Using Your Zoom Lens…Let’s Play!

On a recent trip to Rocky Mountain National Park, I had a lot of fun trying to capture the golden mantled ground squirrels that scampered about at every overlook.

Each time I got out of the car to photograph the magnificent scenery, I’d run into one or two. They’re so friendly it was hard to resist the temptation to feed them.  Obviously folks don’t obey the rules…look at this little fellow…is he fat and happy, or what!

“Ok, so I’m a fat little park pig.”

I thought I’d pull out a few more images I took in the park and talk about the difference the field of view (focal length) makes to the final image.

I took all of these images with a zoom lens set at different focal lengths. You could also use three fixed focal length lenses (prime lenses) and get the same results. In fact, in terms of sharpness, if you want a really sharp crisp photograph, then a good prime will offer sharper pictures than most zooms.

Another thing to consider —if you want a lens that can let in lots of light and thus can be used for low-light photography then you’ll probably want a prime too, since it’s much harder to build a “fast” zoom lens.

That said, zooms have come a long way from the days when they were clearly inferior to prime lenses, and they are obviously much easier to use. The standard joke is that if you use a prime lens, you have to “zoom with your feet.”

But in the park, my zoom was perfect. There was no way I could get closer to the scenery or the ground squirrel. Here are three photographs taken in the park with my zoom lens.

When I zoomed out to 18mm, the image produced was a wide-angle view of the park. (Hence the term wide-angle for lenses that take in a lot of the scene in front of the camera.)

18mm view of the park

Zooming in to 50mm, I eliminated some of the scenery, but brought the ground squirrel into view.

50 mm view of the park

Zooming in even more, at 270mm, I was able to capture a really great close up of the squirrel.


270 mm view

So get out your zoom and experiment making images at different focal lengths.

As always, I’m happy to critique your work, so send me your images (at low resolution please), for free suggestions on what to try next.

Good shooting!