In praise of inferior lenses (the very wide range zooms)

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Chris Malcolm
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In praise of inferior lenses (the very wide range zooms)

Unread postby Chris Malcolm » Sat Aug 04, 2018 2:15 am

I must admit to being a lens snob. When I bought my first Sony A-mount DSLR, the A350, I bought the Sony 18-250mm general purpose wide range zoom to go along with it. Since then every time I've bought a new lens my intention was to improve the image quality. So I bought narrower range wider aperture zooms, and primes.

When I'd replaced the general walk-about opportunistic snapping range of the 18-250mm zoom with the superior 16-50mm and 70-300mm I shelved the 18-250mm and started walking around with the two better lenses. I soon got fed up with missing good unexpected photo opportunities because I happened to have the wrong lens on the camera and no time to change it. I tried carrying two cameras so I didn't have to change lenses but it was a bit too much weight and bulk when I was just going out to do some shopping. So I dropped back to the good old 18-250mm as the lens to use when I was carrying the camera around just in case a good photo opportunity turned up.

When I upgraded my camera to the 24MP A77 I expected to find that my best lenses would show an improvement in detail resolution, but that the 24MP wouldn't improve the images of the 18-250mm, just reveal its flaws. I was surprised to discover that 24MP did improve the images from the 18-250mm, not as much as my better lenses improved, but an improvement nonetheless.

When the Tamron 16-300mm came out I was intrigued. I wasn't sure if it would offer any noticeable improvement in image quality over my old 18-250mm, but the extra range would definitely increase its versatility. When I was lucky enough to win a ticket to walk over the new Forth Road Bridge before it was opened to traffic (and closed to pedestrians) that was just the excuse I needed to buy the 16-300mm. Even odder was that one of the best shots I got on that trip was a photograph of the bridge taken from the top of a moving double decker bus through the not entirely clean or flawless window glass.

ImageQueensferry Bridge in perspective by Chris Malcolm, on Flickr

As often happens, content trumps image quality.

The 300mm end of this 16-300mm is a bit suspect. As often happens with such wide range zooms, the longest end is a bit of a push, often offering no more detail resolution than pulling back a bit, more of a composition aid than extra reach. So I when I found myself unexpectedly sitting near some dramatic near sunset lighting effects with the 16-300mm on the camera I took this 300mm photograph more as an experimental note to come back one evening with a better lens and a tripod. It turned out surprisingly well, being capable of producing an impressive A3 print.

ImageMisty sunset approaches Inchmickery Island by Chris Malcolm, on Flickr

As often happens, lighting and content trumps image quality. And this was a very transient effect. Within 15 seconds it had gone. I could go back there 100 times with a better lens and a tripod and never see that again. So I'm becoming less of a lens snob. If someone comes out with a 14-400mm zoom I'll study the reviews with great interest :-)

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Re: In praise of inferior lenses (the very wide range zooms)

Unread postby sury » Sat Aug 04, 2018 6:19 am

Wonderful shots both of them.

Minimize avoidable sufferings - Sir Karl Popper

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Re: In praise of inferior lenses (the very wide range zooms)

Unread postby bakubo » Sat Aug 04, 2018 5:41 pm

Those are very nice photos! I especially like the one of the bridge.

Chris, I very much agree with you. Back when I shot with Sony (and Minolta and Konica Minolta) and Canon I had several lenses, but always one of the superzooms also. I had the Sony 18-250mm which I used for several years on my A700 and traveled to many places with it. I would also carry the Sony 11-18mm, Minolta 50mm f1.7, and Sigma 24mm f2.8 on the many trips and a Sony A100 as a backup body. While traveling and closer to home the 18-250mm was the lens I used the most. Great results!

For the last 6.5 years I have been using m4/3 and I have about a dozen lenses, primes and zooms. The lens I use the most though when I travel is the Olympus 14-150mm. Closer to home I use it a lot too, but also the primes and even the pancake 14-42mm too. The 14-150mm is even better than the Sony 18-250mm! A very good lens. Although tests show that my Olympus 25mm f1.8, Olympus 45mm f1.8, Panasonic 20mm f1.7, etc. are "better" I find that the 14-150mm is just fine also. When I travel I take it with the 9-18mm and 25mm f1.8 along with 2 bodies. Much smaller and lighter than what I used to carry when I used DSLRs.

A very large percentage of the photos on my website were taken with lenses such as the Sony 18-250mm and Olympus 14-150mm:
Last edited by bakubo on Sun Aug 05, 2018 2:30 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: In praise of inferior lenses (the very wide range zooms)

Unread postby Argonaut » Sun Aug 05, 2018 1:55 am

In a way this is the argument that got me to buy the RX10 iii. I still have all my A77 stuff, including the great Sony 70-400. but the RX10 is the camera I always have with me. Especially traveling with SWMBO it's just too much to carry the big gear. Having a very good (as opposed to semi-pro) 24-600mm lens equivalent on a less than C-sensor is much better than not having a camera. I find it difficult to see the difference on most of my shots.
Sony a77ii, RX-100 I; RX10 iii; Rokinon 8mm f/3.5; Tamron 17-50; Sony 70-400G; Lightroom 6.2; Photoshop CS5; PicturesToExe 8.0.

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