Monday, July 29, 2013

A New Lens

When I got my first DSLR camera last year I also purchased a basic "how to use this complicated piece of machinery" book. One of the chapters in the book talks about "Lens Lust". Hmm, I thought, not for awhile. My camera came with two basic lens, one for close ups and things only a moderate distance away, and another telephoto lens, for landscapes and other things more distant. I thought that would be plenty for the foreseeable future. After all, I didn't really know how to use the camera at all. It would take me awhile before I felt like I really knew how to use these two lenses. Maybe then I would be ready to expand my equipment.

So I took a few photography classes and tried to practice as much as I could. I LOVE my camera. It can do so much more than a point-and-shoot. At first my only limitation was my lack of expertise.

But eventually I came up against a major frustration and yes, I started to lust for a particular lens. One of my long-time photographical annoyances has been trying to take pictures when the light is less than ideal. With a point-and-shoot, eventually I learned to not even bother if it was dark out at all. They simply don't have the capacity to take decent pictures in low light. With my DSLR I had better luck, but certain situations still caused me problems.

There are several ways to get a better camera to take pictures when there isn't enough light. You can, of course, use a flash, but I don't like the way a flash makes your subject look. There are ways to improve on flash photography, but that is a story for another day.

With a DSLR camera, there are three other ways to get more light into your camera. One way is to slow down the shutter speed. The trouble with that is that if your camera shakes at all while the shutter is open your picture will be blurry. So then you need a tripod. That's all well and good, but not great for, say, walking around a city in the evening and taking impromptu pictures.

The second thing you can do is increase the ISO. Remember film cameras? (some of you do). Camera film comes in different speeds - 200 ISO, 400 ISO, 800 ISO and up. The higher the ISO, the more sensitive to light the film and the better it performs in low light situations. DSLR cameras have that sensitivity built right into the camera. It is easy to increase the camera's ISO on the fly, and I do that a lot. The drawback to increasing the ISO is something called "noise". Noise is that graininess you sometimes see in photos. Its not terrible, but once you know about it, its bothersome.

The final way to get more light into a camera is something called "aperture". Aperture is how big the opening is where the light gets into the camera.  For those of you that know a little bit about cameras, you might have heard of something called "F stops". F stops are a measurement of just how big that opening is. The bigger the opening, the more light comes into the camera, and the easier it is to get a decent picture in low light situations without increasing the ISO or using a flash, or resorting to a tripod so you can use a slow shutter speed.

My basic lenses both have a maximum aperture of F5.0 at the very most. The measurement of apertures is confusing. F5.0 is really a fraction, 1/5. A larger F stop is actually a smaller aperture, that is, F11 is really a fraction, 1/11, so its smaller than F5. Better lenses have larger apertures, but it gets expensive, very expensive.

Earlier this month I went to St. Louis to visit my mother. One day while driving around doing some errands for her, I drove past a camera shop. "Hmmm," I thought, "Maybe a camera shop would help me decide which lens exactly I'm lusting after." I pulled into their parking lot and walked into the store.

Now I feel a little bad about this, because I was just window shopping that day, and had no intention of actually buying a lens. In fact, if I could find something affordable I planned on asking for it for my birthday, and Lee would in most likelihood buy it on Amazon. But who knows? I am in St. Louis fairly frequently; maybe I'll buy something at this store eventually.

A very nice woman was glad to help me. She showed me several lenses with larger apertures. It was very, very easy to go over $1,000 and up when purchasing one of these lenses, and I had no intention of doing that! So I kept saying I wanted to stay under $600, or lower if possible. Finally, she showed me a very nice lens, by Sigma, designed for medium distances (17-55mm), with a maximum aperture of F2.8. She attached the lens to a camera and let me play with it a little. WOW! Things really jumped into focus through that lens, even in the rather dimly lit interior of the camera store. And it was on sale too! I knew what I wanted for my birthday.

My birthday was July 22nd. My wonderful husband answered my wish. I've been having a great time with that little lens. I can take pictures in lower lighting situations without increasing the ISO or needing a tripod to handle the camera shake at slower shutter speeds.

I really am enjoying the process of learning to take better pictures. I think I will be lens-content now for quite awhile, although a macro lens for taking close ups of flowers and bugs and things would sure be fun....and someday a larger telephoto lens, with maybe a monopod to hold it steady would be great....

PS. All the pictures in this post were taken with the new camera lens, just wandering around our yard, enjoying the profusion of blooming plants in late July New England.


  1. Beautiful photos and a very clear explanation of how to work with light. xo

  2. Why thank you Gail! Xoxoxo to you too...



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