About Zoom Lenses Pt.3

Having discussed various lenses and uses for them as well as samples ( See PT.1 & PT.2), I have been waiting for an opportunity to crank off a few shots of something a little more interesting than the shed outback.

Compounding the problem is the lack of mobility in the form of another Covid-19 lockdown, now into our third week. With the days getting longer and the weather warming up I was hoping to get out and take a few photos with the zoom lenses previously discussed.

Well as it happened, last week serendipity arrived in an aerial form on two consecutive, and importantly, fine warm days. What do I mean by aerial form?, well the photos below tell the story, with urea the first day and seaweed fertilizer the second day.

The day started out pretty ordinary with a monkey errrr – I mean an arborist swinging in the trees trimming the lower limbs of the neighbors driveway. Approx. 350 meters from my backdoor. It was around this time that I heard the Heli-Ag chopper start up on the neighboring farm to our south. The resulting aerial display shot over the next two days yielded around 650 useable images.

All the images were shot with the EF-S 55-250 STM lens and a Canon 600D. Settings were as follows.

  • ISO 200 & 400.
  • Shot in Jpeg Fine – using P Mode.
  • EV set to +0.5
  • AWB for whitebalance.
  • Continuous Shooting
  • Auto Lighting Optimser – Low ( How to use ALO)
  • Metering = Evaluative ( Best comprise for the shooting conditions)
  • Shutter speed and aperture vis “P Mode”
  • Color profile #1 ( My custom vivid profile  for Jpeg).
  • Focus point – single center focus point.
  • These are the settings I selected for this series of photos and in most cases match the settings I use for 90% of all the images I take with this camera for general photography.

One thing to note here is that shooting in RAW with continuous shooting is a waste of time. The camera is simply too slow to capture and write to the card anywhere near fast enough. I was lucky to get a series of shots with more than 4 frames before the buffer was overloaded and the camera basically ground to a holt. Switching to Jpeg Large/fine images allowed up to 15-20 frames before the buffer overloaded, which allowed me to reliably get nice 5 – 10 shot bursts with no appreciable slow down. The 600D is no frame monster but if you take the time to set it up right it can deliver the goods without you needing to dash off for a coffee while it empties its buffer to the SD card. 

You might be wondering why I used AF Focus rather than AI Servo.  AI Focus doesn’t try to guess where the focus will be based on your subjects movement as it tends to in AI Servo mode, but rather constantly updates what is under the single focus point area and adjusts focus  accordingly. Using the camera set this way gave me a very high percentage of shots in focus. I found that in a ten shot series almost every frame was in focus every time and when this wasn’t the case it dropped to around the 90% percent mark. While Canon suggest that for fast moving targets AI Servo is likely to yield better results, with the 600D I have found the opposite to be true. Other models may vary.

As to the use of the Auto Lighting Optimizer, I usually run this in the Low setting just to help raise the shadows in Jpegs, which helps in post processing. The effect can be very subtle and may seem like its not working, however comparing Jpegs to RAW files using the  different settings definitely shows a small increase in shadow performance. Give it a try, it may well help your images. As I generally prefer to shoot Jpeg for most general photography any improvement to an image is welcome.




About Zoom lenses – Pt2


In About Zoom lenses – Pt1. of this series I stated that the size and weight of prime lenses and fixed aperture zoom lenses ( zoom primes ) were generally large and heavy. While this is true of a good many of these lenses there are a few that a considerably smaller than some. Take Fuji’s new XC 35 as well as the XF 27 and the XF 35 & XF 16mm as well as the XF 23mm & XF 50mm, are all examples of lightweight lenses for apsc cameras. Other makers also have similar offerings and lets not forget micro four thirds lenses.

For a prime shooter looking for a light and small lens set theres a good many to choose from. Step up to a fixed aperture or pro level zoom and all of a sudden weight and size become a serious issue, and then of course theres the corresponding elevation in prices.

That’s where kit and premium lenses come into play. Kit lenses are generally included with new cameras and come as a single or dual lens combination. These are the standard lenses you would expect with most entry level a mid tier camera kits. It should be noted that the entry level and mid tier camera combos are now beginning to blur the lines between these two levels.

With the advent of mirrorless and the slow reduction of models in the DSLR range the gap between entry level and mid tier is so minimal now that its hard to see why one is better than the other as mirrorless cameras slowly supplant DSLRs.

This makes buying zoom lenses problematic if you have an apsc DSLR and are considering buying into the mirrorless camera sector. Most manufacturers offer a adapter so that you lenses will work with the mirrorless cameras, however should you be considering going to fullframe cameras then what you currently have isn’t going to work.

This is one reason I now look to a all in one style of zoom for my DSLRs, less lenses to cart around, less weight to carry, greater shot to shot versatility and image quality that is easily acceptable, and able to print to large sizes. And of course reasonable to expensive price options.

So what are some options we could consider?

Take my current setup for example, all my cameras and lenses a pre owned. I currently have 2 x Canon 600D’s, one of which has an LCD that doesn’t work and is my parts backup camera. For lenses I have the standard 18-55 IS II , the 18-135 USM II & the 55-250 STM. Three telephoto lenses.

For close up work I can use either the 18-55 or the 18-135 depending upon what I’m doing. The 18-135 or the 55 – 250 are the two lenses that are almost always in the camera bag, I rarely use the 18-55 as the bigger 18-135 generally renders it obsolete. I do however use it for street work where the weight and size of the 18-135 is a little too stand-outish in a street or indoor area. For those longer shots where the 18-135 really hasn’t got the reach the 55-250 does the job for nearly every occasion. There are times when I could really do with the reach of my Fuji HS20 when a 500 or 600 mm lens would be helpful. I often find there are photos I cant take with the Canon gear and I certainly cant afford a 400 to 600 mm range telephoto lens, even second hand.

Lets Look at a few options.

As with most manufacturers there is the standard and premium range of lenses available for those who wish to spend a little to a lot more. Example the Fuji XC 50-230 telephoto lens is excellent, I have many crisp, well exposed images from using this lens with my XA2 and my son has found the same with the XC 50-230 on his XT10. At $598 NZD its reasonably priced. If you want to step up a little into the premium level there is the XF 55-200. The price difference is roughly double that of the XC 50-230.

In the Canon camp you have the EF-S 55 – 250 STM lens or the more premium EF 70-300 IS II USM lens, ( $985 NZD) which is two and a half times the price of the 55-250. ( $398 NZD). I have shot with this lens and its hands down night and day better than the standard 70-300 kit lens. Its every bit a good as the 55-250.

In summary:

There are many choices for the telephoto buyer to choose from. Theres two primary factors in buying this type of lens and that is price and functionality. If you want a premium lens that has aperture rings, smoother focus rings, improved lens glass types, weather sealing etc then premium is most likely your option. In this case functionality is the more important consideration.

For those of us, myself included, with modest budgets then cost will be the primary driver with functionality secondary. This doesn’t necessarily mean that image quality is going to be reduced, but rather that higher image quality is usually a plus with more expensive lenses. Having said that I have seen images taken with the Fuji XC 50-230 and the Canon EF-S 55-250 that rival any but the most expensive lenses when they are shot well and to the lenses strengths.

Any Image I take , providing the light is adequate and they are well focused, with my lenses will print A3 or bigger with no real issues. I regularly print A4 images on my Epson printer at home and I’m always amazed at the level of detail and crispness these lenses provide, including my astrophotos.

Below are two images, one taken with the EF-S 18 135 USM lens and one with the EF-S 55-250 STM lens. Both are cropped to approx. 70%, were shot at ISO 800 and are processed from the RAW files with Photoscape V3.7. The third image was taken some time ago with the Canon 700D and a EF-S 55-250 lens ( bought new for the 700D ). All three images print as crisp and color correct images at A4 on my Epson printer.

70% Crop from EF-S 18-135 USM & Canon 600D
70% Crop from EF-S 55-250 STM & Canon 600D
70% Crop from EF-S 55 – 250 & Canon 700D

Are these the perfect images? No but they arent terrible either when you consider the modest price for the equipment used. The images print well, could be further enhanced, but this was not my intent when processing these images, but rather to be able to take the RAW file, clean it up and have a useful printable image, without spending large amounts of time in the processing, (something that I do when processing astrophotos).

So dont be caught up in the marketing hype or the opinions from reviewers who by and large dont often spend long periods of time using these types of lenses. For the majority of us these lenses provide more than enough versatility without breaking the bank or budget and provide us with a platform that is flexible enough for us to improve our photography techniques and develop our own photographic styles. As you develop your skill set you may then find you have more use for premium or pro level lenses, we are all different but the humble budget friendly range of zoom lens are a great starting point.

Happy Snappin’