Best lens for handheld museum photography?

Discussion in 'Beyond the Basics' started by Timarete, Apr 12, 2008.

  1. Timarete

    Timarete TPF Noob!

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    I'm an art historian trying to amass my own photo archive of Greek and Roman art, so mostly large pieces of sculpture and small three-dimensional artifacts (vases, bronze implements, etc.). The objects I photograph are mostly inside museums, where the lighting is poor and tripods are forbidden. There are exceptions, of course; some museums allow tripods on low-traffic days, and some will allow the use of one by prior arrangement, but for the most part, I'm stuck with low light and a handheld camera.

    I'm starting to invest in better equipment to deal with the challenges of museum photography, but can't afford a whole suite of lenses. I figure a fast prime lens is probably the way to go, but I'm not sure how wide it should be. One of my friends said he bought a 50mm f/1.4, but he is disappointed in its very shallow depth of field. He described being unable to get both the nose and the ear of a sculpted portrait in focus at once (when shooting details), or else being unable to step back far enough to get a whole statue in the frame. (I know he's no photography expert, so it's possible he's just doing something wrong.) In my perfect world, I would be able to photograph statues in low light and have the shots turn out nice and sharp and with a blurred background to help the statue stand out.

    So: would a 20mm f/1.8 be fast and wide enough? Or would it be too wide? Would I lose the blurry background when getting a whole statue in the photo? Would a 24, 28, or 50 be better?
     
  2. Steph

    Steph No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    Knowing what camera you want to use would help. The field of view of any given lens may depend on the camera (full frame versus smaller sensor).
     
  3. Timarete

    Timarete TPF Noob!

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    The camera is a Pentax K100D. Having the shake reduction in the body is a nice bonus, but still doesn't overcome the limitations of the one lens I have right now (a Sigma 28-300mm f/3.5).
     
  4. Rhys

    Rhys TPF Noob!

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    Use a higher ISO with your existing lens?
     
  5. skieur

    skieur TPF Noob!

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    I would use a 18 to 50mm f.2.8 macro. That covers wide angle to slight telephoto.

    skieur
     
  6. Timarete

    Timarete TPF Noob!

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    Of course I up the ISO sometimes, but that only helps so much and usually results in too much noise.

    I'm usually not able to get the shots quite sharp enough because at f/3.5 I end up with shutter speeds of 1/10, maybe 1/30, but at most 1/60 in the lower light situations. These shots just do not turn out sharp enough.
     
  7. Rhys

    Rhys TPF Noob!

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    What you could do is to take advantage of the camera's sensitivity to infra-red. Tape an infra-red filter over a flash so that no visible light shows then shoot away with that and get infra-red images.
     
  8. Timarete

    Timarete TPF Noob!

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    I don't know whether or not you're serious, since I have no idea what you're talking about. You don't think a faster lens could offer a solution?
     
  9. skieur

    skieur TPF Noob!

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    Why not a monopod and a 2.8 lens?

    skieur
     
  10. deudeu

    deudeu TPF Noob!

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    You can find a fast 50mm prime for nothing. The pentax FA 50/1.4 seams to be quite fine and it cost something like $180 new. Of course if you shoot it wide open the depth of field is pretty shallow, but at 2.6 it is very very sharp and you should be able to manage something good. I have a Pentax-M 50mm f1.7. I paid $50 for a near mint one, and it produces beautiful pictures. It has metering problems, works in all manual mode only, but in a museum you have plenty of time and it should be a very capable tool.

    A little more expensive and if you can find one, you have the Pentax-F 28mm f2.8. This is much wider and you can be sure you won't miss a shot. It seams to have great color, contrast, bokeh and sharpness. And since it is an F model, it will autofocus.

    Another good alternative would be the DA 40mm limited. It's a limited lens which means very good build quality. The IQ with this lens seams very good even wide open. I think that 40mm is actually going to work better in a museum than a 50. On a K100D it is pretty close to a Normal prime. This one sells for about $250. The question is wether or not you like the pancake lens look, can be a pain when manual focusing. But it will make your k100d feel like a P&S.


    Finally, there is the new 35mm f2.8 macro limited. This one is equivalent to a 53mm on your K100D. This is as close to a normal prime as it gets, and it's a macro so you should be able to get close to some of the smaller pieces of art. Now this is a new lens and you won't be able to find it used. It is an expensive piece of glass: $600.
    I hope that helps
     
  11. JIP

    JIP No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    While I am not a Pentax person I cannot suggest a specific lens for your dilemma but I can suggest a solution. Earlier someone suggested an 18-50 2.8 I think this would be a good lens for what you re doing. The only real way you are going to solve this problem is a faster lens.
     
  12. Timarete

    Timarete TPF Noob!

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    Yes, your suggestions are very helpful. Thank you! I've set my budget at around $400 max, not including the two filters I'll need (UV and Polarizer). The Sigma lens I mentioned (20mm f/1.8) is around that amount, but if the 50mm Pentax lens will get the job done for less, I'm sold. It sounds as though either would have to be stopped down in order for me to get a deep enough DOF.

    I guess I'm not clear about just how far away I would need to stand from a 6-foot-tall statue in order to get it all in with a 50mm lens. And I'm also not sure whether a 20mm lens would be long enough to blur the background. Also, if I'm using a longer lens, doesn't that magnify shake more?
     

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