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The Lens: A Practical Guide for the Creative Photographer

The Lens: A Practical Guide for the Creative Photographer

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The Lens: A Practical Guide for the Creative Photographer

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Oct 8, 2012
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Which lens should I buy for my camera?

It's such a simple question, but choosing the right lens or lenses is actually one of the most important photographic decisions you can make. Nothing affects the quality of a photo more than the lens. It's no longer just about the megapixels-it's the glass that makes all the difference!

Many first-time buyers of DSLRs don't venture past the basic lens included in the box. While some are reluctant to spend more money, others are confused by all the buzzwords or are overwhelmed by all the choices out there. It's really a shame, because interchangeable lenses give you amazing scope for quality photography.

Take in vast sweeping scenes with a wide angle lens. Capture faraway birds with a telephoto lens. Examine the tiniest detail of a flower with a macro lens. Record the perfect portrait with a prime lens. Anything is possible when you choose the right lens for the job!

This book isn't a simple catalogue of available lenses. New products are coming out all the time, and comparing specific lenses can be difficult. Instead, author N.K. Guy gives you all the information you need to make smart buying decisions. Optical technology is demystified, arcane terminology is decoded, and practical tips are provided.

The Lens will help you build the perfect lens collection to suit your needs-now and in the future.

Editor:
Lansat:
Oct 8, 2012
ISBN:
9781457179266
Format:
Carte

Despre autor

NK Guy is a Canadian writer and photographer living in Britain. He specializes in travel photography and event portraiture. He is the author of Mastering Canon EOS Flash Photograph (Rocky Nook, 2010), The Lens (Rocky Nook, 2012), The Photographer's Dictionary (Rotovision, 2008), and Art of Burning Man (Taschen, summer 2015). He is the creator of PhotoNotes.org, a popular online resource for photographic education. Guy no longer lives aboard a barge on the Paddington Arm of the Grand Union Canal in London, but wishes he did because it makes for great book bio copy.

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The Lens - NK Guy

The Lens

NK Guy

The Lens

A Practical Guide for the Creative Photographer

NK Guy, photonotes.org

Editor: Joan Dixon

Copyeditor: Judy Flynn

Layout: Petra Strauch

Cover Design: Helmut Kraus, www.exclam.de

Cover photos: NK Guy

Printer: Everbest Printing Co. Ltd through Four Colour Print Group, Louisville, Kentucky

Printed in China

ISBN 978-1-933952-97-0

1st Edition 2012

© 2012 NK Guy

Rocky Nook, Inc.

802 E. Cota Street, 3rd Floor

Santa Barbara, CA 93103

www.rockynook.com

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Guy, NK.

The lens : a practical guide for the creative photographer / by NK Guy. -- 1st ed.

     p. cm.

ISBN 978-1-933952-97-0 (pbk.)

1. Photographic lenses. I. Title.

TR270.G89 2012

771.3’52--dc23

                                                     2012001393

Distributed by O‘Reilly Media

1005 Gravenstein Highway North

Sebastopol, CA 95472

All product names and services identified throughout this book are trademarks or registered trademarks of their respective companies. They are used throughout this book in editorial fashion only. No such uses, or the use of any trade name, are intended to convey endorsement or other affiliation with the book. No part of the material protected by this copyright notice may be reproduced or utilized in any form, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without written permission of the copyright owner. While reasonable care has been exercised in the preparation of this book, the publisher and authors assume no responsibility for errors or omissions, or for damages resulting from the use of the information contained herein.

All photographs, screenshots, example layouts, and illustrations by the author.

This book is printed on acid-free paper.

For Mum

For always working tirelessly to make everything possible

Table of Contents

Introduction

Why interchangeable lenses?

What can interchangeable lenses do for me?

What’s covered in this book?

What’s not covered in this book

1      A brief history of optics

1.1   The science of light

1.2   The path to the lens

1.3   Geometrical optics

1.4   Waves and particles

2      Bending light

2.1   Putting glass to work

2.2   Refraction

2.3   What is a lens?

2.4   Lens elements

2.5   Field of view

2.6   Focal length

2.7   But what is focal length, really?

2.8   Prime or zoom: adjustable focal lengths

2.9   The 35mm focal length equivalent

2.10 Digital versus film: the cropping factor

2.11 APS-C

2.12 Medium format

2.13 Focal length examples

2.14 Image circles

2.15 All about apertures

2.16 f-stops

2.17 Maximum apertures

2.18 Fast and slow lenses

2.19 Diaphragms

2.20 Adjusting the aperture

2.21 Wide-open metering

2.22 Depth of field

3      Lens mechanisms

3.1   What’s in a lens?

3.2   A lens that fits: lens mounts

3.3   Popular lens mounts

3.4   Motors and mechanisms

3.5   Ultrasonic focus motors

3.6   Motion blur

3.7   The handheld rule

3.8   Stabilizers: a lens not shaken

3.9   The user interface

3.10 To infinity—and beyond!

3.11 Lens electronics

3.12 What’s in a name?

3.13 Alphabet soup

3.14 Decoding a lens name

3.15 Serial numbers

3.16 Build quality

3.17 Lens barrel construction

3.18 Lens marketing categories

3.19 Notable marketing categories

3.20 Colored rings

3.21 Kit lenses

3.22 White lenses

3.23 Safety

3.24 Cold weather

4      Choosing the right lens for a project

4.1   Choosing a lens

4.2   Portraits

4.3   Landscapes

4.4   Kids

4.5   Closeup or macro photography

4.6   Sports

4.7   Traveling light

4.8   The reporter’s triumvirate

4.9   Low-light and night photography

4.10 Wildlife photography

5      Choosing a lens by focal length

5.1   Wide angle

5.2   Extreme wide angles

5.3   Fisheyes

5.4   Normal or the Nifty Fifty

5.5   Telephoto

5.6   Super telephoto

5.7   Megazooms

5.8   A matter of perspective

5.9   Perspective in portraits

5.10 Falling backwards: another take on perspective

5.11 Compressed perspective

6      Accessorize!

6.1   Filters

6.2   Lens hoods

6.3   Teleconverters and extenders

6.4   Supplementary lens focal length adapters

6.5   Macro accessories

6.6   Caps

6.7   Bags

6.8   Tripod mounts

7      Buying lenses

7.1   Camera brand or third party?

7.2   Where to buy?

7.3   The dark side of camera retailing

7.4   Warranties

7.5   The gray market

7.6   Going used?

7.7   Rental options

8      Advanced topics

8.1   Learning more about optics

8.2   What is focal length?

8.3   Lens element types

8.4   Optical properties

8.5   Manufacturing

8.6   Seeking the perfect lens

8.7   Optical flaws

8.8   Chromatic aberration: color fringing

8.9   Spherical aberration

8.10 Aspheric lens elements

8.11 Intentional spherical aberration

8.12 Distortion

8.13 Other aberrations

8.14 Sharpness

8.15 Lens flare

8.16 Antireflective lens coatings

8.17 Multicoatings

8.18 Bokeh

8.19 Vignetting

8.20 Close focus distance

8.21 The hyperfocal distance

8.22 The diffraction limit

8.23 Diffractive optic lenses

8.24 Tilt and shift

8.25 Lenses for video

8.26 Mirror lenses

8.27 Digital lenses

8.28 Dust

8.29 Scratches

8.30 Cleaning lenses

8.31 Keeping out the weather

8.32 Fungus

8.33 Repairs

8.34 Infrared photography

8.35 The mystery of MTF charts

8.36 A measurable obsession

8.37 Sample variation

8.38 Micro focus adjustment

8.39 Testing for focus errors

9      Creative options: beyond the standard lens

9.1   Manual-focus lenses

9.2   Adapting lenses to other camera systems

9.3   Focusing manually

9.4   Modern manual-focus lenses

9.5   Toy cameras and lo-fi photography

9.6   Diana lenses

9.7   A flexible approach: the Lensbaby

9.8   Creative bokeh

9.9   Pinhole cameras

9.10 Detaching the lens

9.11 Fake anamorphic effects

9.12 Homemade lenses

Conclusion

Appendices

Appendix A: Lens mount systems

Appendix B: Manufacturer-specific lens terms

Appendix C: Lens mount table

Appendix D: Chapter Opening Images

Appendix E: A simple focus test

Acknowledgements

Glossary

Index

Introduction

Why interchangeable lenses?

Which lens should I buy for my camera?

Such a simple question, but it’s actually one of the most important photographic decisions you can make. Nothing affects the technical quality of a photo more than the glass.

Lenses are at the very heart of the image-forming process. They’re not a peripheral, and they’re not an accessory.

Many new photographers put a lot of effort into choosing the right camera, but leave the lens as an afterthought. Lots of people rarely venture beyond the standard kit lens that came in the box. This is partly because of the expense. But it’s also because shopping for lenses is frankly very confusing: there’s such a panoply of choice covering every price point imaginable.

Whether you’re shooting with a huge professional digital SLR like this Canon EOS 1D Mark IV, or a tiny pocket camera like this Pentax Q, interchangeable lenses give you total flexibility.

Sticking with the kit lens just doesn’t take advantage of the incredible versatility of an interchangeable lens camera, though. The ability to swap lenses gives you amazing photographic scope. Take in vast sweeping scenes with a wide angle lens. Capture faraway birds with a telephoto lens. Record the tiniest detail of a flower with a macro lens. Take the perfect portrait with a prime lens. All this and more is possible when you choose the right lens for the job!

So that’s the inspiration for this book. It’s not a simple buyer’s guide listing the specs for various lenses. You won’t find out whether the SuperLens 70–300 3.5–4.5 lens is sharper than the MegaGlass 100–200 2.8 lens at 200mm. That sort of specific comparative data has very narrow utility.

Instead, this book gives you all the information you need to make educated buying decisions based on your needs, priorities, and budget. The Lens will help you build the perfect lens collection to suit your needs—now and in the future.

What can interchangeable lenses do for me?

Check out some of these before and after shots. The befores are what you might see using a standard manufacturer-supplied kit lens. The after shots were taken using specific lenses suited for each shoot.

This view of Arundel Cathedral in Arundel, England, doesn’t really show the scale of the building’s interior.

However, this wide-angle shot of the same cathedral reveals the grandeur of the rib-vault ceiling.

The fishing village of Beer in Devon, England. Picturesque, but what if you want to take a closeup of the seagull? If you move too near it’ll fly away.

One solution is a telephoto lens, which lets you zoom in close to the bird without frightening it.

Low-light photography is always challenging. Here’s a typical blurry shot caused by attempting a photograph in dim light without flash.

But by using a lens capable of admitting lots of light—a fast lens—a sharp low-light photo is possible even though the candles are the sole light source.

The Galeries Lafayette department store in Paris is famous for its massive 1912 Art Nouveau glass dome. This first shot shows the detail of the dome, but doesn‘t really give a sense of scale for the space.

A circular fisheye lens, while distorting the image considerably, yields a much more dramatic view.

What’s covered in this book?

There are three basic categories of interchangeable lens cameras covered by this book: single-lens reflex (SLR) cameras, mirrorless interchangeable-lens digital cameras, and rangefinders.

SLRs

Single-lens reflex (SLR) cameras are the traditional midsize camera body. They almost always allow for interchangeable lenses and have a large hump on the top that houses a prism or mirror. When you look through the viewfinder, you look straight through the main lens via a mirror, hence the name. SLRs date back to the 35mm film era, though many SLR designs have been successfully brought into the digital age. This book deals with both film and digital SLR cameras with imaging areas the size of 35mm film or smaller.

Canon, Nikon, Olympus, Pentax, and Sony are makers of popular SLRs.

A Canon EOS 5 SLR. This fully automated 35mm film camera was introduced back in 1992 and represents an early EOS design. Also marketed under the name A2E.

Digital mirrorless

Digital mirrorless interchangeable-lens cameras are compact and portable. They’re smaller than SLRs on the whole and lack the big SLR mirror/prism hump. As the name describes, they’re digital only and don’t have the reflective mirror assembly that takes up a lot of space inside every SLR. They’re sometimes jokingly referred to by the acronym EVIL, for electronic viewfinder interchangeable lens, or more accurately as MILCs, for mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras. Throughout this book I will refer to them simply as mirrorless cameras. Fujifilm, Nikon, Leica, Olympus, Panasonic, Pentax, Samsung, and Sony are some well known makers.

The X-Pro1 is the first of a line of mirrorless digital cameras from Fuji-film. Shown are three lenses introduced with the camera.

Rangefinders

Rangefinders have a very old design, dating back to film cameras of the 1930s. They use two separate lens systems: one that sends light to the film or image sensor and one that is used strictly for the viewfinder. They have a complex internal array of mirrors and lenses to enable focusing.

Nikon and Canon both made rangefinders back in the 1940s and 1950s, but Leica is the best-known brand for both film and digital rangefinders today.

A Leica M9 digital rangefinder camera. Although equipped with the latest digital technology, this camera is fully compatible with Leica M lenses made since 1954.

What’s not covered in this book

Medium format and large format camera systems are not covered. These are large film or digital cameras designed for professional or artistic use, made by companies such as Hasselblad, Mamiya, Pentax, and Phase One.

A classic Hasselblad 500 series camera. Medium format film cameras such as this date back to the 1950s, and specially modified Hasselblads were famously used in space by NASA. In fact, twelve cameras from Apollo missions still remain on the moon’s surface.

This book is also not an engineering textbook. It’s about learning to be a more skilled driver, but it doesn’t teach you how to build cars.

1 A brief history of optics

1.1 The science of light

At its simplest, photography is about recording waves of light and creating two-dimensional pictures. And fortunately, light behaves in very predictable and reliable ways—at least in a photographic context. Over the centuries the science of optics and the technology of manufacturing have been developed and refined, resulting in the lenses we see today.

This chapter outlines some of the basic historical discoveries that made optical technology possible.

1.2 The path to the lens

It all starts with light—and the ability of glass to bend it.

In short, two strands of human knowledge had to come together: a working set of theories to describe how light actually functions and the technical ability to make and shape glass objects.

Lens-making technology dates back thousands of years. Shaped rock crystal lenses were made in ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia, but there is only fleeting and tantalizing evidence that they were used for much more than decorative purposes until roughly the time of the ancient Greeks, when simple magnifying lenses are definitely known to have been made.

The Nimrud lens, made in Assyria (present-day Iraq) around 950 BCE. It’s unknown if it had any optical purposes or was purely decorative. The rock crystal is crudely shaped, so I personally doubt it would have been a very useful tool. The British Museum, London, England.

Optical theory

As for the science, it actually took quite a while for humans to figure out what light really is and how it works. And some early theories were frankly very strange by modern standards. For example, the Greek philosopher Plato (about 428–348 BCE) and the Roman physician Galen (about 129–216) both maintained that human eyes emit special rays that allow us to see. Oddly this extramission theory of light never quite explained convincingly why we can’t see in the dark.

Perhaps the first person to come up with a consistent and modern theory of light was the Arab or Persian polymath Abū ʿAlīal-Ḥasan ibn al-Ḥasan ibn al-Haytham al-Baṣrī (965–1040 or so). He’s best known concisely in the West as Alhazen or al-Haytham. al-Haytham correctly realized that light is emitted by light-producing objects, such as the sun or a flame, and travels in straight lines. It then either enters the human eye directly or is reflected off various surfaces first. The eye (or an artificial substitute, such as a camera) is a passive detector of light, not an active emitter of it.

A Latin translation of al-Haytham’s Kitab al-Manazir (Book of Optics), originally written from about 1011 to 1021, describes diffraction, refraction, spherical aberration, and a host of other optical principles. This 1572 book may be the first printed edition of al-Haytham’s work after centuries of handwritten translations and is shown here courtesy the Royal Society, London, England.

While largely forgotten by his contemporaries, al-Haytham’s ideas were translated into Latin and eventually took root in Europe. By 1267 English friar Roger Bacon (1214–1294) was writing about optical theory, relying both on his own observations and on the work of others, including al-Haytham.

Some centuries later, German mathematician and astronomer Johannes Kepler (1571–1630) published Astronomiæ Pars Optica in 1604, thus establishing the groundwork for modern optics and an accurate model of human vision. Another milestone in the scientific revolution was the publication of Opticks in 1704 by English physicist and mathematician Isaac Newton (1642–1727). This work described many optical phenomena, such as diffraction and dispersion.

A first edition of Newton’s Opticks, in which he discusses the importance of firsthand observation. From the collection of the Royal Society, London, England.

However, Newton espoused a corpuscular theory of light that, while presaging aspects of Albert Einstein’s notion of the photon, was eventually demolished by the theory of light as a wave, originated by Dutch physicist Christiaan Huygens (1629–95). Wave-based optics eventually led to the very successful mathematical models of the nineteenth century that made lens design possible.

Today we understand light to be just one form of energy known as electromagnetic (EM) radiation. And it’s critically important because, unlike other forms of EM energy, such as radio waves or X-rays, we can see it with our eyes.

... in the beginning of the Year 1666 (at which time I applyed my self to the grinding of Optick glasses of other figures than Spherical,) I procured me a Triangular glass-Prisme, to try therewith the celebrated Phænomena of Colours. – Isaac Newton

Glassmaking

The first optical use of glass was, of course, the development of corrective lenses for human vision. The ancient Greeks are known to have used simple lenses to help perform detailed tasks. And wealthy medieval scholars sometimes used thick hemispherical glass or crystal domes as so-called reading stones to magnify text.

Replica reading stone from the collection of the Zeiss Optical Museum, Oberkochen, Germany.

But it wasn’t until the 1400s and 1500s that glassmaking for practical and decorative applications became highly developed. Key inventions included Venetian cristallo glass and English lead glass. These very pure materials helped enable the European optical breakthroughs of the 1600s.

Thin glass lenses were devised, resulting in spectacles to assist both reading and distance viewing. Dutch philosopher Baruch de Spinoza (1632–77), for example, earned a good living grinding lenses when he wasn’t speculating about the nature of the universe.

A modern-day craftsman transforms a lump of molten glass into a decorative sculpture. Murano, Venice, Italy.

Sixteenth or seventeenth century reading glass and carrying case. Zeiss Optical Museum, Oberkochen, Germany.

With the invention of the telescope and the microscope, optics took people into very different directions of scale. By the early 1600s, Italian scientist Galileo Galilei (1564–1642) had documented the moons of Jupiter and other heavenly bodies. And Dutch microbiologist Antoni van Leeuwenhoek (1632–1723), constructing tiny microscopes by the mid to late 1600s, discovered the tiny animalcules (i.e., protozoa or microorganisms) that reside in a drop of pond water.

The camera

Oddly enough, the first conceptual cameras, which can be dated back to China in the fourth century BCE, lacked both lenses and film. They were simply darkened rooms or boxes equipped with tiny pinholes. Such pinhole boxes later became popular with European artists from the 1500s to 1800s as tools to aid drawing in proper perspective.

These cameras exploited the fact that light passing through a pinhole (see section 9.9) or glass lens can be projected onto a flat screen in a darkened box or chamber for viewing. This is the origin of the modern English word, in fact, as Camera obscura is Latin for dark chamber.

These strange looking devices are Leeuwenhoek’s original handmade microscopes. Of the hundreds he built during his lifetime, only a handful survive today. The lenses are tiny glass spheres located at the center of each handheld tool. The Museum Boerhaave for the History of Science and Medicine, Leiden, Netherlands.

For millennia people have noticed that light cast by small gaps or holes, such as the tiny gap between crossed fingers, will take on the shape of the sun during solar eclipses. This is the same principle that makes pinhole cameras possible. Annular eclipse in Tamerza, Tunisia, 2005.

An experimental camera obscura used in the 1830s by French inventor Louis Daguerre to develop the Daguerreo-type, the first workable photographic process. It consisted of a pair of nested wooden boxes that can be moved back and forth like a drawer in order to focus. From the collection of the Musée des Arts et Métiers, Paris, France.

It may look like a model rocketship from a 1940s movie serial, but this amazing device is actually a century older. This is a Daguerreotyp-Apparat zum Portraitiren, or Daguerreotype Apparatus for Portraiture, made by Voigtländer in Vienna in 1840 or 1841. As a measure of how early it is, remember that Daguerre announced the first workable photographic process to the world in 1839. The lens, designed mathematically by Josef Petzval (see section 1.3), was mounted on the right side, and was covered with a cap which doubled as a shutter. Focusing was done by turning the small knob. Round metal Daguerreo-type plates were put into the camera on the left side of the cone. From the Zeiss Optical Museum collection. Oberkochen, Germany.

Photography

In the 1820s and 1830s, French pioneers Nicéphore Niépce (1765–1833) and Louis Daguerre (1787–1851) invented chemical methods for recording images permanently on metal plates, and photography truly began.

The key elements of traditional photography—dark boxes (cameras), light-sensitive material (plates or film), and light modifiers (lenses)—had come together. For over 150 years these were the fundamental ingredients of image recording.

A mid-twentieth-century film camera: a folding Kinax II made in France in the late 1940s. This is actually my father’s first camera.

Considerable research was done in the 1960s and 1970s into electronic imaging—the charge-coupled device (CCD) image sensor chip was devised in 1969, for example. But it wasn’t until the 1980s that workable electronic still image-capture devices were introduced. By the late 1990s, digital cameras were rapidly replacing chemical photographic imaging.

The first commercially available digital SLR was the 1991 Kodak DCS (Digital Camera System). It was a stock Nikon F3 camera, with a 1.3 megapixel chip and handgrip bolted on. The camera itself was compact enough, but you also had the huge lunchbox-sized DSU (digital storage unit) containing batteries, voluminous 200 MB hard drive, and preview screen, which had to be tethered to the camera. Only well-heeled news agencies, which valued the ability of the camera to send digital shots down a phone line in record time, could justify the expense and inconvenience of this early proof of concept device.

This photo may look simulated, but it’s the real thing. A mere two decades after the Kodak DCS, laptops and mobile phones sport incredibly tiny digital cameras such as this.

Today film is sadly nearing mass-market extinction, but even the latest and most sophisticated digital cameras employ lens technology based on discoveries dating back centuries.

1.3 Geometrical optics

Modern lens design is a very complex and esoteric field and is heavily dependent upon mathematics. The earliest lens makers worked intuitively and pragmatically, testing lens after lens to see what gave the best results. They discovered that certain arrangements of lens types produced sharper images than others, thus creating a family of basic lens designs still in use today.

French opticians Vincent (1770–1841) and Charles (1804–59) Chevalier, father and son, accidentally became the world’s first photographic lens makers when their meniscus designs were used by Nicéphore Niépce to take the first photograph in 1826. Charles later teamed up with Daguerre to make the first purpose-designed camera lenses. This is a Chevalier lens from the 1840s Le Photographe camera. Musée des Arts et Métiers. Paris, France.

But by the mid-1800s, particularly in Germany, people started to devise practical mathematical equations to predict the way that lenses bend light. These formulas made it possible to calculate the theoretical behavior of various optical designs before they were committed to actual lens grinding and physical testing. Ernst Abbe (1840–1905) at optical manufacturer Carl Zeiss was particularly instrumental in establishing the framework for modern computational optics.

Performing the mathematical calculations was hugely time-consuming in the days before computers, and teams of mathematicians were employed to perform laborious trigonometric and logarithmic calculations on paper. The Petzval lens design of 1840 (used in the Voigtländer camera shown on page 14), for example, took nearly a dozen men several months to calculate. The rise of digital computing dramatically sped up the process and ushered in an age of complex computer models. Today, sophisticated software, advanced forms of

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  • (5/5)
    This is a really accessible book written by someone capable of imagining how people build up a mental model of the function of lenses and light.