10.12.2020

A lens update. A very satisfactory outcome. And a walk through America's most sought after city with the new lens glued at f2.0. Time to amble.


When I first entered the Panasonic S1 system I was replacing, wholesale, an entire previous system and I made some knee-jerk purchases based on all the systems I'd used in the past. Every time I've gotten into a new camera system I've made sure to buy certain lenses that I always thought of as "mandatory." 

In my mind the mandatory inventory of lenses looks something like: 20mm, 35mm, 50mm, 85mm and something over 100mms. It's now the age of zooms so I cut myself some slack on the long end and bought the S-Pro 70-200mm f4.0. I also initially picked up the 24-105mm f4.0 to have as an all-around, grab-and-go lens for all those times I want a wide range of focal lengths but I don't feel like carrying more than one lens and one camera body. 

But at the time of the S1 camera launch the selection of nice, single focal length lenses was....sparse. In the 50mm space I had the option of the $2300 S-Pro, 50mm f1.4 lens, the big Sigma 50mm (which didn't focus as quickly or surely, but only cost $1199) or the Leica Apo-Summicron L lens at something well over $5,000. I chose the middle ground and have been quite happy with the Panasonic 50mm. 

The choice in the 85mm focal length was a bit tougher; I could go with the big, fat, heavy and slow to focus, but infinitely sharp!!! Sigma 85mm f1.4 Art lens or um, go back to that Leica catalog and try to find something in the ballpark.  Again, for somewhere north of $5700 the Leica 90mm Apo Summicron was looking good. I hovered over the link for that Leica lens for a few minutes before the blood came rushing back to my brain and I stepped back from the keyboard a bit chastened. I sprung for the chubby Sigma by default and for no small part, financial self-preservation. 

I've used the Sigma 85mm f1.4 DG Art lens (let's just call it "v.1") for nearly a year and every time I used it I came away with mixed feelings. The images were the best I'd ever seen out of an 85mm across all the brands of lenses I've used. Even wide open the darn thing was just flawless. But the world's most cumbersome 85mm was enormous and dense and weighed in at a little less than 3 pounds. You expect that kind of mass from an f2.8, 70-200mm zoom with a tripod mount attached but it's a bit radical for an 85mm and it basically ruined that lens for me as an option for casual shooting in the streets, and also as a "take anywhere" lens. 

I'd pull it out for controlled situations like portraits in the studio or casual rehearsal shoots over at Zach Theatre, but the idea of putting it on an S1R and walking for a full day through the streets of Austin or San Antonio was a daunting thought. Something I might do on a challenge, if there was money involved, but not for sheer pleasure. I figured I'd keep the Sigma 85mm v.1 around and hope that Panasonic or Sigma would eventually come out with a lesser spec'd and slower 85mm that would be a much friendlier companion for a man who lacked Sherpas. It was a sad compromise since every time I used the big Sigma I was blown away by the sharpness and contrast that jumped out of every frame; if it nailed the focus. And if we had time to wait for it...

On the plus side I will say that my left bicep is now twice the size of my right. Partially from holding hefty gimbals but also due from hefting the 85mm v.1 lens on shoot days for clients. Ouch. How lopsided. 

As you probably know, Sigma recently came out with an all new version of the giant 85mm. It is supposed to be an even higher performing (optically) lens (if you don't look at the pincushion distortion!!!) but in addition to being potentially game changing in its performance the new lens, the 85mm f1.4 DG DN Art lens is about a full pound + lighter and about half the overall volume of its predecessor. The filter diameter has slimmed down from a harder to find and more expensive to buy 82mm to a much more available 77mm. The new lens got a physical aperture ring and, as a bonus, you can flip a switch and "de-click" the ring to make it silent and step-less for video. There is even a function button on the side (but I haven't messed with it yet). 

I wanted to get one of the new lenses to test but as soon as they were launched the markets snapped up all the available copies and the retailers started putting people on waiting lists. At the time I decided to just ignore the new lens. I rationalized that the old lens was fine for my commercial work and, at some time in the past year, I bought a Leica 90mm Elmarit  R f2.8 lens and an adapter and figured I could use that as a street shooting lens. In the meantime every encounter with the Big Bertha of 85mm lenses pushed me right back into the confusing parfait of emotions: Love the look, hate the portage. Love the wide aperture, hate that it doesn't compensate for it's tremendous weight with at least a tripod mount. Etc. Etc. 

I just finished up a job last Thursday and I was looking forward at the next week's schedule. I needed to replace a gray cloth background that basically fell apart from overuse so I was shopping online at my local camera store. I was just checking out the website to see what kind of backgrounds they might have in stock when I decided to take a shopping detour through the L-mount lens inventory. And there it was. They were showing an 85mm Sigma V.2 DG DN lens in L-moount, in stock. But sometimes websites are inaccurate. I called to confirm. My sales guy, the infinitely wise Ian, let me know they did indeed have one in stock and would be glad to hold it for me. I called the person at the store who takes trade-ins and we negotiated a value for my existing, portly, 85mm v.1 and I headed in their direction. Deal done. 

Today was the first time since I bought the new lens that I've had time to put it on a camera and take it for a spin. It was a beautiful day so I took the new 85mm and an S1R out for a pre-lunch walk. First observation: It's a good compromise between the speed and the size. The lens balances well on a good sized body and is comfortable at the end of a well made shoulder strap. 

Since we always like to say that no one buys a fast lens to shoot all day at f8.0 I decided to shoot every single image at f2.0, which is one stop down from wide open. I could have shot everything at f1.4 but that's such a shallow depth of field that I'm not sure how much I would have learned today; other than whether the camera focused accurately there. 

So, all the images here were shot at f2.0 and minimally processed from raw files. I am very happy with the performance of the lens and can't wait to use it for a night shoot coming up on Wednesday. 

If you look through the images you'll find several building shots where I've included a direct reflection of bright sunlight off highly reflective window glass. While I can see a slight flaring on small parts of the image there is no veiling flare at all and everything remains "crispy" even though the super bright highlight is included in the frame. 

It seems that Adobe has included an 85mm DN DG lens profile now in Lightroom because there is none of the pincushion distortion in the frames which I had seen in early reviews, which were pre-software update. 

This is a situation in which trading up to a newer design pays off well. The lens is infinitely more manageable and easy to carry. It's easy to use and has more features. But more to the point, Sigma was able to deliver all this at the same price point as the older model. We even got extra goodies such as the external aperture ring. That's a plus even if you never shoot a second of video. It's all about having operating options. 





That is one bright running shoe. Damn, that's ugly.






I shot a number of images like this one where the foliage is in focus and the buildings in the 
background are out. It's interesting to see the effect. More depth?









I mentioned in the title that Austin is now, once again, the most sought after re-location destination in the entire United States, according to a recent article (today) from Forbes. You can read it for yourself: 

People are moving in droves from last century cities looking for warmer weather, the ability to be outside for more of each year, the presence of smart jobs and the presence of an embarrassing oversupply of high tech employers. The wildfires are chasing people out of California and Oregon, last century hate politics  and lower educational achievement are making Southeastern states unbearable for nice people and smart people, and the rust belt has run out of jobs. Everyone else is trying to escape the cold. 

But if you have visions of re-locating to Austin you should know that it's currently the most expensive city in all of Texas in which to live. Property taxes are high and housing prices in the city proper are much higher than national averages. You'll need one of those high tech jobs to make it all work. So dust off those post graduate degrees before you fire up the mini-van and load up the roof rack. 

Current prices for "tear downs" in the most desirable neighborhoods of West Austin have, on average, breached the one million dollar mark and even at those prices the market is red hot. I never imagined we'd see single family house lots hit that dollar amount but here we are. And if Forbes is right this is only the beginning. 

Funny that "bluest" city in Texas, replete with a liberal, democrat mayor, boasts first place as the desired destination for employers and families in a comparison with the rest of the country. 

On my walk today I saw and cataloged at least ten new 20 story or higher buildings in various states of construction in the core of downtown. That's just in one small area. The giant cranes are a fixture in every corner of the city and in many of the quickly growing small towns that surround our city. It's a region poised for quick and continued growth. Just remember, markets ebb and flow...

9 comments:

Robert Roaldi said...

You might be in possession of a good historical archive of municipal photos taken before and during the construction phase. Do cities have active photo archives anymore? Do they take photo donations? It would be so much easier to do these days, one data base is all it takes, don't need 10,000 shoe boxes full of uncatalogued prints anymore.

Mitch said...

My perspective is that markets flow then ebb. Which can create a great deal of overblown assumptions, irrational exuberance and then in terms of being a photographer the purchasing of too much gear and too many add-on, outsourcing, and make a million dollars educational systems (if you work in the direct to consumer spaces).

In terms of real estate, well, one must run with the trends while keeping an eye on the fact that entire areas can be left behind tomorrow or 11 years from now as the herd chases the next new shiny thing.

Gear: Loved the performance of that Sigma 85, hated the size. Will have to go peruse the Gear-Review-Industrial-Complex now that a new one is out to see if it's a Game Changer.

Michael Matthews said...

No sooner do you splash out for another full frame lens than Panasonic springs its October surprise in the form of BGH1 box camera. Interesting specs for those like yourself who still understand the real advantages of M4/3 in video, plus, it looks like a Hasselbox!

Kirk Tuck, Photographer/Writer said...

MM, I've had a recent revelation concerning video. In short, it's this: We rushed to embrace 4K while 1080p in All-I at 60p looks stunning. I've been working in files I shot with the GH5 over the weekend and I've been blown away by just how good it looks. In some ways better than 4K. There's something so much different about the feel of the files that I'm a bit confused.

Maybe it's solid, deep old tech versus flashy, shallow, new tech. We'll see....

The BGH1 is a bit of a snoozer for me. I like the form factor of cameras. I like screens. I like EVFs. Seems like a lot to give up to get some SDI outputs. Especially for the handheld work I seem to be doing more and more of these days.

Interesting to anyone running multi-cam shows though!

Michael Matthews said...

Get thee behind me, Gear Lust.

Great catch of the light on the Phillips building.

Bob said...

Great observations on the lens design and production lifecycle: despite the fact that engineers calculate things to the nth degree on a first system, user feedback always brings something better, i.e., the real world. Nice review.
On Austin, catch the upswing now, sell off your beautiful house, which I love and I know you do, take the cash and buy yourself a ranch someplace nice outside of town. You're being caught in the urban/suburban/rural divide and might as well make hay while the sun is shining and find yourself an ideal place to live. Goldilocks zone...
Blue Cities. Yep. The people that move there expect services, fair enough, but will also have to pay for them, so expect property values and taxes to go up. I took all of my profits from a very blue county property sale and bought a nice little estate in a red county country setting, and used the rest to buy a blue city townhouse. Best of both worlds. Just saying. We did give up a family home.
On the photo front, I'm still playing with the X Pro 3 and the f2 Fujicrons...good fun and good times. Might even get an iPhone 12....

Eric Rose said...

When I was in Austin I shot a lot of my pics with a 50mm f2 Summicron. Loved the street shots taken at f2. Wonderful lens even wide open. On the GH5 it was 100mm equivalent. Nice and light too.

Kirk Tuck, Photographer/Writer said...

Bob, I'll pass. If I sold the house and moved I could no longer live in the coolest city in the country. It's got a lot going for it and since my house is paid for my cost of living is.....marvelous.

Hal said...

Kirk, I am curious if you have tried the S1 or S1R in APS-C mode with the Sigma DC DN f1.4 trio which are recently available in L mount (16mm, 30mm, and 56mm)? Given their smaller size and stellar reputations in Micro Four Thirds and Sony E mounts, they might be a nice way to get high quality performance at budget quality prices (~$300-$450), albeit on a crop factor of those great full frame sensors. Even the 24 MP S1/S5 sensor would still be a 16 MP low light monster with juicy big pixels (5.9 microns for the S1/S5 vs 3.3 microns for the GH5/G9).

It makes me wonder if they should stick an L mount on the best of the Micro Four Thirds lenses and add a 2.0 crop factor option via firmware? With the S5 being approximately the size of the GH5 and the G9, it could offer the Panasonic equivalent of Nikon’s FX/DX system. It’s too bad that Panasonic didn't design their full frame mount to be able to adapt Micro Four Thirds lenses to it.

As for Austin, it is both exciting and sad to see the rapid growth. I have been visiting central Texas annually since I was a kid. I used to wait for a single yearly visit to Chuy’s with baited breath. Now they are everywhere and I can take the kiddos anytime in my hometown. Its great to see the Austin vibe rocking far and wide...and also not so great as the commodification of culture has its price.