Focusing On The Technical - Focus Breathing & The Nikon 70-200vrII / by Christian Webb

Christian Webb-New York

I received the following message from a follower on my Facebook business page:

So first things first:  I need to preface this post by saying that I have zero problems with the person who sent me the message and I actually appreciate it.   In addition, because he mentions Tony Northrup and his YouTube video on the subject,  I need to make it clear that I have nothing against Tony's  opinions or expertise on the subject.  I think he's a very knowledgeable photographer and have a lot of respect for him.  I will say that at the 10:31 mark in the video, is where the video gets interesting and in my opinion, relatively absurd based on the example he gives.  But again, It's all just my take on the data and very technical stuff regarding the subject.  

OKAY...all of that out of the way...

The Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VRII has a focus breathing issue and at the long end is not truly 200mm.   Here's a link to one of the many blogs/forums that discuss this if you are not sure what I'm talking about:  FOCUS BREATHING.  

That said,  the Nikon 70-200VRII has been my workhorse lens and the ONLY lens I've ever shot my headshots with!   It is literally the lens I've used from day one of shooting headshots and I have built my entire headshot business, brand with it.  So whatever I'm doing, however I'm doing it and with whatever gear I've been using...it's been working in my favor and hasn't hampered my images or progress in the least.  I have yet to have an issue with the "true focal length" and my headshots haven't suffered as far as I can tell.   (if however someone wants to analyze my work and describe to me in details the issues with facial features and distortion and such, by all means please feel free.) . Whatever that TRUE length may be and whatever is going on technically has never been a factor to me.  I set my lens to the maximum focal distance or....shall I say...I zoom the damn thing all the way out and I shoot. It varies sometimes - 200mm, 185 etc. as I zoom in and out some while shooting and I move back and forth changing the distance between subject and myself.  (see image below) .   So imagine, if I were starting out and came across Tony's video prior to purchasing my lens/camera set up. I may have thought "WHOA,  according to this video,  there's no way a headshot photographer could use that Nikon lens" and I'd NEED to go with Canon.  Judging the way he is talking, it would seem that a bulk of his photography work is headshots/portraits.  ?   Now, I checked his website which is GREAT, however,  not a single headshot on there.  I'm not saying that he doesn't shoot headshots ever.  I'm saying he's NOT a headshot photographer by profession in the least. The video and that particular segment seems to suggest that you'd be screwed as a headshot/portrait photographer if you used the Nikon.   I am here to say once again...the lens has been the workhorse of my brand and has served me well and I AM a full time headshot photographer.

   Someone shoot me! 

Someone shoot me! 

Now the real crux of this post has to do with getting caught up in the technical.  To reiterate once again....the math, the science the data relative to this discussion, this lens.....is probably all correct. I get it.  The person who sent the message informing me that I was misleading any of the people I teach/guide...is technically correct and perhaps I've been responsible for ruining a few people's photography work based on the incorrect data I've provided them. (Apologies!)  

  I typically shoot 5 to 6 feet away from my subjects give or take.  

I typically shoot 5 to 6 feet away from my subjects give or take.  

Here's the thing - I SUCK at math!  I suck at all the little technical details of photography.  Ask me about the inverse square law and I kind of know it instinctively but probably couldn't describe it to you technically very well.  I don't know every detail about a camera sensor.  I don't know every detail about a lens and it's elements.  I don't get caught up in DXO ratings and all of that.  Call me a professional fraud.   I just know how to shoot!  I know what I need to get the job done and that's it.  That's not to say that I don't understand the basics and fundamentals, I just don't get caught up in all of the deep, deep technical stuff and analysis of things.  I know what works, what looks right, what should be and I know enough to have a career.   I've had conversations with "photographers" who can tell you EVERYTHING about EVERYTHING photography related in such detail you'd think they were the head of Nikon and part of the development/engineering/design team of Profoto!! YET....they don't shoot at all and/or...when they do....they're not even any good at it.  

Getting back to FOCUS BREATHING...when I was looking into all of this I came across a bunch of discussions and debates on the subject, specifically for the Nikon's 70-200vrII.  The following, from Bob Atkins seemed to sum up my own thoughts:

 Taken from  BobAtkins.com

Taken from BobAtkins.com

So in conclusion, because it's not something that's ever been pointed out to me and because it's not something I obsessed over when first getting my lens, I haven't even noticed!  I agree that there most definitely is a lot to pay attention to when it comes to gear and photography.  There are things that matter and it's important to have some understanding of the technical aspects of the craft.  But please,  know when to get beyond the technical and to not let it influence you too much.   And more important, learn how to shoot, how to light and the art of photography without getting heavily invested in issues concerning gear and technical data.