Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Book Review: The Thinking Photographer by Ian Bradshaw

The Thinking Photographer,by Ian Bradshaw ISBN 0-356-12153-4 Published 1986.

This one is hard to find, but its worth it if you do. Don't let the fact that it was written in the film era put you off; it's a book purely about composition and technique. Imagine picking up a photo technique book today without any mention of Photoshop or image alteration... a book entirely about taking pictures. Really, imagine that! Indeed, there's barely any mention of  techniques such as focus and exposure, except when they have issue with picture composition.

What makes this book so special is that situational topics are covered in an almost flowchart like fashion. Bradshaw starts off with something that anyone might shoot - a portrait, a wedding, sports, etc. - and then guides the reader through a series of pictures. The first images in each section are the compositionally weak ones, and then step by step he shows how each picture can be improved by rearranging the picture elements. In other words, the book is about guiding th reader throguh the thinking process about what makes a good image.

You might be able to find it where I did, in your public library. (Easiest place to find old books). It's well worth it, there just isn't enough written today about effective composition.

Try here for copie:

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Should You Buy/Sell a Package Deal on Craigslist?

From time to time, you see people selling their entire camera system as a package on Craigslist. The two most common reasons for doing so is that the person is downsizing and getting out of DSLR ownership, or that person is switching brands, either from Nikon to Canon or vice versa. The question is, is it cost effective to do so?

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Last Minute Craigslist Negotiations

When all matters of legitimacy and mechanical reliability settled, the final hurdle to cross in a Craigslist deal is the matter of price. During this time, the buyer has more room to negotiate than the seller. The buyer can ask for a little bit more off the price; for the deal to fall through on a final minor price discount would be a waste of time for the seller, given the time spent on setting up the transaction and the uncertainty of what negotiations would be like with another potential buyer. This is a lop-sided time for the buyer, as there is no room to ask for a higher price; the asking price would have already been spelled out in the Craigslist ad, asking for more would be absurd.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Lenses That Are Only So-So on the Used Market

Despite the fact that you can save money by buying a lens on Craigslist, it does not necessary follow that every lens out there is a good value for the money. This depends a lot on your own personal circumstance. For example, acquiring a Nikon 14-24 at any reasonable used price would still be too expensive a purchase if you shot with a Nikon D40.

Likewise, some lenses have been obsoleted by newer alternatives. Others were never really that good to begin with. Eventually, every lens is a bargain if you can find a good price for it, but that depends if there is a seller willing to let it go for that price. The following is a personal view of lenses that don’t offer good value for the money. By that, I mean that I think you would have to get significantly below typical Craigslist prices to consider these lenses.

Nikon 24-120VR Version 1 (Paper Specs Don't Always Live Up to Reality)

A much maligned lens that doesn’t live up to the standards of more modern designs. On paper, you have almost everything that you could want: useful zoom range for both DX and FX with built in image stabilization. The sticking point with these lenses is usage. Are you using it as a normal zoom or are you using it as a travel zoom.

My vote is that ‘travel zoom’ is a better use for this lens. It doesn’t develop the across-the-frame sharpness that you would expect for a normal zoom; this isn’t the lens that you will want to use as your “body cap”. However,  if you find one at a good price, it’s sort of the poor-man’s 18-200VR (which, by the way, is also not that sharp a lens). Most 18-200’s a priced competitively, you should really not be paying more than 65% the price of a used 18-200VR for a used 24-120VR.

Nikon 20mm f/2.8 (Usefulness Depends on Intended Usage)

On paper, this is one of those lenses that you think would be a keeper. The only problem is that it still sells new for a high retail price, which keeps used prices high as well. As I write this, typically used prices go for $400ish in my local area. That’s a lot of money considering all of the alternatives that would perform better on DX cameras like the Nikon D90.

The advantage to this lens is that it’s a prime. It’s smaller than a zoom and it’s optically more efficient. You can typically expect a 1/3 stop advantage in speed compared to a zoom at the similar focal length. That is to say, under equal circumstances, a prime will let you shoot with a shutter speed that is 25% faster than a zoom. The down side is that the distortion pattern to this lens is wavy and not as simple to correct.

On DX, this lens falls into neither nor territory… it becomes the equivalent of 30mm FX and is not truly wide for landscapes but is a little too wide for the classic 35mm equivalent street photography focal length. (35mm is a favourite focal length of Leica shooters). However, if you are using a D700, the price is affordable compared to something like 17-35 f/2.8.

Nikon 17-55 f/2.8 (Excellence is not Always Value)

Optically, this is an awesome lens. It’s very competent at what it does, all through the zoom range. It’s also one brutally expensive lens new. This inflates the asking price on the used market, but there are two downsides. The first is competition. Tamron makes a very competent 17-50 f/2.8 zoom for a fraction of the price. In fact, you could buy a new 17-50VC, which includes image stabilization, for less than a used Nikon 17-55. Granted, these two lenses serve different markets, but the Tamron (in it’s various incarnations) does 90% of what the Nikon does for a fraction of the price. I’ve seen older screw-drive versions go as low as $280 asking on Craigslist. The Nikon is better built and is better wide-open at f/2.8. The build quality matters if you shoot a lot, travel or get paid (e.g., wedding photography), but the image quality wide open is not as important as it might sound to be, as the plane of acceptable focus is very narrow at f/2.8 anyway.

The other negative is that the market is moving away from Nikon 17-55. It’s a competent pro-DX standard zoom, but the type of professional that would need a professional quality standard zoom (again, typically wedding photographers) is more and more likely to be using a D700 than a D300. This will also make it harder to resell this lens in the future.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Negotiating Prices on Craigslist

This will apply to both buyers and sellers on Craigslist, because price is usually the point of contention on which a sale hinges. In the commercial world, price is often not the sole determinant of a deal, as you would have issues such as servicing, shipping, warranty... etc. But since none of these apply to used goods, price become the final issue to settle between buyers and sellers after the condition and legitimacy of an item are settled.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

How to Sell Lenses on Craigslist

Here's a guide to selling equipment on Craigslist. I'm going to focus primarily on lenses. Good lenses don't depreciate much after a few years, if at all. Newer lens will generally not recoup their price, but have strong demand if they offer good performance, or are professional quality lenses. I'm going to assume that this isn't you, so we'll skip high-ticket items like anything more expensive than the Nikon 24-70 f/2.8 and the 70-200VRII. If you are selling a 200-400 f/4, I'm going to assume that anything I have to say will be fairly irrelevant to you.

One thing to watch out for is currency fluctuation. Depending on when and where you bought the lens, the resale value will fluctuate according to the retail price of the same lens sold in a store. Don't expect wild swings, as importers tend to hedge against currency changes months, if not years in advance.

Things to ask yourself before selling:


  1. Is this lens worth buying? What's the incentive for a buyer to pick up your lens? This is the single most important question you need to ask yourself before going to the market. (Also known affectionately to you business students as the unique value proposition). If you have a kit 18-55mm f/3.5-f/5.6 lens that you want to resell, it would be difficult to expect much given how many of those things were made and how pedestrian the f-stop range is. (I'm talking only about the resale market value... that particular lens in its various inceptions is optically decent for it's price... but that's the point, low starting price, low resale value). Which leads us into the next question:
  2. Does my lens have a good reputation? Is it sharp, is it fast, does it colour fringe, is it well made? Thanks to the internet, the number of well informed people grow by the day. You pretty much have to start with the assumption that your potential buyer is going to be well-informed. Said another way, don't expect a lot of enthusiasm for your Nikon 70-300ED zoom, but you should get lots of inquirys for a Nikon 70-300VR. 
  3. Am I willing to part with this lens? Funny thing is, I wouldn't consider this question first. Sometimes thinking about the first two questions will make you decide that it's not worth parting with your beloved lens. It's good to know the worth of something before you decide to part with it; if you don't let it go, you will appreciate it more having considered this question.


Writing the Craigslist Ad


  1. Specify locations that you would be comfortable selling in. You are the seller; don't go driving across town through rush hour traffic for a potential sale that could fall through. Your time is also your money.
  2. Put down the right asking price. This seems obvious, but it bears stating: the right asking price is more than what you would expect the lens to go for.  No matter what people say, no price is firm. Putting down "300, firm" will not deter people from bargaining with you. What it does do is make you seem inflexible, which reduces trust on the part of the seller, and it will make you look weak if you do acquiesce. For example, if you think that $300 is fair and what the price will eventually come to after negotiations are done, then list the price higher, say at $330.
  3. Clean your lens. Use a microfiber cloth and gently wipe off the dust from the front element, making sure that you are actually wiping the dust out and not just jamming it into the nook where the glass meets the plastic body of the lens. One trick: Armor All. It does what it says it does, it restores the colour of faded plastic. Spray a sparing amount onto a cloth and then wipe onto the plastic body of your lens. Do not spray directly onto the lens, and do not get any of it onto the glass. Let it absorb and then buff until the surface is dry and the Armor All is incorporated. This takes years off of the appearance of used lens. Also works wonders on camera bodies.
  4. Make sure you have front and rear caps as a minimum. Presenting a lens without a rear cap is the kiss off death. First of all, nothing is more off putting than buying something from a stranger with a sensitive part of the optics exposed to the elements. Secondly, a lens with a front cap but without a rear cap is potentially a stolen lens pulled off of somebody's camera body.
  5. Ideally, have the originally packaging and receipts. Nothing says scrupulous legitimate owner like a receipt and a well cared for manufacturer's box. The older the lens, the more willing a buyer will be to over look the absence of these.
  6. Include pictures of the actual lens in your ad. Since photography is a visual hobby, it would make sense for your ad to have visual appeal. Shoot it against a non-busy neutral  background; it doesn't not have to be stark-studio white. Make sure you or your residence cannot be identified by the the picture. Also make sure you shoot the item with lots of depth of field so that the item is easy to see in the Craigslist listing. Now is not the time to be wowing people with your ultra-shallow bokeh  technique.
  7. Do not link to an outside picture or paste in manufacture's promotional images. Anybody can do this, the point of posting a picture of the actual item is to prove to potential buyers that the lens exists. You might have to use your cellphone camera, but a picture is better than nothing at all.
  8. Do not include manufacturer's specs or promotional literature in your Craigstlist ad. In other words, don't gild the lily. Ads that do this seem insincere; your buyer is going to know what your product is, don't insult them by giving them the promotional crap again. 
  9. Don't quote Ken Rockwell in your ad. I don't have anything personal against him, but the man's writing style is...ahem...polarizing at best and if you quote him in your ad, it will mark you as a rookie who doesn't know that there are more sophisticated places to spend your web viewing time. (By all means, visit his site, though. I do it all the time.) 
  10. Do not use the tagline, "My loss is your gain." This comes across as brutally insincere. Leave the cheezy taglines for used cars salesmen. 
  11. Do not  include your telephone. Serious buyers will give you a contact number immediately; if you have priced it competitively, they will know that others are looking at the same ad and that time will count. Give preference for people who offer a telephone number right away; people who do not will likely have a few more questions. In the time that it would take to play email tag, you could have arranged a deal.

The Deal:

  1. Meet in a high traffic, public place in an economically upscale part of town. Coffee shops and banks are the best locations. Starbucks are common in my hometown, so it's fairly common practice to meet at one. Do not meet at train or subway station. Ads that ask for this are downright suspicious.
  2. Do not meet after sundown. You will be conducting an expensive cash transaction with a stranger that you haven't met before; this is for your own safety.
  3. Bring a friend if you are uncomfortable. If you are wary about selling on your own, your next best option is to consign your equipment through a local camera store. If Craigslist is out of your comfort zone, don't be put off by the small amount of money that a camera store will offer you.
  4. Let the buyer test your equipment, but be mindful of their movement and where the nearest exits are. You want to eliminate the possibility of the 'buyer' making a quick getaway.
  5. Be prepared for last minute negotiations. Any buyer worth their salt will try to negotiate a little off the price that you discussed by email/phone. This is up to you, whether you want to accept less and take your chance that the next buyer will be willing to pay more money. I suggest throwing in a UV filter if you have one for the lens. The best way to counteract last minute negotiations is to have set the proper asking price ahead of time, so that you will have leeway for the inevitable.
  6. Shake on the deal. Social convention being what it is, a handshake puts an end to the negotiation process. Anybody who changes their mind after this step is somebody who is either ignorant of, or willing to violate one of life's little rules that most people live by.
  7. Only accept cash. If you meet in a bank and the buyer can confirm that the funds exist, only then would I ever recommend taking a cheque. Even then, it's just easier to have the buyer withdraw  the necessary funds in cash. Never accept a money order, or payment from somebody out of town.
  8. Always count cash with the money and the equipment on the same table, in plain view of both parties. Never forget, the buyer is also scrutinizing whether or not you are an honest person as well.
  9. Chit chat. If the deal went well and your buyer is upright and honorable, the conversation after the deal will probably be more relaxed and pleasant. This is a sign of a good deal.  Buyers who are willing to find used lenses on Craiglist are typically more serious about their hobby than the general public.
  10.  Make sure you're cash is safely stored on you. You now have a significant amount of money after the transaction; be careful with it.
  11. Avoid looking at Craigslist for the next few days. Be happy with the price that you got, don't tempt fate...

Friday, August 13, 2010

How to Buy Used Equipment on Craigslist

Except for accessories, I've purchases all of my camera equipment on Craigslist. I can't help, I like the savings.  This really isn't for everyone, as it requires a lot of research and a bit of street-savvy. Some people prefer the enjoyment of new things; others enjoy the thrill of chasing a bargain. To each their own; however, photography is not a cheap hobby and the savings that you can get buying used are not to be laughed at. If the financial crisis of 2008-till-who-knows-when has taught us anything, it ought to be the importance of spending our money more wisely.