7.06.2021

Is the year long search for the right 50mm lens for the L mount systems now over? Maybe. We've got to test for a while first.

Panasonic S series 50mm f1.8 lens. Newly arrived.

I won't beat about the bush here. The one flaw in Panasonic's launch of their L mount system was the lack of a simple, useful, light and portable 50mm AF lens. I liked the ideas behind the system and have loved using all three of the S1 Series bodies but I found myself, over the last year+ looking around for just the right normal lens. 

I like the Sigma 45mm f2.8 lens just fine but I always wished it was at least a stop faster. Had Sigma hit the market with a 50mm i-Series lens, with an f2.0 or f1.8 aperture first I would have happily jumped on it. I own the Sigma 65mm f2.0 and it's perfect...except for those times when my 30 years of self-training, mostly with a 50mm, clicks in and my brain just demands what it thinks I want.

Originally I went all in with the S1 system and I bit the bullet and splashed out for the only autofocus 50mm the system offered. That's the S-Pro series, 50mm f1.4. It's their "reference" lens and it's "Leica Certified" so I figured I couldn't go wrong. But that was before I dragged it around in the streets a few times and came to the fast conclusion that it was a "special use" lens and one I would never get used to as a casual, street shooting lens. Not a lens I'll pack for a mostly fun trip...

I guess I could have "settled" for a Leica 50mm SL Apo Summicron but there's something antithetical, to my way of thinking, about dropping $5000+ for a "nifty fifty" prime lens; even if it is the best one in the world. 

There's no way I can say I waited patiently for the new Pana 50mm f1.8 to arrive. Nope, I pressed a slew of adapted, older film era 50mm lenses into the breach. I really liked three very much. All had different personalities but the thing I missed (and I'm almost ashamed to admit it) was the ability to auto-focus. Sometimes I get lazy and tired and in a hurry and I'd like to lean on the automation just a bit. 

The manual focus lenses I used as "stand-ins" were the Canon 50mm f1.8 FD, the Nikkor-S 50mm f1.4, and the Contax Y/C 50mm f1.7 Zeiss. Used at f5.6 they were all just great. Wide open the Nikkor and the Contax were pretty competitive with some of the modern, inexpensive 50mm lenses I've used as well. But, there's that whole thing with adapted lenses. They don't trigger the "punch in" for convenient manual focusing assistance when you grab the focusing rings. Can't use them with program or shutter modes and there is always the itchy thought that a new lens design with nine elements instead of six or seven might be better. Especially if the new lens has three aspheric elements, a UHR element and an ultra-low dispersion element sprinkled into the design. I know it shouldn't make a difference to me. Only the results should count. But I'm nothing if not proof that marketing works. 

While the new lens is about half the volume of its f1.4 sibling, and maybe one third the weight, it's not a small lens by old, film legacy standards. It has a 67mm filter ring which is a wild contrast to the faster Nikkor-S f1.4's 52mm filter ring. But I see what Panasonic is trying to do here. They are trying to make a full set of NOT nosebleed fast lenses that are all the same body size with the same filter size, and center of gravity, because they are experts in video as well as conventional photography and in video you want all your lenses to have the same configurations so you can quickly interchange them on sets without having to stock in multiple filter sizes and without the need to rebalance cameras on rigs or on gimbals. 

The new lens is spare and spartan. There's one switch on the side for MF/AF and there's plastic hood with a locking button. But the construction, though larger, is nicely lightweight and a far cry from the beast which is the f1.4 S-Pro.

To put things in a perspective that my accountant will appreciate... The Leica lens I think I ultimately want is $5,000+ and is bigger and heavier. I can wait a while on that one. The 50mm S-Pro f1.4, which I will probably sell or trade, cost me about $2300. The new lens, which is already riding around on the front of my most used and weathered Leica SL was only (Only!!!) $449. 

I think the thing that pushed me to take the low cost plunge was this video by YouTube reviewer, Richard Wong in New Zealand: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OCIvoA2so_k
 

His side-by-side test of the new lens and the older S-Pro 50mm f1.4 showed just how very close the two lenses are in overall performance. I've tested enough gear that crosses over with Richard Wong's reviews to trust his results and tests. And he seems fairly "Panasonic Oriented." 

It was funny today. I was setting up for a portrait of a doctor that I'm scheduled to do tomorrow. I set up some lights and gave the floor a good vacuuming. I cleaned off horizontal surfaces. I decluttered my desk. At some point I got bored by domesticity and sent a text asking my favorite camera store pro if he knew when the new lens might arrive and, if it would be sometime soon, could he please hold one for me and let me know.

About ten minutes later I got a text with a photo of the product box and a 'thumb's up' emoji. The store had just received a shipment of three and he grabbed the nicest looking box for me. I pretended that I wasn't too anxious to go and pick up the lens but I'm not really good at pretending stuff to myself so the act got old really quickly and, a short while later, I was in my car heading north. I texted my guy as I was walking into the store from the parking lot and he met me at the front counter with the box in his hands. 

We chatted and then, mission accomplished, I retreated quickly so I could miss the ever-returning Austin traffic. There are some downsides to being the most popular city to move to in the entire country. Traffic jams are one of them.

Tomorrow I start the lens testing ritual in earnest. I'm hoping Richard Wong is absolutely correct and that this lens is remarkably good. Once the testing is over and the results are in I'll be thinning out the accumulation of stop gap 50mm lenses that are taking over all available studio space. The never-ending purge. 

That's all I've got right now. Prep yourself for some photos from the new 50mm. You know that's coming.

Random Portrait/Snapshot on a rainy day in downtown Austin. And my response to MJ's question: "which is my favorite lens?"

sorry. I'm not a bonafide photojournalist. I didn't get this guy's name
or his contact info. I didn't even get a pithy quote for the caption. 

At TheOnlinePhotographer the question was posed, at the end of an article about prime lenses, asking readers which was their favorite camera lens. I pondered this for a moment and then commented that my current favorite lens is the Sigma 65mm f2.0 i-series Contemporary lens. It's small enough to be considered compact (especially in comparison to the amply hefty, girth-y, and big boned Sigma Art lenses, the Lumix S-Pro lenses, or the Leica juggernaut SL lenses. 

The 65mm is a beautiful example of industrial design and ticks all the right boxes when it comes to pleasing yet professional appearance. Of course the vagaries of good design should never count because we photographers seem to hate the idea of beautiful design for its own sake almost as much as we puritanically disapprove of any excess haptic pleasure a lens or camera might give us. Look and feel be damned; I only want to see the spec sheet!!! (sarcasm alert...)

I like the 65mm because it's a slightly longer normal lens so it does a beautiful job isolating subjects from backgrounds but at the same time allowing the inclusion of enough background to give a whiff of the environment with which to anchor the image. The Sigma 65mm is wickedly sharp, even at f2.0. By f5.6 it's probably the first under $1,000 lens capable of knocking Zeiss's 65mm Otus lens off its pedestal. If Zeiss even had a 65mm Otus....

It was a dark and overcast day and I was, once again, out shooting in the rain to test the marketing promises of Leica and Sigma as they pertain to water intrusion resistance. And the occasional coffee spill. I came across this man leading a group of tourists on electric bikes, across the Butterfly Bridge ( a bridge which you have probably seen far too many times in previous posts). 

Since I was already soaking wet, and it was hard to find other human subjects braving the Seattle-Style steady drip, I asked the gentleman if I could snap his photo. I'm sure I must have said something complimentary about the feather stuck on one side and the American flag stuck on the other side of his helmet. He was happy to allow my momentary interruption.

I've been bragging about this lens so I thought I should blow up the image of his eyeball for closer inspection...
The camera was a handheld, Leica SL2 configured for monochrome, in the large Jpeg setting. The f-stop was 4.0 and the shutter speed was 1/250th of a second. A quick peek at the file info in Lightroom lets us know that the ISO was 500. Click on these little devils to see them larger. 

tomorrow maybe I'll troll for clicks. Can't decide. Should it be Sony versus Canon or Apple versus PC?

Kidding, just kidding. We should start with something less controversial. Like USA politics....

Or we could just keep our focus on photography...

 

I saw a very good show of photography last week at the Blanton Museum. It's good to get out and see art every once in a while... Like, every week.

Current in the main gallery at the Blanton Museum. Austin, Texas

I'll confess that I had no idea who Kwame Brathwaite was before I got to the museum on Thursday morning last week. I just knew that there was a new exhibit up on the walls and that it was work done by a black photographer who was very active in the late 1950's and into the 1970's. He was highly involved in creating a style of fashion photography that emphasized black women and that his work looked good in the thumbnails on the museum's website. 

The show is very good. I'm pretty knowledgeable about the history of photography and I'm just now beginning to see that our cultural curation overlooked an enormous number of artist, last century, whose main barrier was either their race or their ethnicity. 

The show's curator included a self-portrait that Brathwaite had taken and it would seem absolutely relevant today in terms of style, lighting and composition. In the image the photographer is shooting into a mirror and one can see that he's using a Mamiya medium format, twin lens camera. The image is printed beautifully and at a size of 5x5 feet. Technically --- sharpness, tonality, dynamic range and low grain --- it's every bit the equal of any image I've seen today from any of the current, high ISO cameras we have at our fingertips. Considering that it was shot on a competent but by no means top tier camera of the day; nearly 57 years ago I think I would be embarrassed to be a current camera company. They are being schooled by the technology  of our fathers and the images from Brathwaite are beyond competent. The man was skilled. Insightful.


One aspect that serves to make Brathwaite's work stylish and relevant today was his almost austere minimalism. He eschewed cluttered backgrounds and the addition of too much irrelevant or gratuitous lighting or propping. The images of his models stand out against backgrounds of brilliant colors. 


I think it's important for photographers to actually leave their computer screens at home and go out into the world to look at actual, printed images by artists. There is a gravitas that almost never comes through the small, screen-delivered avatars of the real work. Standing in front of a large and beautifully crafted photograph gives one a new appreciation for how well work can be done in spite of the antiquity of the tools and the age/era of the work. And Brathwaite's black and white prints are as good as his color work. 

The Blanton has done a good job at filling in the details of Brathwaite's long career and the show tells a compelling story that most of us never got to experience at its inception. If you happen to be in Austin the show is certainly worth spending an afternoon at the museum. And we should count ourselves lucky to have this access to profoundly good work. And new knowledge. It certainly made me want to rush out and make definitive portraits...


The museum is a wonderful and quiet place. 
Just right for a meditation about art. 

See you in the galleries....