A view of the old farmhouse in Homewood at Plum Creek from a location most never venture along side of Plum Creek.
As part of my returning to what I liked in the past, I am revisiting the joys of photographing with prime lenses … as well as the problems. I made these pictures with a 50mm lens I acquired for my Pentax K-3 II. In the previous post, I made the picture of the Sheppard Mansion with a prime 27mm lens on my Fuji X-E2s.
I like photographing with prime lenses due to the ease of photographing with one hand with a lighter weight camera-lens combination and usually with better image quality. I dislike the occasional bind I get in when the one prime lens I have with me isn’t quite wide or long enough. In the past I would remedy this by taking multiple lenses in a bag; but that meant that it was difficult to change lenses while juggling a camera, multiple lenses, a bag, and a cane. It usually meant that I had to find a place to sit down where I could also sit the bag and lens down while I changed lenses. That technique didn’t work well when I was walking in town, but I managed when photographing fixed events inside.
Another technique that I have often used is to crop-zoom my image. The above images were cropped and two of them were upsized. Using that technique, I would attempt to photograph with a wide enough lens and then crop the image and resize if I needed a narrower composition. That works within limits, but having lots of pixels along with a quality lens works best. I have been having so much success with upsizing that I am now thinking about revisiting the issue of how many pixels is sufficient.
I accumulated too many cameras and lenses. I primarily did that while trying to cover many different photographic situations and trying to figure out what I wanted or needed. The above are what I had when I started my recent purging, and you will note that I had a lot of overlapping systems. It doesn’t include all the other cameras I tried and sold previously. Lately, I have spent a great deal of time trying to figure out what I want to do, can do, and will do, in my future photography so that I can simplify. By-the-way, there are a lot of differences between “want to do, can do, and will do”.
The unmarked camera in the picture at the top on your left is the Canon SL1. At the time I took the picture I had black tape over the lettering. I had one other camera in addition to the above cameras that I used to take the picture. It was the Ricoh GR.
I have given up on reducing down to one camera for the time being, but I am reducing the number of different systems that I have and selling off some of the above with the goal to end up with fewer options. While trying to decide which way to go, I cycled through each of the above cameras and used them to remind myself of their individual characteristics and why I got them in the first place. Each has a particular strength and capability so my decision process came down to deciding what, or how, I will not be photographing in the future.
I have tried to pick a subject to concentrate on. I first thought it would be Hanover streets and buildings, and it might still be; but I have concerns. In some of my trials I have had minor confrontations which I have been able to walk away from so far; but I am concerned that the confrontations might increase, especially if I use a DSLR camera with a long zoom lens.
I would like to do something with a rangefinder style camera with a focal length of 35 or 50 (e) mm; but that usually means photographing people, and is not likely … in town or within Homewood. But, that doesn’t rule out such a camera for buildings, landscapes, etc.
What about other possibilities? The big one is travel photography but for several reasons, that is not likely for me. Another possibility would be nature, wildlife, etc. We have limited wildlife but it is still a possibility. There are also weather, clouds, etc. but that is limiting from an opportunity perspective. I can’t photograph the weather effects when I wish since it is dependent upon the whims of the weather.
I am still trying to decide what it is that I mainly hope to photograph, but in the meantime I am going to concentrate on what is most likely. The picture below shows what cameras and lenses I am currently using after going through my initial simplification and concentrating on what will most likely be available for me to photograph.
The Pentax gear and the Lumix LX7 have been sold. The rest have been boxed up for sale or storage. I haven’t sold the micro 4/3 gear yet since I haven’t yet decided to give up on micro 4/3. I like my micro 4/3 gear but I can’t do everything (especially in low light) that I would like as well with it. You will also see my latest acquisition, the Canon 70D with the 18 – 135 mm lens attached that I am trying for 30 days. Yes, the Canon is heavy (just slightly lighter than the K-3) but it has advantages and uses that I would rather not give up. I really like the articulated LCD and fast live-view focusing. In order to deal with the weight, I might not carry it far or often, and if necessary, I could get a 50 mm lens for it and back off using the longer, heavier focal length lenses. Currently I am trying the Canon 70D for certain uses like clouds, wildlife, some internal Homewood projects, etc., and using the Ricoh GR for my pocket camera while walking about as well as for several projects close to people, etc. where all I need is an effective 28 mm focal length.
My objective is to just use the Canon 70D and the Ricoh GR for a while as I continue to evolve my future photography over time, and later replace one or both with a camera that is better for a more limited style of photography when, or if, I decide or find I need or want to reduce further.
I didn’t plan to put this picture on my blog since I was just playing around with some pictures when I noticed the resolution. I used the 50 mm lens on the Pentax K-3 to take a picture and then cropped a small section out of it and re-sized it back up to get the close-up of a young woman. The picture was taken wide open at f/1.8. I think the focus point was right above her eye on her forehead but I took the picture so fast I can’t be sure. I still haven’t tested or corrected that lens for either front or back focusing, but I will later.
My second interest was in seeing how the image held up to re-sizing. As I said in the beginning, I didn’t plan to show these pictures but I wanted to see how they would work on my blog, and the best way to determine that was to try it and publish them and let you decide. Note the fine resolution of her hair. The following is another example taken with the 50 mm lens.
The first image immediately above is as taken … uncropped. The second image is a crop of a section of it and then re-sized up to get the version you see if you look at the full size. All of these pictures were taken handheld rather quickly without any intention of using them in this manner; but I am encouraged to use this lens a lot more and to test it further on a more suitable test scene.
I got a new lens … the Sony 50mm f/1.8 lens for my NEX-6. The above is one of the first pictures I have taken with it. This one at f/4. I focused on the center of the flower … note the depth of focus, even at this aperture when used at its minimum focus distance.
I have found that for making pictures inside the buildings here that I have had the best results when using my Pentax K-5 and the Pentax 50mm f/1.8 lens. My problem has been making pictures without flash or added lighting under conditions of poor lighting with mixed color temperatures from various sources. Generally I have used the Pentax lens at f/2.5 which is wider than optimum for best sharpness but OK. I ordered the Sony lens to see if I can squeeze a little more light out of it by using it at an aperture wider than 2.5. If that works I will be able to use even a lower ISO setting with the NEX-6 camera and thus have less digital noise to remove.
There are three issues with getting good pictures in existing low light. First, it helps to have a good prime lens with a wide aperture, but having a wide aperture lens isn’t good enough. It has to be sharp at the wide open apertures. With many lenses you have to stop them down before they become sharp enough. Since I do a lot of crop-zooming it is imperative that the lens is sharp at a wide aperture. That is why I really don’t use my Pentax at a wider aperture than 2.5 … it isn’t as sharp on up to 1.8. I’m hoping that the Sony lens will be sharper at a wider aperture, but it will take a while to test it and compare it with the Pentax 50mm lens.
If the lens is sharp at wide enough apertures, the next issue is the depth of field (DoF). Depending upon the distance of the subject, the DoF is quite shallow at the wide apertures. I often run up against this limitation depending upon the conditions and having the wider apertures of the Sony lens will not be of much value for some uses.
The third issue is the ability of the camera at high ISO levels. The more you boost the ISO the greater the noise in the image. To some extent it can be removed with the software, in my case LR5. The problem is that the greater the noise removal, the less detail in the image. A major factor in the camera’s high ISO capability is the age of the sensor/camera design. The more recent designs tend to have better electronics and software resulting in less noise. The other factor is the size of the sensor … the larger the sensor the less sensor noise.
The combined noise — focal length issue is my biggest problem in making most of my pictures inside of buildings as well as in making pictures of nature details early and late on cloudy days. Since I usually need the extra reach, I have resorted to my longest fast prime lens and crop-zooming; but it often isn’t long or fast enough. This issue is weighing heavily upon my decisions relative to my next camera. I think that I may have to go to a full-frame sensor camera if I really think the cost is worth it. Another problem, other than cost, is the size and weight of full-frame lenses. I would have to not only replace my cameras but also the lenses. If I wish to continue to make pictures of wildlife, and other subjects requiring longer focal lengths, it gets quite expensive and heavy. What I am trying to do is balance my needs for better low-light capability against the likelihood of what pictures I will be making in the future.
My options seem to be:
1) Go with two new camera systems (includes new lenses) … one with a smaller sensor for use with longer zoom lenses in better light, and one with a larger sensor and shorter focal lengths for poorer light. This is the most expensive option.
2) Replace my current cameras with one new larger sensor camera and shorter focal lengths and give up making pictures with longer focal length lenses; i.e. limited by ability to crop-zoom.
3) Some mix of new and current systems.
4) Use the cameras and lenses I have and work within their limitations. This is the no future cost option and why I got the Sony 50mm lens. I’m going to see how I do with it and use the time to wait and see what happens in the camera industry.
ADDENDUM: I checked out the Sony 50mm f/1.8 at the wide aperture. It is fine. I saw no objectionable change in resolution/sharpness at ISO = 1000 vs. aperture of 5.6 with ISO – 3200. I’ll now be using the NEX-6 with it rather than the K-5 with its 50mm f1.8 lens when making pictures indoors.
In the last couple of weeks I have taken over 600 pictures; but, you won’t be seeing many of them in this blog due to copyright and privacy issues. All of the pictures were taken with raw format under mostly difficult circumstances with poor lighting, etc. The first picture above was taken with the 21mm lens at ISO of 1600, f/4.5, 1/50 sec. at the end of the ceremony. The second picture was taken earlier at 300mm, ISO of 6400, f/8, 1/160 sec. with the 55 – 300mm lens. Neither picture has been cropped. I really would have preferred a faster, better, and longer lens but the zoom lens does quite well, especially when you consider the cost of it. I used the program mode set for maximum sharpness profile to get the most out of the lenses.
In some other circumstances in the past two weeks I had to use a 50mm f/1.8 lens due to very poor lighting and then crop a lot. Since those pictures ended up being small I made a slide show out of them and it turned out pretty good due to the excellent quality of the 50mm lens.
I haven’t finished working with my pictures, but so far, I think the results just emphasize the value in having good fast lenses and a high megapixel sensor with low noise qualities. I haven’t translated that into what it means relative to my next camera or lenses, but I will be thinking about it. In the meanwhile I’m doing OK and can get by with what I have. During this past two-week period I used my Pentax K-5 with three lenses … the 21mm f/3.2 and 50mm f/1.8 prime lenses, and the 55 – 300mm f/4 – 5.8 zoom lens.
These might not be the best pictures to illustrate this point but they do. I was on the way down to the central building the other evening to take some pictures of an event. Due to the lighting, the distance between me and the actors, etc. I had to take pictures with fast prime lenses. On the way down I had the 50mm f/1.8 lens mounted on my K-5 and used it to take the first picture above.
On the way back I happened to have the 21mm f/3.2 lens on the K-5 and used it to take the second picture. The 21mm lens was probably the best choice for both pictures but I just used the 50mm for the first picture since that is what was quickly available. It is the nature of those scenes to not last long and I didn’t wish to take the time to change lenses. Would I have been better off to have had a zoom lens mounted and ready? Probably, but since I wasn’t using a zoom for the event I didn’t have one with me. I was traveling light with my camera in hand with the other lens plus extra battery and memory card in vest pockets.
I wasn’t using a zoom lens because my zoom lenses are all slower, bigger, and heavier and I couldn’t use them to get acceptable pictures for the conditions I expected. By acceptable I mean as good as I could get with my 50mm f/1.8 prime lens. I had tested them out and found that it was better for me to use the 50mm lens and crop-zoom to get pictures without digital noise in the poor lighting. The zoom lenses all required a higher ISO which resulted in less detail in the pictures after I removed the noise.
There is another reason that I didn’t switch lenses for the first picture. I try not to change lenses any more than necessary to lessen the chances of getting dirt in the camera. I also find that it isn’t the easiest thing to do, change lenses, when I’m walking. I prefer to do it while sitting next to a flat clean surface to set the lens on.
My world of photography seems to revolve around the issue of what lens should I use. When going out to take particular pictures under a known environment, I usually can pick the right one. If the circumstances are unknown I will usually use a general purpose zoom lens, either the 18 – 135mm or the 55 – 300mm depending upon the likelihood of particular subjects … but, not always. I don’t like the combined weight of a zoom lens on the K-5, so I often just go for a walk with the 21 or 50mm lens on it, or with the NEX-6 with a 35mm lens, which is much lighter, and just photograph what is appropriate for the lens. This means I will be photographing landscapes and if a fox runs across the field, or a colorful bird lands in a tree, it isn’t photographed.
I really prefer a prime lens due to better speed, higher image quality, quicker response time, and lighter weight.
A camera doesn’t “take” a picture, nor does it make a picture. It receives the rays of light as reflected from the scene. These rays are changed as they pass through the lenses, filters, camera software, etc. They are then interpreted by the photographer as he or she develops the image. In addition they are “filtered” by the experiences and emotions of the viewer of the image after it is displayed. The message you receive is unique to you.