BitDepth 746 - August 31

The importance of good lenses in front of today's high resolution digital sensors.
An ode to good glass

Going wide. A surprising amount of my personal work as a photographer is shot up close and wide. Though normally not this close or this wide. Photo by Mark Lyndersay

If you’ve been thinking about buying a new camera and have become hopelessly confused by all the conflicting and often quite passionate advice about them, well, I have to tell you, that’s nothing compared to the world of lenses.
Buyers will spend months reading reviews and comparing features on cameras which have largely become commodity items, leapfrogging each other with minor (and sometimes, admittedly, major) new additions to what is still, essentially, just a light-tight box...and then stick the kit lens on the front of it.
That’s the equivalent of buying a Porsche and deciding that instead of getting a windshield, a sheet of translucent plastic would do. 

And the metaphor is more direct than you might think. The kit lenses that ship with most of the affordable digital SLRs (DSLRs) being sold today are horrid little barrels of plastic crap, barely worth the names of the camera makers moulded into their detestable little lens seals.
They’re even worse than the lenses that you get with most of the better point and shoot cameras.
Ahem. *Calms his seething rage and searches for the point.*
Your lens choices are between, affordable and expensive, fixed focal length and zooms, and fast and slow lenses.

You’ll hear all these words, often mixed in unintelligible sentences many of which include terms like “rawks” and “sux,” in online rants and sermons that will may do little to give you any real direction in your search for something useful to attach to your camera’s body.
Lenses that are described as “fast” have a fixed, wide maximum aperture. That means that you’ll get more light in challenging circumstances, which helps with autofocus, but that wide aperture also gives you crisper demarcations in your photos between subjects you want in focus and the bits of the photo you aren’t interested in.

A long, fast lens is what you use to get those creamy out-of-focus backgrounds you see in all the best sports photos and girlie pix. If you want real photo cred, don’t call them “creamy out-of-focus backgrounds,” say “they have good bokeh.”
If you have a good idea of how far away from your subjects you’ll be working and want good glass at the best price, fixed focal length lenses can give you many of the advantages of the most expensive zoom lenses without any actual zoom. On the plus side, you get smaller, more compact lenses that cost a whole lot less, on the negative side, if you want to get closer or move further back, you’ll have to use your zoom feet.

The most active and popular lenses are zoom lenses though, or more properly, variable focal length lenses. Zooms have come a long way in the last decade or so. The best models create images that are indistinguishable from any fixed focal length lens at any point in their range, but the best models cost a king’s ransom. So let’s hope that young Harry doesn’t start taking any snaps. That would severely ding the coffers at Buckingham Palace.
So what’s an enterprising photographer on a budget to do? Start with a fast 50mm lens. Most of these sell for about the same price as the kit lens, offer a fast 1.8 maximum aperture and work like a good mid-length portrait lens (80mm) on anything that isn’t a DSLR with a full frame sensor.
That puts the new photographer at a decent distance from his subject until his nerves calm down. That’ll buy you some time to decide whether the equipment you need should take you closer with a good wide angle lens or even further away, with a mini-telescope.

BitDepth 750 -
This Photographer's Way
BitDepth 749 -
The Copyright Condom
BitDepth 748 -
Professionals versus Amateurs
BitDepth 747 -
The digital photographer's workflow
BitDepth 745 -
Your new digital camera
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