Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Checking out the 'contact sheet' photographed with my new (old) fixed focal length prime lens

Checking Out the 'Contact Sheet' for My New (Old) Prime Lens
24mm AF Nikkor f/2.8. Nice lens for street shooting -- with the crop factor, the equivalent of a 36mm prime for my D90. Has a scale for manual focusing, unlike today's modern lenses, and enough depth of field so you can pretty much set it manually for the range you want and shoot away without having to engage autofocus. Much faster. Mr. Cat was a somewhat reluctant but patient model for some test shots.

Today, people aren't usually concerned with DOF but rather bokeh when they choose a fixed-focal length prime. I think it's interesting to note how, in marketing lenses, this bug eventually evolved into a feature. In the stone age before autofocus with autofocus assist lamps, photojournalists all had fast lenses, because the faster the lens, the better the SLR finder brightness, as well as focusing accuracy in low light. There was a price to be paid -- f/1.4 lenses had very shallow depth of field, but few pros shot totally wide-open. Even if shooting available light, they would normally set the camera to stop down to a more practical shooting aperture like f/2.8. Now the shallow depth of field has been renamed bokeh. The bug has become a feature, and people are buying expensive prime lenses mainly for the purpose of throwing backgrounds prettily out of focus.

I'm not immune to the hype, and I keep thinking I should get a faster prime. You don't have to spend a fortune, though you can. Nikon has a couple of good, inexpensive f/1.8 lenses -- the 50mm, of course, and now the 35mm DX lens for digital SLRs.

But every time my fingers get twitchy and start browsing the B&H website, I start to think, "But what would I actually do with it? Would I just leave it home?" Probably. For deliberate bokeh, I prefer a longer lens anyhow. The 24mm (36mm equiv.) is better for street. For available light, f/2.8 is a better shooting aperture. If I need more oomph, I can crank the ISO or rely on image stabilization. And if sharpness in low light is critical (for me it usually isn't, but sometimes it is), there's always a tripod.

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