There are many times when a tripod or extra gear is simply not practical. Without the extras, a photographer needs to know what their camera can produce in its bare-bones state.
Combine the photographic triangle (aperture, shutter speed and ISO), controlled by the camera, and a lens of given focal length and the limitations are easy to see.
Most beginning photographers will have a “stock lens,” whatever the camera was sold with. This lens is often considered “slow.” The definition of a slow or fast lens refers to its aperture setting. Minimum apertures are often listed on the lens on the plastic surrounding the glass. Stock lenses are often in the range of f/3.5 – f/5.6.
A “slow” lens is not a bad lens, many stock lenses have impressive capabilities. You can also spend many hundreds of dollars on a slow lens.
The “f/#” is an equation for how “wide-open” the lens is. “f” being the diameter of the lens and the number being a division created by the iris blades. ISO is how fast a camera can record an image. Shutter Speed is how long the camera has to record the image.
More on aperture, ISO and shutter speed later, if you are having trouble adjusting these settings you may need to switch to a Manual Mode
Aperture, ISO and shutter speed work together to determine how an image will look. Limitations to handheld photography will be seen when the shutter speed drops below a certain point, and will be further affected by the lens’ focal length. If your shutter speed is too slow, your body or your subject(s) will move too much to take sharp pictures. Longer focal lengths (bigger zooms) magnify any motion blur that is present.
A rough rule that proves to be very effective is to match or exceed the focal length with the shutter speed. This rule is meant to take sharp images from a hand-held camera, it does not account for subject movement. Great for fruit stands, landscapes, passed-out roommates — just about any still subject. However, any photographer will have difficulty taking sharp pictures with a shutter speed of more than 1/30th of a second, no matter the focal length, unless the camera or lens has stabilization technology.
In practice, a lens with a focal length of 50mm has a minimum hand-held shutter speed of 1/50th of a second (1/50sec). A 300mm lens has a minimum 1/300sec shutter speed.
Having a “faster” lens (able to open up wider, has a small f-stop division number) will allow faster shutter speeds at lower ISO (high ISO is considered low quality due to grain). Further, depending on subject matter, the minimum hand-held shutter speed for a lens may not be fast enough. Careful, as well, as the closer a subject is the more pronounced the limited depth of field will be from a wide aperture.
My benchmark shutter speeds for portrait photography using ambient light (no flash) are 1/60sec and 1/125sec. I find these do a good job of eliminating blur from subject movement, and most of the time allow reasonable apertures with low ISO.
A good investment for any photographer is a 1.8 lens around 50mm. These can be found from name brands to match cameras from around $100 – $150. Gambling on 3rd party is out of the question for these as prices are very similar.
All those extra stops open up a lot of light conditions to hand-held photography.
I use a Canon EF 50mm 1.8 II. It’s my sharpest lens, runner up is the 18-55 EFS that the SL1 came with.
The only downfall of a prime lens (fixed focal length) is to adjust composition a lot of foot work needs to be done. No pampered zoom capabilities, but the trade-off is a very high quality lens for a low price.
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