« Open Mike: Poetry | Main | Blog Note: D'oh! »

Friday, 25 October 2019


Mike wrote, "Even once-modest Sigma has made some superlative lenses because it found the budget and the corporate will to do so."

Sigma makes some superlative lenses because it found that there is a market for them.

Did you find your tinfoil hat before posting.....

I shouldn't really comment, since I am simply not good at judging the optical qualities of lenses, and those optical differences that do exist I won't necessarily recognise myself. I wish I had a better eye for lens character, but I don't, and I have come to accept it. What does matter to me is how the camera and the lens work together, and how the lens-camera combination impacts on my interactions with my subjects.

Example: the little Fuji 27mm on the XPro2, used when photographing people in an informal setting. To the extent to which I can perceive optical qualities, I like the results of this pairing, but what I like most is that this combo is completely invisible to my subjects. They just ignore the camera and the lens. They do not think of me as taking a portrait, they just let me snap away whilst we talk. The same is true for the other smaller Fuji lenses, but with the 27mm, it really is as if some fairy has pulled a cloak of invisibility over the camera.

A photo that could only have been taken with a Leica-

When I still shot slide film, I tested my Nikon against my Contax and found a clear difference between the two, mostly in contrast and color rendition. But I didn’t find much difference between Contax and Leica. Nowadays, color can easily be adjusted, of course.

Back in the 1990's I owned a 1-hour photo business.

There was customer who brought his film in for processing who used a Leica M6 to make all his pictures.

When he picked up his prints he was always delighted by the quality of his Leica optics.

I never had the heart to tell him that the Noritsu printer that enlarged his images used Minolta lenses.

Reminds me a bit of high-end audio: Under controlled test conditions, it's amazing how many "obvious" sonic differences can simply disappear.

[Yes, but sound quality is purely subjective and is only for enjoyment. So if someone thinks he hears a difference, and he enjoys the difference, then it's better. QED. --Mike]

Decades ago Modern photography did a lens comparison of the major camera brands- nobody could tell what was shot with what.

I'm not a lens aficionado as are you, it's only when my eyes first alert me that I notice a difference; as when I noticed that the 14mm Fujinon was way sharper in the corners than any Nikkor 20mm, and that the 18mm in my GR was also sharper in the corners than the 18mm Fuijinon, and what a superlative lens the 40mm Ultron is all around- otherwise, I just assume the lens will do its job..

When I switched from Canon FD to Leica in the 1980s, the Leica lenses seemed a little more contrasty to me. (Local contrast, I mean, which is good for tonal separation.) Also they seemed a little more flare resistant and sharper wide open.

But the differences were very minor and perhaps subjective, so I wouldn't have switched systems for those reasons. I switched simply because I preferred shooting with a rangefinder, which was faster and assured sharp focus in dim light. My SLR pictures were too often out of focus in dim light. (This was before autofocus SLRs.)

That said, it's impressive that even 50-year-old Leica lenses still hold up pretty well against some modern lenses that have advantages in computer-aided design, newer optical glasses, and better coatings. But I suspect that the very best vintage lenses from Canon, Nikon, Pentax, and other major lensmakers do likewise.

Paul Simon's lyrics from "The Boxer" comes to mind, "Still a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest..." Or see what he wants to see in this case.

I've been saying this for years: lens c̶m̶a̶e̶r̶a̶ doesn't matter.

Thank you—just as I thought. A lot of the nattering about the special and superior quality of Leica lenses, their sharpness, “Leica Glow,” etc, etc, is really just B.S.

Yes, I shoot Leica. I also shoot Minolta-a criminally underrated brand, in my opinion (and alas, now defunct....). And as best as I can tell, the images out of my old Minoltas are just as good as anything out of my Leicas...just that the Minoltas cost a lot less....

There was a pretty well-known British photographer/reviewer couple, Roger Hicks and Frances Schultze (sp?) who a decade or so ago wrote a piece for Amateur Photographer about "Leica glow." They said the glow actually existed, and you could pick out Leica photos because of it. If I recall correctly, the "glow" was caused by somewhat sloppy technique, and not by the camera, lenses or film. Roger tended to do a lot of exposure estimating, not always perfectly. Shooting side-by-side with his much more meticulous wife, Roger's photos had the glow, and his wife's (shot with different lenses) didn't. I think Frances also speculated that back-lighting had something to do with it, and better bokeh* from the Leica lenses. So, the Leica look may actually exist, and have something to do with how the cameras are used, rather than some inherent goodness. The article was written more than a decade ago, and I can't find it online, but I think the very fast Leica lenses, used in fast-action, low-light hard-to-focus street shooting, may also have the glow, again caused by technique, rather than any inherent quality of the lenses. I don't think you'll see it in instant focus, eye-seeking modern cameras.

Mike said, "You wouldn't put bargain tires on a Porsche 911." I have a high-end Porsche Cayenne, and a week after I got it, I ran over a Big F**kin' Nail (BFN). The Porsche manual says you should not repair the tires -- you should buy a new one. The tires cost $600 each. I took it to the local tire shop and they did a $19 repair, and the redneck who fixed it for me said it was good as new. No problems so far.

*My spell-checker repeatedly tried to change bokeh to "pokey."

Regarding audio, I feel like I'm becoming my old professor. He was a talented Bassoon player, a exceptional private teacher, and a well above average band director. On one occasion he had a party at his home for selected students. He had a fifties era record player. Youknow, mono, radio and record player in a cabinet that cost more than the innards. He puts on a particularly treasured symphonic record, and at one point, says "Listen to that. The second bassoon just did (something I don't remember). We are all looking at each other because we couldn't hear what the second bassoon was doing AT ALL. I think it was his training as a musician, his experience that allowed him to pick this out. And so I don't need fancy cables to hear what I want from my stereo.

As to photos and Leica specifically, I have owned two Leicas in my life. A iiiG in the seventies, and more recently an M9. I had good lenses for each, and I never saw anything special in the results. I can see differences, but somehow the Leica lenses simply blend in with the crowd. The lenses I could spot from a mile, were the Zeiss licensed lenses for my late lamented Contax G. Hobbled by a useless AF system, it was still obvious by the results of those lenses. They sparkled like little diamonds. It was as once was said, like a veil had been lifted.

And the real Zeiss lenses on my Hasselblad 500C/M are exceptional too, but lacking much to compare them to, not as over the top.

And I hope I don't become my old professor any more too soon, he's dead.

Interesting point made by Mike. If something in an audio system makes no technical measurable difference to the sound but does have some kind of psychological effect that tricks your brain into hearing an improvement is that good enough to justify a ridiculous price? Because there is no technical justification for high priced cables that can be reliably demonstrated under double blind conditions. All cables sound identical under those conditions unless something has been done deliberately, (like high capacitance) to upset the amp. But if the placebo effect works consistently, can it be claimed as a real improvement? Philosophy...

I began to get a bit suspicious of the “ineffable magic” idea when I learned that everyone’s favourite Leica 35mm Summicron was the one before the (then) current one, the Summicron ASPH. This was despite the newer lens being shown in tests as objectively (see, I can do that too) better than the older one. Apparently it didn’t possess that ‘Leica glow’. Err, that would be the result of uncorrected aberrations, no? I had no problem with people preferring the older lens, but to say it was better was surely wrong.

Alternatively, of course, I was just p****d off that the pre-ASPH 35mm Summicron was priced well beyond my means on the s/hand market because of this belief. Boy, did I want one! Never managed it, however.

I think the most important thing you said is, "They really should get back to simply looking at pictures...". To which I would add, not on computer screens.

Everyone knows that the more you pay the better the item. Yep.

To each his own and may we all find enjoyment within our budget. Been down the GAS too many times.

The truth will break your heart until it no longer does!

Audio systems were what came to mind with me as well when I read this. I remember the same test method criticisms being made in Audio magazines when independent testers could find no difference in CD player sound (in front of people) when CDs became popular: The test was faulty, the listener was under stress(!!), etc. As for "hi-fi" cables, I still believe that yes indeed you can use lamp cord for your $100,000 amp and speakers, and no one will know the difference by sound alone. (The reasoning by analogy of putting low cost tires on a Porsche 911 is faulty.)

As an Electronic Engineer with degrees in Electrical Engineering, I am well aware of the concepts of distributed impedance of transmission lines, skin effects and so on, but at audio frequencies (20Hz to 10KHz or so) and low level voltages and currents, these effects on what you can hear are non-existent. If some one can point to some double blind tests (or any tests) that prove otherwise I will be happy to know about them.

As a Leica lens user, I agree with your analysis. They have no special 'look', and are not necessarily better than high end lenses from Nikon, Olympus, etc. So why have I paid a premium for them?... They are very well made, basic and intuitive in operation, small, AND they are excellent optically. If Fuji made lenses (and cameras) that met all those criteria, I would be a Fuji owner now. The non-Leica lenses that came closest are the manual Nikon AI-s lenses that are no longer being developed.

Indeed, there’s no magic bullet in ANY aspect of photography, including the final print. Maybe cliche, but the most important tools reside between the ears: a good eye and good judgment; shooting, processing and printing. I’ve had print exhibits where viewers, even other photographers, can’t discern the format size or medium (film/digital), let alone the camera or lens.

IQ potential has been generally sufficient for years, cameras and lenses, across a variety of brands
(specialty photography aside). Even for monster sized prints, practical viewing distance is typically an equalizer. For me, gear choice comes mostly down to the viewing and focusing experience, ergonomics and handling, control interface, and native lens choices in the focal lengths (primes and/or zooms) that serve the need. On occasion, there might be a required feature or two, e.g., weather sealing. But regardless of all that, the experience must be enjoyable. Beyond that, the picture and print results are up to me, not the gear. Nobody else cares or knows what equipment was used.

To open an analogous can of worms: I'm yet to be convinced there's a definable 'film look' that can be discerned when images are viewed in a digital medium (on a screen).

I believe purely digital photograph can be processed to look like analogue ones (whatever that might mean), and scans from analogue originals to look 'digital' (likewise).

If one were to perform your blind experiment with a sample of such images I strongly suspect the result would be similar. There's many on Instagram and elsewhere who, of course, would strongly disagree.

...but sound quality is purely subjective and is only for enjoyment...

Similarly, if someone thinks they see a difference (with their fancy lens), and they enjoy it, then isn't it also better? I suppose we're all swimming in a messy soup of personal biases and preferences, regardless of our obsession of choice.

I dunno, Mike. If somebody feels the sound is a lot better if they know they paid $50,000 for the system, but are afraid to do any blind testing, I don't think that's okay; I think they need therapy. I think there's something badly wrong that will probably afflict their entire life, and maybe they can be helped if it's caught early.

Oh -- and the one time somebody told me they thought one of my photos had clearly been taken with my Leica...I had to tell them that that particular shot was actually with my Pentax Spotmatic -- with the Tamron Adaptall II 85-210mm zoom. (Mind you, that lens was "better than it should have been" -- the biggest problem was that it was slow, and that was clearly marked on the box.)

It wasn't so long ago I was new to the photography world. My first real camera was a Canon T6i with the kit lens. Of course I compared to the current iPhone 4. Wow. Then I was talking to a buddy of mine who had become a pro photographer, and asked what was a better lens for doing flower shots, since that's a lot of what I was doing. He suggested the Canon 100 f2.8 macro lens. When the camera store said I could return it if I didn't like it, I bought. And was blown away again. It's still one of my favourite lenses.

Are there better lenses for doing that kind of shooting? Probably. How expensive are they, and how much better, and how would I tell? There are so many subtle variables at every step along the way that can change the results.

I think so many comparisons get into the trap of irrelevant detail comparisons. The example I think of is vehicles. Almost all of them are pretty good now, very similar in most important respects. So the reviewers compare the number and placement of cup holders. Bah!

So borrow a lens that you're interested in. (This weekend I'm renting the Sigma 85mm f1.4 ART.) Shoot it for the subjects and under the conditions you work in. If you like it, buy it. Don't obsess about some pixel peeping detail that nobody will notice. Ignore the marketing. If you're happy with the images you get, then it's the right lens. Chasing ever better lenses is a trip down the rabbit hole.

I think it's fair to say that some lens designs, well executed, can connect with someone's sense of what's right in the world and so evoke a visceral pleasure or excitement or exquisite calm. But attributing such things to brands just seems like consumer snobbery.

A couple of my favorite lenses are the 40mm Sonnar on my Rollei 35S, and the Sonnar copy Jupiter 3 I use on my Kiev 2a. Sharp, but with soul. They make images that are vibrant, no deadening effects with them. But one was made in Singapore and the other in Russia, so very little brand cred.

Recently I've been in search of "3D pop", a concept I'm sure most readers are familiar with that refers to the way a subject seems to pop out from the background in almost a 3D way in some photos. There's a lot of debate about it, what its characteristics are exactly, how to achieve it, is it even real (that it's not quantifiable like resolution means it's not real for some people). There's at least one thread about it in most every photography forum, including one I started recently at filmwasters.

I think I have a better understanding of it now. It seems most pronounced or easy to achieve from medium format Heliar design lenses, like those on the Voigtlander Superb and Brillant or Koniflex TLRs. I recently got a Koniflex and it's now my precious for its image quality. But I'm not going to say there's something mystically identifiable about all Konishiroku / Konica lenses.

There are qualities of lenses expressed in their image quality that are hard or impossible to quantify, but I think it's much more plausible that those intangibles or mystique might be inherent in a particular lens design, to a more or lesser degree, than in a particular brand.

Michael, can you explain how Leica can make teeny high quality 50/1.4 and 50/2 lenses, whereas the Nikon new RF mount 50/1.4 weighs in at 4+ POUNDS....?

Xperts be fools...

"Wine-tasting - even the supposed experts are fooled."

"...when he presented the judges with the exact same wine from out of the same bottle minutes apart, but told them it was different, they rated it differently."


A more colorful summary is at The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2013/jun/23/wine-tasting-junk-science-analysis

A few years ago, a friend brought by his new M9 digital Leica and four new Leica prime lenses, with a total purchase price of about $18,000.

He wanted me to take a few photos and admire the gear, so I shot a few outdoor scenes, the same scenes that I use for rough and ready tests of my own new digital gear. I saved the images on to my own system.

After he left, I took test shots of the same scenes with an older 2012 Olympus E-M5 Mark I and and my usual Olympus 12mm-40mm /2.8 Pro grade zoom lens and then compared those bright summer sunlit images from both cameras.

The Olympus M4/3 shots were clearly sharper and better than the full frame Leica images, by any measure despite the 4X larger full-frame sensor. It's possible that the lower quality of the Leica images arose from a consistent focusing issue, perhaps a slightly misaligned rangefinder apparatus or just an inherently lower focusing accuracy compared to a modern contrast-detection focusing system.

However, all that matters in the end is the system's overall capability and output. By that measure, the Micro 4/3 output was decidedly superior, with a system cost only 10% of the Leica cost.

Of course, I never mentioned this to my friend.

It's like the "film looks better" argument, nonsense, unless you're printing it with a good cold cathode enlarger, onto proper fibre based paper. Scan it, digitize it, and you risk killing it with all that digital post sauce.

Hi Mike,
There's a lot to respond to here.
1. So you decided not to set up a blind test between the two Fuji lenses? I'm a little disappointed.

2. Humans are pretty good at picking out a faint signal from a sea of noise. There are some neat experiments, where participants were made to play card games using cards of two different colors. The game was fixed so that one color of cards was mildly more likely to produce a win. It didn't take too many trials before the players began to favor cards with those hands.

3. Humans are really good at attaching stories and names to things, and the measured effect of doing so has more of an effect than those weak signals. Thus the double blind tests. We know marketing works. We know myths and legends work. As a direct result of this, it's hard to construct a test that measures what we think it does.

4. I've always loved how certain Kodak 40's-50's lenses rendered, and cordially disliked others. Clearly Mees & Jones research led to prescriptions for Kodak lenses that emphasized contrast at some frequencies, and resolution at others. How that actually looks depends a lot on final output size. And what our culture is used to! No question that the Ektars have a certain look that goes with that mid-century-modern era. Ditto for the kind of harsh plasmats of the 60's and 70's. (Fyi, there's a particular example of a print from a lens with Heliar design from Kodak that I find kinda nauseating - there's something really wrong with the contrast in coarse textures. The high contrast LF/Hasselblad studio stuff of the 80's gives me a headache.)

I think this is also why a lot of "great" film era lenses don't look so great on digital, and "oddball" film era lenses sometimes look pretty good. When you have the lens sharpening some things for you and not others, pretty weird things can happen at different display sizes. Cue discussions among Large Format photographers about whether soft focus lenses should be used to make prints larger than 8x10.

5. I have read three different lens-related "tests" or "experiments" in the last month. A few interesting things popped up. Over on LensRental's blog, they were testing the Panasonic and Olympus 45mm lenses, and in an offhand comment, it was noted that the Olympus 45mm has a lot of field curvature wide open at portrait distances - and suggested that this was a potentially a useful thing, because if you are doing portraits, you get more favorable bokeh.

Over on dpreview, I read a very long, comprehensive, and well illustrated comparison test between m43 and full frame that found very little difference between the two formats. Sensibly, the tester used their typical working methods. This meant using jpegs, underexposing by some unknown amount, using middle ISOs, and only looking at the images on screen. [record scratch sound] You could not ask for a more perfect example of the heuristic "there are more differences within groups than between groups". The results totally overlapped!

Elsewhere on the internet, I stumbled across an analysis of focus breathing with unit-focusing lenses, and made a connection with why large format photography has such a different relationship with "normal" focal lengths than small formats. I also found a parenthetical comment about why a certain inexpensive standard prime from the film era took such different pictures than "better lenses". Unit focusing made a significant difference in rendering when doing close up work.

In audio the source of the electricity is much more important than the cables one uses. Everyone knows music sounds better when the amplifier is powered by solar or hydroelectric free range organic electrons.
It gives the music a certain "roundness" that other power sources do not.
Coal powered electricity is OK I suppose if all you listen to is fusion but that's another story.

[You're being sarcastic I realize, Mr. Plews, but you're actually wrong—good AC is basic for sound reproduction. AC can be loaded with all sorts of pollution from many different sources inside and outside the house. I was one of the beta testers for Paul McGowan's original PS Audio power regenerators (Paul is a photographer and used to read TOP), and the difference in my Woodstock house was amazing, because the AC there was very bad. In my Waukesha house, however, there was very little difference, because the raw AC was very good there. --Mike]

I have a bad habit of selling lenses that I regard as magical. The weird thing is, every time I've regretted it and bought a replacement, they're never, ever as good as I remembered.

One instance of this was the 95mm Technikar lens on the Linhof 220. When I first owned it over 30 years ago, I thought it was the best lens I had ever seen. Needless to say, I promptly sold it. When I got around to buying another Linhof 220, a few years ago, it was rubbish. I mean, really rubbish. I wonder whether the coating had gone on the lens?

Whatever it was, it certainly wasn't the magical lens of yore. They never are.

Speaking of things that people imagine they can detect but cannot define in a concrete way, a while back I started a thread on DPR about lens "microcontrast" and no one could show a side-by-side example of bad vs good microcontrast where any difference was visible. This would also apply to the "Leica look". https://www.dpreview.com/forums/post/62654440

Here is another thread on the same subject. There are lots of people yelling at each other about something that I do not think exists. https://www.dpreview.com/forums/post/62935703

Below is a combination of my original post and another post I made on a different thread on the same subject.

"I see people mention micro contrast when talking about lenses all the time but I have never been able to actually see what they are talking about in photo examples. If you showed a non-photographer a photo with supposedly superb micro contrast would they be able to see it or would they just roll their eyes at you? Is micro contrast just an ideomotor effect; some photographers see it because they expect to see it because they read about it in a review perhaps? And would it actually add anything of value to a photo? Even if it is real how important could it be vs the photo and subject overall?

When I read people talking about micro contrast it reminds me of "audiophiles" talking about how one speaker wire is better than another. But yet in a double blind test no one can tell the difference. This also occurs among oenophiles. When wine "experts" taste wine in double blind tests few can actually tell the difference between a cheap or expensive wine. They find what they expect to find.

Microcontrast is imaginary and is a textbook example of confirmation bias. People see what they expect to see. For example when people talk about the "Leica look" but cannot show you a concrete example.

I bet that no professional photographers spend any time worrying about this.

If you CANNOT SEE IT in a photo it is meaningless. Go and show a photo with supposedly good microcontrast to a non-photographer and I bet that they could care less."

Great Column.
There are, I am sure people who CAN Identify lenses judging only by the prints made from them, but not very many. The ability to do that usually requires that you divorce yourself from the picture and look for 'evidence'. ....sort of a non photographic pursuit.
But who among us has not had some 'magic' lenses; Ones where we convince ourselves that our batting average goes up when we use them. We may even be correct in that assumption because we approach subjects with added confidence.
I have certainly found that to be true. I just enjoy it, keep it to myself, and keep making better pictures..

I remain convinced the magic is in the light, not in the lens.

What is "better", that's the question?

Some people love the look of a plastic Holga lens above all else.

Some people prefer pinholes, which have no glass at all!

Since we're doing audio comparisons, it's like preferring an ancient tube amp over transparent and accurate solid state; yes it has distortions, but it's the kind of distortions I like.

Personally I almost always add a slight vignette to my photos so if the lens has some vignetting already it just saves me the trouble.

How about you take one or two of my Leica (or even Leitz) lenses, ones I’ve used for years and have gotten to know, and do the same test with some lenses of other brands but ones I’m not familiar with. I think I could pick out shots made with my lenses, at least up to 8x10, at least most of the time.

I'm always on the lookout for "wine talk" when it comes to gear of any kind. Once for fun I inserted the phrase "intense organic luminosity" into one of those conversations. The only other place I'd seen it used previously was ad copy describing a magical new shampoo. It didn't seem to raise any eyebrows, which raise alarm bells... Blind tests are usually the death of that kind of nonsense.

It's really quite eye-opening when you start just seeing for yourself. Believe your own eyes. I have a $39 enlarger lens on my Fuji GFX 50R that performs 95% as well at the apertures I use as a lens with a similar focal length that cost me 20 times as much. And I can make up the 5% difference in post with a preset that applies a bit more contrast and texture. If I shared the name of this lens on certain photography forums, I'd be shunned by the community of serious people who go there.

Did you ever buy that Disc Washer line about using their red-bottle fluid on your vinyl instead of distilled water, because the latter is "hungry water? "

Is it possible that manufacturing and design of lenses has reached the same point as internal combustion engines? Engineers have nailed most of the big variables and problems, and now just juggle a limited set of minor compromises to achieve consistent high quality? (And, like engines, some are just so way off the chart in one area or another that they command a profit worth the expense of ne plus ultra?)

The thing about audio is, it takes a modest investment to get 96% of the way to wherever audiophiles are headed to - it takes 50x more to get that extra 4%. We should all count ourselves lucky if we can settle for 96% good enough.

Maybe it’s like that with lenses, too? I have always been a budget photographer and audiophile, so while I value quality, I do have to factor in a realistic budget and therefore, 96% works just fine for me.

I suppose you've seen the Tony Northrup video of his poll about camera color science but I'll link to it in case you haven't.


Essentially, he agrees with you. People that think they know something are generally wrong.

Bought one of those legendary magic lenses several years ago. Cost a $1000. Bought it just because it was so legendary. Needs an adapter to work on the Fuji. It's big lens to start with. With the adapter, its even more so, so I haven't used it much lately. Really wanted a lens of similar focal length for the Fuji though but didn't want to spend several hundred dollars again. So I found a cheap little Chinese lens in Fuji mount that cost $60. Really small and light. Discovered that Little China makes images just as good as Big Magic Legend does. I honestly can't tell the difference between the two other than slight differences in color rendition. So Little China is on my camera, Big Magic Legend sits in the drawer and no one gives a hoot which lens I used anyway.

Back when I shot film, I did a series of comparison shots on Tri-x, with a Leica M2 and 90mm Summicron, and a Canon F1N and 85mm/1.8 FD.

To my surprise, even non photographers could see the extra detail or micro contrast on the negatives. Didn’t even need to make prints. It might be different with other films.

I still sold the Leica, because the Canon was a better tool for making pictures.

Thinking about lenses - I am happy to buy the beer for anyone who can tell me which image was made with which lens.

Like you, Mike, I'll suggest which lenses might have been used, just to narrow the field at bit. I've been making this same offer for over 30 years and no one has ever taken me up on the offer.

"Back in the day" I worked as a black and white print tech for Sammy's lab on Sunset Blvd. The other techs and I agreed when inspecting prints that we could quickly guess which format gear was used but with extremely rare exceptions not the lens.

Many years ago (I think it was the 1990s)the periodical Wireless World, which was considered the last word in electronics and audio at the time, did a blind test on speaker cables. They used very high end equipment of course and several of the insanely expensive cables of the time were included. I think there was one which had gold plated Litz construction. The cable voted the best was 13 amp twin and earth, used to wire houses here in the UK. The only parameter that will make any significant difference in a speaker cable is its resistance.

That "Leica Look"?
Usually dark, maybe a bit underexposed and printed a bit flat.
Having shot with Leicas because LA Courts would only let news shooters use them - supposedly quiet - for courtroom work during a trial. Decades ago - sure it has changed now.
Comparing the images shot with the Leica lenses with those from my Nikons and later Canons - no one can tell which is which.

Dear Mike
I don't know much really and I'm not a gear fan but I used to own a Leica M6 and a few Leica lenses in my late 20s. All my images shot with the Leica lenses had character I never found in my Canon lenses. Nothing astounding, except the images kind of jumped out at you, they were more interesting. Kind of more "bite" to them I'm talking about slides and Fuji Velvia 50 and Provia 100. Sort of more information. However every so often the 35mm f/2 ASPH SUMMICRON managed to produce an image with a 3D like quality to it. I can't define it in words but I used to show these images to friends who were not photographers and a couple of times they also commented there was something else. The problem was, it wasn't something I could control in anyway. It just sometimes happened.

That’s a good story, Mike. It brought back my parallel experiences. That’s good advice too: just get out there. Expanding on it: a body doesn’t need to explore the poles or exotic river basins to find good subjects; fact is I’ve become convinced that good photographers find absorbing subjects just about anywhere in daily life. It’s a love of the physical world and of humanity that count.

"In a similar way, work cures GAS. Anytime you get to jonesing for a different camera or a new lens or whatever, just find a project and get to work on it. The GAS will go away. It works. It's the cure."

...except when the new project really needs that desirable bit of gear to get it done. Creative GAS addicts can always rationalize a new project to support the impulse to buy :-)

Agree with Mark Jennings re: shopping as entertainment. If I'd concentrated more on photography than buying the equipment that would turn me into a good photographer ....

And audio cables - obviously, you doubters have made the fundamental mistake of not cryogenically freezing your new expensive purchases before attachment. Or even summoning Ralph, God of I'm Hearing a Bass Boost at 42 kHz to rearrange their layout. Your bad.


What this exchange tells me is that we are all susceptible to ineffable magic. No one is governed by pure reason. None of us is immune from forming convictions based on incomplete knowledge and/or cherry-picked bits of information, both real and fake.

I think by "filter" you mean that a cable has the ability to transform (alter) the signal passing through it. That statement is 100% true. However, is that statement true for signals in the audio band? Theory, analytical tests and empirical tests all indicate otherwise. I note: it is possible to design a bad sounding cable. However, one would have to go way out of his way to do so, such as use a ridiculously long run of ultra thin gauge wires.

Whereas analytical tests (e.g. MTF) routinely show differences between lenses, I am not aware of any analytical tests which reveal differences between reasonably made cables/wires on signals in the audio band.

Put another way, if wires are filters, how come high precision instruments don't
come with expensive custom cables (other than proper shielding and impedance etc.)?

“our writing equipment takes part in the forming of our thoughts”
-- Nietsche

I just heard this quote today and if you apply it to the photographic tools we use, perhaps our style or image quality change based on the tools and the forming of our thoughts. I capture scenes much differently when holding my M3 rangefinder than I do composing my 4x5 on a tripod. Both use lenses from the 1960's.

The modern lenses that would qualify as "That Magic Lens" would have to be the Zeiss Otus series, i wish they made a more compact F/2 or F/2.8 version for mirrorless.

When taking the continuing education photography course at Ryerson University in 2002 on Saturdays we would share the darkrooms area with the full time students. While trying to make the perfect print from 35mm i was walking by the lightbox and almost had a heart attack when i seen a print displayed from a full time students Hasselblad 6x6.

Paraphrasing Fred Picker, the only meaningful test is one's you conduct yourself.

Someone once said: Everybody has a right to be stupid, but some people abuse the privilege. If you have GAS money, feel free to do stupid things. On the other hand, if baby actually needs a new pair of shoes ...

Should I "break in" my new camera's sensor? Leave the camera on for 48 hours so it responds to photons in a more pleasing manner? Works for amps, preamps assorted other electronic devices. Maybe open the aperture on a lens (off the camera) and let sunlight stream through it? Hey maybe it works?!
kidding (maybe)

Interesting Mike.

Years ago I was showing some prints to a group of photographers. It was my pre-digital days and all my photographs were shot using film cameras. A Canon SLR, maybe some 6x9 film, and a Kodak Retina IIIc.

One of the photographers looked at my prints and correctly pointed out every photograph made with the Retina IIIc and mentioned that I'd used some type of rangefinder camera. Yes, not a Leica, but he was 100% accurate.

Why? I asked.

He spoke of the rendition of the out of focus areas and mentioned something about retro focus SLR lenses having a different look (SLR lenses need to project the image from a greater distance to clear the mirror).

And maybe this is really the magical mystique? Not so much the Leica secret sauce, but the physics of designing lenses that don't need to clear a viewing mirror...

I have 3 random thoughts about this ... maybe more.

1. To those who say lighting, skill, taste, etc. are more responsible for a lens’s look than anything, yes sure: someone needs to point the camera at something and decide when to push the shutter button. But one’s seeing is not done in isolation or ignorance of a camera and lens’s qualities and the thoughtful photographer will look (consciously or otherwise) for situations that complement his or her camera’s qualities. In effect, the character of a lens can be amplified by the photographer as that lens is used more.

2. To that end, I think Mike is a fan of 85mm lenses, and the new Nikon 85/1.8S for their Z-mount is a stunner. I don’t know how you can check it out or if you even have the time but it will be worth your while. It has some interesting tonal responses between its in-focus and out-of-focus regions that in certain kinds of light makes for a pretty magical look. Or it might just be more of that ineffable ineffability ...

3. My magic lens is a 1-element thing that’s not even a lens: a Tiffen Pro-Mist filter at 1/4 strength. It’s basically in front of most Hollywood cameras and not only very subtly softens contrast but slightly blooms out light sources for that ... dare I say it ... Leica look!

Here's my take on it. It's the image, the idea, the communication that grabs me, not the camera/lens used. I shot with a pair of Leica M-4s for about 8 years. It felt great to use them and I was sure that it was easier to make outstanding photos with the Leicas and lenses. There is this one particular on-location portrait I made that was so good that I was sure it was made with an M-4 + 35mm Summilux. A few years back I pulled the neg from the files and took a close look. I was wrong. I shot it with a Canon F1 and the rather pedestrian 35mm f2.8. How could I tell? The relationship between the sprocket holes and the image. The Leica and Canon were slightly different.
So it goes.

I like to start from the perspective that all lenses (and cameras) are magical, and that some are especially so.

Lenses are the grammar of an image and provide it's way of speaking. Some lenses document objectively; others fib and make things more attractive than they really are - or worse. The content is then filtered through this voice. I think what people mean when they say that a lens is "magical" is that it speaks harmoniously with what the photographer wants to say - that it adds a level of richness and complexity in the register the photographer wants to emphasize at no additional cost or effort.

Reading your response to one of the comments in which you discuss audio cables gets me thinking - what about digital cables. I can understand your comment about analogue audio cables, but why to people get sucked into the same game with digital cables like hdmi? I would expect with hdmi, once you get to good enough, there is no benefit from going further.

I stand properly rebuked. Not an hour after posting my comment I was covering a public hearing using audio through a mult box when AC issues nearly cost me an afternoons work.
Not exactly the same thing but just the same it felt like cosmic justice for being a wise guy..

Back in the film days I shot Fujica cameras (M42 mount) with EBC lenses. A 28mm, 55mm, 55mm Macro (with extension tubes), 135mm and a 28-75mm zoom. I would really like to shoot them on my Pentax digitals and perhaps I will Real soon now.

Back in the day my photo buddies used Canon and Olympus and we would argue about who had the "best set" of lenses. Since I was the only one with a darkroom, they were relying on what came out of the local drug store for comparison. Then we started shooting slide film and the simple beauty of the Fujinon designs/coatings just blew them away, other than the issue with focus. I have never been able to focus worth a darn, even with Autofocus on my Pentax cameras, it never seems right.

Re "It just doesn't seem reasonable to spend $5,000 on an amp and $10,000 on a pair of speakers ", your argument continues but could stop right there in my view :)

Re small (35mm) format vs medium (6x7) print quality, in the darkroom I often felt medium & large format negs printed small felt "cramped" somehow and looked better printed larger, ~4x enlargement ratio being optimum (IMHO).


I have a friend who is a professional (certified, etc. etc.) food taster and critic. He has amazing palette sensitivity and gives consistently correct answers on all sorts of tasting subjects in double blind conditions from tasting the same wines vs different wines served at different temperatures to identifying different flour brands in otherwise identical cakes. Even more amazing to me is his palette memory. Not only can he give the correct result double blind, he can repeatedly identify the same tastes many weeks and months later solely from his memory of prior tastings. After I watched him demonstrate under test conditions and offered congratulations, I said something like, 'Wow! I wish I had your palette, it must be wonderful to have that level of discernment and recollection.' His answer: 'Yes, it is wonderful. I can identify and remember all the wonderful taste differences in fabulous foods. But it's also a curse. I identify and remember all the crappy tastes too - I don't get to pick and choose - and there are many, many more of those'. I'm pretty sure there are people out there to whom the Leica look or CaNiOlyJi look, or whatever, is bleedingly obvious, and given a decent frame or print, can tell you which lens at what f-stop and so forth. But really, who wants to be able to see things that well? If a lens produces images that you - i.e. the photographer - either intended to make or are so close that you either can't tell the difference or don't care, or even if you just enjoy using the darned thing (in my case, a tiny 40 mm Voigtlander stuck on the front of a Nikon D3) enough?

By the time most guys (and I bet that it is men who buy high end audio systems 99% of the time) can afford the audio system of their dreams they are usually older and their hearing has deteriorated with age. They may have the best system that money can afford but they can no longer hear the difference.

Noticing that a prior poster to this thread is Chris Perez, one of the acknowledged experts on testing large format lenses, I'm a bit reticent about posting this information and intruding upon Chris's obvious expertise.

But, the topic and results seem at least tangentially germane to the nostalgic "magic lens" and "magic film" cult and seem generally consistent with Chris's results published some years back and with your original post about "magic lens" nostalgia and crazy price ratios.

Over the past several months, I had the opportunity to objectively and subjectively test and compare a variety of 34 large format (LF) lenses. These included long-praised Zeiss Protar VIIa, Voightlander Ultragon, and Goerz Dagor cult classics that command high resale prices and modern multi-coated Nikkor, Schneider, Rodenstock, and Fujinon optics. I compared wide-angle lenses to wide angles, normal lenses to normal lenses, etc. as well as image quality comparisons across the entire range of focal lengths.

Tests were made using both modern high-sharpness Ilford Delta 100 5x7 film and previously frozen AgfaPan APX 400 5x7 film, itself a cult classic. Mostly, I was doing the personal calibrations and tests needed to transition back to large format black and white film as a complement to my more usual full-frame Pentax K-1 and Olympus E-M5 digital kits.

The most unexpected result was that some cult-classic lenses, more recent US-made 1950s-era Goerz Dagors and Red Dot Artars and two inexpensive Kodak 203mm/7.7 Ektars, were just as sharp and good as all but the very best modern multicoated large format lenses - those cult-classics were diffraction-limited at normal large format shooting apertures.

The other LF cult-classics, several older Zeiss Protar VIIa, German-made Dagors, and a 115mm Voghtlander Ultragon, all with high resale prices, were certainly usable but visibly not as good as the others.

Fujifilm's Fujinon large format lenses typically have the lowest used resale price on Ebay and are sometimes dissed by faint praise from Schneider/Voightlander/Rodenstock fan-boys. Yet, those modern Fujinon lenses and their modern Nikkor equivalents were consistently as good or better than the modern German-made cult-classics with higher resale prices. (Note - I did not test the newest and unaffordable Schneider XL series.)

I surmise that good quality control and better multicoating accounts for most of the differences among LF lenses, most of whose basic designs are long past patent.

As to modern and cult-classic 5x7 films, modern Ilford Delta 100 was demonstrably better so long as gross over-exposure was avoided.

Test notes: The same camera, test targets, and Pentax spot meter was used for all tests and comparisons. XTOL development was as recommended and base plus fog levels were about the same for both films on the densitometer.

In four instances, I tested sets of two identical lenses, with consistent results. I tested each lens at least twice and retested a third time whenever a poor result seemed to be at least partially due to my own rusty technique. I made comparisons using only the best negative for each lens, one that showed the best quality possible from a specific lens.

My Zuiko 28/2.8 is a favourite and though I doubt I could pick out its images from "identical" photos made with other 28s, It just suits me. When I used it adapted on the X-Pro1, with 42mm equivalent FOV, it seemed to have a quality (especially in b&w) that was a bit magical.

Maybe I just "see" better with those focal lengths, 28mm & 40mm and the magic is in the way I compose. And for the 28 on the Fuji, maybe only the "sweet spot" of the lens made the difference.

@David Dyer-Bennet: I am not an oenophile, but I have participated in blind tastings of multiple wines and spirits before and I agree with your general findings (i.e., even relatively inexperienced people can distinguish between close samples of different products when examined/tasted side-by-side).

Moreover, I will add that such comparisons are a LOT of fun to do. Mostly because you learn new things that wouldn't be apparent if you weren't comparing multiple samples of similar products.

But therein lies the problem. I could probably distinguish among 10 similar wines (or whatever) in a side-by-side tasting. But if you took the wines away, and served me a blind sample of one of them a week later, I doubt I would have a clue as to which one it was. As a result, I often find that if price differences are significant, there isn't much point in buying the better/best in a close grouping, because I will probably enjoy it no more than I would the cheapest of the group.

The unexpected outcome of this is that (a) I believe it probably makes the MOST sense to spend a lot on a wine (or whatever) that will be part of a comparison tasting (because it is somewhat more likely to be subtly distinctive, and those distinctions make comparisons fun), and (b) I usually use a comparative test to identify the "best of the cheap options" that will be perfect when enjoyed on its own (since the lack of a direct comparison means the subjective experience reverts to the mean).

[Please note that I'm ONLY talking about comparisons within a relatively tight grouping, where price differences can still be enormous.]

I find it so interesting that the concept of a good lens these days is the absence of problems, more so than the positive qualities.
In internet forums (and post comments...) these days, it's "irrefutable proof" that a lens is better than another lens if it is better corrected, or sharper at the edges. And that is why we are seeing lens designs just getting bigger and bigger. But a lot of these big lenses with a dozen or two elements just don't inspire me.
It's like a race car driver that finishes 10th at every race... never crashes, never makes any mistakes... and is still considered the best driver out there.
I'd rather have a lens that has some flaws (not sharp edge to edge wide open due to field curvature that enhances subjects, some aberrations wide open if that make the bokeh better) - but renders stunning, beautiful pictures.
Instead of a 12-element 3-pound 50mm lens (or something close to that...) that is sharp edge to edge wide open, I'd rather shoot my 70s 50mm f/1.2 manual lens that has the best bokeh I've ever seen (at any aperture), is plenty sharp enough wide open in the center and soft in the edges (who shoots landscapes at f/1.2 anyway?), has a little bit of chromatic aberrations that are pretty much gone by f/2 and renders subjects more beautifully than they deserve!

Of the comments you make above "more copper sounds better" is the only correct one (and then only up to a point).

It's true because the cables must have a lower resistance (it's hardly impedance at bass frequencies) so the bass speaker can be fully damped by the very low output impedance of the amp.

The classic article on the topic is "Speaker Wire: A History by Roger Russell" is worth a read.


As other's have points out the AC effects (skin effects, etc) have no meaning at audio frequencies.

As to the "Leica look: I always though it was related to spherical aberration in the lenses (a small controlled amount which Leica still adds to some of their lenses ... something I think Erwin Puts talks about).

You can even see the spherical aberration in some classic shots on systems with "glow" e.g. WES shots of Pitsburg at night show (and others that include points light sources in the shot)show a dot and a close in ring around the light source. Imagine that happening all over image.

I also suspect a lack of AR coatings also added to "the glow"

e.g. Sally Mann's Leica had a 35mm Hektor lens with slightly wonky focus which I mentioned in this comment


"The lens gives an interesting mix of sharpness, in the center, and softness on the edges when wide open but without much vignetting. There is also a reduction in overall contrast from the lack of anti-reflection coatings along with a tendency to flare. These effects all match her large format "sharp/soft" look with selected "not perfect" lenses."

The comments to this entry are closed.



Blog powered by Typepad
Member since 06/2007