Holiday Sale! Secret Bundle + 30% Off

Your content will be up shortly. Please allow up to 5 seconds
News & Insight

An Intense Illustration of Lens Compression Executed With A 2000mm Lens

By Kishore Sawh on January 26th 2016

For many beginners (and some more advanced shooters alike), it can be revelatory to see a professional photo shoot for an array of reasons. One of which I find more prevalent on beauty shoots, test shoots, and swimwear; and that’s just how far away the photographers often stand from their subjects. Not always, but often.

A friend with a budding media company in the Caribbean and I are looking to possibly build a small studio here in Miami, and outside investment is there. When asked what size of a studio space we need so they could scout, one of the key dimensions I gave them was it should be around 25 ft in length with ceilings no shorter than 10 feet to accommodate V-flats and tall stands and so on. I can address what to look for in a studio another day, but there’s a specific reason we would want 25 feet in length, and that’s for adequate separation from subject. The reason for that? So we can use long glass for good compression. It matters.


I remember being on the beach when Victoria’s Secret model Marissa Miller was being photographed years ago, and the photographer (not Russell James), had to have been a good 60 feet or more from her, with a 70-200, presumably racked out. He was probably shooting full body and still wanting to get as much compression as that 200mm lens was going to give him. Compression really can make a difference, and is why I generally advise for portraits to stay at 85mm or above and certainly no lower than 50.

The compression just helps to remove feature distortion for a more flattering overall look, and at 25 feet using an 85mm, there’s enough space between the end of your lens and the subject to get a full body with room to breathe and move around. Just speaking about it doesn’t make it entirely clear, but there’s a video clip from the movie Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy put together by Vashi Visuals which illustrates it well (albeit a bit exaggerated) since it was shot on a 2000mm lens.

gary-oldman-aviation-plane-zoom-telephoto-lens-compression-slrlounge-kishore-sawh-3gary-oldman-aviation-plane-zoom-telephoto-lens-compression-slrlounge-kishore-sawh-4 gary-oldman-aviation-plane-zoom-telephoto-lens-compression-slrlounge-kishore-sawh-5

In the video below, you see two men standing on what turns out to be a runway, with a plane landing in the background. Due to compression, the plane looks as if it’s rather too close for comfort, even though the runway is a mile long and is quite far away from the two men. It’s a bit of a play on the senses but illustrates well how dramatic the effect of compression can be.

Dramatic Filmmaking with a 2000mm Lens from Vashi Nedomansky on Vimeo.

Keep an eye out in the coming weeks as I hope to put the Nikon 200-500 f/5.6 to the test with fast jets and pretty portraits.


Source: ISO1200

Terms: #Compression

A photographer and writer based in Miami, he can often be found at dog parks, and airports in London and Toronto. He is also a tremendous fan of flossing and the happiest guy around when the company’s good.

Q&A Discussions

Please or register to post a comment.

  1. Chris Biele

    I guess you’d need some radio comms to speak to your model at 2000mm! I’ve been playing with the Nikkor 85mm f/1.8, but still favour the 70-200 f/2.8 for most outdoor portrait sessions.

    | |
  2. Mark Romine

    Back in my film days I used to do lifestyle portraits of couples with 300mm and 400mm f2.8. I loved the look! It made is so easy to shoot in tight areas with ugly backgrounds.

    | |
  3. Artem Nesmirny

    A stack of teleconverters can do a similar thing (although the quality will be much worse than with single 2000mm lens).

    | |
  4. Christian Blobner

    It is not the lens per se that produces the compression effect but the relative distance between the camera, the subject and the background.

    | |
  5. Stephen Jennings

    I tried googling 2000mm lenses .. all I got was telescopes haha!
    I’m really interested to see portraits from the 200-500mm though, I have not seen many in depth reviews for that lens yet.

    | |
    • Ben Perrin

      I’ve never taken portraits with anything over 200mm but I’ve heard from a few different sources that anything over 200mm is generally too compressed for portraits. I’m sure it’s a personal taste thing though.

      | |
    • Lauchlan Toal

      I think it all comes down to the specific subject. For someone with big ears you might want to use a wider lens to effectively make them smaller, and for someone with a big nose you’d use a longer lens to do the same. The extent to which you’d do this would depend on the subject and your photographic goals.

      | |
  6. Ben Perrin

    I would love to see the tripod/50 calibre machine gun mount needed to hold a 2000mm lens.

    | |