October 2007 HelpLine
A Bridge Too Far
A More Stable Lens
Q) You don't seem to answer any product recommendation questions, but I thought I'd try anyway. I'm considering purchasing a new lens for my year-old digital SLR. The variety of lenses out there is a bit overwhelming to me, but I think I've narrowed it down to a couple. My question isn't brand-related, but more involving features and whether one feature in particular is really worth it. I'm trying to decide between a lens that offers stabilization and one that doesn't. Is it really worth the extra money for stabilization?
Via the Internet
A) You're right about my not answering product recommendation questions. While questions about which product to buy make up a vast majority of the HelpLine questions that I receive, they don't make it into this column or my weekly web questions at pcphotomag.com (subtle promo, huh?).
Why don't I make product recommendations? These days, photographic equipment performs remarkably well. I see great images coming from people using all of the different camera models at all different price ranges. So it's rare that I'd have to say, "Don't buy brand X because it won't work."
More importantly, I look at how I buy photographic equipment. (Contrary to popular belief, I do buy my equipment!) My process for purchasing equipment involves a lot of research and, more importantly, a lot of personal evaluation of my needs. For example, when I buy a lens, I really look at what I want from the lens, and then I balance that against performance, size, weight and cost.
If someone were to ask me if they should buy the new "LensTikki 13-274mm ƒ/3.7-12.3 OH NO" lens, I'd have to start down a very long road of questions: How are you going to use it? What do you expect from this lens? What kind of photography are you interested in? How strong are you? What filters do you have? What's your bank account like? The list goes on and on.
So product recommendation questions turn me into a personal shopper, which isn't really in the photography magazine columnist's job description. And the advice becomes so specific that it's probably not appropriate for everyone looking to buy a LensTikki.
Having said all that, I'd like to comment on the choice you're facing: image stabilization or no stabilization. Image stabilization can be built into either your camera or your lens. Since you're considering a lens with this technology, I assume your camera doesn't have it.
I recently answered a question about purchasing accessories for a digital camera. For me, this was an easy answer, as a tripod goes a long way toward image sharpness. While nothing can replace a properly set up and sturdy tripod, image stabilization can go a long way.
If you do a lot of handheld photography with slower shutter speeds, I'd see how much your bank account can handle and opt for the lens with the stabilizing technology. But if you recognize the limitations and push your ISO to increase shutter speed, or if you use a tripod for most of the photos you'd shoot with this new lens, you could go for the nonstabilized option.
Occasionally, I take some space at the end of this column to offer some tips I come across in my photography travels. While the saying "the early bird catches the worm" is appropriate for sunrise photography, the same can't be said for sunset photography. I traveled to the North Shore of Lake Superior in Minnesota and had the opportunity to shoot some waterfalls that were rushing after a couple of days of rain. While most would call it a day after the sun went down, I captured some interesting images after others had left for the day. A long exposure, coupled with a neutral-density graduated filter, allowed me to capture both the moon and the rushing water. Yes, the bugs were a little annoying, but the digital advantage of being able to see the results on location and not having to deal with reciprocity failure in film made for an exciting evening of photography.