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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

DSLRs To Shoot Like Ansel Adams

The great master of nature photography didn’t shoot with a digital camera, but if Ansel Adams was alive today, we’re pretty certain he would. Here, we look at some of the latest cameras and at the features in which Adams might have been most interested.

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This Article Features Photo Zoom

Tripod Vs. Stabilization
Tamron AF18-270mm F/3.5-6.3 Di II VC
Ansel Adams didn’t have access to stabilized lenses and camera bodies (they didn’t exist at the time), so he had to work from a tripod. If he were shooting today, would he use one? We’ll answer that in a moment, but first, a bit about stabilization.

There are two basic types of stabilization: in-lens and in-camera. Canon introduced the first image-stabilized interchangeable SLR lens back in 1995, the EF 75-300mm ƒ/4-5.6 IS USM zoom. Motion sensors detect camera shake, and the system moves a lens group to counter it. In-lens stabilization’s primary advantage is that it stabilizes both the recorded image and what you see in the viewfinder. The stabilization system also can be optimized for each specific lens model, and it works with film as well as DSLRs. The primary drawback, of course, is that you get stabilization only with lenses that incorporate it. And these cost more than non-stabilized lenses. Canon’s IS, Nikon’s VR, Sigma’s OS and Tamron’s VC lenses incorporate in-lens stabilization.

Minolta introduced in-camera sensor-shift stabilization with its first DSLR, the Maxxum 7D, in 2003. Motion sensors detect camera shake, and the image sensor itself is moved to counter it. The big advantage of sensor-shift stabilization is that it works with any lens you attach to the camera. The main drawback is that it stabilizes only the recorded image, not what you see in the viewfinder. And, of course, sensor-shift stabilization isn’t available in film SLRs. Most Olympus, Pentax, Samsung and Sony DSLRs incorporate sensor-shift stabilization.

Manfrotto 190CXPRO4
Stabilization is wonderful. Adams called the 35mm camera “an extension of the eye as used freely in the hand,” and the handheld camera, 35mm or DSLR, is so easy to move that it frees you up to fully explore compositional possibilities, as mountain-climbing photo artist Galen Rowell and others have proved. Tripods tend to make for more static shots; that’s not a bad thing, as the work of Adams (and many others) confirms. But the freedom of the handheld camera encourages new ways of seeing, and that’s a good thing—often just moving the camera a few inches can make a big difference, and you’re much more likely to check that out with a handheld camera than a tripod-mounted one. With a handheld DSLR, you can shoot in places you couldn’t or wouldn’t take a tripod. And image stabilization makes it possible to get sharper handheld shots.

But a tripod has its advantages, too. First, a tripod can hold a camera steadier than a photographer can, even with stabilization. When ultimate sharpness is the goal, as in landscape photography, a tripod is a necessity. Even more importantly, the tripod locks in your composition so you can study it and you won’t accidentally change it as you squeeze off the shot. Adams and most serious landscape photographers spent/spend a lot of time examining the image on their large-format cameras’ ground glass, carefully fine-tuning the composition, depth of field and focus. You can’t do that as effectively with a handheld camera, even a stabilized one.

So should you shoot landscapes handheld or from a tripod? Many landscape pros do some of each. Try both ways and see what works best for you. But Adams would have worked from a tripod, even today.


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