Read Between the Lens

You’re welcome for that title.

Based off yesterday’s post, today I went through all my old lenses and cameras to see if I already had anything that could be a decent zoom lens for candids or walkabouts. Turns out I really don’t, unfortunately (although I did find a terrible Canon EF 75-300mm telephoto lens with no IS that I bought for cheap and was only ever able to take incredibly blurry shots with due to camera shake), so I will probably still at some point purchase one. But I did pull out some of the older lenses to snap photos with them and see if they were worth keeping. Since buying my 17-40mm I have used it exclusively, and feeling pretty spoiled by the L-series glass, I haven’t wanted to put any of the EF ones back on the camera.

One lens I dug out was an old Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II I bought two years ago; it’s a decent lens but in playing around with it this morning, I see no real reason to keep it. Although it gets lots of kudos for speed and clarity, I don’t see anything in the results that would ever motivate me to put it on the camera instead of my 17-40 – it’s a very inexpensive lens though, and well worth the purchase if you are in need. 

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It’s fine, but not much different from what my 17-40 can do. And yes, we do need to rake the backyard. Don’t hold your breath on that. 

Another lens I pulled out and was impressed with, though, was my Canon EF 85mm f/1.8. This is described as an excellent portrait lens, which is why I bought it, and I used it interchangeably with the 50mm until I bought the 17-40mm in 2012. The big deal about the 85mm is its relatively inexpensive bottom line (can be had for about $360) and the beautiful bokeh (blurred background) it creates. While bokeh isn’t important to me in most of my studio portraits as I use a solid backdrop, I’d rather forgotten how important it can be to a portrait in a candid or outdoor setting, when there’s a lot going on behind the subject. Also, it’s a pretty decent zoom length and could be used to avoid having to get right up on a subject to take a good portrait, which is something that bothered me about the 17-40 when taking photos on Christmas Eve. However, this is a prime lens, so I can’t adjust the focal length while taking shots, which means this still wouldn’t be a good walkabout lens in my opinion – I don’t want to zoom in on everything when I’m out and about, and with this one there’s no option. But in the future I need to keep in mind that I have this lens in my bag, and take it out when snapping shots of people in tight quarters, as it makes for a really pretty close-up shot.

For the hell of it, here’s a comparison of the blurring using the 18mm and the 17-40mm. These aren’t great photos or anything, just similar ones:

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Simon using the 17-40mm. Some blurring of the background is evident, but not much.

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Another shot of Simon, using the 85mm. That is some seriously pretty bokeh – it’s just smooth and creamy as all get-out. Makes a big difference when you compare the two! 

And here’s some more pics I took of the pets today with the 85mm, just for the hell of it – the more I work with the test shots I took using this lens, the more I like it. Focus can be tricky with this lens, since it’s so narrow, but I may want to take this thing out and about more to get a better feel for it and see if it could be of use to me in the future (all I ever used it for before was portraits, so I don’t really know what else it can do):

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4 thoughts on “Read Between the Lens

  1. I love the idea of buying lenses for the appropriate shots. Some day I will post on losing a very expensive telephoto lens for my Spotmatic, which tumbled down a cliff in Spain (I think), because I had not screwed it on properly. Now, with the Canon, I have three additional lenses and plan to get at least two more for my city shots. However, half the time I miss the shot I want while I fiddle with removing the existing lens to put on the new. That and putting things on properly so I don’t repeat my old disaster, and putting them away properly while I take my shots so they are not scratched or lost, is equally cumbersome. I hate to admit it, but I tend to just keep the standard lens on, take all kinds of shots of the one scene I want and then wait to see which one I like best, deleting the others. Sort of a crude way to do it, but that way I don’t miss the thing that is so fleeting, while I try to identify just the right lens. Especially in urban settings where people and vehicles are interfering with photography in various ways, all the time. Just me-who-is-still-the-rank-amateur-after-twenty-five-years-of-picture-taking-and-multiple-cameras!, I guess, lol.

    • If I were doing walkabout, that’s why I would want a zoom lens and not a prime…you never know what you are going to encounter, and like you I am not quick with changing lenses or deciding what to use. Also, the different settings each lens requires makes it perilous for me – I tend not to remember that I need to change settings and disasters ensue. Hence my photos I am getting ready to post! Oh well. New lenses are fun, but there is always a frustrating learning curve – still, it’s learning, which can’t be bad!

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