All About Lenses
The long, the short, the strong, and the offbeat.
Knowing when÷and why÷to change the focal length of your
zoom is an important part of becoming a good photographer. There
are also add-on and special lenses that can give your images a fresh
look. Finally, for those of you who own digital SLRs, our DIY this
month (ăNew Life For Old Lensesä) exposes (pardon the pun) the best-kept
secret in photography÷fantastic lenses you can buy for under $100
thatâll work just fine with your camera.
Out And Touch Someone
Is there a photographer with a soul so dead, that never to himself
he said: ăI need a longer one?ä A longer telephoto lens, that is.
And certainly itâs a reasonable request if youâre a sports or wildlife
fanatic÷you need to bring far off subjects in closer, much closer.
the telephoto end of your zoom is the perfect solution. You can
capture the sweat rolling down the pitcherâs face as he tries to
throw the final strike, nail that Grizzly from a safe vantage point,
and even shoot some interesting cityscapes where buildings appear
to be piled together due to the visual compression that long telephoto
biggest problem when shooting with zoom lenses at extreme telephoto
settings is camera shake. Itâs similar to looking through a high-powered
telescope where every movement you make is magnified. Hereâs where
the most hated accessory in photography, the tripod, should be used.
While not as heavy and cumbersome as they used to be, tripods are
still not fun things to drag around. Yet, to keep the camera steady
at zoom settings, thereâs nothing better.
next best thing is a monopod or a body brace but if you must hand
hold the camera, here are two helpful tips. First, use the focal
length of the lens setting as your shutter speed. If you are shooting
with the 35mm equivalent of a 400mm lens, set your shutter speed
to 1/400th second or faster. Second, put your arm through the camera
strap so that the strap crosses your back and ends up under your
right armpit. Then adjust the strap so the camera rests tightly
against your eye when you push your forehead against it. You can
also use this technique to steady the camera when shooting at slow
shutter speeds under low light conditions÷youâll get acceptably
sharp images down to 1/4 second once you master this technique.
using extreme telephoto settings, be aware of haze and smog, which
will make your images look unsharp and decrease their contrast.
There are haze filters available, but they are only marginally effective
when you set your zoom to its telephoto limit, so pick your weather
conditions carefully, especially when shooting landscapes.
your depth of field will be very shallow. This can be a blessing
or a curse, depending on the effects youâre after. A blessing if
you want to selectively focus on something and let the background
go soft as Sports Illustrated Photographer David Bergman (www.davidbergman.net)
did in his shot of then NY Yankees Pitcher Hernando ăEl Duqueä Orlandez
(see next page), shot with a 520mm (35mm equivalent) lens on his
Canon EOS1D Mark II.
if you want moving subjects at full zoom to stay in focus, for example,
a football player as he weaves down the field, narrow depth of field
can be a curse. Even with the lens stopped down its smallest aperture
it will be difficult, if not impossible, to achieve this. So hereâs
a tip: When shooting action, prefocus on one spot and then shoot
when your subject ăhits the mark.ä Youâll still end up with a lot
of out-of-focus shots but so do the pros.
While most amateur photographers lust for long focal length zoom
lenses that bring distant subjects and objects nearer, many professionals
will tell you if they had to choose between telephoto or wide-angle,
theyâd go wide every time.
you pick up great depth of field. You can disengage your cameraâs
autofocus, set the camera to a fixed distance÷10 feet, for example÷and
even if the camera shoots at a moderately large lens opening, everything
will stay in focus from up close to far away. For digital cameras,
this means less shutter lag and faster shot-to-shot time because
the camera doesnât have to waste a lot of time focusing.
can mingle at a party and concentrate on the action without worrying
about your shots being out of focus. You can also fit more people
into a group shot without having to scrunch them together or back
so far away that your flash wonât reach. And shooting at a wide-angle
setting minimizes camera shake, even at slow shutter speeds. It
also gives you the largest possible aperture your lens is capable
that? If you look at those little numbers engraved on your zoom
lens, youâll see something like 1:2.8 - 4.8. The first aperture
number (2.8) is the largest lens opening at the full wide setting
while the second (4.8) is what it will shift to as you zoom to extreme
telephoto. In this case thatâs a difference of about 1.5 stops!
Looked at another way, shooting wide instead of telephoto lets you
use faster shutter speeds to avoid camera or subject motion because
you have a larger aperture available.
a wide field of view also gives your image a marvelous feeling of
space. Telephoto settings compress things÷like the shot of ăEl Duqueä
where the crowd seems to be right behind him when actually theyâre
a fair distance away. Wide-angle views, on the other hand, expand
the spaces between objects and subjects. And this can be used to
create visually exciting images the eye usually doesnât notice.
can frame your shot so that parts of the picture in the foreground
become large and imposing while the background falls off into space
such as David Bergmanâs shot of singer Gloria Estefan kicking a
beach ball (see picture on page 30), taken with the 35mm lens equivalent
of about 20mm on his Canon EOS1D Mark II. Of course, this also can
produce distortion, but so what? Sometimes our eyes need to be forced
to see the world with new vision. Some of historyâs greatest artists
painted distorted views of reality and most of us appreciate their
unique way of seeing. If theyâd been photographers, theyâd have
been ecstatic over wide-angle lenses. So should you.
in close and see how different subjects and objects look. Shoot
some exterior or interior scenes with the camera tilted and revel
in the distortion. You may even want to try some extreme wide-angle
close-ups of your family, friends or pets for humorous results;
the parts of their bodies closest to the camera will be huge while
the rest of them will be tiny.
recently, digital camera manufacturers shied away from fitting cameras
with zoom lenses that had good wide-angle capabilities. They claimed
that pulling back to those settings would cause light rays to hit
sensors at too extreme an angle, resulting in a loss of definition
and underexposure at the corners of the image.
now specially designed wide-angle zooms for digicams are beginning
to appear and youâll be able to get more dramatic pictures with
an increase in quality. Once you get the knack of wide-angle shooting,
telephotos will seem tame and you may well agree with the pros that
wider is better.
Close And Personal
Your zoom lens gives you yet another option. Most cameras have a
ămacroä (macrophotography) setting ÷indicated by a Tulip icon÷that
lets you move in close to subjects or objects and capture them at
life-size or larger.
leaf can become a beautiful design element, its veins forming fascinating
patterns. Commonplace objects can take on new meanings; the reflections
of light and color on the surface of a spoon can yield exciting
abstract images. If you donât like to wander out in search of photographic
subjects, not to worry÷ youâve got a whole universe right around
your own house.
the optical viewfinder of your camera is usually not an option because
just moving the camera a few millimeters one way or the other when
composing an extreme close-up can throw your subject right out of
the frame. But you can see exactly what youâll get on the LCD monitor
or through the viewfinder of a digital SLR.
closer in you get, the less depth of field (range of sharpness from
nearest to furthest object) youâll have. In fact, if you shoot something
larger-than-life-size, depth of field can drop to just a few millimeters.
While this can be an advantage÷to soften backgrounds when you want
to selectively focus on your main subject÷itâs wise to shoot extra
exposures at a series of smaller lens openings just to make sure
you have adequate depth of field.
using smaller apertures, achieving correct exposure will require
shooting at slower shutter speeds÷ in some cases 1/2 second or longer.
So youâll want to use a tripod whenever possible to avoid camera
shake. Youâll also want to release the shutter without jabbing it
with your finger, so use a remote electronic release or, if your
camera canât do that, set the self-timer to release the shutter
(finally, a use for that usually useless feature).
youâre in really super close, make sure your equipment doesnât cast
a shadow on your subject. And when using flash or another light
source, try to have it come from the side, the rear, or even directly
through the object (if itâs translucent). This will provide interesting
textures and dramatic lighting. You can also build a ătentä of white
sheeting around three sides of the object and aim your light at
the outside of the tent, which will spread very even lighting on
the object inside÷similar to the light on an overcast day as opposed
to harsh, direct sunlight.
slightest subject motion becomes magnified when you shoot extreme
close-ups and images can easily become blurred. If your subject
moves (like flowers in a slight breeze) wait for the right moment
and take several shots to cover yourself. You can also shoot at
a higher ISO. By using ISO 400 instead of ISO 100, you can either
stop down the lens for more depth of field or shoot at a faster
shutter speed to limit motion÷or a combination of both. At higher
ISOs you may also pick up some digital artifacts (noise) but thatâs
preferable to an unsharp image.
in to the extreme will guarantee exciting and unusual pictures and
youâll find a myriad of objects and subjects to photograph in your
own backyard. If thatâs still too far afield, just stay inside.
Thereâs a lifetime worth of images waiting to be captured there,
have always been weird and whacky lenses photographers have used
to achieve special effects or just for the fun of it. Here are a
few you might want to take for a spin on your dSLR.
Lensbaby is a modern-day version of a soft-focus lens with a twist÷you
can choose which part of your image you want to be sharper while
letting the rest of it go soft. Itâs all done by, yes, twisting
a flexible piece of tubing in which a lens element is mounted. This
isnât rocket science and youâll quickly get the hang of it, reveling
in all the kooky effects you can achieve.
hold the camera as you normally would and then extend the second
and third finger of your left hand to focus by push-pulling the
lens while you wiggle it from side to side for the effect you want.
After awhile, it becomes second nature and you get completely drawn
into the images youâre creating. You can even screw 37mm-threaded
add-ons÷wide, tele, close-ups, and filters÷onto the Lensbaby to
increase its versatility. A number of them are available as accessories
at the Lensbaby site.
lens comes with a set of disks to set the aperture at f/2.8, f/4,
f/5.6 or f/8÷each opening giving a different ratio of sharpness-to-softness
for an almost infinite number of effects (my favorite is f/2.8).
When set to Aperture Priority, most cameras will handle the exposure
while you fiddle with the composition. If yours wonât, hereâs a
chance to set it on Manual÷something I know youâve just been itching
to do. Shoot a couple of test exposures, pick the best, and use
you donât feel a rush of creative juices after seeing the results÷not
unlike the look of many of the artsy-craftsy images taken with classic
ătoyä cameras such as the Diana and Holga÷youâre probably hopeless;
give up photography and start chopping wood. On the other hand,
if you like everything sharp as a tack this may not be your cuppa
tea, either. Give it a try anyway. Who knows, you might find one
of your Lensbaby masterpieces hanging in a museum some day. US$
96 at www.lensbaby.com.
consider the Samyang mirror lens. No, it doesnât make you look fat
or thin, as the name might imply; itâs actually a unique telephoto
lens that uses a series of internal mirrors to cut down on its size
instead of requiring a mule to cart it around, you can slip all
of its 12.7 ounces and 3.4-inches of length into your camera bag
and set off for the high mountains or local sports arena armed with
500mm of telephoto power which will become the 35mm focal length
equivalent of 750mm to 1,000mm depending on which dSLR you have.
It can also focus as close as 5.6 feet÷try that with a lot of super-long
aperture is fixed at f/8 so youâll need some light to shoot with÷a
lot of it if youâre going to hand-hold the lens and shoot at a fast
enough shutter speed for steadiness. One of the reasons it fell
out of favor after being all the rage in the 1950s is that overexposed
highlight areas look like little doughnuts (though this can now
be fixed in Adobe Photoshop). You must also manually focus, although
most cameras will automatically calculate the exposure when they
are set to Aperture Priority.
Samyang is a nice piece of glass to have in your arsenal and it
can be mounted on almost any dSLR camera because it uses T-mount
adapters (See DIY, New Life For Old Lenses). And itâs inexpensive.
You can buy it used on eBay for about US $50 or new for US $109
at B&H Photo (http://tinyurl.com/5juzh) where it goes under the
name of Phoenix. Make sure you also order a T-Mount adapter (about
US $15) for your camera model.
probably never heard of Loreo and neither had I until I chanced
upon their web site and was intrigued by the lens products this
Hong Kong firm was manufacturing. Their company slogan: ăCreating
Solutions Through Lateral Thinkingä clued me in that I was entering
the realm of the unusual.
you feel the need to return to simpler times (and who doesnât),
youâll want to order their Lens In A Cap. For just US $19 (including
shipping) youâll be able to turn your high-priced dSLR into a lightweight,
no-frills point-and-shoot. No kidding! Itâs like hitching your Porsche
to a couple of horses to evoke the feeling of the good old days.
get a 3-element fixed-focus lens in a body cap that bayonets into
your lens mount. It has a focal length of 35mm (about 50mm to 70mm
depending on your dSLR camera) with a maximum aperture of f/5.6
stopping down to, whoa there, f/64! Now for the first time, digital
camera enthusiasts can join (in spirit, anyway) Edward Westonâs
f/64 group and get everything (kind of) in focus from up-close to
wait, thereâs more. If you buy their pocket-sized 10x loupe, the
Lubot, for an additional US $11, you can combine it with the Lens
In A Cap to shoot ultra macros÷there are some pretty impressive
examples at their web site. The Lubot is also a lean, mean, little
viewing machine in its own right. It has a high tech, three element
aspheric lens which produces sharp images across the entire viewing
area. And you may also be able to use it for ultra-macros in conjunction
with some of your regular lenses.
why spend a small fortune on a PC (perspective correction) lens,
when for only US $21 you can get a PC Lens In A Cap? OK, I know
it sounds ridiculous, but it really works! Although designed primarily
for 35mm format, I was able to do a moderate amount of shift corrections
(both vertically, horizontally, and diagonally) on a Canon 20D,
a Pentax *istD, and an Olympus E-300.
makes other fascinating (and inexpensive) lens gizmos, such as a
3-D system for digital cameras thatâs really innovative. If you
know how to cross your eyes, they have plenty of examples on their
site that you can enjoy. Then, just order their÷yep, you guessed
it÷3-D Lens In A Cap and enter the world of digital stereo photography.
Arthur H. Bleich (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a photographer, writer,
and educator who lives in Miami. He does assignments for major publications
both in the U.S. and abroad, and conducts digital photography workshop
cruises. Visit his Digital PhotoCorner at www.dpcorner.com.
-By Arthur H. Bleich