by Gerald Boerner
Today we continue our examination of the process of choosing a set of lenses for your SLR (or dSLR) camera. More specifically, we examine how the choice of a zoom lenses relates to different types of photographic situations. While these lenses allow us to minimize the number of lenses that we carry in our camera bags, we need to be aware of when a Prime lens may still be better. More specifically, we will consider Macro, Wide-Angle, Portrait, and Landscape photography. GLB
“No photographer is as good as the simplest camera.”
— Edward Steichen
“When I have a camera in my hand, I know no fear.”
— Alfred Eisenstaedt
“Look and think before opening the shutter. The heart and mind are the true lens of the camera.”
— Yousuf Karsh
“If I could tell the story in words, I wouldn’t need to lug around a camera.”
— Lewis Hine
“I used to hate doing color. I hated transparency film. The way I did color was by not wanting to know what kind of film was in my camera.”
— Helmut Newton
“If I am at a party, I want to be at the party. Too many photographers use the camera to avoid participating in things. They become professional observers.”
— Robert Mapplethorpe
“I almost never set out to photograph a landscape, nor do I think of my camera as a means of recording a mountain or an animal unless I absolutely need a ‘record shot’. My first thought is always of light.”
— Galen Rowell
“But the moment you use an ordinary camera, you are not seeing the picture, remember, meaning, you had to remember what you’ve taken. Now you could see it of course, with a digital thing, but remember in 1982 you couldn’t.”
— David Hockney
Focal Technology: Using a Zoom Lens
A zoom lens is a mechanical assembly of lens elements with the ability to vary its focal length (and thus angle of view), as opposed to a fixed focal length (FFL) lens (see prime lens). They are commonly used with still, video, motion picture cameras, projectors, some binoculars, microscopes, telescopes, telescopic sights, and other optical instruments.
A true zoom lens, also called a parfocal lens, is one that maintains focus when its focal length changes. A lens that loses focus during zooming is more properly called a varifocal lens.
Some General Advantages of Using a Zoom Lens
ScrapJazz has posted a good article on how to use zoom lenses to capture your subject better. We present, with our comments included, a modified version of that article here. Please check out the full site via the reference below.
Would you like to emphasize the subject of your photograph? Here’s one solution: use a telephoto lens and get a close-up view.
A close-up photograph of an object, person, or animal gives us perspective and details that we can’t appreciate from far away. A telephoto lens allows you to get optically close to the subject when you can’t get physically close. A telephoto lens brings distant objects closer. Like a telescope or binoculars, the image is closer and larger.
There are two types of telephoto lenses – fixed and zoom. A fixed lens covers one distance. Some common examples are the 135mm lens, 200mm lens, and 400mm lens. Zoom lens will have a variable focal length and will cover a range of distances. Some common examples are 70-200mm and 80-400mm.
There are several advantages to a telephoto lens:
- Getting closer…
Sometimes a barrier or distance from the subject prevents you from physically moving closer to your subject. In those cases, a telephoto lens works perfectly because it brings the subject closer. While at the pond, I found I couldn’t get any closer to my subject, a dragonfly. My telephoto lens was able to do the trick.
- Highlight details…
A telephoto lens can focus on a specific detail of your subject. In addition, it can isolate the subject from a distracting background, making the details even more pronounced.
- Great portraits…
Telephoto lenses work well for head and shoulder portraits, taking sharp photographs without a distracting background.
When purchasing and using a telephoto lens keep the following in mind:
- Use high shutter and film (ISO) speeds…
A telephoto lens magnifies the image. As a consequence, the effects of camera movement are magnified as well. High shutter speeds are necessary to get sharp pictures with a telephoto lens. What is a good shutter speed? A good rule of thumb is that the minimum shutter speed should correlate to the camera’s focal length. If you’re shooting with the camera’s lens zoomed to 300mm, set the shutter speed to 1/300 second or faster. Another option is to increase the camera’s film (ISO) speed.
- Minimize camera shake…
Since camera movement is magnified with a telephoto lens, you need to use fast shutter speeds to avoid camera shake. If you must use a slow shutter speed, use a tripod. Another alternative is using a telephoto lens with image stabilization (IS) or vibration reducing (VR). These mechanical devices inside your lens can detect camera shake and compensate for it.
- Maintain precise focus…
In most telephoto lenses, the depth of field is limited so focus needs to be precise. To aid in focusing, purchase a camera with automatic focus. A camera’s automatic focus is faster and better than manual focusing.
[Regular telephoto lenses “compress” the scene. To preserve the depth of field you might try a Macro zoom lens, since it does not “compress” the scene. I have a been attempting to capture a scene for about two years. My telephoto zoom kept compressing the scene, but once I got my Macro zoom lens, I was able to obtain the image that I was seeking.]
- Take advantage of a wide aperture…
When taking photographs with a telephoto lens, you have the option of using a wide aperture (such as f/4) to create an uncluttered background. When you want to really focus in on your subject use those wide apertures to blur the background.
- Use a teleconverter…
Another popular tool in close-up photography is the teleconverter, often found in 1.4X and 2X lengths. These lenses mount to your camera to make your telephoto lens even longer. For example, a 2X teleconverter would make a 200mm lens, a 400mm lens. Although they give you more versatility with your telephoto lens, they require even higher shutter speeds and extreme care for camera shake.
[One needs to be careful in using these teleconverters. Each of these requires a specific telephoto lens range and causes a loss of light. They are active devices with their own lenses, unlike extension tubes that allow you to take close up/macro photos with a telephoto lenses.]
Next time you want a close-up photograph or you experience a barrier, remember to use a telephoto lens. Take care to use high shutter speeds, minimize camera shake and use precise focusing. Then, you’ll have that photograph that really emphasizes your subject!
Uses of Telephoto Lenses, By Category
Telephoto lenses are available from the mid-wide angle range (15-20 mm) through the nominal 50 mm point to the portrait range (80 to 150 mm). While most “kit” lenses run somewhere from 28-80 mm, their “glass” (lens manufacturing) is generally only mediocre. In most cases, either the 35-135 mm zoom (used for portraits) or the 70-250/300 mm (for long-range nature shots) are probably the most common lenses for most users.
Stanley Leary, in his article “Telling Stories with a Telephoto Lens”, on the Black Star Rising web site presents a good take on these issues. I have included some of his article here for your reference, but you can check out the full article as cited in the Reference Section below.
But pros use the telephoto lens for more than getting closer. We also use it to better tell a story.
Depth of Field
One of the most creative tools a photographer has is the ability to control depth of field (DOF). DOF is the portion of the photograph that appears in sharp focus. Telephoto lenses have a shallow DOF as compared to wide-angle lenses. With either lens, the smaller the f-stop (f16 vs. f8) the deeper the DOF. The reverse is also true. With either type of lens, the DOF is shallower the more open the f-number (f4 vs. f5.6).
By controlling (limiting) the depth of field, you can force the viewer’s attention to only what you want them to see. Take a picture of a football receiver catching the ball, for example. If the DOF is deep and almost everything is in equal focus, the player and the ball will be lost in the color and detail of the crowd. By taking the same picture using a telephoto lens with a shallow DOF, you can isolate the player and the ball from the rest of the picture, thus calling attention to what you want the viewer to see.
Similarly, portrait photographers use medium telephoto lenses to call attention to the face and not the background in both indoor and outdoor portraits.
When you increase the DOF with a telephoto lens, the background will appear closer to the subject than it will with a wide-angle lens. The longer (more powerful) the lens, the closer objects in the photo will appear to each other, and to you. This is a powerful tool that enables you to make all kinds of statements.
A sports photographer, for example, might use this technique to show a baseball pitcher in his windup. The scoreboard in the background shows a full count in the bottom of the ninth. By bringing that scoreboard up close behind the pitcher using a telephoto lens, you can see that it’s a no-hitter. That’s storytelling made possible by the creative use of a telephoto lens and selective focus.
By contrast, if the photographer instead uses a shallow depth-of-field, you won’t be able to read the scoreboard. If they use a wide-angle lens, the scoreboard will appear too far away to read.
In portrait photography, a medium telephoto lens shows faces in a normal perspective as compared to the distortion of a wide-angle lens. A moderate telephoto lens of say 80mm to 100mm on a 35mm camera will put you about five to seven feet from the subject for a head-and-shoulders photograph.
When photographing wildlife, the rule of thumb is to use a minimum of a 300 mm lens to fill the frame. You usually don’t want to be five to seven feet from wildlife. That’s why wildlife photographers use 400mm, 500mm, 600mm or even as long as 800mm lenses.
When you begin to shop for a telephoto lens, you’ll find many choices for the same focal length lens. Nikon makes lenses that cost a few hundred dollars on to up to $25,000. The f-stop is a big factor in the cost. The lower the number (faster the lens), the more expensive and heavier the lens. Faster lenses allow for making photos in less light, as well as for shallower DOF.
We all use telephoto lenses simply to “get closer” sometimes. But before mounting any lens on your camera, it’s important to ask yourself, “What story do I want to tell with this picture?” Your lens is a tool that can be used to make your point.
Using your Telephoto Lens for Long-Range, Nature Photography
The following article is available on the eHow web site. The reference to the “How to Use a Telephoto Lens” by G. Wallace-Taylor is found below in the Reference section.
With the prices of telephoto lenses dropping and the availability of SLR (single lens reflex) cameras in the consumer market, the options are endless for capturing those long-range shots. Whether you want to photograph birds and wildlife or landscape compositions, arm yourself with a few guidelines and you’ll soon be taking quality images.
You can improve your photographs taken with your telephoto lens. These hints apply primarily to long-range shots, not wide angle or midrange shots.
Stabilize your camera. Telephoto lenses add weight and throw your camera off-balance. Acquire a sturdy ball-head tripod if you can. Alternately, use a regular tripod and brace it with sandbags.
Use pressure from your hand, either up or down on the lens, when shooting to reduce camera shake. Focus through the viewfinder at the same time to make sure your composition is accurate. Pressure, especially during windy conditions, may save the shot.
Stop down your aperture one or two stops to bring more of your subject into focus. If you’re shooting distant wildlife, a wide-open aperture will allow you to focus on one part of the animal’s body, but may blur out the rest or any additional animals that are nearby.
Sight directly above your lens to find your subject. With long telephoto lenses, it can be difficult to locate your subject when searching through the viewfinder. Learn to sight directly above your lens while turning it to face your subject. When you’re in line, look through the viewfinder to compose and focus the shot.
Capture moving subjects by focusing on the very edge of the subject and panning when the subject moves. This is a good technique for capturing birds in flight. Focus before they take off–and pan, releasing the shutter when they are in position.
Shoot through a vehicle window to shade your lens from direct light. With a telephoto lens, you can set up on one side of your vehicle, allow the lens to extend into the automobile and focus on a subject outside the opposite window. The vehicle acts as a telephoto lens shade, allowing you to get the shot while avoiding light streaks.
Barbara London, Jim Stone, & John Upton. (2008) Photography. Pearson, Prentice-Hall
Background and biographical information is from Wikipedia articles on:
Wikipedia: The Camera…
Wikipedia: Zoom Lens…
Web Sites and Blogs:
Brainy Quote: Camera Quotes…
ScrapJazz: Tips for Telephoto Lens Photographs…
eHow: How to Use a Telephoto Lens…
Black Star Rising: Telling Stories with a Telephoto Lens…