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Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Lens Tech: Specialty Lenses For DSLR-Shooting Pros

For every job, there’s a perfect tool. Most photography can be handled by your core set of glass, but every once in a while, you need something different. These lenses don’t come out of your bag every day, but when you need one, nothing else will do.

This Article Features Photo Zoom

Sigma 150-500mm ƒ/5-6.3 APO OS HSM
Big, Fast Telephotos
Wildlife and sports photographers gravitate toward big, fast super-telephoto lenses. These monsters provide tight framing of subjects when you can’t get as close as you’d like, and very limited depth of field to make subjects stand out from often busy backgrounds. Really long lenses also are useful when you want to compress the distance between distant objects in a scene—for example, in shots of rush-hour traffic jams.

Photographers tend to call all long lenses “telephotos,” but the term technically refers to a specific long-lens optical design in which the focal length is longer than the lens’ physical length. However, most photographic lenses in these focal lengths are indeed telephotos, and knowing the correct technical name isn’t essential to getting great photos with a long lens, so feel free to call them telephotos if you wish.

Lenses in this category include the 300mm ƒ/2.8, 400mm ƒ/2.8 and ƒ/4, 500mm ƒ/4 and ƒ/4.5, 600mm ƒ/4 and 800mm ƒ/5.6. Keep in mind that these lenses will frame like lenses 1.5x longer when used on an APS-C-system camera, and 2x longer when used on a Four Thirds System camera. Note that there are slower lenses available in some of these focal lengths, which are considerably smaller and cost significantly less, but they don’t provide the low-light and selective-focus capabilities of the “big guns”—see the sidebar on “Slower Super-Teles” for more information. Also see the sidebar on “Mirror Lenses” for another option.

Pentax DA* 300mm ƒ/4 ED(IF) SDM
The fast super-telephotos are bulky and heavy, and best used on a tripod. Some photographers do handhold lenses up to the 500mm ƒ/4 in good light, and a few will handhold even the 800s on occasion with success (Canon’s 800mm ƒ/5.6 is actually a bit smaller than its 600mm ƒ/4), but for best results, use a tripod. For action work, a gimbal head on the tripod allows you to track rapidly moving subjects while providing steady support.

Because fast super-telephotos have such limited depth of field wide-open, the subject can be so far out of focus that you (and the AF system) can’t find it. These lenses generally have AF zone-limiter switches, so you can limit the lens’ AF travel to near or far zones for quicker autofocusing. Even so, it’s best to get focus in the ballpark manually, then activate the AF system; if the subject is far out of focus when you activate AF, the AF system may not be able to pick it up.

Notable members of the fast super-telephoto category include:

Canon EF 300mm ƒ/2.8L IS USM
Canon EF 400mm ƒ/2.8L IS USM
Canon EF 400mm ƒ/4 DO IS USM
Canon EF 500mm ƒ/4L IS USM
Canon EF 600mm ƒ/4L IS USM
Canon EF 800mm ƒ/5.6L IS USM
AF-S Nikkor 300mm ƒ/2.8G IF-ED VR II
AF-S Nikkor 400mm ƒ/2.8G ED VR
AF-S Nikkor 500mm ƒ/4G ED VR II
AF-S Nikkor 600mm ƒ/4G ED VR
AF-S Nikkor 200-400mm ƒ/4G ED VR II
Olympus Zuiko Digital 300mm ƒ/2.8 ED
Sigma 300mm ƒ/2.8 EX APO DG HSM
Sigma 500mm ƒ/4.5 EX DG APO HSM
Sigma 800mm ƒ/5.6 EX APO DG HSM
Sigma 120-300mm ƒ/2.8 EX DG APO HSM
Sigma 200-500mm ƒ/2.8 APO EX DG
Sigma 300-800mm ƒ/5.6 EX DG APO HSM
Sony 300mm ƒ/2.8 G


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