Beginner with an infant and an XSi

Discussion in 'Canon EOS' started by corinne_yang, Jun 5, 2009.

  1. I'm going to purchase the XSi this weekend. I am new to DSLRs having used the powershot A650 for the most part. But we live in a rowhouse with poor lighting and most of the pictures we shoot indoors are unusable. Not to mention, I am longing to be able to control my images more.
    Anyhow, I am wondering if we should purchase the XSi with the kit lens, the kit lens with a 50mm 1.8 lens too, or forego the kit lens and just buy the body and buy a separate lens.
    My needs are to be able to shoot photos of a never still, crawling/verge on walking baby in a low light indoor environment without a flash preferably (baby hates, hates the flash and I hate the resulting product where everything is washed out and has a morgue like tint to it). I'd like to be able to take close-ups of her (with bokeh too) - square footage of the house doesn't permit much distance shooting anyhow. We take some photos outdoors, but bulk is indoors.
  2. Congratulations on your new baby! I think you'll really enjoy the 50 f/1.8. Whether to buy that lens in addition to the kit lens or instead of it is something you have to decide based on your perception of the usefulness of the kit lens. The 50 f/1.8 will allow you to do available light photography indoors. If you can raise the lighting level somewhat above normal or get into an area with bright illumination from one or more windows, then you can use a larger f-number (such as f/4) to give you greater depth-of-field. In any case, the 50mm focal length is ideal for photographing kids and adults.
    Good luck!
  3. If you want more light and you're in the US, I'd suggest going down to Home Depot and getting a 1000W halogen work light which should cost under $50 and will give you PENTLY of light. Just bounce it off the ceiling (don't point it at the baby!).
    Obviously an XSi (or even better a T1i) is another way to go, though the XSi tops out at ISO 1600 and the T1i gets pretty noisy at ISO 6400 and ISO 12800. The faster lens would help too, though the DOF at f1.8 may be a problem with a moving baby!
    Bounced flash (on an XSi or T1i) is another way to go.
  4. While there isn't ever anything wrong with getting a 50/1.8 lens (cheap, fast, & sharp), t o be honest, I would stay away from a 50mm lens on the crop sensor XSi if you only get one lens for shooting photos of your child. That is simply too tight of a frame for a baby/toddler. It may work for shots when the child is an infant. But even then, it's hard to get the required amount of working distance when your child is on a changing table. Are you going to get a ladder so you can get 6 feet up to fit the baby's whole body in the shot?
    Our child just turned 1 and I have used everything from a Canon 5dMkII to an XTi to a Panasonix LX3 to a film Leica (and everything in between) to shoot photos of him. However, the Canon XTi is the camera that is most always in the house near the baby. So we've used it a lot. I have a 17-55/2.8 on there and really appreciate the fast 2.8. However, even with it I find myself using 800 or 1600 ISO a lot of the time to keep a decent shutter speed, particularly when the kid starts moving. If you are anything like us, a lot of your shots will be indoors, and you really need to think about how much light there is in your house. Ours is dimmer than I would have thought.
    I would look for a 30/1.4 like the Sigma if you need to get one fast prime. However, they aren't real cheap. A used Canon 35/2 might be a better choice if you are on a budget.
    You could also look at the Sigma 24/28 fast primes if you wanted something a little wider (and cheaper).
    If money isn't as much of an object as good photos, I would get the 17-55/2.8. It has been a great lens and the IS helps a lot (though obviously not for subject movement).
  5. The kit lens indoors won't help much. The 50mm f/1.8 is a step in the right direction, but it's not very fast focusing and, frankly, if you need to use it wide open (f1/8-f2.2) then you will have a hard time getting the focus right, the long focal length and v. shallow depth of field make that v. difficult. That doesn't mean you can't get the shots, you just need to work hard on it and be prepared for lots of misses.
    Another option is the much more expensive Canon 17-50mm f/2.8 IS. This lens has a narrower aperture but it has IS and a very fast focus motor that may allow you to better track your subject. It still won't be perfect, but it allows zooming and wider shots at f/2.8 may turn out better than with the 50 f/1.8
    Lack of light and fast movement make a bad situation. The best solution is to get more light. You said you'd hate using flash - but there are many ways of using flash. Instead of blasting with the on-camera flash, you may be able to use a mounted Speedlite flash and bounce it off the walls. Even better (but far more complicated) is staging remotely triggered flashes around the room to generally brighten up the room. While you still get a pop of light, it's far less intrusive than the on-camera flash...
  6. I suggest picking up a hotshoe flash that has a swiveling head, so that you can bounce it off of the ceiling or walls. Much less invasive than direct zap-the-eyeballs flash. Chances are your baby won't notice it. Canon 430 EX will do the job, as will the older 420 EX or any other EX-labeled flash.
    I suggest an f/2.8 zoom lens, rather than the kit lens or 50/1.8. This will get you the bokeh you're looking for, plus wider aperture means less flash power required. Canon 17-55/2.8 IS is the Cadillac lens, with a price tag to match. I like my Tamron 17-50/2.8. Sigma and Tokina also make f/2.8 standard zoom lenses.
    Again, a f/2.8 zoom matched with a hotshoe flash is much better than the kit lens + onboard flash, and worlds apart from a point-n-shoot.
  7. I'd get the kit lens and the 18-55 IS. Both are cheap lenses, and you won't loose much if you decide to sell them later. But chances are they will give you far better results than talk on the net would suggest. If you want to share your images online and make standard sized prints, a XSi with either of these lenses will give you great results at ISO 1600, and that allows for a decent shutter speed to freeze baby action indoors. Just my 2c.
  8. Thanks everyone for your help!
    From what I'm reading, it sounds like the kit lens isn't going to be all that much help. Then would you suggest that I just buy the body and then get maybe a flash and a lens? Will the f/2.8 be fast enough for a moving (make that zooming/uber-crawling/got-ants-in-my-pants) baby? The 17-55mm/f2.8 lens sounds enticing but too pricey for my amateur budget but I will how the other brands you all mentioned price out.
    And for my education, does the 50mm/f1.8 require that you stand far away to get a whole baby in the frame? As you can see, I'm about as new to DSLR functions as new can be...
  9. All great advice from above...
    It is important to consider memory storage, you will be capturing an abundance of shots, and probably want to keep them all. Get an external hard drive, archive them to dvd, store them online and/or print photo books!
    You will want to be able to share/embarrass your young one with these photos when they are a teenager!
  10. All great advice from above...
    It is important to consider memory storage, you will be capturing an abundance of shots, and probably want to keep them all. Get an external hard drive, archive them to dvd, store them online and/or print photo books!
    You will want to be able to share/embarrass your young one with these photos when they are a teenager!
  11. Just to repeat this, I think you'll get more bang for your buck by controlling your lighting then by trying to do this with existing light and new cameras and lenses. 90% of portrait work is lighting.
  12. In your shoes, I'd get the kit lens, used Canon 24mm, 28mm f/2.8, or 35/2, a 430EX Canon flash, 1-2 extra older flashes with slaves, and learn to use all of the above. Head right to for the flash course, and experiment like crazy. You have to become intimately familiar with your gear and the space you use it in (your house) in order for it to become seamlessly in your service when you use it.
    Congratulations on the baby. The world is born anew with each one.
  13. Flash freezes motion. Flash is light and you need light to get a good photo. Just dont use it direct and most any lens will produce good shots.
  14. A 35/2 is a good idea. (By the way, in my opinion and experience the 50/1.8 is an adequate tool for the job too.)
    Bouncing flash is also a good plan. (You might just use the new 270 flash which is relatively affordable and can tilt upwards.)
    On thing left to add: a lot of the advice here is given by perfectionists. While they're undoubtedly right my guess is that your less picky than most of the responders here.
    You might just want to start with the cheapest advice (50/1.8) and work your way upwards from there until your happy.
  15. XSi body plus a Tamron 17-50mm 2.8 zoom, Canon 580EX II flash with a Stofen diffuser (use to bounce for even light). You can save money by buying the kit lens and the 430EX II flash but the other kit will be much more useful and versatile. Later add an 85mm 1.8 lens some talent and experience and you're equipped for most anything you will encounter (portraits, weddings, events). Good luck!
  16. Another voice. Within your probable budget the kit lens will be fine. It has Image Stabilization, and if you rig up some lighting you'll do fine. Cold light might be safer around a toddler than hot stuff, but you can improvise your own pretty easily. The 50mm is a little long on the APS-C sensor like your XSi has, but it is cheap and I personally find mine to do OK in focusing and the like.
    The 35mm f/2 is better, but also twice as expensive, even used.
    I will, however, also point out that many of us with fancy equipment back in film days, found that the early years with kids were actually exactly what point-and-shoots were all about. It's usually more important to have a camera handy, and to have the camera be handy, than to have a fancier rig that would be better for formal portraits and more controlled settings. I'd definitely keep the PowerShot. Stick it in whatever that bag is called with the diapers, etc.
  17. Corinne,
    Congratulations on the new baby. I have one - blinked twice and she's already seven. So, getting the camera now will help preserve many memories.
    I would suggest you look at the XS as well as the XSi. I chose the XSi over the XS for the better burst rate, more AF points and spot metering. If not for those three things, I would have probably gone for the XS and saved a little $$$.
    I didn't get the kit 18-55 IS, so I can't comment on that. I did get the 55-250 IS lens and love it. I need a little more than 3 feet of distance to take a photo of a sleeping infant to get a tight shot of the face/head. I love these shots. For a little more child in the frame I need about 10 feet to get waste up in a walker. Good day light through a good sized window allows me to get the shots with the 55-250 IS when the child is not moving much. Moving outside, the 55-250 IS allows me to get shots in good light from a longer distance and the 9 blade aperture gives great bokeh wide open.
    I also have the EF 24 f/2.8. I'm not sure I'd go with the 24 for full body shots of the baby or young child. There is a little distorition of features with the 24. You might consider the 28 or 35 by Canon or the Sigma 30.
    I would still look at a flash that can be bounced. Even at f/2.8 my 24 does not always allow me to get the shot I want indoors at dusk with a light bulb. So, don't rule out a good flash if you're willing to learn how to use it effectively.
    I also agree that the 50 f/1.8 might not work well in your confined space. I would be more concerned with that for a 50mm than IQ.
    I hope this helps with your decision.
    DS Meador
  18. I purchased the 18-55 kit and the 50mm 1.8 with my XSi. I think it's a great combination. The 50 is good for low light (not the fastest, however). If that is the only lens you are going to get, you might miss having a little more versatile lens as a walk-around during the day, at the zoo, at a family member's house. I'd suggest you get both. You can get the kit bundled for a pretty good price now that the T1i is out, whereas buying the zoom later will cost a bit more. Even if you decide if you want a faster zoom a little later, you're still only only $150 or so (@ the bundled price). The optics are good for the price. It is a great base for the XSi.
  19. Bob has the best advice.
    Go for the $50 worklights and bounce them off the wall. Even a decent hot shoe flash like the 580ex may not be enough to provide that nice even light you are yearning specially when it is on-camera and has that fancy tupperware on it.
    One common misconception is that in order to get a decent image you need a decent glass. Wrong, you need a decent light.

    If you have decent lighting then you can shoot with your kit lens I guarantee it.
  20. I have the 50mm 1.4, 85mm 1.8, 17-55 2.8. The 17-55 wont make alot of bokeh unless you are rather close to your subject and toward the long end of the zoom. Unless your'e home is rather bright you may need a flash anyway unless you want to use ISO 1600-kind of grainy on XSI. It is a fantastic lens though. The 50mm is great, it does take practice to get good with it at big apertures. Unless you have experience with using fast primes at around 1.8, 2.0, it might be difficult for a newcomer. I used to have the kit 18-55 IS lens and it is very sharp, I got some very nice photos with it. Outdoors it would do great. Indoors it's kind of slow-not very useable without flash unless you have lots of windows open. If you are thinking of a prime, the 50mm 1.8 would be the way to go, you could always sell it and loose maybe 20 bucks if you don't like it. A flash that you could swivel the head and bounce light off the ceiling(hopefully it is white) would be different from your direct flash. I'm not sure if your baby would mind that or not. I would go to a camera store and try the XSI with the 18-55 and 50mm and flash. See if the baby flinches or not. See if you think you would like the fixed 50mm distance and if you would have enough room in your house. I would probably go for the 50mm, XSI, kit lens and flash if it is affordable. You could always sell the 50mm or buy something like a 35mm f2 to complement it later. I don't see not having some kind of standard zoom to get a wide angle of a group of people or photo of a car, lake, garden anything. The price doesn't go up with the lens added as a kit, so you could always sell and break even on that. Good luck!
  21. I'd suggest going down to Home Depot and getting a 1000W halogen work light which should cost under $50 and will give you PENTLY of light.​
    I think an extremely hot work lamp around a wandering baby sounds like a really bad idea.
    Kit lens is probably too slow for low light conditions and a 50mm f/1.8 seems like a step in the right direction, especially if you're interested in a shallow depth of field. Might be a problem though if you don't have a lot of room to back up. A 28mm f/2.8 might make a nice (and inexpensive) addition to the 50mm for that purpose.
    Don't listen to anybody who tells you that you need lighting for portraits. The sun is an excellent light source. You do have some windows in your place, right? A big sheet of white posterboard can make a nice reflector for fill, too.
  22. Josh
    I have the XSi and the 17-55 f2.8 as well. You said you shoot at ISO 800 to 1600, my question, are these noisy?
  23. have a 3yo kid. have a closetful of nikon lenses from film/hobbyist days. sadly, seem to only shoot the kid now. and out of all those lenses, fixed and zoom, 35/2 w D70 is what i use most. limited depth of field is nice for kid pics. low light capability is good. flash is often distracting and not flattering.
  24. I have the XSi, but our children are a bit old for following them around with the camera - at 42 and 38! But between them they do have three little Shi Tzu dogs and I do take lots of photos of them when they visit. I actually don't use my XSi, as picking the right lens to be able to capture them is more trouble than its worth.
    I also have a 10MP Canon supezoom XS10, which I use most of the time. I mount my Canon 430EX on it with a diffuser, head pointing up. With the range of the zoom (20X, 28-560mm) I can get shots almost whenever and wherever I want. No distracting harsh flash shadows behind the doggies, just a hint of a shadow. Our youngest son and his wife just had a baby a month ago, and I shoot it with the same setup, again no harsh shadows, photos look like they were taken without a flash.
    So I'd suggest a flash for your XSi and a diffuser. I always balked at the $20-25 local prices for the diffusers that slip over the end of the flash, couldn't really get into paying that much for a piece of plastic. At first I just bounced the flash, but this resulted in shadows under the eyes of the doggies and people too. Then I made a reflector with some silver mylar type material glued to the back of a business card sized piece of cardboard. I fastened it to the back of the flash head with a rubber band, to direct some of the bounced light towards the front. Worked a whole lot better. Then I got a diffuser on eBay from a dealer in Hong Kong for about $10.00, postage included. Now that's all I use, both with the SX10 and my XSi.
    The diffuser on the flash throws light towards the ceiling and generally lights the room; it also sends light out its sides giving a real nice "non flash" look. Flash stops motion if your subject is in focus too.
    Good luck!
  25. My advice would be to choose the window in the house which has the most light and a bright day. setup something to occupy the child and shoot away. Hang a white sheet up to reflect light back towards the child also. I would choose the 35mm f/2 or the f/2.8 zoom mentioned above. Without GOOD natural light you will always be disappointed by out of focus shots or blurred shots with low shutter speed or underexposed high ISO shots.
    If you cannot create the light environment then you will need to use bounced or off camera flash as mentioned above.
  26. Corinne,
    I did not think to post this in my last post. I found the information in the book Photographing Children and Babies: How to Take Great Pictures by Michal Heron to be helpful. As a beginner, I picked this book based on reviews. It has information on using natural light and reflectors to photograph babies and children. Good information about backgrounds and such is also included. I actually read the book before buying my camera and lenses because photographing my daughter was the principle driving force behind my purchase of the XSi. You might be able to find it at your local library, if you don't want to buy it.
    Others may have recommendations too.
    DS Meador
  27. Congratulations on the new baby. They are a lot of fun to photograph. I would also recommend the 50 1.8 or 1.4. I use a 50 1.4 and don't even have to use flash in my house, which is a dungeon. ISO 1600 and no flash is needed.
  28. I own an XSi and think it will be a great cam for you. However, I'd stay away from the kit lens as it's too slow for moving
    subjects in dim light. And the smallish aperture will limit creative opportunities for throwing backgrounds out of focus;
    which in my opinion can really make a photo sing in the right circumstances.

    Although I own a 50mm 1.4, IMO on a crop body camera like the XSi, the focal length is much too long for interior use.
    It's almost like a telephoto and will limit the amount of context you can include.

    That leaves lighting and/or a faster wider-aperture lens of more appropriate focal length. Josh's suggestion of the 17-55
    f/2.8 is great. If you don't have the $$$ for that, consider the Tamron 17-50 f/2.8, a fine lens that I use daily. The wide
    aperture option will let you capture movement in dim light, and allow more creative possibilities with respect to depth of

    The importance of lighting cannot be emphasized enough. I like Bob's idea of a low-cost light. Also, I'm a big fan of off-
    camera flash for interior use and get great results being able to control the light and direct it a manner to provide
    flattering results. Off camera flash is easy with a flash cord; holding your XSi in your right hand, and flash in your left
    with arm extended.

    Good luck!
  29. When the baby is small and not moving lots the prime lenses will be perfect. Once it starts crawling then you'll want to get a fast zoom (f2.8). This will help framing. Also as mentioned getting an external flash is a must to provide soft even light. You'll find the built in flash to be to harsh when close and not strong enough when you move back a bit.
  30. I know everyone has said this a lot already, but I'll still join the chorus. Get a flash. I have two daughters 2 and a half years old and 11 months. Buying a flash was the second best thing I ever did for taking candid pictures around the house. The best thing I ever did for this situation was to learn how to use the flash properly! If you want great pics around your house and you have poor lighting you should spend lots of time on this website: the information there is priceless (IMO).
    Just to help to try convince you, I'll try to post a picture of my daughter that was taken with the canon 18-200 IS, a Rebel XTi, and a 430EX with a 1/2 CTO (color temperature orange) gel on it to help match the incandescent lights in the room (A full CTO gel would allow you to make the grubby orange lights look white, and a 1/2 CTO allows you to preserve some of the mood of the incandescent lights). Also the flash in this picture was bounced off the wall about 7 feet to camera left.
    I've been in the same spot as you, and I wanted to avoid getting a flash too, but once you learn how to use it properly it's an amazing tool! I don't know where else you can get so much power and flexibility in such a portable and convenient package.
  31. I received the Xsi as a birthday present (my 50th) from my wonderful spouse. Went out and bought the Sigma 30mm 1.4 after much research and comparison. Great lens and works with available light--provided there's enough. If you fiddle with the "canned" white balance settings (shade, cloudy, tungsten, etc.) you'll probably find one that gives you the warmth you like from the light you have on hand. Of course the ISO needs to be high, but the Xsi is a camera that's easy to work with and progress as you learn more about the system and your own needs. The sigma is pricey, but having one good prime as your first lens is a great way to learn how to frame and compose your shots. You'll get more from your zoom lenses if you work initially with a prime. Also a 30mm over a 50mm might work better, given your space requirements. Like your baby, I hate flash, and will not use one. A steady hand (or solid rest with timer), a fast lens, and the curiosity to work with the camera will get you what you need. Caveat: I'm "old school" having recently come to digital photography from medium format film.
    Best of luck. My daughter is now 24 and I have some precious photos (though not enough) of her early years. Wish I had my Xsi back then. Have fun.
  32. Consider Canon XSi or T1i with Tamron 17-50mm/2.8 lens instead of the kit lens.
  33. Hi, everyone! Many thanks for all of the thoughtful responses. I can't get over how helpful you are - I'm truly grateful. So, on Saturday, we bought the XSi and a used Canon 17-55 lens. Talk about a world of difference from the point and shoot. We've played with it quite a bit already and it works well despite the poor lighting. Even with closed curtains in preparation for night time, the photos turned out well (well, they were orange tinted but easily fixed with photo editing software). Only thing is that when I want to do a shot with just her face in the entire frame, I end up getting really close to my daughter. Which I didn't realize until she grabbed the lens.
    I didn't buy a flash, but I think that is something I am going to do at some point soon. The light bulb suggestion is great - but we have no floor lamps - just recessed ceiling lights all throughout the house. The suggestions about white curtain/posterboard were great - I will have to figure out how exactly that actually works. And Awny, thanks for posting the photo with the flash. I would never have guess that was a flash! Someone had typed about a diffuser I think (business card wrapped in fabric?) - that sounds manageable, but again I don't know exactly how that works.
    Lastly, thanks for all the tips on which websites and books to check into. I will start reading when I can.
    Thanks, all, for your responses and congrats on the baby (never did I think I could be so in love with 18 pounds of diapered chub). You've made this newcomer to photography really excited about taking pictures!
  34. Corinne,
    I use my EF-S 55-250 IS for tight head shots on children. It is not f/2.8, so it requires a little more light (or a lot more light). However, if the child is occupied and very still, or asleep, the IS allows for some pretty slow shutter speeds for tight shots. I'm on vacation so I can't post an example right now.
    DS Meador
  35. My current 'Baby Kit' is an XTi, 50mm F1.8 and 430EX (100% bounced). I find this to be suprisingly perfect for indoor shots. I switch to my 17-50 or 55-250 for outdoor or well lit situations.
    You'll want shallow DOF for some shots (particularly sleeping shots). This cannot be replicated by any amount of light with an F4 or 5.6 lens. IS is of limited use.
  36. People have mentioned bounce flash, and I would like to add that this is IMHO the single biggest image improvement you can make. Here's Canon's own tutorial:
    I have two children and neither minds the bounce flash in the least -- I've been using it from birth (theirs). It's not at all like having a flashgun fired in your face!
    Personally, I think the light from a window is better, but it's not really applicable to an infant. Plus, in the wonderful world of digital, window light (blue) combined with indoor electric light (yellow) yields the dreaded 'mixed lighting' -- hours spent with Photoshop!
    Shallow depth of field is nice, but having one eye in focus and the other blurry is not that pretty. I find that even though I have fast primes I rarely open beyond f/4.
    So I would go for the 430EX II (less than $250) or a used older one. I'm perfectly happy with my 420EX.
  37. Corinne,
    I took a close up of a 16 month old a couple of days ago. I'll include the photo here. I was in a kitchen with a window over the sink to child right and a window behind the child. It was about 5 in the afternoon. I shot at ISO 400, f/5.0, and 1/15 of a second. The EXIF data shows a focal length of 131. This is with a Rebel XSi about 3.5 or 4 feet from the child. The file has been reduced in size for posting so there is some loss in quality. Even still, wide open at f/5.0 for the focal length may be a little soft for some people. It suits me just fine for taking family pictures.
    I have since purchased a used 430EX flash and will begin learning how to use it soon.
    I hope this gives you a better idea of how the EF-S 55-250 IS might or might not meet your needs.
    DS Meador
  38. This shot illustrates perfectly my previous point and why you would either use a faster lens or push the ISO up to increase shutter speed. At f/5 this shot should be sharp across the frame. You can clearly see movement going on and IS doesn't stop subject movement and that is the reason it is soft.
    You would get away with 1/15 second shooting a static subject with IS and a steady hand at that focal length.
    Now if you were able to get light on the subject by either placing the subject near a light source or using a flash technique shutter speed would increase resulting in a sharper image.
    Had you moved to the right of the subject and caught their attention things may have improved as you can clearly see the direction of light in the shot.
  39. Paul,
    Thank you for the insight. I'm still so new at this that I can't always decipher why my results are what they are. So, user error and not necessarily the lens (except that it is fairly slow).
    DS Meador

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