Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Z Is For Zoom

How Far Do You Want to Go?

Image #1. Focal length 18mm. Photographs copyright: DAVID McMAHON


This series of three photographs was shot on a dull, grey day – simply to illustrate the distinction between a standard lens and a zoom lens. Yes, I could have done the same experiment on a cloudless, sunny day, but the tougher the light conditions, the greater the demands on your lens.

Until about three or four years ago, zoom lenses were the exclusive territory of professional photographers. Amateurs who bought SLR (single-lens reflex) cameras generally bought standard 35mm lenses. But as digital SLRs grew in popularity and the prices fell from around $3000 to the $1200 mark, it became more common for amateur photographers to turn to single compact lenses with adjustable focal planes.

Then came the biggest – and most far-reaching - revolution for the MND (mum ‘n’ dad) photographers. As they embraced digital SLRs and the price of memory cards fell from $200 for a one-gigabyte SD card (late 1995) to $30 for a four-gigabyte SD card, a new school of thought took hold.

As the MND amateurs began looking for more than simply a standard 35mm lens, manufacturers found a new market – complete amateurs who were willing to spend some money on the popular 18-55mm lenses or even the larger multi-purpose 18-125mm lenses.

Logically, the camera manufacturers embraced the new market. It’s been more than a year since the big names started to package novel deals for the home photographer, as opposed to serving only the professional photographers.

Image #2. Focal length 125mm.

Previously, when an MND photographer bought a digital SLR, it came with one lens. Now, Canon, Nikon, Pentax and the other big players are enticing brave new consumers to invest in packages that are tailored to the one-body-two-lenses option.

If that sounds like jargon, let me explain it in the simplest terms. You buy one camera body, but the manufacturer entices you (and a brilliant marketing option it is, from everyone’s point of view) to buy not one lens but two.

Each camera body has a bayonet-type screw-in for a lens. If your standard lens is an 18-55mm lens, you can also buy a second, longer lens and swap between the two. Swapping lenses is a quick and simple process that only takes a few seconds. More crucially, it makes a lot of commercial sense for manufacturers and for the 21st-century buyer as well.

When I bought my Pentax K100D, I bought a wonderful 18-125mm Sigma lens. Then, about eight or nine months ago, I saw a 70-300mm Sigma lens advertised and after mulling over the possibilities for a few weeks, I took the plunge and have never looked back. I carry both lenses wherever I go and to put it quite simply, I revel in the choice.

Now to the specifics of this photo exercise. All these shots were taken from the eleventh floor of a city building here in Melbourne, looking out towards Port Phillip Bay. All three shots were taken from exactly the same spot, with different focal lengths.

In the first shot, with a focal length of only 18mm, the dominant features are two apartment buildings, a set of vertical blinds and an old-fashioned CRT-type computer monitor.

The second shot is also taken with my 18-125mm lens, fully open to a focal length of 125mm. Now you can actually see what looks like an expanse of concrete in the distance but is actually the sea under a leaden, grey sky.

Image #3. Focal length 300mm.

In the final shot (above) taken at the maximum focal length of my 70-300mm lens, you can actually begin to discern the slim grey outline of a container ship several miles away, deep in the Bay.

It’s almost like sittin’ on the dock of the Bay.

For the home of ABC Wednesday, go to Mrs Nesbitt's Place.

39 comments:

Cheffie-Mom said...

Wow, very interesting.

Lee said...

Really good examples, David! It's amazing how far you can see with that longer lens. You've made me hungry for a lens for my Powershot.

Cheers!

Crystal Jigsaw said...

Fantastic and fascinating photographs. I am planning on buying the farmer a good digital camera this year but he wants one of those with a huge lens! He's an amateur photographer but is really good with the camera and very keen. I shall come back for some advice, so long as that's okay!

CJ xx

ArneA said...

And your recommendations are????
I have only one problem with these cameras, they cannot be put into mu pocket when strolling the city.
I know that photographers have not that problem, because they always have the pocket camera in addition to the other equipment, and even a third or forth camera (cell-phone) just in case.
But your illustration of your Z was brilliant.

Woman in a Window said...

It seems like we're in a period of the democritization of everything. It's an interesting time, especially as an amateur everything.

lime said...

i'm having lens envy....

Alyson (New England Living) said...

I have an 18-125mm lens, the standard lens that came with my camera, and a 50mm. I want to get one like your's that goes to 300mm. One question - does your's have image stabilization? It seems if you're zooming that far in, you'd need it, otherwise it would be blurry. I'm really interested, so let me know!

mrsnesbitt said...

I am with Arne re the size of the camera. Mine has to be small enough to fit in my bag when out on the motorbike or walking Wilma! Can you imagine me trying to assemble a tripod whilst holding onto Wilma? LOL! I can just picture the mayhem! Would make a good picture though! LOL!

® ♫ The Brit ♪ ® said...

Great photo examples of using a lens David!
My partner is mad on photography and has a Nikon D80 with 2 extra lenses and, like you, carries it wherever he goes.
But I stick to my little Sony N2 as the Nikon is far too technical for me!
All the best and keep snapping!

richies said...

I wish I could afford a Digital SLR with a zoom lenses. I have to make do with a small point and shoot. Very informative "Z" post.

An Arkie's Musings

RuneE said...

I'm sittin' and waitin' for a new Canon 70-300mm 4/5.6 IS USM...

It is on its way.

George said...

Thanks for the demonstration of different lenses. I'm mulling a new camera and multiple lenses is one of the things I'm considering.
Thanks, too for visiting my site.

cheshire wife said...

You make a good salesman. Are you on commission?

Janie said...

Thanks for the explanation and the really great photo examples. Now I'm in the mood to go camera shopping. I just need to fit it into the budget...

Maggie May said...

That does make a difference and that last shot is really good. Better than the others.
Will have to make do with my far simpler digital camera with its built in zoom. It will suffice for now!

Artist Unplugged said...

Fascinating photos and info.

Granny Smith said...

Beautiful illustration of the power of zoom! My digital camera (Canon) has a X10 optical zoom which I find invaluable. I have used a zoom lens with my other camera (also Canon), but hate to have to remove one lens and replace it with the zoom lens, especially when I am in a hurry.

Thank you for an illuminating essay on the history of zoom lenses. An excellent choice for Z!

Digital Flower Pictures said...

I love my Sigma lenses, especially the 24mm/1.8 macro. I am torn about zoom lenses and really prefer fixed focal length primes. That can make it harder to get the shot some times.

Santa brought me a full frame DSLR (Nikon 700). It is amazing. He also dropped off a 70-300 Nikon lens with the VR. Thanks for the idea about shooting the same scene with the different focal lengths. I want to try that.

starnitesky said...

These are good examples of the difference in focal lengths. I have got so used to using a zoom lens, when I used my film camera recently with a fixed 50 mm lens, it was quite a shock but very enlightening making me realise how lazy I become with using a camera - I even had to work out which F stop to use!!

Kim from Hiraeth said...

Cool. Can't do that with my little point and click!

joan said...

Very interesting David! Thanks for the info. I just bought my very first DSLR(it hasn't even arrived yet)and I was nervous buying it but I love to learn new things so hopefully I will grow and learn as I go along. Thanks!

Tiaras and Tantrums said...

Love this - I am SO a MND photographer - but loving it!

Seamus said...

I LOVE my 70-300mm lens!

Babooshka said...

I never think of zoom for z. Why? I am itching for a digiscope for the bird photography. Interesting even for the seaosned photographer. I am always intrigued to see how others appraoch images.

Rinkly Rimes said...

I'm of the 'point and click' brigade. But I've just bought a new camera with a zoom so ..... However, If I trim photos on the computer isn't that the same as zooming?

alicesg said...

Very nice post. I am too slow to catch up with technology...lol. Nowadays even the phone is equipped with very good camera that can take very sharp and clear photo just like a normal digital camera. Till now I am still learning all the different features on my camera and phone...lol

dulce said...

Zoom: a unique choice! A good example too.

Life with Kaishon said...

zooooooooooom. Very clever z! Great job!

gogouci said...

During my youger, more energetic days as a purist photographer, I used to run around with all glass, all fixed focal length lenses. Everything from 20mm to 300mm. I think my camera bag weighed about 50 lbs. Now, the ol' grey mare is not so energetic or photographically critical and quite happy with one zoom.

kikamz said...

ah, yes, the beauty of Zoom lens! wish i could buy my own to capture very great and vibrant photos...

spacedlaw said...

I love my 70-300 but with shaky hands I have to use it only in good weather. Or use a tripod. And sometimes, if I am too tired I also have to use the flash.

quilldancer said...

So, today I took lesson one in my 5 week photography class and I already learned amazing things about my camera!

Ackworth born said...

I find it quite amazing sometimes the detail the zoom on my panasonic FZ18 can pick up - stuff yiu can't see with the naked eye.

Yaya said...

Great blog!

Stesha sent me!

Mojo said...

Zoom lenses have come a loooong way even in the last 10-15 years. Canon has a 70-200mm f/2.8 now that can not only maintain f/2.8 throughout the entire zoom range, but optically can just about match my 200mm f/2.8L prime lens. Of course you pay for that in both terms of cost and weight (it's a beast) but I've have many, many occasions when I'd like to have have the flexibility. My latest acquisition is a 17-55mm f/2.8 IS which can also keep a constant f/2.8, but it weighs in as heavy as the aforementioned 200mm prime. As long as your camera body is stout enough to provide a counterweight to that kind of mass it doesn't usually present a problem while shooting, but it does get heavy around the neck when you're not!

I don't know about now, but time was that Sigma lenses and Canon EOS bodies didn't have a great relationship. The older manual Canon SLR's didn't have so much of a problem, but once the EOS line came out I think most Canon fanciers opted for Tamron when they didn't buy Canon.

Sandi McBride said...

You always come up with the greatest shots, so it's no surprise to me that these are so fine...even got a touch of Vertigo for a second!
Sandi

Dragonstar said...

Now that's an excellent illustration of the advantages. DSLR is my next move - when I can manage to afford it!

On behalf of the Team, thank you for participating in this round.

Ella said...

yep...a new lens just got bumped up on my wish list to the top position.

Jay said...

I used to do more photography than I do these days, and used to do more than point and shoot. I had a few health problems, but I also got lazy.

We have a Canon ... something .. it's called the Rebel in the US, but it's just a string of numbers and letters here. It's about time I got that second lens for it. I know I'd find it useful!