What I’ve learned after two years

I’m coming right up on two years since I bought the Rebel XTI and I have to say it’s been an education. I’ve managed to grab some great shots and I’ve had a really good time working with different groups and going to different events. One thing I have learned is that the equipment and software I bought in the beginning isn’t what I would buy today if I were starting over. Like a lot of other people I’ve spent money on lenses I’ve never used and software that sounded great, but didn’t really give me the results I’m looking for.

With that in mind I thought I would put together my own little list of what has worked for me and what hasn’t. Maybe someone out there will find it useful for their own needs.

Lenses

As far as lenses go, I’ve made a few mistakes. Specifically there are two lenses I bought in the beginning which I have barely touched, the 28-70mm and the 70-300mm. I got them as low budget stopgaps but then realized I wasn’t putting them on the camera. There’s nothing wrong with the lenses, I just got better lenses right off the bat.

If I were starting over here are the three lenses I would buy with the last one being one I hope to buy later. And they’re listed in the order I would get them.

18-200mm – I just got this lens as a replacement to the kit 18-54mm. This will be my new walking around lens because of the wide zoom range and image stabilization. I expect to this lens to be on the camera most of the time for general shots, vacation pictures and all those other non-specialized shots. It showed up this week and I will be trying it out this weekend. From all the reviews I’m expecting really good things from this. Mine is the Sigma OS version, but the Tokina 18-270mm is also a seductive alternative. Unless the camera already comes with the 28-135mm IS lens I would buy it in the “body only” format and add this lens to it.

F/2.8 70-200mm – the definitive sports and wildlife lens. I use mine for kids’ sports, track events, birds and plenty of outdoor shots. I think there are more reasons to get this size lens than there are excuses not to get it. Pretty much the defacto standard when it comes to lenses.

F/2.8 100mm – I have mine in a 105mm Sigma macro lens. This is my close up lens for the thousands of floral macro shots I took. If you’re going to do macro photography of any sort this is my first choice. Again, I think there are more reasons to get this lens than excuses not too.

10-20mm/12-24mm – This is on the wish list for later. Plenty of opportunities have arisen where a wide-angle lens would be perfect for the job. I’ve made due with the 18mm of the kit lens, but a much wider view for landscapes and car close ups would be fantastic.

1.4X Teleconverter – Not truly a lens, but I don’t see any reason not to have one of these. Get more range on your 70-200mm without spending thousands of dollars. With a good lens you will still get excellent image quality and only get a 1 stop drop in aperture.

There are of course dozens of other alternatives for specialized projects, but these “all season” lenses will allow you to pretty much shoot anything.

Software

I’ve done pretty well in this arena so far, but even here I would make adjustments based on the new software that has come out.

Paint Shop Pro/Photoshop Elements – These lower priced alternatives do a fine job of adjusting and cropping photos. Sure, it’s fun to play along with the big boys and their $1,000 photo toys, but Paint Shop and Elements can do most of the heavy lifting without destroying your bank account. You should easily be able to get them for under $100 and I know right now Paint Shop is under $40.

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom
– Instead of investing all that money in Photoshop I would recommend going with Lightroom. Its adjustment features are top notch and the program is so easy to use. All you have to do is move the sliders and you get instant results on what your changes look like. It’s also a RAW importer, photo manager and organizer, and offers plenty of tools to make your photos look great.

DxO Optics Pro – A good program for what it is, but alas I found I am disappointed with it a year later. The lens selections are nowhere near what they should be. For example, the Rebel XT has three times as many supported lenses as the XTI. It’s a good RAW importer and it does a really good job with highlights, but considering the power and price of Lightroom, I would choose that over DxO at this stage.

As far as filters and plugins go, there are hundreds to choose from that do all sorts of things. They are fun to play around with, but on the whole I can’t say I use any of them with any regularity. All my trials expired and I didn’t find myself using them beyond on that point. If you do specific types of photos I’m sure there is something out there for you, but I haven’t found one I need.

Accessories

There are three accessories that are must have. You may not use them everyday, but they’re invaluable when you need them.

Tripod – Need I say more?

Remote shutter release
– Great for so many reasons. Whether you’re taking a photo of a flaming pumpkin or a family portrait you actually want to be in, this is a great tool to have and for $20 there is no reason to be without it.

External Battery Grip – Take more shots without reaching for batteries and power those stabilizing lenses without running out of power. It’s a cheap add-on that makes the camera more comfortable to hold and gives you plenty of power to shoot all day. This also falls into the category of there are more reasons to have it than excuses not too.

External Flash – On my list to get, but I wish I had one. The ability for a wider, more diffused spread of light would be very handy. The onboard flash is usually too focused and makes hot spots more often than not. An adjustable flash with diffuser would bounce the light and make it softer yet more effective.

Circular Polarizer – I have one for every lens.

This is not all-inclusive, there is always “lens lust” and specialized equipment, but after a couple of years I bought some things I didn’t need and found some gems worth sharing.

Hopefully this list will be of use. If you have a lens, accessory, plugin or software program you use all the time I’d love to hear about it.

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