A tale of two lenses – David Ceruti
I have this list – the one that gets longer and longer and more and more expensive. Call it the “I need” list or want list or lust list, we all have it. At the top of my list was a replacement for my 50mm f1.8. But, why another 50 1.8?? This a chance to UPGRADE! It didn’t take long for reality to set in – about as long as it took me to price a f1.2. So, back to Photo.net, leading to a toss-up between a 100mm f2.8 macro or a 85mm F1.8, both fast, sharp, reasonably priced and with USM focussing.
In the end the 85 got the vote – cheaper and over an F-stop faster. Not much until photographing a band when it means the difference between 1/20 and 1/50 second. Add a little flash and, voilla, nice sharp images. Image stabilisation would have been nice, though concerts and beer go well together and a few Windhoeks tend to keep the hands steady.
Decision made, off to Kameraz to see if what the chances of getting a 2nd hand lens. O 85 but something interesting and cheap – in this case a Sigma 600mm mirror lens. For those of you who don’t know mirror lenses, they are a lot like a reflecting telescope with curved mirrors to focus the image. On the plus side you get a very compact lens with no chromatic aberrations, on the negative side – a fixed aperture of f8 and out of focus areas full of distracting circles (because of the second mirror in the middle of the lens opening). And, on this particular version, manual focus.
But, WOW, 600mm without needing a bond to pay for it so, an ex post facto addition to the list and less money for the rest. And what about the 85? Easy, an invite to photograph at the Loskop Dam Blues Festival, a credit card, and off we went.
So, how did they work? I used the 85 a lot at the Blues Festival and found the extra speed really useful. Firstly, shooting by hand was a breeze (Note to students – this is one of the very few times when a tripod doesn’t work…) and it could freeze all but the most energetic jumping around, especially if I pushed the ISO up a few stops. Also, a bit of flash – about -1 to – 2 on the FEC – helped bring the performers out from the background and emphasised the smoke for a nice atmosphere. The blurred background also helped a lot.
I was initially a bit apprehensive about shooting with a fixed focus lens when there is so much going on around the place but I found that I was using it in a totally different way from a zoom. Because you can’t change the view, I found that I concentrated more on what was in the frame and less on the rest of the stage – I was looking with the camera, rather with looking with my eyes and then trying to get the camera to record what I saw. Also, I fiddled less and got into the action more. See the pics and judge for yourself.
Now a 600mm f8 manual focus is not going to work at a concert but it was great when I got onto a roof in the middle of downtown Joburg for sunset a few Sundays ago. Once again, the fixed focal length gave a different way of looking at the scenery but now the long focal length meant that only a small part of the buildings nearby fitted into the frame and became abstract compositions rather than structures. A nice alternative to the panoramic views one normally sees. And, little scraps of scenery become photos instead of background blur.
Shooting into the sun meant that the relative softness of the lens wasn’t noticeable and the high contrast gave me an opportunity to play with HDR pics (combining different exposures into one image). For closer compositions, the 85mm came out of the bag . here I was using a tripod so the speed of the lens only helped make the exposure times a bit less time consuming – believe me, a series of 30 sec exposures, with a the wait for noise reduction in between, starts getting boring after the fourth or fifth composition.