Tagged: zoom lens

Prime Lens Magic

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Did you see the four crows flying in the lower middle right-side of the picture?  I purchased a new lens, the Fijinon 35 mm f/1.4 lens and I was trying it out.  It has great resolution from edge to edge.  For those who might be interested, that picture was taken at ISO 200, f/2.5, 1/140 sec. handheld in auto mode.  I didn’t know the birds were there when I took it and I didn’t know they were crows until I looked at them at 100% on the monitor.

I have a confession to make; I probably love my camera more than most images I make.  I like a good-looking, small camera.  I like to leave it sitting out where I can see it.  I like small prime lenses since they look better on the camera and make the combination easier to carry and use.  Most people like prime lenses for their quality since they are usually better than zoom lenses.  I also like them for their light weight and small size and simplicity in use.

I recently acquired the 35 mm f/1.4 lens for my X-E1.  I like the way it looks and I know it is one of the best Fujifilm Fujinon lenses based on all the reviews.  I now have a new problem.  Do I like it so well that I can just use it for the majority of my photography?  I’m contemplating using it for most of my personal photography and using my 18 – 55 mm and 55 – 200 mm zoom lenses only for photographing events here at Homewood where my access to the performers is limited.

A decision to use just one camera and one prime lens limits what, where, and how I photograph.  I have a difficult time finding things to photograph and using just one lens will make it even harder, but I like simplicity.  I am not going to defy all logic and reason and not use my zooms when I need them, but I am going to see how far I can go with just a few prime lenses.

I have cut back on using long focal lengths during the last year and I’m still managing with that decision.  Yes, there are images I can’t get, but so far, I have not minded it.  I might have a bigger problem on the other end of the scale … not having wide lenses for inside buildings.  The fast 35 mm (effective 52 mm focal length) is great for environmental portraits but not for overall grand scale images.  If I were to travel again I would probably need to get an 18 mm lens to capture the insides of the big old churches and other buildings, as well as the urban and country landscapes.

I have another ulterior motive for using small prime lenses.  I live in a community where the average age is in the 80s (I am one of the youngest) and some use canes, walking sticks, walkers, and motorized wheel chairs.  In my past I went through two periods when I had to use a cane to get around and if that ever happens to me again I want to be able to continue my photography and be able to use a camera with one hand.  I only need to look outside my window to be reminded that a small good camera with a quality prime lens could become an imperative.

Keep it Simple

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If I only look to the sky, clouds are what I’ll always be photographing.  They are at least perpetually changing.

I’m still considering whether to get a longer lens for the X-E1 … the XF 55 – 200mm f/3.5 – 4.8.  I’m constantly reviewing what focal lengths I’m using with the XF 18 – 55mm and I notice that I mostly use either the 18mm or the 55mm ends.  I have noticed this tendency of mine with other cameras and zoom lenses.  What it doesn’t tell me is what I might have missed with something longer than 55mm.  But, if I stick with just the 18 – 55mm lens, and just concentrate on photographing what I can with it, it makes life simpler … and it is the best zoom lens I have ever owned.

Glen Rocks … Moving on to X-E1

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For those who are interested in where this picture was taken, it was along the rail trail and train tracks south of Glen Rock, PA.  I took the picture from the train as we rode along the track on the “Steam into History” train ride.  The train was moving and I had to use a shutter speed of 1/1250 sec, at f/4, and ISO of 2500 since there wasn’t much light.

I was still in the middle of my challenge to just use prime lenses when I took the above picture.  This picture was taken with my NEX-6 and 20mm lens.  I used that single lens for the entire train ride.  My challenge to use only prime lenses for a while has gone quite well.  I have enjoyed moving about with a small camera and just one prime lens, and I have learned what I wanted to learn.

I wanted to see how I could do with some different subjects using a smaller, lighter camera than my Pentax K-5 DSLR and at the same time learn what focal lengths worked best for my new normal photography.  My test went so well that I have decided to replace my Sony NEX-6 camera and the lenses I have for it.  I have decided that the majority of my photography can be done with focal lengths between 20 and 50mm on a 1.5 crop camera.  The key is having a camera and lenses of sufficient quality to enable me to crop-zoom along with a slight shift in subjects; therefore, I am moving forward with my desire to simplify my cameras and lenses.

I am going to replace the NEX-6 and my assortment of lenses with a Fujifilm X-E1 and initially just one lens, the XF 18 – 55mm zoom lens.  While that lens is heavier and larger than I would really like, it is a better lens than anything that Sony has in a zoom.  Having the Fujifilm 18 – 55mm zoom lens will give me more flexibility and eliminate the need to have, change, and carry multiple prime lenses, with nearly the same quality as the Sony primes but in a smaller combined volume.  The X-E1 should feel more like a “real camera” than the NEX-6 which feels more like photographing with a computer.

I have liked the Sony NEX-6, especially the size and weight and the X-E1 is very similar in size and weight.  What I haven’t liked as much with the NEX-6 are the menu, exposure settings, white balance, dynamic range, and limited number of good lenses.  The X-E1 should give me higher quality in these areas with expanded potential.

I’m starting with the zoom lens since it is faster and better than most zoom lenses of that focal range and the “price was right” if I purchased it with the camera.  In addition it gives me a wide range of focal lengths with one lens.  My intent is to get a prime lens or two, or another smaller single focal length camera, if/when I feel like I need a lighter system to carry and use with one hand.  My other motive in getting the X-E1 at this time is to continue trying to photograph without a longer lens.  I still have my Pentax system to use if necessary, but I will also have the ability to get the Fujifilm 55 – 200mm lens and replace the Pentax DSLR system if I can manage dropping back from 300mm to 200mm.  If I find it necessary, I will be in a position to have and use a single camera with a minimum number of lenses and sell my DSLR Pentax system.

I’ll let you know more about my expectations and changes after I get the X-E1 and have had a chance to use it for a while.

Prime Challenge

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I have decided to try to only use 20, 35, and 50mm prime lenses on 1.5 crop frame cameras for my photography for a period of unknown length.  I’m doing this to determine if I can manage without long zoom lenses.  I’m going to hold off on making any additions or changes in my cameras and lenses until I have given myself sufficient time to try this experiment.

This will change what I photograph and probably slow me down; but I’m approaching it as a challenge.  It will have a major impact on my photography and the answer will have a significant bearing on reducing camera weight, size, cost, and complexity.

I have an additional incentive in that there have been several times in my life when I could not walk without the aid of a cane.  If/when that happens again I wish to be able to handle my camera with one hand.

In the meanwhile, I’m going to learn about the power of constraints.  As David duChemin says:  “We need constraints. They force our hands creatively, and while many advocate embracing constraints, I suggest we go one better and create them.”

I will try hard to be successful with this effort since it has such potential to be enlightening and to simplify my photography.  It would both reduce the weight of my gear and reduce the time spent fiddling with the composition.  It also will help to teach me to see in just a few focal lengths.  I’m going to try to make 35mm (effective 52mm) my primary focal length but I will use a wider or narrower focal length when necessary to get the picture.

Painted Turtles … Long Zoom Lenses

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The above shows two very shy painted turtles in the pond.  I haven’t been using my 55 – 300mm lens as much lately and have wondered whether I really need it.  I generally only go out with one lens and sometimes when using this one I find that it is heavier and longer than I like and not ideal for what I wish to photograph.  At other times, like when I took this picture yesterday, it wasn’t long enough.  The turtles are very shy and jumped into the water when I got closer.  As it is, I had to crop quite a bit even with the 300mm lens to get the above picture.

While I go through periods of using a long zoom lens almost continuously I still prefer to use higher quality, lighter weight prime lenses of a shorter focal length; but it obviously depends upon what I’m making pictures of.  The bottom line is that I can’t live with it or without it so I’ll continue being selective and heading out with or without it depending upon what I’m planning to photograph.  Will I miss shots?  Yes I will, but that is the nature of being an opportunistic photographer who dislikes carrying a heavy bag full of lenses.

Prime or Zoom Lens

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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.

Photographers Have Options for Reducing Weight

In this past year I have read many blog articles about how some photographers no longer like to carry big heavy DSLRs when they are out walking and/or just shooting for their personal pleasure.  They are suffering from having carried heavy camera bags their whole life.  Their backs are giving out.  All of them are getting older, just like all the rest of us, and it seems that many are making a change in their cameras as they age.  Some replace their big heavy DSLRs with smaller, lighter, mirror-less compact system cameras such as the Sony NEX or Olympus or Panasonic micro 4/3 system cameras while others keep their big DSLRs for their business use, but get lighter cameras for their personal use.  In all the cases that I have read about, they put the emphasis on downsizing the camera; but, I would like to make an observation that there are other variables in the equation for reducing the amount of weight carried.

I speak from experience.  As I started having problems carrying my Pentax K-5 and lenses, and eventually had back surgery, I made the decision to sell my DSLR system and replace it with something lighter.  I tried many micro 4/3 cameras and lenses.  I found they reduced the amount of weight that I was carrying around but they also decreased the quality of my pictures in low light situations and created adverse problems for me with camera ergonomics … a case of arthritic fingers vs. small buttons too close together.  Since I did not like the negative aspects of the downsizing route that I had taken, I went back to a K-5 DSLR camera as well as lenses for it, and sold all of my other cameras.  I decided to make other changes to reduce the weight and increase the quality at the same time.

I agree with many older photographers that it is necessary to reduce the total weight of the gear that we carry with us … it is just a fact of getting older, especially for those of us with back problems.  But I decided to keep the advantages of my DSLR and to reduce the weight in other ways.  I’m in the process of using my heavier, longer zoom lens less and less and using prime lenses more and more.  As I mentioned in my last article, I added a Pentax 21mm prime lens to my set of options.  If I find that I can’t carry my 55 – 300mm zoom lens as much as I did (was on my camera the majority of the time), I will also change what I photograph as well.  It might mean fewer pictures of wildlife.  I hope to primarily use my 21mm, 35mm, and 50mm prime lenses and change the type and style of my photography to fit that choice of lenses.

I haven’t had an opportunity to really try my new 21 mm lens, but I did take one picture with it yesterday when I made a quick trip to a market.

Hanover Market

Hanover Market

The lighting in the market wasn’t the best so the above picture was taken at an ISO of 400, f/4.5, and 1/50 sec with the 21mm lens.  I’m thinking that this lens will make a nice travel lens since it is light-weight, very small (only 1 inch long), and makes for a more discreet camera-lens combination for carrying while touring.  One advantage of the lens is that it also gives me nice depth of field coverage and it crop-zooms fairly well as noted in the following crop from the center of the above picture.

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In addition to having smaller, lighter gear to carry, it also allows me to carry it in a smaller, lighter bag as I make another change.  I have found that having a strap on my camera creates problems.  In the first case I decided that carrying a camera on a strap around my neck or over one shoulder was one of the problems relative to my back pain.  In the second case, I found that the strap attached to the camera lugs also occasionally got in the way of my hands … even when using a wrist strap.  The solution that I’m now trying is neither a neck, or shoulder, or wrist strap.  I have gone back to a system that I tried two years ago in which the camera is attached to my camera bag by a tether.  It is the system as shown in an earlier blog article (click here).  The picture in the article shows my older K-7 camera but the size is the same as my current K-5.  I’m also using the same bag as shown, but I might try some other bags before I deem the one shown as my preference.  It will depend on how many lenses I take with me.

At the beginning of this article I mentioned that all the photographers complaining of the weight of their system only talked about changing cameras … not lenses; but I don’t think that means that they haven’t also changed lenses.  Several photographers have switched from their heavy DSLR cameras to cameras like the Fujifilm X system.  Since these cameras currently don’t have long zoom lenses available yet, it either means that the photographers didn’t use long zoom lenses before or else they have also made a change in focal range as I am trying.

In reality, photography isn’t any different than other aspects of life.  As we get older we have options relative to reducing the burdens on our life.  Photographers can change cameras or they can change lenses, or/and they can change what they photograph.  All of us, photographers or not, will have to make similar changes in our lifestyle to reduce the impacts of our non-sustainable lifestyles.  We will all end up making changes and downsizing.  We will have to cut back and do less with less.  It’s time to make changes while we are able to adapt.

Working through the Fog … Prime vs. Zoom Lenses

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I used my 55 – 300mm Pentax zoom lens set at 107.5mm, f/5.6, ISO = 400, and 1/200 sec. to take the above picture.  This was a clear case where I needed the zoom’s focal length to reach across the pond.  The conditions were also such that I didn’t want to be changing lenses while out in the field.  Conditions like this, along with the potential of seeing wildlife, have made this lens one of my favorites except for when it isn’t.

There are many situations when the 55 – 300mm f/4-5.8 zoom is not my preferred lens.  These are when I find it too heavy to carry long distances, when I desire greater image quality such as sharpness, when I desire a faster lens, and when I’m working among people who don’t like to be “shot with a cannon.”  For those times, I prefer to use a prime lens.  I will occasionally use my 18 – 55mm zoom lens, but not often.  I don’t like the quality of the images as well as those taken with a prime lens so I generally only use the 18 – 55mm f/3.5-5.6 lens during inclement weather since it is weather resistant as is my K-5 camera.

But, the decision process of which lens to use is sometimes foggy since I can’t see into the future.  My preference when going out to take pictures is to decide which lens I’ll need before I go and then put it on the camera and not take any other lenses.  I usually manage with my decision, but not always.  I have three prime lenses for the Pentax K-5 … the 21mm f/3.2 (on order), the 35mm f/2.4, and the 50mm f/1.8, which give me effective focal lengths of 31.5, 52.5, & 75mm.  A big difference between Pentax and Nikon or Canon is that Pentax decided to produce small light-weight primes rather than fast primes; therefore, the Pentax primes are lighter and create a more discreet camera-lens combination than its competitors.  I love the smaller, lighter size of the system when using primes, but I still have to decide which one to use.  I try to error on a slightly wider focal length than I think I’ll need since I can then crop-zoom to get the composition desired.

I’m going to change my setup in order to decrease the chances of having the wrong lens with me.  If I know that the odds are high that I might need different lenses, I’m going to start taking a camera bag with an extra lens or two in it.  I have mostly avoided this in the past since I didn’t want to carry any more weight than necessary.  Since my circumstances have changed … my back is doing better and the weight isn’t as much of a problem, and I’m not out in the field for long periods of time any more … I am going to take a bag and multiple lenses.  But, this also means that I need to get familiar with changing lenses while out in the field.  I’ll let you know how it works for me and tell you a little about my bag setup as well as different strap arrangements at some later date.  My desire is to work the kinks out and have my techniques perfected before spring so that I can concentrate on taking pictures.

BTW … if you aren’t using prime lenses, try them.  I really prefer the image quality, the lower weight, and greater ease of carrying a more discreet system.  I’m looking forward to my new 21mm prime lens and will use my primes more than my zooms if I take less wildlife pictures.

Versatility of the Olympus E-PL5 and the Micro 4/3 System

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I have been testing my new Olympus E-PL5 … yes I plan to keep it.  My hope was that it would turn out to be a versatile, small camera that I could more easily take with me no matter where I went, and I think that will be the case.  All of these pictures were taken with the E-PL5 as raw files using two different lenses … the Olympus 14 – 42 mm f/3.5 – 5.6 II R zoom lens and the Panasonic 20 mm f/1.7 prime lens.  They were then developed using Adobe Lightroom 4.3.

Initially I had some concerns about the 14 – 42 mm kit lens that came with the camera, but it is turning out to be better than I initially thought … it just takes a little more work in LR4 and learning how to work with it.  The above picture of the Plum Creek train layout (one of four layouts) was taken with the kit lens at the widest end of the zoom … 14 mm, ISO of 1600, f/3.5, and 1/60 sec.  As with most of my pictures, you can click on it to see it several sizes larger.

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The above picture of Misty was taken with the 20 mm prime lens at ISO of 200, f/1.8, and 1/80 sec.  It was then cropped a bit.  At the point of focus, close to the eye, the camera with the 20 mm lens has a lot of detail or resolution, even at the widest aperture of the lens.  This also gives a pleasing out-of-focus in the distance.

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The above picture of this morning’s sky was taken with the 20 mm lens at ISO of 200, f/1.7, and 1/60 sec.  It has also been cropped and massaged in LR4 quite a bit.  I’m finding that the 16 MP files of this new sensor hold up quite well for a micro 4/3 size sensor when under going extensive development in LR4.

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The above picture was taken using the kit lens at a setting of 42 mm (max zoom) at ISO of 200, f/7.1, 1/80 sec.  The above image is an approximate 100% crop of the original.  I’m showing this image to demonstrate the details of the file.  At the maximum zoom end of the lens the image is a little softer and requires a little more adjustment to contrast, clarity, sharpness, etc. but is still quite good for a micro 4/3 camera while using an inexpensive zoom lens.

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The above picture is the softest of this lot.  It was taken hand-held (as were all of these pictures) at an ISO of 5000, 28 mm, f/4.7, and 1/30 sec.  Since I had set the ISO at 5000 and was at the widest aperture of the lens for that zoom, the shutter speed was down to 1/30 sec. which is a little slower than I like, even when using the image stabilization of the camera, but I think the softness of this image is primarily due to the high ISO except for the blur of the moving train.

All things considered, I am pleased with the camera as long as I use it appropriately.  I need to try to keep the ISO below 5000 and I need to use the zoom lens to achieve the composition needed.  I have primarily used prime lenses lately and cropped to achieve my composition so I need to remember to do that with my primes, but not with my zoom lenses if I wish to achieve the best image quality.  Even with those caveats, I think that the above images demonstrate that I still have a reasonable degree of latitude while using this camera as a jacket pocket camera for walking, traveling, or for when I desire to carry a more discreet smaller camera.

Advantages of a Prime Lens

I have mentioned earlier about the advantages of prime lenses while traveling overseas but I will reinforce it in this article.  I find that all the same advantages apply even while walking around town or on country lanes or on the paths here in Homewood at Plum Creek.  Having a prime lens on the camera reduces the weight and bulk of the camera-lens combination and increases the quality of the images.  This is due to the design advantages for a prime lens.  They use less glass and don’t have the built-in zoom mechanism thus enabling the designers to better optimize the image quality (IQ) while keeping the weight and size smaller.  But, I need to remind you that to take advantage of this you need the higher number of pixels in late-model cameras, and if you are taking it to the extreme, you need to view the pictures on your computer or projection device and not make large prints.

I took the following picture on my Pentax K-5 which with 16 mp gave me a picture of 4928 x 3264 pixels.  The picture was taken with a prime 50 mm lens (effective 75mm) at ISO = 100, f/5.6, and 1/1000 sec.

Assume for the purpose of this article that I was curious about what was at the base of the trees.  Since I didn’t have a zoom lens on the camera, I couldn’t zoom in closer, and since the farmer was working right close to me I didn’t want to tramp across his field.  My alternative was to crop-zoom the picture on my computer after I had down-loaded the picture.  The following picture is a 1018 x 674 crop of the above picture.  As you can see it really makes a difference and I went from an area of 16.08 mp to 0.686 mp … quite a reduction with very little, if any, perceived reduction in IQ.  You can click on the pictures to see them larger, but they have still been reduced for display in this blog.

And there are other benefits.  The 50 mm lens is an f 1.8 lens and my 55 – 300 mm lens is an f 5.8 at the far zoom range so I achieve a significant increase in low light level capability with the prime lens.  In addition, the 50 mm weighs 122 grams and the 55 – 300 weighs 440 grams … and the 50 mm lens only protrudes about 1.6 inches in front of the camera while at 300 mm that lens protrudes about 7 to 7.75 inches.  Which would you prefer to carry … or have pointed at you if you were on the receiving end?

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t always use a prime lens.  I enjoy the ability to compose my shot with a zoom lens.  I can also crop zoom pictures taken with my long zoom lens even at 300 mm, but the quality isn’t as good.  If I’m walking where it is likely that I will see wildlife, I prefer to have a much longer lens than the 50 mm, but lately I have had back problems and have been almost exclusively using my prime lenses to reduce the weight of my camera-lens combos.  I either use my Fuji X100 with its effective 35 mm lens or my Pentax K-5 with the 50 mm (effective 75 mm) prime lens.  I’ll also mention that it has occurred to me that if I get a new camera with even more pixels, and/or a larger sensor, and a prime lens, that I might even do better. … maybe the new Sony RX1 ?

But don’t forget that I am talking about viewing the pictures on a computer monitor.  If you were to print the picture at 240 px per inch, the resulting size of the print would only be roughly 4.25 inches by 2.8 inches.  I don’t print my pictures but even I would be concerned about the small size of the picture in some cases.  For example, the newer tablets and monitors have much higher resolution.  There may come a time in the future that you would find the above picture too small.  That is one reason that I have generally limited my pictures on this blog to a minimum of 2000 px long on the widest side … and I may increase that in light of the latest Mac Reticular screens.

If you are interested in using prime lenses to reduce the weight and bulk of your system, I urge you to read about  street photographers since they tend to use primes lenses.  You might wish to first read my article about the similarities of street and travel photography by clicking here.  I would also encourage you to check out other articles on the web.  A recent good summary of street (urban travel) photography can be found by clicking here.