Thinking about what lens Sigma should create just for me and my Sigma fp camera. And why on earth do I have two of the 45mm lenses?

The dynamic duo. Identical twins. 

I know there are a lot of people out there who don't understand how, in this day and age, a 45mm lens with a "slow" aperture of f2.8 and no built-in image stabilization can possibly cost $549. Who would buy it? and why? You can get a 50mm f1.4 lens from XXXXX and XXXXX for the same amount of money, etc. etc. 

When Sigma designed the 45mm f2.8 lens I'm not sure they had a giant market in mind. I'm pretty sure they were producing something that might appeal to certain photographers but those photographers would be a smaller intersection of the great mass of people who like to take pictures and people who love to buy gear. You need to like gear a bit to appreciate a well made lens but you also need to like making creative photos a lot to appreciate a lens that has a different character than all the other lenses in its focal length class. 

My first two experiences with lenses in the 40-45mm focal length range happened early on in my journey in photography. My first real camera (and one of the few from that era which I still have) was the Canonet QL17 which was a compact, rangefinder camera that came with its own fixed 40mm f1.7 lens. I used the camera heavily for the first few years of my infatuation with photography and it was my primary camera on a months long backpacking trip through Europe. The lens, when shot wide open and close to the subject would mimic the look you'd get with a long fast lens. The depth of field would be shallow and the subject well isolated. When used in combination with a good black and white film like Kodak's Tri-X the lens exemplified for me what it meant to create art with a camera. 
Paris. 1978. Canonet QL17

The combination of a focal length somewhere halfway between normal and 35mm seemed to be the ultimate all purpose chameleon; wide enough for nearly any street scene but still capable of making a nice and relatively non-distorted portrait. The focal length, through two years of constant use, imprinted itself on whatever part of my brain that determines the appreciation of one focal length over another. 

Relatively soon after my photographic initiation with the Canon rangefinder and its mystic lens I found myself in possession of a Leica camera called the CL. At the time it stood for compact Leica. Leica has dug up the name from their film camera graveyard and bestowed it on a newer digital camera but I think silliness like that is confusing and an affront to the older classic. 

The CL I owned came with one of the finest lenses I ever used. It was a 40mm Summicron f2.0. It was made and produced specifically for that camera. It was bright, sharp and utterly transparent (don't make me explain that...). The lens was made for the CL because the CL had a much shorter rangefinder base than the regular M cameras and so it was thought that the focusing inaccuracies made the 40mm, with it little bit extra depth of field, a better choice as a standard for that mini-system. It was also small and light. M users mostly avoided it because there wasn't a dedicated bright frame line in the finder for that focal length.
Canonet. Paris. 1978. 40mm.
B.Y. 1980. Leica CL, 40mm Summicron

I have beautiful photographs from the 40mm Summicron that were exceptionally easy to print. It's because the lens delineated all the tones so well and with such authority (again, don't ask me to explain).  I eventually got rid of the CL body because it was unreliable but held on to the lens until the end of the century. It was lost in the turmoil surrounding photography's journey to the dark side (digital). 

There were several other cameras that also featured really nice 40mm lenses; one that immediately comes to mind was the tiny Rollei 35S (which, now that I think of it might be considered as the predecessor of cameras like the Sigma fp = a small box with a decent f2.8 40mm Zeiss Sonar lens and one of the smallest 35mm film cameras of the day. Strictly zone focusing!). 

When Sigma came out with their new version of the slightly wider than 50mm "normal" lens I was initially hesitant and bought the L-mount 50mm f1.4 from Panasonic instead. While it's a magnificent, fast lens it's very, very clinical and very large and heavy. I more or less slid into the 45mm f2.8 because I'm lazy and the lens works so well as a walk around. But the more I've used it the more I've both appreciated it's "look" but also appreciated how well it is made and how convenient it is to use when you don't feel as though photography should make you sore, like a day at the gym.

I was on the fence about buying one until I read an interview with my favorite cinematic director of photography, Gordon Willis. He loved using the 40mm focal length as often as possible in his movie productions. One need only re-watch Manhattan to understand the power of that focal length. 

I was struck that he had a formula he used to make many scenes, it was his 40 / 40 rule. A 40mm lens used 40 inches up from the floor. The next day I went to my local camera store and bought my first copy of the lens. But this was well before I bought the Sigma fp camera. 

Initially I used the lens on the Lumix S1 and immediately liked the way it rendered faces. Not unsharp. Lots of detail and resolution but without the actinic sharpness that seems to go with current, high end optics. The lens is a little bit soft when used wide open and at the closest distances. One stop down at f4.0 and it's nicely sharp. By 5.6 it's got heaps and heaps of resolution but without too much of the acutance that makes images seem either sharper or too sharp. 

Once I got my Sigma fp camera two things happened: First, I've never wanted to take the 45mm Sigma off the front of that camera. It's as though some designer worked hard to make a combination which, when used together, creates wonderful images that are different than what I get from all other cameras. Second, it made me fall in love with the combination: the smallest full frame digital camera body available along with a lens that melds with the body to provide the perfect package -- from a handling point of view (with the accessory handgrip attached...). 

If we never get out from under the Novel Coronavirus we'll never again get to photograph commercially the way we were doing it in the pre-virus days. If we can't go back I'll quickly sell off all the stuff I've accumulated with the exception of the fp and the 45mm. And maybe I'll pick up a second fp just for luck. Two identical Sigma fp cameras and  matching 45mm lenses. Identical twins. 

But why two? Because, realistically, we'll get through this pandemic. At least most of us will. If Belinda and I are part of the lucky survivors there's so much pent up travel desire I can't think I'll ever want to go back to working for clients. And if we're traveling all over the place I don't want to stand in front of a beautiful subject and have a camera stop working. That happened to me before on a vacation in the 1980's and it wasn't fun. I want to have the assurance that I'll be able to go back to my hotel room and pull an identical camera out of the luggage, toss the same memory cards in it and be back out taking photographs immediately. It's like taking a long road trip. You probably wouldn't venture across the desert unless you had some extra drinking water in your car and a spare tire. Think of the second camera and lens as your spare tire. 

But, if I were to distill down all the gear, based on everything I've learned about photography since 1978, I would want one or two more lenses to include in the luggage as we wend our way around the world. 

The first would be a 75mm f2.8 that's about the size and design of the current 45mm lens. I don't need super speed but I'd love the same kind of design parameters when it comes to imaging. With a 24 megapixel sensor the 75mm would be long enough for most stuff since I could crop up to half the frame and still have good results. 

The second lens would be a similarly sized 21mm for those rare times when my back is up against the wall and there's still a little more I'd like in the frame. Plus, I like the eccentricity of the 21 versus the ubiquitous 20mm or even more cloying 24mm. And, you could make my 21mm an f4.0 or even f4.5 if you wanted to....as long as you kept it small and sharp. 

Ah. Canon. Why can't you make one of these as a digital camera?
It was absolutely perfect in its time. I'd buy two and never look back. 
Custom gaffer tape added by a younger Kirk....

So, why two lenses right now? Hmmm. Because it's a special lens with a limited market. Not that many people look beyond specs to character, and even fewer value the way a lens creates a look over impressions of high sharpness. If it's taken off the market because it doesn't sell I want to make sure I have an extra to use for years to come. Also, if the one lens never comes off the front of the Sigma fp then I certainly need the second one for all those times I'd like to use the lens on a Panasonic Lumix S1R....
Ian Fleming once wrote that worry is a price we pay for something which we may never receive. 

He also wrote, about James Bond's life: "It reads better than it lives." 

Perhaps a non sequitur but perhaps not.

Mike R. requested that I post my iPhone rig and I am complying with dispatch... Thank you for giving me a momentary feeling of purpose! 🤣

I see people taking photos and videos with their iPhones all the time and goodness knows I've tried to squeeze good stuff out of my telecommunications gear as well. The problem for me is that there's no good way to hold a naked phone. I always end up with my elbows in some weird position while my pinkies seem to stick out at awkward angles like a 1950's caricature of a proper Englishman having a cup of tea. As a result I spend way too much time thinking about how to hold the phone still and way too little time actually doing so. 

I bought a device from Manfrotto that attaches to my phone with spring loaded pressure and then allows me, via a tripod socket, to mount the assemblage on a tripod, or in this case, a handy gripping surface.  It's called, Manfrotto Universal Smartphone Clamp, Pro Version, and it set me back $20 USD. 

I was going to buy a handgrip of some sort but while lounging lackadaisically in front of my computer I happened to look around the office and spy not one, but two Leica ball heads. These were the original tripod heads for the fabulous Leica table top tripods and they are well built (did you expect anything less?) and it dawned on me that not only would one of these provide a dandy gripping surface but would also allow, via its bullhead, the ability to adjust the angle of the camera and it's mounting piece to  suit whatever need rears its creative head. You could use just about anything as a grip so long as it has a quarter 20 screw thread for attachment. 

The advantage of the Leica ball head is that you could put it on a monopod or a tripod if you were so inclined. But we've got a lot of tripod heads around that work just fine so I purposed the Leica head solely for handheld iPhone use. There is no red "Leica" logo dot on the head but there is a very lovely and discreet "Leitz" logo engraved on one part of the body of the tripod head so I guess if I need to impress someone I could ask then to put on their reading glasses and take a gander.

Here are a couple of shots of this heavy machinery in action. Don't try this without attending some sort of "best practices" workshop or spending hours on YouTube getting some expert advice on clever techniques.... I stabilize with my other hand but that's more habit than necessity. 

A darker and more "authentic" look at the rig in action. I was just about to hit the slow motion video recording option and call for the fog machine when I took this photo. Just out of the scene; six feet or more from my left, was the obligatory iPhone-tography super model practicing her pout and trying to decide just how much cleavage to show while pretending to embrace a rather large cactus plant.... while jutting out her derrière. 

I tried for a "viewer's perspective of this mission critical tool set but I was hampered by not having my usual entourage of photography attendants and hangers-on. My entourage. Because of social distancing I thought it easiest if I just shot this stuff myself. Tragically, a few of my compositions are a bit off. I will not be winning any PPofA Master Craftsman awards for this piece but I felt the time pressure to get the more vital information to Mike as quickly as possible (but after coffee/made at home/from a jar of instant). 

Seriously though, the handle is at its best when you are attempting to hold the camera steady for video clips. If you can lean your arm on something like a table or a railing it's even better. The Leica head works because it has a tall, thin body structure that seems made for medium sized hands like mine. 

The Manfrotto device depends on a spring to provide a grip and little friction pads to keep the phone from moving around. Since iPhones are very much a luxe product it's little wonder then that the discontinued Leitz ball head is the ONLY grip handle approved by Apple.....(as if). 

This shot is not an example of a way in which I would use the rig but is included to show you the products in their entirety. What a superb hand model. I should do that for a living instead. 

I'm just getting up to speed on the XR as a video tool. I need to plug in ear buds, complete with a microphone, and see how it is for narrator audio. I'd love to create small movies with the rig and a bit of audio stuff but if I have to attach the proverbial kitchen sink I've got other cameras that are just begging to be used. 

I normally don't take blog requests but MikeR has been a very cool reader for a good long while and I wanted to reward his patience with my patented manic depressive writing style. 

Hope this helps Mike. If you haven't tried the slo-mo on the phones it's pretty incredible. And you don't need to do it in 4K; 1080p is just fine.

Thanks! Fun stuff to play with as we shelter in place. Alternating between Xanax and red wine here. Alternate days. Depends on which day has a more depressing news cycle... (just kidding, self-medicating NOT recommended by VSL). 

Any Netflix movie or documentaries you guys can recommend? I'm running out of good programming and considering getting the Russian surplus TV shows to tide me over. Melodramas from the collective, etc.