Technology and art

Nikon introduced the first zoom lens before I was born, which was a 43-86mm lens – by all accounts an absolutely horrific piece of equipment.  It was so unbelievably bad that it gave zoom lenses a bad name: I, for one, grew up with the idea that all zoom lenses were terrible, which they are not.  Even by the time I was aware of zoom lenses (mid-late 1970s), things had actually moved on substantially, and there were many great zoom lenses available.

Ever since I began to take my photography more seriously, I have used zoom lenses, and I have mostly enjoyed using them.  One of the latest ones, that I really like, is the 18-200mm, which is fantastic as an all-round lens, even though it produces slightly ‘saggy’ horizons when used wide.  It is great for portraits as well as a good travel lens.  But… but…

I also bought a prime last year, the gorgeous little 35mm, and it is so light and produces such beautiful images that it is a joy to have on my camera (it’s about equivalent to a 50mm on a full 35mm frame; the same as I have on my FM2).  I find I use it more and more frequently.  The aperture goes down to f1.8 to produce lovely blur in out-of-focus areas.  I’ve also now invested in a 50mm f1.4, which for my D90 is about 75mm.  This I expect to be great for portraits, especially with the wide aperture; on the basis of a few sample shots, I can already tell that it produces really creamy blur with naked skin.  But I can also see that it will also be useful for certain kinds of landscapes.

There is something about the simplicity of using prime lenses that I find really attractive.  Zoom lenses make me lazier, but with a prime, if I want to frame something in a particular way, I need to make myself get up and move to another location, to walk closer or further away, to think differently about how I approach a subject.  It makes for a more interactive engagement with the environment I’m in and that – for me – is a very appealing aspect to photography.  I tend to think that it’s not really about taking a photograph, but about making an image, and making requires much more personal engagement than taking!

At some point, you can therefore expect to read about the purchase of a wide prime too… (but unless I win the lottery that I don’t play, I expect this to be in the very distant future, given the high prices of these lenses!).

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