSLR lenses).

I started out with a kit lens (standard zoom lens, 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS lens) that came with my Canon XSi, but I recently added a faster prime lens (i.e. Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II) to my gear bag for low light situations.  The lens was relatively inexpensive, $99.95 on Adorama.

Being able to change lenses can be a curse in certain ways.  First, the vast variety of lenses is a bit overwhelming.  Check out the step-by-step guide to finding the right lens for your needs at Digital SLR Guide.  Second, the costs of lenses are pretty staggering; many lenses cost as much or more than the actual camera body itself.  I can easily see how expensive my hobby can quickly become.  Third, instead of just carrying around my camera with the one lens attached, I’m now forced to carry additional lenses in a bag.

Despite all of the inconveniences, it’s no surprise that photographers carry additional lenses with them, especially when you see the beautiful photographs as a result of using the right lens.

I was fortunate enough to visit the California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park just after I got my new 50mm lens.  The lens was awesome in the low light setting of the jelly fish aquarium.

Jelly fish at the California Academy of Sciences, San Francisco

Price Drop for the Olympus E-P1

Olympus released the E-P1 last summer for a price of $799.99 to pretty rave reviews (via Engadget).  I’m not sure what happened recently, but the price recently dropped to $599.99 on Amazon.  Costco is offering an extra $100 off, so the price is down to $499.99.  It’s a pretty amazing price drop considering the camera is still less than a year old.  The price of the E-P1’s little brother, the E-PL1, also dropped from $599.99 to $539.99 on Amazon, which doesn’t make much sense given the E-P1’s price.  It will be interesting to see if the E-PL1, as well as Panasonic’s GF1, drops further in price.

Canon Loyalty Program

If your Canon digital camera doesn’t work and the warranty has expired, you have the option of trading in your broken camera for a refurbished Canon camera.  Canon doesn’t really advertise the loyalty program, but you can find articles about the program online.

I recently traded in my girlfriend’s Powershot SD700 IS which had a broken external shutter.  Canon offered me a refurbished Powershot G10 for $249 ($280 after tax and shipping).  A used G10 goes for about $300-$350 on Craiglist, so the loyalty program is not a great deal, but not a bad one either.  According to people who have participated in the loyalty program, some of the cameras that you can trade-up to are brand new.  The G10 I received was clearly a refurbished model; it was dusty and had some very small scratches on the body.  All refurbished cameras come with a 90-day warranty however.

Despite being refurbished, the G10 works fine.  It’s an older model in Canon’s G-series; the newest model is the G11.  Some people argue that the differences between the G10 and G11 aren’t big enough to justify the price difference.  The G10’s three-inch LCD screen is pretty spectacular, however it does get a bit noisy/grainy at ISOs above 400.  For more on the G10, check out the review from Camera Labs.

You get three different choices depending on the camera you want to trade in and which refurbished cameras Canon has in stock.  As far as I can tell, none of the other major camera manufacturers have a similar trade-in program.  It’s a great way for Canon to keep customers loyal to the brand.

Carrying Camera Gear

My girlfriend just bought me a Crumpler 7 Million Dollar Home camera bag.  The bag normally retails for $140, but it was on sale for $98 (30% off) at the Crumpler store – I guess red is not a very popular color.  She was pretty concerned because I was carrying my new Canon XSi in a regular messenger bag that wasn’t padded.  Despite the fact that I still think $98 is pretty expensive for a bag, I guess it makes sense to have a padded camera bag when you’re carrying around more than $500 worth of gear.  I have to admit, the bag is really nice.  My only complaint is that it’s really thick and rigid, but that’s because of all the padding.  It’s not really a complaint – more of an observation.  I haven’t done that much research into camera bags, so I don’t know how the Crumpler compares with other bags.  Lowepro appears to be a pretty popular brand.  Online reviews for the Crumpler 7 Million Dollar Home are pretty positive though, and so far, I’m pretty happy with it.