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Sennheiser AVX: Review

A review of the Sennheiser AVX Systems

A natural evolution for wedding photography has always been wedding cinematography. In India, for many years – wedding cinematography was restricted to a continuous roll from static block cameras – which were subsequently edited to include horrendous location audio captured through the on-camera mic, or equally horrendous overlays of popular Bollywood tracks.

When we first started wedding photography and Indian Wedding Movies, the idea was to use the magic of moving images to tell the couple’s story. Wedding filmmaking doesn’t always offer the luxury of having a dedicated sound engineer (though I’d love to have one along) or even elaborate sound sets for location audio. Most often, it’s the DOP or the cinematographer following a more run-and-gun approach, using whatever audio we were able to get.

It’s terrible when after a hectic shoot when you finally sit on your editing table to start your edits and realize your audio is crappy. I have been through situation too many times to count and trust me it is really irritating to deal with bad audio in post production. The friendly folks at Sennheiser India were kind enough to send us their latest AVX series of audio mics, and promised that we’d really love what we saw. They come with the tag line “Relax, it’s an AVX” and I decided to put it through some tests.

First Impression

The build of the Sennheiser AVX Mic set is small but it is strong enough to be taken in a warzone. The small sized receiver is very convenient, as it does not put a lot of weight on the camera hence making your work easy.

Sennheiser AVX-MKE2

Sennheiser AVX-MKE2

Pairing and Battery

Both Receiver and Transmitter of the wireless Sennheiser AVX display pairing status so pairing is not a problem. It typically charges in a couple of hours and by pressing the power button you can see the battery status. Its rechargeable battery is a big advantage, as you won’t have to spend on the batteries anymore. Sennheiser’s big promise is that the system should be ready to go in seconds. This was true in my experience. It was simply a matter of pressing the Pair button on both the transmitter and receiver, and waiting for the flashing green light to turn solid. From then on, the receiver automatically paired with either transmitter when powered up. You don’t have to fiddle around with frequencies as you had to with older models – the AVX automatically uses any available frequency and optimises for best performance.

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The Sennheiser AVX receiver mounted on a DSLR during a wedding interview. Note the XLRI to camera input adapter that comes bundled with the kit.

Performance

We’ve used the Sennheiser AVX system in a bunch of projects and we’re really impressed. During weddings, it was a breeze to plug the AVX’s XLRI interface directly with the mixer during the Sangeet performances. Audio was crisp and sharp – and the system automatically compensates for when someone’s voice drops or becomes too loud (this is NOT auto-gain doing it’s work I believe, but the system compensating for soft or loud noises). Here’s a trailer from a recent wedding where we put the AVX system to work.

Caught in the moment forever ~ Rohan + Priyanka from Arjun Kartha Photography on Vimeo.

I wanted to see how the Sennheiser AVX system would cope with loud ambient noise, so we took it out in the streets. I was shooting a video for the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge – as part of my project using the mobile phone to take photos of food in the dark – and this seemed the perfect way to test it. We decided to head to check out the food trucks in Sector 29 Gurgaon, while it was getting dark and use the phone to take photos at night. There was a lot of ambient noise, including cars and bikes whizzing by, people talking, birds chirping (or maybe that was only in my head), and so on. The Sennheiser AVX did a really good job – we had the microphone sensitivity set to manual (as you always should) – I think the results speak for itself. Check out the video here.

 

The AVX system in action

The AVX system in action

Conclusion

With the increasing demands on the cinematographer during the big-fat-Indian-wedding it’s great to have a audio system that you can depend on. With the smart operations in the Sennheiser AVX, it’s fairly easy to quickly begin the trust the AVX to do it’s job the way you want it to. The AVX system comes in 3 types – the lapel style lavelier microphone which is great for interviews, the wireless microphone (handheld) which is great for on-location quick sound capture and the on-camera shotgun style mic for on-location audio. The wireless systems come with batteries that are rechargeable, so extra batteries are one less thing to worry about. I’m looking forward to use these in future shoots and will post an extended usage update on them after a few more projects together!

Buy a Senheisser mic using this buying link: Sennheiser AVX Digital Wireless Microphone System – ME2 Lavalier Set -3-EU

Thank you Sennheiser India for sending this to us!

[alert color=”RED” icon=””]Full Disclosure: The Senheisser equipment was sent to us courtesy Senheisser India. The views expressed here are however completely personal. [/alert]
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5 Reasons to Buy An Instant Camera Now

 Ah, photography. It’s a love affair that lasts a lifetime. With my iPhone in my pocket I literally have a modern camera accessibly 24×7. I take photos of everything – indiscriminately, because I know that the potential for storage is limitless, thanks to over-the-air sync. What this has resulted in is a virtual warehouse of photographs. I honestly do not remember 80% of them, and they will probably never be seen again. Whilst I absolutely LOVE digital photography, I miss the era of prints. Holding a photograph in your hands is a different feeling altogether (and I am SURE you agree).

Having a good camera is something every photography enthusiast wants. Photographs mark our memories forever. A person takes a lot of images in his lifetime but a very few of them get to take the form of a paper. Nowadays with the digital camera we are able to see the pictures right after clicking them instead of having to wait for weeks for the photo to get developed. The origin of the instant camera was also motivated by one such incident. Edwin Land (the creator of instant camera and later on went on to co-found Polaroid) was clicking his daughter one day when she asked “Why can’t I see them now?” This question gave him the idea to create a camera through which people can see immediate pictures.

I’ve always been curious about instant prints – and the folks over at Fuji were kind enough to give us the FujiFilms’s Instax Wide 300 and did some field testing. Here are five reasons I think instant cameras are totally AWESOME.

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Using Instant camera pictures in couple shoots seemed like a fun idea.

#1 REALLY preserving memories

With emerging trend of clicking pictures and available technology, we all click a lot of pictures per day and forget about them. With our phone memories filling up with pictures it is a sad thing that they hardly get noticed after clicking. Once clicked a picture is rarely reviewed again. This is where instant cameras come into action. You can click any moment and preserve it forever. Instant Camera pictures are the most classy and vintage way to save memories. For those of you who love to write and keep diary, instant cameras is totally your thing. Also, the moments that you capture on these cameras are always close to you because these are mostly used to capture something special.

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Your moments will be marked forever! (Praerna and her BFF Anshul happy with the testing we were doing!)

#2 Instant Gratification

Yes, an LCD screen is instant too – but having a print is better. An instant camera takes around 2 minutes to dry and few more minutes to properly develop. The colour contrast of the pictures comes out very beautifully. Now you can simply click, count to 100 and see your picture, isn’t it exciting?

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Click pictures, get them instantly and click with them, maybe!

#3 It’s not THAT expensive

I always thought the cost of an instant print was “expensive”. (My brain didn’t figure out HOW MUCH, just that it was!). It’s actually not so bad. If you get a print of a 4 inches X 3 inches picture in a neighbourhood studio, it costs you around Rs.120. Doing the math, an instant print using the Fuji came to around Rs.100 each. Considering I didn’t really need to go visit a lab, this seemed like a good deal! 

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Light and simple plastic body makes it handy.

#4 Tech -friendly

The body of the camera is very light and made out of plastic that makes it sturdy. It’s VERY simple to use – even a child can do it. IT just has three buttons, and all you need to do is point and shoot. With an automatic flash, the camera handles focus automatically and with a 90mm or so lens, portraits are easy-peasy. You DO NOT need to be a professional (or any sort of) photographer to use this baby.

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The pictures pop out from the top and the film can be inserted from the rear side.

#5 Additional Bonus Features

The camera also comes with some other useful features like LCD display that projects the number of frames remaining, a brightness control toggle, a flash and a tripod socket to take your perfect shot. It has a 95 mm lens which can focus upto 40 cm.

In short, this camera is a perfect package that is simple to use and at the same time also gives you some basic photography details. It is light, it is handy, it is cheap and it is fun to keep. Go get one now!

[box title=””]Disclaimer: The views in this article are personal. The camera and film were provided by the good people at Fuji India. Much love to them! [/box]

 

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What’s in our Bag | Best Cameras and Lenses for Indian Wedding Photography

As a Professional Indian Wedding Photographer, the question I get MOST often is…”So, what camera do you use?”. I’m not even going to begin with the entire “it’s not the camera, it’s the photographer” spiel, but I’m more than happy to share what my standard kit looks like when I’m headed out to photograph a wedding! 

Unlike the weddings in the west, Indian weddings go on for days (and nights) and you are expected to shoot in every situation no matter how bad the lighting is. My natural temptation is the carry everything but the kitchen sink, so choosing what to carry is an art in itself! Some of the main things I think about is:

  • Travel: We tend to travel by air a lot, so it’s imperative that what I carry (a.) fits into the overhead luggage bay, and (b.) is within airline weight limitations 
  • Comfort: During a wedding, you tend to have to move about a lot…walk long distances to board an aircraft, climb LOTS of staircases and so on. If you’re bogged down by 50 kilos of equipment, you’re going to get dizzy – and fast!

So…without further ado, this is what I usually carry for a wedding, as part of a wedding photography gig:

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Yes, it’s all Nikon!

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The lenses – detailed info below in this post

Of course, all this needs to fit into something, and this is how we normally take them.

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The Kata FlyBy 76. This is a great bag with a roller, so you can take it along long distances with no strain.

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A look inside.

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The 2nd bag – A Kata Bumblebee backpack, with all the overflow from the first bag.

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A look inside

I get a lot of questions about why I choose these particular cameras and lenses, so here’s a little more on why I chose these lenses, and what they do. 

MY CAMERA BODY(IES)

My choice of camera is Nikon D4. It is my personal opinion that this is the fastest and most rugged camera in the world. It just doesn’t get better than this. Ridiculously fast autofocus, stellar low-light performance and insane speed – you could carry this camera into war if needed. I also carry two back up cameras with me which are generally, D750 (also used by Praerna when we’re shooting together) and the trusty D700. Back up cameras are very important as you never know when your luck runs out!

MY LENSES

NIKON 24-70mm f/ 2.8:

This baby is so wonderfully general purpose. You could shoot an entire wedding without ever changing gear. Meant for full-frame cameras (35mm equivalent, referred to as FX on Nikons) – this lens is brilliantly wide at the 24mm end (perfect for that sweeping wide angle shot) and decently tight at the 70mm end (great for getting closer for that special moment you don’t want to miss) – and ALWAYS OPEN at f/2.8 all of the time!

 

NIKON 85mm f/1.4G:

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If there ever came a time where I was only allowed ONE lens on my camera — this one would be it. Brilliantly sharp, with a crisp creamy bokeh that no other lens can ever deliver – this is my go-to lens for just about anything. This lens loves being shot wide open – bang away at 1.4 as long as you want, the brilliant auto-focus ensures you’re locked on to your target for as long as you heart desires. With a open aperture of 1.4, you can shoot literally in darkness — as this lens lets in more light that anything else you’ve probably seen.

 

NIKON 70-200mm f/2.8:

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The 70-200 is a perfect focal length at a wedding — and like the lens above this, it’s 2.8 all the time. Yaay! The f/2.8 comes in even more handy when you’re shooting something that’s far away and need to zoom in and have an appropriately fast shutter speed: and that’s where the f/2.8 shines!

 

NIKON 50mm f/1.4 & 35mm f/1.4:

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Prime Lenses offer superior bokeh, and in some cases are relatively inexpensive compared to other zoom lenses. Prime lenses need to be used well-as you need to maneuver for the lens to be effective. Shooting a wedding is all about flexibility. 35mm can sometimes be a little ‘too wide’ and 50mm can sometimes be a little ‘too close’. The two focal lengths are great but it probably wouldn’t be my first port of call had I to shoot a wedding with it.

 

NIKON 105mm f/2.8 Macro:

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This isn’t a lens you’re going to be using all the time at a wedding. As a matter of fact, you’ll probably only mount it a couple of times. But at the end of the day, it’s the ring shot that’s your bread and butter. And there’s nothing better for a ring shot than this lovely macro. I personally prefer a longer focal length for macro shots (there are other versions of this lens with wider focal lengths, but a longer lens really lets you get into the meat of it).

 

NIKON 14-24 f/2.8:

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Nikon has one of the best lenses of this type ever made- sharp and crisp performance. Super wides allow for creative photography- but need to be mastered. It can cause severe distortion-never a good idea if you’re shooting a bride.

 

 

FLASHES & ACCESSORIES 
Best_wireless_flash_trigger_NIK23.minitest.pocketwizard_co-(1)Off-camera flash is my bread and butter. I really believe that the ability to shape light well makes you a much better photographer. I carry a bunch of flashes, currently three Nikon SB700s or SB900s which I use in a variety of manners, the last of which is actually “on” the camera. 

I use both Yongnuo and Pocket wizard radio triggers and I carry around 8 Yongnuo triggers and 4 (two sets) of Pocket Wizard Mini TT1 and Flex TT5 triggers. I still carry my ancient Yongnuo triggers because I mostly use my flashes in manual off-camera mode. I like using manual flash – it allows me to control the light, and in my experience the Yongnuos are cheap and very reliable. When I really want to exploit TTL or HSS (high speed sync), then I use the PocketWizards. 

MEMORY CARDS

I carry a LOT of memory cards. I have two memory cards wallets full of memory cards and I carry them all, all the time. The last thing you want while shooting a wedding is running out of memory especially when you are shooting in RAW. Tip: invest in mutiple “medium” size memory cards (like 16 gigs) instead of one large one (like 32 gig). In case you ever lose a card (!), you’ll limit your loss this way. 

LIGHT STANDS

My lightstands go through a lot of abuse. I put them in water, they fall over, they get perched at precarious angles and get thrown about in airline checkins. I use simple (cheap) local unbranded stands because they do what I want them to. 

LIGHT MODIFIERS 

I use all sorts of light modifiers, but I try and choose the ones that are easy to carry and move about with. I would love to use my 150″ octa everywhere, but sadly that’s not possible. I use a couple of Gary Fong light domes (yes, they’re actually worth it) and a bunch of cheap white shoot-through umbrellas. They spread the light very nicely and I don’t worry about throwing them away if they get damaged. 

Here’s everything all together once again. 

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There you go. Next person who asks me what camera I use gets this link as a response! Questions? Ask away!

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Best Lenses for Wedding Photography

As a professional Indian Wedding Photographer, I often get asked about what kind of equipment I use, so here’s a post dedicated to the very best lenses for wedding photography.

I’m quite amazed at how intensely popular wedding photography has become over the last few years, especially here in India. There are literally scores of amateur-turned-professional photographers who are bringing in intense creativity and excellence into shooting Indian weddings, and I’m quite confident that we’ve only touched the tip of the iceberg. The person or people who benefits most from this literal explosion of talent of course, is the bride and the groom! However, Indian wedding photography is really tricky — and not something that can be done professionally without being suitably equipped for it.

Indian Weddings: Complex, intricate and so difficult to shoot!

Most weddings in the west are day affairs: typically a day ceremony, followed by a early evening reception. Indian weddings, if you’re not familiar with them — go on for days! As a photographer, you’ll be expected to deliver winning pictures in all sorts of conditions — a brightly lit sunny day with the hot Indian sun directly overhead, a small room where the bride’s getting her mahendi done lit only with incandescent tube lights, or a wedding ceremony late at night lit with bright yellow fluorescent halogen lights. Lighting is only something that YOU know – as a photographer – something that can make or break the shots you take. The only thing you can do is carry the right gear, and use your experience the best you can to get the perfect shot. Remember, after the wedding is over and done with, nobody will remember how late at night it was, or how terribly the venue was lit — but your brilliant picture of the bride just before she marries her husband — is what will live on for eternity.

Apart from all the other equipment I usually carry, I’m going to focus this post on some of the best lenses I wouldn’t leave home without. I’m a Nikon shooter, so most of the gear below is geared towards Nikon, but the same holds true for other camera companies.

The portrait and just about anything lens: Nikon 85mm f/1.4 G

Nikon 85mm 1.4If there ever came a time where I was only allowed ONE lens on my camera — this one would be it. Brilliantly sharp, with a crisp creamy bokeh that no other lens can ever deliver – this is my go-to lens for just about anything. This lens loves being shot wide open – bang away at 1.4 as long as you want, the brilliant auto-focus ensures you’re locked on to your target for as long as your heart desires. With an open aperture of 1.4, you can shoot literally in darkness — as this lens lets in more light than anything else you’ve probably seen. With 4 times more light than a 2.8 lens, that translates into four stops of more light coming into your sensor – use this at night for gorgeous results you’ll love. Now I can wax eloquently about this lens for the rest of this post, but I think examples speak louder than anything I can ever say, so here are a few examples for a wedding I recently shot.

 

Shot just after their wedding, the ambient decorative lights diffuse brilliantly because of the wonderful bokeh created by this lens. Backlit by a strobe at 1/65 power, it’s mostly the ambient light that filters in here.

I only had a few minutes to take a couple of bridal portraits. I knew I didn’t have much time, I found a nearby stool and quickly snapped a few to check my exposure. Little did I know that I already had a winner.

 

The heavy-duty general-purpose lens: Nikon 24-70 f/2.8

AF-S_24-70_s(Or Nikon 24-70 2.8 G ED AF-S if you want to get technical. Also applies to the Canon EF 24-70 f2.8 USM lens).  The 85mm is what I’d want to take if I were only allowed one lens. This is the lens I would probably actually wind up taking once my conscience kicked in. This baby is so wonderfully general purpose. you could shoot an entire wedding without ever-changing gear. Meant for full-frame cameras (35mm equivalent, referred to as FX on Nikons) – this lens is brilliantly wide at the 24mm end (perfect for that sweeping wide-angle shot) and decently tight at the 70mm end (great for getting closer for that special moment you don’t want to miss) – and ALWAYS OPEN at f/2.8 all of the time! What’s so great about being open at 2.8 you ask? Well, any wedding photographer, especially an Indian wedding photographer will tell you — that your best friend throughout is always light. The more light that enters the camera, the happier everyone is going to be once you dump your pictures into your favourite image editing software. And shooting at f/2.8 sure lets in a lot of light. I won’t even begin to talk about the sharpness and clarity that this lens offers, because that’s something I would expect from a lens that costs this much, but being able to let in more light is what is key. I don’t think I’ve ever used mine at any other aperture setting other than 2.8. Why would you? I’m a bokeh junkie!

Again, here are a few examples to show you what I mean. I have literally tons of photos shot with this lens — this is really my bread-and-butter wedding photography (and just about every other kind of photography) lens. 

A lovely spring day. Warm golden light filtering in through the trees. A lovely five-star hotel. So many elements to show. What better than the 24-70 to do the job?

A lovely spring day. Warm golden light filtering in through the trees. A lovely five-star hotel. So many elements to show. What better than the 24-70 to do the job?

 

A couple very much in love. Light coming in front behind them from a window. Warm light within the room. What is one to do!?

 

The monster tele: Nikon 70-200 2.8

AFS_70_200_VR_II_i(Or Nikon 70-200 f/2.8 ED VR II AF-S. Also applies to the Canon EF 70-200 IS USM Telephoto). This lens should be called the wrist killer. This lens is actually what makes my kit weight as much as it does, and has resulted in many an airport check-in executive give me the look. However, I wouldn’t leave home without it. This is one of the oldest focal lengths manufactured, and no self-respecting professional will leave home without it. The 70-200 is a perfect focal length at a wedding — and as the lens above this, it’s 2.8 all the time. Yaay! The f/2.8 comes in even handier when you’re shooting something that’s far away and need to zoom in and have an appropriately fast shutter speed: and that’s where the f/2.8 shines! (The rule of thumb is that you need to have a shutter speed equivalent of the focal length you’re using — so zooming to 200mm would need a shutter speed of 1/200 ideally — to avoid camera blur). As I think you’ve inferred by now — I’m a bokeh junkie, and f/2.8 is really what you’re paying for — so I don’t think I’ve used mine at any other setting other than f/2.8!

For when you don't want to intrude on a moment. But yet freeze it in time.

For when you don’t want to intrude on a moment. But yet freeze it in time.

 

One of the moments in life when you can truly say you were gloriously happy is your wedding day. And the professional photographer is the one who documents it.

One of the moments in life when you can truly say you were gloriously happy is your wedding day. And the professional photographer is the one who documents it.

 

Getting the details: Nikon 105mm f/2.8 Macro

AFS_VR_Micro105_01_i(Or Nikon 105mm f/2.8G IF-ED). This isn’t a lens you’re going to be using all the time at a wedding. As a matter of fact, you’ll probably only mount it a couple of times. But at the end of the day, it’s the ring shot that’s your bread and butter. And there’s nothing better for a ring shot than this lovely macro. I personally prefer a longer focal length for macro shots (there are other versions of this lens with wider focal lengths, but a longer lens really lets you get into the meat of it). Perfect for weddings, food photography, nature, insects, and anything that you would to really get close to — this lens is brilliantly sharp with an incredibly shallow depth of field. This isn’t the kind of lens that you can suddenly pick up and shoot with — you need to learn how to use it. Learn the quirks. The eccentricities. And once you’ve mastered how it performs at what distance, you’ll never want to put it down. 

Nothing says "I-do" like rings.

Nothing says “I-do” like rings.

 

Other useful lenses to consider

The lenses above are the ones on my top priority list. However, if you have a big bag 🙂 and lots of people to lift your stuff for you, you can’t go wrong with some of these babies:

  1. Superwide – Nikon 14-24 f/2.8G ED This is a great lens. This doesn’t make my priority list above because this isn’t a ‘people lens’ unless used properly. The thing with super wides is that unless your subject is right in the middle of your frame — you’re going to wind up with alien-heads. Or bubbleheads. Or horrible, unflattering and ghastly distortion that will make a bride throw her wedding heels at you. And mind you, those stilettos can be sharp. Superwides need to be handled with care, used judiciously, and only for the right shot. Don’t use them for people photography, and CERTAINLY not at weddings. You don’t want to make the bride look fatter than she was, or the mother of the bride looks like someone who had just stepped off her space-craft. Seriously. Heed my words!
  2.  Prime lenses – The 35mm f/1.4, and the 50mm f/1.4: Also equally good, much cheaper, and one-stop lesser are the 35 mm f/1.8 and the 50mm f/1.8 variants. These are excellent lenses, there’s no doubt about it. I love mine. Again, I don’t include them on my priority list because: 
    1. Shooting a wedding is all about flexibility. Imagine you had the 35mm mounted but spotted a great opportunity that needed you to get in closer. If you start changing lenses at that point, the moment is long gone. I shoot with two bodies at all times — and find the fixed nature of a 50 mm or a 35 mm a little too restrictive.
    2. You’re shooting a wedding – you can’t carry the kitchen sink with you. When I prioritise, I choose my bread-and-butter lenses
    3. 35mm can sometimes be a little ‘too wide’ and 50mm can sometimes be a little ‘too close’. Again, I’m just belly-aching here. The two focal lengths are great — I love my lenses — but it probably wouldn’t be my first port of call had I to shoot a wedding with it.

That’s really it! Let me leave you with some final caveats:

Caveats and last words

You’ll note that most of the lenses I’ve listed out are Nikon. That’s because I use Nikon. Wedding photographers are primarily either Nikon or Canon shooters. The Canon equivalent (yes, they exist) are all equally good.

The lenses above are expensive glass. Really expensive glass. I had to save up a long time, work really hard and prioritise to buy them. Such purchases take time — but remember, camera bodies get outdated and fade away. But good glass lasts a long time.

All of these lenses are built to be mounted on full-frame 35mm equivalent cameras — and not the new breed of consumer DX cameras. While the foundation of this divide is clever marketing, professionals use this level of glass. DX camera lenses are just not suited for the rigour of professional use. I’ll explain why after these budget lens recommendations:

Budget Wedding Lens Recommendations

You’ve read this, but you’re thinking – “Wow! I’ll never be able to afford all of this!“. Trust me, I felt the same way when I was starting out. These lenses are serious investments, and like all investments, they take time. Here are cheaper “prosumer” lenses that will fit DX cameras. These lenses are great to learn with – and to get your career started. But remember, you will be challenged when conditions during a wedding change rapidly, and you’ll be really agile to move with the flow!

  1. The cheap primes: The 50mm f/1.4 and the 35mm f/1.4 are EXPENSIVE lenses. For one-stop less light, you get a lens that is less than a fifth of the cost. Can’t afford the f/1.4 glass? Buy the f/1.8 variants. It’s just one stop of lightless. And it’s a serious bang for your buck. Consider that the 35mm f/1.4 costs approximately $1800 (INR 1 lac) while the 35 mm f/1.8G costs $200 (INR 10,000). That’s a FRACTION. Why do pros spend so much more for one stop more you ask? You have to try it really know why! 🙂
  2. The general purpose lens: Nikon used to manufacture an 18-70mm lens many years ago that I still have today. It’s shame they stopped making this lens — it’s a great focal length. In the meanwhile, the 18-55mm variants offer GREAT value for your money. Available at ridiculously cheap prices, these lenses won’t put a serious dent in your pocket.
  3. The cheap zooms: Without a doubt, I’d recommend the 70-300mm VRII. I use this lens sometimes when the f/2.8 doesn’t matter to me. The best part? This is an FX lens, so when you mount it on a DX camera, you actually get something in the range of 110-400mm. Like when I want to shoot birds or animals and that 100mm extra make a BIG difference.  

At the end of the day, if you’re billing someone for your time — you need to deliver quality work. Cheap tools can let you down. Here’s why:

Why is wedding glass so expensive?

Two words. Variable exposure. Let’s say, instead of the 24-70 f/2.8 lens you were using the general-purpose 18-55mm I listed above. It’s important to remember that the lens is actually called Nikon 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 G ED. What this means is that at the shorter side, the lens will open up to f/3.5 and at the longer side, the lens only opens up till f/5.6. Why does this matter? Well this matters because if you’re shooting in manual (as you should), and need to zoom and shoot on the fly, you’ll be automatically changing your exposure by FOUR whole stops! That’s four times less light. Which means not only do you have to change your zoom, everytime you do, it’ll affect your exposure. You’ll need to constantly adjust your exposure to match your aperture – which is set by the lens. And that’s precious time wasted. When you don’t have the advantage of time, and you don’t have the advantage of ambient light — the more light that enters your camera is the better for you. And that pretty much is why the 2.8 lenses are so horrendously expensive.

I hope you find this post useful! For any questions, or general comments –  leave a note in the section below!

 

 

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Which camera do I buy: the amateur camera buying guide

As a photographer, the single most common question I get is “So, which camera do i buy“. Or: “I really love your photography – which camera do you use?”. Or, “Is Nikon better than Canon?”. I’ve been asked this question so many times, and by so many people — the idea of writing a post about is seems rather obvious, but after a lot of delay — here it is! This guide is a small attempt at being able to answer these questions once and for all, and to be able to document my answer — which I must say has evolved over the years into this one! I’m going to keep making updates to this post so that I keep it as relevant as possible.

 

In this post:

  • Go through some of the things that you should think about while buying a camera
  • Jump straight ahead to my recommendations

First things first

The answer to “which camera should I buy” can’t be answered easily. It’s one of those existential questions, like the one about what is the meaning of life (!) — and needs a bit of background and supporting information before we can even begin to answer it. A camera is a tool — a tool you use to make great photographs and preserve memories. Like any tool, you need to know what you hope to achieve with that tool before you go out and buy it. So before we get into this guide, let’s assume that this is more of a journey of discovery rather than a guide and plain vanilla list of recommendations (though there’s that too at the end). It’s a journey where you ask yourself what you want to achieve with your camera, rather than how much you can afford. 

Step 1: Answer this — what do I want to do with my camera?

There are quite a few possible answers to that question. Let’s try some of them.

  1. I want something convenient that I can use for casual pictures and things that catch my fancy. Maybe post to Instagram.
  2. I only have time to take pictures when I go on a holiday — and I want to be able to take fancy pictures of my vacation.
  3. I want to learn photography — and want manual control over my camera
  4. Everything else is secondary, I want something light that can fit into my purse/bag/backpack
  5. I want to do commercial assignments one day, and I want to buy a serious camera
  6. Money is no concern, I want the BEST camera out there!

 Everything needs purpose — and deciding on a camera to buy is based on what you want to do with it. Once you have a fair idea, it’s time to decide whether you want a point-and-shoot camera or a larger, heavier more professional-looking DSLR.

Step 2: Realise that megapixels are a myth 

[quote author=”Arjun Kartha” content=”Megapixels are a myth. Really. “]

 

Test caption

Shot on a ten year old Nikon D70s — a 6 mega-pixel DSLR. In 2001, this was one of the best cameras you could dream of owning.

 

There — I said it. Megapixels are a myth. The idea that every camera store sales clerk drums into your head again and again, that more megapixels make you a better photographer is absolute poppycock. Any camera above 5 megapixels will give you the same results, for most applications. I’m not going into technical details here, but you’ll have to trust me on this one. There are a whole host of other factors that determine the quality of a photograph. Megapixels are only a statistic of how many pixels are packed into a photograph, and that depends hugely on how many of those pixels are packed into a square inch. Unless you’re planning on enlarging your pictures billboard-size, ANYTHING above 5 megapixels will give you broadly the same results. Having said that, let’s move on to Step 3. 

 

Step 3: Deciding between a point-and-shoot (PS) and a DSLR 

I’ve known many people to scoff at point-and-shoot cameras because they weren’t ‘serious’ enough. Heck, I used to be one of those people! The general consensus always was that point-and-shoot cameras are only a little better than mobile-phone cameras, and were a rather serious waste of money. Well, this is still true — but only to an extent. The entry-level point-and-shoot cameras (under INR 6k / $100) are barely any better than the camera you have on your smartphone. An iPhone 5 camera can take better photos under daylight than entry-level Nikon CoolPix and Canon PowerShot cameras. However, once you go a little deeper into it, you’ll see that more advanced cameras (in the range of INR 20-30k = $400-500) pack some serious power. For instance, Nikon’s P7000 (or even Nikon P6000) offers some serious goodies for a relatively cheaper price tag than a DSLR. You get a full HD video recording, shoot in RAW format (for custom edits later), and can shoot in full manual.

P&S DSLR
Pros:

  1. Obvious weight advantage — carry easily
  2. No need for extra accessories like lenses, filters etc.
  3. SLIGHTLY more durable and resistance to shock
  4. Some cameras are built waterproof and are great for underwater photography

Cons:

  1. Small Sensor: never acheive DLR level quality
  2. Restrictions begin when you consider what different lenses do for DSLRs: wide lenses for landscapes, tele lenses for wildlife and so on.
  3. Performance degrades at night — ISO capabilities not on par with DSLRs (again because of the sensor size)
Pros:

  1. Obvious advantage in quality — the larger sensor size in most cases gives you files @300dpi. Full frame cameras mimic the 35mm sensor size of yore. 
  2. Interchangeable lenses: switch from extreme wide angles to huge zooms very quickly 
  3. Ability to shoot RAW in all DSLRs: even the entry level ones 
  4. Full manual control, or semi manual control 
  5. Better performance at night 
  6. Ability to shoot full HD 1080i video with a variety of lenses. 

Cons:

  1. Heavy. Big. Needs special bags and cases. Additional lenses add to the weight. 
  2. Expensive. Additional lenses to expand your capabilities are much more so. 

 

 Step 4: Now choose. 

You’ve gone through the pre-requsities. Chances are, you’re already swinging one way or the other. Before I recommend which cameras I think are the best out there, here’s some advice on how to choose:

Buy a point and shoot if you said: Buy a D-SLR if you said:
  1. I want a camera which I’ll use occasionally, mostly for travel 
  2. I want something LIGHT! I hate lugging extra weight along 
  3. I want a serious camera — but I can’t be bothered to buy extra lenses etc. 
  4. I’m on a budget 
  5. I want something that’s a little better than my camera phone, but can’t handle the extra weight 
  1. I want to learn photography, and be able to have manual control over my camera. 

That’s it! Your decision is ready! You’ll note that there’s ONLY one reason why you should buy a DSLR. It’s sad, but I know of a lot of people who bought a DSLR and never take it out of their cupboard. DSLRs need commitment. You need to get used to packing an extra bag for every holiday. You need to remember that you need to sink in extra money on lenses. And don’t even get me started on full-frame and crop-sensor lenses! That’s for another blog post! 🙂

So at the end of the day, consider your decision seriously. It’s not a casual investment — a good camera if the chosen right can give you years of good service. There’s absolutely no need to fall prey to camera company hype and upgrade your camera every two years. It’s not a washing machine — once you buy it, it should be yours for life. Or at least a very long time! (As I write this, my 2001-era Nikon D70s still works fine. It’s 13 years old, has been with me to the mountains of Ladakh and to the beaches of South India, and still serves me faithfully). 

My Purchase Recommendations:

A lot of people look to skip through the chase and go straight to the recommendation. Hey, I’m one of them! Here are a few cameras that I think are really good at what they do, and should be worth your money. Note that these are NOT sponsored plugs, and I earn no money whatsoever from the camera companies should you decide to buy one of these based on my recommendations. There are MANY cameras out there, and I haven’t had a chance to review all of them: the ones on this list are ones I’d buy for myself: 

 

DSLR PURCHASE RECOMMENDATIONS

(I’m assuming here that you’re buying a DSLR to learn photography. This article doesn’t cover pro cameras — if you’re a pro, you shouldn’t be reading this guide for a purchase decision). 

Nikon D7100 (or the D7000) 

I still use this camera as my backup camera. DX format, excellent fast autofocus system, full manual control (obviously!), HD movie recording and all the bells and whistles you’d expect from a DSLR. All Nikon lenses ever made will work perfectly (thanks to the built-in focus motor)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nikon D5200 Nikon D5200 (or D5100)

If you’re on a tighter budget, this is what I would recommend entering into digital photography with. With all the knobs and dials you’d expect from a digital camera, this camera is very similar to the D7100, with the notable exception of the built in focus motor. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SERIOUS COMPACT POINT AND SHOOT CAMERAS:

 

Fuji X100Fuji X100

I’m starting the list with a really expensive point and shoot camera. However, with brilliant low-light performance and classic retro looks, this is for the photographer for whom the cost is not a constraint. 

 

 

 

 

 

Canon PowerShot G15

 Canon PowerShot G15:

Camera companies love to confuse us with strange product codes. Any of the cameras in the ‘G’ series will not disappoint the serious photographer. Excellent in low-light (with a f1.8 aperture), this camera will help you extend your photography prowess the way you want it to. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nikon Coolpix ANikon Coolpix A:

With the same sensor as the Nikon D7000 DSLR, this camera will give you full manual control, excellent detail and everything you need to get creative. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

AFFORDABLE POINT AND SHOOT CAMERAS: 

Your mobile phone is the most affordable point-and-shoot camera you can get. If you’re looking for a camera below INR 15k (US $400), my serious advice would be to invest in an iPhone 5. In addition to all the wonderful things that an iPhone can do for you, it also has a brilliant camera that far surpasses the entry level cameras that are avaiailable in the market today. Still not convinced? Honestly, there’s no real advice I can give you except go to a large camera store, and find out which model has the best deal going on at the moment. They’re all pretty much the same, with comparable features and price points. This is the most aggressively fought segment there is, and all manufacturers try and woo customers in with discounts, deals and features. Ask the store clerk for a recommendation, and see which model looks and feels right for you.

 

FINAL WORDS 

I hope that this made the decision making process a little easier. There are a lot of good cameras out there, and most of the time it’s hard to go wrong. However, I understand how complex the decision making process can be, and you don’t want to wind up with something that you regret! 

There are quite a few questions that remain unanswered — that I’m going to save for a future post. Some of them are:

  1. How to choose between a full-frame and crop-sensor (DX) DSLR 
  2. How to choose between a Nikon and a Canon (and other brands) 
  3. How to choose DSLR lenses, and my lens recommendations

Questions? Comments? Leave a note in the box down below and I’ll be glad to answer! 

 

About Arjun Kartha Photography

Arjun Kartha is a ‘non-wedding’ Indian Wedding Photographer with a candid, contemporary and off-beat approach to shooting Indian marriages. With years of rich experience, Arjun is one of the finest and most sought after wedding photographers in India. Working as a husband-wife team, Arjun and Praerna are candid wedding photography specialists – and veterans of the fledgling wedding photography genre in India. With a penchant for making “fun” photos, they love creating behind the scenes memories that will last a lifetime. Arjun is also a category winner of the prestigious Kodak Wedding Photographer of the Year 2011 award.