Lens Play


This Saturday night I tried an impromptu “live-event” shoot in the Distillery District. It was a small jazz…thing, with Brandi Disterheft on bass and Nathan Hiltz on guitar playing a selection of Brandi’s and other composers’ works. I was there, first as a listener and three-quarters of the way through, as a photographer. I have a very hazy musical recollection of the last quarter of the event.
On hand were my D70, 18-70 and 70-210, i.e., the usual suspects. Going in, I knew I was pushing the limits – my own, and those of my equipment. I was shooting in available light, no flash, and lighting at small gatherings like this is very, very poor. You need very steady hands, an intimate knowledge of your equipment, an ability to anticipate movement, excellent high ISO performance, large ISO room and fast lenses. That, and constant practice.
My keeper ratio? Zero :)

What surprises me is how unpeturbed I am about my ‘failure’. I’m glad I actually took photographs. It’s challenging scary to shift from a listener, from someone who’s part of the crowd, to someone that stands out. I also pushed, but didn’t break through, my personal limits.

Which brings me to the jazz itself. My musical tastes have narrowed over the past year and I’m unsure whether I should be afraid, disappointed or not. Where I once used to listen to a gamut of music from electronica, heavy metal and alternative to classical, I now primarily listen to whatever’s on 102.1 The Edge. Coincident with the decline in the variety of music I listen to, is my increased interest in that broad genre known as jazz. I know very little about it, but I’m slowly listening to more, poking and prodding at the boundaries of my knowledge to find out what it is I like and why. I enjoyed the music on Saturday more than Belinda Underwood’s thing (what do I call these?) that I stumbled on, a lifetime ago while wandering through Toronto. I found Brandi and Nathan’s playing more satisfying – more complex yes, but more…substantial?
Which brings me to the title – “Lens Play”. Given my Saturday experiences, I’m now in the market for a fast, low-light prime. The Sigma 30mm f/1.4 sounds like an ideal candidate although its $539 CDN pre-tax price after discount is ridiculous. I think Sigma Canada (ahem…Gentech International) is desperately trying to counter the pricing disadvantage* by extending the warranty on their EX lenses to 10 years. Did I mention the guaranteed 48 hour turn-around time? I’m a sucker for peace-of-mind, so I think I’ll swallow my misgivings, fork out the extra dough and buy locally. My biggest misgiving is whether this focal length is one I’ll work with extensively. A little voice inside urges caution…

* Caveat Below
BH Photo Video advertises the Sigma 30mm for Nikon at 429 USD. Today’s exchange rate is approximately 1 USD to 1.1.05 CDN. So, if you buy from the US, you’ll pay 474 CDN, before shipping. The cheapest shipping is USPS Parcel Post, which is approximately 26 USD. Add that and now you’re paying 502 CDN before your lens crosses the border. Also don’t forget that customs will charge you GST (and PST?), so you’re not going to escape taxes.

It’s up to you if this rigmarole is worth it. First off, you’re not going to get the 10 year Canadian warranty. You’ll get a 5 year US warranty, but you’ll have to ship it back to the US for any warranty work. If you don’t want to do that, Sigma only has a 1 year international warranty, but apparently that’ll be discontinued as of May 1, 2006. QC on Sigma lenses is spotty although if you get one that’s spot on, they can be superb. What does this mean for you? Well, after you wait for 7-10 days for B & H to ship you your lens, you may get one that’s too soft, doesn’t AF properly or has some weird mechanical problem. One return and you’ve lost your pricing advantage.

I have 3 non-Canadian lenses, 2 of which are used. For the third (a Sigma), the price difference was so large I swallowed my misgivings. I still wish I had the Canadian warranty – I honestly prefer the safety net. I’ve seen too much go wrong with expensive equipment.

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