Are great images a product of the photographer, or their camera equipment? This series (formerly known as "Lens of the Month")explores the idea that it's BOTH: Featuring a professional photographer and a single Canon lens, the Canon Digital Learning Center focuses on the relationship that artists can have with their gear.
Canon Digital Learning Center (CDLC): What type of photography do you do, professionally? What field(s) do you prefer, for personal projects/as a hobby?
Ron Berard (RB):I am a veteran newspaper photographer, so I would say editorial/photojournalism is my forte. Working with three major newspapers in my career, I’ve gone from shooting all facets of editorial work such as feature stories, single features, breaking news, current events, sports and studio work, to specializing in one particular field (in my case, sports). Sports photography has always been considered a difficult field to work in. Unlike working in a studio environment, sports photography demands Morethe most from a shooter physically and mentally. You run back and forth at football games as plays change direction, with heavy telephoto lens and multiple cameras. These lenses give you shallow depth of field, but you have to keep a constantly moving subject in your viewfinder and follow focus throughout. When photographing a sporting event at night or indoors, More lighting becomes a problem, ISO limits are pushed and noise level becomes a challenge. Mentally, you not only need to have knowledge of the sport you are covering, you also need to anticipate. You not only have to guess the play and the player catching the ball, you need to have a little luck on your side. And unlike a studio setting, if you miss the shot in sports, you can’t say, “Cut! Let’s do it again.” My preference now as a hobby is currently in the field of High Dynamic Range Imaging (HDRI). I also find myself attracted to photographing people in candid settings, at work or at play. Festivals or any kind of public events bring about interesting photos of people. Sports photography was more of a tunnel vision approach. Tight, compressed images of athletes with telephoto lenses. Very impersonal to me, because as the photographer you’re at a distance, trying to capture a person with a helmet or cap on their heads. You never get to know much of anything about a person through sports action. But in photojournalism, you can approach the person, interact with them and get moments in time where they reveal themselves to the camera. For me, it was like going from one end of the spectrum to the other.
CDLC: What are the most important features you need in the lenses you use professionally? What about for personal work (is there a difference)?
RB: In the days of film, two features were stand out in my mind. Sharpness and speed. A lens with edge-to-edge sharpness is critical in serious photographic work. Whether it’s a glossy magazine story or the front of a daily newspaper section, a sharp, well-focused image is paramount. In photojournalism, the speed of the lens is also critical. When you are dealing with low light situations, you need a fast lens to allow you to be able to get enough light into your shot. A cardinal rule used to be that the lens should have a maximum aperture setting of f/ 2.8. In some cases (especially with National Geographic stories) wide-angle prime lenses were a must. Going back to the 70’s and 80’s, zoom lenses were frowned upon. Back then, zooms were considered to be not as sharp and fast as a prime set lens. In the 90’s Canon unveiled a 20-35mm f/2.8 lens. It revolutionized newspaper photography and photojournalism in general. Also released around then were the 80-200mm f/2.8 zooms. Both lenses were sharper than any other zooms before. Photographers who at one time would carry no less than three cameras around their necks started using only one or two cameras with these two above mentioned zooms and they were set for anything. Most photographers today who cover events around the world use nothing more than these two innovative lens types. Of course in today’s digital photography, the speed of the lens is not as critical because of the improvements made with high ISO noise levels. When I started shooting professionally in the early to mid 70’s, the highest speed film around was Tri-X ASA 400. You did get slight grain in your images at that film speed but you accepted it. Sometimes 400 was not enough -- if you were photographing a high school football game (or even college) back then, you need to shoot with a shutter speed of at least 1/250 sec. to freeze the action. Most of the time the fastest telephoto back then was at f/4 or even f/2.8. Even with a telephoto lens as fast as f/2.8 you still may not have sufficient lighting at ASA 400. So we would push-process the film to 800 or sometimes as much as1600. The grain increase was sometimes difficult to manage and the images would not reproduce well on newsprint. Even towards the advent of digital photography, some eight years ago, the highest speed film you could buy was ASA 1600. The appearance of grain was somewhat diminished but still not that appealing. So photographers had to have expensive fast lenses then, especially the large telephotos. Because of the new improved digital processes now, photographers are working with lighter equipment. The release of the EOS 5D Mark II is a good example of this. The noise level at high ISOs are not only so much better, but you can push the envelope to 3200 or 6400 with very little grain. Its unbelievable. For the longest time when I was a sports photographer, my prime telephoto was my favorite lens -- the EF 300mm f/2.8 lens. But today, I love to shoot wide. Basically, I’ve gone from one extreme to the other. I shoot exclusively within the Canon APS-C system and the EF-S 10-22mm f/3.4-4.5 lens is the lens for me (on APS-C sensor cameras like the EOS 40D or 50D this lens has the equivalent focal length of a 16-35mm on a full-frame camera). Because it is such a wide zoom, I am forced to get right in on the scene. In photojournalism, you want your images to tell a story. Well sometimes, there are other little pieces of business going on alongside the main focal point of your shot. The 10-22mm ultra wide zoom allows you to include all of these other things going on. It really challenges your ability to compose an image. It can also turn an average photo into a dynamic image when there is so much information to view. It’s a very sharp lens and although I would love it as a straight f/3.5 (or f/2.8 for that matter!), I am still able to work it out when I am in a low light situation. You have to be aware of your shutter speed not getting too, too slow. I try not to shoot below 1/15th sec. with this lens. I don’t really se parate my professional work from personal when it comes to lens superiority. Both are very important to me.
CDLC: What is your favorite Canon lens and why?
RB: In the digital world, I would have to say without a doubt the EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 wide angle zoom. If it ever becomes a straight f/3.5 or f/2.8 lens, then I will never give it up! To me, it’s the perfect lens for composing a photo/subject as the mainstay, then directing all these little pieces of business going on around it. It’s also a lens that gives you a lot of breathing room. I think of it as a “Grab and Keep” lens: The foreground subject matter grabs your interest, and the background information keeps you looking. I really believe that the wider the image, the more there is to tell the story; you can also layer in smaller stories within the larger story captured in the overall image. The 10-22mm zoom is ideal for that approach photography.
CDLC: What types of assignments do you think this lens will really excel at, and why?
RB: This lens is ideal for photojournalism. Most of the striking Pulitzer Prize-winning or Photo of the Year images are shot with this type of wide-angle lens. I see this 10-22mm zoom (used with Canon APS-C cameras) as a lighter and less expensive ‘little sibling’ to the more professional EOS-1D series or 5D Mark II with the EF 16-35mm f/2.8L lens combination – which is itself a bread and butter combination for most professional photojournalists. The job of a photojournalist is to tell stories and get as close to the subject matter as possible. Tightly framed images or photos taken from a distance with a telephoto or telephoto zoom are certainly part of story telling, and we all have these lenses in our repertoire. But it’s not usually our primary tool. The wide-angle zoom allows you, forces you, to get very close to the subject and that gives the viewer a feeling that they are right in the middle of the story, just as the photographer is. We all try and plan shots in our minds when on assignments but fortunately some of our best images come from spontaneous action or an image we did not predict. Some times they happen right in the front of us. If we are lucky enough to be in that spot in that moment with our 10-22mm or 16-35mm zooms, then we get the shot and many times don’t even realize what we got until we see the entire image later and see all the other things going on around you in the image periphery or background. Only a wide lens can do this. Another interesting use of the EF-S 10-22mm lens is for portrait photography. We were all taught that shooting portraits required a longer 50mm or 85mm or 100mm lens (usually framed vertically). Those ‘portrait’ focal lengths are still the popular default, but environmental portraits are more popular than ever now. These types of portraits are taken with wider-angle lenses, usually in a horizontal format. I find that the 10-22mm set within the 17mm-20mm range is ideal for isolating the main subject against a wide enough background to incorporate important environmental details (such as what the subject does for a living).
CDLC: What, if any challenges did you experience working with this lens?
RB: I would say that amateur photographers would not face too many challenges with this lens. Possibly only the obvious one, which is how to effectively control to extreme perspective of an ultra-wide lens: Because the 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 lens is extremely wide when zoomed out completely, any objects (people, buildings, trees, etc.) on the extreme edges of the image with show distortion, making it appear that the objects are bending. Also, if you get too close to a person (usually closer than three feet) for a photo, their nose (or anything too close) becomes disproportionate to the rest of the image. It can be unflattering to the subject and unpleasing to the eye. Most professional photographers are very aware of not getting too close with extreme wide lenses. For professionals using this lens, one big challenge is the speed of the lens. Most photojournalists prefer not to shoot with a flash. Everything should be done with available light. Sometimes, that available light becomes sparse. In those situations, the speed of the lens becomes a huge factor in the final image quality, sharpness, and usability. Luckily, especially with newer cameras like the EOS 5D Mark II and the EOS 50D you can set your ISO to 1600 or even 3200 with pretty minimal noise factor. There are also software plug-ins on the market that will further decrease the noise in a digital photo file. I really hope that eventually Canon addresses the speed of the EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 lens and unveil a version that offers an f/2.8 or f/3.5 all the way through the zoom. The price of the lens would obviously increase, and I understand the whole idea of the EF-S lenses and APS-C cameras systems is to give one a professional system at a lower price point. But it would be nice to have that faster lens as an option to purchase, especially for pro shooters. Other than that, I cannot think of any other challenge this lens would present. It is a well-designed and rugged little lens that packs a powerful punch. It will always be in my bag.
by: Ron Berard