If you have bought yourself a “proper” camera then you will no doubt be hoping to get better shots with that than you did with just your phone. We all keep reading that smartphone cameras are getting better, so the pressure is on to prove the value of other cameras.
Optical zoom lenses
The first and simplest thing which your “proper” camera can do better is to zoom. I’m talking about optical zoom, where the lens on the camera changes the perspective, not a digital zoom which is just an in-camera crop. The vast majority of compacts, bridge cameras and the most popular DSLR lenses all have a decent optical zoom. (You can get fixed focal length lenses which have different benefits, but they’re not as commonplace).
Most phones don’t have optical zoom, and the ones that do are extremely limited. That is because a phone is thin, and you just cannot fit enough glass into that tiny space. I explained more about this in “Better Photos with a Phone Camera; the Limits of Zoom”
What to do with your zoom?
You can get some lovely wildlife shots with a long telephoto lens, but there’s much more to it than that. Don’t use zoom as an excuse to save you the trouble of walking closer to your subject. It’s not like your TV remote, allowing you to sit on your backside!
Optical zoom can compress the perspective of the image. That makes things which are far away look as if they are really close to the things that are nearby. This can have a beautiful effect when you are taking a photo of a long avenue of trees, or a distant range of hills.
Zoom can also make your product and still life shots more interesting by getting rid of mismatched sizes and making things look more realistic. In the pictured example of the tea set the first shot is taken with slightly wide angle. It’s approximately the same wide angle as the average phone camera. The tea cup in front looks strangely large, and the big jug at the back looks too small. It doesn’t look realistic.
The second photo is taken with almost 300mm telephoto zoom. Everything in the tea set is now in proportion, and it’s more pleasing that way. It’s a much higher quality image.
Take a look at the flatlay of the tea set and you will see how spread out it all is. That shows what a difference the optical zoom can make. That’s what I mean about compressing the perspective when you use optical zoom.
Tips and Issues with Optical Zoom
300mm telephoto zoom is a big zoom, and it does introduce a few problems. It’s hard to get everything in focus and camera shake is a risk. But you don’t need to go to town with a massive zoom like this, just a bit of optical zoom will improve a shot. Next time you’re in a restaurant and you want a photo of your meal, walk about six feet away and zoom in. I think you’ll be pleased with the result.
You can also get lovely portraits using a bit of zoom. This works especially well to get nice candid outdoor shots of young children. The can be more natural when they don’t feel the camera is intruding.
Focus tips: When your taking a zoomed shot of a variety of objects, focus about one third of the distance into the shot. For the telephoto shot of the tea set I focused on the left-hand cup, and not all the tea set is in focus. For more about focus, read the previous blog in this series, “Photography in Auto Mode part 2; Using Focus Points”