Zach Zupancic

Zach Zupancic

Senior Designer, SolidWorks addict, AutoCAD zealot, Cyclist, Shade Tree Mechanic, & moderately tall. 

drive by... shootings... 35mm... do eett...

For the Seattle road trip last year I bought a Nikon D40. I didn’t buy it because I needed a camera, it was because I wanted to learn how to use an SLR camera and the art of photography; the D40 is cheap and was reviewed awesomely. However; the Seattle trip, in general, wasn't too helpful in the act of learning how to use the capabilities of the camera. Most of the time the camera was set in the "Auto No Flash" setting; that way I would be at least able to get a feel for the extra motion of the mirror, and still not miss anything (flashes are for clubs, portrait photographers, and paparazzi). Over all the pictures that I took turned out pretty well and was very pleased with the camera.

As time went on I started to get more interested in how to take a good shot: the use of aperture ratings, shutter speed, and making sure the composition of the photograph perfect. But shortly thereafter, I stopped taking photographs. I tended to only use the camera to document the holidays and fun outings, but never really took the time to learn anything. It was all too easy to turn my DSLR camera into a point and shoot and still come out with some decent photographs. I later started to carry my camera in my car at all times; the “you never know..." factor. Unfortunately, there it sat for the next few months, only to come out in random times.

As some of you know I am going to be flying to New York in the next couple of days, Zoe wanted to go there for her birthday and I am tagging along, and just like before I wanted to make sure that I would be able to document the travels well. My first inclination was to get a new camera. I figured that with a more expensive/better camera I would get better shots. So I started to lurk around the internets only to find that what I had was great, if not perfect for me; sure the D90 would be amazing, but the $900 price tag isn’t.

So then I started to look into lenses and just like the better camera idea, the first thoughts on what lens to buy was also wrong. I figured that I needed to get a lens with massive zoom capabilities; the Nikkor AF-S 18-200mm. To try to make the $600 price tag agree with my wallet I looked around some forums as to which would be the best first purchased lens; and the more I looked the more lost I became. While I didn’t give up the search for the new lens, I did nix the 18-200mm lens idea.

One day when I was perusing though the usual blogs, I noticed that Alex made a few posts about his photography, gear, and random recommendations. In one of them he mentioned the use of a 50mm that he likes to use in low light and all around shooting. I looked at the photographs that he took with it, and started doing a bit more research on a 50mm prime with a D40. In the same article Alex mentioned a photographer by the name of Henri Cartier-Bresson who almost exclusively used a 50mm prime throughout his career; I was intrigued.

I sent Alex an e-mail asking his opinion on which would be the best first lens, as well as a great lens to take for New York. He brought up the 50mm, and mentioned that with my camera I had a crop factor to deal with; so essentially I would have to get a 35mm which would give the Field of View of a 52.5mm lens. Nikon D40s has a 1.5x crop value due to the large lens and small sensor: i.e. the 18mm has a 27mm FoV, 35mm is 52.5mm. So I looked around and found a lens that could be used with the D40. And there it was, the Nikkor AF-S 35mm f/1.8 DX. At the same time that I asked Alex for his advice, I also asked Drew who stated that I should find a lens with a low aperture rating, 2.8 is good, anything lower would be awesome. I sent him the specs of the 35mm, and he responded with a resounding hells yes, do it.

So with the advice of two great photographers, and a quick look at the lens's review on, I was off to go make the purchase. On the drive to Best Buy, I further questioned myself to make sure that I wasn't just buying this on a whim. What did I want to do as a photographer? What are the subjects that I will be shooting? And while $200 isn’t a huge investment, it is still a good chunk of change. As of this moment, I know that I want to be taking candid shots, and photographs without a flash. With the low aperture rating of 1.8 I can get shots in low light without the need of a flash. Also, with the lens at 52.5mm what I see is near what the camera sees; so not only am I right in the action, I can use my eyes to frame the shot and not the lens. With this in my pocket I walked into the store and purchased the lens.

Since Jeg was with me we went to go get some coffee at the E-Street Cafe in Encinitas and I brought my camera along to get used to the new lens. Here are a few shots from that escapade.


The whole set of photographs, 45 photos plus 6 Black and White conversions, can be found here

I really liked how the photos turned out, they were crisp and clear and when set to a low aperture you can really see the awesomeness of this lens handles bokeh, or out of focus blend of the background.

I had another chance to get some more practice shots in while we made dinner last night. The colors of our light pasta were pretty neat, and I had to just play around with the aperture ratings to see where it would take me.


The whole set, 22 photos, can be found here

Here are a few shots that show the differences between the 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6GII that came with the D40, and the newly purchased 35mm

@18mm with 18-55mm lens
18-55mm lens set at 18mm

@35mm with 18-55mm lens
18-55mm lens set at 35mm

@35mm with 18-55mm lens
18-55mm lens set at 35mm

@35mm with 35mm lens
taken with 35mm lens

You can really see the difference in bokeh that the low aperture rating gives in the last two photographs.

With this lens attached to the camera, Zoë’s birthday trip to the NYC should be quite fun. I hope to get in some regular updates, but I am unsure how busy we will be.

-till next time.