An (@f/1.4) Day at Disneyland

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The spirit, the charm, the beauty of Disneyland is not found in its rides. Indiana Jones Adventure, Space Mountain, Haunted Mansion are all nothing in isolation. The magic of Disneyland is found in its quiet moments, its meticulous details layered on over the course of some 60 years, its people who work hard to make it a special place for guests. The attractions may be construed as the meat of the experience, but if so, it takes brilliant chefs, careful seasoning, and delicious side dishes to turn that raw meat into a wonderful meal. Perhaps that’s a flowery metaphor, but I think it fits.

In a day spent at Disneyland, it’s so easy to breeze past what truly evokes a sense of magic about the place as we race from attraction to attraction. Yesterday, I headed to the park with a goal of slowing down, and breaking out of a photographic-funk I’ve been in. Over the past couple of months or so, I felt like I had lost a bit of my fire, simply going through the motions when I did take out my camera. Wanting to regain my intensity and creative spark, I set out with just my Nikon D600 and Sigma 35mm f/1.4 lens (no other lenses; no tripod–nothing else) and gave myself an assignment to capture something creative and interesting, with the ‘threat’ hanging over my head that I’d be doing a blog post today with 10 photos no matter what…so I had better come back with at least 10 shots that didn’t suck.

Going in, I had no idea what I was going to shoot, but after a couple of shots I decided to up the ante by focusing on those little details rather than E-Tickets, and also leaving my aperture at f/1.4 the entire time. I think the end result is a photo essay that differs in tone, style, and substance from my normal photography. Its a set of photos with which I’m pretty happy, if only because I think it ultimately did break me from that funk, and has me eager to head back and try some other new ideas.

With that, I’ll shut up and let the photos speak for themselves from my f/1.4 ‘Day at Disneyland’ yesterday… (more…)

Ultimate Disney Parks Photography Guide

Looking for the best camera (point and shoot or DSLR), lens, or other photography gear and equipment to buy for use at Walt Disney World, Disneyland, and beyond? Want tutorials to take better photos in and outside of the parks? This photography buying guide offers helpful “real world” ratings and reviews on photography equipment from an actual photographer (take a look at my photo galleries to see my work), plus links to some of my articles offering tips for better photos. Although my specialty is landscape and travel photography, the gear reviewed can be used in a whole range of photographic scenarios. If you’re not interested in learning about photography, but just want to find Disney photos to download or print, click here.

Before considering any camera and photography equipment upgrades, it is a great idea to learn about photography. Use online resources (Google can find a tutorial on anything!), but if you want to learn the basics or read something more thorough, we recommend books (read our book reviews). The book we always recommend starting with is Understanding Exposure by Bryan Peterson. Seriously, get it. All of the expensive equipment in the world won’t help you if you haven’t learned the basics, and that book is the best way to learn the basics. A book is a lot cheaper than a new lens, and if you’re a beginner, that book will improve your photography more than a new lens.

No camera “takes good pictures.” Some cameras can help an adept photographer more than others, but if the person taking the photos doesn’t do things right, photos taken with a $2,000 camera can look worse than photos taken with a camera phone. Likewise, many experienced photographers can take better photos with an iPhone than inexperienced photographers can with expensive DSLRs on Auto Mode.

The point being, it’s important to learn the fundamentals of photography in addition to buying shiny, new toys. This guide will start by providing resources for learning more about photography (the most important step) and then reviews and information concerning buying more tools to improve your photography. (more…)

What’s In My Camera Bag – 2015 Edition

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Wondering what’s in my camera bag? I previously shared the camera, lenses, tripod, and other photography equipment I carry, in response to questions I receive about what camera I use, how I carry my gear into the Disney Parks, and other assorted questions.

That was nearly a year ago, and some things have changed since then. I realized this when going to find the link to send in response to an email over the holiday weekend, and figured it might additionally be useful for those of you doing Christmas shopping for the photographers in your family. (Or if you’re doing my favorite kind of gift giving: for yourself! ;))

Although I own a lot more camera gear than what is on this list, these are the items I typically carry in my camera bag on a normal day in the parks. Unless I’m borrowing a new toy, trying to travel light, or just looking to do something different this stuff is all in my camera bag. Yes, all of it. I’m a gear sherpa. The photo above shows my camera bag packed as it would be for a normal day, weighing north of 25 pounds.

I’m guessing most sane people won’t want to carry all of this while running around the parks, but it underscores another point (and responds to another couple of questions), yes, you can bring this much photography equipment into the Disney Parks and yes, you can take this much photography onto every attraction at Walt Disney World besides Sum of All Thrills. (It’s a bit of an awkward fit on Space Mountain and Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, but it does fit.) You are not required to use lockers on any other attractions at Walt Disney World or Disneyland, but if you’re heading to the Universal parks, too, be aware that you will have to use lockers at most attractions there, and that this bag is too large to fit in the normal lockers outside of each attraction, but it will fit in the lockers at the front of the park.

With that said, here’s what I generally carry in my camera bag… (more…)

Rokinon 12mm f/2.8 Fisheye Lens Review

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This review features real world sample photos from the Rokinon 12mm f/2.8 fisheye (which is also sold under Samyang, Bower, Pro-Optic brands), my thoughts on the lens, and side-by-side comparison images to the Zenitar 16mm and Rokinon 8mm fisheye lenses. This is the new full frame fisheye built by Samyang Optics, and while it is technically a budget fisheye lens, its ~$500 price point puts it nearly in line with regular third party brands. The question for this review is thus whether this glass can command the premium price. Given the stellar performance of the Rokinon 8mm f/3.5 fisheye, I was optimistic that it could…or I wouldn’t have bought it in the first place.

Before we get to the substance of the review, a little background is in order. I think this is the first review to be posted of the new Rokinon 12mm f/2.8 fisheye, so I’m guessing some of you reading this might be “regular” photographers, and not the normal audience of crazy Disney enthusiasts who frequent this site. As such, you might be wondering why there is a review for a fisheye lens on a Disney fan site and why you should trust my opinion.

The review is here because Disney Parks photography is one of my favorite hobbies; my family will tell you that under no circumstances should you trust my judgment. However, I have tested or owned every major fisheye lens for Nikon mount cameras in recent memory, and I have reviews on this site (click each name to open the review in a new tab) of the Rokinon 8mm f/3.5 fisheye, Zenitar 16mm f/2.8 fisheye, and Sigma 15mm f/2.8 fisheye. I’ve also used but have not (yet) reviewed the Nikon 10.5mm f/2.8G Fisheye Lens, the Sigma 10mm f/2.8 Fisheye Lens, the Tokina 10-17mm Fisheye Lens, and the Nikon 16mm f/2.8 Fisheye Lens. None of this precludes me from having awful opinions about fisheye lenses, but at least now you know I have some experience with them. Suffice to say, I love shooting with fisheyes. (more…)

Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Art Lens Review

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The Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM lens is the latest Sigma “Art” line, and it doesn’t disappoint. This review covers the strengths and weaknesses of the lens, with sample photos that I’ve shot with the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 lens on my Nikon D810, plus a summary of why I won’t be purchasing the lens despite its very impressive performance. To put it succinctly, this lens is almost identical to the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 in terms of design and performance, except it offers a 50mm focal length. Since that lens was virtual perfection, this is most certainly a good thing.

It’s important to note from the outset that the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 lens is designed for full frame cameras. To be sure, it works with crop sensor cameras, but it’s going to be overkill for them. Crop sensor shooters looking for an effective field of view roughly equivalent to this should instead check out the Sigma 30mm f/1.4 Art (read my review of that lens), which is the rough equivalent to this lens on a crop sensor body in terms of view. Another lens to consider as an alternative would be the Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8, although that lens is not a prime like this one.

The build of the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Art lens shouldn’t surprise anyone who has touched one of the other Art lenses. It continues the brand reinvention with a sleek look and beautiful industrial design. There’s considerable heft to it, and its brushed aluminum construction just feels good in the hands. Everything from its large build to its lens hood to even the cap just reeks of high quality. It’s really not just a matter of excellent build quality, this lens truly feels and looks nice. This might actually be concerning to those of you used to the 50mm f/1.8 lenses that weigh practically nothing and take up little space in your camera bags. This weighs much more and will take up a good amount of space.

As with the Sigma 35mm f/1.4, focus locks quickly and accurately, with no front or back focus issues. I did feel like there were times when the focus was locking on something in the frame other than what I intended (and I always select my focus point), but this happened seldom, and I can’t definitively attribute it to the lens. (more…)