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Wednesday, 17 October 2018


Mike, the opinions expressed in this post are entirely too sensible and utilitarian. I am disappointed in you.

Yeah! Well said.

"You stand just as good a chance of making a good picture with the most highly corrected lens it's possible to buy today as you do with an ancient screw-mount lens with low contrast and poor edge definition. It's just that the artistic problem will be different, that's all."

I agree.

But you can't drone on about MTF charts and cross sectional diagrams for "ultimate" 30 lb prime lenses and then criticize people for effectively agreeing with such purist drivel, can you?

[I'm not criticizing them. If they want to chase resolution, they should, and more power to them. I'm only saying there's no reason anyone HAS to. --Mike]

I find the whole discussion of film resolution versus digital to be bizarre. When you're dealing with fine detail, the two simply behave completely differently.

Comparisons usually use some standard definition of film resolution, some standard which I used to know but have forgotten. A standard which in no way captures the film/digital distinction.

Film rolls off more or less forever, and the point at which detail vanishes below the noise floor is a long long way to the right of the Official lp/mm number. Things get mushy, but there's still detail. Digital goes clear as a whistle right up to the limits, and then falls off a cliff.

There are tons of older lenses that are capable of putting *some* sort of information down on the sensor at and beyond the digital limits, which for most sensors seems to have settled around, um, about 125 lp/mm, let's say, if I am counting on my fingers properly. It might be a bit mushy, but that's *exactly* the problem that digital sharpening solves.

Quite apart from the excellent points about "maybe you don't want sharpness" claiming that you need some kind of magic modern lens to take advantage of modern sensors is absurd.

I remember Nikon "recommending" lenses for their new D800, and of course you needed very expensive lenses to really take advantage of the Amazing New Sensor -- which had exactly the same pixel pitch as their bottom-of-the-line APS-C camera. Oddly enough they didn't tell anyone they needed a $2000 lens to really take advantage of the D3200's sensor.

Big question with digital is whether you can use a Pinhole "lens" if the hole is not actually made with a pin?

Lies and vile falsehoods! If you use a soft-focus lens the sky will most certainly fall on you, and crush you along with your camera. If by chance it does not fall then your sensor will most certainly be damaged irreparably. This is especially true if you use a soft-focus lens designed for a large-format film camera: do not do this under any circumstances as you will certainly die from the released radiation. Instead, please send all such lenses to the Bradshaw lens-disposal service where they will be safely disassembled, their poisonous neutrino content carefully extracted by suitably radiation-hardened robots and stored in lead-lined pools in geologically-stable areas on the far side the Moon, and the residual materials recycled. Under no circumstances attempt disassembly of the lens yourself: it is impossible to overestimate how dangerous these items are.


I wish you had written this last week -- before our garbage was collected. ;-)

Yep. I've told people who asked for camera advice for decades that they should upgrade when they could at least somewhat articulate how their current gear was holding them back and how the new gear would help fix those particular problems (without introducing too many new ones).

And, personally, I've been wondering about small, faster, less good Micro Four Thirds lenses, because for the work I do in the dark my current lenses are excellent in all ways except perhaps aperture (f/2.8 is a slow lens!), and I could afford to trade off some areas to improve that. Not that I'm likely to get the chance.

Mike, are you trying to out-Kirk Kirk at crankiness and pulverizing a straw man into oblivion? He is a natural, and you do not come across as one. A Wodehouse is never a Tolstoy, with the deepest respect to both of them, and, I should add hastily, to KT and you. Just sayin'.

And yet, that 50/1.4 Takumar sits on your desk as a paperweight.

If this were Facebook I'd give your ideas a thumbs up.
Fun. For me that is what photography is all about. When I make a particularly satisfying image all the better.
I enjoy placing my 1970's Nikkors on the front of my Oly m4/3 cameras and finding new things to like about them and of course seeing the weaknesses in some areas of their performance. Sometimes those weaknesses actually help depending on the subject.

FWIW I bought an adapter that lets me shoot MF with my EOS M3 and Mamiya 645 lenses. You move the camera body after each exposure and then stitch them in processing. I have no complaint about the resolution I get with that combo, it is great, but there must have been some changes to coatings in the intervening years because the color is a bit weird, not as intense as with the EOS M lenses and different in hue. It's fine for converting to B&W though which is what I used the Mamiya cameras for back when. Maybe the color was always 'different' with those lenses and I didn't notice because I wasn't shooting color.

Come on Mike, don’t do this to me. If the pixel peepers find out old glass is OK we can kiss $50 micro Nikkors goodbye forever. I’m about to send a 50 1.4, 24 2.8 and a 300 4.5 p off to be AI’d and go have some fun.
Celebrated our first snow on Sunday popping off some frames with a 70 to 210 f4 AF Nikkor that is old enough to vote. Pictures look great (for me).

When I visit photo forums, I assume a good percentage of the posters are primarily gear hobbyists. The gear is mostly bought and used to take test images to be examined on the computer and compared with other gear. Any other picture taking is of secondary importance.

Well, heck, “the internet” has so many odd opinions. I wonder where it gets them.

Oh yeah, I totally get where you're coming from! I love to confound the internet know-it-alls when I tell them that I have an adaptor for my 5D that costs *more* than the lens I attach to it: a Fotodiox RB-EOS adaptor that fits an old Mamiya 127mm with a broken shutter. While they're visibly trying to absorb that nugget, I then tell them that, in fact, I have no EOS lenses at all for that 5D; they're all old manual lenses, usually older than the person I'm talking to ;-)

I read this while nodding my head in agreement and kept scrolling only to arrive upon the earlier post, "Random Excellence: Jimmy Katz" and what appears to be a very high resolution portrait. Emphasizing that all resolutions have their place and time I suppose.


I think modern lenses are often too sharp and make people look fake or dead and stuffed like in a diorama. This makes me use pre-digital lenses on my digital cameras almost exclusively.

Yet, one of the sharpest lenses I have is a 50mm f/2 Summicron from the 1950s.


When using a lens that is too sharp you can set a slower shutter speed to make the image more natural. I find somewhere between 1/30th and 1/250th of a second is good, but it depends on what is moving, how much your hand shakes, and so on.

"Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, or for ninety-nine out of a hundred photographers, incrementally better resolution makes zero difference in the aesthetic and expressive success of any particular picture."

Truer words than that would be hard to find. I can think of two particular examples of my own work where I had mistakenly made some "incorrect" settings to get the pictures. The photos (one a 3 image panorama) were artistically very successful but less than "ideal" in terms of resolution, digital noise and the like. Also taken with consumer level cameras and "kit" type lenses. Guess I should have stayed home instead of taking one of my all time favorites with so much "troublesome" hardware and poor technique :-)

I have to be honest and say I don't have much money for photography and make do with what I can afford. That said, my newest cameras came out in 2014. A Micro 4/3s and a Sony crop sensor. I supplement kit lenses and some mid-grade lenses with Olympus OM lenses (50/1.8, 50/3.5 macro, 28/3.5, 100/2.8 and 135/3.5). None of those lenses designed in the film days let me down. I'd bet I could make moderate crops an still make decent sized prints I'd be happy with them.


It would be nice if your blog software had an edit feature. I hate seeing typos I missed before hitting the post button. LOL

I always like to compare photography to music. I suppose the quest for high resolution and sharpness is a bit like the quest for perfect technical skill in pop music. What really matters is the song. We don’t have enough good songs, but we have plenty of skilled musicians.

What if somebody, some day, somewhere, wants to buy a huge print of my work, and all I have is 24MP? Horrors!

I am not tempted by high res. I am even worried that all what's left to buy soon are high res sensors and high res lenses.

I prefer the look of my K5 with AA filter and the film era limited FAs over the GR I with the lens matching the sensor. And a lot of fellow photographers wouldn't even call that high res. It's often too much and produces a harsh look.

Old lenses on new cameras make for some of the best photographic fun you can have (in a family publication, at least). Shortly after I got my first DSLR, a Nikon D70, I decided to jam onto it an old Nippon Kogaku single coated lens. Doing this ran the risk, supposedly, of damaging the body's lens mount, but of course I did it anyway. The result was well worth it, as that lens turned out to render digital images in a manner that was unique and strange, but beautiful. Ever since, I've made it a practice to use old lenses whenever possible, and usually enjoy the result, internet wisdom be damned.

Kudos to you Mike for this post, I have the original SONY A7 and have been using a multitude of Minolta and Canon manual focus lenses with some of those lenses being quite good and some not so good. It's seems that the corners seem to suffer on the not so good lenses on the A7. I have found out the hard way that a tripod is a must since the A7 does not have image stabilization. My experience has proven that with a decent vintage manual focus lens from the 70's or 80's they can produce great images that you have noted no one cares or even notices the ultra sharp vs. sharp images.

Just like $300 cables for digital audio!

The same irrational lust for resolution is partly driving "full frame" craze. That is kind of ironic, considering that the biggest benefit of Full Frame cameras is the ability to mount all those low resolution lenses of yesteryear.

I've learned much from the 'net. Things like Ansel Adams would have made better photos with a DSLR. Also that Full Frame cures your fuzzy concepts problems.

Bob Dylan got it right years ago, Don't follow leaders, watch the parking meters.

Newer lenses are mostly better optically. Maybe the new lenses are too perfect? I love my old Pentax 50mm f/1.4 fully manual kit lens. I love my old Voigtländer 75mm f/1.8 Heliar Classic.There are a few others. I'm just glad that I can use adaptors on mirrorless cameras.

There's been a resurgence of old manual lenses lately, what with the advent of the mirrorless. I myself main an old manual Canon FD 85 for all my digital portraiture. I got it cause it was cheap, and there's really no reason to cough out for a modern lens. And honestly, I can't say I've ever been challenged on my lens choice by the internet crowd. Oh, and it seems to outresolve the 24mpix awnsor of my camera, and easily, too.

Didn't we used to get photos we loved with our 6 MB cameras? I still love some of mine.

Most of the commenters are missing the point. If you just spent big bucks on the latest camera, you need modern lenses to realize what that new sensor can do.
What you do with it is an entirely different matter. But why buy the "best" camera if you want Holga-type results?
Isn't the "truism" that the lens is more important than the camera?

[Sure, and I would never want to be without good modern lenses. All I'm saying is that it's not required. Whatever gives you the look you like and want, and you're good to go. There are no rules. --Mike]

I recently started picking up old Russian 35mm film rangefinders to use but it's getting more difficult and increasingly I'm finding bodies without lenses and competition from others looking for old soviet Helios' (plural???) and Jupiters.

As for William's book, it took me quite a while to find a decent, reasonably priced copy. Maybe not much applicability in today's digital world but it was interesting and it'll stay in my resource library. If they ever bring back some of those old films I'll be set.

What surprises me is that the resolution or "sharpness" of a given lens attached to a camera with a given sensor is never put into a meaningful perspective. Given that my printer can print on 17'' wide paper, would it actually make a difference at maximum output size if a lens can resolve 80 or 120 lines per mm? Without such an assessment, I consider resolution numbers and MTF charts as useless. And don't get me started about these silly DXOMark scores and "perceptual megapixels".

Best, Thomas

"I see more pictures spoiled by too much resolution as I see spoiled by too little..."

Now there's a provocation! As the kids today say, Pics or it didn't happen: I'd love to see some examples of images spoiled by too much resolution (as opposed to badly post-processed).

[That runs into my old proscription against criticizing people without their permission. I do it now and then, but my basic feeling is that nobody deserves to be ambushed by random criticism. Unless maybe they're famous and rich and presumably have grown very thick skin. --Mike]

Lovely Rant!

"I'd own both. Old, bad lenses and new, super-sharp, hyper-clinical ones. One for fun. The other for fun."

Oh, I do I do. I also own some in between, for things the others don't do. That's fun, too. \;~)>

". . . you can use any lens you want to on a digital sensor . . . If it's a good sensor, it will merely capture whatever the look and properties of the lens happen to be."

Not universally true. Some combinations of MF lenses designed for film and some digital sensors do not duplicate the look and properties of the lenses on film. I'm aware of several examples from friends and the web. Particularly true, it seems, of many (S)WA lenses.

My particular example was a Tokina AT-X 150-500 mm lens. I had some good results on film. I was unable to get anything that didn't look like impressionism on Canon 300D and 5D.

The irrational craving for higher resolution is probably linked to the amazing level of oversharpening that can be seen in so many photos in the net.

What if I like my KIT lenses?! Oh, the humanity!!!!!!!!

With best regards,


Broken record says: Always use the right tool for the job. The perfect tool for one job, may suck big-time on another job.

Duclos Lenses https://www.ducloslenses.com/ Will remove the latest hi-tech coatings from the newest lenses and apply the same modern coatings to pre-WW2 lenses.

Novoflex is making a Canon R to LTM adapter. With this adapter I can use a 1934 5cm f/2.0 Summar on Canon's new FF-Mirrorless. Either uncoated or with modern coatings—the choice is mine. How good is that.

There's a certain irony here. If I want to keep up with Joe Internet, I need to have not only a lens sharp enough to shave with, but one that achieves maximum blur everywhere except the one in-focus point that holds the quintessence of my ineffable artistic soul. Maybe it's time to go back to my old Kodak Brownie Hawkeye and 620 Verichrome Pan.

That's not to say anything against sharp lenses - just that it's easy to get lost in the technology and the fads, and forget why it is that we have these devices in the first place.

The trick is to not mind the edges, because at for the vast majority of images it doesn’t matter. All of my many older manual Pentax lenses look a little screwy at the edges and especially the corners with my K1. The old 50’s the least problematic. Many have a little too much emphasis on blue for some reason, but those can look good in black and white. I think my run of the mill 50 1.4 M is my favorite, slightly lower contrast, pretty sharp, and an interesting pastel look to the colors.

There are two reasons why I use old lenses in digital. 1-I have them. 2-I have some emotional attachment to keep the old lenses.

I purchased an old Canon FD 50mm f/3.5 macro lens for very little money to use as a macro on my Olympus E-M1. I figured I did not need autofocus for macro work, so why not? I found macro is not my thing, but the 50mm works nicely as a portrait lens on my E-M1. So does my old Canon FD 50mm f/1.4 that I have owned since the 1970s.

The only reason I ever think about owning a full frame digital camera is to try some of those old 28mm, 35mm, 50mm 85mm (or 90mm, or 105mm) lenses on a mirrorless body so you get their originally intended field of view.

From my own experience I can confirm that if one uses old lenses on a digital camera the sky doesn't fall, the world doesn't explode and one does not get arrested (even if one's pictures might justify the latter). There is however no such thing as "a truism that isn't true", since a truism is by definition true, "an undoubted or self-evident truth" according to Webster. In my opinion, "superstition" would be more appropriate.

If sharpness were is such a big thing, where are all the 60" printer reviews?

I am using old lenses bought for $20 to make gigapixel images, and find that:

a) the problem isn't the lens it's the air. I can get licence plates at one mile with a $20 200mm Nikkor if the air is good which it usually is not.

b) so I end up with an image that will look sharp printed at about 6 x 60 feet, what do I do with it?

BTW I find that it is easier to sell a 2 foot wide 6 foot tall print than it is to sell a 6 foot wide 2 foot tall print, much less a 30 foot wide print.

As someone who just purchased three Pentax 645 lenses in superb condition for a grand total of $450, I can only urge more people to buy the brand new lenses and sell more of these manual focus gems to people like me. I'm using them every day and they're fabulous.

I think the photo IFers have it backwards: you use a better sensor to better use and see your lenses. If you like modern, highly corrected lenses, then a better sensor will let you see more of the lens's perfection. If it's an old lens that you adore for its personality, that sensor will let you see more of its personality.

In either case, a better sensor lets you use and see the lens's quality in a wider range of situations by getting out of its way more. Whether that's by imparting less noise or letting you see in lower light levels or even just allowing you to focus the lens more accurately, a better sensor always makes a lens better at what that lens already does.

Amen, brother!

I hear lots of complaining that Pentax hasn’t brought out more vastly expensive unobtanium lenses for the 645z, when one of its most salient features is its full integration with Pentax 645 lenses going back all the way to the beginning of that mount.

I want a sensor that out-resolves the lens, so that I’m limited only by the glass. I can already make prints bigger than I will ever make with that camera and those lenses.

Sometimes you can only use old lenses. Nobody actually makes a modern PC lens in the incredibly useful 35mm focal length.

Of course popping a 35mm PC Distagon on to my 50mp Eos 5DS means the sky falling in twice over. After all every forum on the internet says one cannot shoot architecture with one of those crappy not-wide-enough old shift lenses and must use the 17mm or 24mm

I’m pretty sure that advice mostly comes from people who don’t regularly shoot architectural subjects for documentation purposes and therefore do not appreciate the more neutral/natural perspective. A shifted 17mm lens, no matter how sharp, can make for some pretty crazy distortions at the edges of a frame.

I am sure for many (me certainly included) latest generations sensors are very welcome not for their resolution, but for their dynamic range.
Highlight clipping – that harsh scream of "digital", those offending white blots spotting our pictures for well over a decade – has been a bane of digital photography since its inception.
Honestly: it can't end soon enough.

Resolution is an added bonus...
...but also a very unwelcome onus, with storage space, and postproduction time (even simple viewing time) skyrocketing.
Sort of I'll give you a better car if you accept it to weight 3 times as much, and needing 4 times as much more to get to any destination (add faceslap smiley here :) )

There is nothing worse than a sharp image of a fuzzy concept.

Ansel Adams

The most popular photo processing apps tend to be for adding imperfections back in(vsco, snapseed, hipstamatic etc) so why not go for the look in camera and save time?

Mike, being humble, kind, generous, loving your family, being faithful to one’s spouse or significant other, is what one gets “life points” for, plain and simple. Don’t conflate lens use with life points.

I'm looking for an 85mm slightly blurry lens. Anyone have any suggestions?"

The old Russian Jupiter 9 should fit the bill. In M42 mount, it's pretty easily adaptable. And quite cheap.
My favourite, though, is the early 60s Auto Takumar 85/1.8, which is a bit less commonly available, but still not a fortune to buy.

There's a forum on DPreview (which is a whole lot more interesting than a lot of the stuff there) on adapting (mainly old) lenses:

For those who want an example of "too much resolution": take any headshot taken with a high res camera and lens and view it at 100%. It will look scary unless the photographer deliberately shot slightly out of focus or used post-processing to reduce details.

Modern digital cameras are merciless to people. Sigma Merrill and Quattro are the worst in this respect.

It's all about the image. The rest is noise.

Well, it seems some people are way too much into the gearhead aspect of photography, instead of the photography aspect of photography, and want to turn everything into, um, a [redacted]-measuring contest: “I’ve got more resolution than you!”

But then I remember the words of Henri Cartier-Bresson (no slouch at photography he): “Sharpness is a bourgeois concept.”

It appears that, from all the comments, you are preaching to the choir.

I would like to point out that the resolution you will get depends on all the components in the optical path. It's simply not true that you need a higher resolution lens if you have a large number of megapixels. A sensor with more resolution will make any lens look better. The caveat to this is if one component is really bad obviously it will tend to swamp the other but lenses are rarely that bad.

Dear Editor
I won't add to the host of well-thought-out praise that you have already received. I could not possibly express myself in a more appropriate way.
Let my therefore just use one word:

I just bought a decades old Zeiss lens to have more options in terms of conveying a certain atmosphere in photos. What's great about current full frame digital is that I can have the medium/large format look of past when I want to create an image with that and I can tone it down to something more moody when that is what best suits the image; the flexibility is enormous.

I recently read about how the big problem for early Autochrome users was the slowness of the film and how to manage natural looking photos; we have come a long way since in making photography more effortless and accessible. However, it's worth noting that Autochrome is still, despite its large grain and unrealistic color, very aesthetically attractive.

One thing that has been bothering me for a while as an Olympus m4/3 user is whether Panasonic m4/3 lenses would be just as good on this body. I'm not talking about high resolution, more speed, focus accuracy, distortion, etc. I don't think I've seen you discuss that, and I don't think I see people interchanging body/lenses between Olympus and Panasonic. It seems that most people stick to the same manufacturer, which seems to defeat the purpose of m4/3. Am I a victim of marketing for feeling antsy or is there something there?

I am tempted to buy LM/NZ adapter to see how my 5cm Elmar 2.8 with bad cement draws on Z7.

Hi Mike, I would like to see you link us to an actual example of this rampant falseism (sic), that wasn't appropriately conditioned.

Let's put the shoe on the other foot. Say you have bought a high-res sensor. WHY???

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