• Leica Camera has revised its best lens, the 35mm ƒ/1.4 ASPH. Summilux-M. It used to be its best lens, anyway...maybe now it's one of its three or four best lenses. Spectacularly good. The new version features a floating group said to improve close-up performance (although I'd never noticed anything wrong with the now-old lens's close-focusing performance) and replaces the god-awful hood of the old lens, which was hard to attach and fell off all the time.
• Is it just me, or is the new feature offered by certain "revised" products chiefly a higher price? Consider the "New AF-S Nikkor 200–400mm ƒ/4G ED VR II." It seems suspiciously similar to the old AF-S Nikkor 200–400mm ƒ/4G ED VR, except it's going to cost a thousand dollars more. The press release explains, "continued refinements and new technologies such as Vibration Reduction (VR) II, Nano Crystal Coat, and optimized autofocus (AF) modes enhance functionality and improve performance." Didn't the old version have VR, Nano Crystal Coat, and AF? I wonder if anybody will actually shoot the now-not-as-good older model and the obviously much better new version side-by-side and try to ascertain whether the enhanced functionality and improved performance are detectable to humans. I think I'd have the "old" one, before they disappear, and keep the price difference in my pocket.
I'm probably just being cynical. I am the same guy who once said "you can never spend too much money on a good lens."
• Finally, there's a cool new forum for Zeiss lens aficionados run by our friend Jorge Torralba. It's called ZeissImages.com and it offers my favorite feature—you can search the database by lens. I know, I'm a nerd, but I like to know what lens I'm looking at when I look at pictures on a sharing site. There's absolutely no reason you need a Zeiss lens to take a good picture, but there is really something very special about a Z[x] series Zeiss on a top-grade full-frame camera. Mmm. Got it bookmarked.
UPDATE: Perhaps I was being a little too cynical when I wrote the above. Nikonians report that VRII really is superior to VR, which I can believe—my only experience with VR was on this lens, and it was indeed hopeless. I think the overarching point still holds, however—VRII is unlikely to cost $1k per lens more than the unimproved type.
Similarly, Leicaphiles report that the two main differences in the new Summilux-M both correct known problems...or, at least, known criticisms. It seems that focus shift at wide apertures and close focusing distances can be detected at pixel-peeping magnifications with digital files. I've never noticed it with film, but that doesn't mean it doesn't exist. And as usual, the Leica expert Erwin Puts provides the best explanation of the technical issues. Thanks to Rubén Osuna Guerrero for that link. —MJ
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Original contents copyright 2010 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved.