I recently rented a zoom lens, just to try it out. (Here I am showing it off. It's humongous!)
I do love my prime lenses. For those of you who don't speak "photographer," a prime lens is a lens that is optimized for one focal length. It doesn't zoom in or out, but generally has a really fast (or wide) aperture range that lets in a lot of light. A wide aperture is ideal for creating well-lit photos even when shooting indoors, and it also lets me create nice blurred backgrounds behind my portrait subjects.
But I also love the idea of having a zoom lens that has an ideal focal range for portraits. I had this thought most recently after photographing a 1-year-old who was constantly on the move. My 50mm prime lens got the job done, but the ability to zoom in and out while photographing a curious little girl would have been helpful too.
The problem with many zoom lenses is that while they let you zoom in and out (without standing up and walking closer to the subject) is that they don't usually have a great aperture range. The aperture will either be average all around, or it will change if you zoom in. (Which is annoying when you're trying to maintain settings in a lighting situation.)
I recently rented Sigma's 50-100mm f/1.8 zoom lens. What's great about this lens is that it zooms in and out through a focal range ideal for portraits, and it has the ability to maintain a wide aperture even when it zooms in and out. So since I had rented this great portrait lens, I needed a subject so I could try it out. Fortunately Michaela (my sister and go-to model) was home on spring break.
We went to the Botanical Conservatory, which has been my go-to place for photography lately. If you've ever been to Fort Wayne in February or March, you probably know the weather and scenery aren't ideal for taking outdoor portraits. Michaela and her banjo looked right at home in the desert garden, surrounded by pointy plants and cacti.
The great advantage of the zoom lens was that I could set up a scene and photograph both wide shots and closeups without moving and getting right in her face. The focal length was perfect for this session. A much longer focal length would have been harder to work with in the enclosed garden area.
The biggest downside to this lens is its weight. It weighs almost 3.5 pounds, which didn't sound like much until I spent about an hour holding it and my camera up to my face. If I decide to purchase a lens like this, it will take some practice (and maybe some push-ups) to be able to adjust the zoom quickly while still holding the camera steady.
Okay, there's a funny story that goes along with this next image. I wanted to get some nice layering effects in some of the pictures, so I thought I should have a cactus in the foreground and a nice blurred background behind her.
To get the cactus in the foreground, I had to crouch in a little cluster of cacti to line up the shot. Apparently I wasn't paying attention to my surroundings, because as I was focused on framing the shot and adjusting my big heavy lens, I crouched right into a barrel cactus and "sat" on it. I had to pull cactus spines out of my leg, like that scene in the Lion King where the hyenas land on a bunch of prickly plants.
Besides my small misadventure with the cactus, the photo shoot was a success. And I enjoyed getting to try out the zoom lens. It may have to go on my "lens wish list." There are several others I'm planning to try before long!