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12-31-2009, 12:16 PM   #1
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Camera Progress and Lens Aperture

I was debating whether to post this under the Pentax lens discussion forum or here. But it seems this subject could spread in a number of directions, so I put it here under "Everything Else." Moderators, feel free to move it if you think you should.

I just finished reading an article about shooting at high ISOs in this month's Digital Photo magazine (with a big Pentax K-7 ad on the back cover!). In fact, it's now available online:

http://www.dpmag.com/how-to/shooting/the-iso-advantage.html

Many of the shots were taken at apertures of f/4 and smaller - some at f/11. ISOs were all in the 1600-3200 range on a Nikon D3. And it occured to me.... will the new high-ISO capabilities offered by DSLRs mean lenses with fast apertures will be less important going forward?

Now, of course, there will be cases in which one will use aperture to control depth of field. But many of us, with some thinking, can still get a reasonably narrow DOF with apertures of f/2.8 and slower. It seems to me that the era of requiring really fast lenses in order to get acceptable images in low light may be coming to a close.

Pentax's own line of Limited lenses may be a case in point. Currently I am trying to decide if I want to begin collecting the DA or FA Limiteds. The DA's are less money but their smaller apertures (in relative terms to the FA Limiteds) have always put me off. Granted, it's difficult to have large apertures with lenses so small. But one has to wonder if Pentax knew we wouldn't need apertures in the sub- f/2.0 range for much longer.

Now, it is true that the images in this article were taken with a Nikon D3 - a full frame camera. But look at the progress Pentax's K-x has made in the area of high-ISO image quality. I'm sure, with improvements in both sensor and software technology, that it won't stop there.

On one hand, I think really fast prime lenses will continue to exist for specialty work. But on the other hand, I have to wonder if they will be relegated to a very high-priced niche for professionals only. If one looks at Pentax's line of lenses alone, one can't be faulted for thinking this might be the case.

So... it's the old question: Will technology trump skill and craftsmanship once again?


Last edited by Biro; 12-31-2009 at 12:27 PM.
12-31-2009, 12:47 PM   #2
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I would not put the question in those terms. (Stimulating post by the way)

I would say: there has long been a need for small aperture in photography; from landscapes to portraits to wide angles to macro. The usual consumer digital has not fully catered to this need - high ISO performance as you mention, but also: the difficulties with long shutter times, noise reduction, diffraction.

I'd also say: the large aperture lens is a need, though more marginal than most think. Apart from DOF effects and near-darkness shooting, most photography lives between f/4 and f/11... Large aperture is a trophy for most of us.
12-31-2009, 03:38 PM   #3
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Anything less than full frame digital is more similar in appearance to subminiature format than 35mm film.
Shorter focal length lenses, often slower, yield greater depth of field. Selective focus is not really possible.
That's why most digital photos look like they could have come from an Instamatic...

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01-01-2010, 06:57 AM   #4
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QuoteQuote:
Now, of course, there will be cases in which one will use aperture to control depth of field. But many of us, with some thinking, can still get a reasonably narrow DOF with apertures of f/2.8 and slower. It seems to me that the era of requiring really fast lenses in order to get acceptable images in low light may be coming to a close.
In the past, lenses were built fast because film was slow and the designs were relatively simple to make.

That isn't the case anymore, especially with zoom lenses. The are an order or two in magnitude more complicated to design and build.

QuoteQuote:
Anything less than full frame digital is more similar in appearance to subminiature format than 35mm film.
Shorter focal length lenses, often slower, yield greater depth of field. Selective focus is not really possible.
That's why most digital photos look like they could have come from an Instamatic...
Selective focus is used to bypass a limitation in the depth of focus of larger sensors/film sizes. It doesn't mesh with the way people perceive the world, so it was adapted to draw focus to the subject while minimizing the background. Photographers are more enamored with narrow DoF than anyone else.

01-01-2010, 08:07 AM   #5
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QuoteQuote:
Now, of course, there will be cases in which one will use aperture to control depth of field. But many of us, with some thinking, can still get a reasonably narrow DOF with apertures of f/2.8 and slower. It seems to me that the era of requiring really fast lenses in order to get acceptable images in low light may be coming to a close.
There have always been other techniques for getting acceptable images in low light.

Really fast lenses have always had their place, and always will for the reason you cite: controlling DOF. The flip side of that is that they're often abused, in other words used inappropriately, by photographers who see them as the holy grail when they really don't need them for the kind of images they make. Once they've spent the money they're bound and determined to use them when the results are less than appealing.

Technology is a grand thing, but knowing how to use it properly is just as important.
01-01-2010, 09:09 AM   #6
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Two advantages of fast lenses which have nothing to do with high ISO capabilities are better viewfinder brightness and better AF performance.
It doesn't matter how good your viewfinder is, or how responsive your AF is, both will be improved by a faster lens.
01-01-2010, 10:25 AM   #7
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QuoteOriginally posted by Wheatfield Quote
Two advantages of fast lenses which have nothing to do with high ISO capabilities are better viewfinder brightness and better AF performance.
It doesn't matter how good your viewfinder is, or how responsive your AF is, both will be improved by a faster lens.
True enough, at least at this point in time. One wonders if technology won't change that as well. I suspect AF will come first. Optical viewfinders are more reliant on the laws of physics.
01-02-2010, 12:19 AM   #8
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QuoteOriginally posted by Biro Quote
True enough, at least at this point in time. One wonders if technology won't change that as well. I suspect AF will come first. Optical viewfinders are more reliant on the laws of physics.
Better is always better. This applies to lens speed, as well.

01-02-2010, 09:02 AM   #9
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QuoteOriginally posted by Biro Quote
True enough, at least at this point in time. One wonders if technology won't change that as well. I suspect AF will come first. Optical viewfinders are more reliant on the laws of physics.
What can technology change? If you give the camera more light to work with, it is going to perform better.
Everything is reliant on the laws of physics.
01-02-2010, 10:20 AM   #10
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The big reason I'm a fast-lens fiend is the snappier MF with the old school bodies, ...razor-thin DOF is not something I've been particularly attached to, actually. With the modern screens (for all their accuracy issues) decent AF, and the ability to pump up the ISO at will, it's less of a concern for me if something's an f2 or a 1.8 or a 1.4 or a 1.2. Usually I want to stay off that widest stop if at all possible, anyway.

Still wish Pentax would make a 'screen for fast lenses:' making the kit lens (or anything that slow) look brighter just isn't a priority in my world.
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