What a difference a lens makes
20/09/08 20:11 Filed in: Basics
My theory boils down to this: Put one of these babies on your Rebel XS and see a world of difference in the quality of your images. Photograph courtesy Canon.
Before you read on, here's the summary in a sentence. Buy the cheapest digital camera that will do what you need and the lens you can't afford.
I haven't always been as careful as I should have been about choosing lenses for my photography. I shot most of ten year's worth of theatre photography with an essentially broken Tokina zoom lens because it was stuck wide open and I never needed anything else but maximum aperture for that work.
The other Pentax lenses that I used were a mixed bag, though I never regretted buying their 100mm fixed portrait lens, a magnificent and miniscule tube of glass that got a lot of use for portraiture.
My studio work was shot on Hasselblads and a Mamiya RB67 equipment and there were never any options for lenses for those cameras beyond the camera maker's products.
When I finally switched to Canon four years ago, I was in for a world of instruction about kit lenses, bargain lenses, third party lenses and professional grade lenses and their impact on the digital files I was working with
Perhaps it's because today's digital cameras capture images that you can easily enlarge to 100 percent, but sharpness has become something of an obsession in the digital age and photographs that seemed quite astonishing just a few years ago now seem a bit mushy and soft.
Perhaps the big difference between today's image evaluation process and pre-digital systems is that capacity to inspect fine detail and how readily it is available. To inspect a negatives or slide with the same level of detail that anyone with a 17 inch monitor has at their disposal today, I would have had to mount the piece of film into a projector and blow it up to at least three or four feet wide.
Needless to say that wasn't part of my day to day workflow, though zooming in with a single click on a toolbar is standard operating procedure.
One of the first jobs I did with my Canon Rebel XT was a job that required massive enlargements, on the scale of six feet tall and while the client was happy with the work, I could see the kit lens failing at the edges, even at two stops down.
Later on, as work picked up, I upgraded to the Canon 5D and picked up Canon's 24-105 lens to go along with it.
Just three months before the warranty expired, I fell victim to the 5D's Achilles heel, the notorious weak internal mirror mounting.
Canon graciously agreed to repair the camera, but it wouldn't be back until weeks after Carnival, so I was going to have to shoot through Carnival with my backup camera and this fancy new lens.
What happened after that forever changed my thinking about the relationship between cameras and lenses in the digital age.
Simply put, with Canon's premium red circle glass on pretty much any of their digital SLR cameras will give a digital photographer high quality results.
Like most scientific findings, it makes perfect sense when you think about it. Sensors are basically a commodity technology that get mounted into cameras in exactly the same way. Some are better than others, but those differences tend to show up at the extremes, when you boost the sensitivity of the sensors. In broad daylight, one is pretty much as good as another. Lenses are another kind of technology altogether. These unassuming tubes of glass are an amalgam of precisely machined glass, critically aligned optics and threading all brought designed with close tolerances to gather light rays into focus on your sensor.
The best lenses do this extremely well and are constructed to keep doing so for a long time to come.
Cheaper lenses make tradeoffs to reduce cost. Lens elements may not be made from premium materials, critical parts of the lens barrel and machining may be made of plastic instead of metal, maximum apertures may be variable and quite small compared to the constant, "faster" glass of premium optics.
You may have no need for the best of everything when you buy your lens, but if you grow as a photographer, one day you will and chances are that you will have changed cameras a few times by then and stuck with the same lenses.
Better cameras sometimes take superior pictures to their budget brethren, but better lenses always will.
So to return to the mantra that I offered at the outset of this post; buy the camera you need and the lens that's beyond your needs. You'll save money in the long term if you do.