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I Stopped Zooming the Lens & My Pictures Look Much Better

April 27, 2012

If you bought a DSLR with one or two kit lenses, chances are,your lens was most probably an 18-55 mm zoom with an aperture of ƒ3.5 – ƒ5.6 or a 55 – 200mm ƒ4.5 -ƒ6.3. After a bit of experimentation, you have probably found that it is reasonably sharp, and in daylight you get good results, but indoors, or in bad light, some shots are a bit dark and blurry. Disappointing, but pretty normal for most first time buyers. You spent good money, so there must be something wrong with the camera? Not necessarily. The kit lenses are amazing value for money, but at best, they are a compromise.

Modern manufacturing and mass production techniques have produced a group of lenses that are miracles of sharpness and feature anti-shake and zoom, at unbelievably low prices. When used within their limitations, they are fine, but when the light levels drop, things get nasty. Firstly, when you zoom, the aperture reduces. As a function of the lens design, ƒ3.5 becomes ƒ5.6. thus letting in less light. The camera then reduces its shutter speed to cope with the smaller aperture. If you are hand holding the camera, suddenly you are trying to capture a magnified image at a slow shutter speed. Instead of a sharp image, what you get instead, is a blurry one caused by camera shake.

If you have also set the ISO to increase automatically, you get noise as well. Hmmm! “What about anti-shake”, I hear you ask? Well, it certainly helps, but in my experience, it is never as good as the manufacturers claim. If the light is bad, you are stuck with trying to handhold a lens that has magnified the image, but is operating at slow shutter speeds and high ISO. Not the ideal conditions for sharpness.

My other personal bugbear with kit zooms or zooms in general, is that they lead to laziness. They cause photographers to stand in one spot and simply zoom to fill the frame. This doesn’t encourage exploring a subject and finding different viewpoints and perspectives which add excitement to your pictures.

There are two solutions. One is not to zoom the lens, but take a few steps forward to fill the frame. Leave your lens at the wide-angle end, where the aperture is bigger and brightest and move in close to frame your shot. This has the dual benefit of a higher shutter speed and a better exploration of the subject.

My second solution is to buy a single focal length, (non zoom) lens. There are some wonderful ones available at relatively inexpensive prices. Most major camera and (some secondary lens) manufacturers offer 35mm, 50mm, 85mm fixed focal length lenses with large apertures, such as ƒ1.8, at very reasonable prices. Suddenly, you have a very sharp lens that is 300% brighter than your supplied kit zoom. You can now shoot in low light levels, hand-held, without blur and shake. No boosted ISO leading to noise and even better, softly blurred backgrounds that make your subjects pop. Emphasised sharpness and a soft dreamy background add magic. Your pictures will improve dramatically.

There are also some exceptional single focal length macro lenses available ranging in focal length from 40mm to 200mm. These are great value and can also be used for general photography, while allowing close-ups of small subjects such as flowers.

Give yourself a challenge and take some pictures without zooming your lens, or try out a single focal length. You’ll be delighted with the results.

zoom lens envy

Zoom lens envy (Photo credit: jiva)


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