#1258. To zoom or not to zoom, that is the question.

By Pascal Ollier | Opinion

Jan 06

The recent couple of posts on simplicity/complexity resonated with me in a particular way.

When I started taking pictures some 30 odd years ago, I went for all-out simplicity.

One door, two seats, three wheels, can you have it simpler?

A body, a zoom lens and voilà!

No need to change the lens, no need to focus, just P.H.D. (press here, dummy!).

Did you say… complexity??

Since I was fortunate to have an SLR, results usually turned out to be acceptable, even by DearSusan readers’ standards.

Then came the digital camera switch, starting with compacts.

Even the roof and doors are gone on this one! You said sim-pli-ci-ty??

The word PHD had taken a new meaning. Because lugging heavy equipment was gone, as well as the film printing exercise.

Could it get better??


Well yes, because the sensor driven limitations of said compacts, especially in the early 2000s, meant that quality was moderate at best except in perfectly good light and thus decided to go for a digital SLR.

The weight was back, still toying with zooms. Primes unknown at this address.

75th anniversary celebration for the Prancing Horse

Next step, PUI. Picture taking Under Influence. I tried a prime, and then another.

And liked it.

Enzo liked simplicity

Not just the photography, the picture taking in itself. A little bit similar to what Robert Pirsig describes in Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance.

Turning that accelerator generates pleasure, defines quality, just like focusing on a silken smooth lens barrel.

Feels familiar?

I say too many dials, toggles, buttons!

All those bells and whistles, toggles, the choosing of the aperture, the focus peaking, it almost feels like being an artist. Almost.

Next step was moving to mirrorless, straight with manual primes. I thus managed to shave some weight off with mirror gone. Rewarding feel and IQ.

Yet, it’s never all black and white, is it?

Yes, black and white can quite simply be used as well 😉

PUI encore, someone in my photographic circle comes up time and again with some stunning shots of street photography.

And I realize I am never, ever going to be able to come up with something similar with a manual prime lens.

Fast, slick and…simple

Taking THE shot of two old people crossing the street in sync or this portly gentleman kindly supported by a relative to go up the stairs. Great shots.

Too slow. Beyond reach. Age beckons…

So what should I do? Open question.

Open, did you say open?

I thus recently started playing with a zoom lens again, something I had not done for years except for animal photography, and discovered that, in the meantime, zooms have progressed, too…

So yes, the trial is proving interesting, even if it may mean going back full circle to P.H.D.

Just put your foot down, car will zoom from zero to sixty – and beyond!

No sensuous pleasure like the one generated by the combination of all the adjusments, the action on the body and the lens, like synchronizing carburettors on an older sports cars.

No more sensor cleaning either because of frequent lens changing, mind you, and the ability to be there pronto to take THE shot, if ever that is going to materialize. Less weight to carry because a zoom may cover two, three lenses.

So, complexity, simplicity, what say you?

Because, in the end, no more, no less, this is what we must shoot for, right?

Flower, Peace, Love, the ultimate photographic message?? Happy New Year!!

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  • pascaljappy says:

    Dear Pascal, thank you for this 🙂

    To my eyes, this posts shows an evolution through stages of discovery (which favours simplicity), then quality (which favours primes) then personal vision (which favours gear that best suits the style). Congratulations 🙂

  • Kristian Wannebo says:

    Hi Pascal,
    Thanks for some nice car photos!
    Strange though, how rare really beautiful cars are! Here I vote for the red “Open, did you say open?”
    For simplicity I’d vote for a Messerschmitt…
    – – –

    Zoom lenses have this very strange reputation of making ‘togs lazy, “Zoom with your feet!”.
    Unless one wants a large aperture or some special lens quality, I find a (good) zoom ideal also for *slow* photography!
    Find a motive, walk around to get the right perspective and perhaps hide some disturbing elements – and pick up the camera and frame with the zoom!

    ( One might of course use a series of primes and crop … but I find that tiring in the end…
    And much of the spontaneity is gone!)

    So I really enjoyed reading your story recognising parts of it!

    • pascaljappy says:

      Hi Kristian, other Pascal here 😉

      I think “zoom with your feet” comes from the fact that too many photographers use a zoom lens to frame from any distance. Getting close with a 35mm and staying far with a 105 will produce very different perspectives and compositions, even if the main subject is framed the same. That’s why I think very few of the grand masters use more than one or two prime lenses. Their eye gets used to that perspective. But anyone advanced enough can use a zoom and their feet. Use your feet to get the composition, then use the zoom to get the framing.

      Cheers 🙂

      • Kristian Wannebo says:

        Right, Pascal (J.),

        But this better way to use a zoom is never mentioned, only the advice against!

        I grew up with a zoom, not quite correct, with a 6x6cm 75mm, which with 50 or 100 ASA (17 or 20 DIN) film was like also having a built in 35-75mm zoom with a “mental” viewfinder on a 20x30mm film!

        As the actual viewfinder wasn’t too exact I had to learn framing (checking the edges) and composition under the enlarger in the darkroom even when using the whole 6x6cm – resulting in all kinds of proportions, even vertical panoramas.

        ( Now, with a precise and uncluttered viewfinder I tend to use the built in frame choices instead and too often miss the odd proportion (getting mentally lazier) … sigh.)


    • Pascal Ollier says:

      Thank you, Kristian, for the kind words. I fully agree with you that while there is no perfect world between primes and zooms, the latter offer a solution that definitetly has its merits. The time spent on focusing etc. can be spent differently on finding the right perspective and as one ages, timing becomes more and more the essence, day after day ;-).
      Again, delighted your enjoyed reading the post, your comment is much appreciated.

  • jean pierre guaron says:

    Hi Pascal – well some of those shots bring tears to my eyes – I had several MGBs, a friend had an E-type (which was a-maz-ing! – felt as if you were only doing 60kph when you were, in fact, doing roughly double that speed!), and a maniac I met in Friuli took me for a spin in a Ferrari at around 200 kph, which scared the living daylights out of me!

    The photos are fantastic. I know how you feel about zooms & primes – quality comes with TWO price tags, one is the monetary cost and the other is the weight. By the time I’ve corked my Otus into my D850 I need a trolley to carry it all (just joking!) When I got the first of my Z-mounts, I listened to the pros and instead of buying an f 2.8 zoom, I bought the F 4. The Improvements in sensors over the years more than compensate for the difference in maximum apertures, even assuming you might always want to shoot at the maximum aperture – and the difference in size & weight is huge.

    I had been thinking of doing a piece on the odd-ball cars etc that turn up in my street – but I haven’t got anything to compete with this! Maybe I’ll go away and think about it . . . .

    • Pascal Ollier says:

      Dear Pete, thank you for the compliments! As always a pleasure to read.
      Fully agreed, zooms and sensors have made significant progress and the “new” generation around mirrorless definitely confirms this.
      New year, new resolutions (not in the photographic sense this time, mind you), let’s cross fingers and genuinely hope we, DS readers, will be priviliged enough to see some more of your pictures ;-).
      Take care, Pete!

      • jean pierre guaron says:

        LOL – you might even, Pascal – but lord alone knows what the photos will be – at the moment I’m wrestling with photos of bees – I’m totally allergic to bee stings, I have three EpiPens poised ready & waiting, just in case – but I love the creatures! And they’d DAMNED hard to print!

        Still scouring the district for a suitable second half of Lad’s photos of tree roots – the blasted creatures have a strong tendency to run their roots underground, so they can hide just below the grass – something wrong with Australian soils or climate or something – so that one’s been VERY slow progress.

        Unfortunately the owner of our local motor museum died a few years ago, and his collection (or what’s left of it) is housed in a museum miles from here – a round trip of over 230 Km, or over 3 hours. Not as attractive as it was when I was younger! So the “cars” will be less exotic than yours.

        With the occasional odd-ball, proving Australians are whackier than most. I saw a number plate today that read “IM1RU12”- once upon a time that would have been inviting trouble! But I suppose these days nobody particularly cares. And there’s one parked in a street a couple of blocks from my place, with signs plastered all over the back of it which still ARE seriously offensive, so I’m not inclined to attempt to publish those on DS.

  • Dallas says:

    Hi Pascal, great photos, love when they are cars. Zoom lens do have their place, mine lives in the cupboard and only comes out very rarely when I need to catch some action. The IQ is excellent, Sony lens? Take care.

    • Pascal Ollier says:

      Thank you Dallas, yes Sony zoom.

      Best wishes, take care.

      • Philberphoto says:

        This exhibit may already be over, but thanks to your images, it lives forever! Awesome cars, awesome images! As to what tool, it is entirely up to you and each user. Whatever floats your boat and let’s you bring home the bacon. Not forgetting that all zooms are AF, while many primes are MF, which is another significant difference. And that there are also quasi-zoom/quasi-primes, like the Leica Tri-Elmars and the older Leica and Zeiss 35-50, and that Canon released at least one f:2.0 zoom. Choices, choices….
        PS amid the cornucopia of fabulous pics, my fave is probably the blower Bentley. Though denying all the more-than-gorgeous Ferraris feels like high treason….

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