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Friday, 30 September 2016


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The Sigma Art 50mm f/1.4 is one of those lenses I am confident will deliver excellent results even wide open—a very rare feat indeed.

Interesting follow up from Harold Merklinger, Mike.

These f4 lenses are much more practical in most situations considering the improvement in high ISO performance in recent years.

I bought the Canon 40mm f2.8 STM almost as an afterthought with a 6D. The AUD$149 price was too good to refuse. With lens attached the 6D becomes very small, light and inconspicuous for a full frame camera - ideal for the street. I'm more likely to carry it around for the same reason; previously a larger lens made the camera too bulky and heavy. The Canon 40mm delights, and is a real sleeper. Highly recommended.

PS my carry-everywhere film camera at present is the Rollei 35S, with its superb collapsible 40mm f2.8 Zeiss Sonnar, introduced in 1974. Seems I'm on a 40mm kick.

Mike, something nobody seems to remember about the lenses of the slr era is that hardly anyone bought fast lenses to shoot wide open. We bought fast lenses so that we could focus them. In the manual focus era you needed a fast lens so that split image and microprism focusing aids wouldn't go dark, and because the ground glass screens in manual focus cameras are much darker than the screens in autofocus cameras. Also focus wide open and shoot stopped down a couple stops to let DOF take care of focusing errors and focus shift. Then of course pro level autofocus SLRs were optimized for fast lenses to increase focusing accuracy because a larger arpeture effectively increased the baseline of the phase detection system.

And of course even the most crummy fast lenses looked better than good slow lenses standing in the store looking through the camera. Just like cheap loud speakers.

The only thing funnier than standing at the counter of the camera store putting different lenses on a film* SLR and looking through them to guess what they they will look like on film is watching the guy** doing it with a Leica.

*one thing that's great about live view cameras is that you can actually go through a pile of lenses and get an idea of how they perform.
**and it's always a guy. Women seem to be smart enough to fiddle with other things when they go camera shopping.

That's a very interesting post.

I can't comment on the Leica lenses nor would I try to suggest any ranking of the lenses he mentions, but it's good to hear such positive comments about the little EF 40mm f2.8 STM. I've got it and enjoy using it - very small, very light, very good. I enjoy using its very close cousin, the EF-S 24mm f2.8 STM, even more on my APS-C camera. In fact, just those two lenses and an APS-C camera make a good outfit.

Good catch, Mr. Merklinger!

Couldn't agree more with the f4 lens comments. I tried the Canon 16`35mm f2.8L and the vII version and found them so soft in the corners, at any aperture, as to be laughable. Then I tested and promptly purchased the f4L version. Sharp as a tack across the frame. Used it to shoot the Christmas card for 'someone who's name you'd know' last year. I use faster Zeiss prime MF lenses for day-to-day fine art work, but when I need the flexibility of a zoom this, and the workmanlike 24~105 f4L, are my go-to.
Also, +1 to the 40mm STM comments. There's a 16x24 print that my MFA photographer wife requested be hung on our wall taken with that 'walk-around' lens. Sleeper indeed.

This lens discussion is interesting to me not for the reasons you would think. I'm about to turn 63 and got my first camera with 50 cents and 50 Bazooka bubble gum comics. I sold cameras as a kid, went off to photography school, then NYC as a photo assistant and back to NE to become an in house shooter for a large military contracts company , and finally on my own for the last 3.5 years. I have worked with many engineers who take a very methodical approach to their equipment, testing it much as described in this discussion. I also know many working professionals. I have yet to come across a working professional who put this much time and effort into testing equipment. Everyone I know and have known simply uses it and it doesn't make the grade then sell or return or just get rid of it. So I'm curiou, is my observation real world or am I wrong?

One of my other favorite lenses is a manual focus pretty old Nikon 50mm pancake F1.8. I got it from my father and he never spent much on lenses but loved photography. It's not at all sharp, but has such a beautiful soft feel to it.
I love the look it produces. It's a great lens for romantic or soft portraits and mysterious landscapes.

Harold Merklinger wrote:

"For more than a decade I have been wondering why manufacturers don't just give us small, lightweight, ƒ/4 lenses. It may have started to happen....."

This has been a hobby horse of mine for some time: namely, if lens makers, and many photographers, would give up their obsession with f/1.4 as the gold standard for prime lenses, maybe we could get some exceptionally well-corrected f/2.8 - f/4 lenses. I'm not saying they'd be inexpensive, just smaller and lighter. I know next to nothing about lens design, so I keep hoping that some knowledgeable types will jump in and enlighten me.

Perhaps Zeiss is giving a nod in this direction with their Batis line for Sony full-frame E-mount, although the 25mm f/2 and 85mm f/1.8 still have relatively large maximum apertures.

"For more than a decade I have been wondering why manufacturers don't just give us small, lightweight, ƒ/4 lenses."

Exactly. High quality, usable ISO values are sky high compared to the old film days.

"Miniature camera" (i.e. 35mm film camera) lenses with ultra bright f/1.7 and f/1.4 apertures were developed because of the need for low light photography and the limitations of film. For instance, until the 1950s, ISO 100 was considered to be a relatively high speed film.

The byproduct of a shallow depth of field and its artistic possibilities were a seredipitous afterthought and not the primary driver for the development of f/1.4 lenses.

In today's digital world, that reason for ultra-bright lenses no longer exists. Small, lightweight lenses on smaller bodies should be the norm for quality digital photography, and not the beefy DSLRs with the giant lenses of today.

Sure, you can have a couple of f/1.4 or f/1.2 lenses in the lineup. But the trend should be towards small and light.

It's nice, as always, to see the level of sensibility evinced by the readership, in particular the appeal of f/4 lenses. I've long been a fan of these, and back when I used a Canon DSLR for general photography, the Canon 17-40/4 was probably my most-used lens.

Regarding the current obsession with super-fast lenses to be able to acheive razor-thin levels of DOF and commensurate bokeh to be silly, unnecessary and expensive. One can achieve similar, and often, nicer results with longer lenses at smaller apertures. Witness this "grab shot" portrait of World Superbike Racing rider and all-around super-nice guy, Pier-Francesco Chili taken in 2008 at a heretical f/5 with a Canon 300f/2.8 at Miller Motorsports Park. ;-)

This talk about fast lenses and film cameras, reminded me something about my own images. In my 35mm film days, most of my pictures from that time were shot at around f8, not only because of the National Geographic mantra. Since I was using an old match diode meter camera, I would work in a sort of "shutter priority", I would set a shutter speed and f stop combination, and if the light changed I would adjust the f stop only, since it was faster than adjusting the shutter speed since my hand was already near the aperture ring (holding the lens and focusing), because of this almost all of my pictures were taken at middle apertures. And even though I had a "full frame" camera and an 50mm f1.4 lens, there was no Bokeh to be found,(I know I am using the word wrong here). Of course many of my pictures could have benefited from a narrower depth of field, but many did not. From that time, my favorite lens was an 135mm f3.5 minolta, I only had 3 lenses back then, but almost 30 years later I still recognize which pictures were taken with it. Fast forward to today, and even with the impossibly high ISO's available, I love my f1.2 lens and I still enjoy the 135mm focal length (now an f2) I'm waiting for a used 85 so I can the full set. My point is that sometimes our shooting style is shaped by our tools, and sometimes we impose our style on our tools.

Plus One Hugh Crawford...

...I doubt in my professional career, I ever shot a full frame 35mm image that was open wider than f/4, and I certainly tried to hit f/5.6 if I could...there are people on here saying f/4 lenses are the way to go, but why can't they just make decent, inexpensive f/2.8 primes like they always did?

I'm talking to you Nikon: I don't need the "fast one" to be f/1.2 or 1.4, and the "slow one" to be f/1.8!

...not to mention, and even with computer design, I wonder if this is still true: if, IF, you bought a really fast lens in the olden days (and I mean fast like f/1.4 or f/1.2), based on the limits of design, these lenses were far lousier at ALL f/stops than a slower lens: i.e. an 85mm f/2.8 was most likely sharper at f/5.6, f/8, f/11, and have much better edge sharpness, contrast, and less distortion, than an 85mm f/1.4 at the same.

Fast lenses were for journalists that needed to shoot at f/1.2 or f/1.4, no matter how "crappy" the results! And many would tell you that all the lens was, was fast. They'd have an f/2.8 lens of the same focal length a lot of times for their 'normal' use, because it was demonstrably better at all f/stops.

Amen, Mike. Fast lenses are valuable mainly for bragging rights, astrophotographers excepted. And f4 is the new f2. Actually, after stepping back up to FF with a new Pentax K-1, I'm becoming much more friendly with f11 and f16, to capture deep focus.

There are so many fewer situations now where extreme lens speed is needed. Remember the halcyon days of film- you'd load a 36-exposure roll that you'd try to make last the afternoon. Therefore you were stuck with ASA/ISO 400, if that much. The sun's going down, it's getting dark, and the best photos usually come at the end of the roll, near twilight, when f1.4 was your only choice.

Today, we just increase that ISO by two or three stops and carry on normally. Give me two or three short-range zooms, 2x or 3x, of f4, light and compact, and a I'm good to go. Digital tech hasn't changed the law of gravity...

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