An educating lens experience

A mistake of my own doing granted. I had my Zuiko Digital 12-60mm lens attached to my Olympus E-1 camera, on a monopod. I went out in the evening to take a few pictures, as we had only just had a lot of snow (by a lot, I mean 5-10cm) come down in London, and I wanted to capture some of the lanscape around Greenland Dock. Why I didn’t just take my tripod, I don’t know, but I took my monopod and leant it against support for long exposures while holding my hand close to it to ensure I could catch it if it fell.

Except the one time I turned away for a matter of seconds. It started sliding, and I had that awful slow-motion experience of watching the whole rig crash down on the ground from a 6 foot height, and there was nothing I could do. Nothing quite prepares you for the sense of horror as several hundred pounds worth of glass and metal make that horrible crashing sound.

When I picked the camera up, I was amazed that there was no major structural damage to either the lens or the camera. But there was a major dent on the side of the UV filter ring, and the glass of the ring was shattered.

Before and after:


Fine, I thought. I’ll take the filter off and see if the lens is damaged, I thought. Except the filter ring was bent, and no force I was prepared to apply to the lens was enough to pry it loose. (I also tried putting it in a plastic bag in the freezer to see if the metal would contract enough to pry it loose, but to no avail)

To cut a long story short, it happened the weekend I was meant to go off to Finland for Christmas holidays. So I had no time to send it for repairs, and resigned to the fate of only having one lens with me, the 50-200.

Yet there were positives from the experience. It took nearly a month and a half to get the lens sent back and repaired by Olympus (a combination of taking my time to send it, Olympus taking their time to log the lens and inspect the damage, but once it was done the lens was repaired and returned to me in a week). And in that time, I had no choice but to use a telephoto lens for all of my photography.

What did I learn? The first important thing it taught me was to get close to my subject. I ‘knew’ it before, but it’s one of those lessons you don’t fully appreciate until you really learn (well, certainly was for me at any rate). I have had both lenses for some time, but as the 12-60 covers such a wide range, it really sat on my camera for 80% of the time. And it’s easy to get in the habit of trying to get too much in with a wide angle lens. It can be used for that – particularly in landscapes. But a wide angle lens really comes to its own by getting close to a subject, and getting both the subject and its context in a frame. The old adage of a shot with a fantastic background but with nothing interesting in the foreground becoming a bit bland does hold.

Second – I learnt just how sharp a lens the 50-200 really is, and how well it’s suited for portraits.

So will it change my photography forever? Probably not. But it did teach me some valuable lessons to put to use. Which I tried to do in this shot of the London Eye. A subject that has been photographed to death, and hard to do something interesting with. I hope I had at least a modicum of success.

And I suspect that while the 12-60 will still stay on the camera for a majority of the time, I’ll definitely find more uses for the 50-200.

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~ by mjiphotography on 13 February 2011.

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