Through A Lens, Brightly

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.

Coupled with the recent improvement in higher ISO image processing, having a constant aperture zoom or prime with a wide maximum aperture opens up new low-light handheld shooting options that we’ve never before experienced. True, mounting any lens on a tripod makes low-light work available to everyone, but tripod-aided shooting is not always feasible, or even allowed in some venues.

Special lens coatings, the inclusion of aspherical elements, internal focusing, and fast, quiet motors have also done their part, making the lens you choose an essential element in enabling you to make images that beforehand would have been difficult at best.

The lesson is that lenses are as essential to fulfilling your vision as is the camera body you choose, the software you use to process the image, and the printer and paper with which you make prints. Yes, focal length needs to match the subject at hand, but unless you’re doing nature or specialized work, oftentimes you can “zoom with your feet” and make due with whatever lens you have at hand. But it’s the build and inside of the lens that counts most, and understanding just what a lens affords in quality and capability is as important these days as is the focal length and angle of view the optic delivers.

A lens can be a lifetime investment, and treated right it will give you many, many more years than the camera body on which you mount it. Cameras have “shutter cycles” and sensors and processors will certainly change for the better as time goes on, so upgrading there every couple of years makes sense. But a lens is something that you will probably have for many more years than any camera body you own, so choose wisely, my friend, and enjoy the benefits of today’s optics for many years to come.