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Tuesday, February 9, 2010

What Lens Would Adams Use?

To get the very best sharpness, colors, contrast and overall image quality, you need to use the best lens possible

Labels: LensesGear

Ansel Adams used the sharpest lenses he could find for his cameras, experimenting with a number of them to discover the best ones for his work, be it a 70-year-old, 12-inch Voigtlander, the renowned 12-inch Goerz Dagor or the latest 121mm Schneider Super Angulon. Adams shot mostly large-format (4x5 inches and larger); with today’s 35mm-based DSLRs, good lenses are even more critical (35mm film was referred to as “miniature format” in Adams’ day). To get the best image, a quality lens is mandatory.

So what lenses do today’s pros use? Last year, we polled a number of our favorite landscape pros to find out. We learned that most shoot with DSLRs (many with sub-full-frame models) and use zoom lenses more often than primes. Essentially, they used top-of-the-line zooms (and primes). The results were published in “Lenses For Landscapes” in the May 2009 issue of Outdoor Photographer; you can find the article on www.outdoorphotographer.com/gear/lenses/lenses-for-landscapes.html.

Maximizing Sharpness: Lens Considerations
The lens is an essential part of the sharpness equation. A high-resolution DSLR and a sturdy tripod won’t produce sharp images if the lens isn’t sharp—and sharply focused. This is especially important in landscape work, where fine detail is crucial and prints generally will be large.

Obviously, for top-quality images you want to use top-quality lenses. These will be the manufacturers’ “pro” lenses. The high-end lenses are sharper, better corrected for aberrations and distortions, and really do produce better image quality, especially the newer ones designed for digital cameras. Naturally, the best lenses cost more. But there’s a difference, and if maximum image quality is important, you should use a good lens. Ansel Adams would.

Here are some tips to help you maximize sharpness in your lenses:

Keep the lens clean. Dust and smudges on front or rear lens elements reduce image quality.

Use a lens hood. It blocks much stray light from striking the front element of the lens and causing flare, which reduces image quality.

Use a tripod. While image stabilization is a wonderful feature, a tripod can hold your camera steadier than you can. Adams used a tripod.

Focus manually, or spot-autofocus on the point in the scene where you want focus to be. If your camera has Live View mode, use it and focus manually on a zoomed-in image on the LCD monitor, or use contrast-based spot AF to put focus exactly where you want it.


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