Thursday, September 22, 2011

Wednesday Photoshop Q&A - Wanting A New Lens

Today's question comes, not from searches that pointed to the blog but, from a short conversation with a guy who works with my wife.  We just happened to cross paths with him and he said he wanted to ask for my recommendation for a new lens.  Boy, is that a loaded question.  We had the length of an elevator ride to establish a problem statement.  The obvious question was "what are you shooting that you feel you need another lens?"  His explanation was that the kids were getting a little older and starting getting into sports.  The kit lens that came with the camera just wasn't getting him as close as he wanted/needed.  Next question: what sports are we talking about?  The big three were gymnastics, basketball and soccer.  The other factor was budget.  So, we have the problem statement.  To find my recommendations, hit the "Read More".

One of the first things would be the old adage:  "be prepared to spend more on glass that you spent on the camera body".  No matter what you spend on the body, chances are great that the glass (lenses) is going to cost you more.  If you're a professional like a Moose Peterson (no relation) you'll buy the top of the line body.  Moose shoots with a Nikon D3s and two D3x.  The D3s is his cheaper backup camera and goes for about $5200.00.  The D3x models (we're talking body only on both models) runs about $8000.00.  Yikes!  To do the thing he's famous for (wildlife), one of his goto lenses is a Nikkor 600mm F4.  That puppy goes for about $10,300.00.  See, buy the most expensive camera Nikon (or Canon, or Sony)  has and the lens you want/need still costs more.  But, he wouldn't have bought it if it wasn't going to pay for itself.  That the big caveat with the pros.  The expense doesn't matter, because the billings justify whatever is being paid.
So much for the high end.  Let's take it back down to the realm of reality for most of us.  An introductory level Canon camera is $500.00 or more with a "kit lens".  An 18 - 55 mm is typical.  Going back to the discussion we have on the table, you're screwed.  The reality of the situation is that the questioner has two problems.  He's interested in two indoor sports and one outdoor sport.  The indoor sports take place in notoriously dim spaces.  It looks fine to the human eye, but to a camera lens it's like shooting into a pit.  So, a fast lens with a moderate zoom is the answer to that problem.  The outdoor sport (soccer) is played on a large field, primarily (for kids) in the daylight.  That answer is a slower lens with a greater maximum zoom level.
For the first case, the gymnastics and basketball, a 70 - 200 F2.8 lens is probably the best, most cost efficient lens for mom and dad taking shots of the kids.  That doesn't mean it's cheap.  Canon has a range of 70 - 200 mm zoom lenses.  On the low end there's an F4 lens that goes for $675.00 or so.  The problem with that one is that there's no IS (Image Stabilization) and it's one stop lower than an F2.8.  Canon says their IS gives "up to" 4 stops.  Okay.  We have one stop slower and 4 stops due to the IS.  What does that mean?  Inside we'd shoot wide open.  That means F2.8 @ 1/500 sec.  the shutter speed is needed to freeze the action.  If we go to the cheaper lens let's see what that gives us.  To have the same exposure, using the F4 lens, we're automatically at 1/250 second.  Factor is the 4 stops of gain gotten for the IS ability of the better lens and you would have to shoot at 1/15th second.  With the non IS lens racked out to 200 mm you might as well leave the camera in the bag.  Every shot is going to suffer from motion blur.  In the best of situations you're not going to hand hold at 200mm @ 1/15th second.  The down side of the better lens (the 70 - 200mm F2.8 with IS) is that it goes for @2400.00.  Ouch!
The outdoor sport (soccer) is easier on the wallet, but still not a freebie.  From mid-field, the goalie can be covered reasonably well with a 300 mm lens.  A 300 mm lens, with the Canon DSLR multiplier of 1.6 is equal to a 480mm lens on a 35mm film camera.  The good news is that the low end Canon 70-300mm F4-5.6 IS lens is probably "good enough" for a family shooter.  Even better news is that it only costs $550.00.  (wipe the sweat off the brow with that one).  Canon does have more expensive 70-300mm lenses, but almost a 3x price factor to get to their L-series is pretty iffy for a family lens.  The speed of the lens (F4-5.6) is fine for sunny, semi shady and somewhat overcast daylight shooting.  For days with really dark skies it's probably getting somewhat iffy.  But, for any "Park and Rec" type soccer it'll probably be called off if the threat of rain is imminent. 
So, there you have it.  One question that requires two answers.  One caveat would be if the camera is very new.  Newer models from Nikon, Canon and others have much better noise control.  You'd be able to crank up the sensor sensitivity (ISO) and compensate (a little) for a slower lens.  But, that's probably a step-up body from the basic camera kit.  There's always a give and take, and it always costs more money.