Guidance please


TPF Noob!
Nov 19, 2007
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I have become increasingly more interested with photography lately and I'm ready to upgrade to a DSLR. I have pretty much narrowed it down to a Nikon D80 and I really do not know much outside the realm of point and shoot photography. I am not sure about what type of lenses will be needed but i find extreme limitations from my point and shoot digital, so i'm ready to upgrade. I am an architecture major so many of the photographs i take will be of buildings and landscapes. I would also like to be able to take good shots of models and small details of buildings as well. Of course whatever the usual distances will be necessary as well because I wouldn't want a camera that I couldn't use for "regular" pictures. I am trying to figure out what kind of lenses I will need. I have looked through the different lens types and models and I am still unaware of what it all means so if there is some sort of guide about lenses or if someone could point me in the direction of some good ones that would be great. I would also like to know what other accessories I may not think of ahead of time when I go to purchase the camera? I know I will need a tripod. One thing i have been wondering is if i should buy the body and a lens or a combination with the lens and a body. Any help would be greatly appreciated. I have been reading up on alot of the posts and I hope this is not too repetitive.

Thanks, Ryan
usually the lenses that come with the camera are not that great.
If you're doing tall buildings, a tilt-shift lens may help...parallax error and all that...

50mm is a great length for portraits on the cheap....
The rules for architecture (or the helpful guidelines, whatever) are the same as they are for landscapes. Typically you benefit from slightly longer exposures, while using a smaller apertures (f/11 and higher numbers) and mounting the camera on a tri-pod to avoid camera shake. You'll end up with a sharper image that has great Depth-of-Field, meaning everything is in focus.

I have found that I prefer working with wide-angle lenses when shooting architecture (meaning lenses between 21mm and 35mm. Anything wider becomes problematic.) This is especially true for interiors, where you want to get everything into the shot, but can't step any further backward without leaving the room or bumping into a wall.

A good wide angle can be expensive, because it needs to compensate for a lot of issues not typically seen in longer lenses. There's a few issues you bump into: distortion, softness, chromatic abberation and vignetting. The better the gear, the less of a problem most of these become.

- Distortion (esp. barrel distortion, where the pretty straight architectural lines start looking rounded) can be fixed somewhat in Photoshop, but if you're a stickler for sharpness you'll prefer working with a better lens to begin with. The Photoshop correction pulls and pushes the various pixels, and that can start affecting the image if you've got too much distortion to compensate.

- Softness is not a huge issue. If you're shooting at a smaller aperture it won't be too bad, but wide-angle zooms struggle at the widest setting. This is a problem best cured by buying an expensive lens ;-)

- chromatic abberation and vignetting are inherent to shooting wide angle images, the former especially when dealing with a digital camera. There's a number of ways to correct for these, but you'll want to see if you can live with your images. Many people don't even notice these issues, it's a bit of gear-head issue. There's an app called CornerFix that can help... well, fix the corners. :)
architecture is shot in film (Medium format mostly). Due to long exposures. Digital long exposures work but look like hell.
architecture is shot in film (Medium format mostly). Due to long exposures. Digital long exposures work but look like hell.
Not true. Though for my personal taste I prefer MF when shooting digital. I learned to shoot architecture with Doug Hill in Los Angeles, who shoots with a digital back on a Hasselblad.

A hobbyist, or someone shooting for the web, can get spectacular pictures using a regular dSLR, even one with a cropped sensor. Publications have also gotten a lot more accepting (or less discerning) regarding digital images. I delude myself into thinking I can spot a poorly-exposed digital image, but half the time the visible noise could easily be due to the printing process, or the publishing path.
I know some people on this forum can get a little extreme but here goes. For you I think you should do just fine with the kit lens to start out with. Of course when I say "kit lens" I mean whatever is generally packaged with the camera usually an 18-55 If you want to spend a little more on a real good lens but still want to be able to use it for "regular" pictures and I understand exactly what you mean with this term I might suggest the Nikon 17-55.

Tilt shift lenses and the 50mm 1.8 are all well and good but will severely restrict "regular" pictures. I am sure being into architecture you might get one of those a little further down the road.
More and more architecture is being shot using digital backs on large format cameras. I still use film.

If you are serious about architecture you might consider large format. The Chamonix 45N-1 is available new for $700 (without a lens) and has excellent movements. You would be able to pick up a monorail camera for less. I'm not recommending LF as being right for you now, but something to consider moving on to. If you are interested I, or somebody else, will be very happy to explain more:


For architecture with 35 mm / APS / DX you would rarely need a tilt-shift lens. I just use a shift lens. This is a 28 mm Schneider on my R6, but it has an interchangeable mount and can be fitted to Nikons. If I hadn't lost my Nikon mount for it, I would have tried it on my D40x and been able to tell you how it performs with a DX-size sensor:


Architectural models are a slightly different matter. Tilt can be useful, but so can Helicon Focus - a focus-stacking program that allows you to merge a series of photographs with different planes of focus. I've demo'd it for a client who was impressed, but so far it is faster for me to do it the old fashioned way.

Perspective distortion created by tilting the camera up can be corrected very well in Photoshop and other software, of course, and that is probably the best way to start. I'd suggest the 18-70 as a starting lens if you go for a D40 or D80 etc.

Good luck,
What exactly is Large format and what benefits does it have? As architecture will probably be the primary function of the camera, there will be many small details of buildings like joinery, shadows, and light created. A variety of close up and whole view pictures would be nice to achieve. Also I enjoy taking pictures of everything because working with other art forms brings inspiration and ideas as well as being really enjoyable. I have been looking around at different lenses and wondering if a wide angle lens would be a good buy along with a kit lens or another lens like a 18-200 VR which many say is extremely versatile. I am also wondering the difference in a lens like a 12-24mm wide angle and the 17-55 that JIP suggested. I'm sure I will end up buying many more lenses in the future, but i plan to buy one or two lenses now hopefully. For pictures of models would that need a macro lens? or is that only for tiny stuff? Most models are about a foot tall. Some larger, some smaller.
This always starts trouble but if you want quality and bang for your buck stay away from the 18-200 it is a gimmick lens for people who want the convenience of an all in one lens and are not worried about image quality. I would go with the 17-55 and depending on the kind of sidtance you are going to be able to shoot your models from I would also get a macro.
I don't want to start up the old debate about the 18-200mm either... there's obviously demand for it and there are plenty of users seem to be happy with it... but in this case I do agree you would be best avoiding it and other superzooms (lenses with an extreme zoom range, e.g. 8x, 10x etc)... and try to stick with up to 3 or 4x zooms. Why? Because you're interested in architecture. Lenses with larger zoom ranges have to make more compromises than most, and one of the areas where this is apparent is in distortion. At 18mm on an 18-200mm lens you are going to get barrel distortion. Lots of it. Look at more moderate zooms - even the much-maligned kit lens - and you will see less distortion.

There are a few differences between the 12-24mm and the 17-55mm, but the main one is that the 12mm-24mm goes down to 12mm. When dealing with wide-angles or extreme wide-angles, a few mm make a lot of difference. Personally I suspect that you will find 17/18mm on a D80 (equivalent to about 28mm on a 35mm-format camera) is not really wide enough a lot of the time... but still, you can't go too wrong buying a 'standard zoom' in the range of 17-55mm, and then seeing where you need to go from there. You may find yourself needing something wider, something longer, something with a closer focusing distance... and when you do, you will have a better idea of what to look for. And that standard zoom will serve you well for those 'regular' photos.
For buildings, only tilt and shift lens will perfectly match. That means you have to learn this kind of skills. As far as you concern covers "regular use", I do recommend you to consider Canon seriously instead of Nikon.

Canon has three shift lenses:24mm, 45mm, 90mm while Nikon only has 85mm (I hope my knowledge is too outdated)

If you also consider wide angle seriously, Canon matches you more. This brand gives you more choices of full frame DSLR like 5D, while Nikon just have D3 to be launched and D80 is in DX format.

You may not need to have this kind of special lenses at the very beginning, but you have to consider the "system".

I'd like to declare that I'm not a Canon user and not over professional to dedicated equipment.
For buildings, only tilt and shift lens will perfectly match.

You usually only need shift for buildings, unless you want Lensbaby-type selective focus effects. Buildings are generally too three-dimensional for tilt to be of much use.

'Large format' as a camera description loosely refers to pictures taken on film of sensors larger than about 6 cm x 9 cm, though the exact limit is debateable, as is whether or not stitched images from smaller sensors can be classified as 'large format'. I could explain more if you are interested. 'Large format' means something different as a printer description.

Alright thank you everyone. I have ordered the D80 and the 17-55mm lens ZIP directed me to. I'll use that as a starting point to see where i need to go from there. The Large format cameras look very interesting, and hopefully one day i can go that direction but i think I'll start here. Now am I'm sure I'll need a quality tripod as well as a memory card. Is there a way to see how many pictures each card size will hold with the maximum quality picture?
Is there a way to see how many pictures each card size will hold with the maximum quality picture?

Cards sometimes give a number on the box, but of course it depends on the file size with your particular camera... you can check the file size of a maximum-quality Jpeg and a RAW file on your D80 and work it out that way.

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