Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Lens selection.

Lens selection.

We all know, or should know, that you need a lens or set of lenses in order to take photos with any SLR camera.  What you shoot and your level of experience should dictate what lens or lenses that you get.  Do not get a lens just because you have enough money to get the very best and it is the same lens that your favorite photographer uses.  Just because you might have the same gear as that top Sports Illustrated photographer, does not mean you will get the same quality photos that they do.  Experience, knowing your gear and what it is capable of and what it is not, and how to use it to it’s fullest extent is key to great photos.

So, speaking to you with the thought that you are a new photographer, learning the craft, what I am saying is, if you need a 300mm lens, do not run out and spend $4000 on a Canon 300 2.8 IS L lens.  This is a heavy lens, expensive, and one that beginning photographers would not likely use to its fullest extent.  There is a special learning curve for large lenses, in fact, there is a learning curve for most lenses, but lenses that way 5 to 20 pounds are much different to use than a lens that ways 2 or 3 pounds.  Canon makes a variety of lenses in the 300mm range from a couple hundred dollars to a few thousand.  If you want to try a 300mm lens, go with a zoom, like a 70-300 to start with.  Typically these are slower lenses, but they will get you a feel for the focal length and you may find that you do not need 300 as much as you thought.

For anyone starting out in photography, learning about apertures, depth of field, shutter speeds and such, a inexpensive kit can be built that can be used in various shooting styles and allow you to grow as you need to.

Most digital cameras that consumers buy like the Digital Rebel Xti or 30D, have a kit lens that come with them.  For Canon, that is the 18-55 3.5-5.6 lens.  On the 1.6x APS-C sensor these cameras have, this is similar to a 24-70 lens.  While it is a cheap, plastic lens, it is actually a very nice little lens.  Light weight, and a great lens to build around, and when you are ready, a good lens that has good alternatives.  To go along with this lens, Canon makes another inexpensive lens, the 55-200.  Not too big, again, plastic, and a little slow, but a good focal length and lightweight.  A good lens to learn with as you start out.  Another lens to add to this set is one for low light.  When you start shooting in low light situations like parties, museums, and the like, the kit lens and the 55-200 will not give you shutter speeds fast enough to stop the action.  Adding a 50mm 1.8 lens, which runs around $100 is a great choice.  It also is a cheap plastic lens, but for the price, you can not buy a better lens.

As you get more experience, you will notice what lenses are holding you back and what focal lengths you use more.  Before selling that 55-200 for a $1600 70-200 2.8 IS L, you can look at alternative choices.  Like third party lenses, F4 versions, and the like.  As you start looking for lenses to replace the ones you have, you will get an idea.  One suggestion I have for you is, other than the kit lens, stay away from the EF-S mount lenses.  While their focal lengths might be very desireable, like the 10-22 or 17-55 2.8, if you get to the point that you want to shoot a different Canon camera like a 1D, 1Ds, or 5D series, these lenses are useless.  They are designed for the APS-C sensor and can not be mounted on any other body.  An 18-55 can be replaced with a 17-40, 16-35 or a 24-70 2.8.  Also, Sigma, Tokina, and Tamron makes some very good lenses at a fraction of the cost.  A Canon 24-70 2.8 lens might cost $1200, and a Sigma version will run under $400.  While the Sigma will not be as good as the Canon, it is still a great lens and another great lens to learn with.

If you are looking into a all in one lens, one that will be small and lightweight for hiking, or camping, where weight is an issue, there are some lenses from Sigma and Tamron that may work for you.   28-200 and 300mm that are small work great for giving you a lot of focal lengths in one lens, but it comes with a drawback.  Lenses like this are not the sharpest, and are typically not for low light shooting.  Also, lenses that are more than 10X zoom, like the 28-300 should be avoided.  They just are not a lens that produce good images.

When you start shooting sports, especially youth sports which may be played in the evening, or indoors, you are kind of stuck.  Fast lenses are they way to go.  Fast shutter speeds to stop the action and large apertures, like 2.8 or faster are needed to throw your backgrounds out of focus and separate your subject from the background.  But, when you can spend $200 on a 55-200 or $1600 on a 70-200, it starts turning into a major investment.  Again, Sigma should be looked at as an alternative.  A 24-70 and 70-200 from Canon could run over $3K, where the same lenses from Sigma are around $1300-$1400.  A full $1600-$1700 you could spend on other lenses, or flashes, or memory.  Not a bad idea if you are on a budget, and they perform very nicely.  In fact I have had numerous photos published in major newspapers and magazines like ESPN the Magazine taken with a Sigma 70-200 2.8.  

Now, the last thing I want to touch on is IS.  IS, or image stabilization, is honestly a luxury, and should not be over used.  In fact, not one of my lenses have IS.  On long lenses, like the 400 2.8 or 600 f4, IS is great, because of the length of the lens, the weight, and possible vibrations or lens shake, it helps, but at 300 or less, as long as you can keep your shutter speed above the focal length (If you are shooting at 200mm keeping your lens at 1/250th or higher), you do not need IS.  However, if you are in a low light situation, that you just can not use a support like a monopod or tripod, IS can be a life saver.  Otherwise, in my opinion, all it does is suck your battery down quicker.

In closing, do not buy the best of everything if you can, but focus on learning how to take the photo, develop your eye, and upgrade your gear as you need to, you will become a much better photographer over time.

Find reviews of lenses, and other gear at www.fredmiranda.com

Next tip..Flashes….on camera and off….

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