What is the appeal to see the distance up close? Telescopes I can understand. After all, you can’t just stroll across the space between here and Saturn to get a better look at those rings. You’ve got to have a tool capable of bridging that distance if you want to really know what’s there and the way it looks. The better the tool, the better the view you’re able to get. The best views come at the expense of portability, but the view!
But here, right here, on the ground? Why not just walk across the intervening gap and get a closer look at what’s “over there?” What’s stopping you?
OK, there’s probably a lot stopping you. Fences, canyons, rivers, deadly fields of poppies – you know, serious reasons why you should just sit where you are and use something to bring “there” to “here.” And for the photographer, the tool is the telephoto lens.
Of course, it’s a tool mostly useful to photographers who are making images of something that is “there” and generally unreachable by normal means. Nature, wildlife, landscape and other photographers (not to mention the occasional surveillance job) use telephotos much more than wedding, portrait and photojournalists. Well, reputable photojournalists, anyway.
Besides, it’s fun. You see something in the distance and like magic you raise your camera to your eye and suddenly there it is, right there where you can touch it. Or see it better. Or maybe identify it.
This sort of magic is an essential tool for wildlife photographers. Most subjects are apt to run away if approached, usually before you can get close enough to make them more than a spot in your frame (“See that white speck? It’s the rare albino jackalope.”).
All this magic unfortunately comes at a cost, more than simply a higher price tag than “normal” lenses. Really good telephotos are heavy! You need big, good glass to achieve the miracle of bringing “there” to “here” and a solid structural assembly to hold it together. All this translates into heft; heft to haul around in the woods as well as heft to hold steady once you find your subject. Ah, the trials we face to simply bring the shy subjects of nature back for viewing…