LENSES - The long distance stunner!

Posted March 22, 2012, 3:53 p.m.
LENSES - The long distance stunner! The popularity of photography over the past 15 years has increased at lightning speed, helped no doubt by the introduction of digital cameras. The Olympics, World Cups, Wimbledon and America's Cup just to name a few events are seeing an increasing number of photographers snapping away in the hope of capturing that perfect image. The television cameraman often ‘zooms’ in on the photographers around the stadium were we can see the best, biggest and most expensive lenses available being put to good use. Whether you are an amateur, sports, nature or paparazzi photographer the most important choice beside the camera, or maybe the most important choice of all, is the lens you use. During the film era, can you remember that, all photographers basically had a box with a hole and a lens attached to it. The lens was, and still is according to me, the most important part of all of my equipment. Bad quality glass gives a bad quality image which then cannot be used further down the track. History has shown us that we often need basics to get around. In golf for example the English often played with what we consider today to be only half a set of clubs, 7 clubs instead of 14. The same applies to photography, photographers, and the lenses we use. The legendary Henri Cartier-Bresson (1908 – 2004) a French photographer considered to be the father of modern photojournalism, was known to have used only three different lenses on his Leica, 28, 35 and 50mm, all considered prime fixed lenses. By doing so he was forced to compose the images he took with much more attention. If needed he had to take a step closer, or further, from his subject in order to fill the frame correctly. If the composition did not look right then he had to change angle or approach. With the advent of zoom lenses, which cover a wider focal length, we have become a bit lazy and do not move around looking for something better, but these lenses enable us certainly to work faster and often take a shot that would not have been available to us with a fixed lens. There is no doubt that zoom lenses have made life easier and our camera bags much lighter. In December 1963 Canon produced its first zoom, the R55-135mm lens, which gave photography a whole new beginning. Today Canon have 65 lenses on the market to suit every need and budget. These range from the basic lens that your camera will come with as standard to the long, high end performing, telephoto lens. Many sustain that zoom lenses, due to their mechanical structure and the use of many optical fittings, lose some of quality of a fixed lens. I certainly believe that fixed focal length lenses give the best performance. Nevertheless I have personally been the proud owner of the first x10 zoom lens on the market. In 1993 Canon produced the 35-350mm L Series lens. I remember leaving for a three week travel shoot and picking up the lens only a few days before my departure. Accompanied by a 20-35mm at the time (now I have the 16-35mm) that was all I brought along. It was the lightest I had ever travelled on an assignment. Certainly the result was positive. Some minor lens quality was lost to the highly trained eye at certain focal lengths but overall the lens has proved a very good investment. I often get asked which lens one should buy and as usual my answer is dependent on the usage. A nature photographer can use wide angle lenses but will also need telephoto lenses to get close to animals. A sports photographer will need a bit of everything depending on what he has in mind. When going to cover a sailing event I have everything with me from 16mm to 500mm. A news photographer will often be seen with 16-35mm and 70-200mm. A portrait photographer may only have a 50mm and 90mm for portraits. There is no general rule, but in the end I find that less is more. Keep it simple and learn to work with what you have. My best shots have been taken with either my 500mm f/4 IS lens or my Leica M6 and 35mm f/2. No matter which lens you choose composition is always the key to a successful image. Technology has improved tremendously over recent years. Some zoom lenses are perfectly sharp, especially when looking at the professional series. Canon introduced the ground breaking Image Stabilizer system in September 1995 on an EF 75-300mm USM IS. This helped a great deal of people to take better shots and to obtain a crisp image, especially when they were shooting in low light conditions, by eliminating the "shake" when using low shutter speeds. This technology was then applied to the big telephoto lenses where the difference was quite stunning. No one can say which lens they prefer. Any photographer can tell you which one he uses most, or which according to him delivers the best quality. As for me, when using my Leica I only have a 35mm lens and I love it. When shooting sporting events I need more variety in order to deliver a greater selection of images. Zoom lenses certainly help me with my work and make life easier. The market has a variety which will accommodate every budget. I also like changing lenses every 3-4 years, obliging me to see things differently and often giving me a fresh view on things. Another main advantage of a fixed lens is the aperture (also known as f-stop). These lenses have been designed to work in extreme light conditions, or for a very shallow depth of field. Apertures as big as f/1.0 on a 50mm lens up to Canon's 200mm f/1.8, which is the fastest 200mm lens on the market cannot be obtained on zoom lenses just yet. Recently Sigma has announced the first Ultra-Telephoto zoom lens that offers a fast aperture of f/2.8 from a 200-500mm focal length. The only draw back besides the price, which is still to be announced, is the weight of approximately 35 pounds !!!!!! So this proves that zoom lenses are gradually closing the quality gap with prime lenses. The editor asked me to suggest an SLR digital kit for anybody wishing to take good photographs so here it is. I am a Canon man, if you had not already realised, and I do not mention a flash as I normally rely on natural light for my shots! Canon EOS 30D (approx US $1000) 17-40mm f/4 (approx US $670) 70-200mm f/4 (approx US $1000) +Memory cards San Disk or Lexar 2GB or 4GB Editors new kit: Nikon D200 £815.00 Nikon 18-200 VR f/3.5 £499.00 +Memory card Extreme 4GB N.B. There are lots of extras to buy on both of the above systems if you wish.
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