Choosing Lenses For Skateboard Photography
When you think about skateboard photography - there is only one lens that comes to mind straight away - a fisheye lens. Not 50mm, not 70-200mm or a traditional street photography 35mm lens. The fisheye or 15/16mm lens is a classic skateboard photography lens and should be in each photographer's bag. However one lens, even as mighty as the fisheye, will never be enough, so let's look at lenses in general and figure out what else we might require.
Words and photography: Maksim Kalanep
A photographic lens is an optical tool that collects available light, focuses and projects it on to camera's sensor/loaded film. A camera can't really function without it. All lenses like our eyes have a field of vision, and where we can't change ours (it is approximately in the range of 35-50mm in full frame format) lenses can be designed to have fixed or variable field of vision.
We can divide all lenses into two categories - prime or zoom lenses (fixed or variable field of vision) and then those into two subcategories - manual or auto focus lenses.
Prime (fixed) lenses like 15/16mm (extreme wide angle), 20mm, 24mm, 28mm (wide angle), 35mm, 50mm (standard field of vision), 60mm, 85mm (short telephoto), 105mm, 135mm, 200mm (long telephoto), etc - are always designed to have one set focal length/field of vision. You can't zoom them in or out, you can walk closer or step back if required. That usually works unless there is an obstacle preventing you from doing so. That's when you might need an alternative fixed or zoom lens.
The main advantage of prime lenses is their size, weight and the amount of light they can let through them - meaning they are light, compact and have large apertures like f/2, f/1.8, f/1.4 - so you can play with depth of field more easily to separate your subject from the background.
Zoom lenses like 24-70mm (wide angle to short telephoto) & 70-200mm (short telephoto to long telephoto) are universal lenses and cover the entire range. You just need one of each plus fisheye and you are mostly covered for any situation. The downside is that these are quite heavy, bulky and very expensive due to the number of optical elements and clever technology built into them. That also limits their max aperture to f/2.8 or slower (f/4, f/5.6, etc).
Nowadays most of the prime or zoom lenses produced are autofocus lenses. You just point them where required, half-press the release button and camera's sensors in conjunction with the lens will do the focusing for you. Of course, you can do it manually, however, modern DSLR viewfinders are not very good for that.
The majority of the modern lenses are built well and perform great under all the lighting conditions. They are sharp, sometimes too sharp, coated and focus well. Most of the lenses are made from plastic, but that is not too bad since that brings the overall weight of the kit down. Entry level lenses might have some optical issues when shooting wide open, but that is to be expected and most of it can be easily corrected with modern software by applying lens profiles. Alternatively, you can stop down the aperture and most of the issues will go away on the spot. Top of the range lenses come weather sealed as a bonus. So all in all most of the lenses from major brands are worth the money you pay for them today.
That said we are back to the fisheye lens and 'what other lenses' question. While the fisheye lens is on the extreme wide angle end - for things like portraits and events with the restricted access - we need the opposite end covered by telephoto lenses. And then for action, lifestyle, product and environmental portraits - anything from wide angle to the standard field of vision is good to have. So on average, the entire range should be covered one way or another.
If budget is no issue - then the easiest way to have it all is to invest in 15/16mm fisheye lens and two zoom lenses - 24-70mm + 70-200mm. Both Nikon & Canon brands have great options - Nikon 24-70 f/2.8 G ED, Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM, Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 G ED VR II, Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 L IS II USM, as well as a bit smaller and lighter f/4 versions of 70-200mm lens - Nikon 70-200mm f/4 G ED VR, Canon 70-200mm f/4.0 L IS USM.
Alternatively, you can buy 15/16mm fisheye lens plus 24mm, 50mm and 70-200mm lenses. You still cover the entire range but safe about half of the 24-70mm lens price.
If you are not intending to do any events - then you don't really need 70-200mm lens. 85mm lens will do fine for just 1/4 of the 70-200mm lens price. And if you are shooting with a high-resolution body you can always crop in to get 170mm out of your 85mm lens (crop 36mp down to 18mp in camera or in post-processing). So for the price of just one 24-70mm or 70-200mm lens - you can have 15/16mm fisheye, 24mm, 50mm and 85mm prime lenses.
When on a very tight budget - then you can try and get away with 15/16mm + 50mm lenses. Or just 50mm lens. In this case, if you need a wide angle shot - you can take several shots with 50mm to build a wide angle shot and stitch it all together with software later in post-processing. For telephoto shots - you can try and come as close as you can. If that is not enough - you can crop in on a high-resolution body.
But then if you can spend £500-2000 on a camera body - why would you try and save on a good lens? It just makes no sense to buy £2000 body and put £100 50mm lens on it. Yes, it does work, but you can get a more realistic kit of second-hand £300 camera body and £100 lens in that case. At the end of the day, it's not the camera that creates the image, you as a photographer come up with the idea, a lens captures the light from that scene and only then camera's sensor translates that into digital data. If the lens is not good enough - camera won't be able to rescue that.
So there is no point investing in state of the art up to date high-resolution camera body if you plan to use cheap manual low resolving lenses on that body. Great high-quality lenses will always be a fine match for any low or high-resolution body, not the other way around. And you'll have no reason to change those lenses ever - unless you damage one in the accident.
Below is a selection of the most common focal lengths with some real world examples. It should give you an idea of what modern lenses to look for and costs involved.
A true classic skateboard lens for dramatic close-up shots of the action. Often called 'fisheye' due to 180 degrees angle of view. Works best with on/off camera flash light. Great for tight spaces, special effects and creative work. Stop down to f/7.1-f/8 for best results. Price - expensive but totally worth it. - Nikon 16mm f/2.8 D, Canon 8-15mm f/4 EF L, Canon 15mm f/2.8 EF, Sigma 15mm EX DG.
20mm, 24mm & 28mm
From super wide angle to normal wide angle - these three lenses are ideal for events and tight spaces where there is not that much space to move around or an overall shot is required. Great for close-up details as well. To separate the subject from the background shoot wide open at f/1.8-f/2.8, to have everything in focus stop down to f/4-f/5.6 or even lower depending on the amount of light available. Modern versions are optically great wide open and stopped down. Price - from affordable to very expensive. - Nikon 20mm f/1.8 G ED, Canon 20mm f/2.8 USM, Nikon 24mm f/1.8 G ED, Canon 24mm f/2.8 IS USM, Nikon 24mm f/1.4 G ED, Canon 24mm f/1.4 II USM, Sigma 24mm f/1.4 Art, Nikon 28mm f/1.8 G, Canon 28mm f/1.8 USM.
Amazing all around lens from wide angle to short telephoto. Great for everything - events, lifestyle, portraits, product - you name it. High price, large physical size and weight might seem like a downside, but the versatility this lens provides easily outweighs all of that. Optically great wide open and stopped down. Price - very expensive. - Nikon 24-70 f/2.8 G ED, Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM, Canon 24-70 f/4 L IS USM, Tamron 24-70mm f/2.8 VC USD.
Classic street photography lens. Very small, light and affordable. Optically great as well. Ideal for environmental portraits and any situation in general - not too wide, not too tight. Shoot wide open or stop down - all modern versions will perform well. Price - from affordable to very expensive. - Nikon 35mm f/1.8 G ED, Canon 35mm f/2 IS USM, Nikon 35mm f/1.4 G, Canon 35mm f/1.4 II USM, Sigma 35mm f/1.4 Art.
Probably the smallest modern lens available on the market from Canon. Tiny, but great optically and very versatile. Might be a bit slow in terms of aperture (f/2.8) for some shooters. Price - affordable. - Canon 40mm f/2.8 STM.
Standard and the most affordable lens - great for anything if there is space to walk around or get closer - portraits, events, action, lifestyle, close up, etc. Depending on the version - shooting wide open might be a bit tricky since the depth of field is very shallow especially at f/1.4 & f/1.8 apertures. Optically great from f/2.8 in cheaper versions, top of the range will be sharp and great from f/1.4-f/1.8. Price - from very affordable to very expensive. - Canon 50mm f/1.8 STM, Nikon 50mm f/1.8 G, Nikon 50mm f/1.4 G, Canon 50mm f/1.4 USM, Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Art.
Most of the 60mm lenses are macro lenses. These are great for film scanning, close up work or special effects. Stop down a bit and the results you can capture with these lenses are stunning. Price - affordable/expensive. - Nikon 60mm f/2.8 G ED.
Most affordable and compact portrait lens. Great for action, events, lifestyle and portraits as long as you have enough space to play with. Optically great wide open, but stop down to f/2-f/2.8 to nail the focus every time. Price - from affordable to very expensive. - Canon 85mm f/1.8 USM, Nikon 85mm f/1.8 G, Nikon 85mm f/1.4 G, Sigma 85mm f/1.4 Art, Canon 85mm f/1.2 L II USM.
There are usually two versions of 105mm focal length lenses - macro and standard. The standard version is an ideal lens for portraiture since it has minimal distortion and renders beautiful portraits. Macro version is ideal for any tripod supported close up work. Modern up to date versions are expensive but optically superb. - Nikon 105mm f/1.4 E ED, Nikon 105mm f/2 D DC, Nikon 105mm f/2.8 Micro VR IF-ED, Sigma 105mm f/2.8 EX DG OS HSM Macro.
One of the best lenses available when you have a restricted access or need a telephoto lens to separate the subject from the background. Ideal for events. Optically great at any aperture. The focus is very fast and accurate. Usually, has a built-in stabilisation or vibration reduction technology providing extra stops of handheld operation. The downside is the same as with the 24-70mm lens - physical size, weight and price. Price - from expensive to very expensive. - Nikon 70-200mm f/4 G ED VR, Canon 70-200mm f/4.0 L IS USM, Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 G ED VR II, Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 L IS II USM, Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 VC USD.