Stuck with a slow lens for the day

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.

AtillyJan14-20One of the two impressive Siberian Tigers of the Atilly zoo

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 !?

AtillyJan14-17Obviously, proper animal portraits were out of the question. Here I even resorted to a smidge of post editing blur to throw the background out of focus and bring attention to the subject.

AtillyJan14-02First things first. A slow zoom will give you *some* background blur if the lens is close to the subject, and the subject far away from the background.

AtillyJan14-01Here 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.

AtillyJan14-05That 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).

AtillyJan14-03Here, 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.

AtillyJan14-04They’re surprisingly tame, and can be touched without any problem.

AtillyJan14-06If 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.

AtillyJan14-08I’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.

AtillyJan14-09However as you can see, the output from my 18-55 is perfectly decent

AtillyJan14-10I 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

AtillyJan14-11The advantage of the 18-55 is its versatile range

AtillyJan14-12Zeiss makes a 16-70 F4 for NEX cameras. Obviously, it’d be a pretty worthy replacement as a kit lens… However, it’s a 999$ lens. Ouch.

AtillyJan14-13As of today, there is no 2.8 standard zoom for the NEX system. But rumors have it that Sony might be working on one. That’d really be great news.

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.

AtillyJan14-13Especially as the manufacturer who fit a 35mm full frame sensor into a pocketable body (RX-1)

AtillyJan14-14Here a faster lens would have blurred the background vegetation more, bringing emphasis on Marla in her dad’s arms

AtillyJan14-15The 18-55 has good color and contrast though

AtillyJan14-16I 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.

AtillyJan14-18Here we can see the NEX’s formidable dynamic range at work

AtillyJan14-19The souvenir shop is always a highlight of the trip

AtillyJan14-21There’s only one cage equipped with glass windows for fenceless photos, and it’s the leopard’s

AtillyJan14-22Lovely color rendition and sharpness

MarlaJan14-33And that’s a 35mm lens at F1.8. See the creamy background ? How the subject jumps out at the viewer ? MarlaJan14-34OM 50/1.8

MarlaJan14-32And that’s a file I retrieved from my A7 days. It’s only ISO 500, and slightly noisy for no reason ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

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 ? ๐Ÿ˜‰



About marla2008

Shutterbug. Shallow DOF nut. Mother of Child. Student of the Horse.
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11 Responses to Stuck with a slow lens for the day

  1. irifi says:

    Not so boring in Russia . . and some might be damned at not knowing what she was using!!

  2. marla2008 says:

    Oh yeah, those are the pictures I would dream of making if I had any talent, whatsoever. But as Laurent pointed out, that’s not done with a crappy kit lens ๐Ÿ˜‰

    • Not about the camera, or talent…it’s just about the dog……(good luck replicating some of her pictures with your own dog!)

      On a more serious note, I really tried to think about what make her pictures so special. On top of being really good pictures (that I will never be able to match), they were all processed in the same tones (no idea how you can achieve those tones). That create a sense a unity that make all her pictures really pleasing to watch. When I do my own processing (heck, I have a hard time to call that processing, mostly light cropping and minor adjustments), I realize I don’t have any kind of systematic process. It goes in every direction, depending of my mood. One day black and white, one day in color, and once a while, a flickr filter, just for the fun of it. Or maybe the pixlr one, why not?

      So maybe it’s my next step. Finding my own way of processing pictures, in a consistent manner.

      • marla2008 says:

        I thought about that too, because ideally, if I had any talent, that’s exactly the type of pictures I’d make.
        So obviously, the lady has a talent that neither of us possess… BUT. There’s a catch. She lives in the Russian wilderness with lots of adorable farm animals and her adorable kids, and shoot the whole thing (no busy backgrounds, lots of good light and pretty places) with a FF camera and what seems to be a longish very fast prime. Add, as you noted, some pretty good editing to the mix, and you got your WOW factor, right there.
        So aside from the talent that we won’t work up any day soon, we can still seek better looking places, and save for a long fast lens for a lot of isolation ๐Ÿ˜‰

      • I just don’t know where to start. The 135mm lens or the saint-bernard dog?

      • marla2008 says:

        You silly it’s no Saint-Bernard, it’s a Caucasian Ovtcharka ! They are very popular with American millionnaires to watch over their million dollar properties !! (authentic, too). They are ferocious farm dogs more akin to bears than to my own dog, but then again she’s more akin to a dwarf squirrel ๐Ÿ˜‰ Better start with the 135/2L lens, pricey but only at purchase, and won’t bite your head off on a bad day !

  3. Martin says:

    Composition is probably tougher without the “crutch” of bokeh, though I am guilty of loving fast lenses as much as the NEXt enthusiast ๐Ÿ˜‰

    There’s something to be said for creating photos one’s happy with, from either a kit lens, a phone, or a fast lens stopped-down. Making sure that the frame is filled with interesting content is something I’m trying to improve upon with each press of the shutter.

  4. marla2008 says:

    Call it a crutch, I call it tool of the trade. Good luck making good portraits without the ability to isolate the subject… That’s why I hate compacts and cell phones.They work fine for landscapes, but kill any sort of storytelling in an image as there is no possible plane separation. A large sensor and/or fast lens gives you a choice, you can always stop down for added DOF if you want (although I always forget to, lol). But a slow lens can’t open up and blur that sucker background away, so you’re stuck with what you have…

    • Martin says:

      If one has complete control of the background (e.g. a white board) then there’s no need for a fast lens whatsoever. I agree that when out and about, or in conditions where the background cannot be controlled, that *bokeh* and shallow depth of field are useful tools. As I said, I love them just as much as the next person – I just wanted to make that point about composition. I don’t hate mobile phones nor compacts, though, so I suppose we disagree there!

      • Martin says:

        edit: I should have written “If one has complete control of the background (e.g. a white board) and lighting, then thereโ€™s *less* desire for a fast lens ๐Ÿ™‚

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