I received the following two questions from a loyal reader, so I thought they would make a great post and hopefully be useful and informative for all of you who read the blog.
1. Do you use “protective” filters on your lenses — like the UV filters?
In general I prefer not to use protective filters for two reasons. First, it makes it a hassle to remove and add different filters when I want to use say a polarizer or an ND filter, which for me is quite often. The front threads on filters (especially UV) are often not as smooth and machined as well as the threads on the lenses, so in my experience screwing filters onto other filters is frustrating at best, especially when working under difficult situations (around or in water, low light, or bad weather).
Second, I don’t like the idea of putting a clear filter over my $1800 (or more) lens simply for protection. If you’ve paid all this money for great glass, you certainly don’t want to put a $100 filter over it. Optics are everything in overall image quality, so I’m very discerning about what I put over my lenses. (Personally I think the UV filter idea is a great way to up-sell more products at the photo store, but that’s only my opinion.) I find lens hoods can provide significant protection from the elements and can help a great deal if the camera or tripod falls. In eight years of shooting I have yet to lose a lens to damage, though I have come close! You’ll have to evaluate your own situation and shooting style, and what works best for you.
One product I recently came across which I may check out at some point are Xume Adapters – basically a quick release system that uses magnets to add and remove filters onto your lens. They look really cool and would make switching filters so much easier in the field. I’ll write a review once I get my hands on the system.
2. In doing landscape photography, how often do you find yourself taking shots at focal lengths (full frame), say of 150 mm or higher?
My honest answer is not as often as I would like. Longer focal lengths (generally from 70 to 200mm on a 35mm full frame camera) are great for capturing the “intimate landscape”, a phrase coined by Eliot Porter for scenes that lie between the compositional world of the grand scenic and the microcosm. I think this is an area all outdoor photographers can benefit from studying and practicing as it is too easy to get seduced by the grand landscape and want to capture it all.
One key element to any successful photograph is simplicity, and longer focal lengths can help immensely in that respect. While a painter starts with a blank canvas and adds complexity, we start with utter chaos and must remove until the frame, and therefore your message, becomes clear. Wide angle lenses make this extremely difficult to do.
Longer focal lengths also have the visual effect of magnifying and compressing distance by making objects look closer to the viewer than they really are. In other words, wide angle lenses add space between objects, telephoto lenses subtract space. This can be used creatively in the landscape depending on how you want to convey and interpret the scene in front of you. So I would say a 70-200mm lens is essential for any outdoor or landscape photographer that wants to capture both the grand landscape and the intimate details of our world.
Have any questions you’d like to me answer about photography, workflow, printing, business, or life in general? Send them in and I will try my best! As always, I love your feedback and comments – thanks again for reading.