wideangle – the other side of telephoto

Last summer I rented a 50-500mm telephoto zoom and had a blast capturing the wildlife around Lost Lagoon, here in Vancouver's idyllic Stanley Park.

This Christmas I wanted to capture the wonder and beauty of the many brightly coloured lights we decorate our homes and businesses with to help dispel these dark days of winter solstice.

There were two criteria I wanted to meet ...

  1. to recreate that sense of wonder, I wanted to capture as wide a field of view as I could, and
  2. to capture these images at night I needed some fairly fast glass.

Once again, Leo's Cameras came to the rescue.  For two days I rented two slightly different lenses ...

  1. a 16-55mm wideangle ƒ2.8 lens, and
  2. a 35mm ƒ1.4 fixed prime.

DA16-50 f2.8The 16-55mm lens has a focal length similar to the lens that came with my camera (18-55mm), but the difference in the speed of the glass was significant, going from ƒ4.5 to ƒ2.8, over two full stops brighter.  With my ƒ4.5 lens, I would have had to use an ISO of over 800, which, in low light situations, starts to introduce digital noise into the image, considered by most to not be acceptable.  With the ƒ2.8 lens, I could keep the ISO down to 800 or lower and still have a fairly fast exposure that would allow me to hold the lens in my hands rather than have to drag out a tripod.  The human body is capable of holding a camera still enough to capture an image without motion or shake blur at around 1/60th of a second. Anything slower and you should use a tripod - we just can't hold still for long enough.

M35 f1.4The fixed 35mm ƒ1.4 prime was a whole new experience.  All the lenses I have used so far have been variants of zoom lenses (i.e. they have a range of focal lengths).  Normally I compose by zooming in or out to "crop in camera", changing the focal length of the lens.  With a fixed focal length lens, composition must be done by physically moving the camera around, a bit of a lost art with today's technology.  It takes more than a bit of getting used to, but it really brings out a whole new creative sensibility, a much different type of photography.  Being a full 1½ stops faster than the 16-55mm offers even more flexibility in terms of capturing enough light at fast exposures - much easier to work with in low light situations.

Conclusions?

  1. A fixed prime lens requires a whole new way of thinking about composition.  In hindsight, taking this type of lens out for a first time shoot at night was probably a bit of an over reach on my part.  After taking a few shots, I knew the situation I was in (night time at the Vancouver Fire Dept Christmas Train, full of young excited children) wasn't going to allow me the time of opportunity to make a good study of it, so I switched back to the 16-55mm ƒ2.8 lens.
  2. No matter how fast your lens is, capturing low noise, high quality images in very low light situations is not easy and a tripod, or at least a monopod is probably a really good idea.

That said, I achieved my goal of getting enough sufficiently high quality images that I could print my own Christmas cards and create this year's Christmas video for my online friends ... enjoy!

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Merry Christmas everyone!


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