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3 posts from August 2010

Sunday, August 29, 2010

8 Steps to Choosing Lenses for Your DSLR Camera

d300.thumbnail 8 Steps to Choosing Lenses for Your DSLR CameraBy Contributing Author, Yanik Chauvin

I don’t know about you but not long after playing with my brand new Nikon Coolpix 4500 many years ago, I was already dreaming of owning a DSLR. Then the day came…. my very own Nikon D70! Boy, was I a happy camper! Of course, I took it with the kit lens which was a Nikkor 18-70mm. I didn’t know much about lenses back then. But I had read that this lens was a good (but not great) average lens.  And I was happy with it most of the time. But….

vide 8 Steps to Choosing Lenses for Your DSLR Camera
Owning a DSLR means you’ll eventually be getting more lenses so that you can explore and develop your creativity. But which lenses to get? There are so many out there. And if you’re like me, going to a camera store is like bringing a kid into a candy store! You just want everything! You see a guy testing a Nikkor 70-200mm VR and you want it. Another person is buying a Sigma 105mm macro lens and you want that one too! But how to choose?

Here are some of the questions that I asked (and keep asking) myself before purchasing a new lens. These are very important steps so that you don’t go and impulse buy or just buy the wrong lens for your needs.

Step 1 - What do you like to shoot?

To me this is the most important question. Now, if you answered “everything," try narrowing it down just a bit. ;) In my case, when I started out, I loved shooting bugs and flowers. I was often at the cottage and always had my D70 with me. But my Nikkor 18-70mm just wasn’t doing it for me. So I asked myself, “what kind of lens do I need to get great bug shots?” And after a bit of research I found out that macro lenses were perfect for my need. So I went out and purchased my second lens ever, the Sigma 105mm macro.
vide 8 Steps to Choosing Lenses for Your DSLR Camera
So? I’ll ask again. What do you like to shoot most? Is it birds? Then maybe a Canon 100-400mm IS would be best. Concerts? You’ll need a fast lens for low light situations so a 50mm f1.4 might suit your needs.
vide 8 Steps to Choosing Lenses for Your DSLR Camera
Remember to ask yourself this question before every lens purchase or you might end up with glass accumulating dust at the bottom of a bag. I know, I have a few. ;)

Step 2 - Do your research

Ok, so you figured out what type of lens is best for what you want to shoot. Great! But there are many to choose from. Which one, which one? Well, you’re probably wondering why I chose the Sigma 105mm over the Nikkor 105mm. The answer is simple. I did my research. I just typed “sigma 105mm review” in Google and then the same for the Nikkor 105mm. In a nutshell, I found out that both lenses had about the same image quality but the Sigma was $300 cheaper. And since I knew this lens wasn’t going to be used to generate income (even if I get their good side, bugs don’t sell well on stock sites ;)), I went with the less expensive one.
vide 8 Steps to Choosing Lenses for Your DSLR Camera
You can find some great  lens reviews online. You can also check out DPReview and Lens-Reviews for user feedback.

vide 8 Steps to Choosing Lenses for Your DSLR Camerasigma 105.thumbnail 8 Steps to Choosing Lenses for Your DSLR Camera

Step 3 - How picky are you on image quality?

Don’t get too freaked out when you read some of the reviews out there. They tend to be very technical and sometimes, and I do stress sometimes, nitpick on the most minor details. That said, some lenses are just plain horrible. Luckily, in the lens world, most of the time you get what you pay for. Also, you have to ask yourself if this is a hobby or are you planning on making money with your photography? I know people that have bottom off the line lenses and are very happy. So go into the store and check them out. Better yet, do step 4!
vide 8 Steps to Choosing Lenses for Your DSLR Camera

Step 4 - Give it a test drive

So you’ve read the reviews and you found the one you want. Super! Before forking over the cash, why not play with it for the weekend? Most cities will have camera stores that will rent out lenses. It’s usually pretty cheap to rent a lens and I personally think it’s a great investment.  You can see the results on your computer and test it out in various situations. Something you can’t do in the store when you only have 2 minutes to play with it. Test it for what you’re actually going to use it for mostly remember step 1?). If you love shooting sports, I wouldn’t recommend shooting flowers in a vase. ;)
vide 8 Steps to Choosing Lenses for Your DSLR Camera

Step 5 - What’s your budget?

A very important question indeed. If you’re a pro and you know that your new lens will pay itself off with your next 2 contracts, it’s a no-brainer. But if you’re an amateur, this becomes important. You need to ask yourself how much are you willing to spend for your hobby? Make yourself a yearly photo budget that is within your means. I strongly recommend not getting into debt for a hobby.
vide 8 Steps to Choosing Lenses for Your DSLR Camera
But if you really, really, really want that 70-200mm VR and you can’t afford it full price, try getting it used on Ebay. Sometimes, even your local photography store will sell used equipment. You won’t get super deals if the lenses are in good condition because lenses have a high resale value but you can save around 10-20%.

vide 8 Steps to Choosing Lenses for Your DSLR Cameranikon 70 200mm.thumbnail 8 Steps to Choosing Lenses for Your DSLR Camera

Step 6 - 3rd party lenses

Ok, some of you are purists out there and I respect that. But there are other alternatives from companies like Sigma, Tamron and Tokina. They also make lenses with either a Canon or Nikon mount. We call them 3rd party lenses. They used to be of lower quality but have improved dramatically over the last 5 years. They actually give the big boys a run for their money. I actually own 2 Sigma lenses.  If you’re on a tight hobby budget, 3rd party lenses can be great since they’re usually cheaper (sometimes more than 50%!).
vide 8 Steps to Choosing Lenses for Your DSLR Camera

Step 7 - Image Stabilization

Should you get image stabilization in your lenses? Before asking that question, what does it do? Basically, it lets you shoot at a slower speed hand-held without blur. Usually, the average photographer can shoot hand-held as slow as 1/60 sec. without blur. With image stabilization, you could, on average,  shoot as slow as 1/15 sec. without blur due to camera shake. Image stabilization is for camera shake only. It’s there to stabilize your camera not your subjects. :) It’s great for low light situations.
vide 8 Steps to Choosing Lenses for Your DSLR Camera

Step 8 - How important is aperture?

I’m finishing off with this step because this might play a major role in your lens selection. As you might already know, the smaller the f-stop number, the wider the opening and the more light comes in which means you can shoot at faster speeds. Sometimes you’ll find lenses that seem the same at first glance but one is cheaper than the other and you wonder why. Check the maximum aperture. For example, you can get a 50mm f1.8 and a 50mm f1.4. The first one is $135.00 and the second is $500.00. Big price difference but if you’re shooting in low light all the time and you’re making money with your images than it might be worth it.
vide 8 Steps to Choosing Lenses for Your DSLR Camera

Final thoughts

One thing that I keep suggesting to fellow photographers looking to buy a new lens is to look at lenses like an investment. Camera technology advances at a neck breaking speed so camera bodies change fast and loose value. Lenses, on the other hand, don’t. That’s why lenses retain their resell value. You camera bodies will change over the years but your lenses won’t so get good glass right away. Even if you need to wait an extra few months to save up, you won’t regret it. Working with good equipment makes for a pleasurable experience and therefore better photos! :)



Tuesday, August 17, 2010

A Quilt for Baby Reagan


Last week I got busy making a quilt for my granddaughter, Reagan.  She'll be One on Sept. 5th!!  I wanted to do something special and decided to make Reagan a "First" quilt for her "First" birthday.  I did not, however, want it to be baby colors or toy pictures - something that she would outgrow.  So, although the quilt is not large, it is small enough for her to use in her crib and large enough for her to use as a lap quilt when she gets older.  


Jelly Rolls are great.  I love 'em.  A Jelly Roll is a roll of 40 strips of fabric, each different from the same collection.  Each strip is 2.5" x 45".  For this quilt, I used the Jelly Roll by Moda's Martinique collection, and I used the book "Two from One Jelly Roll Quilts" by Pam and Nicky Lintott - page 88, the "Jigsaw Quilt."  I love this book!  Great designs and beautiful quilts and instructions for making the quilts with Jelly Rolls.  NOTE: You "will" need to get the Omnigrid 96 ruler to make these quilts and many of the quilt designs with Jelly Rolls.  You can order it online or try to find it at your local quilt store.  I searched and searched throughout Charlotte and finally found it at the Creative Sew & Vac in Ballantyne.  


I can quilt fast if I get all the cutting done, lay out the pieces to be sewn, and then chain stitch them together.  You can whip right through the quilt blocks in no time flat.


Everything is a 1/4" seam in quilting.  Usually that means you only have to follow the edge of your presser foot, but not always.  Before you start making a quilt, take a scrap piece of fabric and stitch a seam along the edge of the fabric using the edge of your presser foot as a guide, then measure it.  Adjust the difference to where you place your fabric for making your quilt so that you will always have an exact 1/4" seam. Accuracy is key in making a quilt that fits together seamlessly and accurately.


Always have a hot steam iron ready and waiting.  Pressing is as important in making a quilt as the stitching!!


I try to stay organized when I quilt.  I lay out pieces by size and color, and I lay out the completed blocks in groups of 10.  Of course, I throw the rest of the jelly roll fabric to one side - hey! I'm entitled to be a little messy!! 


Here are some of my finished blocks. If you are diligent about your cutting, 1/4" seam, pressing, and piecing the seams together with pins as you sew, you'll have beautiful quilt blocks and strong points on your triangles.


I had lots of little square pieces set aside.


This quilt called for 30 blocks, so I cleared off my kitchen table and laid them out until I was happy with the arrangement.


I sewed the blocks together in rows, then I sewed the completed rows together, matching seams as I pinned and stitched.


I had 9" strips cut from the 2.5" x 45" strips from the Jelly Roll.  I sewed several together for all 4 sides to form a border.  Then, I sewed the sides onto the quilt top first, then the top and bottom border to form a beautiful completed border around the quilt top.

When the quilt top was done I cleared off my bed, laid the backing (Right Side Down) onto the bed.  I took straight pins and pinned the backing to the mattress, making sure it was taut.  After the backing was nice and flat, I placed the cotton batting on top of the backing and the quilt top on top of that.

The backing and the batting should be considerably larger than your quilt top.  I place my quilt top in the center so that all sides have plenty of backing and batting around the quilt top.  Starting in the middle, safety pin your quilt top to all 3 layers, making sure not to pin it to your bed!!  Work from the center out to each side, and then the center to the top and the center to the bottom, pinning the quilt and making sure it is flat the entire way.  You are now ready to start basting!!


By basting, I mean "Let's get rid of those safety pins and straight pins!!"  I can't work with pins in my quilt, especially if I am machine quilting, so I baste the entire quilt.  Again, start in the middle and baste to the bottom, then baste the center to the top, center to left side and center to right side.  Then stitch center to corner for all 4 corners. 


Make sure you use a contrasting thread when you baste, it will save you tons of time removing the basting stitches.  You will have a lot of long threads in the middle of the quilt. Leave them there as it will make it easier to pull them out when you are done quilting.  After I did the initial basting, I basted long straight seams about every 8 inches down each side then from top to bottom to form a checkerboard of basting. Your basting will hold your quilt layers in place and prevent puckering and shifting of layers while you machine quilt.


I wear quilting gloves when I quilt.  The gloves make it very easy to grasp the quilt layers and move the quilt for stitching.  For this quilt, I started with "stitch in the ditch" which simply means I stitched along the seams of each block and triangle.


When I was done with the "stitch in the ditch" quilting, I added some "stipple" quilting to the larger white triangles throughout the quilt.


Quilting is a system.  Once you have the system down, it is a real joy to quilt and piece together your work.  After all the quilting was done, I removed the dark basting stitches which held all 3 layers in place. 

I laid it out on my table and trimmed away the excess batting and backing along the edge of the border.


Time to add the binding!  This is my favorite part, because it goes fast and then you're done and can admire your work.  Jelly rolls make this process easy!  I sewed long sections from the jelly roll together on the short ends, pressed the seams open, and began sewing the binding on the quilt.  I did mess up one thing here - I forgot to press under one long edge before I began sewing it to the quilt.  I suppose I was anxious to finish.  So, I'll save you the trouble - after you have pressed open your connecting seams on your binding, press one long side up 1/2".  Only one long side, not both, then put the long edge that is not folded up, with right sides together, along the top of your quilt and line it up nicely along the raw edge of your quilt top.  Using a 1/4" seam (or the edge of your presser foot) and folding under the beginning short end (so that when you finish sewing on the binding and you reach the beginning again, fold the binding over to the other side and you have a finished edge), begin to sew on your binding.  Start putting on the binding in the middle of the bottom of the quilt. That is where I always start.


When you get to the edge, stop your stitching 1/4" from the corner and back stitch to lock it.  Remove it from the machine and take it to your table.  Fold the strip up and away from your quilt giving it a 45 degree angle. (NOTE:  In this picture, I folded my quilt in half on my sewing table and that is why you see the back of the quilt above the top corner of the quilt top where I am applying the binding.  I didn't want the picture to be confusing)


Fold the finding back down along the other edge of the quilt and pin it in place at the top edge.  You will begin sewing from that very corner down the long edge to the next corner and do the same thing using a 1/4" seam allowance.


Add about an inch extra to the end of the binding.  When you are done, fold the binding over to the other side and line up the pressed and folded edge of the binding to the stitching from the other side.  Now, you can straight stitch or you can add a decorative stitch to this piece of the puzzle.  I always like to add a decorative stitch for the finished edge of my binding because it looks really nice on both sides.


And here is my finished quilt!!  I am really proud of the way it turned out and I think the fabrics are interesting and will attract Reagan's interest.  She can use it in her crib, or when she goes to the park.  She'll be able to sit and play on it in her family room or playroom.  Someday, she may use it to cover her legs and read or hang it on the wall.  However she enjoys this quilt as she grows up, I hope she will know that her grandmother Susan stitched a lot of love into every block.

Here is what a Jelly Roll looks like and if you click it on, it will take you to the Martinique Jelly Roll that I used to create this quilt:


This is the Martinique Jelly Roll by 3 Sisters for Moda!  Click on the image to get one of your own!


This is the book that I used to make this quilt - pages 88 - 93 "Jigsaw Quilt."  Click on the book to go directly to Amazon and order one for your own!


I hope that you enjoyed reading about how I created "Reagan's First Quilt!"  




Monday, August 02, 2010

Name That PackSack Contest!!


I finished making Glen's bookbag/backpack today and it came out great.  So great in fact that I decided I needed to give these bags a nifty name.  I only came up with half of the name - "PackSack."  I like it.  But, I need something before the "PackSack."  Some-thing Packsack.

(If you look at the picture above, you will see that the bag has a zippered pocket on the front.)

I took elements from several backpacks the children already had, and elements from some patterns and altered them to create my own design.


I worked for a week making this bag for Glen.  He picked out the fabric and was so excited when I finally got started making it.  Today when I finished it, he couldn't wait to put it on and walk around the house with it on his shoulders.  That is why I love to sew and make things for my children and grandchildren - because of their smiles.  They're priceless.

Although it looks like most school backpacks out there, I have double seams, reinforcement stitching, heavyweight fabric and heavy interfacing, sturdy zippers, adjustable straps with quality hardware (not that plastic crap that snaps together) and plenty of room for books, folder pocket, and 4 additional pockets for car phone, ipod, pencils. 

(In the picture above you will notice that it has an exterior pocket on the side, both sides in fact, and an adjustable shoulder strap.)


So I finished this bag and I thought I would make some more and sell them in my Etsy shoppe, and I thought I would also sell the pattern, fully featured with step-by-step instructions and images to go with it.  All in all it comes with about 30 pages or more I think.  I have all the instructions typed, I just need to add the images - over 200!  Then, I would publish it as a .pdf and sell the pattern for anyone out there who is daring enough to want to try their creative hand at making their own packsack.

As you can see, there is a big interior pocket for a folder or something, and it has 2 interior side pockets as well, for pencils, cell phone, ipod, or a cold drink!


So here's the deal - help me name these packsacks.  If I use your choice of name, I will send you the instructions and pattern for the packsack for free!

The back of the packsack is padded.  This was my idea because I think backpacks are bad on the spine, and since I have a bad back, I want to protect my kids.  However, they refuse to take those book bags on wheels to school, so I came up with the idea of making a backpack with padding against the spine

The interior has binding around the edges that added an additional 2 reinforcement seams to the exterior seams of the bag for a total of 3 stitching seams around the perimeter of the bag, so that even if the weight of heavy books were to compromise it, it won't be at the seams!  


My kids go through backpacks like crazy and when I took a good look at their construction I winced. They're probably made in some sweat shop in China.  No sweating here, just time and lots of love.  I actually enjoyed making these backpacks for Sarah and Glen and now their friends are inquiring about how they can get one.  That is what inspired me to make some for sale and also to create a fully-featured pattern and instructions for sale as well.

So how about it?  What would you call them?  "........?........ PackSack"

(I even made pull tabs out of the remaining bias binding I made from the interior fabric.  Pretty cool, eh?)

Give them a name people!!

* * * * *

So, seriously, reading the comments has been funny, but I need a name for these backpacks.  My daughter thought DTK PackSack, I like the DTK and think it sounds great for marketing, but it stands for "Dressed to Kill" and I'm not sure I like that.  So keep up the suggestions!  I need something that a teenage boy wouldn't be embarrassed to say if asked who made his backpack.  Ha ha.  



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