Nothing Beats a Great Piece of Glass!

Photo by Todd Vorenkamp © 2015 B&H Photo-Video All Rights Reserved

I got a lot of feedback – mostly positive but with a few spirited rejoiners – to last month’s editorial “Smartphones (Still) Can’t Compete with Great Camera Gear," that I feel I should “double down.” Again, this isn’t a knock against using smartphones for shooting images. As I mentioned last month, I do it all the time with some pretty decent results. And many serious photographers are constantly turning to that little phone in their pockets and have produced many spectacular photos.

And here at Shutterbug, we’re paying sharp attention to the steadily increasing popularity of mobile photography. In fact our April 2015 issue was devoted to the phenomenon and we included a round-up of our “Favorite Smartphones and Apps for Mobile Photography” both in that issue and online. We’ve also recently launched a column in Shutterbug magazine called “Going Mobile” where we interview photographers who are taking great photos with their phones or other mobile devices.

Having said all that, there’s one area where smartphones just can’t compete with traditional cameras: lens quality. The reason I bring this up again is to point out some of the recent lens coverage we’ve had on, which shows just how far ahead, high-quality interchangeable lenses for cameras are over those tiny plastic optics in smartphones. Again, smartphones are fine for taking images of subjects that are right in front of your nose but if you have to do any type of serious zooming, or you want sharp results in low light with a blurred background that you’d get with a real lens with a fast aperture, you’re basically screwed.

Here are a few highlights of our lens coverage on this past month. Take a look and I think you’ll agree that smartphone lenses have what seems to be an insurmountable task in competing with great glass:

• In early May, we posted Joe Farace’s report on his “Favorite Lenses for Weddings, Portraits, and Boudoir Photography.”

• Joe followed up that piece with a review of the Lensbaby Velvet 56 portrait lens, noting “this is the kind of portrait lens that the more you use it, the more uses you will find for it.”

• In mid-May, Jack Neubart reviewed the Tamron SP15-30mm f/2.8 Di FC USD lens, saying it “gave me new insight into subjects I’d already photographed. In fact, I found myself aggressively attacking every scene with a newly inspired verve."

• Later in May, Neubart reviewed the Canon EF 11-24mm f/4L USM lens. “The 11mm focal length literally opens your eyes to a new world. And trust me, you can’t appreciate it till you’ve experienced it,” Neubart wrote. “Optically you can’t do better in this focal-length range.”

• And finally, just last week, Henry Posner shared his reflections on what it’s like to shoot with a truly exotic piece of glass: the Canon Super Telephoto 1200mm f/5.6L EF USM Autofocus Lens. You can see an image of that extremely pricey ($180,000) and extremely large, 36-pound lens, captured by Todd Vorenkamp, at the top of this story. “Photographing the Statue of Liberty from the Manhattan Bridge with the Brooklyn Bridge between us was a wonderful experience,” Posner wrote. “But to me the lens’ ability to compress perspective, bringing distant objects seemingly stacked one on top of another is what gives images from this lens its unique look.”

Sure it costs more than what most corporate CEOss make in a year, but try topping that with your dinky smartphone lens!