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Friday, 24 July 2020


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I blogged this week about how surprised I am to find 2-prime systems to be a good fit for me. In 𝛍43 it's a 20/1.8 and 60/2.8 (40+120mme); in 36×24 it's 35/2 and 90/2.8. I've never owned a 35mm FL lens deliberately, I always felt like Thom does about it - yet here I am.

How long this will last isn't clear (heck how long will I last in these strange days?) but I'll ride the wave for now. The Lumix 12-60 ticks every single box for my ideal lens.. yet on my gear it's just too big up front to balance like a little prime.

Lenses first: Yes. I had been doing a bunch of research to consider changing systems and as soon as I add the lenses I need to the order, it becomes a deal killer. It’s partly budget but also the fact that each system is missing some lens that I think would be essential to complete my gear. So, with Olympus about to be sold (or not) and in this current market with new Canon and Nikon full-frame mirroless bodies that are roughly the same size as some m4/3 and APS-C bodies, I just bought an E-M1 mk.iii because… I have the lenses I like. And then I got thinking, “Gee, there are newer lenses that are both smaller and definite improvements over two of my older ones so then I bought *two more* Micro 4/3 lenses (good grief!). So now I’m all set for another seven years, or so. Maybe. I think.

It's too bad that you feel the lenses have to be here NOW! There is a compact 40mm lens on the Nikon Z-mount roadmap. A Z 5 + compact 40mm lens should be a sweet combo, in your books.

[Perfect example of vaporware I might be tempted to wait for! But doing so just leads to frustration. Been there and done that. --Mike]

I sold all my Fuji X cameras and lenses a few years ago to do a year shooting Sony A7II and manual legacy lenses. I miss the X-T1 and standard zooms to this day.

My year experiment has turned into several years now. The A7II has never had an auto focus lens mounted at least by me. Problem is the Super Takumar 35mm f3.5 seems more or less permanently affixed. Not complaining actually.

I agree with you about lens availability and their size. I always used filter diameter as a quick way to gauge lens size. Leica’s 39mm filters meant a compact lens. Pentax’s 49mm (for the 1970s thread-mount Takumar lenses) was mid-size. Nikon’s 52mm was getting up there. My Fuji GW690II uses 67mm - that's my limit. Leica’s latest 50mm ƒ/1.4 lens for their SL camera costs $5,895 and requires an 82mm filter! Hmmm, lenses have grown in girth like the US population. I suppose these new huge lenses do provide a greater machismo factor.

Lenses are important, but having the best tool that supports the lens and allows the photographer to orchestrate the image IMO is more important. Photographers know how to use their feet.

Hi Mike,

I'd like to add, "don't underestimate the kit lens". I've used some very good kit lenses before, and I know others have tested some that perform exceptionally.

I've lost a lot of opportunities to not owning an adequately fast prime. I learned that the hard way, when I bought an affordable entry level DSLR, without checking to see if I could heft or afford the prime lenses for it. That was an expensive mistake. Most of the loss wasn't the money - it was the opportunity to take pictures with a more appropriate lens. I even considered switching to a system that had more awesome features...until someone warned me that I should see for myself if they even made a prime lens in the focal length I needed. (Spoiler: NO.)

I think seeing for yourself is the most important thing. Mike is right. Find out what you need to do, then ask the lenses: can you do this?

I agree very much about your advice on buying the system, and lenses, rather than the camera. I am so glad I never got seriously tempted by the Contax RTS system, but ended up buying the despised Zeiss 35mm 2.8 for my Sony A7. Pissed, but not too pissed to buy it. Oh, and optically? It's OK, just.

Then I bought a Nikon Z6 hoping that they might do a better job at making manual focus lenses work on it. After all they still sell manual focus lenses. No such luck, it's actually worse than Sony, and for no good reason, they were just lazy and when I ask them about they are just arrogant and lie about the issues.

It's a nice camera and I like the 24-70 enough to keep them, but what to do now?

And Micro 4/3? I am thinking of advising a young friend to ditch her's because the wide zooms are way too expensive and the system seems a bit moribund. Any advice here?

That's what I did with my Fuji X system - I got the 56mm f/1.2R before I got any body to use it with. I was originally looking to get the Nikkor 85mm f/1.4, but I was also getting into mirrorless (from experience with the X100), and went with the 56 instead.

Some years later, once the Nikkor 105mm f/1.4 came out, I got one. It was fun to use on a D700, but I got the Z6 just to use that lens with stabilization.

Agreed. Buy the lenses you really want, but, are they the lenses that work best for you? I love Prime lenses and have no particular affection for zooms but by far my best photos come from my 24-85 zoom. My head prefers my Primes but my abilities are better suited to that zoom.

It now occurs to me that one of the reasons I have not really bonded with my Fuji X-100F is not simply because the interface and controls are still not to my liking (I should probably have waited for the X-100V) but because the 35mm-e FOV is just not for me given the standard aspect ration of the APS-C chip.

When I had my XPro-1, my go to lenses were the (adapted) Zuiko 21/2 and 28/2.8. The equivalent FOVs were ~31mm and 41mm - close enough for jazz for my preference for 28mm and 40mm in 35mm film terms. Maybe I’ll sell the X-100 and some other gear and see if I can scrounge up enough additional scratch for the latest XPro. Assuming I like the interface and controls. Or just buy more film and accessories for the perfect camera, my Rolleiflex.

Heh. I sold a Fuji 23/2 to a fine gentleman because every time I shot it I wondered if the 1.4 was a better fit, now I'm not sure I need a 23 at all because I wasn't every happy with the focal length. Or the lens. or something.

Sometimes we don't quite know what we want. I had decided early on that the Sony 35/2.8 was an undesirable lens -- too slow, too expensive, too mediocre image quality. Later on I bought a full frame Sony to see if I could switch completely to mirrorless, realized I could, started to have an itch for a 35 mm lens (I used to be a 50 mm guy) and ended up buying a used 35/2.8. Well then, it turned out that I've shot many thousands of pictures with it, the speed is mostly sufficient and the image quality is actually pretty good, with the faults not critical most of the time.

So my experience could be summarized in that there are lenses that obviously fit one's shooting style and then there are lenses that may grow on you over time or that your preferences change over time. But when buying, make sure that the system actually has the lenses you need and intend to buy at that time and remember that adapted lenses are just not the same as native if any sort of electronics are desired.

Oh and the Tamron 28-75/2.8 you linked to is often considered good value since it's pretty sharp, pretty decent in the IQ department and is a constant f2.8 zoom that's not all that big.

I purchased my first digital in 2007. It was APS-C because it was far less expensive than so-called Full Frame cameras. But I stayed with it because it fit my photography style perfectly. Only problem it was a Nikon APS-C camera and I kept waiting for wide to normal prime lenses for it. Never happened.

So I started looking around. I wanted primes, mainly wide to normal. The only manufacture to fit my requirements was Fujifilm. My ego selected the X-Pro cameras. My photo side of my brain selected the X systems cameras because they had the primes I wanted. Well not really but I went with them anyway because they were the only ones that took primes seriously.

I now have everything I ever want from Nikon but never got and more.

All that to say you're right: lenses first body second.

I need to add a second comment. I'm not a fan of all those fast primes so the fast primes for the X system were out. When I purchased a used X-Pro1 in March 2015 I selected a new 27mm f2.8 pancake lens for my first lens.
I now have 4 primes for my X-Pro2 and I am ever so happy. Also I use the 27mm f2.8 more than the other three combined. In fact it is on the camera right now.
I make a lot of prints and when someone looks at them they never say that you must have used a cheap lens for any picture. Then again the 27mm f2.8 cost more than one or two of the other primes I own.

That strategy was keener back in the film days when lenses were almost the last word on the image burned into the emulsion. It also made sense in the early days of digital when newer systems were still developing.

Today, however, virtually every major interchangeable lens camera system has a lens to satisfy every focal fetish. And contemporary digital system lenses are damn good, much more finely-engineered than any film era lenses. Plus there is almost always at least one digital mitigation to correct optical geometry shortcomings, even for inexpensive lenses, before an image file is written.

So no, I don’t really agree with your thesis, Mike. If you really want to buy into a contemporary digital interchangeable lens camera system choose the camera characteristics first. You’ll absolutely find the lenses you need for it.

["Today, however, virtually every major interchangeable lens camera system has a lens to satisfy every focal fetish." Really? I'm happy to hear that. I'll take a wide-angle tilt-shift for Micro 4/3, a full set of small APS-C primes for Nikon DX DSLRs, that 70–200mm ƒ/4 John Camp wants for Nikon Z, a Pentax 35mm equivalent for an APS-C Pentax DSLR, a good Zeiss 40mm pancake for a Sony A6500, a set of the "good enough" budget Leica lenses for the Leica S3, and a 200mm and a 300mm equivalent super telephoto for the Hasselblad X1D. Throw in some nifty AF lenses for the Leica M10 while you're at it, would you?

Should I go on? ;-)

You can get all those things, but not for every system. --Mike]

Lens choice can sometimes force camera choice. For insect photographers, Canon's MP-E super macro (up to 5:1 magnification without extension tubes or other accessories!) has been _the_ lens until very recently when Mitakon Zhongyi came out with the same capability in multiple mounts.

I'm a Nikon guy from way back, and I really want to want a Z7 for the resolution and size but I don't want. When I think about it, what's held me back is the Z lens range (even given Nikon's roadmap). Their f1.8 primes might be optical bee's knees but they are double the length and weight the want. I would happily live with f2.8 or even f4 if Nikon made them smaller and lighter but kept the optical quality high wide open - and there just aren't any Z mount third party alternatives out there either (cost of reverse engineering yet another mount, I suppose). If I have to give up OVFs for EVFs it will only because of size and weight savings, which is the main advantage of FF mirrorless. I just don't understand why Nikon, Canon, et al don't get that (Fuji, M4/3, Leica M excepted - contra, SL). So I'm slowly drifting towards a Sony 7rIV.

The camerasize comparisons are very useful in many ways, but there's a pitfall in looking at internet photos of lenses to compare size. In two-dimensional side-by-side comparisons, I (and I suspect many others) tend to focus more on length, often ignoring or downplaying differences in diameter. But in the hand or on camera, overall volume matters more (at least to me). And of course, the volume of a cylinder is proportional to its length, but it's proportional to the square of its diameter. So an increase in diameter matters much more than the same increase in length.

Picked my lenses 25 years ago.
35/1.4, 85/1.2 and 135/2.0.
All 72mm filter size.

Camera bodies don't really matter much, but they have to work perfectly with those three lenses.

I also have a 35/1.8 and 85/1.8 of the same make for when I want to travel light. Just bought two identical tiny, light, full frame bodies to go with those lenses. Couldn't be happier.

I never bought into the Fuji X system because they didn't have a 23mm lens from the outset. So I went Sony with the 24mm f1.8 which is a beautiful lens and the primary reason I use Sony for my compact travel APS-C outfit.

And I bought a mint copy of the Canon 24mm TSE II lens, (for £899 from a camera dealer), before I bought a body. It was the start of my long term Yorkshire brutalist architecture project.

Yep, lenses first. I went with Pentax in 2008 because a report in Amateur Photographer praised the handling of the K10D. But if they hadn't been just about the only company whose f/2.8 standard zoom started at 16mm instead of 18mm, I would have looked elsewhere. It's decision I have never regretted.

I had been photographing with manual focus Minoltas, and had a 24mm Tamron I used a lot; it was a focal length I couldn't do without. So the zoom for the Pentax had to start at 16mm, the equivalent of 24mm.

Just one minor comment from me about getting into the wrong system. It's often brought up as something to avoid, that you don't want to be changing systems in mid-stream. So how come the interweb is full of stories of people doing exactly that? Some new whiz-bang feature is released by one maker and there are "pages" of anguish about needing to switch now and how best to do it.
I'm not saying the advice to choose carefully isn't sound, just that I think people like trading in to buy into a new system. That is itself a hobby in its own right. I believe that people like changing systems.

To veer off-topic for a moment, I live in the Southwest but owned a cabin the the North woods of Wisconsin, which I sold yesterday. I put a canoe on the roof of my Ford F150 and headed south. I got as far as Iowa, on I-35, when the canoe started rattling loose. I pulled over to resecure it, and to make a long story shorter, fell off the truck into a ditch. When i got up, my right arm didn't work. After some further adventures, I drove 35 miles or so to the nearest hospital emergency room -- to say that hurt is like saying Leica makes OK lenses -- where they told me my arm was broken just below the shoulder. My right arm is now immobilized and I will be in a motel in Ames, Iowa, for a few days. I am easily bored and so have started messing with my cameras. Some observations. Autofocus is a great friend; right-hand-only grips, not so much. Flip out screens are mandatory -- my right arm is pinned to my side, but I can prop the camera on my right hand to zoom with my left, and use my right index finger on the trigger. I had already fixed the Leica 12-60 on my GX-9, so i'm good there. I will be shooting only at waist level, a whole new perspective for me. Ames is not a notably picturesque place, so that's another new challenge; perhaps I can document a gas station, but only if I can get my pants back on.

And don't get me started on the Mac automatic spell checker. Im left-handed hunting and pecking and making a lot of mistakes. Does the spell-checker *ever* choose the right word?

Coming from Minolta film cameras, I was a bit wary of the path forward from a giant consumer electronics company when they got bought out by Sony. Turned out to be true as the APS-C alpha mount never really grew the lens set, and is now a dead end. So I chose a company well regarded for their logical lens choices and consistancy in lens mount, Nikon. Problem was I bought in during their focus on the DX (APS-C) mount and despite their promises of filling out the DX lineup, it never happened much beyond a dozen or so varieties of similar consumer grade zooms. Then m43 came along and "The Imaging Division Is Not For Sale" was well on their way of aggressively building out a very solid lens line, so I jumped on that bandwagon and finally filled out my dream lens set when lo and behold, the Imaging Division IS for sale. Dammit. I may buy an extra EM1 body with the 20mp sensor for now, then see how the Canon and Nikon mirrorless plays out long term. But yes, be absolutely be certain the lenses you want are available.

My Canon journey was lens driven 20 years ago. I diddled around with a Nikkormat (and 50mm) that I received as a college graduation gift 40 years ago. I put it down and my wife used it. Years later I opened my first foray into digital with a Nikon Coolpix 950 (2MP!)and realized that what I really wanted to do at the time was take bird photos, particularly birds flying. I recognized my earlier Nikkormat failure when attempting to do that-ever examine a duck on the pond image at 40 feet with a 50mm lens? The dot you see could be any duck or a dust speck in digital. So my first foray into DSLRs was to buy a Canon D30 (3mp!) and a 100-400IS mm lens. No normal lens for me. Lens image stabilization and long focal length were paramount. My second lens was a 70-200IS. I bristle at the implication that my 500IS f4 or 400 f 5.6 (for handheld flight) were purchased to show off to the hoi polloi :-). I am an outlier on TOP, I see narrow field and long, mostly... And I am lucky (or blessed) that I can have access to what I like to do.
As faster responding bodies with focus and in body IS have appeared, I'm constantly reassessing but I'm also conservative in this realm.

And thanks for the exposure with my flying pelican photo months ago, Mike.

This is good advice for those who are switching systems or just getting started with ILC’s but as someone with an existing lens set who’s considering the jump to mirrorless, I’m starting to think I should just buy something new. A new lens type that I’ve never owned before. I have never had an all-in-one zoom or wide angle lens and the new RF 24-105 f/4L IS would check both boxes. The EF to RF adapter and R6 body will enhance my existing lenses nicely so why not just expand my kit a bit.

With the adapter and R6 body my existing kit gains an adapter control ring, stabilization for my primes, more AF points for my tele zooms, enhanced focus/tracking, and the elimination of lens micro adjustments. This sounds pretty good to me…and with the R6 resolution being the same as my 6D, my “old” glass will perform just fine.

The funny thing about my recent interest in wide angle is that it came from finally viewing my phone photos on a big screen. I can now see the appeal of wide angle. I should have rented one long ago.

In analog days, I used moderate wide angle lenses (e.g. 35mm on 35mm cameras). When I went fully digital, I chose Pentax DSLRs and my first lens was the 21mm f/3.2 'pancake' (e 31.5mm) and I am still using it as my default on a succession of Pentax bodies to this day (even to the full-frame K-1 in square format).

FWIW, I shoot almost everything at f/8 (the 'sweet' spot for this lens). Cannot see any benefit in lugging around 'faster' glass.

Cheers to all…

Your advise is tried and proven. Back in the late 60's and 70's the word was pick your camera based on available lenses and available accessories.
Happily my choice back then was Nikon although most major mgr's had wonderful systems to go with their slr's.
Now back to what is truly important- making images with all that wonderful equipment that mean something.

When Auto Focus came in you suddenly saw a lot of Big White Lenses on the sidelines of sporting events. Canon ruled. Reason was simple: Autofocus worked and Nikon had NO big, fast AF glass. Canon had 300, 400 and 600mm lenses with Autofocus. Nikon did not have them until more than four years later. It hurt Nikon as many photographers tried the AF gear at events and made direct comparisons. Then went back and bought the new lenses and bodies to go with them.
Canon has lagged behind Sony/Nikon in some ways with image Dynamic Range at lower ISO settings. Have considered switching for that reason - but the Canon 11-24 is something Nikon and Sony have had to play catch up on. To be fair Nikon has lenses Canon doesn't.

So - choosing to switch based on glass? If you wait for vaporware to come you are missing weeks to months to years of fine images with what is available now.

Mike: in general, I approach things the way you do on this. I will admit, however, to picking up a pretty complete line of Konica AR and Pentax thread-mount lenses knowing that putting them on any digital body was going to be a bit of a challenge. Why? It was pure admiration of the Konica image quality on the one hand and the Pentax build-quality on the other. And the fact that picking up these dead-end legacy lenses DIRT cheap made me feel like a potentate, or a tycoon, or some other fancy import-word.

Which brings me to a comment on your post: I wonder in the coming days of mirrorless SLRs whether lens selection really requires the choice of a particular system? In other words, if the Konica AR lenses I already have will work as well on a Sony mirrorless camera as on a Nikon mirrorless camera, isn't the deciding factor how easy it is to adapt those lenses to a new platform rather than the lenses that that platform supports in a "native" way?

I realize that this approach won't work for everyone, and that wide angle lenses in particular really "need" the help they get from dedicated software these days to compensate for the physics of bending light towards a flat sensor as dramatically as they do. (Anyone who disagrees with this statement should put a Leica Super Angulon in Leica M mount on a modern FF mirrorless camera and report back to the group. . . :) )

But one of the things that has me a bit drool-y over the Nikon Z system is the thought of adapting a cabinet full of existing lenses to it. Not just Nikon AF and AIS and AI, but Leica M, R, Konica, Pentax K etc. Shall we just call a spade a spade and name this scenario: a Hoarder's Paradise of adapter possibilities? When I finally put together the cash for a Z7 (or whatever), I will probably only buy one system-native lens: a 35/2 (or thereabouts). After that it is Metabones, Photodiox, or whatever no-name Taiwanese machine shop is producing the right mechanical adapters. Not good for camera companies trying to reattain "Peak Photo."

Yup, the crucial consideration! When deciding on my first interchangeable lens, digital camera, it was between a FF Sony and a Fujifilm X-T, both beautifully compact with fairly similar features. The Sony was FF- but it didn't have a native 20mm prime, crucial to my needs. Not only did Fuji have a 21mm equivalent, it has the best equivalent in the business! Decision solved, no regrets...

Great advice. I used it two years ago when I decided to buy into the Sony mirrorless vs. Nikon, which had just introduced the Z7 (and Z6). I was about to pull the trigger on the Nikon Z7; I really wanted it and the 24-70mm f4 zoom, both of which had just been released. But I paused and realized that most of the other lenses I wanted weren't yet available and that there were typically multiple Sony choices for every focal length and every zoom range. . . . Two years later and I'm still loving the Sony (and still exploring the lens options, and loving them).

I found my own angle on buying cheap lenses first: I was shooting a job with the Olympus 12-40mm f/2.8 and felt like I could really use the greater telephoto reach of the 12-100mm f/4 without needing to switch lenses.

Before committing to it, I spent a few days shooting the 12-40mm at f/4 or less, to see if I could live with the smaller aperture. I then picked up a cheap used 40-150mm and shot with it at 40-100mm, so see if the additional focal length made enough of a difference, and it did.

Because of those tests, I bought a 12-100mm and sold both the 12-40mm and 40-150mm, knowing it would work out perfectly for me.

Really looking forward to reading your thoughts on the Fuji 23mm f/2 and how it compares with the 23mm f/1.4. I’ve found it remarkably well-suited to black and white, especially on overcast days.

Mike: No, I didn’t mean that each system has each specific focal length. But someone waiting for, say, a fast 23mm on a system that has a fast 24mm is, perhaps off-target. And waiting for a t/s for a system with a postage-stamp-sized sensor is perhaps misled, too.

But even so, there are a tremendous number of adapters out there today that can accommodate needs. For example, speaking of t/s, I have a wonderful electronically linked Techart adapter that enables me to use Canon EF t/s 17, 24, and even 50mm lenses on my Fuji GFX camera perfectly. (The image circles are yuge!). Etc.

So yes I remain of the opinion that choosing the camera first is the best path for most people today.

In my case, it was a quest for bang-for-the-buck that brought me to Pentax, and I have stayed with the system because of the look of the lenses. Pentax always had a preference for contrast and colors instead of outright sharpness and that resonates well with me (though I haven't felt the lenses aren't sharp enough...)
I like the look of Leica and Zeiss lenses as well, but those cost a lot more. And the Canon lenses that have a distinctively nice look to their pictures tend to also cost quite a lot.
Fuji's another system I could see myself using, though I do prefer the optical viewfinder and now that Pentax revealed they're starting to use special high refraction glass for even bigger and brighter viewfinders, I see no reason to look elsewhere... the future actually looks great in the DSLR camp.

In the nick of time, here is a link to JuzaPhoto.com. These people publish overviews of the cameras and lenses that are available. There are nineteen mounts to choose from. Here is the Fujifilm overview of lenses but you can easily find the other systems by clicking on the names at the top.


I wanted a camera for use with my manual focus lenses, which are mostly Nikon, Topcon and Super-Takumar. It had to be FF to give the original angles of view (I already have a Sony APS-C).

The obvious sensible buy was the Sony A7r2. But the Sigma fp was more interesting, and I already have and like two Sigma cameras. So I went for the fp.

The lack of an EVF seemed awkward at first -- lots of reflections on the LCD -- but adding the (expensive) loupe makes a big difference. The camera is now quite large, but the viewing and focussing are spectacularly good.

Can't afford an L mount autofocus lens right now, but I may get one next year.

So, the lenses you already have might matter more than the ones you could perhaps buy.

Don't underestimate 3rd party glass either. There's a boom in cheap but decent 3rd party glass these days.

I'm a mixed Fuji/Nikon shooter and was frankly surprised to realize that the lens I use the most on my Fuji's is a $80-ish Neewer 25mm f1.8 manual focus prime. It's shockingly good for the cost, small, focuses very close and handles well. Only downside is the coatings are trash, but that just means you treat it like any other single-coated lens. You can build a pretty neat lens lineup from 7Artisans, Neewer, Meike, Pergear and others, covering 12mm (18mm-e) through 85mm (127mm-e) and never spend more than $200 for a lens, new. All manual focus of course, but that works so very well on an X-T1 or X-T2 (all lenses are available in E mount too and most are in EF-M and m43 mounts and starting to show up in Z mount too, for the Z50)

On my Nikon D750 two of my go-to lenses are the Laowa 15mm f4 macro, which is unmatched by anything else (1:1 macro on a 15mm UWA leads to some unbelievable shooting options) and the Yongnuo 50mm f1.8, which is a $100 knockoff of Canon's classic Nifty 50. Yongnuo has an interesting line of knockoffs of older Canon lenses, most of which are available in Nikon mount as well and all for reasonable money. The only one I'd avoid is their 14mm, as it's a copy of the already mediocre 14/2.8L and you can get better manual focus ones for less money (Samyang/Rokinon). Otherwise they do a 35/1.4, 35/2, 50/1.4, 50/1.8, 85/1.8 and 100/2, all for $300 or less and AF.

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