Experiencing a wider view for video

Like many of you, I’m a novice photographer and videographer. I just began taking photos a few years back and I’m still learning so much with every shoot, from the lingo to the equipment to the software.

For instance, I just recently discovered bracketing, and the sheer number of photos I’ve taken — tens of thousands of photos — that could’ve turned out significantly better, will haunt me for the rest of my life.

But I also understand why my perspective is valuable: I lack any formal education in photography, am working with a limited budget and, most importantly, can empathize with and relate to the readers like me who are still figuring it all out. Basic photography is something I was tasked with in a previous marketing role not by my own choice. Over the years, I watched enough YouTube tutorials to get down the basics, my photos began to look better and better, and eventually I came to enjoy it.

That’s also how I taught myself videography: I watched enough videos (maybe even read a photofocus article or two) to learn how to shoot video, capture audio, light a set and edit all of it together into something for which a client will pay a few bucks.

A limited perspective

One area I’m still stumbling through, and I would argue has been the most difficult to navigate, is the wide, wide world of lenses. There are dozens of makes, countless models and they’re far too expensive for me to test out even a fraction of them to better understand how they function and how they might support my work. My personal video rig is powerful enough to get the job done but it is definitely minimal, mostly in that I only own one piece of glass.

Whenever you see a post on a videography discussion board asking “If you could only afford ONE lens for this camera, what would you buy?” Yeah, that’s me. And while a lone 18-35mm f/1.8 has always done the trick for me — from shooting narrative work to events, from capturing poorly lit outdoor art installations in the dead of winter to staged product shoots in a studio — I’ve yearned to grow my collection.

What I’ve been missing

So, when I was presented with the opportunity to try out a new lens, I jumped on it. Not only would I gain some much-needed knowledge and experience, but it wouldn’t cost me a dime. Enter the Tamron 11-20mm f/2.8 lens for Sony APS-C cameras.

Since entering the world of videography, I’ve been curious about wide-angle, but it always seemed to be more of a novelty and not something I could justify purchasing. Videography is my side gig and I don’t shoot more than 2-3 larger projects a year, so anything I invest in needs to be a staple in my setup.

When I thought “wide-angle,” I pictured footage from a GoPro attached to a sky diver or a skateboarding video from the 90s — exaggerated, distorted shots that, while fun, aren’t appropriate for the types of projects I typically produce. With a focal length of 11-20mm, I presumed the Tamron would be just that: Fun, not necessary and certainly not finding a home in my gear bag anytime soon. But when I first peered at the world through the Tamron 11-20mm, I saw something totally different. I saw what I had been missing.

Feeling the music, in wide-open spaces

Since this was my first time formally testing out a lens, I decided to go where I shoot most of my photos and videos — downtown Grand Rapids. Michigan summers offer perfect weather. And since we only experience the sunshine and warmth for a few short months, everyone takes advantage of it, meaning there would be plenty of smiling faces out and about for me to capture.

My first subject was a pop-up performer playing the drums on the sidewalk in a popular stretch of town that features plenty of shops, restaurants and foot traffic. With the large size of his drum set and the lack of space surrounding it on this busy corner, this provided the perfect opportunity to test the ultrawide Tamron.

Having only used my 18-35mm in recent shoots, I naturally positioned myself a few yards in front of the drummer, but when I turned on my camera and viewed the scene through the 11-20, I quickly realized I could move closer — much closer. And when I repositioned myself, I discovered that I was able to capture so much action, and it looked incredible. I quickly found myself working around the drum set, getting as close as possible without taking a snare to the chin.

I was not only capturing the entire city setting behind and around the drummer, but also so much of the detail up close to him. The lens is not only lightweight, but it feels like a solid build, so I was able to easily maneuver without exhausting my arms and did so knowing that if I bumped into anything, the barrel of the lens would be able to take the hit.

Next, I moved onto an outdoor swing dancing class that is held weekly in a downtown park. The space is wide, it’s open and at these classes there are dozens, if not hundreds, of people moving all around — another perfect opportunity to put the Tamron to the test.

Again, I was able to effortlessly capture an abundance of action. For both the drummer and the dancers, the camera was mounted to a three-axis stabilizing gimbal, which I almost always use when I’m not using a tripod. Being such a wide lens, the Tamron is fairly easy to hold steady. Add to that the stability of the gimbal, and the footage was perfectly smooth.

The great outdoors

The day after I captured the music and dancing downtown, I headed out on a camping trip with friends, some of whom were furrier than others. While at the campsites, the dogs were full of energy and curiosity, giving me an opportunity to capture subjects that were a bit faster and less predictable in their movements. The Tamron’s focal length allowed me to be close enough to the dogs to capture the detail I wanted while also keeping all of the action in the shots.

When the dogs grew tired, I moved on to subjects that moved significantly less — flowers, trees and other plant life. The variety of shots I was able to capture amazed me — from sharp, detailed close-ups of foliage to wide shots of tree canopies. I did not use a gimbal for these shots, but the in-body stability on the Sony a6600 seemed to do just fine even as I moved around the subjects.

Simply put … I was wide-mouthed

Playing back the footage later, my jaw dropped. I was immediately drawn into these dramatic shots and felt as if I were at the park with the dancers or in the forest with the dogs again. The colors from the Tamron were rich and vibrant, and the shots were crisp with a pleasant bokeh — no complaints there. The lens seemed to interact well with the Sony body, and as a result the autofocus was nearly flawless.

Testing out the Tamron 11-20mm f/2.8 truly opened my eyes to what is possible with an ultrawide lens. Looking back on many of the projects I’ve completed, I can see now how this lens would’ve added to the videos. I’m grateful that my first experience with this focal length was the Tamron, as it really packs a punch. Having only used native lenses in the past, this was also my first time using a product from Tamron, and it’s safe to say it won’t be my last.

So will I run out and purchase this lens today? Hard to say. But if you happen to see a post on a videography forum asking “which wide-angle lens would you buy if you could only have one,” you can bet it wasn’t posted by me, because I already know.

Editor’s note: We welcome this post by Photofocus email specialist David Specht. David works in marketing for an educational tech company by day and does freelance photo and video by night. When he isn’t flying his drone around Grand Rapids, David can be found walking his two pups, Finn and Ripley, and traveling with his wife, Sam.

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