Tricks to using long teles

With advances in optics and mass adoption of photography in the digital era, high focal length lenses or telephoto lenses have become very affordable. Every enthusiast and many accomplished photographers now venture out into genres like wildlife and birds, and enjoy these long lenses.

Bird on a branch

(Nikon D60 with Sigma 150-500mm lens, photographed hand held by a close friend)


I have occasionally used these long and heavy lenses and here are some of my thoughts after using these for a while –


Shaky hands

These are heavy lenses. Holding them in hand is not very comfortable. Another problem is the magnification effect on inadvert camera shake. Higher the focal length, more is the problem with this. Earlier photographers had a rule of thumb about it – don’t go below the inverse of focal length. If you are using 500mm focal length, don’t go below 1/500 sec of shutter speed.

With the improvement in lens design and camera resolution, there came a big advantage and a small problem. The optical stabilization of vibration reduction promised to reduce the camera shake and advertised ability to go few stops below the above golden rule easily. It really is useful. Now the problem. High resolution sensors do not show the camera blur but the image can become soft when there is minimal camera shake. So, my word of advice – switch on the optical stabilization (or VR) but stick with the old golden rule of not going below the shutter-speed of 1/focal length.

Do see this – Camera Shake – How to avoid it?


Tripod Collar

By all means, use it for what the name says. The center of gravity gets shifted when a long and heavy lens is mounted and so using the tripod collar when using a tripod makes sense. That is common knowledge.

Here is what I have to say about it. Remove it altogether if you are going to use it hand-held and provided you are planning to carry it in a camera bag. This will reduce weight and make the lens slightly more ergonomic to use. The important thing here is the carrying part. Remove it only and only if you are going to carry it around in your camera bag. If, however, you plan to carry it around outside your camera bag, then use the tripod collar for holding it. Do not hang the camera on your shoulder or neck and carry the lens attached to the camera. This will put a whole lot of weight on to the camera and can damage the mount… and your neck/shoulder will also be sour.

Keep a quick release plate attached to the tripod collar. This will make the job of mounting and un-mounting the lens on a compatible tripod head easy. Fumbling with a tripod head and a heavy lens is not very comfortable in the field.



Carry the lens in a backpack. It’s the most comfortable way. You’ll be able to walk for long distances and you’ll enjoy your photography more than with any other bag.

I rarely use long lenses so I have modified a lens case to be carried separately, but then this is me and like I said, I do not use tele lenses very often.


UV filter?

Yes. This is one type of lens where I am a strong supporter of using UV/Clear filter. Here are my reasons –

  • The large front element of these lenses is a big pain to clean. I feel more comfortable cleaning the surface of the filter.
  • Really deep hoods are available for tele-lenses and so the chance of flare is minimal even with an extra layer of glass.
  • The drop in quality doesn’t factor in since very frequently I have seen these lenses being used for photography where sharpness in the scene is low. The distance between the lens and the subject covers a large distance and thus atmospheric haze always factors in. The drop in quality with even average quality filters is not noticeable in such scenarios.

Do these cut down haze as is frequently stated? I am leaving it upto you to decide from your own use and with your own filter. If it these filters do cut down haze, then common sense says to use them in scenarios such as above to improve the overall contrast of distant scenes.


Snow Peaks

(I wish I had used a longer telephoto for this shot. Nanda Devi peak photographed using a 135mm lens with a little bit of cropping)


Rotate slowly

Some of the long zooms change their size significantly while zooming in and out. With such large amount of movement, air tends to rush in or out of the lens. Some lenses are notorious for blowing in a large amount of air into the camera, so much so, that at times photographers have felt a puff of air on their eyes while viewing through the viewfinder. Image the amount of dust that these lenses can suck in onto the optical elements or push into the camera innards. The solution ? Rotate the ring slowly. This will avoid turbulence and reduce the amount of dust being sucked in or the air being pushed out from the rear of the lens. For that matter, use the same technique for focusing ring too.


Clothing your lens

There are after-market sleeves available for lenses that prevent the body from scratches and even minor bumps. Make sure these are really a tight fit. Even slight slack and these ‘clothes’ can become a hiding space for dust. Camouflage does not have a role to play but the camo-covers do look nice. (Camouflage)

For my lens, I prefer to use without any such sleeves. I like the feel of a good lens body. However, while going out to buy in the used lens market, I would prefer buying a lens with such a clothing. The owner of such a lens would have been extra careful and the lens would most probably be in good condition.

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