Saturday, August 6, 2016

To Zoom or Not to Zoom

We’ve all heard the famous quotes:

“If your pictures aren't good enough, you're not close enough,” - Robert Capa

“The best zoom lens is your legs.”  - Ernst Haas

I’ve never been a big fan of zoom lenses, but I will on occasion use them. The first zoom lenses I experimented with had poor resolving power and contrast and rendered an image soft and flat. By the late 1980’s technology had advanced such that fast, sharp zoom lenses became a practical option.
Today zoom lenses are standard equipment for most working photographers.

I will use a zoom lens on those occasions I want to go out with only one camera but still have the option to chose different focal lengths without carrying more gear.

When I make a photograph I first compose the image in my mind then I determine the focal length that will make that composition possible. I then position myself so that the chosen focal length and envisioned composition come together to make the picture. I tend to use the zoom lens the same way I would use a fixed focal length lens. I don’t use the zoom to determine the composition. The composition comes first then the selection of the appropriate focal length to achieve the composition.

I’m primarily a 28mm shooter. But if I “see” an scene that calls for a 50mm lens, I choose my point of view, walk there and then select the 50mm setting on my zoom and make the picture. I certainly prefer to use fixed focal length lenses, but I will at times choose a zoom lens simply for its flexibility.

In the same way a photograph is made by the photographer and not the camera, the lens doesn’t make the composition. Your legs are still the best means of composing an image to match your vision, a zoom lens just makes the work a bit easier once you’re standing in the right spot.

Photo: ©2015 David W. Sumner

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