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....
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.