The 35mm lens and why no one should care if it's the best in the world or not.

I wrote a little piece the other day about using a couple of new lenses on the Canon 7D.  And in the past few weeks I've also talked about buying and using two different macro lenses, that, at first glance, seem to be so close as to not make too much of a difference.  People seem adamant about two things in response to my idle chatter about cameras and lenses.  First, they want me to proclaim definitively which one is best.  And then, secondly, they want me to stick with whatever proclamation I've made thru thick and think, no matter what else comes on to the market.

Some readers want me to write more about the Olympus Pen cameras.  Others are still chagrined about my divestiture of most Nikon stuff.  Others want me to choose between one of those "damn" ever propagating 50mm lenses and be done with it.

And it's made me think that there must be two different schools when it comes to buying and using gear. The first school (which I am not part of......) holds that there's one ultimate camera and in each focal length, one ultimate lens.  The people in this school take no prisoners.  No holds are barred.  If you buy a  Canon G12 and you like it you're stuck until you find it's superior replacement at which time you are obligated to acquire the new camera and banish the older one to the tender mercies of the used market.

The other school of thought is dominated by indecision and the fear of potential regret.  We buy what we think will be a good and workable camera or system and learn why we like it and why we don't.  And then, instead of replacing it when it's myriad faults are revealed to us we tend to hold onto the things we liked about the camera or lens or system and then go out and supplement it with something that complements it.  In the days of film cameras this was an enticing strategy on a number of levels.  We'd buy a Nikon F5 system to shoot events and sports.  But we'd decide that we needed more resolution and smoother tones for portraiture so we'd buy a Hasselblad system and use it in the studio.  If we found ourselves doing more and more product work we'd buy a decent 4x5 system and the holy trinity of view camera lenses and use that as well.  Finally, because we all wanted to be cool we'd buy the ultimate "carry it with you everywhere" camera, the Leica M(X) and.......carry it with us everywhere.

But buying a complementary system didn't give us an apparent license to get rid of the first system or, in turn, the second system.  And often, because the cameras did not go out of fashion and were rarely superseded over the course of a decade, they held their value very, very well.  I shot with a Leica M3 that I bought with a 50mm Summicron lens for over ten years.  When I bought the M3 it was considered pretty pedestrian and cost me about $400 with the lens.  Ten years later I sold it to buy some newer Leica cameras and it fetched $1200 without the lens.  Prices had gone up.  The supply had gone down.

When I made the somewhat ill-fated decision to sell off my Hasselblad gear and answer the siren call of the Rollei medium format SLR system I was able to break even on my original H-blad purchases as well.

Digital changed a lot of things.  It changed a lot of buying patterns.  As more and more amateurs entered the higher end of digital it seemed that budgets would only stretch to one camera at a time.  And dealing with the used market was like playing musical chairs.  When new models were rumored people began to undertake a complicated calculus to figure out when to divest themselves of their current body in time to be ready to buy the newest body with the least amount of fiscal damage.

This "all and nothing" approach, I think, is mostly responsible for the search for perfection that goes on.  If a person is going to limit themselves to one camera at a time they logically want to find the body that will do the most for the them for the longest period of time.  The importance of not making a buying "mistake" becomes paramount.  But it's counter-logical.  No camera currently on the market is superior on all counts and all of them will, by most standards, became obsolete within a year or so.

I have a lot of friends who are professional photographers and they tend to be more "big tent" about cameras.  They find one they like and keep it around until it's resale value has fallen so far that it makes more sense to keep using it than to get rid of it.  And what I'm constantly reminded of when I survey the commercial market is the fact that, inexorably, the images we created are headed to the web the majority of the time.  The technical requirements of the final users really don't change nearly as quickly as the model introductions of the manufacturers!

I guess the assumption of my readers, who wring their hands at my purchase of Canon gear over new Olympus gear, is that I've abandoned the Olympus brand altogether.  Of course it's not true.  They're still in the tool box.  I've just decided that the Pens are the Olympus cameras I like shooting with the best.  I've thinned out my collection of E cameras and lenses but I still have several bodies in that niche as well as a handful of lenses.  But the point is that I keep cherry picking the cameras that I've enjoyed shooting with over the years and they rarely get put out to pasture.  The Kodak bodies are a good example.  I still find reasons to dust off the DCS 760 and the SLR/n, not because either of them are great at high ISO's or shoot at ten frames per second but because they have their own color palette and have a long toe and a long shoulder that makes them superb for shooting portraits.  It's all about the curves not necessarily about the DR.  It was the same in film.  People liked Tri-X best because it had a long and graceful curve from the first indication of detail in the shadows to the last vaporous dew drops of highlight detail.  The curve made the tonality, not the dynamic range.  Same with digital cameras.

I have a Sony R1 which is pretty remarkable.  Every job I ever shot with it was lucky.  No one should get rid of their lucky camera!  And ditto with my Olympus e1.  Nice curves, both physically and electronically.....

But the bottom line is that the pursuit of the best is pointless.  DXOLabs just did a paper on an interesting topic.  They discovered in their testing that most of the benefits of fast lenses are lost to digital cameras when you open up the lenses past f4.  Imagine that!  It doesn't get any brighter in the pixel wells.  Why does the camera exposure go up?  They surmise that camera companies, knowing that you aren't getting the f-stops you're paying for ramp up the file gain to compensate.  That of course gives you more noise and may explain why their tests show that the Canon 85mm 1.8, for example, is more highly rated for ultimate image quality than the much more expensive 85mm 1.1.2 L lens.  Interesting.

In the end it's all a compromise.  I have a friend who shoots with a Nikon D3x and all the best Nikon glass.  But he hates his tripod and shoots everything handheld.  He's over 50 and drinks coffee.  Do you think that sensor is delivering $8,000 worth of magic?  Maybe.  I have another friend who does the same thing in the Canon system.  He knows his technique but like all of us it goes down the drain as the day and enthusiasm fades.

I've been looking over the 136,000+ images I have in my Lightroom Catalogs lately.  I found some I shot in Madrid back in 2000 with a Nikon 990 point and shoot camera.  It had a whopping 3.4 megapixels of resolution.  The files, on the screen, look great.  I looked at some exterior architectural stuff and some corporate portraits we shot with the Olympus e-10 (4 megapixels) and they looked great.  In fact, if you mix it all up and look at the work over the decade of digital the only time you see differences is when we tried to go beyond the safe ISO of our times or when we tried to enlarge past a certain point.  I don't see "leaps and bounds" improvements in the "bread and butter" space of flash lit headshots, daylight lit architecture and landscapes.  If anything there are some color nuances that I think have been abandoned in the pursuit of greater accuracy which were more emotionally satisfying in their flawed iteration.

So, back to the new lenses.  Let's try this on for size....according to Leica lens expert, Erwin Puts, when you double the diameter of a lens element (critical to the making of faster lenses) you increase by a factor of 8X the complexity of manufacture.  Tolerances become much more critical.  In fact, it is so much easier to make a perfect f4 prime lens than it is to make a decent f1.4 lens for ten times the price that many of the f4 primes from earlier days from Nikon, Canon and Leica still rival the latest "L" glass and "gold ring" glass from Canon and Nikon.  If we take as a given that the race for smaller and smaller pixel sites (needed to increase pixel count) has marginalized the light gathering capabilities of the sensor at anything wider than f4 and that f4 lenses can be made to incredible standards less expensively, then I've got to wonder at why so many people are buy fast glass.  If the cameras ramp up the exposure gain, pre-raw conversion, then the noise equals out.  Doesn't matter if you shoot at 1.4 or 4 the noise characteristics might be the same.  Again, according to DXO the $1300 Canon 50mm 1.2 is about as good at f2.8 as the $90 "nifty fifty".  So what's the point?

Here's the point.  All of the lenses have some signature that makes them output photographs that look a certain way.  The 35mm Summilux Aspheric from Leica, when used on a camera with big pixels, can drop out a background and keep a foreground very sharp.  The Nikon D700 is almost as sharp as the Canon 5dmk2 in actual use because the bigger pixels make more efficient use of the output of the lenses.  The 35mm Canon lens I referenced yesterday has pretty much the same performance at f4 and smaller as it's $1500 brother.  The Canon 85mm 1.8 (which I own) is rated higher than the 85mm 1.1.2 (which I used to own back in the film days.....).  So ultimately there is no right or wrong.  We get to pick which lens we want to use for what.  I picked the 35mm f2.0 because I know I'll use it mostly handheld and mostly around f4.  In that capacity it will be about as good as the more expensive but faster lens.  For the difference in price I can also own a couple of zoom lenses that also cover the 35mm focal length.

I have a bunch of different 50mm lenses because they all do different stuff well.  I want a beater to put on the front of an 60D for those days when I think the camera and lens might not make it back alive.  I want the 50mm Carl Zeiss lens for those times when I want a wider portrait lens on a 7D and I have a Nikon 50mm 1.1.2 with an adapter ring for the 5Dmk2 for those times when I think I want fast and sharp all at once.  And none of them is the ultimate lens.

Finally,  why do I have the 60mm Macro EFS and the 50mm Macro EF lenses, simultaneously.  Well.....because sometimes there is no logic.  You just want what you want and you buy it because life is short and it's fun to have toys.  And the 60 EFS is ostensibly optimized for the density of pixels in the cropped frame camera.  And it acts like a 90mm portrait lens on a cropped frame camera.  And the 50 Macro is a cheap legacy lens with really good performance that works really well with the full frame cameras.

If I took all the emotion out of my lens and camera preferences I'd have three boring L zooms that cover all the focal lengths I might shoot and I'd shoot them the same way all the time.  And if I did this business logically I'd find the job or type of job that pays the maximum amount with the minimum effort and I would do it over and over and over again.  But I hate working that way.  I love things to be different all the time.  I love to take chances.  I love to find new ways to do things and new ways to light things.

And it think it is this passionate curiosity that keeps my love of photography alive and by extension keeps my clients interested.  It's a tough business to be in.  Let's not make it tougher by adhering to pointless dogma and demanding an objective measure of perfection.  Art should be subjective and the choice of tools motivated more by intuition and impetuosity than some sort of rigorous spreadsheet of facts that tends to homogenize and rank our gear.  And then apply a value.

The value comes from the photographs well seen.  Not from the choice of tools.

Most people who read here say that they like me to explain why I do what I do.  But amazingly, when I talk about seeing or emotion or context I get no feedback.  Put up a tiny paean to a $300 lens and we get 20 comments in six hours.  And readership for weeks.  Not sure how I should handle it.  Not sure it really matters.  I am nothing if not capricious.  If I feel like buying a new lens (even if it's exactly like one I already own) I'll buy it.  And if I feel like writing about it you can pretty much count on me doing that too.

I guess you noticed.....I don't really do short blogs.  Another rule shot to hell.

Happy Thanksgiving!

the holidays are upon us.  I humbly submit that a good book about photography will be most welcome by the photographers on your list.  Here are a few suggestions:






Kirk Tuck, Photographer/Writer said...

I forgot to mention: both of the images are from the 35mm lens used as a normal lens on the 7D. It is smooth. That's my description. Smooth.

Anonymous said...

great post Kirk. Awesome read.

My only gripe with you is that you don't shoot Nikon anymore - so I don't ever get to read about secret Nikon lenses that you love/loved in the past :)

Do you have a comparison to the 60mm macro for Nikon that you love? You are one of a few people whose opinions I value strongly - you never say never - you try things before you open your mouth and you seem to be one of the most objective thinkers on the net! I love it!

Thanks very much

Kirk Tuck, Photographer/Writer said...

Let's see, I currently own four macro lenses. Two for Nikon and two for Canon. And I often use one of the Nikon lenses on the canon. Here's what I've learned about using most of the 50mm's and 60mm's over the years: All macro lenses are very, very, very good. Regardless of brand. It's harder to make a bad 50 or 60 mm macro than it is to make a good 50mm 1.4....

My favorite Nikon is the older 55mm 3.5 (pre-ai) because it's built like a tank, is sharp by f4 and you can pick it up and use it (with adapter rings) on a new Canon body for about $125.

The lens designs for 50mm macros haven't changed much over the years but the manufacturing has. I prefer the older stuff.

Thanks for the compliments.

Matthew Saville said...

You know, I'm not very much of a mid-range kinda guy. I started off as a nature hobbyist, taking pictures of bugs and things, and also shooting landscapes. Then I got into event photography only because (engaged) friends knew me as "that guy who always carries a camera"... Then as my style evolved, I enjoyed integrating natural elements with my photojournalism and portraiture.

All along the way, my favorite focal lengths have been wide and tele. Extreme adventures always require something extremely wide and decently telephoto. Wedding portraiture and photojournalism, at least for my style, is best shot with a 35 on full-frame and some sort of tele lens that covers somewhere around 85 or 150mm.

I see a TON of wedding photographers who always seem to go for the holy grail, the 50 1.2, and I gotta say I'd much rather have a 35 and an 85, or a 35 and a 100, or 135, depending on the situation.

While I understand the universal appeal of such a "normal" view, I guess my mind just doesn't see best at that range. I WILL say that yes, I would love to own a Nikon 50 1.2 AIS on a D700. That would definitely be a thing of beauty, just for a few shots per wedding. But mostly, whenever I get around to buying a D700, I'll be using a 35 and 85...

Anyway, good write!

Anonymous said...

Kirk: Unlike many who respond to your blog, I really don't give a *&%&% ass about the hardware so much as how you arrive at your opinions or position. And, by and large, you arrive at your opinions through the sheer love of shooting. Something I need to do more of, even if it means a little less time to read blogs. Thanks for the education.

Mel said...

I learn more from your discussions on composition, lighting and how the image makes you feel than all your conversations on gear. Just don't comment about them - too busy absorbing.

Gear? I test my gear, work with my gear, lust after more gear, but it's all meaningless without cool, interesting images. I'd much rather hear you talk about "I was walking down the street and saw __________ and felt this composition was the best version of what I saw, and here's why." If gear comes into the discussion make it more about "maybe I should have used _______ because it would have given me ____________."

One of your best posts was about a photo in Italy where you said one of the men in the image motioned to you and said, "you must come closer." That was a great lesson in people and photography.

Dan Berry said...

A wonderful insightful piece. I often wonder if the same polarization that exists in our country's politics can exist in our choices of equiptment. When I talk to Canon owners they dismiss my Nikon D3x as a piece of crap,while many on my Nikon brothers say the same thing about high quality Canons.I believe they are both excellent cameras,I like Nikons, they feel right and oh yeah I had a sack of lenses.Why do we have to belittle someone elses choices. Why does our PREFERENCE have to be the only logical choice an intelligent man could made. Is this just a sign of the times? Weston said "I don't care if you make a print in a bath mat as long as it's a good print" It's not the camera! It's the PHOTOGRAPHER.Keep telling the truth and I will keep shooting and reading your blog.

v said...

Greetings Kirk,

I am subscribed to your blog and find your attitude to life results in more enjoyable reads than other photography related feeds. I just put it down to old man charm ^_^. That you post so regularly means frequent pleasant surprises, sometimes several in one day!

Anyway, on reading "when I talk about seeing or emotion or context I get no feedback" I thought I'd pipe up and say hi. I very much enjoy such posts.. such as that audio interview of yours. It's one unique aspect of your blog, and one that I enjoy reading your perspective on.

I'm an engineer who likes the idea of street photography. Not so much to document things. Just enjoy walking around getting some exercise, being aware of what around me. Pushing myself out of my comfort zones, talking to strangers. Learning about light is cool too. There's alot to see, inside and out.


Kirk Tuck, Photographer/Writer said...

Thanks for the good feedback. We'll keep on.

Wolfgang Lonien said...

Interesting post Kirk, especially the lens and sensor light gathering part. I've read that on Erwin's site, but didn't understand too much of it when I read it.

About gear: yeah, that's interesting, because we have to use it, and make decisions on when to use what. But frankly, I'm also (mostly) over the point of lusting for whatever I cannot afford anyway.

Bought that E-520 DZ kit last November because it was cheap (sub 500€), and vecause I wasn't sure if photography would play out for me as a rediscovered hobby (I owned a Canon A-1 with 28, 50, and 135mm during the days I was younger). I have added a used OM Zuiko 1.8 50 mm, which gives a very special look on this camera. Still I'd like the ZD 50mm macro, but there are only that many things a man can pay for, especially if you have a family, and other things to cover.

So gear, yes, is what we all have to use to get those photos, but I'm mostly trying on improving myself, and I think that this can be done with any camera (well any which you can set manually). I also love your portrait and street work, and love to read/hear your thoughts - always a great read. And since I've RSS-bookmarked this blog in my browser, I also linked to it from my own web site lately, for others to discover.

The one picture I liked most here so far? Hmmm hard to say, but for the technical quality (and this post was about lenses, right?), I found that shot of yours with the 35mm Leica of the close table (and blurred background) truly superb. As for the most interesting subject matters, I wrote it already, those are the people you take images of.

Thanks for sharing all this, Kirk - it's highly appreciated over here. I marked you as an "exceptional" photographer from Austin, TX on my site, because that is what I think you are.

Please keep up the good work, and keep writing your thoughts down here.


Wolfgang Lonien said...

Have to start to my day job now, but even there this blog is RSS-bookmarked...

Unknown said...

Kirk--I enjoy whatever you write about. It is interesting to me.

I recently switched from Olympus to Nikon-went over to the "dark side." Everything is backwards from my Olympus and Pentax before it. That has made photography fun again. I actually have to think about what I am doing with the tools!!

Novel idea this thinking. I have actually started shooting manual again, just like the old days with the K1000. I may pull that out this week end.

Photography is fun. Your blogs are fun. Keep it up, please!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Gino Eelen said...

Hi Kirk,

This is the first time I comment here although I have been following your blog for a while now - when you said that you get no feedback when you write about seeing or emotion or context, I just had to respond.

I think another cause of the gear frenzy is the erroneous assumption that the 'best' gear will somehow also give the 'best' results. Especially amateurs tend to fall prey to that fallacy (for the record, I am an amateur myself, and have walked the 'best gear' route to its absolute dead end). They reason that to get 'pro' results you need 'pro' equipment, and 'pros' obviously only use the 'best' gear (and they think you know what the 'best' gear is so they want you to tell them).

They forget (or don't realize yet) that it's not about the tool but about what you do with it - it's the photograph that counts, and the emotional reaction it triggers in you and in others who look at it. It's about combining content with visual presentation so that both reinforce each other and create a result that is more than the sum of both. And in that respect, 'best' is not an absolute value, but is relative to the end result you want to achieve. And thus a technical 'flaw' can actually be 'better' than technical perfection.

The road to better photography is not better equipment, but better use of equipment, and better appreciation of your expressive goals and how to attain them. And besides, not worrying about whether or not you own the technically 'best' equipment frees up mental space so there is more room for expressive freedom and esthetic and emotional appreciation.

But the fallacy easily sustains itself because it is the easy way out. If gear is what makes you a better photographer, then you only need to make the right equipment choices to become better; or you can blame the quality of your work on not having the financial means to buy the best equipment. Accepting that it is not about the gear but about you is a lot more threatening because it involves confronting yourself instead of just your wallet.

I came here initially because I fell in love with your portrait photography. I love the classical style of Avedon and Penn (my knees literally go weak when I look at some of their work), and I think you have a similar intricate appreciation of the subtle use of light and shadow. And besides gorgeous photographs to look at, I also like the fact that you write about non gear-related aspects of photography a lot.

So I would like to put in one more vote for the 'seeing and emotion' bits.

Wally Brooks said...

Wonderful comment specially on the technical details. We see to little on what is technically going on withing our cameras let alone speculation on what the camera companies are doing to separate you from you money. And in terms of image making I heard a quote somewhere, was it on a link from you site?, which went something like this Leica Smica go our and take pictures! (from a 4X5 and occasional digital shooter who uses a plastic Nikon 1.8 50mm lens at F6 for portraits on a D90, just dropped and broke the lens OUCH, and bought another used for $89.00 used YEAA!!!

Anonymous said...

First, I'm lucky to have chanced upon your blog. Mike Johnston over at TOP said you are his favorite photographer shooting Olympus so I had to see your pics. You take lovely portraits. Second, thanks for crisply articulating the ridiculousness of obsessing over the perfection of our gear. I've been feeling guilty for shooting an Olympus C-2040 digicam for the last few weeks as my Nikon D80 cools its heels in the corner of my room. Problem is I actually kind of like the files coming out of it, and I like the challenge of getting past the camera's idiosyncratic handling. It might not be rational, but it's how I feel. Maybe it's the same reason Jack White plays those cheap Airline guitars. There's something in their primitive nature that he's drawn toward. In any case, I feel much better about my little Olympus after having read your piece. Thanks, and I look forward to reading your future posts.

Caleb Courteau.

Peter F. said...

Kirk, I very much enjoy your bits of "life philosophy" or "gems of wisdom" intertwined in your essays.

Especially enjoyable in today's post (for me) is: "You just want what you want and you buy it because life is short and it's fun to have toys".

(That's what it came down to, when I bought the new Pany LX5 when I already owned the Canon S90.)

Danny Chatham said...

Simply-Thanks for keeping it REAL!

You & yours have a great Thanksgiving.

David Ingram said...

Hi Kirk, really enjoy your posts. Thanks so much!

As always, beautiful photos, especially the two leaves.

Happy Thanksgiving!

neopavlik said...

I find gear lust comes on when I haven't shot for awhile.

There was a neat part during Wizwow's workshop where he explains the depth of field difference between f4 and 2.8 at 200mm(or similar) is like 3 inches but that 3 inches cost $ 1000.

I have a Nikon 35-70/2.8 but for most of the photos I take with the sun in the backround the 18-55 kit lens works better because it doesn't flare like crazy.

Cat said...

We tend to obsess over gear choices because people are flag wavers by nature, be it nations or religions or cameras. And, of course, we are very good at rationalizing our choices and marginalizing the choices of others. You are more of a renaissance man who has managed to step beyond the straight and narrow, and this is what makes your blogs so interesting. I never know what to expect next as you explore the next camera, technique or relationship. Thanks, it helps keep me honest.

Mike Dooley said...

Great post Kirk! Sometimes it helps to be reminded that the gear is just a tool to accomplish a job, and that the final image is what counts! Thanks!

Unknown said...

Kirk, one of the things that keeps me coming back (daily, even if only to re-read a previous post) is your emphasis on emotion and context. That also is what elevates your gear reviews above those of the pixel-peeper sites.

The wife, our twins, and I recently dropped in at the at the San Jose Museum of Art. One of the current exhibits is The Modern Photographer: Observation and Intention. The title says it all, I think. I never once regretted leaving my 10x loupe at home, as I viewed magnificent prints of photos by Kertesz, Weston, Weeggee, Evans, Lange, Adams, et al.

You've opened my eyes to a lot. Thank you and, from our family to yours, a very Happy Thanksgiving!

Martha Benedict said...

I agree with Dan Berry that our current political polarization resembles this brand obsession. This insistence on only TWO possibilities, right/wrong, black/white, Canon/Nikon seems pervasive. It makes me wonder about brain damage and bisphenol in our food and authoritarian personality disorder. To the point of your post, I feel a great blast of relief knowing that an artist like you enjoys your craft while all the anxious engineers argue on camera forums. Those guys want to WIN, that's all. Art is not a race or contest.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for these words, Kirk!
Do you have a link to the DXOLabs paper?

Anonymous said...


Thank you for your reply to my comment to your previous post.
This post was another treat.
I like when the discussion is brought back to prints of a reasonable size and that a spread of cameras over even years of digital cameras progression look good. Years of the new models offering more, better, faster....lots of sizzle, not always lots of steak.
Although you've relented for awhile now, I've enjoyed and re-read your posts about the older digital cameras (R1, E1, Kodaks etc.). There was some good ones that had character.
New models are always sold as exponentially better, yet in reality, going back to look at what was-it actually wasn't that bad.
Going back even further, I look at film (seen a Velvia transparency lately?) and think "Remind me again what is so great about the latest and DSLR offering?"

I think that we gravitate to gear for exactly the reasons you touched on above. Being a pro you have a little more leeway to try and play and try again. The rest of us want it to be as "right" as it can be the first time.

I also wonder if the zeal around gear discussion is that is a more easily managed, static point of reference around which we can relate. Feelings and process and all that messy stuff that goes on internally is much harder to relate to per se. It is also highly personal. Although I may enjoy reading about your process, I will never make it my own. It might help me discover my own process but even that, I think is a stretch. I've read a lot of people on photography. I've forgotten most if not all of it. What IS missing is a disciplined, problem solving environment that would nuture my own journey to "see" or gain a "vision."
But I'm not a pro, I'm a Dad with a lot of other demands on his time (thankfully not a pro-I have such respect for the vim and pluck it would require. I'm not that guy).

At the end of the day, it's a million times easier, (more enjoyable?) to research or buy a new bit of kit. :)
It's also a reachable destination.


Bill said...

Thanks for reminding me about Tri-X, and (again) the important difference between the curve and dynamic range.

And thanks for reminding me about the various complementary systems. In the mid-70's I used Minolta (35mm) and Mamiya (120/220). The Minolta came out for fast moving subjects, while the Mamiya came out for slower or carefully situated subjects. I used Pan-X/Plus-X in the Minolta, and Tri-X in the Mamiya. I've still got notebooks full of negatives in acid-free sleeves from that period.

As for fast glass, there is one reason I remember being told to get a fast lens, and that was because the viewfinder in many film SLRs were dark. You wanted a bright easy-to-focus-in finder, and part of the brightness came from speed of the lens. I know it's changed over the years, but nobody in that period ever shot wide open unless they absolutely had to, or they had enough time to carefully (and I mean carefully) focus.

As for modern-day fast glass, the biggest driver is the Cult of Bokeh, of which too many worshipers tend to congregate around the various photography forums. I'm sure many are trying to be sincere when they say this, but comments along the line of "great bokeh" set my teeth on edge.

As for me, my favorite lens at the moment is the M.Zuiko 17mm f/2.8 on my E-P2. It's a combination that begs to be used and never disappoints.

Noons said...

Well said, Kirk. I'm finding myself spending more and more time with the E-PL1 than any other digital. The humble Jupiter-9 from my "Leica days" sings as a portrait tele in that camera. And I am in awe at the Voigtlander 25/0.95!

Does that mean I've thrown away the Nikon dslrs, the F6 and the ZI? No way! It's just another tool to explore and enjoy.

Happy thanksgiving and thanks for the wonderful read.

budrowilson said...

Reading this post inspired me to use my 35mm f/2 for a self-portrait this evening.

Jaime Fanlo said...

Hi, Kirk.

The gold in this blog is your insight on how to "look" at things. This i think is much more important than the rig hanging from your shoulder.

Admittedly, as an olympus user myself, if you decide to discuss more Olympus related stuff, that would be great too! Maybe a look at the E-5? hahaha!

I think your work is great! Happy Thanksgiving!


Dave said...

Right you are! I own a couple of pretty expensive lenses but my favorites? A $200 Nikon 35mm f/1.8, a two decade old Nikon 75-150mm f/3.5 (probably $40 on the big auction site). When I took a trip to China the big 80-200mm af-s stayed home but that little 75-150 went with me to see the sights. My gear addiction won't allow me to sell the big 80-400mm and all the heavy gear but if I ever get the guts to do it, all that will be in my bag is a $100 Nikon kit zoom (yes I do love the 18-55mm VR), the 35mm f/1.8, an 85mm (might opt for the f/1.4 since the old model is selling cheap now) and one lighter weight zoom.

The other internal war for me is the temptation of the small cameras. After 18 months I still love to shoot with the E-P1 but long for the E-P2 and the EVF since I use my 75-150mm Nikkor on it a lot (hard to manually focus on the LCD). There are times when the little range finder-ish quality works like a fine surgical tool where as my DSLR clunks around like a World War I tank.

Brian said...

Kirk, another great post. I like how your blog mixes gear, business and life. Keep it up.

Unknown said...

Another thoughtful entry!! You are one of the few photo blogs I am starting to follow. I follow many illustrator blogs and facebook pages as there are always thoughtful comments about vision, the line, the colors use, but with photographers it is always the gear!!! I do dog photography and I actually had someone during a session of my Service Dog Training class actually yell across the room over the yips of 20 dog and trainer teams, "Debbie, what camera do you use? Thank God, I use an Olympus E-3...as the response from most photo-enthusiast is usually...duh? which was her answer...if I had a Canon or Nikon she would have stopped the class and engaged me in a 40 minute discussion!!