Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Prime Time In Memphis

The one thing about Pentax gear over the higher market share Canon and Nikon gear is my 21mm pancake lens is image stabilized, oh, and it's a pancake. I wouldn't say this is by far my favorite lens, but it does spend the more time on my camera than my other lenses. Ok, it's by far my favorite lens EVER when all things are considered! Now if you can find a wide angle prime that is stabilized by Canon or Nikon, send me a message, because that might make me consider adding more to my Nikon kit for general shooting, and not just sports. Canon and Nikon make some nice cameras and lenses; unfortunately I can't find anything in the lineup that suits me more than the kit I took for a night out in Memphis.

While in Memphis to watch a University of Memphis game, and then to catch some music on Beale Street, I took just 3 lenses, a Pentax DA 21mm Limited f/3.2 pancake, a Pentax FA 43mm Limited f/1.9, and a Voigtlander 90mm APO f/3.5, along with the Pentax 360FGZ flash. The whole kit, along with my Ultrapod (and the usual assorted accessories like cable release, remote, blower brush, etc), fit into/onto my Lowepro TLZ 70AW, and was pretty light on the shoulder.

It turned out that despite having a 28-70 2.8, 50-135mm 2.8, 200mm 2.8 sitting in the bag at home that I made the right choice. The reason, FedEx Forum must have the most stringent rules in all of sports arenas. The guard literally made me take my entire kit apart ($1200 in lenses just being juggled as people bumped into me), measured all the lenses, made me extend them and mount each to the camera, and then made me swear on my first born none of them attached together (as in a teleconverter). The 90mm Lanthar just barely made the cut, but my two Pentax Limiteds combined didn't exceed the 3 inch rule! I'm gonna be honest with everyone reading this, with all the measuring going on, I was for the first time in my life starting to really have some self confidence issues with my manhood.

Carrying around 3 high quality primes is a dream. None of them are exceptionally fast, but all are exceptional quality and sharp wide open. Considering most of my shooting is centered around optimal sharpness and quality, I rarely need anything faster than f/2.0. For me the tradeoff between a tack sharp F/4 lens at F/4 and a f/2.8 (or faster) lens that doesn’t sharpen up till f/4 is a no brainer.

Adding in the high ISO capability of the K20D, and the excellent in camera shake reduction fast lenses are almost unnecessary. For creative effects fast glass can be useful, but with digital files it's pretty easy to digitally limit depth of field in the rare instances where a paper thin focus plane is truly necessary. After all, that's what the $600 pirated copy of PhotoShop is doing on your computer (and for those of us that actually paid for it, doubly so!)!

There are of course naysayers that claim the in body stabilization isn't as good, or doesn't work with long lenses, or wide angles, or at all. The fact is, I sometimes have a steady enough hand to take a sharp shot with my film cameras at 28mm and 1/15th of a second, but sometimes and often are two completely different things. With the 21mm DA Limited, and body based shake reduction, I can shoot 1/8th-1/15th as a normal shutter speed, and generally get sharp results without any crazy antics. When I shoot my old digital camera without shake reduction (SR), I sometimes forget that I CANNOT hand hold at 1/8th of a second.

This proved true just this evening when I was looking through a bunch of soft shots from last month that I hadn’t downloaded from the card yet. I opened up the EXIF (the embedded image data) and sure enough I was trying to shoot a 24-50mm zoom at speeds around 1/20th of a second rather than boost the ISO.
Note to self: no matter how hard you wish that solid old 6MP super compact DSLR with the fully external control layout is going to magically become weather sealed, have 1/3 stop ISO control AND have shake reduction, it will never happen, so give up!

Fast glass is often looked at as a cure all for slow shutter speeds and high ISO. The problem I have with fast glass is that wide open the depth of field is so shallow that often just a little movement of the camera, or the subject, and the focus point is now out of the plane of focus. When this happens you don't have creatively limited DOF but a soft or completely out of focus image. Then there are those that will argue, "but when it's really dark a fast lens is brighter." True again, but in really dark low contrast situations both auto focus and your eye sight are not going to be able to quickly lock on to a moving target. Thus there is no real advantage, only a perceived one from the days of manual focus only lenses and ground glass split prism viewfinders.

Of course all of this is subjective, there are people reading this saying I'm at best a heretic, and at worst completely and certifiably insane; and while I'm not saying fast lenses are never needed, the utility of them is grossly overestimated when cost, size and weight are factored in.

For me, with digital, I'd rather jack the ISO up, use f/4, and I can always do a little digital depth of field adjustment after the fact. The benefit of course, is while everyone else is lugging pounds and pounds of fast glass for creative purposes, I'm casually toting around just what I need, and not a bit more!

Thanks to Pentax and the Limited series primes, I'm all smiles too!

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  1. Burn the heretic, burn him!!!!!


    Nice compendium of your shooting philosophy, Justin. I'm not going to argue with you or your results. I'll just say that you didn't post enough pics of the cheerleaders, and that's a fact ;-)

  2. I won't disagree (with either of you) but Aim will attest that I did take my fair share of shots with the cheerleaders (or maybe she just thought I did, the whole time I might have merely been ogling them), I just wasn't real happy with the results. Suffice to say, they were much better in real life than my photos.