There’s something about a fixed focal length lens that brings the photographer out in me. It forces me to move in and back from compositions without resorting to a zoom. Yes, there are times when a zoom is most appreciated—especially the fast constant aperture zooms now available—but a prime puts me in a mindset that a zoom has yet to match.
In this issue we take a look at and through lenses and discover some of the work by photographers who use optics in unique and clever ways. It gives us a chance to appreciate how far lens tech has advanced, and some of the wondrous ways they allow us to see the world.
While what work is produced is more interesting than how a lens is produced, there’s no question that the latest developments in lens building have opened up many exciting photo opportunities that had not been available to us in the past. One of the most exciting advances has been in Image Stabilization (IS) technology, now more common than not in new lens offerings. While putting IS (which goes under various and sundry brand names) into a fairly slow lens, like kit lenses that might start at f/3.5 or f/4 maximum aperture, and then quickly drop to perhaps f/5.6 at the tele end of the zoom, is certainly helpful, it gets much more interesting when IS goes into a fast lens, like an f/2 or f/2.8 prime or zoom.
There’s no question that camera makers have been busy of late. They’ve brought out many new models, some basically upgrades from previous models, but also those that blaze new trails in digital photography and camera design. Updates these days are often built around new tech developments or, more likely, the inclusion of some sort of sharing or Wi-Fi functionality.
I don’t think there’s much doubt that, all things being equal, larger sensors are capable of delivering superior image quality. The very fact that more sensor sites are available means that there’s better performance in low light, less noise in shadow areas, and that cropping does not mean making compromises in the image’s integrity. Now that the megapixel race has settled down, somewhat, and compact system cameras allow for lens interchangeability without requiring large packs to accommodate gear, a new trend is emerging where the classic D-SLR form is seeing more and more full-frame models aimed at attracting the enthusiast photographer.
When images are composed of codes and “addresses” they are open to all sorts of interpretations. Unlike film, where the image characteristics were, if you will, boiled into the emulsion, digital images are ultimately malleable and occasional capricious things. Major capture indiscretions aside, you can do what you please with an image. Want red balloons rather than blue? A few deft touches can change the entire party mood. Want your grass greener? Just slide that slider and you’ll have a lawn to make any suburbanite proud. Want to have zebras on the moon gamboling with unicorns in an idyllic wood? Gather the elements and composite them accordingly.
In an attempt to connect everything electronic, this year’s CES/PMA show in Las Vegas was awash in “smart” TVs, tablets, and various and sundry devices that can link to your device—be it phone, tablet, or camera—and allow you to access “image content” anywhere, anytime. There was also a rash of rough cameras, a 3D lens for still and video, new ways to customize your camera, and a major boost in USB storage and memory card speed. Following are some photo tech highlights.
I must admit to mixed feelings about the ongoing “connectedness” craze. On the one hand you have to admire technology that allows you to link the images in your camera with various mobile devices, convenient I am sure for some, and that now even lets you shoot and share at one touch of a button. On the other hand I am uncertain how this has anything to do with seeing and making quality images that speak to your instincts and feelings about the world around you. I note that some companies make this connected ability the headline of their new products, while others take it more in stride and list it as just another feature.
What is the optimal ISO setting for each shot? How do you decide on the ISO setting to balance shooting needs and image quality? Given that the lowest ISO possible gets you the best image quality, how do you make decisions based on lighting conditions and shooting needs, such as when you need increased shutter speed for hand held shooting or narrower apertures for increased depth of field? How do you decide whether ISO 100, 400 or 800 is best?
Think of the image you create with your digital camera as a negative and that you are a master printer who can take that negative and make as good a print as you have ever seen. When you adopt that mindset you begin to understand the potential of each shot. The expectation that you can do something more with an image can be built into every type of lighting condition, contrast and exposure problem you might face. The attitude should not be that you can “fix it” in software, it is that you should think beyond the exposure to what can be done to the image later when you download it to your computer and work with it in software.
While we might not realize it we have all been making portraits since the day we were born. We recognized the shapes and proportions of the face as being of our own kind, and grew to recognize the features of those who were near to us and were dependent upon. We also began to understand that as we went out in the world how the rearrangement of those features boded ill or well, and began to understand the looks of love, empathy, anger, fear, and even indifference. The ability to read those signs was what enabled us to cope with the world and the people who inhabit it.