The Lens – The Most Important Part of the Camera

Lenses

The Lens – The Most Important Part of the Camera

Ask any experienced photographer whether to buy a new camera or a new lens and the answer will usually be, “it’s all about the glass,” or, “a good lens is more important than a good camera.”

A bad lens on a good camera will still make poor images, but a good lens on a poor or average camera will most likely give the photographer good results.

I listened to several friends talking over coffee about reviews they had read about the latest camera offering from Canon. The discussion began with questions like, “why does a photographer that doesn’t shoot sports need a camera with 7 or 8 frames a second” and “I really don’t spend much time shooting in low light situations, so why would I spend extra money on a camera because it is capable of a high ISO.” However, as expected, it wasn’t long before the talk easily turned to an exchange of views on lenses. Remember, because after all, “it’s all about the glass.”

The conversation easily moved from a difference of opinion between those that preferred prime (fixed focal length) lenses, and those, like me, that chose multi-focal length (zoom) lenses. We talked about the importance of wide angle and, of course, wide aperture lenses.

Just because you can change the lens doesn’t mean you have to, but I don’t know many photographers that are that sensible. Mostly we are willing to change lenses as soon as we have extra cash in our pockets, more emotional and impulsive than sensible.

I know very few are content with the short zoom that came as a package with the camera any more than they are with the tires the manufacturer installed on their car. Yes, the lenses, just like the tires aren’t high quality, but that’s not my point. What I mean is that changing lenses is like changing the visual personality of the image, and most photographers I know are engaged in, what I’ll call, a search for a perspective that fits their personality and personal vision.

The camera might capture some subject’s personality, but the lens, in my opinion, says more about the photographer than the subject.

Several photographers standing on a picturesque hillside using the same camera and lens will probably produce much the same image, but give them each a different lens and the resulting images will be diverse, distinct, and individual.

Yes, it is all about the glass, and there is such a pleasing and very exciting diversity of lenses out there waiting for each photographer to choose, discard, and choose again as they explore and create within this stimulating medium of photography.

As I wrote those words I wondered if there were others that I could use that were more applicable than stimulating. I could have used, intoxicating, invigorating, or even compelling. They all fit and, I think, could apply to some of the feelings I could see and hear from those photographers lounging around my shop drinking warm coffee on a cold November day as they talked about the lenses they used and would like to use.

A new camera is a lot of fun, but it really is “all about the glass.

I appreciate any comments. Thanks, John

My website is at www.enmanscamera.com

Do I Need Another Lens?

In my experience, any image can be altered (sometimes dramatically) when one changes lenses.  A subject can be isolated and the perspective in front of, and behind, the subject flattened with a telephoto lens; while landscapes in many cases look better with a wide-angle lens as the field of focus increases and the view around the subject widens.

I select my lenses depending on what I want to photograph and say about the subject. Because control over my image is important to me I question two items.  What am I photographing? And what result do I want?

For close up photography, one will be more successful with a macro lens that is designed to move in close to a subject than a mid range zoom that only focuses ‘sort of’ close, but is really designed for distance work.  For those wide expanse landscapes in the interior of British Columbia one may want a lens with wide-angle capabilities. For example, I might select my 18-70mm or 16-85mm as I search for a focal length that helps me include important features.

Last week I discussed lenses with a photographer who wants to get serious about photographing the abundance of wildlife here in the interior of British Columbia.  I suggested starting with a 70-300mm and then a longer telephoto in the future. Those lenses have a narrow angle of view, but plenty of magnification for wildlife photography.  Most of the 70-300mm lenses available today are lightweight and easily hand held. One can dig into their piggy bank and purchase some of the super telephotos like a 500 or 600mm, but until then moderately priced lenses like the 70-300mm should do.

There are interesting lenses like the 18-200mm that are just great. These multifocal length lenses are lightweight, and excellent for vacations or just walking around.   However, for serious enthusiasts there are wide aperture lenses with maximum apertures like f/2.8 that allow much more light in than lenses with f/3.5 or f/4 that are most common. These large aperture lenses give the user lots of light gathering capability and the ability to use higher shutter speeds for reducing camera shake, and help stop fast moving subjects.

To explain that, there is an optimum amount of light that reaches the camera’s sensor for a correct exposure. When the aperture is closed down it lets in less light and one must slow the shutter speed.  With large aperture lenses the shutter opening can be increased and let in a lot more light, therefore one has the ability to increase the shutter speed and still get a proper exposure.

All this also affects “depth of field”.  Depth of field is best defined as that area around the main subject, in front of and behind, that is acceptably sharp.  Photographers like to blur non-essential elements in the background by reducing the depth of field, and do that by increasing the size of the lens aperture.  In addition, letting in more light makes shooting in low light conditions less difficult.

So we get back to my earlier question:  Do I need another lens?  Even though I like the wide range focal length lenses like the 18-200mm for everyday use there are lots of other choices that will better help me visually say what I want when I make a picture.  A brief summary might be as follows; a macro for close-ups, a wide angle for landscapes, a telephoto for wildlife and, of course, some lenses with wide aperture for low light and for more control of depth of field.

Each year manufacturers introduce more lenses with different technology, which improves imaging capabilities, and naturally, increases the price.  Now you understand why one of the favourite sayings in photography is “it’s all about the glass” as I’ve explained to readers in this short discussion.  So, go ahead, check out the many offerings and ask yourself “Do I need another lens?”.

www.enmanscamera.com