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Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Choose Your Perfect Zoom

The modern zoom lens is a marvel of technology, and it’s the nature photographer’s best friend

This Article Features Photo Zoom

Canon EF 28-300mm ƒ/3.5-5.6L IS USM
There was a time when most landscape photographers used prime (single-focal-length) wide-angle and normal lenses, while wildlife photographers relied on prime super-telephoto lenses.

Nikkor AF-S DX
18-200mm ƒ/3.5-5.6

While a good number of photographers still use prime lenses, today much landscape and wildlife photography is done with zoom lenses. Today’s top zoom lenses are a far cry from early zooms—they’re sharp, well corrected for aberrations and distortion, and let you travel much lighter, since they incorporate a whole range of focal lengths in a single package.

Nikkor AF-S 200-400mm ƒ/4G VR
Zoom Advantages
The major zoom advantage is having a broad range of focal lengths in a single lens. That saves a lot of space and weight, especially useful when lugging your gear in the field. Having all those focal lengths in a single lens also means fewer lens changes, which in turn means less dust on your image sensor.

Because zoom focal lengths are continuous, they can provide you with exactly the right focal length for a given photo. If you have a prime 28mm lens and a prime 50mm lens, and 37mm would frame the scene just right, you’ll have to use the 28mm lens and crop the image. But a 28-55mm or 28-70mm or 28-105mm zoom will provide that 37mm focal length. If 500mm is a bit long to catch that moose that just wandered into the nearby clearing, simply zoom your 200-500mm zoom back to 200mm and get the shot. If you had to remove a 500mm prime lens and attach a 200mm prime lens, the moment might be gone—and the noise of changing lenses might make the moose be gone, too (not to ignore the logistics of carting two big super-teles around).

Canon EF

If you want a long focal length for wildlife photography, zooms offer yet another advantage over prime lenses. For example, if you’re a Nikon user and you want 400mm in a prime lens, you have to buy the $9,000 400mm ƒ/2.8. But you can acquire the 200-400mm ƒ/4 ($6,300) or 80-400mm ƒ/4.5-5.6 ($1,700) and get 400mm (and other focal lengths, too) for a lot less. And many manufacturers offer 70-300mm or 75-300mm zooms for under $500, which gets you that minimum wildlife focal length for far less than a 300mm prime lens. (It’s true that the more costly lenses may perform better, but the less expensive models will get the job done for those who don’t have unlimited funds to spend on lenses.)


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