Primes, zooms, landscapes and panos


THE question cropped up in a forum discussion of whether primes are better than zooms. This is a fairly common question amd my response is that the best modern zooms are very nearly as good as any prime. My 70-200 f/2.8L is as sharp as anything I’ve got at all focal lengths and wide open.

The main advantage of primes is that they are usually a LOT smaller and easier to carry and they are usually a little bit faster, with apertures of f/2 or less at focal lenghts of less than 100mm, which helps in low-light situations or where you want to isolate your subject from the background.

Today’s lenses all seem to deliver much the same in terms of clinical optical perfection. However, every now and again you may come across and old lens that just has a feel to the pictures that others don’t. I get that with my Leitz Summicron 90, which I featured in my last post. It is a late 1970s lens (and still costs a packet today – in fact, more than it did a few years ago when I got mine)

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Another question that came up was what would be the best lens for landscape photos?

I’m not sure if there really is a “best”. Perhaps there is, in terms of focal lengths, if the question is about what is most likely to be useful most of the time. But, then again, that depends on an individual’s own artistic style.

A fairly normal lens for landscapes would probably be a medium wide-angle – 35mm for full-frame or a 24mm for crop frame (or a good zoom that covered those ranges). However, for some types of landscape, particularly panoramas with little or no motion in the foreground, an excellent alternative is to use 80-90mm (FF) or 50mm (crop frame), hammer off a quick succession of framse and stitch the images together in photoshop.

Like this:

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I would have needed a super wide-angle to get all of that into a single frame. It was shot with a 24-70, zoomed to 70, I think. Doing this, you end up with a super-high resolution image, which is super-sharp (but sometimes the frames won’t join together properly and the hoped for image goes to pot).

There may also be times when you want to use a telephoto lens instead of a wide-angle for a landscape. This was shot with a 180mm prime lens on an old Mamiya twin-lens-reflex camera (probably equivalent to something like 100mm on 35mm full frame) and it really pulls in the snow-capped mountain far beyond the town:

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And here’s another, also shot with a telephoto (and worth clicking on for a larger view)

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About ambientimages

Paul Cowan is a former journalist turned full-time photographer.
This entry was posted in Black and White film, Canon 70-200 f2.8L, Colour film, Crete, Film, Greece, Islands, Leica R4s Mod P, Leitz Summicron 90, Lenses, Mamiya TLR, Sekor 180/4.5 super and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Primes, zooms, landscapes and panos

  1. David Garrod says:

    Funny thing about lenses. I used to use a Mamiya RB67 with the Sekor 90mm as standard. Very crisp results, quite outstanding. Then I bought a Hasselblad 500CM with 80mm Planar as standard. Given the reputation of Haselblad and Zeiss lenses in particular, fully expected results to be better. Oh dear, was I let down. Sekor lenses were sharper. Had to take a lot of ribbing from my partner whose, Mamiya it was.

  2. Yes, the Sekors are very fine lenses. I particularly like the 180 f/4,5 on the TLR. It’s quite nice and compact for a medium format 180, too. That’s the advantage of bellows.

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