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Lens

What is a 35mm Equivalent Focal Length?

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What is a 35mm Equivalent Focal Length?

Your first DSLR is a big deal. In many ways, it’s a rite of passage from casual photography to serious photography, and it really does open up whole new worlds of creativity and learning. But it also adds some layers of complication to your hobby, and a big one for a lot of new DSLR owners has to do with those interchangeable lenses and their associated focal lengths. Just when you thought you understood what 14-42mm means, you probably noticed that thing in parenthesis: “35mm equivalent 28-84mm.” What the heck?
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What is a fast lens?

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What is a fast lens?

Even if you haven’t been taking pictures for very long, you’ve almost certainly heard the term “fast lens.” But what exactly is a fast lens? Is it a lens that focuses quickly? A lens that’s easy to switch out? What does that term mean? Read on to find out.

The answer is: none of the above. A fast lens is a lens that can take photos in low light. Huh? What does low light have to do with speed?

To answer that question, you first need to know a little bit about how aperture and shutter speed work in concert to create a photograph. When you use your camera’s auto mode (or a semi-automatic mode like aperture priority) to attempt to shoot a photo in low light, you may notice that your camera will lower the shutter speed in order to get a well exposed picture. This can even happen in lighting situations that you might not necessarily interpret with your own eyes as “low light,” such as indoors during the day, outdoors on a overcast day, or late in the evening, The reason your camera does this is because it needs to lengthen the shutter speed in order to allow enough light to reach your camera’s sensor. But the other reason why it does this is because many lenses (kit lenses in particular, which are the mid-range zooms that are typically sold as a part of a DSLR package) don’t have the large maximum apertures needed to allow for faster shutter speeds.

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##What is aperture?

Aperture refers to the size of the diaphragm, or the opening between the lens and your camera’s image sensor. The bigger the opening is, the more light can get in, and the more light reaches your camera’s sensor. The smaller the opening is, on the other hand, the less light reaches your camera sensor. This is why we refer to a larger opening as a “large” or “wide” aperture, while a smaller opening is referred to as a “small” or “narrow” aperture.

When you’re shooting images in low light, you need to use larger apertures because the larger aperture lets more of the available light in, which will allow you to shoot the scene using a faster shutter speed. There are a couple of reasons why this matters—the first is so you can hold your camera in your hands when you’re taking pictures, rather than having to mount it on a tripod. You may not really notice this issue if you primarily shoot outdoors on sunny days, but as soon as the light starts to fall, your shutter speed does, too. When you use a slow shutter speed and you don’t have a tripod available, you can end up with an image that looks sort of wobbly or jagged. We call this “camera shake,” and unless you’re using it for artistic reasons it’s generally something to be avoided.

But slow shutter speeds can also be a problem when there’s movement in your subject: you’ll get a kind of streaky blur in living or otherwise moving things unless you can keep your shutter speed above a certain number. For example, most people and animals need to be shot at shutter speeds of around 1/125 unless they are consciously trying to keep still during a longer exposure. And when something is moving very fast—such as runners, bikers, or fast-moving vehicles—you need much faster shutter speeds of up to 1/500 or more. Sometimes, especially when the light is low, it’s just not possible to achieve these kinds of shutter speeds without also being able to use large apertures.

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That is where the term “fast lens” comes into play—when a lens has a very large maximum aperture, we call that a “fast lens” because it means that you can use faster shutter speeds.

the three of us

##How fast is fast?

Depending on your perspective, a fast lens can be anywhere from f/3.5 or so to as fast as f/1.2. Most fast lenses are prime, which means that they have a fixed focal length such as 50mm or 100mm, rather than a variable focal length zoom such as 35mm to 70mm.

While there are fast zoom lenses on the market, they’re harder to come by than fast prime lenses are, especially when they feature longer focal lengths. The reason why this is true is pretty complex, but it really boils down to size and cost. Zoom lenses have more glass, so they have to gather more light to achieve the same apertures as prime lenses with similar focal lengths. This means that the lens must be a lot bigger and a lot more expensive in order to achieve those wider apertures—and economically speaking it’s just not something that can be done with a kit lens or a typical consumer-priced zoom.

Sunset at WTC Memorial

Now depending on how much money you like to devote to your hobby a fast lens may not or may not be within your budget. I like to recommend 50mm prime lenses for beginning photographers because they do tend to be pretty inexpensive compared to other focal lengths—a typical 50mm prime lens, for example, has a maximum available aperture of f/1.8 and a price point of around $150 to $200. For about twice the money you can go even faster—both Canon and Nikon have lenses available that can go as wide as f/1.4. For a considerably higher base price you can even go as fast as f/1.2, but for that you’re going to be up in the $1,000 to $1,500 range. For most photographers, a 50mm prime lens that has a maximum aperture of f/1.8 is going to be perfectly adequate.

Now the thing that you do need to keep in mind with very fast lenses is that a large maximum aperture typically means a shallow depth of field, depending on a few other factors such as distance between subject and camera and distance between subject and background. So you may find, for example, that when you shoot head shots at those large apertures, you may end up with a subject who has a tack sharp eye, but a blurry nose. That may or may not be OK depending on your perspective, but it is something that you need to be aware of. If you’re not sure, take a test photo and check the depth of field on your camera’s screen—or, use aperture preview if your camera has that feature. And remember that you can also compensate by turning up your ISO (which will allow you to use a narrower aperture) if you don’t like the very shallow depth of field you get at those very large apertures. Higher ISOs can add noise, but you may prefer a little noise to that shallow depth of field that you get when you shoot at f/1.8. It’s really a creative decision, so you need to make sure you understand what those higher ISOs are and what that larger aperture will do so that you can make an informed decision about how you want your final image to look.

Also keep in mind that backing away from your subject can significantly increase depth of field, so if those head shots aren’t satisfying try shooting a head and shoulders shot instead, or a full torso portrait. You’ll likely still achieve a blurry background, but most of your subject’s facial features will be sharp even despite the larger aperture.

I love my fast lens because when I use it I almost never have to resort to pop-up flash—pop-up flash is really something you should avoid in all but the most extreme circumstances and if you’ve got a 50mm prime lens or another fast maximum aperture lens in your camera bag at all times, then it using your pop-up flash will most likely become something that you do only on occasion. Pop-up flash, you probably know, can add a lot of unwanted elements to your photos such as red eye, washed-out faces and black halo shadows behind your subjects. If you can swap those things for a small loss of depth of field, why wouldn’t you?

##Conclusion

A 50mm prime lens is something I frequently recommend that beginners obtain, maybe even as their first lens in addition to the kit lens it that your DSLR came with. It’s an extremely versatile lens—no, it doesn’t zoom, but there’s something to be said for zooming with your feet, isn’t there? A prime lens can really take your photography to new places, so if it’s in your budget it’s something I highly recommend. Fast lenses can help almost anybody get better pictures, especially when the sun starts to go down.

Challenge: Photograph With Only a 50mm Lens

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Challenge: Photograph With Only a 50mm Lens

When you bought your first DSLR, it likely came with what we call a “kit lens.” This is usually a mid-range zoom that will let you shoot both reasonably wide-angle photos and some longer shots. With your kit lens, you have a lot of versatility in focal length and can probably get some pretty good wide-angle images of larger buildings and groups of people, and some decent zoomed-in shots of your kids running around on the beach or playing sports.

I also think it’s a pretty safe bet that over the weeks and months, you’ve come to depend on this versatility. After all, it lets you shoot all different sorts of events and activities without the need to change lenses. So it’s time, I’m afraid, to let go of that dependence and learn how to get the most out of a single, much more powerful lens—the 50mm prime.

But wait, I can hear you saying, how can a lens with a single focal length possibly be more powerful than my super-versatile kit lens? Read on to find out.
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What You Need to Know About Zooming

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What You Need to Know About Zooming

If your DSLR camera came with a lens, it was probably a “kit” zoom lens. Kit lenses are great for beginners. The ones that come bundled with most DSLRs typically have a very good range of zoom, usually somewhere in the range of 35mm to 70mm. Most hobby photographers don’t need to move much beyond that range of zoom for the majority of what they do with their cameras. But even if you love your kit lens and you never, ever plan to leave it, you do need to know a little bit about how it works and what it is capable of. With that in mind, here is your primer on zoom lenses.
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What You Should Know About Lenses

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What You Should Know About Lenses

Before you bought a DSLR you didn’t really need to know a whole lot about lenses. Your point-and-shoot camera came with a lens already attached, and there really wasn’t anything you could do to change it. You probably knew how much zoom it had, and if you paid attention to the specs you may have also figured out what that meant in millimeters. But if your knowledge didn’t really go any further than that, well, no one can blame you.

Now that you have a DSLR, though, it’s a lot more important to know something about not only the lens that you bought with it, but the other lenses that are available to buy once you decide it’s time to expand your arsenal.

Now as it turns out, there’s a lot to know about lenses. A lot. It’s not just a matter of wide-angle vs. telephoto, there are a lot of other things to take into consideration as well. But let’s start with the basic stuff, and that’s lens classes.
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Nine Fun Uses for a Fisheye Lens

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Nine Fun Uses for a Fisheye Lens

Fisheye lenses are cool. What’s not to love? With a fisheye lens, you can get fun, quirky images unlike pretty much anything you can get with any other kind of lens. And the’re surprisingly affordable too. Let’s look at nine ways to create unusual images with a fisheye lens.
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Ask David: What’s the best way to change my camera lens?

Ask David: What’s the best way to change my camera lens?

What’s the best way to change lenses? What happens if I get dust on my lens? What about on my sensor?

The best way to change your lens is as fast as you can without damaging your gear. Minimizing the amount of time the camera and back element of the lenses are exposed to the elements minimizes the potential for dirt and other particulates to get into your camera body. Don’t change your lenses in a rainstorm, while cleaning out a dusty attic, or on the sand at the beach if at all avoidable. Those environments can wreak havoc on the internal workings of your camera.

Here is my typical lens change procedure, step by step:
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Ask David: What are the red and silver lines on Canon lenses?

Ask David: What are the red and silver lines on Canon lenses?

“Why do some Canon lenses have a red line and others have a silver line? What’s the difference? What about the gold line and the green line?”

Canon uses the different colored rings to denote a lens’s features and distinguish the different lenses from each other. It should be noted that while the colored rings always mean the same thing when used; Canon has been a little wishy-washy about always using them. Just because a lens is lacking the colored ring, doesn’t mean it doesn’t fall into one of the established lens divisions, it just means you will have to look harder to get the information you seek. Let’s discuss what each of the lines mean.
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How Important is a Lens Hood?

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How Important is a Lens Hood?

The lens hood; that ubiquitous, sometimes-cumbersome piece of plastic found at the tip of lenses nowadays. Is it really useful? How important is it anyway? Is it just an aesthetic piece of apparatus that can make your camera look cool? If we better understood the hood’s many uses, then we can begin to realize its value and indispensability. Let’s see just what this gadget is really for:
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Lens Focal Lengths for Common Situations

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Lens Focal Lengths for Common Situations

Have you ever wondered what lens you should be using to get a shot? What type of photos do you take? Are you all about people and portraits? Do you get in on the sports action? Are you always on the lookout for wildlife? Different photographic situations call for different lenses. If you have only your kit lens, take a moment to feel deprived, and then read on because someday you will likely be in the market for an additional lens. Lenses come in different focal lengths that serve different purposes so read on to understand more about different lenses to use in a variety of common photographic situations.
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Ask David: Should I purchase an off-brand lens for my camera?

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Ask David: Should I purchase an off-brand lens for my camera?

Off brand, or third-party lenses, have both perks and pitfalls. Some photographers will swear by third-party lenses, while others swear they are not as sharp or reliable as a proprietary lens. The first and probably the most important advantage of an off brand lens is the price. Quite often, third-party gear companies make lenses that are similar in capability to those produced by major camera companies at a fraction of the cost, especially when you get into higher end or more specialized lenses. For example, a Canon 24-105mm f/4L USM lens retails for about $1100, while a very similar lens by Sigma retails for $899.
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Ask David : Should I Purchase a 16-270mm lens?

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Ask David : Should I Purchase a 16-270mm lens?

I was recently asked this question: “I have a 18-55 mm and 75-300 mm lens. I am considering buying a 16-270 mm. Is this a good idea?”

My first instinct is to say no. Between the two zoom lenses you already have, you cover pretty much all of the ground a 16-270mm lens is capable of perusing plus some. Also, as a rule of thumb, a range with a longer lens (ie 16-260mm) is not normally going to produce the same quality as a lens with a shorter zoom range (ie 18-55) or a prime lens.

I would look into lenses that cover ground my current gear doesn’t but ultimately, it truly depends on the type of photography you shoot the most. Let me explain.
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Pros and Cons of Extension Tubes

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Pros and Cons of Extension Tubes

Do you want to take extreme close-ups? Whether it is flowers, insects, coins, or any other variety of things, how can you get closer focus than your lens alone allows? I have discussed other aspects of macro photography in previous articles. This photography niche is fun to explore but is very expensive if you purchase a macro lens. There are other options like using a close up lens or lens reversal tricks, but there is also a simple addition to your camera equipment called an extension tube. Read on for the pros and cons of this option.
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A Guide to Extension Tubes

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A Guide to Extension Tubes

If you are anything like me, you often find yourself marveling at the beauty of macro photography. Dew drops on flower petals, butterfly wings and the inner workings of a pocket watch up close create a sense of wonder that can’t be found elsewhere. You’ve also probably lamented at the cost of a dedicated macro lens and have a hard time justifying the cost. Good news, there is an alternative called an extension tube.

An extension tube is a component that fits between your lens and your camera body. It looks like a lens, except its missing one typically important component, the glass. Don’t worry, it’s not a mistake. These hollow tubes, made of plastic or metal, are created for the purpose of moving your lens farther away from the internal sensor located inside your camera body. Doing this allows you to get closer to whatever you are photographing, increasing the magnification.
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5 Uses for a Wide Angle Lens

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5 Uses for a Wide Angle Lens

Most people end up with the kit lens that comes with their new DSLR. It’s a good place to start, and this lens is usually in the range of 18-55mm or an upgrade to 18-135mm. The reason for a kit lens is to give you a diverse lens that will accommodate much of your image capturing needs. However, if a kit lens is all you have, and you’ve expanded your photography skills and interest, it’s likely you’ll want a few more lenses in your bag. The type of photography you do will influence your choice for your second lens. Today, I’ll make the case to purchase a wide angle lens.
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