4.07.2017

A new lens purchase. Sometimes nostalgia takes precedence.


In the early days of my time as a photographer I could barely afford three lenses. I made them do everything on every job. There's always been the mythology that to be a "professional" photography one needs a Pelican case full of lenses; every focal length the maker of your camera provides. It's a paralyzing mythology for a lot of young photographers who can't afford all the glamorous glass they've been led to believe they need. But as one progresses in one's career it becomes pretty obvious that there emerge preferences for certain focal lengths and, at some point, the majority of images from some well known photographers end up being made almost exclusively with one favorite lens; one favorite focal length.

When I started out I made some logical decisions (at least I imagined that they were logical...). I bought a nice, used Canon FD 24mm f2.8, an even more used Canon FD 50mm f1.4 and a newish Canon FD 85mm f1.8. I used them mostly with my Canon EF SLR and my ancient back-up camera, a Canon TX, which boasted shutter speeds all the way up to 1/500th of a second!!!

I used the 24mm sparingly, pressing it into service to shoot interiors of new homes for developers and the exteriors of new apartment complexes being built in central Texas. The 50mm was my standard street shooting, new documentarian lens. But the real money maker was the 85mm f1.8. I used it to shoot portrait after portrait, and to build my business. There was a flow for me and it was always toward the medium telephoto focal ranges. Something just clicked in my brain whenever I picked up the lens and aimed it at someone.

Over time I followed in the routine pattern of photographers and decided that lenses of all variety were a vital necessity for a growing imaging business; that I would be letting my clients down if I did not have every focal length from 14mm to 300mm (and beyond), with 10 or 20mm of difference in between each of the primes. Crazy, but that's the way so many people roll ---- they think they need almost overlapping "coverage" even if they must go into deep debt to achieve it. Can't let those clients down, right?

Well, give it thirty years or so, drop 300,000+ photographs into your Lightroom library, and you begin to be able to see a clearer picture of what drives your work, your art. A bit of informal data mining shows me that the vast majority of work I've done was completed with focal lengths between 85mm and 135mm but that the vast majority were done right around 85-90mm.

When Sony came out with their G Master 85mm f1.4 I was momentarily intrigued but then I lifted one up and all my interest vanished. Damn thing is a weighty brick and the price tag must have been calculated by the ounce. I've been making do with a Rokinon Cine 85mm t1.5 but I was getting tired of manually focusing everything and remembering to stop down, etc.

Why not just use the (very sharp) 85mm focal length on the 70-200mm f4.0 G? Because it's too big and unwieldy for an every day, tagalong user. So, I was thrilled when Sony came out with their FE 85mm f1.8. I read some reviews, watched the guys on TheCameraStoreTV compare it with the similar model from Zeiss, and finally decided to pick one up.

I drove out to Precision Camera this morning, dropped my six hundred bucks on the counter and walked out with one in the box. It's utilitarian, manageably small and the front element (67mm) looks very cool. I haven't shot with it yet ---- I'll do that all weekend long on two jobs coming up --- but I like the way it balances on my A7ii.

When it comes to my full frame, working cameras I am very happy to be circling back to the basics. I'm loving the new FE 50mm f1.8, the 85mm holds great promise, and I'm toying with getting a 24mm as well. That will be the last one of the trio I'd buy. I've got a nice, small 24-70mm Zeiss lens that seems to handle that focal length well. At any rate, I'm getting a nice, nostalgic hit of pleasure from my new purchase. And reasonably priced as well.

Now, when will they come out with a new RX 10 series camera, complete with a super fast 85mm equivalent lens? Happiness across formats.

P.S. owning a wide range of lenses is hardly necessary for a working photographer. In retrospect most of the focal lengths I ended up buying I would gladly trade back for the time I spent working for them.....

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