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Author Topic: Prime or zoom?  (Read 20291 times)
Plekto
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« Reply #20 on: July 15, 2008, 02:50:02 PM »
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Here's the thing, though:

He's just starting out.  He doesn't have the programs, the scanners, the printers, or well, likely any of it OR the budget.  When he says "limited budget - just starting out" - IME, that means he has well under $1000 and wants to start shooting less than a hundred shots a month.

That level of output as well as lack of technical/computer tools and his budget means that film(slides specifically) are his best bet to start out with.  Get a nice used film camera and a couple of lenses and buy some rolls of 100 speed Velvia and go.  $500, tops.   He's gong to be using photo labs to do anything larger than a postcard at this stage, so the differences in quality is moot, really - film and digital at 5*7 or even 8*11 are slim to none.   Add another $100-200 or so for a projector and screen, used of course.   There he WILL be able to see the difference good slide film gives you over digital.

The best photographers I know of started out with 1-2 types of film and 1-2 lenses and learned to use them really really well.  

My first real camera was a Rolleicord.  Even more basic - manual everything.  I have a few shots of Yosemite and Petrified Forest National Monument that I took with this that look as good as anything that rube Rockwell has on his site.   (tells you where poor Ken's skills are, really)  It's not world-class photography, but good film is still no joke if you're looking for quality and have plenty of time to compose a shot.  

My second camera was a Minolta X-7a.  I have some amazing shots of trips and scenery from all over the U.S. from it(usually a fast 28mm lens was all I took on my trips - occasionally I also packed a 50mm).   Small, light, no batteries(winder was removable if the batteries died), and one lens.   Perfect for trips or carrying with me in the car.  I could focus, shoot, and tweak aperture and shutter speed in about two seconds thanks to the bright leds in the finder.  No menus, no interfaces - just point, focus, and click.  

The skills that you learn from a manual or simpler camera matter.  Really.  too many of us learned these skills on film cameras and have moved to digital - but forget how important they are.(and like I mentioned, you can get into film for silly low prices).

The money he will spend on a spare battery and a memory card can buy him a manual prime lens from the 80s with optics to drool over.  Manual lenses are insanely cheap now if you hunt around as a lot of people don't know what they actually have.

Now if he's *really* interested in photography and landscapes, he might look at an old TLR for $100 someplace and start shooting.  It's where I started and I'd do it exactly the same if I had to do it all over.  Doubly so if he shoots black and white - setting up your own darkroom is almost a rite of passage - heh.  Black and white film can be has as cheaply as $2 a roll in bulk and developing on your own saves a lot of money.  I'm a fan of black and white as well since it forces you to concentrate on lighting a lot more(IME of course)
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Rob C
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« Reply #21 on: July 15, 2008, 03:52:53 PM »
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Plekto

I agree absolutely. The point about transparencies is that you canīt fake them: you get it right or you do not. Donīt let anyone introduce stuff like hi-key etc. into the argument at this point: we are talking about entry-level photography and the best way is to get a standard "Kodak" sunlight (over your left shoulder) and play with the exposure meter in your hand to see how the thing works, how different things look as you use alternative apertures, shutter speed combinations etc. Ignore negative film, colour or b/white, because there is too much latitude with those things and you could be right or wrong with your exposure and not really be sure.

Yes, a transparency might need a lightbox at some stage, but I have made more than one in my days of youthful poverty and the final one I bought, a Kodak Model 3, works as well today as 100 years ago, when I got it!

What schools of photography might or might not be doing is hokum: they are not starting point institutions and I would be amazed that anyone going to one would be doing so from step one: what on earth would drive you there at that stage? You might not even like photography that much once you try it - why spend money before you know?

To tell you the truth, learning to print in b/w is no easy matter either. I thought I could do it pretty well until I had the great opportunity of learning to really do so  when I joined an industrial photo unit where the object of our existence was to produce the best possible match on paper to a piece of engine, broken fan blade out of a jet engine or even an entire, shining engine in its cradle. You messed about with it - in colour too - until it was as close a colour of metal as God would allow. That way, I learned how to do things to the nth degree, not the īcommercially acceptableī way that haunted my life after I went out from there into the big bad world of colour labs doing one test for your job and saying thatīs that!

Zooms. Does anyone here fail to understand the difference between standing in one spot, probably the first one where you became aware of the possibility of a picture and zooming in and out to make a shape and the different technique of walking in closer, perhaps moving out further, in order to change not just shape and whatīs in frame, but, as importantly, PERSPECTIVE?

Damn - itīs too late for another illicit glass of cava, but these kinds of situations drive me nuts.

Rob C
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Mark D Segal
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« Reply #22 on: July 15, 2008, 04:42:57 PM »
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I disagree absolutely. It's a heap of regressive advice. Firstly, don't make assumptions about the O/P's budget - he hasn't told us yet. Secondly, he can start digital very inexpensively. There's a complete price range of very decent starter cameras. Cards are cheap. He probably has a computer. Entry level software is cheap. This is a no-brainer.

All the fine experience you had decades ago growing up with film is fine. I had those experiences too. But technology has advanced, improved and opened creative opportunities a thousand-fold, so it's time to move on. People learning this art and craft should do so with today's and tomorrow's technology, because that is forward-thinking and that is how they will become most creative, most easily.

As for zoom lenses - walk there or zoom there - anyone's choice once they have a zoom lens. But if you want a real close-up of a bird in a tree, I'd prefer to use the zoom than to climb the tree. Ya, I know, I can buy a telephoto prime for next to nothing - may be two or three or four so I can try each one of them to maybe get the focal length just where I want it for that bird, if it's still there.

To the original poster: Jump into the 21st century both feet forward using 21st century technology. There's enough equipment to suit all budgets that will work fine. There are decent zoom lenses that will give you a lot of freedom and flexibility to be creative more easily. There's software that will satisfy entry-level requirements for little more than 100 dollars. There's TONS of absolutely free education all over the internet, starting with this website. Once you've learned photographic processes as we now know them and you have the curiosity, you can always play with some film to see what you're not missing, or you can develop certain photographic niches that still require or benefit more from film - but those are few and far between, and not for beginners.
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Mark D Segal (formerly MarkDS)
Author: "Scanning Workflows with SilverFast 8....." http://www.luminous-landscape.com/reviews/film/scanning_workflows_with_silverfast_8.shtml
DarkPenguin
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« Reply #23 on: July 15, 2008, 05:09:30 PM »
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I do think that primes develop an eye for a focal length.

I tend to use my (short zooms, anyway) as a series of primes.  I know what 24mm will look like before I shoot.  Not so much 22 or 26mm.

No need to actually use a prime for that, however.  Just use your zoom as if it has click stops rather than a continuous range.
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Rob C
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« Reply #24 on: July 16, 2008, 05:44:34 AM »
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Mark, it isnīt about jumping into the 21st century: itīs about learning basic practice and theory at one and the same time. Basic, I repeat.

The use of a single lens is a great education in itself.

I have never owned or used a zoom in my entire life, not because they were too expensive but because I knew what I wanted to do, the look I was going to get, and how to achieve that. In other words, the image style came first. There was no need for second-guessing myself on the job. I knew (still do) which optic in my armoury would serve my purposes.

Thatīs really about all I can say or add that has value to anybody, so I might as well surrender further argument to anybody who wishes to continue whipping the fog.

Ciao - Rob C
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Mark D Segal
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« Reply #25 on: July 16, 2008, 07:40:07 AM »
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Mark, it isnīt about jumping into the 21st century: itīs about learning basic practice and theory at one and the same time. Basic, I repeat.

The use of a single lens is a great education in itself.

I have never owned or used a zoom in my entire life, not because they were too expensive but because I knew what I wanted to do, the look I was going to get, and how to achieve that. In other words, the image style came first. There was no need for second-guessing myself on the job. I knew (still do) which optic in my armoury would serve my purposes.

Thatīs really about all I can say or add that has value to anybody, so I might as well surrender further argument to anybody who wishes to continue whipping the fog.

Ciao - Rob C
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Rob - anyone can learn basic theory and practice with a digital camera - and a whole lot more using current technology without wasting many hundreds if not thousands of dollars per year on film and processing. The fact that you never owned a zoom lens and can manage perfectly well without it is both good for you and an interesting curiosity, but not relevant to the general principles at issue here. Zoom lenses just give photographers easier access to better composition and more image styles - the real issue is learning how to conceptualize the images, regardless of the lens - it's in the mind first and foremost; have the vision, then use the tools which best and most easily translate that vision into a good photograph. More often than not, a decent zoom lens will be advantageous. I've been using them for decades, and millions upon millions of people, whether amateur or professional, make perfectly satisfactory photographs with them.

I agree with you that we've pretty much exhausted this topic. Readers on the verge of jumping-in to this fascinating world of photography have enough points of view from these exchanges to decide for themselves how to do it.
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Mark D Segal (formerly MarkDS)
Author: "Scanning Workflows with SilverFast 8....." http://www.luminous-landscape.com/reviews/film/scanning_workflows_with_silverfast_8.shtml
Plekto
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« Reply #26 on: July 16, 2008, 04:42:40 PM »
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I disagree absolutely. It's a heap of regressive advice. Firstly, don't make assumptions about the O/P's budget - he hasn't told us yet. Secondly, he can start digital very inexpensively. There's a complete price range of very decent starter cameras. Cards are cheap. He probably has a computer. Entry level software is cheap. This is a no-brainer.

Most entry-level digital cameras, even used, that allow you to use different lenses for under $500 either have poor resolution(4-6MP) or are significantly behind the curve.  Add in a replacement battery (or two, since the original is likely shot) and a memory card and even one good lens...  then add in that $100 in software.. $1000+ easy. And that's with no photo printer(not recommended at this stage, really)

For someone who is looking to see if they really want to get into photography(which is my best guess here), cheap as dirt and effective is a good goal.  

A $100 SLR with a couple of lenses(doubly so if it's an old AE1 or similar manual focus model someone is selling cheap) plus a replacement watch battery or two and he's ready to go.  $250-$300 tops.  That $600-700 difference compared to a basic digital setup buys a lot of film at $3 a roll in bulk.  With slides, there is the light box/viewer issue, but 35mm slides don't need prints - a huge cost savings. Under $7 for 100 slide mounts last I checked.  Mounting your own is simple enough.  

Even at $10 a roll including processing, that takes a huge time for digital to break even if he's using a local lab to run prints.  The cheapest of acceptable quality that I can find in L.A., for instance, is about 20 cents a print(Costco).  Way cheaper for 5x7 than a home photo printer.(why I don't recommend one to start)  But still, that's 36 prints for ~$7.20 versus maybe $3-4 more for slides.  The processing and printing of photos is hugely expensive compared to the gear in either case.  That's 150-200 rolls of 36 exposure film to make up that $600 difference.

By then he should know whether he really wants to do this or not.(my guess is by 30-50 rolls even)
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Mark D Segal
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« Reply #27 on: July 16, 2008, 05:35:44 PM »
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For someone who is looking to see if they really want to get into photography(which is my best guess here), cheap as dirt and effective is a good goal. 

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This is the statement which makes most of this thread and most of these specific considerations, to put it politely, "beside the point". He didn't say he was looking to see if he really wanted to get into photography. He was looking for advice on what kind of lens to buy.
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Mark D Segal (formerly MarkDS)
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« Reply #28 on: July 16, 2008, 05:48:09 PM »
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Hi.  I am new to photography and interested mainly in landscape and macro.  My question is which lens should I buy.  I am on a budget but could afford a Tokina 19-35 or a 28mm/30mm/35mm prime. Which would be best?
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I'd get the zoom.

I also like DarkPenguin's advice about using a zoom like a series of primes. I do the same thing: always look at the lens and set it to what I think I need. It is important to note that in many cases you simply cannot walk closer to something to frame it the way you want. Others have mentioned increased risk of dust on the sensor from frequent lens changes, which is an important consideration.
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Plekto
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« Reply #29 on: July 17, 2008, 02:36:01 PM »
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Many people lurk and read posts here, and so I try to also write any comments or advice with that in mind.   This specific example - it's not clear what his gear is or his budget, but he does say that he's new to photography and on a tight budget.

For just starting out, many people wrongly assume that film isn't an option.  Or don't realize it still exists and you can even get a few new film cameras if you want.  It has its place and works very well for low volume work.  Plus. the cost to get started is less than digital by a large margin.

Film may be dead for commercial use, but for amateur use, it's still worth considering.  Plus, even $2 a roll 120 film in bulk is going to produce fantastic results.  I still shoot 120 film and it's truly dirt cheap compared to a digital back.
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Mark D Segal
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« Reply #30 on: July 17, 2008, 03:29:40 PM »
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Yes, there may be some very specific circumstances in which it is worth considering, but on the whole it is yesteryear's technology with a great many limitations and inefficiencies compared with what is now available to us. The entry point can be low cost in either medium; from then on it depends on volume and purposes. I think we've beat this horse to its limit by now. Cheers!  
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Mark D Segal (formerly MarkDS)
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DarkPenguin
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« Reply #31 on: July 17, 2008, 04:00:15 PM »
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$430 will net you a DSLR with lens.  If you do ebay you should be able to drop that even more.   Digital is cheap.
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clearescape
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« Reply #32 on: July 17, 2008, 07:59:13 PM »
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If you're just starting out with photography you may not know if you prefer the wide angle look or a tele-photo look.  Obviously wide angle and tele-photo can be dictated by your subject, but to really find your style a zoom lens would allow you the best of both worlds.  Once you find that out then invest in a prime lens more suitable to your own style, and in case you are unaware always have your camera off when changing a lens to reduce the possibility of dust.

Eric Blackman Photography
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Plekto
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« Reply #33 on: July 17, 2008, 08:13:18 PM »
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$430 plus a spare battery and a memory card and $100 in software is $600, not including shipping and/or tax.   Some of use just don't have $600 to spend on a hobby to start with.  

Ebay# 200238478952   
Bit pricey, but this is an overhauled and serviced AE1 Program. $90.  Note the $16 price on the prime lens.(bet you could haggle to just get it thrown in for free)  I wasn't kidding when I said it was dirt cheap.

Ebay# 280216674337   
This is a Minolta X9, new and in the box.  It may be ten years old, but new old stock like this is everywhere. This actually is overpriced - it should be $100-$120.  Takes great photos and simple for a new person to photography to use.(I happen to like aperture priority)  Used examples of cameras like this from a typical camera shop in good condition are well under $100.  Buy, get a lens, drop film in, and start shooting for next to nothing spent.
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Pete Ferling
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« Reply #34 on: July 17, 2008, 11:57:20 PM »
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Frankly, unless you're printing something larger than an 8x10, then there's a whole lot of used gear out there that will work.

Primes.  I try to get something that looks close to what I see when I'm judging the scene with the naken eye, (without looking through the view finder).  After all, that's what you want, the very thing before you as-is.  Otherwise, you'll have to sneaker zoom to the next hill or ridge...
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lovell
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« Reply #35 on: July 18, 2008, 06:21:51 PM »
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Landscapes at F8 and down from there will show little improvement over zooms, when using primes.  However, my L primes can show some color and contrast improvements over my L zooms but this is a small nit.

For stopped down landscapes, it's a draw....use a good prime, or an L zoom. Generally, and with few exceptions nearly all non-L zooms are craaap.  However there are many non-L primes that are very good.

In summary, I would suggest using an L zoom with the required focal range, and if you want to go prime instead, then the L primes are of course great, but there are many non-L primes that are great too.

For my landscapes I use L primes only, but only because I love the challange of working with a fixed focal length, and not for any image quality improvements over an L zoom.  As to my other work, like weddings, candids, portraits, I only use L primes, for their faster apertures, and optimized qualities for their given fixed focal length.
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Mark D Segal
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« Reply #36 on: July 18, 2008, 08:21:40 PM »
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Nobody on a really tight budget will be shelling-out for an "L" zoom (unless there is a completely different concept of "tight budget" than the one I have in mind). "L" lenses are top-of-the-line professional equipment and priced accordingly.

There are numerous less expensive zoom lenses which perform very well. It depends on the make, the zoom range, the alignment of the elements on each individual unit, etc.

The safest way to buy a zoom lens is to buy from a dealer who will allow exchanges within a reasonable time period until the customer is satisfied with the quality.
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Mark D Segal (formerly MarkDS)
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elkhornsun
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« Reply #37 on: July 20, 2008, 05:04:21 AM »
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For landscape photography most people have used a lens in the range of 24-35mm with film. With a 1.5 crop camera that would mean a 18/20/24mm primes. Of these the 18 and 20mm are no better than a modern zoom lens. The old thinking regarding primes was true when zoom lenses were designed with a slide rule. With the dawn of computers to design optics zooms have gotten dramatically better.

The Nikon 14-24mm f2.8 lens has come out ahead of the Canon 14mm f2.8 and 24mm f2.8 prime lenses in terms of overall image quality in reviews. Where primes still add value is in providing 1.2/1.4 apertures, which are of little or no value for landscape photography.

I would buy and would recommend a quality Nikon 17-35mm f2.8 used zoom over any prime lens for landscape photography with a DSLR. With the Canon 16-35mm f2.8 I would want to do a first hand test of the lens what with all the QC problems, but a good copy would still be an excellent choice.

A factor not touched on but worth considering with DSLRs is dust on the sensor. With 3 primes the user will be doing many lens changes during an outing. Using a zoom lens and having no lens changes needed in the field, there is no chance of dust getting into the camera's light box and onto the sensor's filter pack.
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Rob C
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« Reply #38 on: July 20, 2008, 05:26:59 AM »
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Quote from: elkhornsun,Jul 20  Using a zoom lens and having no lens changes needed in the field, there is no chance of dust getting into the camera's light box and onto the sensor's filter pack.
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Forgive me if Iīm wrong, which I might be as I have never wanted nor owned one, but do some zooms not create a flow of air within themselves and onto the sensor/film as the lengths are changed? What then sensor cleanliness?

Going back to the forbidden ground of the Luddite, one of my current methods of photographing life is the reverse of most: I put on a lens, usually 24mm on D200, and it never comes off until I get home. I was going to remark about my dust experience but have decided not to tempt Fate! There is something freeing about not having to change focal length...

Rob C
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DarkPenguin
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« Reply #39 on: July 20, 2008, 11:26:41 AM »
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$430 plus a spare battery and a memory card and $100 in software is $600, not including shipping and/or tax.   Some of use just don't have $600 to spend on a hobby to start with. 

Why would a beginner need to bother with a spare battery?  A memory card that will take an insane number of jpegs (particularly with a 6mp camera) can be had for $10.  Why buy any software to start?

So, $440.
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