Focus on the Details

the chilliwack river in winter
The Chilliwack River in Winter

   When I first started getting serious with a “real” film camera I had a 28-90mm kit lens. Eventually I wished to move on from just taking random snapshots and actually gain more skills and take better photos. I read a bit on the internet about lenses and bought a Canon EF 50mm f/1.4. The “nifty fifty”. It was at this point that I realized the difference lens quality can make. I couldn’t believe how sharp and clear the shots with the 50mm were.

   A few years after buying the 50mm I upgraded to a DSLR – A Canon 30D. Wow not only could I take 100’s of shots at one time, I was not paying for film and developing so I could actually afford to experiment and try new things. The 28-90mm kit lens was a bit better on the DSLR (cropped out some of the edge anomalies) but still had nothing on the 50mm. On the APS-C sensor of the 30D (1.6x) the 50mm was more like an 80mm lens. I really wanted to go wider so that I could get more into a shot. I saved up and bought a Canon EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5. Good quality and really wide compared to the 50mm. I shot with the 10-22mm and the 50mm (the kit lens now relegated to a drawer for bad behaviour) for quite a while. I wanted to determine what I was missing the most before I went in that direction with a new lens.

nodoubt peak - part of Mount Redoubt - alpenglow
Alpenglow on Nodoubt Peak in North Cascades National Park

   A year or so after I bought the 10-22mm I filled in the gap between my lenses with the Canon EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM. At that point I had opted for crop sensors over full frame (largely due to price of both long lenses and the FF cameras) so the 17-40mm was not on my list. From there I went to a Canon EF 70-200mm f/4 L IS USM to get a bit more reach for wildlife. What I had not really anticipated is that I would be using this lens so often for landscapes.

the chilliwack river in winter
Abstract Chilliwack River

   Often as a beginning photographer I read about wide angle lenses as the be all and end all of landscape photography. Walking in to a camera shop and being asked what I like to shoot – the answer of landscapes would push wide angle lenses in my direction. I was rather surprised to learn what I had been missing in a longer telephoto lens for landscapes. In some scenes I have found it difficult to use the wider focal lengths in that they actually get too much into the frame. Ironic considering this is why I earlier had thought I needed a wide lens. The details of the scene are there, but are drowned out by distracting elements that take the viewer’s eye away from what is important. So my initial impression that I would always want to be at a wide angle all the time has actually changed to looking at the details and what is more essential.

eureka falls in spring
Eureka Falls

   I never would have predicted this sort of outcome when I started. I see many posts and articles devoted to gear and purchasing wide lenses for landscapes. I wonder how many of the beginners reading these thing will eventually start to favour longer lenses for their landscape photography? Would they be better off getting a telephoto lens before a really wide angle one? Maybe this is just a normal evolution for a photographer. Regardless, I am happy I have moved away from all wide angle all the time – the variety of shots possible at longer focal lengths is liberating.

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3 Responses to “Focus on the Details”

  1. Interesting perspective…definitely making me reconsider my next lens purchase! Thanks Michael!

  2. Nice post! So true about the wide vs. long lenses. BTW, Really like the Chilliwack river shot that leads your post.

    I’ve been shooting with a 50mm and 35mm on APS-C body for a couple years now, and while they lenses are strong (especially the 50mm), I’ve found myself neither wide nor long enough to get the shots I wanted. Recently stopped by a used camera store looking for a wide zoom for full frame (still saving and dreaming), but walked out with a mid-range 24-120mm. Honestly, it’s a bit soft and I may trade it in for something better, but the reach it gives has reminded me of what I’ve been missing since my my 18-135mm kit lens on my Nikon D80 went kaput 2 years back.

  3. Michael says:

    Yeah I like my 50mm but having shot with just that for a while I realized what I was missing. I think its a good idea while building a collection of lenses to pause for a while and shoot with what you have to determine what you are truly in need of. You have a 24-120mm that might be a bit soft, but it is at least showing you what you were missing in those focal lengths. When you replace it you’ll have an even better idea of what you need.

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