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05-26-2011, 10:53 AM   #1
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What Should My Piggy Bank Be For?

Hi Everyone,

I am at at a fork in the road of how I should dedicate my piggy bank's growing funds too. Yes, I do like to toss any spare change in my piggy for my photographic equipment, as it gives me time to think about what I would like to buy. However, now I am confused, as I have been gunning for lenses, but now have different ideas that I need advice on.

First idea has always been on getting additional lenses. I have my wide-angle coverage already accounted for with my Sigma 20-40 zoom, however, I am a huge fan of portraits. I would love something to complement my FA50 that is fast and preferably has AF. I have my eyes and heart set on the FA77 Ltd, along with the DA 70 Ltd as a backup. I have also had my eye on the 85mm FL, with the Sigma 85mm AF and the SY 85mm MF lens. I think the 70-80mm range would be best for me. My biggest concerns, not so much cost, as I know it's something that I'm saving for and money won't be a huge issue, are the following: build quality, AF speed, and chromatic aberrations. I have heard fantastic stuff about the DA 70 in this regard, but the pixie dust and unique FL of the FA 77 are drawing me towards it. What would be the best one to gun for, as I am hoping to turn my hobby into something that brings in some money, so I would like something that I can possibly use on a film camera too, as I have been looking for one for a while already.

Second idea is a tripod. I love framing my shots and being in control without having to worry about breathing patterns or holding still and would like to get a tripod. I have heard that it's advisable to spend a few hundred on a good one, as I am prepared for it. Which type of head should I go for, as I have had my eye on a ballhead? I know this would be a great tool, especially if I am getting into portrait work.

Lastly, I have considered getting a flash. Granted that I do a lot of my shooting outside and don't require too much additional light, other than for macro work, I don't know how much use I could get out of a flash. But, once again, I know it's a must for portraits and other spots where additional lighting is needed.

Please let me know what your thoughts are, as I would love to be able to pick the best tools to help me improve my skills.

Thanks,

Brian

05-26-2011, 12:02 PM - 1 Like   #2
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If I were picking a portrait lens, I would take the FA 77; but I don't think you can go wrong with any of the lenses listed, or with the FA* 85.

While you probably don't need an expensive tripod (Manfrotto, Feisol, Flashpoint would all be servicable), I wouldn't skimp on the ballhead. I have a rather inexpensive Feisol ballhead; and while it's entirely adequate for the wide angle landscape work that I do, I would not wish to use it for portrait work. On the few occasions I have used it for longer, "portrait" focal lengths, I have found myself fighting against it. That is not what you want if you plan on doing professional work. So a ~$300 "professional" grade ballhead would seem to me a must.

Flash for portraits tends to get complicated fast. You might want to hunt down some books on the subject. Taking portraits outside may involve not merely flash, but reflectors, diffusers, etc. It can get complicated real quick.
05-26-2011, 12:24 PM   #3
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Hi Greg,

Thank you for the kind advice. I definitely found a good deal on a Viv Series 1 85mm (rebranded SY), but I don't know if it's worth it. I think a sub 80mm FL would be ideal, but there aren't too many choices for under $500 in that range. It's a small dilemma that I'm facing, as if I do pursue an AF 35mm SLR, I can use the FA77 on it, but if I don't, I can save some money by going with the DA70. I had a Sigma 70mm in mind, but I'm trying to go faster than f/2.8, which is why I have so many options. I'm shying away from straight MF lenses, like the Taks and K/M series lenses, as I simply desire auto-aperture capable lenses.

With regards to the tripod/flash concern, I am ever so grateful for the advice on the tripod. I have heard from old-timers that a reliable tripod is always something you want to invest in. I think that would be a great extra piece of gear to have, even if I don't use it too often. What brand/type of ballhead would be good for the gear I have listed in my sig? I know I need something that is able to hold the Viv Series 1 zoom steady in place.

Thanks,

Brian
05-26-2011, 02:45 PM   #4
wjt
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FA77 sounds like the winner there, covers all of your criteria for the best price. Also consider the FA43, though that may be too close to your zoom in focal length.

05-26-2011, 03:00 PM - 1 Like   #5
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The temptation seems to be to always be looking for a new lens. But I think a good tripod will do you more good than anything at this point. That's what I'm saving my pennies for.

The best and most expensive would a carbon fiber from Gitzo, Manfrotto, Giottos or a number of other vendors. Prices run up to $600. But if you are not planning on packing it into the woods then weight is less a concern and a good aluminum one of similar capacity can be had for half or even a third of that. Take a look at the Manfrotto 190 or 055 series. And take the time to research tripods, they seem to be even more complicated than lenses with all of the different options.

Heads generally come in two flavors, ball or pan-tilt. There are a number of variations on those themes but that's mostly it. Each has it's proponents, test them to see what you like best for the type of shots you take. Expect to pay at least $200 to $300 for a good ball head. Look at offerings from Gitzo, Manfrotto, Markins, Acratech, Giottos and others. As mentioned above this NOT the place to economize. Buy the best you can afford and it will be there for you no matter what camera or lens you have in the future.

Also note that it is generally accepted that you should de-rate the manufacturers weight claims by about half. That gives you some headroom for a new bigger lens as well as being a bit sturdier in less than ideal conditions.

Also pay attention to the quick release plate. Most manufacturers have their own proprietary one that does not fit any of the others. Look at Arca-Swiss compatible plates as they seem to be as much of a 'standard' as exists in the industry. There seem to be more options and accessories for this type than the others as well.
05-26-2011, 03:37 PM   #6
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Should I go for an all-on-one solution in order to get a good deal or should I pursue each part separately? I have found two options that aren't cheap, but then aren't wallet-burners either:

Option 1: Amazon.com: Manfrotto Pro 055XPROB Tripod (Black) Outfit with 322RC2 Grip Action Head and MBAG80P Case: Camera & Photo

or

Option 2: Amazon.com: Manfrotto 190CXPRO3 3-Section Pro Carbon Fiber Tripod without Head: Camera & Photo with Amazon.com: Giottos MH1000-652 Large Ball Head with Tension Control and MH652 Quick Release: Camera & Photo

Obviously, I am open to any insight anyone can offer me regarding the importance of the ballhead. I have zero experience with tripods and my main concerns are whether or not the tripod can hold my gear, along with build quality, weight, and warranty. I do need advice regarding the ballheads as I have no clue to how important a quality one is and don't want to skimp on this area if it'll be more important than the tripod.

Thanks.
05-27-2011, 08:25 AM   #7
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Personally I would buy the head and tripod separately but that's just me. And I think I'm going to get the Acratech Head so no choice as they don't sell tripods. But as long as you are satisfied with the head, and you can save a few bucks, no reason to not get a combo.

Be aware that many lower end tripods come with a head attached that cannot be changed. I would not recommend that as you cannot change the head in the future.

The Manfrotto 055XPROB is on my list and is reputed to be very good. I think I will end up with the lighter carbon fiber version 055CXPRO3 or 4 as I do a lot of hiking.

The 190CXPro3 is carbon fiber although with a lower rating than the 055 series. If you do not need the lower weight of carbon fiber look at the 190XPROB which is a lot cheaper.

What is the weight of your heaviest lens / camera combination? Take that and multiply by two and make sure BOTH the tripod and the head have at least that high a weight capacity rating.

Manfrotto has an excellent web site with all of their stuff listed with weight ratings and so on. So do most of the other manufacturers. Take a look at the Markins and Acratech web sites just for research. These are high end and you may not need one of these heads but you should end up with a better idea of what features to look for in a ball head.
05-27-2011, 10:14 AM   #8
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jatrax, that is some phenomenal advice that you provided me with. I definitely looked at Manfrotto's site and was blown away by the sheer amount of selection and detail that they have to offer. I do think I'll stick with the 055XPROB for my tripod choice, as it does support up to 15lbs, and I'll have to weigh my K-x and my Viv Series 1 (heaviest lens) to really see how much they weigh. I do have a little dilemma regarding the ballhead, as I don't think I'll be getting any heavier lenses than what I have now, so which of these would be the better choice for me, outside of the Acratech gear: Amazon.com: Manfrotto 468MGRC4 Hydrostatic Ball Head with RC4 Rapid Connect System (3271): Camera & Photo or http://www.amazon.com/Manfrotto-488RC4-Rapid-Connect-System/dp/B00009R6N3/re...6515167&sr=8-2 . These are both rated at higher loads than even the tripod, so I don't know if I should change my tripod selection or not.


Last edited by mr.b.snowden; 05-27-2011 at 11:21 AM.
05-27-2011, 11:21 AM   #9
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I just weighed my K-x with my Viv Series 1 attached and it comes out to 3.2 lbs, so I think I should be ok. Everyone, please let me know your thoughts on the selections I have proposed, mainly on the ballheads now, since I know, based off the advice of doubling the weight of the gear I have (equals 6.4 lbs), but then reducing the total advertised weight by half of the tripod (7.5 lbs), I should be ok with the tripod choice.
05-27-2011, 11:23 AM   #10
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I think 055xPROB is a good choice and the price is reasonable.

I'm not familiar with the Manfrotto hydrostatic head, maybe this is new or I missed it. I did a lot of research on this about 3 months ago. I decided that I could not afford what I wanted and would rather wait and save rather than get something I would want to replace in a few years.

The purpose of the tripod is to support your gear with as little vibration as possible. I think your choice here should work.

The purpose of the head is to support gear without letting it slip around or sag. A good ball head should allow you to set the tension and move the camera around and when you let go just hold it there.

I have been told by several people that a good ball head is a joy to use and a poor one an exercise in frustration.

So I cannot give you any experience with either of these heads except to say I am not going skimp on the device that is potentially holding up $2,000 worth of gear. The extra $100 or so for a top notch head is cheap in my opinion and that's why I'm waiting until I have enough saved for one that I know is total overkill. My expectation is that I will own several cameras and hopefully even more lenses in the years to come but I intend to buy the last tripod and head I will ever own.

Is there a local camera store that has these in stock you could check out? Getting a look at the build quality and what it feels like might help you decide. I doubt any of the box stores would have anything beyond el cheapo ones but some of the independents still carry a good stock of tripods.
05-27-2011, 01:40 PM   #11
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I agree that the 055xPROB is an excellent choice; I almost bought one myself a year ago last March. I also agree that a poor or even merely average ballhead can lead to issues. And it's not just an issue of bearing the weight. With the camera attached to a ballhead, you can easily move the camera until you get the right angle for the shot. But with the cheaper ballheads, when you tighten the ballhead to secure your camera in place, as the ballhead tightens the camera moves forward just enough to screw up your framing and force you to start all over again. This can be especially problematic with heavier lens of narrow focal lengths, such as the Viv Series 1 70-210.

Now ballheads that don't have issues when tightening down tend to be expensive, and if you can't afford it, then there's no help for it. However, given that you already seem to have some pretty nice lenses, of which at least three would make more than adequate portrait lenses, maybe a first-rate ballhead should be your initial priority. But that probably should depend upon how often you expect to use the tripod and ballhead. If you can't afford to get both the lens you want and the right ballhead, simply get first whatever you expect to use most and buy the second item when you can afford it.
05-27-2011, 02:07 PM   #12
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Thank you jatrax and Greg for the advice. I am deadset now on the Manfrotto tripod, all I have to do is decide on the ballhead. I know, obviously from experience with my lens purchases, that you get what you pay for. I might just keep the lenses that I mentioned on my wishlist for now, since I still have my Helios 44M-4 that didn't sell when I was advertising it, which is a sweet lens on its own.

If you were going to get a lens and you were in my shoes, granted the focal lengths that I already have, what would you get, the 43LTD that was mentioned, a 77LTD, or an 85mm f/1.4? I am going to forgo the DA70 due to wanting backwards compatibility with the film camera (which I have yet to research), as I already have that length covered with the zoom. Also, I don't know if 85mm, even at f/1.4, is too close in FL, but not aperture, to my 90mm macro, as I would be doubling up on the FL already due to my Viv zoom. What are your thoughts?
05-28-2011, 10:29 AM   #13
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Since you already have the FA 50/1.4, I would skip the FA 43 for now. As for portrait lenses, I'm partial towards the FA 77. It is intentionally designed to have unique rendering characteristics, and I'm a sucker for that sort of thing. But I don't think you can go wrong with the Sigma 85, if you really think you need the f1.4.
05-29-2011, 05:04 PM   #14
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The FA77 is a fantastic portrait lens, I'm having trouble getting it off my camera at the moment, between it and my FA31 my DA limiteds aren't getting much time.

As for the 055 tripod, I'd strongly suggest you go take a look at it in a store. I was all set on that tripod until I tried it out in store and it was just too big and heavy, no point in having a great tripod if it gets left at home because it's too clumsy to bring along. Tripods are not something I'd buy solely on the advice of an online forum, it's really some you need to go and look at and try (much like camera bags and camera bodies).
05-29-2011, 09:30 PM - 1 Like   #15
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It sounds like you love portraiture and want to take your game to the next level, and now you're choosing between a tripod, a lens, and a flash. Maybe it's just my style, but I almost NEVER shoot portraits using a tripod (unless I'm shooting myself). I like to be able to move all around my subject while I'm shooting.

And since you already have very nice 50mm and 90mm lenses that should both be great for portraits, I don't really see a pressing need for a new portrait lens.

So if you're really wanting to open new avenues in portraiture, my advise would be to buy some lighting gear. So the question is, what type of lighting gear?

At $224 each, you could pick up a couple AlienBees B400 strobes, some cheap light stands, a couple umbrellas, and a Chinese radio-trigger for about the same price as a decent lens. This lighting setup will open the door to all kinds of new photography. It's true that lighting can get complicated, but like anything else, you just start out simple and start to add more components as your knowledge and confidence increases.

Or if you're not sure you want to spend that kind of money, you can start out even cheaper. You can start with a single strobe, and can still do amazing things with just that one light. You can buy an old Paul C. Buff "White Lightning 10,000" coffee-can style strobe from the 80's for around $60 - $80 on eBay. This was my first kind of strobe a couple years ago, and even though it lacks some of the features of modern strobes, it's still very serviceable, and puts out way more light and recycles way faster than any speedlight. I now use the WL 10,000's as my background lights and have newer White Lightnings for my mains.

The following picture was taken a few days ago in my home studio (ie my basement) in order to test an old 6MP Samsung GX-1S camera (same as Pentax *ist DS2) with its 18-55mm kit lens that I recently bought on eBay (together with a Sigma 75-300mm lens) for $163. The lighting was provided by a single strobe on its lowest output setting placed about four feet to the subject's right with a medium softbox. The black background was provided by a large piece of black muslin fabric that only cost a few dollars at JoAnn's. Click the picture to open the full 6MP image.



And strobes have uses beyond the studio. For example, the following series of pictures were shot last Christmas Eve at the family get together at my house. I had two strobes placed in opposite corners in my great room. They each had a medium softbox and were both pointed at the ceiling. Whenever I took a picture, they both went off, bouncing tons of light all around the room. There really wasn't bad lighting to be had anywhere in the room. And since the lights were pointing up, they didn't bother anybody when they went off. I got a bunch of great pictures that night, including the following, all shot on my Pentax K-x with the Sigma 50-150mm f/2.8. Click the pictures for the full 12MP file to see how sharp the Sigma 50-150mm is at f/2.8.












Last edited by Edgar_in_Indy; 05-29-2011 at 09:46 PM.
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