How to Simplify Lens Selection
Focus on Personal Vision, Functionality
TEXT AND IMAGES BY JACK DYKINGA
I use the new Schneider 80mm Super-Symmar XL lens to achieve incredible sharpness from very near to very far.
Grand Canyon National Park, AZ
© Jack Dykinga Comparison in size between Schneider's aspherical 80mm Super-Symmar XL lens's compact design (right) and the heavier, larger, more traditional 75mm Super-Angulon lens. The 80mm Super-Symmar XL is my favorite traveling companion.
Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge, AZ © Jack Dykinga
When I'm hauling a backpack filled with my Arca-Swiss field
camera and equipment, the last thing I want is more weight to
carry. Over the years, I have managed to trim my basic camera kit
down to about 45 pounds. My guiding philosophy has been: "too much
equipment carried equals too tired to work."
From my days as a photojournalist in Chicago, I learned to carry equipment with an eye on mobility. At that time, I would carry two Leicas: one with a 21mm lens and one with a 35mm lens dangling from my neck. On one shoulder was a Nikon with an 85mm lens and on the other, a Nikon with a 180mm lens. I learned to compose with those "windows" imprinted in my brain.
Today I still use the same approximate "windows." For wide-angle, I have replaced the 21mm with a Schneider 75mm Super-Angulon or when I'm looking for that grand overview. I use it to emphasize the foreground while maintaining incredible depth of field. Its wide perspective is useful for creative compositions with bold lines.
My 35mm lens has turned into a Schneider 110mm Super-Symmar XL. With this lens, I can achieve many of the same effects offered by the wider 75mm lens. However, I use this lens when I'm trying to emphasize the background and foreground equally. It really shines when situations demand a front- rise movement.
My Nikon's 85mm lens is now a 180mm APO Symmar. This is my utility lens for scenes where I want both foreground and background in sharp focus, with equal emphasis. It also has great movement potential with its large 263mm image circle. I use it for closeups, too.
The Nikon 180mm lens from my my photojournalism days has become both my 270mm G-Claron and 400mm APO Tele-Xenar HM. I like to use these lenses to "stack" things up. In other words, to compress the foreground against the background or to emphasize the background.
Telephoto lenses can "slice" into a scene, removing extraneous distractions to produce tightly cropped compositions. Shooting into the sun is another area where telephoto and long focal length lenses excel. With a lens shade in place, keeping light from flaring into the lens, these lenses are ideal for creating dramatic "rim-lit" images.
This spread in focal lengths works extremely well for the way that I see. It's like a bag of tools that enables me to respond to most photographic situations in an effective way. You may have an entirely different way of seeing and need a totally different set of lenses. Trust your own vision and your own personal style.
For the field photographer, there's always a trade-off between carrying huge lenses with huge coverage (image circles) versus small lenses with small image circles that are lighter and easier to carry.
An image circle is the actual circular image the lens projects onto the film. The rectangle within that image circle represents the size of the film and the ground glass. When the image circle is too small, the corners are cut off because the film's area is greater than the image circle. In other words, a 4x5 sheet of film is 161mm wide at its widest point (along the corner to corner diagonal). A lens needs to project an image circle at least 155mm wide when focused at infinity to completely cover the image area on the film. That same image circle becomes larger as you focus closer.
Some lenses project an image area "image circle" onto the film plane that is much larger than the film area. These lenses allow the photographer to move the lens considerably, relative to the film, which in turn gives the photographer a way to correct perspective and increase depth of field. The greater the image circle, the more potential for camera movements. The down side to using these lenses is that they're heavy and bulky.
Recent improvements in lens design have combined light weight with huge coverage by incorporating an aspherical element in their design. The 80mm, 110mm, and 150mm Schneider Super-Symmar XL lenses are all aspherical lenses. Both the 110mm and 80mm lenses offer incredible sharpness while projecting large image circles.