4.25.2010

The classic desert island question: Which lens?

It's easy for me to pick a focal length.  I choose 100mm or the 35mm equivalent.  On my old Hasselblad that meant the 180mm f4.  It's a lens I still miss even though I sold my copy nearly ten years ago.  On an Olympus 4:3rd's camera, like the e30, it's resolutely the 50mm Macro.  Or the equivalent focal length on my 35-100mm zoom.  I the Nikon system it's a toss up between the 105mm f2 DC lens and the old but incredible 105 2.5.  The lens I like on the Canon is the standard 100 f2.  But all of those choices are easy ones for me because I know I love the focal length.  I can't seem to get away from my need to cut away background and focus in on my subjects.  The real question is,  if I could only choose one (and my accountant tells me that after last year's business performance I might want to start making choices....) which one would I rescue from the sinking ship?  The easy answer is the Hasselblad 180.  But reality tells me that film is fading away from the market and, additionally, once the old V bodies are gone there will never be another camera system to use the same mount.  I'd like to cheat and choose a lens that will be usable with future cameras, if possible.

That narrows it down a bit.  I love the Olympus 50mm f2 and I think it may be the sharpest of the other lenses but......it's slow to focus and I'm waiting to see the future roadmap.  Will they make a version that focuses like lightning on a m4:3rd body?  That's what I'd love to see.  The lustre still hasn't worn off of my little Olympus Pens and I'm still totally fascinated by how attracted I am to the previewable nature of the EVF's.  That leaves me with the two big boys:  Canon and Nikon.  And I have to admit it would be a toss up.  If I chose Nikon I would go with the 105 2.5 because it doesn't have the weaselly "G" configuration and that means I could use it on just about any camera body out there with the right adapter.  I could stick it on a Nikon D3x for those clients who need relentless megapixels and I could stick it on the Pen EPL when I just want to have fun.

The plus for all the older, manual focus, Nikon lenses is how great they are when used as "cine" lenses.  The focus ring is more linear than that of AF lenses and allows one to do a good rack focus.  I can still use it on my old Nikon F, as well.

Edit: Monday April 29th.  2:03 PM.  I should have been more clear.  It is a desert Island (whatever that means) but it is not deserted.  There are a bevy of supermodels,  several chefs and a crew of attendants.  We were shipwrecked and you were able to swim ashore holding one lens out of the salt water.  All the necessary cameras (sans lenses) washed ashore in a Pelican Case.  A cargo plane previously crashed on the Island with cases and cases of fine wines and interesting foods.  Miraculously the refrigeration unit is still functioning and will continue for several years given the solar panels and storage batteries that were also on the plane.............add your own restrictions to the story as necessary.

The Canon 100 f2 is faster and the autofocus works well on most of their professional cameras.  Not so great for crossing over to m4:3rds.....

I was going to write off the Leica M lenses because of the paucity of bodies for digital but now, with all the adapters to m4:3rd I'm playing with those too.  While the 90 Apo Summicron may be the sharpest of all that alone makes it a bit less practical for me as a portrait lens.

Enough.  If you were constrained to shoot with one lens what would it be?  And what camera would you put it on?

To make this sensible let's disqualify all zoom lenses if your intention is their flexibility.  If you truly believe that a particular zoom (at a particular focal length) gives you just the right look then go ahead and tell me that.

Anybody game?

46 comments:

Emory Dunn said...

Sticking with just the lenses I have now I think I'd have to go with my 50mm f/1.8 on my 40D.

Alireza said...

My choice of focal length is close to yours. I'd go for the Canon 85mm f1.8 on my 5D. Small, sharp, great buttery bokeh and a fast focusing lens! I wish it had a better focusing ring though... something like my Voigtlander 20mm.

thorir said...

isn't the nikon "g" a no-aperture ring lens? cause on my 105dc there's plenty such ring ,-)

Mats said...

I did the one lens thing for a few years, back in the day of film. I still love my Konica Hexar with its fixed 35mm 2,0 lens and consider it the best all-round lens I have ever used.
My favourite for digital is the EF 35mm 1,4. I loved it on my 5D, but it is a little bit large.

Geir said...

Of the ones i own? The Sigma 30mm f1.4. But would prefer an Olympus version...

icouldbeahero said...

My lens is the Nikon 60mm f/2.8 AF-S on D40. I like the 90mm equivalent length and the macro. Wouldn't mind if it was a little faster though.

Craig said...

My current fave lens is my 1980s manual-focus Nikkor 85mm f/2 AI-S, which I shoot on my Canon 5D Mark II with a mount adapter. Beautiful lens, and the focus ring turns easily with the pressure of a single finger.

John Krumm said...

In the 4/3 world I've always been a sucker for the look of portraits and wildlife shot with the Zuiko 150mm f2. Don't have it yet, alas. But it's the sort of lens you want to be stuck with if your intent is to get "ooh, beautiful" responses from people . Of course a desert island is deserted, so any simple prime I can take apart and use the elements to burn bugs and start fires would do.

Pat Morrissey said...

Sigma 70mm f2:8 EX DG Macro.
Great portrait lens, better than 1:1 macro - slow to focus and a tad noisy, but sharp as a pin.

Bold Photography said...

My Canon 135L. I'd give up the macro range with the 100L macro, but the 135L just makes so amazing portraits...

psu said...

35/2

Les said...

Horses for Courses... but I'm more the landscape type.... Zeiss 50/2 Makro for slow moving; Canon 50/1.4 for fast moving. Canon TSE 45 also good for contemplative surroundings and timeless mindset.

If on the island with 2 lenses, then something like 85 or 35/28 would be good. Canon 85/1.8 and Zeiss 35/2 for example give a good mix kit or with macro capabilities: Zeiss 100/2 Makro with Zeiss 35/2. Downside: All that metal is heavy if both Zeiss.

Anonymous said...

Nikon 85 mm f/1.8 AF-D - slow as molasses to focus but a sweet portrait lens on any film camera (even works well on my D300, despite the crop factor).

Kirk Decker said...

I love my Nikkor 105 f2DC. I don't think they make a G version of this lens. Mine is a "D". When I shot an RB67, my fav lens was a 180. To me that angle of veiw is The portrait length. An odd ball fav is the Nikkor 500mm reflex macro. It's great for hiking, baseball games, and renfests.

Simon said...

My lovely PanaLeica Summilux 25mm f/1.4. It's just one of those lenses that just gets the job done, but with love. It's got a few scratches, and I'd like it to be weather sealed, let alone to have an SWD motor, but it's still a gem of an optic, sharp, good bokeh, nice color, contrast and tonality.. I love it.

Matthew Robertson said...

I'm also a huge fan of the Olympus 50mm macro, and it's my favourite on the E-system and with my GH1. If it was truly a desert island situation, it's the E-1 and 50/2 that I'd reach for – no worries about sand or water, and with the battery grip, I know I'd have enough power until I was rescued.

But if it was normal circumstances with just one camera and one lens from now on, it would have to be my D700 and 85mm PC-E. It's exhausting to work with, and I'd miss the autofocus and VR of my 105/2.8, but the things it can do just can't be done with a 'straight' lens. It's the reason why I bought a Nikon system, and it's what I would most want to keep.

ZA-Dude said...

Canonet 40mm f1.7. But if it's a dessety that probably means no street photography for me...

Mark Olwick said...

The Olympus 50mm/F2 Macro for me too. Just stunningly sharp and a nice portrait lens too.

dearj said...

If there was an 18mm prime for 4/3rds (or if the 17/2.8 was a little faster) I'd have picked it. As it is I'll have to stick with the 11~22 riveted at 18mm, although the 25/1.4 is a nice tool to have around as well -- it's a little long for kid photography, though.

When I first got my Nikkor 35/1.4 I was amazed -- that particular focal length matches my view on the world, which is why f=35mm on 135 is my pick.

Douglas Urner said...

Much as I love (pine over) my film cameras, digital really does seem to be here to stay -- I don't miss film much at all, what I miss is the wonderful handling and simplicity of the cameras. The current top of the heap is the Nikon 105mm f/2.5 on a D700, though the 90mm Summicron would be right in there if I could afford an M9. I'm coming to hate the clatter and bang of a DSLR. You've been making a persuasive case for the u4/3 cameras. Are they quiet?

Wolfgang Lonien said...

The Oly 50mm macro definitely. Since I couldn't afford that one until now, I'd take my old manual OM Zuiko 50mm f1.8.

Herman said...

An autofocus 50mm equivalent lens on a camera.
Don't really care any which way after that.
(though I have been very impressed with my Nikon 50/1.4G)

Very simple reason: I use that for 90% of my photo's.

I suspect I could also live quite happily with a 35, 40 or 45mm lens.

SerrArris said...

Oh, a simple question for me. I love the old MC Rokkor 1,4 PG. Aproximatelly 90% of all my images published are made with this lens. I use it for landscapes, for portraits and everything else. Its just like that: I'm am used to the normal view, and this lens jsut gives mie the right amount of handling efficienty and image quality. The other Minolta competitors (I won the 50mm 1,7 and the 58mm 1,2 are great for particular use, but not for a general one were you don't now what might happen).

Of course, on my medium formats the choice of lenses are others - but my favorite stays the 50mm MC.

Best regards,
Markus

JackAZ Photography said...

Since you have eliminated zoom lenses and the Oly 35-100mm f2.0 is my absolute favorite at the moment I would have to go with the Oly 50mm f2.0 macro since it falls within the range of my zoom and is on my must have lens list.

Danny Chatham said...

Kirk,
I too love my 50.2 olympus and have found it to be one of the finest lenses Ive ever used.Yet my
personal favorite focal lenght is 40mm,I find it the ideal all round lense.On my 4/3 ep1 I
use the wonderful Panasonic 20 1.7.

Frank M. said...

It all depends on the kind of photos you think you would take on that desert island, right? If it really were deserted, there would be no people to take portraits of, then why the long focal lengths?
A moderate wide-angle would keep me happy. I've always been a fan of the 35 mm focal length for its versatility. The Zeiss Distagon 35 f/2.8 served me well on my Contax film camera. If I took a long lens (85-135 mm) with me by mistake, at least I hope I would have a set of extension tubes with me, to take nice close-up photos of the islands flowers. ;)
By the way, I've been having a lot of fun with a 135 mm Zeiss and a couple of extension tubes and on an Oly E-P2 (please click my name-link if interested).

JS said...

Pentax 43mm FA 1.9 Limited

Of course since they are so small I could cheat and sneak the 77mm 1.8 Limited and the 31mm 1.8 limited.

Anonymous said...

Any Leica 90mm lens. My favorite focal length, favorite lens. Currently have Leica 50mm Summarit for Olympus EP-2.

M

Anonymous said...

zuiko om 100/2, best lens I ever used on any system..

om 55 1.2 just fantastic

om 50 1.8 mij best bargain lens..

Jeff's Photo Blog said...

Nikon 35mm F2

Robert said...

Nikkor 55 Micro F2.8 on a F-Mount adapted Sigma body SD14 or SD15.

Stephen said...

I, too, like portraiture. Either the 160mm for the Mamiya C220 or the 50mm, f1.8 AF for the Nikon D200. Although, I might use the old AI 50mm, f1.4 for the Nikon, but autofocus seems to work better than my eyeballs.

Stephen said...

...being a desert island; are there people to photograph?

Curt Schimmels said...

I love my Oly 50mm F2, but going with a recurring theme in these responses, I'd have to go with the Panasonic 20mm F1.7. Now that my firmware is updated on my E-P1, the combination is very quick, and the shorter focal length should work better for those pictures of the picturesque lagoon. ;-)

jasonhindle said...

Olympus 25mm f2.8 (at least of the lenses I own, assuming a fixed focal length)........

steveH said...

I spent years with the Canon FD 100/4 macro as my default, so the Zuiko 50/2 macro should be similar.

Bill K said...

My Canon 85 1.8 on a 5d. Even with it full of dust and beat to hell. I would truly be lost with out that lens

Don said...

I would have to say either a 20MM or a 200MM. I like extremes.

Tony E said...

Has to be the Nikon 105 f 2.5 attached to an Fm2 with a ton of Tri-x film.

AroundOmaha Photography said...

I shoot nearly all the time these days with my Nikon 50mm f/1.8 on the E-P1. Like you I think I could pretty much live with 100mm as I can take casual city-scape shots, people, low light etc. Its amazingly flexible.

On the other hand I have also grown to love the little Nikon 35mm f/1.8. What the heck is wrong with me.... neither of these lenses cost more than $200!

Its a fight but I'll go with the $100 50mm f/1.8 on my little E-P1. Guess the D90 goes down with the ship as do my 20-35mm, 80-200mm and 80-400mm VR. Crap... that salt water exposure means the only place I can sell them now is Ebay :)

Glen Goffin said...

I would stand frozenly on the deck ofthe sinking ship gazing upon the distant shoreline with dawning realization as I held my Canon 85/1.2 in my left hand and my 135/2 in my right hand. Finally, a soft whisper would drift from my mouth just before the sea consumed me ... "I can't choose!"

kirk tuck said...

Drop the 135, drop the 135.......

mike said...

probably a fast 35 on my 5d

e_dawg said...

Sony 50/2.8 macro on an A900 body. It wouldn't be the best choice for any application (except for macro or product shots), but it is the most versatile in both focal length and MFD.

It's just fast enough to be usable in almost any situation, and is stabilized on the A900, giving you an extra stop or two. The front element is recessed, so it's automatically protected and shielded from flare. Sharp across the frame at any aperture and focus distance, delivering the full potential of the 24 MP sensor. Flat field, no distortion, CA, nor significant vignetting. Focus limiter is handy and useful.

Anonymous said...

Everyone keeps mentioning the Olympus 50mm F2.0 macro. Is that the old OM version of new 4/3 version? Does the 4/3 version auto-focus well on an E-pl1?

My vote is the Canon 50mm F1.4, that is until I replace my Canon system with an E-pl1 and add either the Panasonic 20mm F1.7 or the Oly 50mm F2 macro.

Anonymous said...

I have a bunch of MF Lenses, so if I had to keep my Nikon D300 I would take my Prime 105mm 2.5 Ai-S. But hard on its heals would be a 75-150mm 3.5 E series Lense.