12.03.2020

Many are asking why Sigma would bring to market a 65mm lens. Why would they not?


shot from the Pfluger Pedestrian Bridge with a GH5 and the Sigma Contemporary 56mm f1.4.

If you've looked through the images I generally post here and on Instagram you'll know that my taste skews, emphatically, toward focal lengths that have an angle of view of a 50mm lens on a full frame (24x36mm) camera, or longer. With the exception of images from crazy masters/artists like William Klein I have little to no patience for photographs shot with wider angle lenses that are generally jammed packed with tiny details. Photos that drag your eyes all over the place, desperately trying to decipher what the hell the photographer had in mind when he shot the image. Is there a main subject I should be looking for? Well, where is it? It's almost as if wide angle fans were indoctrinated by whoever created "Where's Waldo?" and have been trying to mystify their audiences ever since. 

I've been cruising around the web today, while trying to take it easy, and I'm a bit distressed at all the blogs and vlogs that are, themselves, mystified that Sigma would have the audacity to introduce a 65mm lens. The implication being that we are in dire need of yet another 35mm or 28 mm instead? Geez, why not end your wide angle suffering (or increase your visual torture of others) by just getting a 12mm lens and cropping from time to time. With something that wide you could give up taking responsibility for rational composition altogether and just pick and chose your frame well after the fact. You could change your mind and re-crop every time you look at whatever collage of subject matters you've thrown together in a photograph. Who would care?

Real photographers are able to make up their minds at the time of exposure as to what needs to be included and what's best left out. They know that images are so much more enjoyable when there's a subject to the work instead of a collection of endless datum. In fact, it's almost a responsibility.

Most of the people talking down Sigma's new 65mm f2.0 lens are busy mentioning how, for them, the universe revolves around the 35mm lens; a focal length I regard with no small amount of disdain. If the world really needed one more iteration of the 35mm lens you wouldn't know it from looking through the nearly endless selection of 35mm lenses at B&H, Amazon and Adorama. The photo world is clogged up with that ubiquitous and boring focal range. That, and the 28mm are among the most over-rated focal length choices in the world. Sure, I get that you might be working in a small space and can't back up. I get that use. But if you are out in the wide world and that's the one you're still choosing to use ---- well, I just don't get it. 

With the announcement of the 65mm from Sigma there are now, I think, just two products in that focal length for full frame cameras. Sure, you can buy a zoom lens and pick the exact focal length you want but that's an argument you could use about any focal length between 24 and 200 these days. What you are really getting, with the 65mm, is a 50mm lens with just a bit more discretion and selective integrity. It's a focal length that says, "Let's look at the main course." instead of a focal length that says, "f8 and be there. Hail Mary! Hold it up high and we'll get the whole park in the frame!!!" 

And according to reviewers Sigma has made a single focal length lens product that should outperform even the best zoom lenses at that particular focal length while adding some speed to the mix.

As I understand it (with no confirmation or exact data) Sigma is following Apple's lead. You know about the Apple phones, right? The most popular enthusiasts' camera in the world. Their big flagship model has a new "telephoto" choice among the three lenses it offers. The "long" one is a 65mm equivalent. I predict that it's just a matter of time, now that phone users can easily compare between Wider, wide and best that the entire market will train themselves to understand better and to appreciate the longer focal length. I'm sure Sigma wanted to be first in line, behind Apple, with a product for the more advanced and motivated iPhone users who will also buy and use dedicated still and video cameras. And who will want to emulate the choices offered by their phones.

Certainly I am writing this partially tongue-in-cheek (or what's left of it...) but the gist of my thinking is this: most people put a 28mm or 35mm lens on their camera and go out looking for pix with the mindset that they have equipped themselves with a Swiss Army Knife of optical options. They convince themselves that they'll not only be able to work in tighter spaces, or show more background, but that they will also be able to shoot images with their super high resolution cameras and then march back into their digital offices and crop the resulting photographs into a wonderfully compelling, and much more aggressively framed composition. One in which a prominent or "main" subject will stand out from the incessant clutter. But the sad reality is that so few take the time and energy to follow through on the crop. Perhaps the marketing by Leica of the Q2 is to blame. 

Leica makes a reasonable (but highly flawed) case for post-shot cropping made possible and available because of the quality of their fixed 28mm lens and the very high resolution their 47.5 megapixel sensor. But have I seen any samples in which the images have actually been cropped? Not so much. It's one step too far for most people. What would HCB think of all this gratuitous cropping?

I like 50mm lenses but I like longer lenses even better. The 65 is a nice spot between too much and too little in a frame. It's a focal length that allows one to back up a bit and make a nice headshot without too much distortion. It's long enough to come close to a subject and make it stand out. And at f2.0 and the close focusing distances it seems perfect for tight still life shots and images of food. 

For years Leica has produced a 60mm macro lens. So has Nikon. Sigma produced a very popular 70mm macro as well. Nearly every camera maker has a 24-70mm lens and no one ever questions those makers about their choice of longer focal length lenses. With the macros most careful workers understand why that focal length is a great overall compromise for so many types of photography. 

The zooms are teaching tools. People buy them to have a "full range" of options. Newbies fire away at 24mms until the people they want to photograph, horrified by their distorted faces and awkwardly enlarged bodies run screaming from the room upon the hapless photographer's approach. Eventually, hopefully, the photographer learns to experiment first with the moderation of 35-50mm until, at some point in their visual education they come to the realization that the real magic generally happens once you go longer than 50mm

Since everyone already makes a 35mm and a 28mm (and dozens of variants as well) and they are available in flavors from f1.2 to f2.8 there is no reason for Sigma not to offer a rarer and more desirable option for a focal length. They need only put it on the market and wait for people to come around. Nice to see some initiative in the midst of a cruel and shrinking market. 

Yes, I pre-ordered a Sigma 65mm for the L-mount system from my friends at the local camera store today. 

You can argue for the lesser focal lengths or just ignore all this...it might be the extra strength Tylenol talking.

27 comments:

Frank Grygier said...

H. Brownstone called it the perfect focal length for a socially distanced portrait.

Kirk Tuck, Photographer/Writer said...

Hi Frank, I totally agree. I think it's intimate but just distanced enough. Unlike that contagion prone 35mm paradigm...

Gordon R. Brown said...

Amen. Preach it brother.

Ronman said...

I think it's an intriguing focal length. I shoot lots of landscape, abandoned sites and buildings, historic structures, etc., and the occasional portraiture. My focal lengths typically are 35mm or wider, and 70mm or longer. I just don't shoot much in between these two parameters. But, if I were a 50 -56mm prime kind of guy, I'd have already pre-ordered this lens.

Jon Maxim said...

I may just have to try that focal length. The majority of my images have also used 50mm but I have always felt that they were a compromise. Ended up buying a 40mm and finally felt it was just right wide (totally agree with your 35mm comment) - but, of course, some shots needed to be closer - but 75mm was too close.

I only hope the Lloyd Chambers doesn't read the wide angle comments in this post. He might feel seriously hurt! :)

Jon Maxim

Robert Roaldi said...

What about 36 mm?

Gato said...

If a photographer was so misguided as to use a 35mm lens perhaps a 65mm would be a nice companion, one that might lead them to see the error of their ways.

Kirk Tuck, Photographer/Writer said...

Who is Lloyd Chambers? Doesn't he review vans and computers?

Rich said...

have you seen CHRIS&jordan and the former's comical disdain for the 35mm focal length?

Jon Maxim said...

C'mon Kirk, That's not fair. Lloyd reviews all kinds of other stuff - N95 masks, camping gear, etc., etc...

Jon Maxim

scott kirkpatrick said...

Where's Waldo is a pretty apt description of wide angle and ultra wide angle photos which score themselves by the Winogrand/Breugel metric -- the number of interesting faces that you can see and relate to in the pic. But I love 'em. Here's an example:
https://flic.kr/p/2kd6hLK
See if you can locate the two workers who are guarding this moonscape under construction (while taking a lunchtime nap).

Anthony Bridges said...

Ha! I just bought the Sony FE 35mm f/2.8. Cool lens.

Although I have multiple lenses 35mm or wider, I never use them for formal portraits. The last lens I used before going on hiatus from portrait photography is the Canon 70-200 f/2.8 IS. Many of the environmental photos were shot at 70mm which is close to 60mm.

JB said...

I used to own the Pentax 40mm pancake which translated to 60mm on the Pentax DSLRs of the day. It took a little getting used to but after tuning in to it I appreciated the directness of the composition it gave and that it made me think about what was important in the frame. It was like a nifty fifty but better.

Crix said...

Kirk, you are in danger of starting to sound like an old man complaining about anything different from the way to prefer it :-).
I have zero issue with Sigma choosing 65mm f2, heck I use and like the 56 on APSC a lot. But if you are interested in anything besides portraits, wider focal lengths make a lot of sense - and fun.

If you travel, tele will allow you to focus on details, wide will allow you to capture the atmosphere of a location. For example the mirrored church and village of Nin, Croatia
http://luxorphotoart.blogspot.com/2019/11/croatia-revisited-2019-mal-wieder-dort.html

Of course, the wider you go, the more careful you need to be to still create a meaningful or interesting shot.

crsantin said...

I don't really have any issue with any focal length. A good zoom will give you many and that can be very useful. I seem to be most comfortable with my Sigma 30mm 1.4, which is a 45mm FOV on APS-C. But I've used wider and longer as well and been happy. I guess I'm not hard to please. I'll take what the lens gives me and make the most of it. Any prime lens will preclude certain perspectives and enhance others. I don't sweat the pictures I can't make. I think about the ones I can take and have fun. When I go out with a single lens I don't sit in front of the computer afterward fretting about a lens I left at home.

Michael Matthews said...

Apparently the Lidocaine has worn off.

Kirk Tuck, Photographer/Writer said...

Just a bit...

Rufus said...

I feel precisely the opposite to you, Kirk.

Lenses in the 60-90 range make feel I am working inside a "box". It is not how my brain sees things.

My brain has a focal length of 28mm and roughy a 16:9 aspect ratio. Yep - I seem to have a panoramic sense of vision.

TMJ said...

In the old days, the first new lens for your Pentax was a 135mm lens, never a 35, certainly not a 28mm as they were either too expensive or just not good.

Mine was a Meyer-Optik 135/2.8, bought seconhand for £12, to go with my Zenith B with a 58mm Helios. The Spotmatic 500 came later.

Crix said...

@TMJ: Well, then it was get it right or lose it. Magification of a film/slide was limited. Nowadays, with 24 Mpx APSC sensors delivering crisp images, using a 50 and cropping to half will give you similar or better IQ than that 135 did then.

Ron White said...

I carry my Fuji X100V which has 35 ,50 & 70mm (35mm equivalent) which are accessed by rotating the ring on the lens.

karmagroovy said...

Different strokes... if you're a member of a portfolio site that can give you stats on your uploaded images, it's always interesting to see what the breakdown of your images is by focal length. Less than 1% of my 3K uploads are shot at the 50mm focal length.

Eric Rose said...

I find that the image format generally determines what I gravitate to as my favourite focal lengths. For 6x6 the 80mm and 50mm (51mm and 32mm in 35mm terms)lenses get the most use. For 35mm or equivalent my 70-200 zoom or primes that fall into that range are my go to lenses. In large format 4x5 the favourites are 135mm, 210mm and 300mm (44mm, 67mm and 96mm in 35mm terms).

These are what I use for "fun shooting" and have no relationship to what I used in the old days when I did professional work.

Glad to see you are back to your normal spunky self Kirk! Like it's been said the gals dig a guy with some scars.

Eric

Dave Jenkins said...

I don't much care for the 35mm focal length for my own photography, but for those who diss it I have two words -- James Ravilious, who used 35mm almost exclusively.

Dick Barbour said...

Kirk,
You sure are sounding cheeky today (big grin).
Dick

Joe said...

The Sigma 65/2 is part of their new series that includes compact lenses of rational aperture. The other already-announced lenses in this series are 24mm, 35mm, and 45mm. It doesn't sound as though Sigma is slighting wide-angles. Most of these are following the classic 1.4X rule between focal lengths. Hmmm, 65mm X 1.4 = 91mm, suggesting that a 90mm is the next release, followed by a 135mm or so. (91mm X 1.4 = 127.4 mm, close enough.)

Overall, it would seem that Sigma is following a very classic path, not something weird.

One of the other commenters aptly noted that a 65mm lens is almost exactly the full-frame equivalent of the 210MM standard 4x5 portrait lens used professionally for many decades, although perhaps less known to those with only digital photography experience.

Phil Stiles said...

For several years I've used the Voigtlander 65/2 APO for Sony E mount. It's renders beautifully rich images and at 97.5mm equivalent on APS-C, it falls between the classic portrait lengths of 90mm and 105mm. Your rant against wide-angle was funny, no doubt your intention.
Thanks to Dave Jenkins for pointing out James Ravilious. I want to see more of his work.