Lens longevity

I’m an ignoramus when it comes to technical issues but I’m wondering about the pricing of electronic goods, lenses in particular. In the old days when you bought a good lens, you paid through the nose, as you do today, but at least you had assurance that that you would most likely have the use of the lens for your life-time.

Now when you cut off your limbs and give them to the retailer in exchange for a piece of glass, it will only be usable as long as the electrics last, and there’s no telling how long that will be. I would love to know how long these things are designed to last, but I’m sure that the average will be considerably less than the lifetime typically enjoyed by  pre-electric lenses.

What brought these thoughts on is that  a friend has had a Canon 24-105mm lens for a couple of years and it recently stopped working. He was quoted more than half of the dollar price for new lens, to have it fixed. In another case, practically our whole camera club used to shoot Canons and many of us owned their 17-85mm lens. Ever single one of us, and several other people we know, have had that lens fail, and had to pay plenty to get it fixed.

I was a pretty early adopter of Canon autofocus in my home town of Durban, South Africa. I bought three lenses in the early 1990s and one in 2003, when I switched to digital. Only one of those, a  35-135mm, is still working.

I don’t know whether lenses have come down in price much in real terms, but they should have. Do electronic lenses offer the same value for money as the  lenses in the past did? If the manufacturers offered parts at cost, as a service, maybe…

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Getting the light right

Over the past few weeks I’ve been preoccupied with family medical issues and didn’t get the chance to write up a practice shoot I went on with a couple of fellow Strobists. We started out in an old railway station building and were shooting grungy detail pictures with our cameras mounted on tripods.

Little did poor Voden know that he was destined to be the model a little later in the day, on the wonderful graffiti-covered bench outside. A group of us have recently become disciples of Joe McNally and the holy Nikon Creative Lighting System which, if you use it right, can give you incredible off-camera flash pictures.

This picture was taken with Voden’s bare SB-900 flash gun positioned at 90° to the camera, directly in front of him, and slightly above his eye line. Tucked into the space between him and the bench was my SB-600 flash, set to put just a bit of light into the space behind his head.

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The next one was taken with the help

Read moreGetting the light right

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Fifi and the fast lens

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The quality of the kit lenses we get with our cameras these days is generally pretty good and so are most of the less expensive consumer zoom lenses available from the various manufacturers. These can all be used to used to produce great pictures but, as I’m discovering, they are all lacking in one particular way, which may or may not be important to you.

In the old days, when I devoured lots of how-to-do-it photography books, there was always a section which dealt with differential focus, and how you could take pictures with a narrow depth of field to draw extra attention to your subject. The idea was that the area of interest would be in focus and that everything else would be more or less out of focus.

Read moreFifi and the fast lens

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UTP: attempt # 2

Ugrading the Photographer: attempt # 2

So, yesterday’s post turned into a bit of a disaster when, after several hundred words, my work suddenly disappeared and I was left with the picture and no text.  I would have thought that that was impossible with WordPress but, as I can now testify, it most certainly is.

Anyway, I was talking about a trip a couple of us went on to the moonlight market at our local Waldorf School.  It’s usually a good outing and there is the added bonus that there’s a selection of musicians and bands playing.  This time, if any further excuse were needed, I wanted to give my new Tamron 28-75mm F2.8 lens a run.

I bought it for the limited purpose of shooting people, particularly musicians, in low light, and it seems as though the purchase has paid off.  I still took a lot of drek, as you do in marginal conditions, but my hit-rate improved a lot since I only had a slow kit lens to work with.  The picture of Durban muso Rowan Stuart, in the previous post, is one of my favourites from the shoot, ironically taken with my plastic 55-200mm lens, but there were a good few others that I also like.

A month or two back, I read a post on Thom Hogan’s Blog (July 13, 2009) on how you could get the best return if you had, say $2000, to spend on your photography.  His conclusion was that, in most cases, the money would be better spent upgrading the photographer, and not the kit.

When you think of it, it’s a version of the old truism that most of the cameras and lenses are better than most of the photographers and so, even if you think you need better kit, you probably don’t. Good training is Thom’s answer, and I’d add to that, self-study through books, magazines and videos.

In this case, I had hit the limit of what I could do with my slow lenses, so I opted for a minor upgrade, but I also invested in photo books.

More of which, later…

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A new baby arrives

I began to think that I needed another lens and, after agonising over the choices available for months, I finally placed my order for a Tamron SP AF 28-75mm F/2.8 XR Di lens, and it arrived last week.

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A 28-75mm is not a conventional choice for a camera with a DX sensor because you’re getting something that behaves like a 42mm-112mm on a full frame camera. On a 35mm film camera, or full-frame digital, a zoom which ranges from a wide 28mm to a moderate 75mm telephoto, would make a superb general purpose lens. On a digital camera, such as mine, with a crop sensor, the lack of a wide angle of view makes it unsuitable as a general lens.

‘Mad as a hatter!’ You’re probably thinking to yourself. ‘The boy will be changing lenses all the time. He should have gone for 18-200mm with vibration reduction, and never had to change his lens again.’

Indeed, a 28-75mm lens is not the usual choice for a crop-sensor digital camera, but what I wanted was a lens that could shoot people in low light. I wanted a zoom lens with a whacking big hole through the middle to let in lots of light. A lens with a maximum aperture of F/2.8, in fact.

Given the funds, I would have chosen the Nikkor 80-200mm F/2.8 lens but this is a recession, and I was going to have to choose between a Nikkor prime lens (35mm, 50mm or 85mm) or a zoom lens from an independent manufacturer. The Tamron has a F/2.8 maxium aperture, it has had very good reviews and, on a crop-sensor camera, covers the range that most photographers would choose for portrait work; ie., anywhere from 50mm to 100mm. Remember that the Tamron offers the equivalent of about 42mm-112mm.

An ideal portrait lens in fact, and, for about $400, it was only going to put strain on my bank account, not break it.

So what’s the big deal with an F2.8 lens?? Well, its what’s known in the trade as ‘fast glass’, meaning that it has a bigger hole through its middle than is the norm for cheaper (slow) lenses. This effectively means that:

  • You can get a picture in only a quarter of that light that a kit lens with an F5.6 maximum aperture would need.

or

  • You can use a shutter speed 4 times faster than would be possible with a kit lens with an F5.6 maximum aperture. This crucial difference is how fast and slow lenses got their names.

or

  • You can use the same shutter speed as a slower lens but, because it’s letting in more light, you can shoot with a lower ISO setting. Your picture quality will be much better if you can shoot at ISO 800 in conditions where you’d need ISO 3200 if you were using an F/5.6 lens.

and

  • The depth of field offered by a lens with a larger aperture is less that than with a small aperture, meaning that you can blur the background behind your subject more thoroughly, and more pleasingly.

Fast glass is more expensive and, based on the principle that you usually get what you pay for, the lenses are generally better constructed and better optically.

The manufacturers know that lenses with smaller apertures are problematic in low light and tend to give you blurry pictures. This is because they don’t let in enough to light to give you a fast enough shutter speed when the light drops.

The answer they have come up with is image stabilisation, or vibration reduction, which allows you to get get sharp pictures even when shooting at slow shutter speeds. The systems work like a bomb providing that whatever you’re shooting remains still.

If the subject moves while the shutter is open, however, the picture will still be blurry, no matter how steady the camera is. And that’s where fast glass comes in; a faster shutter speed…

I used the Tamron in action last weekend, and I found that my hit rate went up instantly because, instead of shooting at a 30th of second, for example, I was able to shoot at a 125th, and got more unblurred pictures as a result.

So far, so good…

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