Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Lens Extremes

No matter how long a lens you carry (or wide), you will invariably come across a situation in which you could have used a longer (wider) lens. Even assuming you have the money to purchase these lenses, do you really want to carry them?

I suggest that if you have them and are wondering about continuing to carry them, count up the number of keeper shots made with these lenses, that couldn't have been made without them. Good chance it isn't very many. It seems the number of times you wish you had the lens compared to the number of actual keeper images when you do is pretty small.

Since you can't do this experiment if you don't already own the longer (wider) lens, you can at least take heart from my experience that the more extreme the lens, the fewer the situations where not only is it the right lens, but actually results in an important portfolio image. For example, for months I have been carrying my 300 mm. around with me and haven't needed it. When I was out photographing landscapes I would occasionally use it but the keepers were even fewer and frankly if I didn't have it, I could function just fine.

On the other end, I use my 17-40 at 17 mm. mod. often with my Independent Machinery project and would miss it - is there any justification for going even wider to a 14 mm., not a chance. Your mileage might differ.

7 comments:

julie o'donnell said...

I would almost even go the other way in saying that I see differently, depending on the lens on my camera. Since I got the 100mm macro, there hasn't been much variation! I wonder though, if it's because the lens is lovely to use, and if it were longer or wider I would find myself adjusting my 'sight' to fit...?

G Dan Mitchell said...

I agree with Julie to some extent about "seeing differently" depending upon what lens is on the camera. If I don't have the "right" lens, I usually find a way to approach the subject that works with the lenses I have.

Speaking of lenses I have, when I'm photographing from the car or on a relatively short walk I'll take everything. But when I backpack for up to a week or more I typically take only two lenses - an ultrawide and a wide to short telephoto - and, in the end, I barely feel constrained by this at all

Ted Byrne said...

Once upon a time I had a bag full up with lenses. It was a time before you could count upon both the contrast and sharpness of zooms. They were weighty, bulky, killers of spontaneity. To make it easier I carried two bodies, a different lens on each. Of course it added to the bulk, weight and over all geeky-ness. And it still left lenses, a dozen B&W filters, and a dozen rolls of film in the bag which had to be juggled. It was like doing tennis practice against a ball serving machine gone manic.

Now I carry a 10-22mm and a 17-85mm - one on the camera, the other in an army ammunition bag along with two polarizers, a spare battery, and a couple of lens cleaning items.

It's a delight to live at a time when we're exploring almost free color with a spontaneous clarity and briskness that once we needed large format and a sophisticated chrome darkroom to contemplate.

As photographers we're gearheads. Why? Because we're always seeking the Holy Grail... the piece of apparatus which will create the perfect image. In fact we already own it... between our ears.

The ideal lens is what allows you to create the best you can imagine. I don't know how any lens can take me beyond that potential. Sigh...

John Barclay said...

This thread makes me think of an exercise I once had to do... put a 50mm lens on and shoot only with it. Ugh.. only a "nomal" lens... how on earth can I make a good image with this lens... Well of course it was not that at all and in fact it was the most important lesson in "seeing" I've had. Ted is right, its not the lens that creates good images.

I found you via PNFphotography and am glad I have. A thought provoking dialogue you have created here. In fact I've passed your blog along via mine today.

A Jesse said...

Since I am one of those people new to photography and particularly susceptible to the siren call of still more lenses, this is invaluable information.

Mark said...

I agree. Get a hold of ExifStats and you realise how little you use some lenses. I know for a fact my inexpensive 50mm gets the highest workout of any lens. It is lighter and more versatile in poor light conditions than any other lens I have and it shows!

Mike said...

I couldn't agree more. My longest zoom goes to 300mm and I rarely use it. I do use my 35, 50 and 85 lenses though - whichever happens to be on the camera. Recently I was away and took a shot with the 85, then returned a couple of days later and re shot with the 35,but both work:)

Mike