11.12.2017

As money burns a hole in my pocket I re-think the portrait lens scenario with an old, adapted Zeiss 50.


Everything starts over coffee. I spent some time one morning reading about three lenses from Olympus while drinking a cup of Illy brand coffee I'd made and suddenly it seemed like the most brilliant and obvious idea would be to run out and drop $3,600 on three Olympus Pro primes. Primes that are  already well covered in my camera bag by state-of-the-art zooms from the titans of the micro-four thirds camp. I thought I wanted the new 17mm, 25mm and, of course, the 45mm. They are all f1.2 lenses so I had visions of super shallow depth of field and high sharpness. The coffee was very, very good too. I may still pursue this course of action because I am, admittedly, a bit eccentric...

But, in the course of ruminating over the consequences of spending even more money that I really didn't need to spend, I thought I'd convince myself of just how badly needed the new lenses were by putting on the front of my little Panasonic G85 body one of the Contax C/Y Zeiss lenses I have rolling around on the edge of my desktop, here in the palatial world headquarters of the VSL...

It's a 50mm f1.7. At the time of its peak popularity it was merely the "kit" lens that came, de facto, on the front of Contax film cameras. I bought it a few years back as an afterthought. Perhaps a momentary salve for the stinging, grand price of the Sony 55mm f1.8... I used it a few times and remembered it to be a fine performer on a full frame Sony camera but now I wondered just how well it would acquit itself on the diminutive m4:3 format cameras. Would it have the contrast and resolution needed to compensate for the Lilliputian geometry of the image sensor?

I put the Contax Zeiss C/Y 50mm f1.7 on a no-name adapter and we sped downtown at dusk. A torture test for sensor and lens. The test started with a cup of coffee and a vegan, lemon and hazelnut scone from Whole Foods. Just a little something to tide me over during the rigorous testing procedures I anticipated. 

The light dropped quick as I walked toward the new city library and the new arched bridge over Second St. I used the camera with the lens mostly set at f2.0 and shutter speeds around 1/125th of a second. Pretty soon I found myself down in the 3200 ISO territory we small sensor masochists fear so much...

I found that the Zeiss lens seems very sharp at f2.0. Even sharper at the several shots I took at f5.6. This 100mm equivalent lens is a good choice for portraits. Maybe as good as the Olympus 45mm Pro would be. But if I am to be truthful the fabulous marketing of the new 45mm will carry the day and I'll end up with a little less in my retirement account this year than I could have had....

Ah well.

After looking through the images taken with the 30 year old, bargain lens I just have to say once again that there's no magic bullet. No miracle optic that will make one a better photographer; a better artist. The 50mm is one of the perfectly sorted lenses that will find its way into my video equipment package every single time...










I'm still looking for the flare when shooting wide open. 
But this is like "Where's Waldo?" I just can't seem to find it...






11 comments:

ODL Designs said...

But does it have feathered bokeh? ;)
I have been eyeballing lenses to part with to fund all three, then realizing that I would still have to fork out over $2000 after selling the VL 17.5mm f0.95, PL25mm f1.4 and 42.5mm f0.95 I decide against it as I have all those focal lengths well covered.

But that siren song! Maybe I will sell my 17mm f1.8 and 17.5mm f0.95 and pick up the 17mm f1.2... right... then I could sell the 42.5mm f0.95 and 45mm f1.8 to pick up the 45mm f1.2 and I would only have to add about $1000...

Naw, I just bought some Lightstorm panels and still have to finish the acoustic work for the studio. They can wait.

Mike Rosiak said...

It's, somehow, comforting to hear about your episodes of almost succumbing to, but ultimately resisting, temptation.

It's been over 60 years, but I remember that, in my Catholic grade school, we were instructed to avoid the occasions of temptation. (Or was it sin? Too many years have gone by.)

MO said...

I Think all 3 are overkillšŸ˜‚ But i would concider The 17 and 45 myself.

john gee said...

try a Sigma 60mm f2.8 DN A surprisingly good lens

Anonymous said...

As retirement steps ever closer I have learned to let hang any buying decision for at least a week before I commit. Saved me a fortune and also encouraged me to go play with my older manual lenses. But I don't make money from photography so different situation.

Peter said...

I had a brief chance to put a 45mm f/1.2 on my EM-1.2 camera last week and shoot a few portraits. I shot at 1.2 and down to 2.8. About the only thing that changes is the depth of field. The lens is fully (which is to say very very!) sharp, at max aperture.

I have had the 25mm f/1.2 for about a year now, and can say that it too is a stellar lens. I was looking at some of my prints recently and thinking I must have used my Leica Monocohrom to take the pictures, based on the micro-contrast and sharpness, but I couldn't remember. When I checked, it turned out to be the EM-1.2 and the 25 1.2. If the 45 PRO meets or exceeds the 25 PRO, I can't NOT own one.

But as you say, there is no magic bullet, and well done on resisting temptation so far! Will you succumb to temptation once the 45 PRO becomes available? Of course you will! (and so will I!)
Peter Wright.

Eric Rose said...

For fixed 100mm equivalent on my G85 I use either a Summicron 50mm f2 or a Nikkor 50mm f1.4 Each has it's own look either wide open or stopped down a bit. If you have access to either give them a whirl, you might be happy you did.

Eric

Nate said...

I'm surprised you haven't splurged for a Metabones Speedbooster for one of your lenses as of yet. You know crave some Kai-licious bokeh. ;-)

Mohammad Shafik said...

How's that 7artisans 25 f/1.7 doing for you? I bought one myself for MFT and I got a 25 f/1.8 instead of 1.7. Anyway, I have shot around 15 shots in a hurry, both wide open and stopped down to f/4 and I like what I see a lot.

The funny thing is that I now want to take it everywhere, but the E-M1 is too big. So I want to get a used smaller PEN series and have that lens permanently glued to it. It’s funny how the brain rationalizes gadget purchases.

David said...

Well the Panasonic 42.5 f1.2 is on sale right now. Its a great lens one I got used new for $900. The person selling almost never used it as I could tell from the contacts still looking good.
I have not used the olympus, so can't compare.
Also the cheap Nikon 50mm f1.2 manual lens on a metabones speed booster is also great. I also use a Nikon 35mm f1.4 and Rokinon 85mm f1.4 on the booster with my GM5. Though I almost wished I got a Mikon 85mm f1.2 in Nikon mount instead of the Rokino. But that lens is minimum $600 and I got the Rokino used for $100, so should not complain. They all work quite well.
All the best

Rob Katz said...

kirk-

care to share your manual focus technique with something like the g85?

do you eyeball and review the rear screen?
use the expanded focus?
do you rely on peaking?

those of us in the m43 world who very often rely on the af system (hmm...like me!) wonder how you nail focus while still finding the decisive moment.

as always, thanks in advance for your constant effort, good cheer and the enjoyment this blog offers me and others.

be well ;-)