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Reconnecting with prime lenses

Over the last two years my tastes have moved me more into landscape photography, as I drive around enjoying the sights and sounds of Niagara. This in turn has led toward the use of longer and longer focal lengths, maxing my zoom lenses to get ever closer to the action. In recent weeks I’ve not been happy with some of the resulting images. They were OK, after a lot of work. But not great.

This week, I challenged myself to go back to basics, and only use my cheap and cheerful prime lenses: The Canon “Nifty 50” 1.8, and the pancake 24mm 2.8 STM. And I have to say, the difference is staggering.

These two lenses are not considered landscape lenses, and for good reason. They aren’t built for that purpose. Also, the obvious restrictions of prime lenses come in to play when shooting landscapes or wildlife. To zoom in, or get something fully in the frame, you have to physically walk toward or away from your subject. Not always easy, particularly when shooting wildlife that doesn’t want to be approached. Like a bull. Or anything on the other side of a 10-acre field. But, as I rediscovered this weekend, the benefits of using a prime can far outweigh these issues. By a country mile.

With a good prime there is little if any noticeable noise, at any ISO. Right out of camera, images are visibly sharper. The faster glass allows slower shutter speeds for handheld shots. Zoom lenses are awesome, as I say I have used them almost exclusively for my weekend fun images for the past two years. But it is a known trade off. Convenience for image quality. A fact that really came home to me today.

I used these two cheap and cheerful primes for two days straight. It may not show in these shots compressed for the web, but when I took the images into the computer for analysis my jaw almost literally dropped. Of 145 test images, the story was always the same. Zero noticeable noise even under a forest canopy. Pin sharp focus. The larger aperture gave me an extra couple of F-stops of latitude – so, no camera blur due to slow shutter. Beautiful bokeh for close-up or macro. And amazing low-light performance.

Suffice to say, I have a folder of great images to upload to stock libraries over the next few days.

Due to my increasingly lazy habits I had forgotten just how good these cheap and versatile prime lenses can be for landscapes. This weekend I have reconnected with my primes. Instead of using them solely for work – portrait or product shots – I have added them permanently to my vest pockets as part of my landscape arsenal. Definitely worth their minimal weight.

Those trees on the horizon may not be zoomed in so closely that you can see the birds in the branches… but they are so sharp and crisp I determined that doesn’t matter. If I want shots of the birds, I’ll get closer. And, to be brutally honest, it won’t hurt me to walk a few extra yards per day.


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