By Joe Kashi, for the Redoubt Reporter
We’re giving densely detailed thematic articles some well-deserved time off this week, instead taking some quick looks at subjects that we’ve saved for one of those inevitable rainy days.
New photo gear is always a good place to start.
Although I typically don’t find moderate wide-angle lenses very interesting, I enjoy working with the enhanced foreground perspective that’s the hallmark of ultrawide-angle lenses. Until recently, though, Canon users had few top-shelf, ultrawide-angle choices, even though Canon remains the most popular digital SLR camera maker.
Canon’s new, 16- to 35-mm, f/4 L-series ultrawide-zoom lens changes that. It’s smaller, sharper and better constructed than Canon’s f/2.8 version while costing $500 less. Canon claims that it covers a full frame well and, if so, that the widest 16-mm magnification will be extremely wide while the longer 35-mm setting acts as a moderate wide-angle lens. Mounted on Canon cameras using smaller APS-C sensors, this lens ranges from a moderately wide angle through normal magnifications. Every lens review site that has tested this ultrawide, full-frame lens raves about its optical and mechanical quality at a lower price. Although not inexpensive at $1,199 list price, this is a bargain for a quality, full-frame zoom lens.
Users of Canon’s APS-C cameras haven’t been forgotten, either. Canon’s also introduced a smaller, less-expensive, 10- to 18-mm, f/4.5 ultrawide-angle through moderate wide-angle lens designed for its less-expensive consumer dSLR cameras. Published reports indicate very good optical quality for a low $299 list price. Something’s got to give at such a low price point, and it’s mechanical construction quality. This 10- to 18-mm has a plastic body and lens mount. That’s a small disadvantage, though, relative to good optical quality at a low price. Building ultrawide-angle zoom lenses is complex and Canon should be commended for combining good optical quality and good value.
Sigma’s flagship wide-angle zoom lens is now available for all major dSLR camera lines. Its 18- to 35-mm f/1.8 (that’s right, an f/1.8 zoom, and a very sharp one) is not a small lens and not cheap at $800, but it’s a very good value. This is one of the sharpest wide-angle zoom lenses on the market, and that sharpness is even available at very wide, bright apertures.
Smaller and lighter is nearly always preferable when traveling, and so-called “travel zoom” lenses are justly popular because they’re so convenient. Travel zoom lenses are designed to be small and light while providing a very wide range of magnifications in a single lens. The downside is that zoom lenses with such a wide magnification range are usually adequate optically, but not very good at anything.
Of course, it’s arguable whether carrying a fairly bulky dSLR camera rather than a mirrorless compact-system camera qualifies as traveling light. However, based on my observations of visitors this summer, carrying that bulky, black dSLR still appears to be the norm.
Sigma’s most recent 18- to 200-mm “DC OS HSM” Contemporary Series travel zoom strikes a nice balance between convenience and optical quality. It’s barely larger than most kit zoom lenses while providing good to very good optical quality in a well-made metal and plastic body. At about $400 from Amazon, it’s a good value. The older II series l8- to 200-mm zoom remains available but the newer model seems better.
Premium filter manufacturer Hoya recently introduced a line of special filters intended for outdoor use in bad weather. Hoya claims that its new EVO filters are specially treated to repel water droplets, fingerprints and dust. I’ve bought a few to use with my weather-sealed lenses and they do seem to help.
Single-magnification “prime” lenses are favored by more experienced photographers because they’re usually more compact, sharper and less expensive than comparable zoom lenses. However, it’s not uncommon for amateur photographers to avoid prime lenses because of uncertainty about which magnification lens to choose under different circumstances. Enter, stage left, the “Director’s Viewfinder,” an adjustable optical device that helps frame your still and video photography before pressing the shutter release. You’ll be able to easily determine which magnification and lens works best. Several useful, inexpensive models are available, including similar models branded Allan Gordon and Opteka.
Making the grade
Pentax did very well in recent user rankings of preferred, interchangeable-lens digital cameras, with Pentax APS-C dSLR models K-5IId, K-3 and K-30 taking the top three spots. Rounding out the top 10 are, in descending order, Sony A7 full-frame compact-system camera, Olympus OM-D E-M1 prograde Micro Four-Thirds CSC, Sony A7R, Olympus OM-D E-M10 consumer-grade CSC, and three Nikon full-frame professional models, the D800E, D4 and D800.
Coping with the blues, personal and economic
We’ve previously mentioned a variety of studies suggesting that learning digital photography helps seniors stay cognitively healthy. There’s also an increasing body of evidence suggesting that digital photography just might help people cope with a variety of psychological circumstances, including depression, anxiety and stress. It’s not the electrons running amok and emitting Cerenkov radiation that seems to help, but learning how to become more in tune with your surroundings and your own emotional states. In any event, photography’s probably less expensive and more fun than therapy. A detailed study by Harvard psychology researcher Ellen Langer, “On Becoming An Artist: Reinventing Yourself Through Mindful Creativity,” is available in paperback from Amazon.
If you weren’t feeling paranoid previously, here’s a recent tidbit that should turn the paranoia volume control up to its all-out setting. MIT and Apple have reportedly developed new software that reconstructs sound and speech from silent videotapes, including videotapes taken through a window from some distance away. The software reconstructs sound by analyzing minute, sound-induced vibrations in lightweight objects such as a foil potato chip package. That’s one more reason to eat healthy!
On a more cheerful note, Google recently revealed the results of an internal study about how Internet searches reveal a locality’s well-being. It seems that a high level of searching about digital photography and digital cameras is the single best indicator showing high economic and social well-being.
Local attorney Joe Kashi received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from MIT and his law degree from Georgetown University. Many of his technology and photography articles can be accessed through his website, http://www.kashilaw.com.