Photo Essay

Yellowstone With My Versatile 35mm Prime Lens

Rainbow in Yellowstone

Why would I describe a fixed focus lens as "versatile"?

After all, isn't versatility why the contemporary lens market is dominated by zooms?

For our recent family vacation to Grand Teton and Yellowstone, I packed my trusty Nikon D90 and 4 lenses.

900 handheld exposures later, I realize that I'd gravitated to this Nikkor 35mm f/1.8 prime as my workhorse; probably 2/3rds of my shots were taken with this lens!

Please read about these 8 offerings, each representing a typical photographic situation.

1) "Rainbow in Yellowstone" is a vista with a twist - looking down into a canyon at a rainbow. Having plenty of time to set up, this shot combines depth of focus and low ISO for color saturation. [ manual; 1/60 sec; f/14; ISO 250; no flash ].

2) "Grand Tetons at 45mph" - a quickie, shot from the driver's side window. I know, not too bright. But at least I never text while driving! As expected, the foreground is somewhat blurry and the mountains sharp. Lessons learned: A) increase shutter speed by about 50%; B) Let a passenger shoot. [shutter priority; 1/200 sec; f/9; ISO 1600; no flash ].

3) "Quickie" is just an instinctive snap. A lucky capture, realizing afterward that I had the camera on full manual setting. D90 algorithms baled me out, I guess. [ manual; 1/100 sec; f/8; ISO 1600; no flash ].

4) "Grand Teton Mini" - taken leisurely, purposely focusing shallow and on the oddly colored needle swatch. Here's where a fast prime excels - shallow depth of focus. [ aperture priority; 1/2500 sec; f/2; ISO 200; no flash ].

5) "Family Vacation" This is my older son and his daughter. Taken across a restaurant table, the 35mm comes through like a champ. This focal length is way below the ideal for face shots, but these facial proportions are true to real life. [ manual; 1/80 sec; f/3.5; ISO 1600; no flash ].

6) "Dead tree / Still Life" My goal here is saturated color. These whites are really white, so I meter on the rusty red minerals - they're so neat! Lens and sensor work well together on this one. [ manual; 1/125 sec; f/14; ISO 200; no flash ].

7) "East of Mars / South of Montana" Striking me as "Not Of This Earth", I'm trying to get a sharp foreground and mid, but dreamy in the distance. I had plenty of time to set up; I was lost! This vista would treat many lenses well, but I'm happy with the results here. [ manual; 1/200 sec; f/13; ISO 450; no flash ]

8) "The Vacation-Home Fires" It's the evening before coming back home and I want a shot of this very comforting gas fireplace. The ambient light is so low, I doubt I'll get a good shot. I try it with flash but don't like the effect. This is about as slow a shutter speed as I dare handheld. This just won't happen with an f/3.5 kit lens. [ aperture priority; 1/25 sec; f/1.8; ISO 1600; no flash ].

Hope you like my little travelogue. My 35mm prime sure did!

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—The JPG team

2 responses

  • david ong

    david ong gave props (1 Aug 2010):

    what can i say? 35mm 1.8 is my best investment so far. Rad? oh yeah!

  • Richard Knight

    Richard Knight gave props (4 Aug 2010):

    Awesome series. I was a seasonal ranger in Yellowstone last year.

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