A couple of weeks ago I broke down and ordered some guitar pedals. The idea was to create a selection of pedals I could use both with my amp and running directly into a mixer for playing at our church and/or for recording (been doing some writing again lately).
I haven't spent extensive time fiddling with each one on its own, but I have been playing a lot with them as a unit. What follows are my initial thoughts and the reasons I chose the ones I did. My default choices were going to be Boss pedals, because they're a good industry standard, and they make solid stuff. I stuck to that default sometimes; other times, I didn't.
Going in order of my effects chain, the first pedal is overdrive - specifically, the Boss OD-3.
I suppose the main question to answer is "why the OD-3 over the SD-1, which is about half the price?". I did debate this quite a bit, but after watching several comparison videos on youtube and reading reviews, it seemed that the OD-3 was reputed to be a bit clearer, warmer, and less harsh - and I wanted "overdrive", not "super overdrive". There's also a little of "you tend to get what you pay for" in my thinking.
I don't have any personal experience with the SD-1, but the OD-3 sounds great. It gives a nice, warm, blues or classic-rock style overdrive crunch to the signal on its own, and if I run it into my distortion pedal or drive channel on my amp, I get a really nice, jagged, high-gain metallic distortion. It's just what I wanted from overdrive.
This was the pedal that I agonized over the most. There are a lot of different distortion sounds, and they all have different characters. My original plan was to go with the good ol' DS-1. It's a well respected pedal, and it's cheap - and I still might pick that one up - but I really wanted something versatile.
In a couple of distortion pedal lists and videos, I found the Fender Pugilist Distortion pedal - and I really liked the sound of it. This one has two different distortion circuits, the sounds of which you can use seperately, blend together, or even run one into the other (I do think it would have been cool if they would have made the blend/series switch a footswitch). It's not a super-high-gain pedal (their Full Moon Distorition is more aimed that way), but you can get a pretty wide range of drive from using only channel A with just a little gain, to a pretty heavy sound running channel A into B with both gains cranked. Add my Overdrive onto the front end, and you can get some pretty wicked gain (albiet a bit noisily) as mentioned above. The Fender tone also does a bit to mitigate the midrange exaggeration of my SG+amp combo (which I've mentioned before).
The Fender pedals are solidly built, look great, and I have to admit, I loved the name of this one. "Pugilist" as the name of a drive pedal is pretty awesome.
Next up is the compressor. Once agan, I initially figured on picking up the Boss CS-3, but read several articles sayng it was a bit noisy. I know there is some misconception with compressors and noise, but I saw this concern often enough that it affected my choice. Since I'd already gone with one Fender pedal, I decided to take a look at their compressor, The Bends.
This was another pedal with a good look and a cool name, but that wasn't going to sell me on its own. The reviews on this compressor were very positive though, and a couple even commented that this particular compressor was quiet and subtle. Compression is one of those effects where, if you're doing it right, you don't really notice it - so this sounded good to me.
The controls on The Bends are a little different from those on the CS-3 and more "standard" compressors, but ultimately they do the same thing and give you a fair amount of control (moreso than the much-loved MXR Dyna Comp, which has one knob for "compression"). Also, I like the feature where the jewel LED on top of it actually changes color to show when/how the compressor is affecting the signal. I tend to leave this on all the time, but its effects are most noticeable when playing clean - tightening up the dynamics and giving a little boost to sustain.
So then there's the Boss CE-5 Chorus Ensemble. This pedal is different from the others in that I've had it for about 20 years. It's probably not one I'd pick out these days, but I got a lot of use out of it in the past - and I have it, so I threw it in. It performs its chorus functon well, but it's not an effect I use super often - and when I do, it's usually fairly subtle. I think these days, if I was going to pick up a modulation pedal, I'd probably look at a flanger or phase shifter. Like many modulation pedals, it will take you all the way from "barely noticeable" up through "unusably bizarre".
The biggest reason I wanted a reverb pedal was for amp-less playing. My amp has a decent spring reverb built in, and I'm not super picky about my reverb sound - I just know I don't like the sound of an electric guitar without a good dose of it.
For whatever reason, reverb pedals tend to be some of the more expensive effects. I went ahead with the Boss RV-6 on this one, as it was well-liked and seemed to have a decent selection of reverb types/effects. I also liked the fact that it has a +delay mode to play around with without buying a dedicated delay pedal. Whle I may not be picky, I have enjoyed playing with what this pedal can do - and it's reverb is quite a bit juicier than what's in my amp - so it's usually always on.
It sounds good. Like I said, I'm not super picky on reverb in particular.
Last in the chain is the MXR 10-band EQ pedal, which I've talked a little about before - it's good for guitar and bass, and it has +/- sliders for volume and gain. It does a good job of taming my amp in a couple of ways, and it should give me more control over my tone for direct inputs.
So that's about it. I'm pretty happy with this setup. Nothing super fancy, but it gives me a solid sound and some versatility. If I get good mileage out of this stuff I might eventually pick up other toys - perhaps wah, volume, phaser, delay, some more drive pedals - but most of that stuff is all secondary at best.
So last weekend we had our annual Trogland meetup. As I do every year, I spent most of the meetup taking pictures. As I did last year, I rented some gear from lensrentals.com (another great experience, btw) to test drive. This year, I got to play with a 7DII along with the Sigma 8-16mm APS-C ultrawide I rented for my 40D last year - two pieces of gear I have been considering purchasing.
I've had my 40D now for about 7.5 years, and I love this camera. It's a bit old at this point, and doesn't have the stats of newer models, but I love the way it works and, aside from some processing issues I've been having, I love what it produces. I've also spent quite a bit of time shooting with the 5DIII, particularly at our company's annual members' meeting (where I play photographer), and I've now spent a solid weekend+ shooting with the 7DII.
The 7DII is a solid camera, and I had a great time shooting with it. It's shutter is one of the quietest I've ever heard - which is great if you're shooting over someone's shoulder. It outperforms my 40D in every way, but it still works the way I'm used to. I also like that it has a lens focus microadjustment as I've been having some backfocusing issues with my 50mm 1.4 close at wide apertures. It is a worthy upgrade and I may be looking to pick one up, but I'm not completely sure.
I think the main reason I'm still on the fence is the camera's high ISO performance. I was hoping for parity with the 5DIII. I don't have a side-by-side comparison, but it feels like the 7DII doesn't handle, say, 12,800 quite as well as its big brother. It's definitely a lot better than what I have and it's quite possible my expectations were a little too high. It's even possible that the 7DII does every bit as well and it's only my perceptions that are skewed. As the 5DIII ages its price continues to come down, so at this point I'm considering jumping to that instead - though that would mean a change in the lenses I'm looking at.
As I mentioned last year, the Sigma 8-16mm is a pretty solid lens for a consumer-grade, crop-frame ultra-wide. Images are nice and sharp, particularly at the wide end of its zoom range (where I generally want it anyway). People do look a bit skewed at that focal length - an effect that is sometimes interesting and cool, and is somtimes a bit too "carnival fun house mirror". In addition to the meetup (where I mostly shot people with it, for better or worse), I also went on hike out to Laurel falls and took just a couple of nature shots with this lens and the 7DII. Those look beautiful. If I do end up going with the crop-frame, I think this is the lens I'll end up with - unless canon makes a not-ridiculously-priced 10mm f2.8 before I get around to it...
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times...
For some time, I've been wanting to add a nice wide or ultra-wide angle lens to my camera kit. Usually, I look up what I want, do quite a bit of research, read reviews, examine user images, etc and then choose what seems like the best option for me. This one, however, has been much more difficult, because what I want doesn't seem to exist.
I've mentioned this before. What I would really like is a professional grade ultra-wide prime made for a crop-frame camera. Something like a EF-S 10mm f2.8L. Sorry, no dice. Basically, what exists is a high-end canon 14mm prime (that would be "ultra-wide" on a full frame camera, but equivalent to about a 23mm on my camera body), and a plethora of "ok" ultra-wide-angle zooms (by Canon and various other manufacturers) made for crop bodies.
I'd previously been uninterested in most of the zooms. For one, they're zooms. I really want a prime. For two, they all have various short-comings that bothered me: Canon's 10-22 doesn't have the best build quality, and a lot of others' offerings (Sigma, Tokina, etc) had optical issues to some greater or lesser extent. When I discovered the Sigma 8-16, however, the reviews and user-shots seemed pretty impressive.
Compare and Contrast
I'd already planned to rent the 14mm f2.8L (if i'm going to spend the money on something that pricey, i'd better be pretty sure it's what i want), and so decided to add this Sigma lens as something to compare it to.
I realize that's a bit of an unfair - possibly "apples and oranges" - trial: one lens is a professional-grade ultrawide designed for full frame cameras, and the other is a high-end consumer grade lens designed for crop frame bodies. Still, I feel I can fairly evaluate them on "fitness for my use".
Pros and Cons
Since the perfect lens doesn't exist, each of these has some good points and bad points:
- Is a prime lens (quality)
- Is L quality optics, sharpness, contrast, clarity
- Fast glass: max f2.8 aperture
- Solid construction
- Has dust/weather sealing
- Virtually no wide-angle distortions
- For full frame (if i ever choose to "upgrade")
- Quieter/Smoother focusing
- On crop body, not quite as wide: ~23mm equivalent
- Ultra-wide: ~13mm equivalent
- Good reported optical quality
- Solid construction
- Very affordable
- zoom flexibility
- Is a zoom lens (quality sacrifice)
- Some noticeable (but not terrible) distortion at the wide end (it's 8mm, what do you want!?)
- Slower than christmas (max f4.5 aperture, and that's only at 8mm)
- No/poorer sealing
- Vignetting or otherwise poor usability on full-frame (if i ever choose to "upgrade")
- Louder/rougher zoom/focusing
In The Field
So I received these two rental lenses yesterday. (As an aside, I'll give a shout-out to LensRentals.com who, when they noticed I'd missed the attempted delivery, actually contacted Fed-Ex on their own and arranged for me to be able to pick up the package that same day and contacted me to let me know. Kudos for good customer service.) I played with both of them for quite a while yesterday evening, and, I gotta say, the jury's still out. My gut still says I like the Canon 14mm better optically, but the Sigma looks pretty darn good - I was actually pretty impressed with how sharp it could be. Also, I like the ultra-wide abilities - 8mm is ridiculously wide. Really lets you do some interesting things with perspective.
If I like the Canon lens more, I'll really have to consider whether I like it $1600 more - that's about the price difference. Usually my concern is quality rather than price, but if they're really neck-and-neck in terms of usability and results, it might become relvant. Especially at that scale - i mean, i could get the Sigma and another L lens or possibly a new camera body for about the same price as the Canon 14mm.
This weekend is our annual Trogland Meetup, and I intend to put both of these through their paces at this event - we'll see what I think in a few hundred more shots.
So, after saving for several years, I have, at last, been able to buy another piece of camera gear: a nice professional-grade telephoto lens. Specifically, Canon's 300mm f/4L. It is a beatiful lens, and so far my only "regret" is the fact that I haven't had more time to play with it. The thing is built like a tank (and weighs a ton for it), crystal clear and gives a respectable reach.
Along with that, I also picked up a set extension tubes which are a lot of fun to use with my 50mm (though controlling the depth of field is tricky).
Prior to having bought that lens and running into the present, I've been looking at upgrading my faithful 40d camera body to something with some more expanded capabilties - particularly with respect to iso sensitivity & performance as I have found that flash tends to annoy people and I'm all too often wanting to shoot in rather dark situations. Also looking at possibly (probably?) going full frame.
I've got a good chunk saved toward a new camera body/kit thanks to a web development side project, but, unfortunately, the camera gear I want doesn't exist.
Here is, basically, what I'm after:
- Solid construction (at least on par with my 40d)
- Convenient controls (again, at least on par with my 40d)
- ISO 12800+ & the newest canon image processor (DIGIC 5+) at ~20mp
- A camera for which I can get a nice wide/ultrawide, preferably prime, lens
The Canon 5d Mark III meets all these requirements swimmingly. It's a full frame, and probably the best digital camera Canon currently makes. I have played with one of these, and it's undeniably awesome. It's just so freaking expensive. So I suppose I should add "- cost < arm+leg" to the requirements.
The Canon 6d - also a full frame - has most of that for about $1500 less, making it somewhat more affordable. No complaints on image quality (probably the most important thing), but it takes a couple of hits on the "controls" scale, missing some things my 40d has such as the thumb joystick and physical buttons for more controls on the top LCD. I would miss those. It also has a couple of other minor shortcomings, such as a 1/4000 max shutter speed, SD cards only (which seems to be an increasing trend), slower burst rate, and a few others.
The newly-announced Canon 70d is a more direct upgrade of my camera and is a crop-frame sensor, but I'm less sure on how its construction solidity compares to my 40d (i seem to remember thinking some of the later X0d models felt more "plastic-y" than mine) and it has the same controls shortcomings as the 6d, though a price tag about $800 less - its ~$1200 price tag making it almost "cheap" in the scheme of things. I wouldn't really mind sticking with a crop-frame sensor (in fact, in some ways, I think i might prefer that), but I do eventually want a nice wide lens, and I'd really prefer a prime (such as the (pricey) Canon 14mm f/2.8L II) - though the relatively inexpensive and well-reviewed Canon 10-22mm may suffice.
The Canon 7d has the controls and features set I want - almost perfectly - though the ISO, image sensor and mp are all a (small) step down from the others. Also a crop-frame, it is, at least as of now, about $500 more than the coming 70d.
You Get What You Pay For
...and, conversely, you pay for what you get. The other issue here is that all of the above cameras have features I don't need and/or would never seriously use - most noteably among them: audio/video recording capability. I'm a pretty serious still photographer, but I have absolutely no interest in video - at least, not in any capacity more than "look at this cute thing my daughter is doing", and I hardly need a thousand-dollar hd camera for that: I'm going for pure content, not quality. I don't need that - nor do I understand why every new digital camera "must" have it. Probably because it's a feature they can implement on a digital camera without too much trouble and still charge a premium for.
I don't need in-camera editing functions either. And I don't need direct print. Built-in wifi and/or gps are cool, but I don't need them. Built-in HDR would be pretty sweet, but also, not needed. The 70d's flip-out screen might be handy for self-portraits at christmas, but I'd wonder about it's solidity and I don't need it - and I definitely don't need its touch-screen (i'd rather have physical buttons, thanks). I don't need a pop-up flash. I actually don't need custom camera modes, because i don't like the "reset" that happens when the camera goes to sleep. Not to sound "elitist", but I don't need the amateur camera modes (actually, I'd be happy with only M - though Av and Tv might be nice on occassion) OR "scene" based modes. I don't *need* full frame, though I wish Canon (or anybody?) made a nice wide/ultrawide equivalent (10mm f/2.8, EF-S perhaps?) prime for and APS-C cropped sensor. There are a host of other, minor features on any given camera that could go as well.
So basically, what I want doesn't exist - and, at this point, is probably unlikely to. The 6d is probably still the best fit, though if I could find a used 5dIII for a good price I might go with that. A 6dII or 7dII might be as close as I'll get to perfect also. A 5dIV might bring the price of the III down to reasonable (assuming I don't decide I "need" some feature of the newer model).
It's down the road a ways anyway, but, as of now, only know I'd like a camera upgrade. I have no idea what I'd actually buy.
Edit: Some rumours I've read suggest that Canon may be releasing some new cameras next year (including a 7d mk II) - maybe one of them will be closer.
This is unlikely to interest many who read this blog, but I feel the need to record some current thoughts for posterity and/or later reference - mostly because i've spent a lot of time thinking over and researching this stuff, and I like to post something about anything on which I spend this much effort.
As you many know, I've spent a *lot* of time with my camera since I got it back in December of 2007. I've taken about nearly sixteen thousand pictures with it since that time, and I've greatly enjoyed learning all kinds of things about photography and how to do certain things and what works and what doesn't for a given application.
I knew before I even bought my 40D that there would be other pieces of camera equipment in which I'd want to invest in order to get the most out of it. One of the great things about having a nice DSLR as opposed to a point-and-shoot (or even a compact, all-in-one dslr) is that there is a wide array of supplementary equipment that can make your camera into the perfect instrument for many different photographic applications - and the more I shoot, the more I realize what the advantage to having this or that lens or some other accessory would be.
Unfortunately, if you're going for high quality (and if i'm going to spend much, I am), camera stuff is expensive. Really. I've been saving since they day I got this thing, and i'm still a considerable ways from having anything i'm after. Fortunately, this doesn't really bother me. It's fun to daydream about how it'll be cool if I can get this stuff someday, but other priorities dictate that I wait a while.
I have so far been able to buy one additional item for my camera: over christmas last year I was able to pick up my flash, the 430ex II Speedlite, with which I have been extremely happy. It was about the cheapest thing on my list at ~$250 (apart from things like 'an extra battery' - yeah, i told you this stuff was pricey), but it was probably the most important for the most applications. The lighting this flash gives is unbelievably better and brighter than the pop-up flash and the ability to bounce light off of walls and ceilings has all but negated problems with red-eye and harsh shadows typically experienced with built-in flashes. It's nice enough that I don't actually *hate* using a flash anymore.
So that leaves me with the more expensive stuff...
I decided a quite a while back what lenses I wanted, and I still think the array is good. Specifically which lenses make up that array are the subject of frequent change, but in general, here's what I want (I have briefly mentioned this before; a little has changed):
1. A wide-aperture lens for low light, fine depth-of-field, etc. For this one, I've pretty much decided on the Canon EF 50mm f1.4. It's a relatively inexpensive yet very well-reviewed lens, and there's little that compares with it in this price range.
2. A wide-angle lens for landscapes, indoor photography, large group shots, etc. Probably the Canon EF-S 10-22, or possibly the Sigma 10-20. Really, I'd rather have a 10 or 12mm prime instead of a zoom here, but apparently no one makes one.
3. A long telephoto for wildlife and other subjects I'm unable to approach very closely. And this one is the one for which I change my mind every few days. It's also by far the most expensive (not that the others are cheap). It's *also* the one I want the most. I generally look at all of these lenses in turn; each of them have very specific pros and cons. As opposed to the other lens types, I just don't think there's a 'perfect fit' for me that works for what I *want* and what i might be able to afford at some point.
This is the first one I looked at, and I think i've come full circle back to figuring it's the one I should save for - it just seems to have the nicest mix.
• The Canon 100-400 4.5-5.6L IS
Pros: L-series (pro quality), Zoom flexibility, IS (image stabilization), good reach
Cons: Clarity/sharpness maybe not *quite* as good as prime lens, most expensive
But, there are also these:
• The Canon 300mm 4L IS
Pros: L-series, Prime clarity/sharpness, IS
Cons: no zoom flexibility, shorter reach
• The Sigma 120-400 OS
Pros: least expensive (but well reviewed), Zoom flexibility, IS, good reach
Cons: Clarity/sharpness probably not as good as prime lens, esp. at long end
• The Canon 400mm 5.6L
Pros: L-series, Prime clarity/sharpness, good reach
Cons: no zoom flexibility, no IS
I have spent a ridiculous amount of time reading reviews and looking at photos taken with all of this stuff - which, in itself, has taught me a few things.
So there we have it, my list of expensive toys outlined and documented. Maybe someday I'll get to buy some of them. Heh.
And now, on to other stuff...