Edit [March 2014]: I took the plunge and went full frame, with a 5D Mark III, in the middle of last year. The only other piece of equipment I’ve bought since then is a 1.4 extender, to make up for most of the crop factor [1.6] coming off the 7D.

Edit [March 2012]: I originally wrote this in the summer of 2008, and it’s interesting to come back to it now. I subsequently upgraded to a Canon 7D in January of 2012, got quite heavily into macro c/o a very generous birthday surprise from my wife [100mm L], and took the plunge with a decent tripod and head.

Original posting:

I’ve been taking pictures as a serious hobby since I bought my Canon 400D at the start of 2007. Since then I’ve accrued a number of lenses [listed in the order I’ve purchased them]:

  • EF 28-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM [which I’ve just sold]
  • EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM
  • EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM
  • EF 50mm f/1.4 USM
  • EF 24-105mm f4L IS USM

I also upgraded the body to a 40D in November of 2008.

I’ll avoid discussion from a technical point of view, as I’m not qualified. I love the 50, which is fast enough to use indoors. I found that the 400d struggled above IS0 400, and this lens gave [and continues to give] me plenty of room to play when wide open in lower lighting conditions. The depth of field at f1.4 is an education: e.g., taking a picture of our cat from say around 45cm, his eyes are in pin sharp, while his nose and ears are out of focus. Experience with extremely short depth of field is one of the main reasons that I’ve decided to skip on buying a macro, probably indefinitely. [I do realise that lens performance is non optimal at this aperture, but it does make for interesting results in conditions where you couldn’t practicably operate otherwise.]

The ultra wide is also a favourite: when I’m packing my bag [which weighs 5kg fully loaded], I never leave it behind. It takes a little getting used to compositionally, basically with making sure that there is nothing of any significance in the periphery of the shot, as it is prone to distortion [stretching and leaning]. Also if you’re too close to the main subject such as a building, the corners can distort into something resembling the front of a ship. It was also a bargain: it was technically ex-demo from a duty free shop at Heathrow insofaras being on display, but it showed no signs of ever having been put on a body. I paid 360 pounds just about this time last year [early January 2008]. It’s now retailing for 560 pounds on Amazon.

The standout in cost is the 100-400 L, which I bought because I wanted some extra reach. I was torn between it and the 70-200 2.8 which, although dearer, was also within budget. The compelling reason was the overlap in focal length with the 28-135, my first non kit lens purchase. I’m still pleased with it, but it took me in a very specific purchasing direction over the subsequent 18 months – which I’ll come back to.

The lens’ weight is one the reasons that I will occasionally leave it out of my bag; there’s also not much point in lugging it around for night shooting or where I’m only going to use the camera indoors. In retrospect, I have absolutely no regrets in taking the path that I have. I doubt the cost vs performance wisdom of combining the super optical quality of the fast 70-200mm with a 2x extender for extra reach [a friend in New York, who took the red carpet 2.8 route but was looking for extra reach, was thinking about buying an extender the last time I spoke to him].

I intially found the 100-400 quite difficult to use, mainly because it weighs a ton. Also, I invariably tend to use it handheld, and more often that not trying to capture fast moving objects – e.g., birds. The breadth of field makes is another complication, but I’ve used it a lot and enjoyed it over the last year. I’ve also just ordered a monopod which I imagine I’ll pair it with almost exclusively.

My most recent lens, and in all probability my last serious outlay, is the 24-105 L. I spent a long time trying to decide between it and the 24-70mm. The cost difference, around 170 pounds at the time of writing, was a factor but not a deal breaker. I wasn’t entirely convinced that being able to drop a couple of stops to 2.8 was that big a deal, given that I’d be using the lens in walkaround mode. I also don’t feel I want or need that shallow a depth of field for portraiture – especially when I have the 50 – or for out-and-about pictures. I’d also have the gap between 70 and 100mm, where my next long zoom starts. Final point: the 2.8 has no image stabilisation.

So, it was a no-brainer – if you can call a 759 pound purchase no brainer.

I lost a clamp from my first tripod when we were in holiday in France in June [beer may have been involved]. Based on a kit review in This Week in Photography I went for a National Geographic Tundra. As with all of these decisions, price is a major factor. However, portability was the dealmaker. I have friends who are investing in Manfrottos and Gitzos, with separate heads. Not for me, I’m afraid. The fact that I can get the tripod into a suitcase without raising a wifely eyebrow makes what I have a much more appealing option than something that is more stable in breezy conditions. [Fwiw the National Geographic is ‘designed by Manfrotto’.] Build quality is turning into another matter.

I managed to ring the clamp for the ball head when I was on holiday. I think it’s still useable, but I might start researching to see if I can interchange it with another head.

I’ve got a couple of Cokin Filters to do the things that you can’t do in Photoshop: a neutral grey [ND4], and a GND [G1]. I’ve had some interesting results with the GND, but it’s so hard to keep the dust off them that I don’t use either of them that often.

In November, I replaced my 400D with the 40D. A poor review on the 50D, specifically in relation to high speed performance, dissuaded me of it being a good upgrade path.

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