I Love Long Telephoto Zoom Lens !!

Every single lens is designed for intended specific purpose, some lenses may carry more than one purpose, but no one lens can do everything. Some lenses are preferred for certain photography shooting circumstances, some lenses are required to create the desired effect and outcome to match the photographer's vision. It is true that choices of lenses and subsequent preferences are highly dependent on the photographer's shooting style and needs. I particularly disagree with people having fixed guidelines, such as "this lens is a must have lens" or "to improve you must remove the zoom and shoot with prime". Whatever you choose to shoot with, you should know what you want and whether the choices of your gear is capable to deliver the end-results you look for. I think the main problem is many photographers (new-comers especially) do not really know what they want to accomplish in the first place, and hoping that whatever gear and equipment they have based on loose recommendations from peers can produce that miracle results. Miracles do happen, but unfortunately they do not happen frequent enough.

I have a soft spot for long telephoto zoom lenses. I think somewhere within everyone there is that yearning and lust for something bigger, longer, and more powerful. Pun intended, sorry. Male pride and ego came into the equation, and long lenses have somehow become the display of that ego, as much as many photographers choose to deny the fact. There is that certain prestige and status when you see the photographer whipped out that gigantic sized lens, and the ones with lesser and smaller lenses would automatically bow down and give way for the "large lens". Not exactly a good way to stereotype photographers in general, I admit. We should not encourage this kind of culture, sadly, it is happening everywhere.

All images in this entry were taken with Olympus DSLR E-5 and Zuiko Digital 50-200mm F2.8-3.5 ED (non-SWD).

Gaze into the big, long, telephoto lens.
182mm, ISO400, F3.4, 1/320sec

100% Crop from previous image.

Facial expression intensified with a long lens.
200mm, ISO400, F3.5, 1/1000sec

Street beggar.
117mm, ISO400, F3.0, 1/1600sec

Sleepy Sunday
117mm, ISO400, F3.0, 1/800sec, shot with live view, camera on the floor.

Hello from a long distance
200mm, ISO400, F3.5, 1/1250sec

Aged and still braving the streets
158mm, ISO400, F3.2, 1/1600sec

When I started DSLR photography, after purchasing the Olympus E-410, immediately a few weeks after that I bought the much raved about 40-150mm F3.5-4.5 mk1 which was quite a great tele-photo lens in its own category. The possibilities the lens generated for me was incredible, and the joy of my shutter therapy sessions have been amplified. It was my favourite lens for a long, long time, and I used both the kit lens and the zoom lens only with my E-410 and subsequently E-520 before adding any new lenses. They were sufficient to achieve what I wanted to do with my gear. Of course, time moves on, and the appetite for more power and flexibility grew over time, and I saw my camera bodies and lenses grew larger in size, and the need for larger camera bag has become an issue for more than one occasion.

Now with the addition of the Olympus Zuiko 50-200mm F2.8-3.5 ED Mk1, it was a welcome, and I truly have fallen deeply in love with this lens. I have used it very extensively for my past few shooting sessions, covering live stage dance performances, musical theater show, and most recently, I went to the streets with this beautiful lens. Gosh, I miss using tele lens on the street !! I missed how far the tele-photo lens can reach, and how effortlessly it could isolate the subject from the background. I miss the working distance the longer lens provided, which helped in many areas of street photography. This surely clashes with many rules (who made them anyway?) such as you must shoot with primes on the streets, you must use wide angle lens and get as close as you can to your subjects, you should not use long zoom lenses because your subjects would look distant and disconnected in the end. Screw those rules. I love my tele lens and I want to use it. That is enough reason for me to lug around the over sized lens and camera body (E-5) around streets of Chow Kit earlier morning, today.

Loaded trishaw
69mm, ISO400, F2.8, 1/2000sec

Safe on Father's arms
158mm, ISO400, F3.2, 1/500sec

Sunday morning folks
182mm, ISO400, F3.4, 1/500sec

Side profile
147mm, ISO400, F3.2, 1/1000sec

Deep excavation
200mm, ISO400, F3.5, 1/2000sec

A place to sit down.
200mm, ISO400, F3.5, 1/1600sec

117mm, ISO400, F3.0, 1/800sec

These are the characteristics of a long telephoto zoom lens that I really treasure:

1) Extra REACH

The 200mm (400mm equivalent on 35mm format, since Olympus equivalent field of view is 2x) telephoto-end is a great joy to have. I do admit I seldom need anything beyond 150mm, and on average, I shoot between 100-150mm long range only, which was sufficient to cover most of my needs on the street.

Nonetheless, the extra long reach does come in very, very handy when you want to attack subjects from a far distance. For example, shooting from across the 5 lanes road, or sniping away into the corridor of the building across the street. The ability to transport your view so much closer to you without the need to physically move the camera and yourself nearer can be quite an advantage in many shooting situations. There would always be the conflict of photographing specific sensitive subjects such as beggars and the homeless on the streets, where permission would most likely not be granted when you shoot them from a close range. I have the strong urge to shoot them regardless of the situation, because sometimes the scene is just so powerful and it called out to you to take action with your camera. In such situation, it is undeniable that the extra reach of the tele-photo lens will get the job done for you. Besides, shooting from a far distance will make you look less threatening, and allows you to blend into the background, because you can quickly disappear from the scene easily after getting your shot, without coming in too close in range with your subjects.

2) Perspective Compression Effect

If you have used long lenses a lot, you would know that the longer the zoom, the more compressed your image would be, having tight background, and seeing less items being covered in one single frame. I love tight framing. I do not really like that much empty or negative space in my photograph. I want as little things in my photograph as possible, only presenting one subject and one background, if possible. I would choose to minimize clutter, and only capture plain, simple background. The tele-photo lens seriously was breeze to use in accomplished the said objectives, only capturing a small portion of the background.

Furthermore, the said compressed perspective also works wonders for portrait photography. It creates a flattering look on the subject's facial and body profile, producing good proportions on the body and head size, with minimal if no barrel or perspective distortion at all. Since my street shooting deals a lot with people photography, the 50-200mm really shines. The people facial profile captured with this lens was incredibly pleasing, and the compression effect allowed me to isolate my subject so easily.

3) Bokeh bokeh bokeh

The longer the lens, the better the bokeh. A lot of people only thought of the aperture affecting the depth of field, that the lower the F-Number (larger aperture opening), the more bokeh (blur background) they can achieve. Besides aperture opening, there are two other factors that affect the field of view, namely the focal length and focusing distance (how far are you from your subject). The longer the focal length (say, 150mm vs 50mm), the closer you stand towards your subject, the less depth of field will be captured, hence producing great bokeh. In fact, the quality and characteristics of long lens bokeh appear rather different from the shorter prime lenses bokeh (50mm F1.4, 30mm F1.4, for example). The longer lens has the added "oomph" factor from the previous point, the compressed perspective effect, with less background, the blur becomes more pronounced and "cleaner". I love bokeh. I think many others who picked up DSLR has at least considered that they wanted that extra creamy bokeh in their shots, and I have a few friends who decided to get DSLR just purely for the bokeh alone. Long lenses can produce incredibly pleasing and creamy bokeh, and I am loving what it can do for me on the streets !!

Start of the day for a Cobbler.
147mm, ISO400, F3.2, 1/800sec

At the roadside.
182mm, ISO400, F3.4, 1/1600sec

200mm, ISO400, F3.5, 1/200sec

Hanging overhead
137mm, ISO400, F3.1, 1/640sec

Fighting with buses.
200mm, ISO400, F3.5, 1/800sec

By the door.
83mm, ISO400, F2.8, 1/1000sec

OMG you are on camera !!
200mm, ISO400, F3.5, 1/100sec

I totally understand that everyone has their own choice of weapon to use in their photography walk. I would choose to use something smaller, lighter, such as the 50mm F2 macro for my usual shutter therapy sessions. I also acknowledge the fact that wide angle lenses play an important role in all sorts of photography, including street photography, and I have shown the use of the wide angle lens (both 8mm fisheye and the super wide angle 11-22mm) in many blog entries previously. Nevertheless, the 50-200mm is still very new to me, and I am slowly discovering the lens bit by bit. For strange reasons, I did not feel strained in any way when I was walking on the streets with the E-5 and 50-200mm hanging on my neck. Perhaps that was because I was not holding the camera and lens combination all the time, I only stopped and shoot when photography opportunities popped out. It was a lot more torturing when I was shooting the dance performance in the previous entry, where I needed to hold the lens steady at all times.

I am learning more and more about the 50-200mm, and it is giving me very satisfactory results so far. I am rather impressed with the overall sharpness. Image quality is top notch, something I already expected from the beginning.

I love tele-lens. Do share your thoughts on the use of long lenses !!


  1. These portraits are indeed bokehlicious, like Kai from DigitalRev likes to say. Maybe your next one should be the 150/2?

  2. hello wolfgang,
    thanks! I treasure the flexibility of zooming, hehe. so no 150mm f2 for me.

  3. telephoto lens r nice....get upclose

  4. Agreed Funkye. I am loving the tele lens !!

  5. Is the 35-100mm f2 or the legendary 90-250mm f2.8 lens next on your list? That would be sweet.... Great photos by the way!

  6. I have nothing against telephoto. The weakness is that there is often a feeling of disconection due to perspective compression. Shots taken with 50mm or 35mm from up close are stronger, more dramatic in my opinion. But there is always time for good telephoto fun! :)

  7. Hello Eric,
    Thanks !!
    I don't think there is any way for me to afford those two SHG lenses !! Nonetheless, who is to say what is impossible right?

    I personally prefer to shoot with 50mm on the street. Nonetheless tele-photo lens does have its place too in some important situations where the need to zoom is called for.

  8. Very nice post Robin,
    When I purchased my first dslr, the E-1, I bought the 14-54 and the 50-200. I came to digital from medium format and wanted the shalow DOF. I shot 145,000 images with the E-1 before retiring it for the E-3. All told I have captured more than 300K images with the 50-200 selling portraits. It is my prefered lens and can agree with you on its strong points. With my E-5 this lens looks even better. You did an awsome job on the street as well as the dance. Keep posting my friend. Your 50-200 won't let you down.

  9. Thanks for the reaffirmation and kind compliments Carl !!
    Whoah, you have made hundreds of thousands of photos with your gear, that is truly respectable and admirable at the same time.
    And you have stayed faithful over all the E-X series, amazing !!

  10. I love your blog and your photos, Robin! It's really helpful to me as a newbie. I have limited $$$ for lenses, so it's nice to hear and see your perspective. I'm anxiously waiting for the e-P3 to release in the U.S. ~ Cori from Oregon

  11. The baby has perfect eyebrows... women who shaved and trimmed theirs should learn life's simple lesson from that. I can almost see myself in her reflection. you're good man.

  12. Hello Cori,
    Thanks !! I am just sharing some thoughts that have been saturating my mind. We all are newbies, and we all learn to improve !!

    Hello Coffee Girl,
    Thanks !! You are being too kind, really.

  13. That bokeh is to die for! Great shots! That lens has been on my wishlist for some time now. Thanks for sharing this.

  14. Hello Paul,
    It was my pleasure to share !! yes, the bokeh is to die for, simply loving it.