Today : slow and grey winter Sunday. Boring by definition. We were really at loss for something to do. A humptieth trip to the local zoo seemed in order. Now, “zoo” is a pretty ambitious word for what it is. Let’s say it’s a small and poorly maintained animal park whose biggest asset is to be about 30 minutes from our home. I can’t even say tickets are cheap. They’re not. But with few visitors and a bunch of animals to feed, I don’t even feel like they’re robbing us. They need all the cash they can get. Bottom line : was I going to lug my Think Tank Retrospective 7 bag with 1.3kg Sigma 70-200/2.8 “Bazooka” along ?? To shoot some goats and sheep ? You bet not. I decided the 18-55 F:3.5-5.6 “kit” zoom would do.
So how is this interesting, or even relevant ? Err… it’s not, but I thought as a “fast” glass user, it’d be a real challenge to be stuck with a “slow” lens for the day, and see how it would alter my picture taking. For those of you who are not gearheads or camera specialists, fast vs. slow means the ability to gather great amount of light, and to blur backgrounds. It’s also relative to whether the lens is a prime (fixed focal length) or zoom. 2.8 is not particularly fast for a prime, but it’s nearly as fast as you can find for a zoom lens. I personally love fast lenses, for their ability to shoot without flash, and mostly for subject isolation. Being hobbled with a 3.5-5.6 lens means you’ll get very little planes separation from it. As a shallow DOF (depth of field) nut and addict, obviously a slow lens is a major letdown. What was I going to do with it !?
Here the fact to have some recognizable background is actually a plus. It supports the story telling, of the kid purchasing grain from the machine, while deer can be seen in the background. It gives a hint of what comes next.
That slow zoom meant I was going to have visible background, and I needed to make the best of it. I chose a diagonal line in the frame, which gives a sense of persective to the image (ok, it’s a visual trick, but it works).
Here, with a fast lens, I would have gone for a portrait of this majestic African antilope, with a lot of detail in the face and horns, and a beautifully blurred background. Impossible here, so I had to embrace the environment and make it part of the shot.
If you can’t make great looking animal portraits, you may as well shoot your kid’s happiness of interacting with the animals. That becomes the subject. Ultimately, the choice of lens has determined the shooting style for the day.
I’ve often maligned both NEX kit zooms. There’s the original silver, 18-55 F:3.5-5.6, its later, black version, which I prefer and use, then the more recent and compact 16-50 powerzoom. The PZ has the same global aperture of 3.5-5.6, but in practical use is even “slower” than the 18-55, in that the aperture closes much sooner over the focal range. At 28mm, the 18-55 has a F4 max aperture, the 16-50 being slower (4.5 ? I don’t have a copy anymore to compare, but did the test once and it was slower all over), at 35mm the 18-55 tops at 4.5, F5 at 50mm, and 5.6 at 55mm.
I always shoot this lens wide open. It’s slow enough as it is, and it’s sharp anyway. Actually one of my gripes with that type of lenses is the detail artifacts they produce. Even wide open images often look “oversharpened” and overall coarse, with no “smoothness” about them
I think that’s pretty credible. Fuji’s rival system offers a fantastic 18-44 F2.8-4 zoom of great optical quality, and Fuji is said to be working on a 16-50 constant F2.8 lens. Samsung just announced a 16-50/2.8. Sony *has* to react.
I like this particular shot. The slow zoom allowed me to have all elements in the frame in focus. With a faster lens I would have given to the temptation of shooting wide open, and only my girl would have been sharp. Interaction with both the deer, and peacocks, would have been lost.
So, while the 18-55 is hardly my prime choice of lens, it’s ok as walk-around. I’d probably be much happier with the Zeiss 16-70/4, or better yet with a future possible 2.8 Sony G lens. Who knows ? 😉