14mm F1.8 DG HSM | Art Impression
“This is the lens we would like you to test this time,” said a SIGMA representative putting a fixed-focal 14mm lens on the table. It feels big and hefty. The presence is outrageous, but it’s convincing because the F-number 1.8 is outrageously fast. After feeling overwhelmed by the enormous front element, I came back to myself to ask them a question. “I wonder what people shoot with this lens.” “Let’s see. Stars?” “Stars. I see!” I answered as if I were an expert in shooting stars even though I hadn’t shoot them seriously. Stars, huh.
So, I decided to shoot stars. While there’re many kinds of photos of stars, I can use only one lens this time. But, I can take it easy because my job is to demonstrate that even someone with no prior experience in shooting stars can shoot beautiful images with this lens. Of course, I won’t(can’t) use the equatorial telescope. So, one goal is to find out the lowest ISO sensitivity for the slowest shutter speed that stops the stars. Another goal is how to compose constructions and landscapes utilizing the angle of view. Everything else will be determined at the location.
I headed to Nagawamachi, Nagano-prefecture. They say it’s a sacred spot for stargazers. It was around midnight. After setting up the tripod (this part was so hard: getting to the point from the car was a pain because it was all dark in the location and I couldn’t use my lighting device), I started my experiment. First, I tried to find out the slowest shutter speed that stops the stars at wide open because I wanted to keep the ISO sensitivity as low as possible. While they moved at 30 seconds, they barely stopped at 15 seconds. It looks like 15 seconds is the borderline for the focal length of 14mm. Accordingly, the ISO sensitivity for 15 seconds and F1.8 must be between ISO 800 and ISO 1600.
At ISO 800 to ISO 1600, we can obtain the high image quality. Isn’t it amazing? In order to get the same exposure with an F4 lens, the sensitivity has to jumped to ISO 6400. Or even with an F2.8 lens, I need ISO 3200. I don’t have to repeat about the negative impact of higher sensitivity on image quality here. Being “one F-stop faster” works!
Savoring 14mm angle of view
With the angle of view of this lens, I can scan the entire scene in front of my eye with boldness and dynamism. After all, the catch copy is “new dimension of visual experience.” Of course, just being wide isn’t enough. Distortion has to be minimal and corrected within the optics. In this point, the performance is true to the Art line. Yet, because of the wideness, I may also end up with shooting boring images if I always stick to the basics and it’s not the lens problem. So, I chose not to follow the basics. I rolled the camera until the bridge’s key part gets out of the frame. Any problem?
Because it’s a fixed-focal lens, the size of the subject heavily depends on the position of the photographer. The beauty of an ultra-wide-angle lens is the ability to make the subject look larger while including the “situation” surrounding it. The point is how to capture the relationship between the subject and the surroundings. You can explain it clearly, while you can also imply it letting the viewer imagine it. Or, you can even refuse to explain by getting really close to the subject. The choice of expression is yours and just a few steps to or from the subject make a big difference. By the way, this close-up shot was taken keeping vertical and horizontal lines straight. The rendition is so natural that it reminds me of the one taken with a normal lens.
By taking advantage of the angle of view, I can also isolate the subject by putting it in the center. Viewers first look at it because of the apparent small size and then look at the outside. With a 20mm, such impact is weakened and the feeling of isolation is lost. The composition becomes more difficult and depends on the situation, not to mention.
F1.8 lets you not only shoot in lowlight conditions, but also enjoy greater amount of bokeh (which is beyond what you expect from the ultra-wide angle). The bokeh taste is very wild at wide open. Because of the multiple characteristics, you can double or triple your pleasure. This lens is heartening as it’s much more capable than I am.
I expressed the feeling of Deja Vu. Because I focused on the near subject at wide open using the vast background, the focal point pops out as if it wanted to say something. This impression is further enhanced by the vignetting at wide open. Hadn’t I seen this view before? This must be what I saw at the place my father took me to. I may be wrong, but it doesn’t matter. This view brings back memories. While it’s true that photography is nothing more than a “record,” it can inexplicably connect to my uncertain memory. Isn’t it also the art of photography?