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11-30-2013, 02:00 PM   #1
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Lens Question - Choosing The Length

So I get that 15 or 21 lenses are good for landscapes, but I am wondering too what the longer lengths are good for.

What purposes is a 70 best suited for?

And, like, is 200 enough for pictures way up in a baseball stadium grandstands, or a bird up in a tree?

Do the 600 and 1200 super zoom cameras and lenses really have any practical value? Or are they novelties, with limited image quality, more or less?

Would you say the longer the lens the less great the results, mostly? I know there are some crazy $10,000 long lenses, but let's keep our feet on the ground here.

I mean, I'm starting to think that realistically speaking 135 or so is about the longest you might want at the sub-$1,000 consumer level.

Just putting my thoughts out there for discussion!


11-30-2013, 02:03 PM - 1 Like   #2
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The 70mm can be used for portraits, though it works for everyday shooting too.

Longer focal lengths don't translate to poor image quality unless you get a low-quality lens, which applies to about any lens I'd say.
11-30-2013, 02:15 PM   #3
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The smaller the focal length the wider the angle of view. With wide angles of view, the foreground becomes very important in anchoring the picture and drawing the viewer's interest, since the background is pushed further back. Conversely, the larger the focal length the more telescopic the lens becomes, excluding foreground and area along the sides, thus focusing the viewer on the main subject.

Any lens can be a landscape lens. You can use a telephoto for a landscape shot. Say that the foreground is very uninteresting, you can go with a longer focal length to shoot over the foreground (thus excluding it). For instance, the distant mountain peaks can be isolated with a long telephoto.

You can also use wide angle lenses for interiors - a favorite of real estate photography.

Here is an interesting site for focal lengths and portraits.Also, the longer the focal length - the more difficult it is to hand hold it and get a steady shot, thus needing a tripod. The 600+ lengths are in my mind just a gimmick, when trying to hand hold the camera.

Overall, it all comes down to what you want in the image and what you want to exclude, and how you want to frame or compose it.

11-30-2013, 02:23 PM   #4
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I will chime in with my own story on this... before I ever owned a camera I was enamored with the long lenses. That's all I wanted. I hence bought a camera and had up to a 300mm lens...then I got another 70-200mm zoom lens with better aperture...

Then I shot zoom lenses for everything...

Now? After shooting a year? I own one zoom and that's my 70-200 and I haven't taken a shot with it in about 5 months.

I have migrated over to prime lenses and now that is all I shoot with the rare exception for an every now and then shot.

My most used focal length (on the crop sensor of my K-5) is a 28mm. Second most used is 50mm. I have almost the entire line up of DA Limited lenses but I simply just don't use them as much... but don't let this fool you... they are superb... I guess I am just going in 'phases' as to what I shoot with. What I am thinking after all the trial and error involved is that the 31mm is going to be my holy grail of lenses. It's speed and focal length are right down my alley.

So it short, I started out wanting (and getting) long lenses... but I ended up really using 'standard' lenses more than anything.

That said, I own the 70mm limited and that lens is SHARP and very good for portraits and stuff like that. It all depends on what kind of shooting you want to do. Just running around the streets and such? I am finding the 28 is by far my most used lens (with me still wanting the 31mm)... but even in this scenario the 70mm is good for subject isolation.

Truth be told almost any lens can be very useful, it just depends on your surroundings and WHAT you want to shoot and what kind of effect you want .At present I could easily get by with one lens (31mm) LOL...

There is no one that can answer your question about lenses but you... just put some leg work in and develop your style... a little old fashioned method called 'trial and error' is what I did.

The real trick in all this is choosing the tool you need for the scenario you need it for. That's a good skill to have. For example recently I went to a Renaissance Festival and the 28mm made framing shots so much easier. You stop people and ask to take a can frame up a whole lot easier with that lens for people who aren't going to spend all day waiting on you...and it also gave 'context' to the photo without being 'too wide'...

In general the longer the lens more you are trying to isolate your least that's how I would see it. Sometimes that is desirable and sometimes it's not.

11-30-2013, 02:23 PM   #5
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Firstly wide angle lenses have a large depth of field which is great for landscapes as it means everything in focus. Fast lenses like Da70/2.4 are good for portraits as depth of field is narrow enough to blur the background and focus the image on the subject. Telephoto lenses at a bit like telescopes, they bring things closer to you. The problem is the longer the focal length the faster the shutter speed needed to stop camera shake blurring the image. Stabilisation (lens or body) helps but a fast aperture lens and a high ISO are all but essential in anything but good daylight. Unfortunately fast aperture long lenses require large expensive optical elements so there are no bargins. Consumer grade lenses like 55-300 are still very useful in daylight hours, and they are often sharp in the centre although usually softer on the edges, which is usually not where the subject is with telephoto lenses unless you are doing landscapes.
11-30-2013, 02:29 PM   #6
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Typically, you think of wide angles as landscape lenses, but obviously, you can use lenses however you want them. The problem with wide angles and portraiture is that if people get close to the edge of the frame, they can look kind of funny. Longer focal lengths are used more for portraiture because they don't tend to enlarge facial features like noses.

Really long lenses are tough to shoot with. They really require a sturdy tripod and/or really fast shutter speed to be usable. But there are certainly places for them.
11-30-2013, 02:29 PM   #7
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As for the longer lenses... I have seen several people who shoot landscapes with them... you need a tripod and stitching software (very easy and free)...this method for taking panorama's is very good actually but the challenge lies in how you will present an image with such detail to your audience. If you are going to print something 36 inches wide and 3 feet long... you would need to to take advantage of that amount of detail.

In the end of the day it's your canvas... do what you want with it.
11-30-2013, 02:43 PM   #8
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15/21 isn't exactly "the best" for landscapes. They capture a wide field of view -- which is great for many landscape photos. However sometimes you want to "close in" on something in the landscape as opposed to capture it completely and that requires a different focal length. Sometimes my 15mm is just right, other times I crave for something narrower because it's just capturing way too much.

It really depends on what focal length you use most often and what you're shooting.

11-30-2013, 03:11 PM - 1 Like   #9
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Just a comment on longer focal lengths. Check out the lens reviews and see what people have to say about longer focal length lenses. The images they include tell the story. But for any of us, there is a trade-off between focal length, weight (and physical length) of lens, what can be used for your applications and, of course, what you can afford. However when that "shot of a lifetime" comes, it also depends on what you have in your hand at the time.

There are zooms like the 18-200 that can do a perfectly acceptable job hand held (with fast enough shutter speed) photographing larger animals in the wild, unless you plan to blow up your image to about 30 inches. Going up a step, lenses like the Pentax 55-300/4-5.8 can produce sharp mages at 300mm. Beyond that, the 400/5.6 lenses can also be good and out in the field you could probably get some support against a tree to grab an opportunity shot. But if you want the best in sharp images, you will need a 400/2.8 with a tripod to match - and good luck carrying that around the bush all day!

The $10,000 plus lenses are the ones that you see on the score line at football games or at motor races - or maybe as part of a National Geographic expedition. Those beautifully composed shots of tigers in the early morning light are often taken in wildlife parks where the big equipment can be set up and the animal can be predicted to appear at the right place and the right time. Wolves or bears in the wild? Often these are animals coming to feed at bait stations - cunningly concealed so that they will not be seen in the shot. Most of these animals are somewhat habituated to humans. You would go a lifetime trying to get such images spontaneously in the wild and you probably would not have time to set up your 400/2.8 (or bigger) if the chance arose.Instead, you will grab that opportunity shot with your zoom or (if you are lucky enough to have the right lens at the right time) a 200 or 300 mm fixed focal length lens. And you will still get a good image if you can work fast enough.

As others have said, it is all about composition and the story that your image tells. Beyond that, it is what you want to use the image for. The cost of a lens is not everything, nor is the newest lens always the best. There are lots of sub-$1000 lenses that will produce professional grade images if you get the other variables under control.
11-30-2013, 03:21 PM - 2 Likes   #10
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QuoteOriginally posted by alamo5000 Quote
As for the longer lenses... I have seen several people who shoot landscapes with them... you need a tripod and stitching software (very easy and free)...this method for taking panorama's is very good actually but the challenge lies in how you will present an image with such detail to your audience. If you are going to print something 36 inches wide and 3 feet long... you would need to to take advantage of that amount of detail.

In the end of the day it's your canvas... do what you want with it.
You do not necessarily need stitching software See e.g. Why you Need a Telephoto Zoom Lens for Landscape Photography - Digital Photography School

As you said, it's your canvas.
11-30-2013, 03:48 PM - 1 Like   #11
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About my use of various focal lengths over the past two years. 8mm Bower fish-eye used for some cramped interiors @ Topkapi Palace; 8-16 Sigma used @8mm for interior of several mosques (Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, Suleiman Mosque); 40mm 2.8DA (for larger) & 70mm 2.4DA (for smaller) display articles inside numerous museums; 18-250mm Sigma used extensively outside for scenics, buildings, people, distant details, my most used walk-about lens for vacation/tourist pictures; 60-250mm Pentax, 300mmDA, and 50-500mm Sigma used for birds & other wildlife in Florida; 90mm Tokina & 200mm SMCA macros used for insects & flowers locally (200mm SMCA ED is my favorite lens, but not the most used); 50mm SMCA macro used inside for set-up macros (90 & 200 are too long for table-top); 50mm Rodenstock APO enlarging lens reverse mounted on bellows for high magnification macro (1:1 up to about 4X life size); 20mm Zeiss Luminar for macros above about 4X natural size (least often used optic). Lenses I own that are in semi-retirement: 10-20mm Sigma replaced by 8-16 Sigma, but is still used occasionally for studio set-ups (non-macro); 18-135mm DA replaced by the better & more versatile 18-250 Sigma; 400mm f4.0 Tamron manual focus (with 1.4XL & 2XL converters highly usable), because I don't do as much birds-from-a-blind as I did in the film era, but I have many good chromes taken with this lens on an LX, a ZX5N, and some with a *ist; 400 f5.6 SMCA that I thought might be lighter, more compact & give better image quality than the Bigma @ 400mm, but it doesn't, but it's such a beautiful lens I hate to part with it. The 8mm Bower fisheye is being replaced by a 10-17mm Pentax, as the latter is more compact, more versatile, and autofocus, but I'm unsure about the relative IQ. My 55-300mm Pentax hasn't been used for some long time, but it's so compact for the range and it give decent insect images @200mm with a Canon achromatic close-up lens. One I took in New Zealand with that rig was later published in a text book (I was contacted by someone who saw the image posted on PF). I also use a Pentax 100mm bellows reverse mounted on a 200mm SMCA for 2X macros of live & lively creatures in the studio.

If you photograph enough different things, almost any focal length will eventually be used.

Last edited by WPRESTO; 11-30-2013 at 03:55 PM.
11-30-2013, 04:44 PM - 1 Like   #12
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12mm Beauty Pool hot spring and 500mm Grizzly bear both from Yellowstone national Park. Need I say more?
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11-30-2013, 05:01 PM   #13
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I shoot mainly landscape and all lenses have their place. I am still developing my Pentax line-up, but I use to use a Canon 5D (full frame) and my favorite lens was either 24-70mm or 70-200L lens. With the 70-200 I was usually in the 150 range. I use it also for stitching photos together for a bigger canvas size. If I stayed with the Canon my next lens would have been the 17-40L, but I grew tired of the weight, size of the whole setup.
11-30-2013, 09:28 PM   #15
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I think by now you are getting the picture that focal length can be be used for a variety of images and personal preferences have a lot to do with what one likes to use. I have shot landscapes from 10mm to 300mm, and as Arnold showed in the previous post you can get an entirely different look of the same scene, and no stitching is required unless you are going for a grand panorama with lots of detail. I usually go long for wildlife because it's rare to get something very close and most animals fear humans. When you are going for tiny birds a long lens is pretty essential, at least 300 unless you get pretty lucky. In the Spring I rented a 50-500 zoom for that purpose, it worked well and was pretty easy to handhold. I like to use my Tamron 10-24 for buildings and things that you want to be close to and get it all in, yep, it may have a lot of distortion which sometimes works. And as said in a previous post a lot can stay in focus with those ultra wides. These are some of the lens choices that work for me, but in another year it may change a lot. My lens use can be very seasonal also. I do more wildlife and birds in Winter and Spring, more urban settings in Summer and Autumn. Remember, there is no right or wrong,

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