Tuesday 25 January 2011

Choosing your first camera lens

Experimenting with my new Sony DT 50mm f/1.8 SAM lens

Dished-up DSLR Sony A200 lens test: Salt Baby #1 New bread #2 Thames Barrier view
The pros say "it's all about the glass stupid". They say you can have a multi-megapixel camera body but if you haven't got a decent lens then you will never get the quality shots you aspire to capture. This is all very well and good but if you are an enthusiast like me you will balk at the price tags of great pieces of glass. So what to do?

Well, do some research, read the reviews and decide on a lens that will complement your standard kit lens (which in my case is the sturdy but quite average 18-70mm F3.5-F5.6). In autumn last year Sony announced some dedicated lenses for their Alpha range of cameras that won't break the bank. (I have their entry-level camera, the now discontinued A200). What kind of lens did I really want? Well, a telephoto zoom lens would be nice but not essential for the kind of photos I'm taking at the moment which are simple portraits, family shots, still lifes and landscapes. A wide angle would also be great but again a luxury at this stage. I decided, therefore, I wanted a fast prime lens; a lens with no zoom and, by definition therefore, with a fixed focal length. I was looking for a lens that roughly approximated what the human eye sees. On a full frame sensor camera this would be a 50mm lens but on a cropped sensor, such as on my Sony A200, this would be a 35mm lens but what I ended up buying, in fact, was a 50mm lens which on a APS-C, or cropped sensor, is equivalent to a 70mm lens.  (Confused?  This posting has undergone some changes since it was first written and these are explained in the addendum post). I wanted the shallow depth of field look - also called bokeh - that a fast prime lens can give you. This means I can open the lens right up to f-stop 1.8 and have a pin sharp subject in the foreground (no closer than approximately 1 foot) and a luscious defocused background. This 50mm prime lens was sold to me as a great portrait and landscape camera. So I now have the Sony DT 50mm f/1.8 SAM lens. I've started to do my own tests my early results can be seen by clicking on the test photos above or by clicking on this Flickr set.

Apologies for the lack of portraits. I need to find new subjects other than my family. Soon to come...

Kurt Munger, a devotee of Sony cameras and lenses, has reviewed the Sony DT 50mm f/1.8 SAM lens and his great technical report can be found here: http://www.kurtmunger.com/sony_dt_50mm_f_1_8_samid147.html.

Oh, and of course this fast prime lens is very handy in low light. Which means you can hold off from using that flash.

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