Steadman's Latest Tips #4: Fast Improvement of Shots...Fast

Started Mar 10, 2002 | Discussions thread
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Steadman Uhlich Senior Member • Posts: 1,123
Steadman's Latest Tips #4: Fast Improvement of Shots...Fast

Hello folks...

This bit of unsolicited advice is aimed at all the new users of a SLR...of course it may equally apply to others too...

When someone first gets a SLR...they are perplexed by what lens to buy. There are so many choices. There is so much discussion on this forum regarding the "sharpness" of a lens and the distortion, chromatic aberration, and MTF factors (if you don't know what MTF is...don't worry about it), internal focus mechanisms...etc...

My point is that this forum is a great place for learning the technical details of a lens...but seldom is there help for a newbie or new user that really makes sense (to a new owners level).

My best advice is this:

1. Don't get hung up on the minutia of lens specifications. The lens is a tool. IF you like photography with a SLR...you will likely own several lenses eventually. You will learn over time.

OK...for a new Digital SLR owner..."over time" is not fast enough. (wINK)

You want to buy something NOW....right?

You want to have shots that are an improvement over those you took with your Point and Shoot (either film or digital). And...you want to see vast improvement...vast because you spent all that dosh/money on an expensive camera body. And...if you are moving up from a point and shoot camera that had a built in zoom or digital zoom...you may want to buy a big ole zoom lense....since you liked to zoom with your digicam or camcorder.

Now here is where my advice may rub you wrongly....my first bit of advice is to slow down on the purchases of lenses.

Here is the common pitfall....someone buys a SLR body...and then the first thing they do is go out and buy the longest zoom or tele lens they can afford. All with the hopes that that "reach" will improve their photographs. They want to impress their friends too...so the longer the lens...the more impressive...right?

Well....I have stunning news for you....it is not the length (of the lens) that makes them go "ooooh." (wINK).

OK...so what is it that makes people go "wow?"

It is the quality of the photographs. One thing (the lens) is something you bought...the other (the pic) is something you made/created/captured. Which do you want to have people praising?

The thing is...when you buy into a longer lens...you are probably buying into a new set of constraints. I will try to keep this explaination very simple so excuse my language if it is beneath your understanding level or if you think it should be more technical or arcane.

First, most long zooms or teles will have slower speeds (meaning they let in less light to the camera). Think of it this way...the camera is really a box to capture light. You can't make any pics if you don't have any light. So...the more light you can let in that box...the better your chances of having a good pic in the end. So...you want to buy a lens that will let in the most light...we call this a fast lens. What is fast? Well...think of it this way...if the lens has an "f stop" that is lower than f3.5 (such as f2.8 or f2.0 or f1.8 or f1.4) then it is "faster" or lets in more light than say a f4.5 lens.

This is simplifying it a bit (in terms and use)...but hey...that is the point of this posting...keep it simple. Just do yourself a favor and buy a lens that is "fast" by looking for a lens that has a low "f stop" number... So look for a lens that is f2.8 or even faster. Is f2.8 fast enough? That depends. It is much faster than f4.0....but it is much slower than f1.4. So...the lower the number the faster...and the more light can get in that little box. Just remember it this way...the lower number is gonna be faster.

But, wait a minute...that inexpensive do-it-all zoom you were thinking of buying is a f4-f5.6! And...you really want that zoom.

OK...go ahead and buy it. Have fun.

Now...the rest of you...the one's willing to take some advice you didn't ask for or pay for...those of you still reading this....and those still wanting to really improve your shots...keep reading.

Here is a tip:

Your family and friends will be more impressed when you can take a shot and get a nice pic that you could not get before...and that will probably happen more often if you use faster lenses. Really.

So are fast lenses expensive?

Yes....they can be.

But...you can buy a fast lens for less than $90 US and that lens is one of the best/sharpest made by Canon (the 50mm f1.8). So it doesn't have to be expensive. Of course if you have the money to spend...you can buy very expensive fast lenses too.

Question: Do the make fast zooms (I still wanna zoom)?

Answer: Yes. Go buy one. You will be spoiled. Look for a f2.8 zoom to start.

After you have used a fast lens...you will be spoiled. It happens.

But, most importantly, when you have a fast lens on your camera...you will be so impressed with the improved autofocus ability...you will be able to capture more light in your digital box and you will be able to get shots that were impossible with a slow lens. In my opinion, a fast lens is much more "liberating" than a zoom or tele. Also, the ability to pick a fast lens is going to allow you to take more shots without flash...and that almost always improves shots (as flash can look very artificial...especially if you use the on camera flash).

I bet that most photographers could see more significant improvement in their photography by the use of a fast lens. Of course there are other things that will vastly improve most photographers (new owners) shots...and those will come in a future Steadman's Latest Tips posting...

Hope this helps someone someday.

Good light to you all,

Steadman

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