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Need for Speed? Does a faster lens really help?

Discussion in 'Open Discussion' started by kevinparis, Jul 7, 2011.

  1. kevinparis

    kevinparis Cantankerous Scotsman Subscribing Member

    Feb 12, 2010
    Gent, Belgium
    A common question/theme I see here and on other forums goes along the lines of

    " I am trying to take photos of (insert you own indoor, tricky lighting situation) = and my pictures are all blurry - should I buy a faster lens/ a DSLR?"

    Now while I recognise the advantage to be gained from using a faster lens, I think it is important to look at

    1) the situation your are trying to capture,

    2) the expectations you have from your shots

    3) the kinds of shutter/aperture/ISO you are getting today

    and then look at whether there is anything to be gained by first of all improving your technique before chasing after expensive or unobtainable glass

    This was brought home to me by a poster here who kindly posted an example of the kind of shot he was currently dissatisfied with. He quite correctly recognised that he needed a shutter speed of 1/250 to capture the fast action, but the camera was giving him a 30th of a second.

    The delta between the lens he has (5.6 at the long end) and the one he was thinking about (3.5 at the long end) was about 1 and 1/3 stops - lets call it one stop for ease of calculation.

    So if nothing else changed, and got the new lens (at a cost of more than 1000 dollars) and continued to shoot as before, he might get the shutter speed up to 1/60th - which is still 2 stops short of his target. To get to his target speed would require a long f2 lens - and while those exist they are in the eye water 2500- 5000 dollar range.

    So going back to my list of three things to look at to improve you chance of getting the shot you want without major expenditure, I post these comments as food for thought and the starting point for a discussion where we can share our experiences and techniques

    1) the situation your are trying to capture.

    Sometimes you will have no control over the lighting - other times it may be as simple as switching on an existing light, or moving a lamp to a better position, or moving your self to a better position where you can maximise what ever light is available, and fill the frame with your subject. Just because you have a long zoom lens doesn't mean you cant move closer. However you have to recognise that sometimes there is just not enough light, no matter what lens you have

    2) the expectations you have from your shots

    Recognise that the great dramatic sports shots and portraits you see in newspapers and magazines have been created by pros with the very best equipment, access and a lot of experience. I was watching the tour de france yesterday, and the photographers on the back of the motor cycles were shooting the rider with a flash, even on quite a bright day.

    3) the kinds of shutter/aperture/ISO you are getting today

    The aim should always be to get the exposure right for the main subject. Often shooting in P is not the best way to go as it will try and get as much of the frame correctly exposed, not necessary the bit thats important to you. Personally when I shoot indoors, I switch to Aperture priority and the highest ISO I can live with. I then use spot metering, learning to use the AEL lock to keep that exposure while reframing. I keep an eye on the shutter speed I am getting, and if it gets below my safe handholding speed, then I look as whether I can up the ISO, or better look around for some support for the camera - a mono pod can be a useful tool.

    I suppose my overall point is that no camera is 'magic', and while a faster lens may give you an edge it is important to recognise how much of an edge it will give you. Its my theory that for a lot of people, that a better understanding of technique will reap more benefit in the long run.

    These are just my personal thoughts… I would be interested to hear yours

    • Like Like x 14
  2. Djarum

    Djarum Super Moderator Subscribing Member

    Dec 15, 2009
    Huntsville, AL, USA
    Good stuff, Kevin.

    If DOF isn't of concern, Higher ISO is about the only way to go in many situations. That I suppose is whey there seems to be much concern over the smaller formats and better High ISO shots.

    In my opinion, a one stop advantage in a lens, depending on size and money, isn't necessarily worth the headache, especially if shooting with the one stop faster lens is shooting at ISO 6400 and the slower lens is ISO 12800. In concerns with mFT, I have only seen marginally acceptable results with these cameras.

    I think right now, if someone is really concerned and does lots of low light, then other formats may be considered.

    I also think technique plays a huge role in the types of good shots that can be had in tough situations. Its all about the amount of work the photographer is willing to put into getting a shot.
    • Like Like x 1
  3. zettapixel

    zettapixel Mu-43 Veteran

    Aug 12, 2010
    Important points, Kevin :bravo-009:

    For me things got easier when I decided aperture should be considered first and foremost a depth of field regulator, and only secondly an exposure parameter.
    Then it became clear when to use which lens, when fast lenses are appropriate and when not, I started considering lenses' other qualities more.

    I also use A mode, but usually with AutoISO, and if shutter speed lower than I want either switch ISO or, more often, try to find better support, like propping my hand with the cam against something. I actually rarely use spot metering, rather I try to use exposure compensation which is instantly available through the double dials of E-P1. Frankly, in those situation more often than not a good flash makes it easy. I just don't have it for :43: yet :smile:
    • Like Like x 1
  4. thearne3

    thearne3 Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Jan 28, 2010
    Redding, CT USA
    My take home from this discussion is that I'm not considering flash in many circumstances where it would be appropriate. It's not necessary to light up the gym/world - just pick up a couple stops on your target, eliminate harsh shadows, etc...
    • Like Like x 1
  5. kevinparis

    kevinparis Cantankerous Scotsman Subscribing Member

    Feb 12, 2010
    Gent, Belgium
    I think the socially acceptable use of flash is probably dependant on the relationship between the photographer and the event. Just turning up at an event and flashing away randomly might not always be acceptable... but approaching event organisers and offering to take photos and explaining that you may have to use flash to show off the event to its best might get you more sympathy.

    Its all part of the 'taking control' of the situation, which is an underlying message in my original post


    • Like Like x 2
  6. Alanroseman

    Alanroseman Super Moderator Emeritus

    Dec 21, 2010
    New England

    Thanks Kevin, many folks are looking to purchase a panacea. It's a good idea to point out that there aren't any once every so often.

    Thanks, great summation and advice of what is a recurrent issue.

    • Like Like x 2
  7. RobWatson

    RobWatson Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    To zoom or not to zoom

    I often wonder why the seeming obsession with zoom lenses. Sure, they give great flexibility but in some situations (probably more often than one might imagine at first glance) a fast telephoto lens can be way more helpful. The lenses that come to mind are Nikon 105mm and 135mm F2. Given my primary use of manual focus (and adapted) lenses I'm not so concerned about the lack of AF.

    On top of all the excellent advice already given how about adding a switch from zoom to fast telephoto lens in those situations where another stop or so is needed.

    Granted, these lenses are still $900-1300 range.
    • Like Like x 1
  8. thearne3

    thearne3 Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Jan 28, 2010
    Redding, CT USA
    Couldn't agree more, Rob. Though my budget keeps me in the 2.8 range! My OM 135 f2.8 is one of my favorite lenses. I have the 100 as well, but somehow don't use it nearly as often.
    • Like Like x 1
  9. deirdre

    deirdre Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Aug 9, 2010
    I remember the time I was trying to take long exposures (1/4 second) handheld (no tripod or monopod permitted) with a 50mm f/1.1 lens wide open.

    Sometimes the lighting just sucks.

    I took 10 shots and got one I can work with.
    • Like Like x 1
  10. RobWatson

    RobWatson Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Nikon 135mm f2.0 Lens Nikkor AI portrait f2 | eBay

    $450 is getting mighty tempting!
  11. Amin Sabet

    Amin Sabet Administrator

    Apr 10, 2009
    Boston, MA (USA)
    I mostly agree with others in this thread but will play devil's advocate. Let's assume that a person is trying to take mostly indoor shots of their kids with a new camera set to "auto" and a standard f/3.5-5.6 kit lens. With good technique and an image stabilized lens, such shots are possible. Using a flash helps, but direct flash often looks awful, and off camera flash can be an intimidating thing to take on. For most such people, I think getting the Panasonic 20/1.7, which is close to two stops faster than their zoom, is going to make a significant difference. Even if their technique stays the same, and the camera stays on "auto", the pictures will come out much better.
    • Like Like x 1
  12. drpump

    drpump Mu-43 Regular

    Oct 28, 2010
    I'm very much with Amin on this one. For casual snapshots, the extra speed of the 20/1.7 makes a big difference.

    With regard to flash, one of the key reasons I bought the E-PL1 over the other options is for it's flash implementation. Being able to quickly pop up the flash and bounce it by pulling it backward can make a huge difference to an awkward light situation, without creating the unnatural exposures you often get from a direct flash. The extra flash control (i.e. manual flash setting) is occasionally useful too.

    I also have an FL36R on its way to me. While natural light photography is preferable, there are always situations where it's not enough. And the built-in can't do fill-flash at high shutter speeds.
    • Like Like x 1
  13. kevinparis

    kevinparis Cantankerous Scotsman Subscribing Member

    Feb 12, 2010
    Gent, Belgium
    I agree... as you know I am a big fan of the pana 20.

    As well as the extra speed, the fact it is a fixed focal length encourages you to to zoom with your feet to frame your picture. The more of the subject you have in the frame, the better chance that the auto exposure will deliver a more suitable shutter speed

    There is a natural tendency - well certainly for me - to use a zoom at one or other of its extremities, and more often the longer end. The more timid/novice photographer will tend use this long end to avoid getting close to the subject.

    At the longer end you get hit with the double whammy of smaller aperture and the need for a higher shutter speed to counter camera shake.

    a real lose/lose situation!

    thanks to everybody for the contributions to this thread

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