The right lens for the job.

This is a portrait of my friend, Jennifer.  We were kidding around in the studio and she ducked into her ski clothes. I thought it was a fun look for an August day in central Texas so I asked her to step in front of a big chocolaty brown and beige canvas backdrop that we used to keep set up at the very back of the old studio on San Marcos St. and I snapped away with my favorite camera and my favorite tight portrait lens.

The camera was a Hasselblad. You can tell by the two little indentions on the left side of the frame in the black surround. Each back has notches on the left side so you can quickly tell which back your film from. Helped if one of your backs developed a light leak...

The lens was/is one of my all time favorites, the Carl Zeiss 180mm f4 for Hasselblad. It's wickedly sharp and has no weaknesses I know of. The 150mm Sonnars flared if you had direct light hitting the front element. The 180 also focused tight enough to get an uncropped headshot like the one above.  

If you do the mumbo-jumbo math of equivalence then this lens is the same angle of view as a 90 on a full frame 35mm camera and a 60mm on an APS-C camera. I tend to linger around this focal length for most of my work but with the APS-C I've settled into two different portrait lenses.

One my Alpha cameras (Sony a77 and a57) I like using the 70mm Sigma Macro 2.8. It's one of the sharpest lenses I've found for the cropped frame camera and the more I use it the more I love it. I'd use it on my Nex-7 if the size discrepancy wasn't so enormous....

On the Nex-7 I turn to the wonderful and elegant 60mm 1.5 Pen FT lens which covers the format with no corner darkening and, stopped down one or two stops, is sharp in a kind way. Three stops down and it becomes a dermatological pore discovery tool. Too sharp to keep friends posing on a regular basis. 

I'd like to think I'm the master of all focal lengths but to be honest really wide angles just baffle me. I don't get it. Who would want to include so much stuff in a shot? Really.  And the long stuff is fun to play with but in the end, monotonous. I'm right at home from the normal 50mm focal length to just about 135mm (all focal lengths based on 35mm FF). Go outside this range and I'm outside my comfort zone.  Interesting to think that one's choice of subject and then focal length are so important in setting a personal style. But there it is...


  1. I was trying to think where I've used a wide angle on people. As rare as it is, I actually have. http://www.flickr.com/photos/nealthorley/7697926358/in/photostream

    but usually I love wide angles for landscapey shots, which I know you aren't into. but the 50mm Sekor-c on my RB67 really is a gorgeous lens.

  2. Just bought a second copy of the gorgeous M.Zuiko 1.8/45mm, because the first one never leaves my wife's camera. Seems we both like the 90mm-equivalent length, and tho I already have the regular 4/3rds Zuiko 50mm macro, I find it made my E-PL1 a tad front-heavy after carrying the combination just around the block.

    Nice portrait of Jennifer.

  3. "Who would want to include so much stuff in a shot?"

    I guess that's the issue - for me, a wideangle isn't so much about including a lot of stuff as it is about exaggerating (or at least emphasising) near-far distance relationships. Usually when I make a photo that tries to "get everything in", the result is a flat, boring picture with nothing that really stands out.

    I find wideangles work best when I get in close, so obviously they're not ideal for pictures of people's faces unless the distortion is part of the look I'm after.

  4. I seem to remember you were thinking of selling the Oly Pen lenses. Did you need my phone number?

  5. Overly sharp lenses is the reason we used filters/nets in Hollywood. Check-out the Tiffin catalog. Something like a #1 Double Fog, a White Pro Mist or a Black Pro Mist will take the edge off a too sharp lens.

    I like extreme lenses, 35mm and shorter or 135 and longer. The only thing I've ever found in the middle-of-the-road is roadkill 8-) YMMV, and probably does.

    Long-time-ago I had a Zeiss Jena 180mm f/2.8 Sonnar. This lens was developed for the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Maybe not as sharp as your f/4, but I liked it.


  6. Black, sheer silk stockings stretched over a filter ring... The best softener ever.

    1. Always use the right lens diffusion for the job 8-) For you it's a black net on the front, for others it a black net on the back of the lens. Some like a white net for its ethereal look, while others prefer a #1 Double Fog.

      Nets and filters a a very personal thing, sorta like Mac and Windoze 8-)


  7. I can understand why wide angles don't interest you much. I've found that wide angles and portraiture generally don't mix well. Several years ago I took pictures of a family I know quite well. I took a shot of an aunt flanked by four nephews. The aunt sat in a large comfort chair, and the nephews sat on the arms, two right beside the aunt, and two in front of them and slightly to the sides. I made the mistake of using a 55mm wide lens on a Mamiya TLR for that shot and trying to fill the frame with the subjects. The two front nephews wound up looking like giants, whereas the aunt and two rear nephews looked like midgets. It was too bad I didn't notice the problem in the viewfinder. I would have either backed up to change perspective, or rearranged them. It was too bad the shutter on my 80mm lens had crapped out. It would have been a better lens for this purpose.


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