Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Lens Selection

I have heard a plethora of complaints over the years from architects and magazines about photographers who overuse very wide angle lenses. The plain fact is that shooting an interior with a 20mm (FF DSLR) introduces so much distortion/exageration that the image will no longer resemble the space being photographed. Such an approach assumes that inclusion is more important than composition. Look at the work of AP masters such as Nick Merrick or Peter Aaron. They step back and use the longest lens they can in a space. Everyone uses super wide lenses sometimes, you have to, but the best use them rarely. I didn't own one for like the first ten years I was in business and did a ton of national magazine work with nothing wider than a 90mm or longer than a 210mm (speaking about lenses for my 4x5). For a very long time I only owned a 90, 120 and 210 for my 4x5. The only rule of thumb I ever heard was "you will use your 90mm lens 90% of the time", which I found to be true. That 90mm lens translates to a 28mm on full frame DSLR.

A friend, colleague and great photographer Merg Ross recently said on the LargeFormatForum:
I agree with Kirk. One of my first assignments as an architectural photographer was to re-photograph two houses that another photographer had done on 4x5 with a 65mm. The architect was dismayed by the distortion from the 65mm, and had every right to be. I re-photographed the houses with an f:8 90mm Super Angulon on 4x5. This was my bread and butter lens, followed by a 150mm and a 250mm for the long shots. I concluded after a short time, that it was best to use the longest lens for the space. The architects I worked for agreed, and they are not the easiest clients to please. From this initial re-shoot I did a dozen more jobs for the architect, some winning national awards.
So what lenses do I use these days? For the Canon full frame DSLR's I use Canon L 24mm, 45mm and 90mm T/S (Tilt/Shift); an Olympus 35mm PC (Perspective Correction with an adapter); Canon L 70-200 f4, 17-40 f4, and 135 f2. The 24 gets the most use by far. It is my 90% lens followed by the other T/S lenses. The 17-40 gets the least use. Too much wide angle diswtortion. I would rather do a simple 2 frame flat stitch with the 24 T/S when I need to go wider because a flat stitch doesn't distort nearly as much.

For my 4x5 I have a 47, 65, 90, 120, 150, 210, 305 and 450. The 90 gets the most use on 4x5 and the 65 when I put a 6x9 Calumet C2N rollfilm holder on it. For years I got away shooting only a 90 and a 210! That sounds absurd probably, but it is true, I only owned two lenses and shot regularly for Architecture Magazine, then I bought a 120, then a 65 etc. The point is that if you are shooting 4x5, 90% of your images will be shot with a 90mm lens (it is an old saying in arch photography). It is also important that you use relatively new coated color corrected lenses lenses and preferably from the same manufacturer and from the same general period. Otherwise the difference in coatings can give you slightly different color casts. If you were trying to deliver a matched set of transparencies of different angles of an interior this can be important for first rate work.

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