How to Buy Used Lenses

With new lenses getting more expensive all the time, many photographers choose to purchase used gear and save money. While certain lenses can only be bought new (at least for a while), like the just-released Tamron 24-70mm f/2.8, used lens market is quite often an important aspect to consider when choosing a system. In this article I will try to explain the benefits of buying used lenses, as well as give you some tips on how to buy used lenses on-location knowing you’ll get a high-quality piece of equipment you will be happy with for years to come.

How to buy used lenses

Why Buy Used Lenses?

The obvious reason is to save cost, of course. Used lenses (in fully functional condition) can be bough for as much as 30 percent cheaper than brand new ones, and sometimes even more than that. This especially makes sense if you choose to switch systems – you can often buy lenses for as much as you sold those of previous brand, making the switch painless. Of course, newer lenses will be a bit more expensive, but still cheaper than what you’d get if you bought retail. In any case, this is down to each person’s opinion if he’s comfortable buying someone else’s lens.

The common question, however, is whether used lenses can be bought with full confidence. In short, no, unless you have a chance to thoroughly test it yourself before making the purchase. There are plenty of ways to make sure you’re not buying a dud, and to protect yourself from a serious financial damage. I’ll let you in on a secret – I’ve bought at least half of my gear used, including my 50mm f/1.4G lens I use more than any other, ever.

If a Used Lens Is On Sale, Does That Mean It’s Defective?

There aren’t all that many untrustworthy people out there as you may think, and most sellers have logical reasons to get rid of their gear. Ask yourself a question: if you were to sell a lens of your own, would that necessary mean you wish to fool someone into buying a spoilt piece of equipment? There are numerous reasons – some sellers find they don’t use that particular lens enough to justify owning it, or they may have found an alternative they think is more suitable to their style of shooting. People sell zoom lenses in favor of primes, and vice versa, all the time. Others begin to prefer a specific type of photography, for example – bird photography, and thus sell off their wide-angle lenses. Others want to make a switch to a different system or have a frustration with that particular lens that you may not find all that annoying (many people find slow focusing of 50mm f/1.4G lens a deal-breaker, while I’ve found a way to live with it while I must). Either way, number of viable reasons exceeds number of tricksters and thieves by quite a margin, rest assured.

With that in mind, I’m afraid I must be fair and mention that some people do try to fool a buyer by selling defective gear, and I know that from my own experience (I bought a lens with AF defect serious enough to be unusable, and sold it to a person with a warning and for a lot less money). And that is why we need short, simple guides like this to make buying used lenses a much safer bet.

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Ryan Brenizer Talks About His Panorama Method

A while ago, I posted an article explaining the Brenizer method panorama. Ryan Brenizer is a NYC based wedding photographer and the “father” of Bokeh Panorama, or Brenizer panorama, technique, which allows one to achieve an otherwise impossibly shallow depth of field at a given angle of view. While I did my best to explain how it all works, it’s often better to see how one does it once than read about it ten times. And who to better do it that Ryan himself?

So here are a couple more tips for those of you interested in learning this technique, followed by Ryan’s much more understandable and professional explanation.

Brenizer method panorama

1) Remember Composition and Light

While Brenizer method panorama can help even the most simple and dull photograph look amazing, any eagle-eyed photographer will be able to tell you’re just trying to fool people by using simple aesthetics, such as bokeh, which has nothing to do with your skills as a photographer, only the lens you’re using. Light, Subject and Composition are the main aspects of an image, even when it’s 9463-ish pixels wide and has the most beautiful background blur you’ve ever seen. Work on it – find the best light, the best pose or lack of one, and work on your composition skills – Brenizer method is there to improve your photography and give you more creative choice, but that’s all it can do. The rest is, once again, up to the living, breathing creature holding the camera with a lens set wide open.
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Mastering Lightroom: How to Manage Presets

One of the biggest advantages Lightroom offers over some other RAW converters, such as Camera RAW found in Adobe Photoshop environment, is speed and flexibility while working with tens, hundreds and even thousands of photographs at a time. However, it wouldn’t be quite as fast if we didn’t have a way of applying a set of our own settings to any amount of images we choose with a single click. For this, Photoshop offers us Actions and Batch processing. Lightroom, in turn, gives us Presets.

In this tutorial, I will show you how to manage an ever-increasing amount of presets. You will learn how to save new presets and remove those you don’t need anymore, how to export, import and organize them into different folders for simpler browsing. You will also learn how to update existing presets with new settings and how to remove certain settings so that they are not affected by presets.

1) What Are Presets and Why Would One Use Them?

Changing settings in Lightroom is very easy and intuitive. Adobe designed it with a very thought-out, photographer oriented workflow, suitable for most professionals and amateurs alike, and it offers an uncluttered, none-distracting interface. However, with such a huge amount of settings available (and, as a consequence, an immense amount of different looks you can achieve to your photographs), it would be very hard to memorize your favorite setups so that you could use them again and again. That is what we have presets for. Basically, presets are files that contain specific setting information you applied to a photograph. You can save a preset that will set the Temperature of the photograph you have selected to, say, 7300K degrees, or adjust Exposure to +1,15. While these would be very basic presets containing only one adjustment, you can save a preset that will change Temperature, Highlights, Blacks, Vibrance, Tone Curve, Color Luminance and add Vignetting and Grain to your image. This way, you can achieve a particular look with just one mouse click, and save lots of time you could then spend with your family or photographing.

One-Click Processing

Without presets, it’s impossible to experience all Lightroom has to offer, so it’s vital you learn how to use and manage them.
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Lightning Photography Tips for Beginners

We had a very ambitious storm last night, and where there’s a storm, there’s often lightning. Nasim has a detailed article written on “How to Photograph Lightning”, so if you hear there’s a storm coming in your area and you want to grab some amazing shots of it, Nasim’s extensive article will help you be prepared from the start.

When the storm hit, I didn’t have a tripod anywhere near me, but you don’t always need one if you just want to take a spontaneous photograph through an open window or a balcony. While I’m not usually one to photograph lightnings (or landscapes, for that matter), I still grabbed my old-ish D300 (still a great camera I use at weddings) with a AF-S 17-55mm f/2.8G lens mounted, set it to its widest setting of 17mm, closed down the aperture to f/8 (the wider the aperture, the thicker the lightning will be, but you’ll need to compensate using slower ISO setting or a ND filter to block some of the incoming light from the flash) and, after setting it to manual focus only, focused at infinity. My camera was set to Auto WB, ISO 200 (base setting for my D300) and Bulb setting in manual exposure mode (M).

Photographing Lightning_1

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Nikon D800 – Caviar, Sardines, or…Spam?

After reading slews of posts by others that received their D800s, I finally received my camera from B&H last week. I have to admit that my initial enthusiasm was a bit tempered by the many reports of the D800 having autofocus issues. I began to wonder, “Just what am I getting – a good D800 or a bad D800?” (think Wizard Of Oz…). Or perhaps more appropriately, did my camera fall into the Caviar, Sardines, or Spam category?

Here’s how I defined each, based on reports from those around the internet that have received this much lauded DSLR:
Caviar – Working perfectly, no autofocus issues
Sardines – Sharp center and right focus points, but the left bank of focus points noticeable out of focus and showing high chromatic aberrations
Spam – All autofocus points out of focus, even the center, with no amount of lens adjustments able to resolve the issue

Unfortunately, I happened to get the Sardine version of the D800. Sigh…

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Add Some Fish(eye) To Your Photography Diet

With the ever increasing rate of technological innovation in the photography arena, it is not too difficult to get caught up in the latest camera model, lens, or other gizmo, all designed to take our photography to the “next level.” The recent hype and debates surrounding noise levels and resolution differences between the Nikon D800 and Canon 5D Mark III alone could likely fill a few petabytes of disk space. In the midst of our obsession with the “latest and greatest,” we need to remember that photography is, at least on some level, supposed to be… well… fun! One of the best ways I know to inject a bit of fun into my photography exploits, is to attach a fisheye lens to my DSLR. These marvels provide a unique curved distortion (in some cases a full 360 degrees) that add a bit of character and spice to otherwise rather common photos and provide a unique perspective.

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How to Photograph a Solar Eclipse

I intentionally waited on posting this article on photographing a solar eclipse until it actually took place on 05/20/2012, because I wanted to document my experience and provide information on what challenges I had during the process of photographing this rare, but stunningly beautiful phenomenon. This was my first time trying to photograph a solar eclipse; in fact, it was my first time seeing one take place. Yes, there have been solar eclipses before, but I have been missing them all for some reason. This time, after I heard it on the news a week ago, I decided to watch it with my family and document the event with some photographs. While we in Denver were not as lucky as some folks in US southwest, Japan and a few other places to see the total solar eclipse, the partial eclipse still looked beautiful. Unfortunately, clouds moved in and blocked most of it for us here, but I still was able to capture a few shots when the clouds cleared up a little. I will be sharing those photos with you in this short tutorial. Hopefully when a solar eclipse takes place next time, you will have some useful information on how to photograph it with your camera.

Solar Eclipse

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Mastering Lightroom: How to Use the Tone Curve Panel

In this short tutorial I will show you how to use one of the easiest and most powerful tools found in Lightroom – the Tone Curve. In my previous tutorial about black & white conversions, I briefly showed you how to use the HSL Panel’s Luminance section to control the lightness of separate colors of the image. Using the Tone Curve Panel is very similar as it also allows you to control the lightness and darkness of various parts of a given photograph, however, rather than altering separate colors, the Tone Curve tool controls certain ranges of actual tones in the image.

What Is It?

Tone Curve Explained

The Tone Curve represents all the tones of your image. The bottom axis of the Tone Curve is the Tone axis: the line starts with Shadows at the left-most end and ends with Highlights in the right-most end. In the middle you have Midtones, which are then further split into darker Midtones, called Darks in Lightroom, and brighter Midtones, called Lights. In other words, going left to right, the curve starts with Shadows, Darks, Lights and ends with Highlights. You can also see the corresponding range shown to you by Lightroom once you hover over a specific slider under the Tone Curve, in the Region section of the Panel. The Y axis represents lightness of a given tones. The tones get darker as you move lower and brighter as you move up the axis.

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Mastering Lightroom: Branding and Customization

Lightroom is an amazing program with a myriad of great features to improve the look of your photographs. In addition to all the image editing and cataloging tools, Lightroom also has some cool built-in features to make it a little more personal. In this short tutorial, I will show you how to brand and customize your favorite RAW converter. A little :)

1) Identity Plate

You can brand your copy of Lightroom for your photography business by inserting your logo to the top left corner of the software through the “Identity Plate” setup. You can get to the “Identity Plate Setup” by clicking on Edit -> Identity Plate Editor. Make sure to check the “Enable Identity Plate” checkbox, otherwise you will see the default Lightroom logo at the top left of the window. In the editor, you can either use a stylized text Identity Plate, or a graphical Identity Plate.

How Does It Look - Text Stylized text Identity Plate allows you to input any text you want to show at the left side of your Modules Panel. Use the drop-down menus to set the font, style, size and color of any text (or a part of it). Using text makes it very easy and quick to change the Identity Plate at any time.

How Does it Look - Graphical Using Graphical Identity Plate allows for more flexibility – you can turn any image into an Identity Plate. Using PNG instead of JPEG format offers transparency, which, again, helps you make your logo blend in better with the graphical interface of Lightroom. One thing you need to be aware of is the height of the image you want to use – keep it at about 50-60 px, otherwise Lightroom will not fit it in the narrow Modules Panel.

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Mastering Lightroom: How to Use the Basic Panel

Lightroom has many features that can easily confuse those who are new to it. While the program offers plenty of different editing opportunities, in order to achieve the best results and user experience, it is important to understand the very basics of Lightroom. In the series of upcoming short articles, I will try to explain each of the most important Panels in Lightroom, so that in the end, you will find it to be a simple, quick and easy to use software for your post-processing needs. Lets start with the Basic Panel.

Where to Find It

Lightroom Panel List

The Basic Panel can be found in the Develop Module right bellow the Histogram display at the top-right side of the screen. Expanding the panel will reveal a number of basic controls offered by Lightroom. These controls show you the most obvious benefits of shooting in RAW, such as White Balance and Exposure Compensation adjustments. Lightroom was developed with a left to right, top to bottom editing workflow in mind. While in some cases you will find yourself going back and forth between the settings, we will try to stick with that order at this time.

Tip – if you left-click the top of any Panel while holding down the Alt key (for Windows users) or the Option key (for Mac OS users), Lightroom will go into Solo Panel mode and only keep one Panel open at a given time (for example, if you had Tone Curve Panel open and then click on Detail Panel, the Tone Curve Panel will then close). This allows for a more tidy experience, especially if you often find yourself scrolling through the right-side Panel List. Clicking it again the same way will return Lightroom to previous state. If you want to open another panel without closing the previous one in Solo mode, Shift-click it. Ctrl(Command)-click a panel to open/close all.

The Settings

1) Treatment

The very first setting you can change in the Basic Panel is the Treatment of the image. You have two settings – “Color”, which is set by default and keeps your image in color, and “Black & White”, which, as I have mentioned in my B&W Portrait tutorial, is a great way to start working on a B&W look of your image if that is your intent.

2) White Balance

Sometimes the Auto WB setting on your camera may pick the wrong value, or you might choose a wrong one yourself. These settings are there to make sure that the color captured in your image is correct no matter how the camera was set when you took the picture, so if the image is too blue or too orange, you can easily correct it.

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