For reach-way-out-and-grab-it, nothing helps like a smaller sensor. It was one of the big arguments for 35mm back in the film era.
And few things in my life as a photo writer surprised me more than when I learned, at the dawn of digital, that photographers—most photographers—don't actually care.
You see, long teles used to be hot ticket—highly prized and heavily coveted by photo hobbyists. Mine was bigger than yours; you have a 400mm? Yeah, well I have a 600mm.
So when digital came along with its smaller sensors, I thought, wow, the gang is going to love this. You can get a 4/3 camera and double the reach of your teles!
...And nobody cared. As I say, big surprise. It turned out that most hobbyists liked long teles for the bragging rights—they were big, they were expensive, they were impressive. Status symbols. For every ten Photo Dawgs who owned or coveted big long glass, only one or two actually needed or used it.
But it's been an article of faith for a while now that if you actually are one of those photographers who needs long teles, you had to go to Canikon to get it.
And that's changing. Fast. The two 50% competing / 50% cooperating members of the Micro 4/3 consortium have both recently announced lenses with really long reach. The Panasonic/Leica DG Vario-Elmar 100–400mm ƒ/4–6.3 ASPH. Power O.I.S. ($1,798) (here it is on Amazon ) has a 35mm focal-length equivalency of 200mm to 800mm. Shazam, Batman. This is going to be the lens to have if you shoot critters.
And apropos our post the other day about the Fuji 90mm ƒ/2 being the sharpest lens ever, Olympus says its new M.Zuiko Digital ED 300mm ƒ/4 IS PRO ($2,499) is the sharpest lens the company makes—which is a big claim. That one is a 600mm equivalent. (PanaLeica wins?)
Are the mirrorless makers starting to harass the remaining advantages of DSLRs like a swarm of angry gnats?
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Featured Comments from:
Geoff Wittig: "Not sure if long lens envy is entirely a matter of...compensation...but there's certainly an element of that involved :-/
Back in the prehistoric days of 35 mm film, my second lens purchase was a 70–210mm zoom, followed sequentially by gradually longer lenses (300mm ƒ/4, then 500mm ƒ/4.5, finally a 600mm ƒ/4) as I realized those birds and deer were smaller than I thought. If you really wanted to photograph wildlife, there was no substitute for more focal length. And given the reality of slow slide film, where K64 was 'fast' and K200 superfast with golf-ball sized grain, you really needed f:4 apertures to see or shoot in anything other than blinding mid-day light.
"The digital reality of high image quality at much, much higher ISO has changed things a lot more than longer effective focal lengths, IMHO. You can now get fabulous image quality at ISO 1600, which makes it possible to get photos you couldn't even imagine 25 years ago.
"The ƒ/6.3 zooms are still a challenge for aging eyes and optical viewfinders because the image is pretty dim, but I presume the electronic viewfinders in mirrorless cameras (don't use one myself) can compensate for that. The Olympus 300mm ƒ/4 looks fabulous, mostly because it gives you 600mm (equivalent) reach for about one-fourth the price of a modern 600mm ƒ/4 full frame lens. I still use a Canon 500mm ƒ/4 lens with some regularity, and it works great on a modern D-SLR; the higher ISO is just wonderful."
Robert: "Until the Micro 4/3 bodies have continuous AF that really competes with Nikon, I'm stuck lugging around big(ish) glass on big(ish) bodies. The joys of compensation."