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Sunday, 17 January 2021


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"If I'm going to carry a prime that's as bulky and weighty as a zoom, then I might as well carry the zoom."

That's worth repeating. Sometimes you're a fountain of wisdom.

This post seems to be a little bit behind the times. Nikon's flagship lenses have to be their Z-mount lenses. I'd love to see how the 35/1.8S lens stacks up. I don't see, however, an f/1.2 or an f/1.4 version in the pipeline on Nikon's Z lens roadmap. In any event, compactness is doubtful to be a criterion that will be met.

My iPhone XS Weight: 6.24 ounces (177 grams). The Tamron is 1.79 lb / 815 grams.

This is why I stopped using IL Cameras. Only a phone would fit between the window-glass and the blinds. 8-0

I wonder how those things that can't be measured factor into the overall "goodness" of a lens? If everything is simply math, where is the art?

I remember in about 1994 or so, the magazine, "Popular Photography" reviewed the then current (and pre-aspheric) Leica Summiluxs, and the 35mm and 50mm would appear to be totally useless for the first couple of apertures on the ring.

This came as quite a surprise to those Leica shooters that were doing just that for years... and happily.

Some lenses are good at math, some are good at rendering in a pleasing way.

I agree upon the importance of lens size. I started out with the Olympus Pen F system, and grew into the OM-system. Even the large aperture f2 lenses were compact, however I didn't know that, since I was taking pictures as a hobby next to being architect. The later 35mm f2.8 OM-Zuiko shift was a fantastic asset then, and together with the 40 f2, 21 f3,5 and 85 f2 was a combination of lenses sharing 49mm filter size and two hoods which would volume wise fit into a modern 24-80 2.8 zoom, and they accompanied me on a lot of study trips. Now they serve on the A7ii, but aren't as compact due to the lens adapter. I recently fell in love however with the MF Voigtländer 40mm f1.2 SE, which combines with the Sony in a very nice compact way and accompanies me on my almost daily 'nightwalks''. I like compact, it makes me agile. Most modern (over)corrected lenses are behemoths, mirrorless or not:). I still do miss Maitani's design spirit however in the digital age.

[I think Micro 4/3 embodies that spirit fairly well. But Micro 4/3 has taken a few body-blows recently and is in a state of turmoil and uncertainty. --Mike]

How about best 35/1.4 used on a tripod? I'd nominate the Zeiss Milvus 35/1.4 shot at f/4 and f/5.6 where it has great technical performance in almost every aspect, but still manages a very nice rendering. Wide open, it's not great, but the lens gets much, much better a couple stops down from wide open. I've used it for both landscape and portraiture, and love it. It also seems improbably long for a 35mm lens.

The best 35/1.4 that's not a 35mm focal length has got to be the monstrous Sigma 40/1.4 Art lens. I've not used the lens, but from the samples I've seen, and hearing from people whose opinions I trust, this lens starts great wide open and is already better than many of its competitors' best apertures, and gets better as you stop it down. But its 2.6 lbs weight along with its rarified performance makes this a tripod lens too. It is also surprisingly affordable.

Mike, you are my favorite blogger to have a gentlemen’s argument over lenses with. Ego be damned, stick to your guns.

No doubt the lovely Leica or the Zeiss ZM 35/1.4, or heck, the bargain Voigtlander 35/1.4 are smaller and more compact by magnitudes but adding an AF motor, classic helicoid or the new fancy levitating linear ones in the Sony, do tend to bump up the size. No getting around it.

And speaking of Leica and their compact lenses, why the heck are they the worst offenders of AF bloat with their L-Mount? The Leica Summilux-SL 50mm f/1.4 ASPH. Lens is 1065 grams!!!! You could stuff two GM lenses inside one of those monsters.

My only argument with your original assertion was that the comparison to lenses in the same spec was suspect (if we can agree that having an AF motor is part of the spec) but I’m with you 1000% in expecting that the mirrorless manufacturers take a more serious approach to size and weight reduction. Unfortunately, or fortunately depending on you proclivity for the modern hyper sharp lens designs, there is an optical perfection arms race under way, in some ways similar to what we’ve seen with sensor resolution. In light of this arms race, I do think Sony has done an admirable job with the new GM of designing a modern high resolution lens with a pleasant rendering in a “relatively” compact size.

Is there a market for a line of truly compact AF lenses, and would photographers trade more optical flaws (or character) for said size reduction? You could argue that Sony already does a pretty good job creating lenses like that, but they top out around f1.8 as opposed to f1.4 - and some people just gotta have those ultra fast lenses.

I suppose that I could adapt the excellent Tamron lens to my Sony body--and compared to purchasing the new Sony 35, I could save $130 by purchasing the Tamron with an autofocus adapter while merely doubling the weight of the Sony lens. (The Tamron is wider than the Sony and longer, too, even without the adapter.) Perhaps I'd get sharper photos that way, but, as you've indicated, sharpness isn't everything.

Since you bring up the Lux, I'd love to hear your thoughts (or even a review) one day of the new Voigtlander 35/1.2 III. As a 35mm and at a surprisingly light 332g, it seems like a lens that could well be in your wheelhouse.

Sorry, but Leica M is far from "mirrorless": Two mirrors are are pre-requisite in a rangefinder system.

" If I'm going to carry a prime that's as bulky and weighty as a zoom, then I might as well carry the zoom."

No, no, no!
'Real' photographers only use primes.
On their top-of-the-range DSLRs.
Full frame of course.
And always with everything set to manual - can't have some machine telling them what to do.
And tend to have big, bushy beards. Apart from the women. Usually.


Excerpt from your post:
Christer Almqvist wrote in the Comments:

"Well OK, size and weight are important fact-sheet figures. And most modern pro and semi-pro lenses are so sharp you need a tripod to reap the full benefits. So for me the decisive question is: How does the lens balance with the camera and how does it fit my hands?"

"That's a good criterion to use. I can get behind that."

First, I totally agree that lens/camera balance is a critically important criterion for long term satisfaction with a given lens. I once owned a Nikon FM2 and bought a 35mm F1.4 lens for it, based on lens reviews. The lens was too large for the camera and I sold it quickly. Didn't matter how "good" it was.
I wonder if "you need a tripod to reap the full benefits" of a lens any longer? It used to be that if you took a picture say with a 50mm lens at 1/15 of a second you would see some blur caused by camera motion. Take the same picture at 1/125 of a second and you would still get some blur but much reduced to the point it wouldn't be noticed unless you critically examined the negative. The same would apply at 1/1000 of a second. Therefore, use a tripod for critical sharpness.
I think IBIS has changed this. I've read that the sensor adjustments happen so quickly with an IBIS system that it is possible to get truly "sharp" picture within normal handheld shutter speed ranges. My own experience with IBIS is very limited, having only recently bought an Canon mirrorless with the feature. I'm very encouraged by the results so far.

I though I'd send you a picture of my Olympus 17mm f/1.8 getting lost in my hand, but then ran out of steam! It makes the Leica rangefinder lens look too big!

CA's comment about "how does the lens balance" is absolutely on track. I've been railing against the "coffee can on a credit card" modern camera/lens combos for years. Some M4/3rd's cameras are so small, my palm can change the settings in use! That's too small! I just don't get the amateur camera crowd (and by that, I mean those who are NOT earning their income totally with photography), walking around with these lenses that are bigger than a fungo bat! Is this the modern version of a "nerd with a Firebird"?

The longer I shoot with M 4/3rd's, the more I dream of a M 4/3rd's camera the size of a Pentax MX, with the standard M 4/3rd's lenses on it. Wouldn't that ne nice?

My objective has always been to have a camera and lenses that are better than I am. As my photography has improved I've been forced (!) to spend a little more on hardware which is not a terribly bad thing.

And while we're on the subject of size and weight, professional still cameras and lenses are light and tiny compared to professional video gear.

What John Camp said...

I just wish I'd kept my Leica 35/2 Summicron ASPH. I recall that you preferred its predecessor, but I had fine results with that lens. And it was tiny, a perfect fit on an M body.
I'll likely never know just how good these modern howitzers are, but it is interesting to see what the designers will do to get that last .0001% improvement.

the best 35mm lens?

Samyang AF 35mm f/2.8 FE Lens for Sony E mount.

It's tiny!
It's cheap!

If I put an Exacta rectangular lens hood from the 1940s on it, it works perfectly and young women and old men appear from nowhere to talk about it.

Without the extra lens hood, you can push the Sony A7 and the lens off to one side under your jacket.

It's cheap!
It's tiny!

It produces perfectly reasonable* results and if there is anything at all interesting about the picture ( look a tree ! ) you won't be thinking "I wonder if the lens he used has any aspherical elements?"

And everything looks best at f4.5 anyway.

Also, it comes with the cutest little lens case that will fit in a jeans pocket if you don't put the aforementioned young women and old men attracting lens hood on.

Costs about $250 although I think I paid less. There's a Tameron 35 2.8 that costs less but it's not nearly as small.

*actually very good results, better than I need. I never wish I had a better lens. I'm always wishing for more interesting light but that's another thing entirely

How about some good ol' time worn clichés? Being trite doesn't make them less true.

1. If you can see no difference there is no difference. Do you need a 61Mp camera to shoot for Facebook?

2. Perception is reality. If you think that for the best quality Facebook photos, of you pet, you need a 61Mp camera, then no-one can dissuade you.

When there is no perceptible differences in image quality, for me, convenience trumps specifications.

Zeiss ZM C-Biogon 35mm f2.8.
After 43 years of trying 35mm lenses this is the best, no question. On a Leica M240.

Minolta AF 35mm f2: 67mm x 48mm, 240g

"If I'm going to carry a prime that's as bulky and weighty as a zoom, then I might as well carry the zoom."

Hmm. Since full frame zooms start at under 200g, almost no primes are worth having then. Certainly not the Leica M 35/1.4 ‘fatty’, not even the Leica M 35/2.4!

Maybe you dug a hole for yourself there, Mike. Best escape route might be to claim the tongue was in the cheek?


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