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so not like I’m a professional photographer by trade, but it does sometimes come up in the process of making websites, and of course having a hobby isn’t a bad thing either.
More than 12 years ago I bought my first serious camera, a Canon EOS 50e, film of course. I was at Southend College studying a BTec in fashion and thought that having a true macro lens would be a useful addition to my tools. For one reason or another I ended up choosing the equivalent of today’s Sigma 105mm f2.8 EX DG Macro Canon Fit Lens (read details on amazon), which is basically an updated version of the same lens. This is still one of the main reasons I want to keep using Canon SLRs, using this lens is so much fun!
So what’s so great about it? Well being a macro lens it’s got great incredible sharpness being built for close-ups. It’s a true macro lens giving you 1:1 representation from the closest focusing distance.. that means that if something is 1cm across in real life, it will hit the film/sensor at 1cm. With this you can take a small coin and have it fill your image. When you view the image it’ll be huge! This of course will depend on the camera you use it with. I have an ageing EOS 10D which has a smaller than full frame 6MP sensor. What that does in effect is zooms you into the subject by just taking a crop from the middle of the image. This is the multiplier you will see on not full frame cameras.
The lens I have, having been originally designed for 35mm film, will happily give you great image quality all the way to the edge, and I haven’t used the DG version but I do wonder if they cut corners, literally with these digital lenses, knowing that the majority of people don’t own full frame DSLR’s at the moment.
The current generation of APS-C cameras, such at the Canon EOS 7D, will give a 1.6x multiplier, turning this 105mm lens into the equivalent of 168mm, making it a long lens, not so good for portraits when the subject is closer than a couple of meters.. for small objects though this is not a problem, and to be honest if you’re shooting macro, the objects will tend to be small. I’ve seen videos where photographers are using long lenses for portraits but you need a lot of space to do this. If you’re in a big studio and can shoot from the other side with all your lighting up close to the subject, then you can play with the different effects of lenses. Longer lenses will pull the background closer to the subject which may be a good way of integrating with the colorama while leaving enough room to get rid of shadows.
The lens is great to use for further away subjects, the manual focus is direct, smooth and very tactile. Once you get used to the lens it becomes possible to manually track the focus of subjects. While at St Martins I decided to shoot a ton of film to catalogue the 2002 graduate show for my own reference. I managed about 2 hours and somewhere near 400 shots, shooting film! Not being a great photographer and treating it as a learning experience, there were only a handful of good shots, but some I was very happy with and it was a huge amount of fun. It’s also very satisfying to track someone walking down a catwalk with a manual lens, I’d recommend it. Since normal fashion shows don’t last very long the pro’s won’t be doing this, there’s no second chance when your job relies on you getting all of the outfits, instead I’d guess they will have fast autofocus lenses so that they’re guaranteed a good shot. Don’t even think about using this lens on auto, it’s painfully slow to focus, taking a few seconds if you’re lucky. Having just tried to time it I now realise that the auto isn’t even working anymore, oh well, not that I used it anyway!
If you do have the chance to visit a graduation show and get close enough to the catwalk (the somewhere near the end is nice), they can last for hours, so you’ll have plenty of time to experiment. Alternatively, find a café nicely positioned on a busy street and sit with your cappuccino snapping away. You might just learn something.. hopefully not that certain members of public don’t like being photographed
You’ll notice if you get it in your hands, that when you’re focussing up close you’ll have an incredibly shallow depth of field. This can either be a good or a bad thing depending on the kind of affect you’re after. The aperture fully open is f2.8 which although not huge can still cause the DOF to be an issue. When mounted on an APS-C camera, shooting handheld with a 170mm lens is not easy, and there’s no stabilisation, so expect that moving subjects will be a bit hit and miss.