My Three Photography Milestones

I guess this should probably be called “My Three Photography Kit Milestones” but you know, it’s an extra word & it loses some of the emphasis but anyway I digress — Today I was chatting to Vincent over email about the impending release of the 5D Mk III & we discussed our thoughts on it. A point of discussion was the difference that upgrading to full frame makes. I responded that for me it was one of three major milestones in photography, I thought it would be worth sharing my thoughts here, let me expand on each a little.

1, Getting A Camera — 2009

Sort of obvious but everyone has to start somewhere & I look back on this starting point fondly. I got my Canon 450D on the 2nd of January 2009 & I was hooked right away! I loved that camera &reep the benefits completed 300 days of Project 365 before upgrading to a 50D in October & finishing off the project.

2, Switching Entirely To Prime Lenses — 2010

For those of you who don’t know what a prime lens is, it’s a lens with a fixed focal length rather than a zoom. In 2009 I got my first prime, the Canon 50mm F/1.8. I was immediately hooked on the increased sharpness & low depth of field this sort of lens could achieve.

To start with I didn’t feel that moving entirely to primes was the way forward, but I found myself using my 50mm more & more. When framing up a subject I’d be walking backwards & forwards instead of twisting the lens. It took me a while to realise that I could do that all the time with all the lenses. I just had to put myself in the right spot & then I could reep the benefits of a prime lens.

On September 21st I acquired the the final lens in my triple threat attack squad the 28mm F/1.8. My main kit bag now normally consists of a 28mm F/1.8, 50mm F/1.4 & a 135mm F/2.0, I find that this has me covered in 99% of situations. I actually realised today that I don’t have any zooms for any of my cameras at all, even my new X100 is a 23mm F/2.0 prime.

3, Going Full Frame — 2011(ish)

At the very end of 2010 (December 27th) I went full frame. I spent all my saves on a 5D MkII & I’ve been broke ever since… worth it! Upgrading to to full frame has been amazing — improved image quality, amazing ISO capabilities, more space in the frame, getting the most out of my lenses, the list goes on & on. I don’t think i’ll ever be able to go back to having a crop sensor in my main camera.

So now it’s 2012, I guess that means I’m due another milestone… maybe it’s my X100, maybe I haven’t worked it out yet, either way I hope my progression with photography continues.

What about you guys? Any of your own milestones?


  • Good post, Rick. It’s nice to see you rambling on about photography. I definitely agree about switching to full frame, but I think my own wee milestone with photography was definitely meeting you. We hung out back in ’09 when I didn’t even know the different between aperture and shutter speed, but now I’m up to scratch, eh!

    As for the MKIII, I’m definitely jealous of the autofocus as my 5DMKII could be better on that front, but I’ll be sticking with my MKII.

  • 1, Photography Class – 1995
    I began learning photography with a Pentax K1000, mostly b&w – film processing, making prints, burning and dodging – all that. I like the feeling that I know what the icons in Photoshop originated from, whereas most have no clue, for instance, why the icon for dodging is a spade.

    2, My first SLR – 2002
    Purchased a Pentax K1000 along with a couple lenses. Mostly just had fun, but got more experience.

    3, My first DSLR – 2009
    Got an entry level DSLR, the Pentax K-x with the kit lenses (18-55, 55-300). I think my familiarity with the brand along with the attractive price point and great reviews of the K-x led me to choose Pentax again. Played around a bit, then started getting serious about photography, which led to #4.

    4, A more serious DSLR – 2011
    Labeled a ‘pro-sumer’ body, I purchased Canon 60D (along with some speedlites, remote triggers, stands, modifiers, etc…). I really thought for a while about staying with the Pentax line, but a local professional photog (NY agency level shooter) and friend who now shoots Nikon (previously Canon) had 4 Canon lenses to GIVE away, so that really swayed me. Among the lenses were a 50mm ƒ1.8 and a 100mm ƒ2.0, and I must echo Rick’s sentiments about primes; they totally change photography. That being said, I don’t think I can be a 100% convert to primes, as my friend may also be handing over a 70-200mm ƒ4.0 (needs some work on the focus motor).

    Thanks for originating the post Rick – it has been great reminiscing.

  • Hey Rick,

    Great post, and very similar to myself. I made the move to full frame at the start of 2012, and by Jan this year I had moved to just primes too, although I’m totally hardcore and just have a 35mm/85mm f1.4. :)

    I notice you didn’t mention shooting film in your post? Was that a milestone for you? I’ve just started, and i’m well and truly hooked! :)

    Keep up the great work.

  • 2007 Start A level photography at Grimsby Institute, buys Pentax K100d from ASDA of all places for £199 inc kit lens
    2009 Buys DA* 50-135mm 2.8 first time using a quality piece of glass, impressed with the possibilities I start trying out lots of Pentax old prime glass
    2010 Pentax F 50mm 1.4 start journey into AF primes now have 2 with the wonderful 35mm 2.4 use primes whenever possible in gig photography, or even for the odd project 35 portraits on 35mm for example

  • Ele

    Love this post!! You remind me when I bought my first SRL camera, like you Canon 450D.. that little baby was great, I’ve basically learned everything with her, I loved that camera so much almost like I hated her 18-55mm but I believe that my biggest step, my milestone was to move from Rome to the other side of the world to study what I love more, what makes me happy and what makes my brain working :) It was hard and painful (…that’s what she said!!!!!!) but after 2 years and 3 months in SF, my 3rd semester at the AAU, I can almost say to be proud of my life.

    .. and after 5 months with my Canon 5D Mkii I can tell to be in love with her!

    Don’t think I’m gonna get the Mkiii, I prefer to save some money for good lenses.

    …then, last but not least I’ll be thankful to all the (few) people who have inspired me, people like you, who helped me to improve myself every day.

  • Great post Rick. Definitely agree with going FF best thing I ever did, others? Maybe the purchase of the 135 L, I can’t imagine ever getting rid of that thing, complements the 50 1.4 well, though I haven’t made the full prime jump yet as I have a 28-70 L for a little flexibility, though wouldn’t mind swapping for the 35 L … I was surprised to see no mention of lighting from someone who uses it so well, but I suppose by limiting yourself to 3 milestones you had some tricky decisions to make!

    I was a little disappointed by the MkIII spec from what I have seen, though I suppose I should feel happy and justified in purchasing the MkII 12 months ago rather than waiting for the MkIII … Only the improved focus excites me, but it wouldn’t be a game changer for me. I think I was more excited about the 600 EX spec!!


    Good post death.
    I was a bit disappointed not to find even the smallest honourable mention for your analog cameras, and the impact they had (or didn’t?) on your photography or just generally the way you shoot or look at things, but then again, you are one digital motherfucker so it kind of make sense.
    other than that, your progress in the photography world is pretty amazing, you get on things really fast and once you get the hang of them – you take them into a very much perfect level. if i didn’t know you i could never guess you’ve only just picked up your first camera about 4 years ago, it feels like you have been shooting for at least 10! and it takes A LOT of talent and one good eye to deserve the said above & you simply got IT :)

  • Wow, awesome response to this post. I should probably write more like this…

    Ashley, pshhh you’re too kind. You’d have got their on your own no problem & these days you produce gold on a regular basis. *High five!*

    Vincent Llora, I think moving to Canon was a good move for you there. Not to say there is anything wrong with Pentax, but there is a reason why brands like Canon & Nikon have the reputation they do.

    Chris, that is hardcore! The 35mm 1.4 is amazing, I’ve considered swapping my 28 for the 35 & my 50 for the 85… It could still happen but for now I’m happy with the lenses I’ve got.

    Ele, Thanks — your SF milestone is a pretty huge one that changed your entire life, the fact that you’d go to that extent for your passion is amazing. & yes now it’s time for lenses!

    Andy Power, The 135L is so good; one of my favourite things in the world! Lighting is great & I love it but, on reflection, I think lighting actually became a crutch for me. I replied on it too much & would always choose it over natural light where ever possible. I think now I have a nice mix of natural & synthetic light.

    SATAN, thanks for honouring my site with your dark presence & your kind words <3 . You know I love film. I LOVE film. But I don't think it was a milestone for me. It's awesome to experiment with & it'd certainly helped me refine my photography process but I think I shoot in quite a similar way on film & digital. I could be wrong of course…

  • Martin Handley

    Great post, The 135L is on my wish list at the moment. Trying to justify that purchase to the Mrs takes alot of work! ;)

  • Great topic & responses :)

    2008: My wife bought me a Sony point & shoot for my birthday. It had a Carl Zeiss lens which was awesome for macro. Offically hooked!

    2008: That same year I purchased my first DSLR (a Sony a200 + a 50mm f1.4) which is still my main camera today.

    2010: Discovered the Strobist website by the magnanimous David Hobby & bought my first flash + umbrella.

    Thanks Rick!

  • Nice post. Our path seems quite similar ;-)

    2009 June: First DSLR: Canon 450D
    2009 November: Second DSLR: Canon 7D (with the money I won at a photography contest }:-D)
    2009 November: First Prime: 50mm f1.4
    2010 November First “L”: 70-200 f2.8 IS USM
    2011 November: Third DSLR: Canon 5Dmk2

    Now thinking in the 135L…let’s see what 2012 comes with…

  • Good post. Very similar journey here…
    Jan 2010 – First DSLR – 450D/XSi purchased before my son was born
    Feb 2010 – First prime (50 1.8)
    Nov 2010 – First fast zoom (17-50 2.8)
    Sep 2011 – First FILM SLR (Minolta XG-M with 50 1.7)
    Oct 2011 – First L lens (35 1.4) purchsed before my second son was born
    Dec 2011 – 5D Mark II, flash triggers, 85 1.8

  • That’s such an interesting idea, Rick, the notion that there were three major ‘steps’ (if you will) that led to your development into the photographer you are at this point in time. I definitely agree about all three points, but I found that for myself there was one more step: getting my first flash and figuring out how to use off-camera flash for my photography. Of course, it’s not always applicable to the things I am shooting but it definitely helped my development a lot. My timeline would be getting my first camera, a D80, back in October of 2006.
    I got my first prime lens, also a 50mm f/1.8, as soon as I could afford it (which was in September 2007) since I was a poor 18 year old college student without a job. I definitely know what you mean about the 50mm – for $100 I was blown away by how simplifying my lens and instead of a 18-135mm I found so much more use out of one dinky lens. I always heartily recommend buying a 50mm f/1.8 to anyone who asks me which lens to buy. My kit now consists of a 16-35mm f/4 (not a prime but I can’t afford a 24mm f/1.4 right now because I just bought a camera..) a 50mm f/1.4 and a 135mm f/2 DC. I also have a 200mm f/4 macro lens. Prime is definitely my favorite.
    Last summer I finally bought my first Nikon speedlight and began exploring off-camera flash photography, and fell in love with the possibility of doing so many things with a simple umbrella and flash.
    Finally, a week ago, I dove into the full-frame business with my new Nikon D800. It’s fantastic, and I love that I can really take my lenses to the next level and am looking forward to learning more and more.

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  • Nice post Nunn.

    I’m interested to know what you think about second bodies. I know you’ve also got the 1D – does that get used much now? Would you say it’s your “backup” camera – which is often a good idea!

    Like the write up muchly


  • Ross, thanks dude. Actually the body you are thinking of is a Canon 1V which is a 35mm film body. I use it about as much as any of my other film cameras. My backup body, I guess, would be my fuji X100… but I wouldn’t really call it a backup at all it’s more of an auxiliary camera.

  • Really? Could have sworn you had 2 DSLRs!

  • Hi Rick!

    Interesting, we have a quite similar timeline

    I used Nikon D40 for 2 years, and I go for 5D MkII. Currently I only have prime lenses (24mm F/1.8, 50mm F/1.8 & a 100mm F/2.0). Last night i just exchange my 100mm with a 135mm F/2.0.

    I am currently planning to learn more on strobist and considering Westcott Apollo, What type of softbox do you use?

  • Jon Busby

    I bought a D40 years back. I stayed in P mode for a long time, part laziness part fear I guess.

    The milestones for me are less kit but more technical leaps. Moving into aperture priority and then manual is something that completely transformed my photography and still challenges me today.

    Next big reward step was moving my SB600 off camera into and manual mode.

    I’m still on the D40, does what I need for now. A new body will find me when I am ready.


  • Vincent Llora

    5, Going Full Frame – 2013

    Always knew I would, and I wanted to badly. I was finally presented with a great situation – a fellow photog was upgrading and needed a new home for her 5D mII; I was happy to oblige. Oh my – the ISO range (though not bad with the 60D), the detail, getting the full image out of my lenses, and all the rest – it makes photography feel somewhat new again.

  • Arthur

    Fun post, Rick. As a suggestion, since you are a strobist ninja, how about making your milestone about moving to the canon 600 flash radio system. You will work a lot faster this way. You can keep your older strobes and have them optically triggered via optical triggers available at flash zebras.

  • I actually have a couple of cheap flashes (YN460 II) that have optical slaves built in.

    Still using my Pocketwizards at the moment which provide almost the same functionality (but not as nice), I’ll upgrade all my kit to 600ex-rts eventually :)