This was taken at the minimum focusing distance for the lens and the aperture was f1.4. The depth of field is, of course, quite shallow but where the lens is in focus it's seems very sharp and detailed.
It's pretty obvious to me and everyone else in photography that there are two distinct kinds of photographers. One faction has the mindset that pushes them to do everything as logically as they possibly can. They will spend lots of time narrowing down gear choices until they find the one piece in each category that gives them the "best" set of compromises they can find within a price range which they consider acceptable. Barring any severe post purchase disappointment they will use the collection of non-overlapping equipment until the wheels fall off. They wax eloquent about owning the same gear for years and years which they believe gives them special and Mariana Trench deep knowledge of every square centimeter of their kit and it's firmware. They generally have every subset of the menus memorized and have spent days, weeks, years fine-tuning custom function buttons --- which are also completely committed to memory.
And then there are the people practicing photography who like to have something different for lunch every day. Who don't own vacation homes because they want to go somewhere different each time. Who own more than one pair of dress shoes. Who like sticking their toes into new stuff and seeing just what they can do with it.
News flash! There is no "best" camera and there is certainly no "best" lens. There are lenses that are highly corrected and extremely, clinically sharp and then there is a huge range of lenses, old and new, that have character, faults, foibles, weaknesses, odd strengths and, most importantly --- personality.
The photographers who have NOT battened down the hatches, frozen their credit cards in ice cube trays and taken vows of new photo gear abstinence are sometimes drawn to eccentric optical solutions like fraternity boys are drawn to beer. Like republicans to authoritarianism. Like chubby people to fad diets.
Like .... well, you probably get the picture.
For these people (the second group) photography can be a serious undertaking but it's clearly leavened with a bigger amount of sheer fun. Of off center experimentation and with a huge dose of disregard for following the "rules" of engagement the more logical and economically wise photographers devise to homogenize the practice of photography and to make it "safe." Repeatable. Acceptable. Consistent. Codified.
I bought two of the TTartisan 50mm f1.2 lenses because I wanted to see just how good a $99, made in China, totally manual lens could be. I bought one in the L mount variety and the other in the micro four thirds lens mount variety with the idea of using them on both (or all three) systems. I've used the L mount version on the CL for about six months now and have found it to be a very good lens with a few caveats. It does have a lot of barrel distortion and there are no lens profiles for it in Lightroom (which is my preferred "front door" for post production. You'll have to figure out a correction for the lens yourself.
But recently I've been playing around with older, vintage 50mm lenses including a Nikon 50mm f1.4 (pre-AI), two versions of the Canon 50mm f1.8 FDs, as well as time spent with the Contax/Yashica 50mm f1.7. All are basically good lenses that work okay wide open and then clean up progressively as one stops down toward f8.0. Since most have ancient and simpler coatings than current products I find them to have lower contrast. Not desperately lower contrast but enough to be evident in side by side comparisons with more modern fifties. They are also less resistant to flare.
A good measure of my ongoing interest in 50mm lenses likely stems from my early embrace of photography, a limited budget at the time, and the efficiency of buying a first camera "kit" complete with a normal lens (50mm). But I would also say that it's a very natural focal length which more or less replicates the way humans process seeing.
When I photograph with a modern 50mm lens I am sometimes underwhelmed because the lens is clinical and analytic in a way that doesn't allow room for a different technical interpretation. They tend to be very effective literal documentary tools but less appropriate for images that need some visual friction in order to enhance a different presentation process.
I like lenses like the TTartisan 50mm f1.2 very much not because they are sharp and contrasty; which they certainly can be, but because they can also be flawed and curiously alluring for many kinds of images. I especially like shooting this lens in conjunction with black and white camera settings because the lower overall contrast, when compared to something like the Panasonic 50mm 1.4 S-Pro lens, enhances the feel of a longer range of gray tones and a gives an impression of a wider dynamic range because of lower contrast in the higher values.
As other reviewers of lenses have written, the TTartisan 50mm f1.2 seems like two lenses. When used at f1.2, 1.4, or even f2.0 there is lots of vignetting, lower sharpness in the corners and softer look overall. Stop the lens down to f2.8, or more obviously f4.0 or f5.6 and the lens becames more "modernly" sharp. Competitive with all my legacy lenses and almost even with a current lens such as the Panasonic 50mm f1.8 S.
If I use the lens on a full frame camera at the "open gate" of the frame there is obvious and uncorrectable mechanical vignetting. But if one uses a full frame camera set to a 1:1 aspect ratio then the lens just covers that frame with slight optical vignetting (correctable) in the corners when used at wider apertures and no vignetting from f4.0 all the way to f11. But even used wide open in 1:1 the vignetting is correctable and when I look at the photo at the top of this post the effects of any vignetting are obscured by the distributions of tones away from the main subject. In that example, when using the lens wide open, I see the underlying strength of the lens which renders the statue beautifully, with restrained highlights and open shadows, which makes the file very malleable in post production. The image just below is an example of using the lens stopped down to between f2.8 and f4.0 which shows off the relative sharpness of the lens.
So, if I embrace the foibles and weaknesses of a lens like this as an aid to artistic interpretation why then would I mate it with a state of the art camera? Well, the Leica SL2 has a very high resolution EVF which aids in and adds pleasure to accurate manual focusing. Especially when combined with the ease of punching in to a magnified frame for very fine focusing. Then, the sensor resolves 47.5 megapixels at the full size of the sensor but it also delivers 31.5 megapixels of resolution at the square, 1:1 crop setting, which is ample for just about any use and is probably beyond the resolving capability of the lens anyway.
Added to that is a very nice monochrome setting in the camera's menus which gives me a much better starting point for later tweaking of the files. So, lens with personality combined with a highly capable shooting platform makes for a nice blend of tech and art. What's not to like?
I was curious to see how the lens would handle flares such as potentially caused by
the direct sun reflected off my favorite new downtown building. Here (above) is the full frame.
While just below is a prodigious crop of the part with the sun reflection. I think the lens does quite well
if used anywhere but wide open....
The TTartisan lens under consideration here is widely available under $100. That makes experimenting with one a low cost, low risk undertaking. With the pace of inflation this lens has become almost free.
My next trial will be of the TTartisan 50mm f0.95. Just because.....zero point nine five!
This image was taken using good technique, high shutter speeds and an optimum aperture. The shadows are open and the highlights are not burned out. It was done with a 47.5 megapixel, state-of-the -art camera. I can enlarge it on the Retina screen in the studio up to 200% and see lots and lots of detail. The granularity of the rock faces. The detail on the plant leaves and more. I can easily print this as big as I'd ever want.
In a small size, such as the reduction to 3200 pixels and then the additional reduction and compressions courtesy of Blogger, a viewer using a phone or small iPad to view will see none of the technical "features" that might make the image worth looking at. Features that make the image more immersive for me. The distillation for the web will gut much of the impact that something like a well printed and presented 4x6 foot print might have. So...how can we possible have a discussion about the merit of either the image or the technical underpinnings of its creation with any common context? Or a common visual language?
We often ask where the great photographic artists of today are hiding. This comes from our pervasive habit of judging everything on media that represent the lowest common denominators of presentation. Tiny, low bit depth screens, viewed in poor lighting conditions after being squeezed through the internet pipeline with all of its attendant compromises.
We do have choices though. We can search out the galleries which may be showing work of good artists and see the images as they were intended. If that's not possible we can try to hunt down better channels for the work and take the time to look at what's being produced on monitors that are actually accurate and are positioned in such a way as to minimize random light, the color casts of rooms in which they are situated and the kinetic clutter that comes from looking at images while out in the world and on the move.
Having tried it I can tell you that a nicely done image on a big, color corrected screen in a room with controlled light is much, much (infinitely?) better than trying to balance a cellphone in one hand, a half unwrapped burrito in the other while rocketing through a tunnel on a hard seat in a bumpy subway car with flickering flourescent lights from the last century overhead while anxiously awaiting your next stop.
Even magazine writers from the print days realized that the actual work and the diminished, commercially printed paper version of the work were wildly different and, when writing reviews about gear, always cautioned readers to chose to believe the writer's description over the vague final print sample offered up by a web-press printed magazine page made with crummy paper.
I made a mistake of blogging yesterday. I put up some images of an aerial dance troupe. The images as I see them are gorgeous and detailed but apparently when viewed on lesser media under worse viewing conditions the subjects of the images seem too small; too distant. We have now flattened a general audience for photography on the web down and down so that now all that's expected of an image is that the design be rendered big, graphic and simple for easy cellphone screen consumption.
This is why I make every effort track down the bits of good work I occasionally find on places like Instagram and see if the creator has an actual website that I can visit. To see if the artist provides a better viewing experience for those with the time and energy to drill down a bit.
It's also the reason why I like to hit as many galleries and museum shows as I can in a year. I can see work more or less as it was intended by its creator and it's always a bit transformative; if the work is good.
Seeing a Chuck Close photo realistic painting splashed out eight feet by ten feet in size and beautifully lit on a museum wall is a totally different experience than coming across the same image as a cropped, 4x4 inch Instagram image even on the best of screens.
I am often asked by commenters why we don't talk more about the "art" of photography here on the blog instead of going over lots of gear and technical work considerations and it's basically because of the inability to have a common standard for accessing viewing the works. It's hard to agree about the amazing detail in even an Alex Soth print if most of the audience has only seen the work as a weak copy on a small screen and the writer is talking about his experiences seeing the work on a museum wall in its original printed size. On a print that was the photographer's final intention. So, when we do try to talk about the work we end up with so many different avenues for viewing, each of which is a diminished and poor replica of the original, that it's impossible to make many meaningful assessments.
I'm reminded of all the times people have presented work to the masses done by great artists only to have the works judged by people who have never seen art the way it was intended by the artist. "The Mona Lisa should have had more fill light. And the artist should have gotten a better white balance on her face....." So many hobbyists, when viewing Henri Cartier-Bressson photographs on the web rush to tell the world that his work is bad because it isn't sharp enough. And suggest that he should have used an autofocus camera. Etc. Etc. They might have taken the time to see the work in one of the well printed books of HCB's work...
Group think tends to peel off concept, gesture and mood and replace it with "easy to see" and "easy to look at" work instead.
That's why we have an endless supply of skinny, big chested, just post adolescent, half-dressed women to look at on Instagram and very few images of substance or interest. Sex, food and cats. That's about it. But I guess we get the audiences we create.
I'll remember that the next time I post anything that falls out of the easy view parameters.