Archive for category Photography

Equipment Guide: Buying your first camera

I’ve been asked this question many times, so I figured I’d just blog it. The answer to the question “Which camera should I buy?” really depends on your budget and your style. The first question may be easy to answer, how much money you have… but the second question might require some discovery. With that said, this guide is really written with a specific friend in mind but I am providing my rationale for each item I’m listing here so hopefully this will be useful anyone who stumbles upon this page**.


I’m recommending Canon equipment here not necessarily because I think Canon is better, but because I shoot with Canon and I’m more familiar with the gear and because my friend who I’m writing this for is looking to buy a Canon. If you’re just starting off, I recommend you try out all the other brands too and see how you feel about them. IMO, a camera is a camera… but choose wisely because once you pick a platform you’ve got a lot of money invested in the lenses and probably won’t want to switch.

First, some plug:

  • Invest in good lenses first because they don’t obsolete, they keep their value and you can keep using them when you upgrade your body
  • Prime lenses are ideal for learning photography IMO. I have a post about this.

And some recommendations:

In the digital world, camera bodies become obsolete just as fast as computers. About every 12 months, Canon announces a new model. Thus, I’d recommend saving money on the camera body now, and spending more down the road when you can truly utilize the additional features on the camera.

Some more thoughts when picking a camera:

  • Megapixels don’t really mean much. Anything over 8MP is more than fine for most things you will be doing with your photos anyway.
  • Look at the maximum ISO for the camera and read reviews on how well they perform at each ISO. ISO is the sensitivity to light; the higher the maximum ISO, the better your camera will perform in low light. A typical entry-level DSLR will have an ISO range of 100-1600 iso to 100-6400 iso.
  • Hold the camera in your hands. While I’d generally recommend buying it online because you can generally get a better deal, it’s a good idea to stop by a camera store and try holding these bodies. You’ll realize that the Rebel series have very small grips and if you have large hands you might prefer to go with the 50d.

Rebel XS – Currently the least expensive DSLR in Canon’s lineup. This will set you back around $400-500.

Rebel T1i/T2i – If you’re interested in also doing video.

50D – This body is targeted to the “prosumer”. It has many of the features of Canon’s higher end cameras, but without the hefty price tag. It also has a more ergonomic grip.

40D with a 28-135mm lens attached.

Some thoughts about lenses:

  • Primes! They’re cheaper and they generally produce better photos for their price (compared to zooms). One of the characteristics that you look for in a lens is the maximum aperture. That is–how wide can the opening become?
  • You generally want a lens with a large maximum aperture. The larger the opening (the smaller the f-stop number — eg. f/2.8 is a larger aperture than f/4) the more light can get through (better in low-light situations) and the more background blur you get (referred to as bokeh)
  • Why do you care about bokeh? Nice background blur/shallow depth of field is one of the things that will set your photos apart from those taken with a point and shoot camera.
  • Lenses generally keep their value, so treat it as an investment.

Some Terminology (Canon):

  • EF – Is Canon’s lens mount. EF stands for “Electro-Focus” and replaces its predecessor, the FD mount (which is not compatible with EF). The cameras I recommended here will take both EF and EF-S lenses. EF-S is a subset of the EF mount which will only work on certain camera bodies.
  • USM – Ultrasonic Motor is the type of motor used in the lens’ AF (autofocus) system. USM is typically faster and quieter than the standard non-USM motor used in cheaper lenses. If you can afford it, find lenses with this type of motor. You can tell if a lens has this feature by looking at the name. For example, EF 24-70mm f/2.8L USM has this feature, whereas the EF 50mm f/1.8 II does not.
  • IS – Image Stabilized lenses have special gyros in the lenses that detect movement or vibration and compensate for the shift to mitigate blur in images.
  • f/xx – The maximum aperture of a lens is denoted by f/(value). For example, the maximum aperture of the EF 50mm f/1.4 USM is 1.4. Remember, smaller number means larger opening.


EF 50mm f/1.8 II – For around $100, you can get a lens that will get you very professional results. This is a prime lens so that means there is no zoom. At 50mm on these digital bodies, you’ll be fairly zoomed in making this lens ideal for portraits and still life photography. Its a great lens to start off with but if you mainly want to shoot landscapes, you may want to consider a different lens. Check out the Flickr pool to see what people have done with this lens: If you can afford to spend a little more, go for the EF 50mm f/1.4 USM. It has a nicer autofocus (AF) motor/focus ring and it has a slightly faster aperture (meaning that it can perform better in low light).

The Sigma 30mm f/1.4 is a great lens. 50mm used to be the “normal” lens on 35mm film bodies because the field of view closely mimicked the field of view for human vision. These digital camera bodies have a 1.6x crop-factor compared to 35mm film so (30mm * 1.6x gives you 48mm) which is very close to the normal field of view. I really believe that prime lenses are the best way to learn photography because you can focus on composition and exposure. This is a great lens to do that with. It has a HSM AF motor which is Sigma’s equivalent to Canon’s USM.


If you’re going to be shooting a lot of landscape or stuck in tight spaces, you might want a zoom lens. Note that the 50d kit comes with the 28-135mm. I’ve shot with that lens for many years and I love that lens. It’s a good deal and a great beginner’s zoom lens. The other two lenses are very new in Canon’s lineup. They are a bit wider than the 28-135 so you get a wider field of view.

You’ll notice that the less expensive Canon zoom lenses have slower apertures than the expensive one which has f/2.8. If you’re going to be shooting in low light, it is best to get a zoom with a fast aperture. Also, these f/2.8 lenses do not change apertures as you zoom. The EF 28-135mm f/3.5-5.6 will be f/3.5 when you’re zoomed to 28mm and f/5.6 when you’re zoomed to 135mm which is slightly annoying to compensate for. Essentially, this Sigma lens gives you that nice fast aperture for a relatively cheap price tag.


If you’re shooting sports, I recommend the 70-200mm. It is one of the cheapest L-series lenses you can buy (L-series is Canon’s high-end lenses that feature superior glass and build quality). I have shot with this lens for many years and still have not outgrown it. It produces stunningly sharp images and the AF motor is blazingly fast. If you are planning on doing portraits, the 85mm 1.8 is a great choice. It produces amazing bokeh and has a reasonable price tag.


Pick a body, and then pick one or two lenses to go with it. I started off with the Rebel XT. For a while my kit was the 28-135 with the 70-200. I used the 28-135 as my walk-around lens and 70-200 for portraits and shooting sports. If you have questions, want some recommendations or advice, feel free to leave a comment or email me at me at prenticew dot com.

Hope this guide was useful.

** – If you’ve stumbled upon this page some time in the future, its worthwhile to look at what’s new. Lenses won’t change very much but the camera bodies will.

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Learning Photography — Prime Lenses

Whether you’re new to photography or you’ve been shooting for a while, if you’re still using your kit zoom lens — you should consider getting a prime lens as your next lens.

July 16 - The Spiffy New Lens
An EF 85mm f/1.2L II mounted on my 40D

What is a “prime” lens? A prime lens is a lens with a fixed focal length meaning that it can not zoom. So you may wonder why in the world would you want to get a lens that doesn’t allow you to zoom? Well there are at least a dozen reasons I could give you — among them: primes are cheaper (generally for the quality you get), sharper, and faster.

Zoom optical systems are generally fairly complex because they have to correct for more factors; thus, with a simpler design, primes often require less glass (lower price) and/or produce a higher quality image (higher image quality). Furthermore, prime lenses often have larger apertures (especially for the price). You’ll find primes with apertures around f/1.4 for under $500, whereas most zoom lenses with an aperture of f/2.8 are going to very likely cost over $1k! Faster apertures also make these lenses great for taking photos at night or in a dim room without a flash. The shallow depth of field makes these lenses great for taking portraits with a beautiful background blur as well.

In addition to the tangible benefits, prime lenses also help reinforce important concepts in photography. Many photographers become lazy and use zooming to compose their images. Zooming rather than physically moving yourself to recompose your shot makes a big difference! Using a prime lens forces you to move around to recompose and makes you a better photographer. Using a prime also encourages the photographer to focus on other thing such as focusing and exposure.

Shows the same subject shot at 24mm vs. 200mm.

Shows the same subject shot at 24mm vs. 200mm.

You can see in this example that the same subject shot at two different focal lengths produce two extremely different images. Notice how the wide shot at 24mm emphasizes the shape of the glass and there is quite a bit of the background in view. In contrast, the 200mm shot compresses the detail and the glass looks pretty flat. Not as much of the background is also in the shot because the field of view is narrower. Because of this, telephoto lenses are generally preferable for shooting portraits because it does not emphasize facial features such as the nose or chin.

So which lenses should I get? Here’s a list of some prime lenses…

Read the rest of this entry »

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Cal Poly Spring Dance Show 2010

Highlights: Cal Poly Spring Dance Show – Images by Prentice Wongvibulsin


This year’s student choreographed dance show was even better than last year’s! You can find all 250 photos in the gallery below ( Also, photos from last year’s show.

Spring Dance Show 2010 – Images by Prentice Wongvibulsin

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Jen at Sunset






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Jillian in Black and White

I wondered around downtown with this wonderful lady doing her photo project today and decided to do one of my own! She was making portraits of employees in local businesses… and I was documenting her :).

Entire Set:


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Kara & Robbie

I photographed this wonderful couple a few weeks ago! These are Kara & Robbie’s engagement photos.

The set on Flickr can be found here:

Please click here to enlarge the photos if you are viewing in a browser.

Robbie and Kara


Robbie and Kara


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eWeek 2010!

I have not posted for a while, mostly because this quarter has been busy as hell! Most of it thanks to eWeek (Engineers Week). I’m on of the directors for eWeek and that means I’m responsible for overseeing and planning over 22 events over 4 days.

We did some pretty cool stuff for eWeek, the biggest thing in my opinion was our awesome barcode system! In the past, we used “passports” as a marketing tool to encourage people to attend our events. At the beginning of the week, people can pick up a passport and at every subsequent event they attend they get a stamp. The more stamps they collect, the more prizes they become eligible for (including a HDTV!). While this system was effective in increasing event attendance, I saw an opportunity to collect more useful statistics by using a barcode tracking system.

I developed a web application in collaboration with Brian Oppenheim which allowed us to track who came to our events and when they came to our events. This data allowed us to analyze the effectiveness of our publicity, popularity of events, the most effective times to schedule events, major (EE, ME, CSC, etc.) representation at events, etc. etc.

I’ll probably have to write a blog post about this system eventually… but for now… enjoy these photos!

(also a video to come).

eWeek 2010 Website:

Photos on Flickr:

Day 1 (Tuesday):

Day 2 (Wednesday):

Day 3 (Thursday):

Day 4 (Friday):

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A new lens for the Rebel XT

New Lens!

I recently picked up a new lens for my Rebel XT. I’ve been primarily shooting with my Canon EOS 40D and an EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM but I decided that I needed a good quality, small and compact lens for my Rebel XT.

After doing some research, I decided to pick up the EF 35mm f/2.  It is an amazing lens!  Considering that this lens is only $319, I was impressed by how sharp the lens is even when shot wide open.  Also, the depth of field is very shallow wide open which is great for portraits.  The size of the lens also works well for the size and weight of the rebels.



In my opinion the bokeh quality is very nice when shot wide open, but due to the 5 blade aperture, the out of focus highlights appear is pentagons which is not very pleasing.

Perhaps the biggest issue I hav with this lens is that the AF is obscenely loud. The AF motor makes a high pitch whirl which is audible even in moderately loud rooms. Also, this lens does not have FTM.

On the other hand, the AF is reasonably fast and the build quality of this lens is pretty sturdy too. It doesn’t “feel like a toy” (as some people have described the EF 50mm f/1.8 II).

If you’re looking for a compact lens to shoot in available light, I’d highly recommend this lens. Especially if you’re just starting out with a rebel and you’re looking to get serious about photography.

While in a similar price range, I choose this lens over the EF 50mm f/1.4 USM because, while the 50mm is an extraordinary lens, on a 1.6x FOVC camera, it is slightly too telephoto as a walk-around lens. The 50mm is a great lens and I’d pick up one of these too if you can afford both.

The EF 24mm f/2.8 and EF 28mm f/2.8 are actually closer to 50mm (on a 1.6x FOVC) but I didn’t choose these because they got terrible reviews.

Finally, the Sigma 30mm f/1.4 is in the same price range as these lenses and I’d also highly recommend this lens. It is larger than the EF 35mm f/2 but it is still a good fit on the rebel bodies. This lens also has a HSM motor (which is Sigma’s equivalent of USM) and FTM. Unfortunately this lens only works with 1.6x FOVC bodies so if you decide to upgrade to a full frame down the road, this lens would be incompatible. But if you’re just getting started that upgrade maybe be very far down the road anyway.

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I was listening to an interview with Rick Smolan today and I loved this quote. Its totally how I feel about photography :).

The camera was my way of kind of getting over the shyness. I mean it let me go up to strangers, girls in particular when I was 16, and talk to people that I had no reason to be talking to and the camera was just this wonderful excuse to sort of poke my nose into other people’s lives and my wife accuses me of using it as way of being there but not being there. It’s like family events. I am taking pictures instead of interacting with my kids.

–Rick Smolan


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Free Portrait Day – Halloween 2009

Free Portrait Day - Halloween 2009People dress up in such great costumes for Halloween — instead of just giving out candy, why not some free portraits too! Some trick-or-treaters and some friends came over to be immortalized in their Halloween costumes. Photographs were shot by me (Prentice Wongvibulsin) and Brian Ujiie.

The hi-res photographs are available in this Flickr set. To obtain the hi-res version of the image, click on the “all sizes” button above the image and select “Original”. Leave a comment if you have problems getting to it. Also, I haven’t had time to go through all the portraits yet so also leave a comment if you don’t see yours here.


This post contains hi-res images: Please hide the sidebar by clicking HERE.


This post contains a few of the images from the set:

Free Portrait Day - Halloween 2009

Free Portrait Day - Halloween 2009

Free Portrait Day - Halloween 2009

Free Portrait Day - Halloween 2009

Free Portrait Day - Halloween 2009

Free Portrait Day - Halloween 2009

Free Portrait Day - Halloween 2009

Free Portrait Day - Halloween 2009

Free Portrait Day - Halloween 2009

Free Portrait Day - Halloween 2009

Free Portrait Day - Halloween 2009

Free Portrait Day - Halloween 2009

Be sure to view the entire set!

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