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Optimum Camera for Baby/Children Shots
Hi Experts.

I'm trying to find the optimum DSLR cam + lens for baby/children shots. Obviously I'm a beginner but please take the following things into account:- I've about 2.5 months left to train before the little one arrives- money is not an issue up to about totally 3500$- I don't want to regret having not bought a better camera later on, when it isto late; babys grow fast as you know- I don't want to buy a new camera within the next three years.

Looking around myself and taking with friends I focussed on Nikon (but this is not a must) to limit the choices a bit..

Camera:.

According to Ken Rockwell (don't know if I can trust his opinions) the D40 would be good enough for children pics but if one wants to have more then one should directly go for the D300. To me the D80 also looked like a good option but it seems that there soon (but maybe not soon enough for my baby) will be a successor. In addition in Switzerland you get a 300$ cashback from Nikon for the D300 at the moment (only till the 15.08.2008). So the difference between the D80 and the D300 is not so big anymore. Regarding the D40 I'm a bit worried about it's speed. Is it sufficiently fast for small children which move at a great pace, certainly will seldom pose for you and where a cute face expression might be gone in a moment?.

Lens:.

Again, according to Ken Rockwell it seems that the best lens for me would be the Nikkor 18-200 mm. Gives excellent image quality (at least according to Ken; the reviewer from dpreview seemed to be persuaded otherwise) and one doesn't need another one since it is an allround lens. Although my main focus will be on children shots I might, from time to time, use the cam for another purpose (people, animals, landscapes)..

However, since my main focus lies on children/people shots I wonder which lens would be optimum for this purpose. For the rest I could always add another lens in time..

Of course I'm a beginner and might not need a cam like the D300. If the D40 is good enough for my purpose I would go for it. However, to emphasize this once again: I don't care that much about the money and rather don't want to think in the future that a better camera/lens would have given me better images..

So, please help me out a bit. I hope I don't bother you too much but I really didn't find an answer to my specific situation either here on dpreview or elsewhere..

Thanks in advance for your helpKarl..

Comments (14)

Ok, since money is not an object, and taking baby pictures are the most important subject, let's jump right to what I consider to be the best baby taker of the batch for less than $3500..

Get a Nikon D300 and the Nikkor 85 f1.4. This lens is legendary as a pro-level portrait optic. It renders skin tones beautifully and is extremely fast and sharp. There is no substitute, IMO. This lens won't autofocus on a D40/D60. It will on a D80, but you mentioned the best.



Now, for the downside. The 85 f1.4 might take a little longer to learn. At wide open aperture of f1.4 it has a paper thin depth of field. What this means is that anything a few inches in front or behind the focused area will start to go out of focus fast. But, that's one of the magical properties of this lens. If you focus on the baby's eye, the baby's face will pop leaving everything else to gently blur out.



As a second baby portrait lens, I'd get the wonderful and sharp 35 f2. This lens is much wider than the 85 but it also has that fast, narrow depth of field and beautiful skin tone rendition the 85 has. Well, maybe not quite as nice, but extremely good..

With these, I'd add the SB800 flash to round it all out. You'll have pretty much the ultimate portrait kit for babies. The above is just my opinion, but I think you'll soon agree if you go this way. Shooting babies and children you can have the advantage of using primes instead of zooms. You're mostly zooming with your feet just to keep up. Primes are almost always sharper and lighter..

One more thing. Large zooms poking at small babies tends to scare them a little. That's why staying back with the 85 f1.4 is beneficial. You can still get that tight frame without that big zoom pointing at the child..

Here's a couple of shots of my grand nephew and the 85 f1.4. I'm just a rank amateur, but this lens helps. All shot with a D300..

Image control:Zoom outZoom 100%Zoom inExpand AllOpen in new window.

Image control:Zoom outZoom 100%Zoom inExpand AllOpen in new window.

Here's the 35 f2. Not quite the rendition, but a different perspective..

Image control:Zoom outZoom 100%Zoom inExpand AllOpen in new window.

Image control:Zoom outZoom 100%Zoom inExpand AllOpen in new window.

Have fun.Cheers, Craig..

Comment #1

Hi Karl,Ken Rockwell often has some interesting advise. I think that both the D40 and D300 will provide impressive images..

The D40 would probably be okay for the first few months but as the child gets older (mine is under a year old and is always on the move) the D40 may be a bit slow. The way I see it, children are vey unpredictable and don't pose when they are very young. I do think there is an advantage to a higher FPS (frames per second) camera. Perhaps more important than the body though is the lense selection. You could get by with a D40/D60 at 3fps but for indoor shots with the 18-200, you will need to really push the ISO or invest in an external flash simply because the lense is a little slow. I haven't used it before but I get the impression that the f3.5 at 18mm doesn't last long and the lense reaches 5.6 fairly quickly.

Traditionally, 10x zoom lenses like the 18-200 make significant compromises in order to provide the range. This brings up the problem that I have with the D40/D60 models...Fast prime lenses, there are lots that will fit the camera but very few that will autofocus. Fast primes (or at least a F2.8 zoom) will probably be very handy..

Now, about the D300. It has an impressive spec page...the question is more about whether you will dedicate the time necessary to learn about all the features and controls...I read all kinds of reports when the D300 was released from users complaining about this not working right or that not working right. Those who stuck with it and took the time to learn how to use it properly seem quite happy. All that said, some may consider it overkill for your first DSLR but you really are the only one who can say for sure. One important thing to consider the the size of the bodies. The D300 is a much larger body than a D40/D60...which will be comfortable for you? Will you take the camera with you if you find out it is larger than you like? Will you stop using a body that is too small and your hand cramps when you use it (not saying it will happen but you may want to consider these things)..

As far at the body goes, if you want to get a nikon, I would pick a D80 in my position. I like that size of camera and it has all the features you will likely need for your first body as well as you should be able to find some decent deals on it..

Truth is, having learned from my own experiences, if I were you I would spend more money with decent lenses and place the body as a second priority. After all, the camera bodies will be replace with newer models in fairly short order but you lenses should last a significantly longer time...

Comment #2

Craig, thanks for the quick response..

I've three questions regarding your answer:1) What do I need from the SB-800 that a SB-600 would not be able to do?.

2) Maybe a dumb question. The AF Nikkor 85mm f/1.4D IF is not a DX lens. I know that non-DX lenses can also be used on DX cams, but are DX lenses not better suited for the D300?.

3) The AF Nikkor 85mm f/1.4D IF does not have VR. Is this not a problem when no tripod is used?.

RegardsKarl..

Comment #3

Karl Giger wrote:.

Craig, thanks for the quick response..

I've three questions regarding your answer:1) What do I need from the SB-800 that a SB-600 would not be able to do?2) Maybe a dumb question. The AF Nikkor 85mm f/1.4D IF is not a DXlens. I know that non-DX lenses can also be used on DX cams, but areDX lenses not better suited for the D300?3) The AF Nikkor 85mm f/1.4D IF does not have VR. Is this not aproblem when no tripod is used?.

RegardsKarl.

1. The SB800 has a faster recycling time with 5 batteries. For childred, I find that alone makes it worth it. If you, like me, decide to take the next step, the SB800 better supports Nikon's Creative Lighting System..

2. Yes, FX lenses can be used on a DX body, but no, DX is not better suited. I'm trying to make sure that everything is my kit is non-DX and therefore complatible if I decide to move up. The 85 f1.4 has almost earned cult atatus amoung DX camera portrait shooter over the past number of years..

3. The Nikkor 85 f1.4 doesn't need VR, IMO. VR gives you a few stops if you're hand holding in low light on a static subject. Babies aren't static. Moreover, the f1.4 is so fast, you're getting a real several stop advantage from that..

For example, let's look at the very good 16-85vr consumer zoom. At 85mm your max aperture for low light is 5.6. That's 3 stops slower. So, if the VR kicks in, the Zoom might let you shoot at 3 stops slower shutter speed. The 85 f1.4 at it's 1.4 will let you shoot at that same shutter speed because it is also giving you a 3 stop advantage. Moreover, this is a real advantage, not a "maybe" advantage.



Believe me, the 85 f1.4 is the diffinative choice among serious portrait shooters, with or without a tripod. None of the images I made used a tripod. The first image did use a strobe, off camera and to the baby's right. The D300 will wirelessly trigger off-camera strobes like the SB600 and SB800. The SB800 can trigger other strobes as well as be a slave to the D300..

Cheers, Craig..

Comment #4

Dear Craig.

What do you think about the 50 f1.4 lens? Because adding pricewise everything you suggested to together (D300 + 85 f1.4 + SB800 + maybe 35 f2) I end up well over the 3500$. Furthermore, some people in the lens forum complained that the 85 f1.4 is a little long and that you need to put quite a large distance between you and the baby (if you do not only take pictures of the baby's head but shots of the whole baby or of the mother together with the baby)..

What do you think about the 50 f1.4 as an alternative to the 85 f1.4 and the 35 f2?.

And what if I wound't buy the 35 f2 in the beginning, could I do everthying I need with the 85 f1.4?.

By the way, your grand nephew looks cute and the shots really nice..

CheersKarl..

Comment #5

The 50 f1.4 is a great lens. It will serve you well..

The 85 shots I took were from about 4 or 5 feet. People tend to not get close enough and fail to fill the frame. The 35mm shots were about 1 to 2 feet, actually too close to the baby, but they turned out ok..

Again, the 50 will do you fine. Nothing is going to have that magic the 85 f1.4 has for portraits though. I suggested it because you said "the best." LOL I know it's expensive..

Brand new, you'll pay around $1600 for a D300 and around $1100 for an 85 f1.4. That puts you at $2700. A 35 f2 is $319 and a SB800 is around $315. That's around $3300 and change. I know that's a nice chunk of change for a great portrait rig, but I did keep it under $3500, just barely. LOLCheers, Craig..

Comment #6

Karl Giger wrote:.

Dear Craig.

By the way, your grand nephew looks cute and the shots really nice..

CheersKarl.

Oh, I forgot to say thank you for your kind words. I do appreciate it very much.Cheers, Craig..

Comment #7

You could save $600+ by replacing the 85mm f/1.4 lens ($1025) with an 85mm f/1.8 lens ($400). There is not much loss in low-light ability, and the cheaper lens seems to be well-liked. You could put the savings towards a general-purpose lens like the Tamron 17-50mm constant f/2.8 ($420), which might offer a more consistently useful focal range in tight indoor quarters..

Going from the Nikon D300 ($1625) to the Nikon D80 ($725) would save another $900..

A kit with a D80 body + Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 lens + Nikon 50mm f/1.8 lens + Nikon 85mm f/1.8 lens + Nikon SB-800 would cost about $2000 (mail order, and before adding batteries/cards/cases). With a D300 body, about $2900..

So you can see that you can play around with things, and come up with various good systems, without spending every last $ of your budget...

Comment #8

Tom_N wrote:.

You could save $600+ by replacing the 85mm f/1.4 lens ($1025) with an85mm f/1.8 lens ($400). There is not much loss in low-light ability,and the cheaper lens seems to be well-liked. You could put thesavings towards a general-purpose lens like the Tamron 17-50mmconstant f/2.8 ($420), which might offer a more consistently usefulfocal range in tight indoor quarters..

Going from the Nikon D300 ($1625) to the Nikon D80 ($725) would saveanother $900..

A kit with a D80 body + Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 lens + Nikon 50mm f/1.8lens + Nikon 85mm f/1.8 lens + Nikon SB-800 would cost about $2000(mail order, and before adding batteries/cards/cases). With a D300body, about $2900..

So you can see that you can play around with things, and come up withvarious good systems, without spending every last $ of your budget..

I agree, you can go cheaper. Everything is a compromise. My point was that I felt that the D300 with the 85 f1.4 was the best choice under his budget, not the only choice. To me, the 85 f1.4 is leaps and bounds ahead of the 1.8. It's just not the one stop speed. It's the color rendition, sharpness wide open, build quality, and special magic it has with regards to portraits.



So many question the almost 3 times the cost of the 85 1.4 is over the 85 1.8. I did myself as I headed to the camera shop. I fully intended to get the 85 1.8. I had borrowed one for a week and decided to buy one. At the last moment, I caved and requested the 1.4 based on all people that had lavished praise on it. I felt kind of silly spending that much.

I understood why and now lavish praise myself..

Cheers, Craig..

Comment #9

Please keep in mind there's no camera/lens system you can buy that will take every possible shot in every circumstance. Specialize in doing one or two things well. Most of the work is on you, not the equipment. I would tend to think a fast 35ish and 85ish setup is good for your stated purposes..

If you want a three lens setup get the 50 and go wider for the short lens. Something like a 24, 50, 85 setup...

Comment #10

Another option is to get the Pentax K200d, 21mm, 40mm, 70mm. It's not near a Nikon D300 especially in low light but it is a nice setup with good build quality..

Regardless of brand, do spend on lenses over the body. The body will depreciate and you'll replace it, buy lenses you'll keep forever as the body upgrades over the years...

Comment #11

Guidenet wrote:.

To me, the 85 f1.4 is leaps andbounds ahead of the 1.8. It's just not the one stop speed. It's thecolor rendition, sharpness wide open, build quality, and specialmagic it has with regards to portraits. That's what you're paying for..

If the lens is that magic, and he's willing to pay the large premium for it, maybe he should go for it..

But in that case, I would recommend cutting the body to a D80 (or even a D200; they now go mail-order for $1,000 body-only). From my experience, even a short portrait lens (85mm lens on 35mm SLR; 50mm lens on D80/D300) is often far too long for indoor family photo-taking..

That would allow for buying a general-purpose lens (or lenses) to supplement the specialist one...

Comment #12

Have you tried these focal lengths inside. I promise I'm not trying to be argumentative, but I don't find them too long. I think for general use inside, they might be too long, but often people just don't get in close enough on portraits..

Taking good portraits with the 85 for a head and shoulders shot puts me 4-5 feet away, at the most. For full length portraits of an adult or group, I'd agree with you. That's why I use a 35 f2 as a complement to the 85. Those are my two portrait lenses..

I would also agree with you in that the 17-50 Tamron makes a great indoor lens. None have the magic of the 85 f1.4, but the other does have versatility. The point is that a zoom is rarely as good as a prime lens, and for inside use or really most any portrait use, zooming by moving is just as easy as zooming with the zoom ring. In fact, it's often way faster and more spontanious. If you watch a pro glamour shoot, that guy is moving and ducking around composing the shot, rarely twisting the zoom ring, even if a zoom ring exists..

I find that success for me and babies is getting the focus just right on one of the eyes. I find that the 85 is just the right length for me to get that in a hurry while that baby is making that one second "Kodak Moment" expression..

As far as the D300 goes, I love it. It focuses faster with primes than my D80. I have much less chance of blown highlights and a cleaner image with better skin tones. I know that part of that is just me. I'm more consistent and more confident with the D300 than the D80. Confidence in the tools helps me do a better job..

As an older grandpa type, I've found my family oooing and aaahing more since I started using the 85 f1.4. LOL This, of course, makes me like the D300/85 f1.4 even more. When my sister and her husband call up after I've sent pics of their grandchild and they say, "I didn't realize how talented you are" or "we broke out in tears over that picture" I get a major ego boost. There's something to be said for confidence and quality equipment. Those type comments melt my heart. I guess that's why I get such a fanboy attitude about this combination..

Thanks for the input. Your view is probably more reasonable, while mine is admittedly emotional..

Cheers, Craig..

Comment #13

This guy gave me great inspiration. See his work on children portraits here:.

Http://www.pbase.com/thejaybird/portraits.

His equipments aren't much, just Canon 300D ($250) and Canon 85mm F1.8 ($350). In Nikon world, the equivalents are Nikon D40 and Nikkor F1.8..

You can spend more money, but I doubt you'd get better results...

Comment #14

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This question was taken from a support group/message board and re-posted here so others can learn from it.

 

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