Posts Tagged ‘lens’

Rationalizations and Reasons

30 November 2011

Dear J-

I got a screamin’ deal on this lens, but at a price: it’s infected with fungus. I’ve had lenses with a little fungus before and it wasn’t too big of a deal — the fungus didn’t spread, and I didn’t hang on to the lenses long enough for it to spread to other lenses. This one, thogugh, I wonder: as it’s clearly been sitting in dark storage for too long, the fungus is pretty advanced (did they discover this in a swamp and clean it up before selling it?) and has spread over more than one element. The coating is likely irreparably damged by now and I’d gotten this as part of a projected lightweight two-lens that if my experience with the other lens is any indication, I’m only going to use occasionally enough to ensure that the fungus is only going to spread unless I take action to kill it now.if you’re not familiar with lens fungus it sounds just as the name implies: it’s a thready-looking organism that thrives in damp, dark places, like lenses stored in high humidity and never exercised. Given time and opportunity it can be arrested and killed but it may not be worth it in this case with clean lenses going for a few hundred dollars more.

I’m willing to accept it but I’ve fed my paranoia by wondering how contagious it is: if I use it regularly, is it going to spread to other lenses? This particular lens is a 4x zoom notorious for being an air-pumper as it grows during zooming to almost double the volume. Does that mean that spores are being blown back from the lens into the body? It’s almost worth saving the inevitable fight (and peace of mind regarding this fungal contagion) to return the lens within the allotted week, no muss no fuss. The advantages of keeping the lens are relatively few (I already have this focal length range covered albeit at greater weight, and I would be driven insane if the rest of the lenses got infected) and advantages are few but it’s still not an easy choice. But as Spock says the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few — or the one — so I’m thinking baack it goes.

I may end up getting one of these lenses evventually in the future, but I’m happy enough with what I’ve got and I remember passing up other opportunities to get the lens in the past, as we needed the money for other things. Call it my Christmas givt to myself or at least to my sanity: google searches are pretty evenly divided over the potential for spreading lens fungus and we live in a dry enough climate that it wouldn’t be an issue anyway but if I didn’t need it before, I don’t need it now and certainly not at the expense of the other glass in the stable.



Materialism Chant

9 May 2011

Dear J-

I have that delirious sort of feeling that comes from not enough sleep and too much time spent staring at things I don’t need. I spent all day Saturday chasing kids with a manual-focus lens and it shows. My skills never were that great so resurrecting them in a semi-pressure situation didn’t make too much art coming out the other side of the lens. So I’m again at the point where I wonder if it would be better to limp around with what I’ve got or if I’d be better off saving my money towards a final solution. If there was a reasonably fast short-to-mid tele zoom available for four thirds (I wonder if the old 40~150/3.5-4.5 would work) I wouldn’t be so interested in the 35~100/2 but there you have it. One lens is $2 500 and the other is $100, not much of a contest really.

The long view holds that you should invest in glass over bodies and that’s something that I subscribe to, at least as far as I can swing it. On the other hand it seems pretty clear that I’m backing a losing horse here in the dSLR derby — Olympus, who appear to have abandoned the system in favor of micro 4/3rds — and so any further investment in the system would be foolish, right? On the other hand perhaps I’m already too invested. The cost for an equivalent lens with a different system is nearly comparable to the lens alone. I can’t help but think of the Leica R system where the parent company’s focus was elsewhere yet the limited number of lenses turned out to be superlative and consistently excellent.

Impact to companies’ bottom lines aside I don’t see any good coming out of this. The easiest thing would be some sort of logical compromise — either a cheap substitute or standing pat with what I’ve got. The end result is an unfulfilled longing for something I can’t honestly justify and yet I can dream up a thousand excuses and reasons that I’m sure I wouldn’t be able to keep up with. Sometimes more is more.


Consumer’s Report

21 April 2011


Dear J-

I keep finding little excuses to justify expenses that I really can’t otherwise fathom. Not enough money now? No interest if paid in full within six months. Free shipping. No tax. All coupled with a reasonable price makes for a long night thinking aout how long I could camp out on the couch while begging forgiveness. It’s not going to happen. I don’t actually need a new lens except to awe and intimdate other people at amusement parks. Perhaps it’s all really just triggered by going to the Zoo, which features armchair safari buffs who otherwise would have no excuse to haul out the heavy artillery (like myself). And it never seems to stop just there, after all: once I swear this is the last there’s another one I seem to need.

I tell myself that it’s down to two lenses now and then my collection would be complete. I think back to the lenses I own for Nikon and figure what I might need to duplicate that particular range — 15mm to 600mm with a full-frame fisheye somewhere in there — and figure that I not only already have most of those, I stopped carrying the system around because I never quite seemed to bring the right lens along: unless you have the stomach to carry multiple bodies and pounds of lenses you’re always going to be spoilt for choice. Sometimes more is just more, and the choices you make reflect that. Yes, you could get those hyper-expensive lenses but when the system I bought into will cover 24mm to 400mm (equivalent) in two moderately expensive lenses instead, why not go after that choice and carry that around all the time?

Convenience trumps that last five per cent of image quality, and someone supposedly on a budget should maximize the bang for your buck. Instead I keep thinking that maybe I should get things now that the system feels like it’s beginning to end and as opportunities present themselves they keep disappearing forever. The reasonable part of me disappears instead and I fall under the consumer-iffic spell of more more more. We march in time with trends and listen to only what agrees with what you want to make sense. Before I spend more than I plan on spending for a new computer for a lens it helps to write it out to understand just how crazy it sounds.


Divine Right

24 January 2010

Dear J-

I’ve been reading a lot about cars and cameras lately, not that I’m in the market for either, but it’s something to hone research skills on; when you start re-hashing the same old articles, though, that’s when you know you’ve passed beyond mere research into obsessive stat-wanking and obnoxious hair-splitting concerns. One of the common arguments that pops up in both areas is the missing-feature screed: well, the [thing] would be perfect if only it had [this]. For different people it’s different things, of course, until you get them all herded up in the same direction and moving as some anti-Frankenstein’s Monster mob toward the same goal.

One of the websites I frequent in fact, The Truth About Cars, has the common thread of how every car could be made perfect (for that readership, at least) if it was diesel-powered, light, sporty, standard shift, and had a hatchback of some sort; never mind that those are precisely the features that fail to move cars off lots. Like some sort of quixotic quest, the comment threads are filled with gearheads rubbing their hands with anticipation and glee: it’s free to write “I’d buy that in an instant” and another thing else entirely when the money comes out on the table. Likewise with lenses, everyone in the Olympus camp is looking for (or so they would have you believe) an affordable 300 or 400mm lens because although you can get there with a teleconverter in the existing lineup, they want to be able to slap that converter on to those base lenses. Never mind that no one can articulate precisely why they need one of those (one sample photo — woman in a bikini — I think comes closer to the truth than we dare admit), but how dare the company lose business by not offering something like that, right? Funny, though, a lens just like that (the Sigma 135~400 was on sale for a few years and never got much traction; there’s lots of excuses not to buy when the time comes around which is why I’m sure the companies think we’re all crying wolf for a particular product that history’s shown doesn’t move.

Everyone knows I have no particular love for companies, knowing them to be amoral super-citizens lusting strictly after money; on the other hand, their nature (business is in business for the business of making money) makes them easily predictable; the legions of folks howling for one thing or another has found a sort of echo chamber on the Internet, where it’s easy to find like-minded niche thinkers (like how Thom Hogan would be pleased to find Papa Nikon dropping a black & white-only digital body with manual controls into his stocking year after year; considering they’d sell maybe a thousand of them in total, I’m not holding my breath) making it seem like the numbers must be for you. It does take courage to think up new products, but I can’t help but hear whines of entitlement lately.


Deadly Poison

10 October 2009

Dear J-

As the hours pile up here at work I find myself increasingly tempted by various purchases I know I can’t (shouldn’t, mustn’t) justify.  I said before that with a few extra dollars in my pocket I’d invest it in a college education, but it feels like fifteen years ago and various bits of glass keep calling my name lately.  Trouble is I’ve already spent a small fortune in various shiny bits of silicon dioxide this year thanks to variously expensive moments of boredom leading to google searches.

That’s one of the reasons I love the clubsnap forums — some of the posts inevitably bring up the term “poison,” which I never quite understood until it was too late:  you’d despair that you wouldn’t be able to make anything quite so beautiful until you get your hands on that same piece of glass.  It’s all a lie, of course; photography starts in the brain — the framing and composition tell the story, and though you might believe that you need a particular bit to make it happen, chances are that you’ve always been able to do it all along.

Poison 1
Poison 2
(okay, really, this sub-link I ran across)

I still remember when I was collecting games for the Saturn — one of the ones I always wanted and paid an absurd amount of money for was Radiant Silvergun based on the glowing reviews I’d read.  After I got it on the shelf, though, I popped it in the machine maybe once or twice before shelving it forever — it’s not that it wasn’t a good game, or that I was too afraid of playing it (for the price it could have been minted from PURE GOLD).  It’s just that I couldn’t get good enough fast enough, which frustrated me to no end, great reviews or not.  One thing at a time, then; I’m still struggling with my first poison and don’t need to throw another slug down on top of it.  I think.


Wide World

10 June 2009

Dear J-

As the work piles up I keep finding excuses to do other things — finding interesting links out there was something I always thought was the whole purpose of blogs:  a brief comment, a short analysis, and then the link to be shared with the rest of the world.  At different times I seem to pick up different themes; camera gear is an evergreen topic as only an infinite amount of money for the seemingly infinite amount of stuff out there would scratch that itch, but I also find time to look at the work of others.

Part of that has to do with the way they shelve photography books; whether it’s at the bookseller, Dewey Decimal, or Library of Congress, monographs are usually in close proximity to instructions and gear listings, so it’s a natural palate-cleanser to look at various bodies of work.  If you consider that flickr, for instance, regularly increases its collection of photographs by around 2-3000 per minute (that works out to over a billion photographs every year), there’s a ton of photos out there, and most of them are going to end up unremarked and unseen.

A couple of days ago, though, I ran across the World Press Photo of the Year gallery — one photo from all the journalists out there, out of the billions existing gets selected, so it’s a teeny little gallery of approximately fifty shots.  To my untrained eye, they are all stunning in different ways, but I will note that a good portion of them are heart-rending.  We humans are innately visual creatures — I believe it’s our dominant sense — and the photographs allow us to share realities around the world in a universal language.  Petteri has an excellent essay on boring photographs, by the way; it’s one that should be required reading for the next time you’re tempted to dismiss your own work as useless and trite.


Zuiko Hole

18 May 2009

Dear J-

There’s those that will always bemoan the lack of a ___ lens (insert your favorite type here; I like to pick on the lack of a shift lens in the Zuiko Digital line although pretty much any other lens that strikes my fancy is already there) in any lineup, never mind that it’s usually an exercise in mental aggravation — if you gave them that lens, would they buy into the system anyway? It came to me this way:  the lens that makes the most practical sense for most wildlife photographers (and some sports folks) is something like a f=400mm f/2.8 lens on 135-format film.  It’s generally just long enough, and are designed to work well with teleconverters, so for a relatively nominal price, you’d also have a f=560mm f/4 and a f=800mm f/5.6, most of the reach you’d need, reasonable quality (maybe not as good as the equivalent primes would be, but good enough for most purposes).  After all, there’s a reason that the Modular APO-Telyt-R system comes in 280/400/560 and 400/560/800 lens heads; they’re classical trios of telephoto focal lengths.

So, in 4/3rds land, where does that put you?  The DOF snobs would have you believe that more DOF is a handicap, and that your equivalent lens should be a silly f=200mm f/1.4; let’s ignore them for now and concentrate on the real world.  Truth is that depth of field wide-open on a f=400mm f/2.8 lens is nearly useless (not everyone wants to make things look like a Martha Stewart product shot, thank you).  No, a sensible f=200mm f/2.8 (or if you insist on the exotica, a f/2 lens) would do the trick nicely.  No one who’s had to lug a f/2.8 exotic into the field sneers at the f=400mm f/5.6, which would provide the same coverage and DOF as a f=200mm f/2.8 would on 4/3rds.

Problem is that it’s a serious overlap with the existing prime f=150mm f/2 exotic Zuiko, as well as the 50~200 f/2.8~3.5 and 90~250 f/2.8 zooms for that system.  It’s probably the reason Olympus hasn’t come out with one yet, despite the relatively low investment needed to design a superior f=200mm f/2.8 lens (such lenses having been around, in one form or another, since the 1936 Zeiss Sonnar “Olympia” for the ’36 Berlin Games– here’s some trivia for you; Olympics always bring out interesting lenses); too close, too much overlap.  And, as I’ve noted before, probably too much lens if they slot it into the SHG lineup; still, though, with the high-quality teleconverters available in the system, it seems like a natural fit to me, and one with a better price (I’d hope) than the existing SHG exotica.


Step Into Wide

11 October 2008

Dear J-

The nice thing — and the curse — with SLRs is that you’re always fiddling to get precisely the right sort of framing.  I’ve been trying different focal lengths, as I’ve found a few reasonably priced Leica R primes and the cheap Nikon-mount glass keeps a fair number of telephoto and tele zooms on the camera when I’m at the zoo or taking pictures of jet fighters overhead.

But when it comes down to people pictures, I’m finding that wider is better, and even the 35mm Elmarit-R (70mm equivalent field of view on a 35mm film SLR) has me backing up a little further than I’d like.  It’s time to get a real wide-angle; it’s time to invest a little more into the Olympus system, and that means getting back two exposure modes and a lot more automation (autofocus?  what?).  I’m therefore punting some gear that hasn’t seen daylight for a couple of months and looking forward to getting an actual meant-for-the-camera lens, finally.  You know, getting up to the current day in the real world is tricky.


Shallow Field

16 August 2008

Dear J-

Saturdays seem to turn into photo days, for whatever reason, so let’s talk about f-stops, you and I.  F-stops follow the progression they do because they express the ratio of diameters; at f/1.0, the effective diameter of the lens matches the focal length.  Thus a 50mm f/1.0 (and they exist, at you-gotta-be-kidding-me prices) has a 50mm effective diameter.  At f/1.4, your diameter is 1/1.4-th of the focal length.  It makes more sense when you consider it this way:  since the area of the opening determines the gross amount of light transmitted through the lens (ideal lenses, here, and with modern multi-coatings, transmission ratios are pretty high); thus since area varies with the square of the diameter, it’s actually the square of the f-stop you’re interested in.

Hence, a f/1.0 lens transmits twice as much light as a f/1.4 lens, and thus you can derive the f-stop full stop scale (f/1.0, f/1.4, f/2.0, f/2.8, f/4, f/5.6, f/8, f/11, f/16, f/22, f/32, f/64, f/128, etc.) by taking the square root of the 2^n sequence (1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, etc.).  Consider it for a moment and it starts to make sense.  If you close down the aperture one full stop (f/1.4 to f/2.0, say), you have to double the shutter speed (1/30th at f/1.4 to 1/15th at f/2.0) to make an equivalent exposure — you show the film (or sensor) half the light, for twice as long.  All else being equal, why wouldn’t you keep the aperture as wide as possible?  Well, for one thing, lenses aren’t necessarily designed to be run wide-open, and often hit their optimum performance one or two stops down.  For another, aperture controls depth of field; low f-stops (big apertures) give shallow depth of field, which is useful for the Martha Stewart style of product photography, or if you’re trying to draw attention to one thing over another.

Isn’t it ironic, then, that in real life, opening yourself up to new experiences actually widens your depth of knowledge?  I’ve been reading about some guy out there who has some kind of beef with Democrats; he coauthored a book for the Swift Boat Veterans, blamed by some for torpedoing Kerry’s campaign in 2004 (someone please explain to me again how two draft dodgers came out looking more virtuous than a veteran, especially representing a party that prides itself on supporting the military), and he’s at it again with Obama fear-mongering.  Sadly, it’s not about the accuracy of the message, simple as it is in photography — if you’re using shallow depth of field techniques, make sure you focus on the right thing — but how repeatable the lie.

I remember from debate there were two sources you wanted to use for definitions, each useful to the affirmative (making a case for change) or negative (keeping the status quo) side.  And, depending on the side you had to argue, the standard reasons went like this:  affirmatives wanted to use a “common” dictionary like Merriam-Webster because it was the most reasonable to the greatest amount of people; negatives chose Black’s Law Dictionary because it was the most precisely focussed definition.  Neither was the best answer all the time, and you needed to carry around both, because you didn’t know what side you’d be asked to argue.  So it goes in life, so too in photography; develop your skills and make sure you use the right tools when needed.


Adequate Adjective

12 August 2008

Dear J-

Our eleventh grade English teacher was a big one for talking about things with specifics; one of her favorite tirades had to do with vague adjectives.  Nice.  Good.  Bad.  It’s less that they aren’t necessarily valid, it’s more that they’re not precise.  So, believe in this:  saying a lens has nice bokeh, which is a Japanese term dealing with how a lens draws out-of-focus highlights, has little relevance.  A lens might be nice and sharp, but the out-of-focus portions might be not to your tastes, so you end up not using that lens.

Let me elaborate:  bokeh is a subjective quality.  What I find pleasing in out-of-focus may not be to your tastes.  That’s fine.  But you must understand where I’m coming from; twenty-five years of wearing glasses has taught me a certain way of seeing the out-of-focus world.  Thus good bokeh, to me, naturally replicates that without calling attention to itself.  You might hear what they’ve said is “restless” bokeh — to me, that’s characterized by falsely hard details in the out-of-focus regions; that’s most apparent to me in looking at pictures taken with my Nikkor 50mm f/1.8.  On the other hand, funny things like flare — internal reflections or not — will reduce those hard edges; some of the pictures I’ve seen taken with remounted Vest Pocket Kodak lenses have a magical quality to them; that’s definitely a rainy-day project I want to pursue at some point.

I could make all kinds of words and justifications about the purchases I make in the pursuit of the perfect lens, but I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again, and I’ll probably keep repeating it periodically; for me, since photography is about sharing a moment, the tool used is irrelevant so long as it doesn’t interfere with faithfully duplicating the memory you saw.  That said, I find myself, after having spent weeks now with the same lens, seeing the world as that lens sees it, framing my attention at the same distance.  It’ll be interesting to see if I can successfully switch lenses now, and what the learning curve will involve.

I admit that the first time I put a 35mm focal length lens on a 135 film SLR was quite a revelation; the field of view matched my natural attention nearly perfectly.