6.14.2010

What's in a lens?

In an article I wrote several weeks ago I talked about 85mm focal lengths.   I love this focal length.  Just look what it does for the background.  I've owned lenses in this range from most camera systems and I'm going to let you in on a secret.  But first the list:  I've owned the Canon 1.1.2 (version one), the Canon 85mm 1.8 FD,  The Nikon AIS versions of the f2, the f1.4 and the f1.8,  Both versions of the Nikon AF 85's.  The Zeiss 85 2.0 for Contax and even the 80mm Summilux for Leica R.  Now I own the Canon AF 1.8.  I've shot tons of stuff with all these and there's only one that's just "good".  The rest are astoundingly good, regardless of brand or hype.  The one "only good" lens was the old, manual focus Nikon 85 f2.  And people snapped them up in the past because, wide open, they took the hard edge off portraits of women.

I'd feel comfortable using any of them.  I also chuckle when I read the DXO tests or the other definitive tests and I see that they've cautioned people about the mediocre performance wide open.  Maybe in the supercomputer but not on the prints.

People have just kinda gone nuts in the digital age.  It's sharpness at any cost, for any use.  Well that's okay.  All the lenses above will do wide open sharpness just fine.  But then we always have to go back and smooth out the skin tone.  One step forward..........

Program Note:  Just a reminder that I'm doing a book signing at Precision Camera in Austin, Texas this Saturday from noon to 2 pm.  Well be talking photography, maybe looking at prints, definitely drinking hot beverages and so forth.  I hope to see you there if you live in the area.

12 comments:

Steve Burns said...

"...I also chuckle when I read the DXO tests or the other definitive tests..."

At times I'm thankful that I can't read. ;-}

Kurt W. said...

Kirk:

You crack me up, thanks for keeping it all real. I don't find time often enough to read your stuff, but when I do it's always educational and amusing. Great work.

David Ingram said...

When shooting with a crop factor camera would a fast 50mm give roughly the same results for background bokeh. I have a D300, so 1.5 multiplier vs D700.

Comments when you switch to your 7d with this lens or use a 50mm?

Jeff Kott said...

Kirk, about your comment of wide open performance, it seems to me that a portrait lens should always be sharp because to my eye portraits look better when at least the eyes and hair are sharp. If they could design a lens that would provide for sharp hair and eyes and soft skin, we'd really have something.

David Ingram, if you do the math, a 50mm lens is a little wide on a 1.5 crop to give you the equivalent field of view as an 85mm on FF.

An AIS 55mm gets you pretty close and the Cosina Voigtlander 58/1.4 is spot on and an awesome lens with really nice bokeh at a very good price. You might also want to use the Nikkor 60mm macro, but, ignoring my prior comment, some people think it's too sharp for a "portrait lens."

jk

kirk tuck said...

I second the use of 55mm's for the cropped sensor cameras. I've had some success using the Nikon 50mm f1.1.2 and the old 55 macro 3.5 on the Canon 7d. If I want to tighten up there's a lot of information to crop from.

kirk tuck said...

David, I haven't used that combo yet but I think I'll like the look better than the crop zoom lens I have which only opens up to f5.6 at 85mm. What was I thinking?

Sheygetz said...

That girl sure looks wonderful... But that aside, you never really explained about returning to the "conventional DSLR" fold with the 5DII, did you. I mean, first it was the switch to Olympus, then m4/3, and now you're kind of resurfacing on the big'n'heavy side of things. I for one would like to know what brought that on.

kirk tuck said...

Sheygetz,

You missed this one: http://visualsciencelab.blogspot.com/2010/05/business-decisions-versus-personal.html

It explains all.

Bill said...

My Canon 851.8 AF is full of dust and I put a small scratch on the front element. It is still wonderfully sharp and you would have to prior it from my cold dead hands before I would give it up.

Bill K

Sheygetz said...

Sorry Kirk, yes I did indeed miss that. Thanks for pointing it out - very detailed and insightful.

Geir said...

Interesting, but it gets a little more confusing when we start talking about cropped sensor cameras. I'm an Oly user, doesn't seem to be any options for me, except from using the narrow end of the 14-42;-). And what about the plethora of other cameras in the cropped sensor market? Is it in any way possible to get an overview over recommended lenses? AND does the 85mm work just as well even when you consider the crop factor?

kirk tuck said...

Geir, the Oly user has plenty of options! The juiciest is the 35-100mm f2 lens. Used at 42.5mm it's exactly an 85mm f2 on any of the 4:3 bodies. Too rich for most users? Then the next closest option is the 50 f2 macro. But with the use of widely available adapters just about any of the non "G" series Nikon lenses can be easily adapted. So, if you pick up an inexpensive 50mm 1.4 or 1.8 you're a bit longer than the traditional 85 but you get the advantage of the OOF background. The 35mm f1.4's and f2's are also an option.

The 85 is a bit long for me on the 2x and 1.6x cropped sensor cameras.