Ken Rockwell: Don't buy a midrange zoom. Carry a fixed 50mm instead, like a pro.

Started Dec 17, 2012 | Discussions thread
Matsu Senior Member • Posts: 2,176
The Reuters perspective

Thom had an interesting analysis of Reuters top/winning photos from 2012. It's not quite an endorsement of 50 prime vs standard zoom argument, but a valuable perspective nonetheless. Most of the winning photos were shot with either 16-35 or 70-200 lenses, but this is photo journalism and the big problems are always trying to either too close (need the wide) or too far (need the tele).

17-35 goes wide but gets you close enough to wide-normal (35) and 70-200 goes long, but gets you close enough to long-normal (70mm) that in that case a 50 can be a light weight way to plug that gap and save carrying one extra heavy lens, especially if you've already got two heavy cameras hanging at your sides, or, god forbid, 3-4 cameras. I have seen 'togs so attired, though usually with a super tele on a monopod making up the extra camera.

But it really depends on the usage case. I think 50 and 35-70 range is the hardest to shoot well, things look more or less normal, they are are different, but subtly so, you have to pay a lot of attention to where you are relative to the subject and scene. Ultra-wides create all kinds of converging lines and foreground-background dialogue. Teles compress and isolate. Normals do those things only subtly, you have to be extra thoughtful about your composition to provoke the lens effects in a complimentary way.

So, the standard zoom is an interesting challenge, like the 50, if you can shoot it well, you can shoot anything. An interesting note is that it's getting wider. We've gone from 35-70, to 28-70, to 24-70. And the 24-28 range isn't really normal at all, it produces wide angle effects and you have to take care to place the subject in a flattering way. When you've mounted something like a 24-70, you now have to have two different mindsets using that lens to shoot people, because it is also a wide and a normal.

I think 24mm is about the limit for being able to shoot a small group of people at a moderate distance without too much perspective distortion, if you're careful, but you can easily induce it either on purpose or by accident.

I wonder when we'll see a 20-70mm lens and what that will look like. 20mm is very wide and would effectively combine 2 classic zoom ranges 20-35 and 35-70 into one lens...

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