Posts Tagged ‘prime’

Improved Lens

18 July 2011

Dear J-

What attracted me first to the 4/3rds camera system was the lens reputation and the quiet shutter of the E-1 (which has now been too silent after one fall too many; I ought to see if it can be repaired) and I can testify to both. When the lenses have failed to perform it’s been my fault or some settings have gotten bumped in the transition from bag to hand. The idea of lenses designed from the ground-up to optimize sensor performance is admirable but the systen has fallen victim to its own standards: lenses weren’t much smaller enough to save much weight or bulk (consider my aching shoulders after three days in amusement parks) and sensor performance has lagged behind the state-of-the-art.

There are renewed calls for higher-grade lenses in the Micro 4/3rds lineup in the wake of the trickling-out Zuiko 12/2. It is a lens that could not have been made at that weight and price in 4/3rds and I’m completely green with envy over its very existence although I wnder if the relaxed standards on telecentricity were just marketing speak I bought into too readily. As much as I like to think that I’m above base temptation the very existence of primes in those first three focal length (equivalents) I first bought into the Nikon system is incredibly tempting: I own the Nikkor 50/1.4, 85/1.8, and 24/2.8, all pre-AI designs (deliberate choice based on camera and cost). Now Micro 4/3rds has a 25/1.4, 45/1.8, and 12/2.

Combine those with a multi-aspect imager like what’s in the GH1 or GH2 and you’d be getting what I had at a fraction of the weight and bulk. Yet what I have now in 4/3rds with zooms and everything else covers what I used to have in Nikon already with the exception of a few semi-exotic lenses I hardly used anyway. I’ve become a better photographer but if the equipment can be credited with anything it’s that switching to digital means less residual guilt over film and developing costs. In other words I can shoot more with less pain. I need to keep that in mind: does this (new piece of gear) allow me to do simething new, or make me a better photographer?



Wide Zuiko Review

30 May 2009

Dear J-

As part of my sporadic photographic review series, I probably should write up something about the lens that’s lived on the camera for the last six months — really, since I got it, the whole idea of using adapted lenses hasn’t made much sense to me, so it’s almost by default. All the advances of the past sixty years — from automatic diaphragms to automatic focus — were made for a reason, and going to adapted lenses loses much of that, no matter the brilliance in optical designs. On the other hand, I’ve also had another 4/3rds lens in my possession, with a theoretically more useful focal length range; but whether it’s the weather sealing or the feel of the lens, it’s the Zuiko Digital 11~18mm f/2.8~3.5 that’s gotten far more use.

Most folks agree that in the range it overlaps the 14~54mm, the shorter lens is better — whether that means sharper, less distorted, or what, it’s more likely that the 2x zoom lens will be less optically compromised than the 3.9x lens (and 3.9x is already a pretty short range to begin with). I’d looked at the 12~60mm lens as well — having wanted a lens that was at least weather-sealed — but ultimately decided that despite its brilliant sharpness, the 12mm end was too compromised, distortion-wise. One of the problems with wide zooms is that they’re often stretched into something that covers wide-to-short telephoto, and the wide end gets saddled with a complex mustache (“wavy-line”) distortion, where the corners are a bit overcorrected. All this is an exercise in pedagogy, as I have no experience with those two lenses, nor the inclination — for reasons I’ll explain.

I’ve read several different schools of thought on how people employ the 11~22 lens, but the one that resonated with me was the person who said he used it as a prime, with a bit of framing flexibility. To be honest, it’s my first extensive experience with zooms besides the ones stuck on the compacts I’ve used; I sometimes refer to them as bang-bang lenses, as I often find myself hitting the stops on one end or the other of the zoom. Having been raised on primes, though, the zooms made me lazy — instead of walking back and forth, twiddle the dial or play the trombone. Other folks said that f=40mm (on a 135-format camera) was the most natural perspective, so I walked around the first month or so at f=20mm, but unhappily — it was a bit narrow, and once I set it to f=18mm, it felt like I was able to breathe right again.

Pending Noodles 2736 -sm

The most important thing is that once I found the right focal length, the lens doesn’t impede my vision — I bring it up to my eye and it picks out the scene I see; no matter the aperture, there are no funny quirks to be worked around — no exposure compensation penalty to remember when working wide-open, no artifacts, no flare. Aside from the bulk, there are no significant vices to using it. If that’s boring and sterile, I’ll take it over the mental catalog I needed to carry around with each separate legacy lens I put in front of that E-1. The camera is best when it’s not obtrusive; I picked the E-1 because of its quiet operation, which does not disrupt the subject — now the lens doesn’t interrupt my train of thought.

One last thought: where do I go from here? My dalliance with Leitz lenses has been dizzying; both the price and consistency have been spectacular, but will there ever be a digital body that you can use them with automatic diaphragm at a price I can justify? The Nikkors that litter my life make me think that my future lies in the Nikon camp, but I wonder if the backwards compatibility is more than lip service from Papa Nikon. So if I delve deeper into the Olympus world, I go further towards a system that’s prime-lens-deficient; though the zooms are unparalleled, the prime lineup has gaping holes (no wides aside from the fisheye; no long macro, no affordable long lenses) that aren’t likely to be filled soon. Yet the f=18mm “prime” I’m using is seriously flexible, ready for nearly everything I throw at it; six months on, it’s been an incredibly wise investment, and a good first choice for a system.


German Glass

25 June 2008

Dear J-

Several electrons have been spilled here regarding the use of German lenses and whether or not the premium they demand is justified or not.  You have to realize, of course, that no nationality has a corner on optical design; certain lenses will perform better than others at different stops (apertures) and focus distances, and not every lens is a consistent performer.  But I’ll stand by my original assertion that for 90% of the world’s photographers, it’s technique and not equipment that hold back wonderful images.

Still, there are those (and I begin to count myself amongst those, even though I know the current equipment is perfectly adequate) who’ll willingly pay a premium when the lens bears that Zeiss or Leica name.  Part of the reason I bought into the 4/3rds system was the ability to play with German lenses — the original intent, after spending multiple luminous moments with the Zeiss gem that comes on the Sony DSC-V1 and -V3 (and, reputedly, on the Casio EX-P600 and -P700) was to get a Contax/Yashica mount adapter as a supplement to a Nikon adapter, but a good deal came up on a Leica R adapter.  I know, rationally, that my photographs aren’t incredibly better just because of the brand of lens I put in front of the camera — and the results seem to bear it out, there’s nothing extraordinary about the Nikon/E-1 combo in relation to the Leica/E-1, at least to my untrained eye.  But there is something else at play here, whether it’s the tactile rock-solid feel of the Leica R lenses, or the way they balance, or the fact that, since most of my photos all year were taken with the Panasonic DMC-LC1 prior to shifting over to the E-1, I’ve become accustomed to the Leica direction of operation.

Funny thing is that I was that same guy who sneered at folks overpaying for that red dot — why, if the Leica R lenses were so much more expensive and slower than the Nikon exotica, would anyone pay the difference?  I can’t say that I’ve found some magic justification, either.  All I really know is that I’ve been shooting a lot more frames lately; whether that’s the camera or the lens, it’s having a decided effect on the proportion of keepers, or rather, displayers.  You can’t approach photography as an investment hobby, which is unfortunately the direction that rangefinder photography has drifted into; that’s like telling an auto mechanic to take good care of their wrenches as they’ll have collector’s value in the future.  Undeniably, there will be historical value; unfortunately, they make such good tools that you’re compelled to use them, wrenches or lenses.

The two Leica R lenses I do own were cheap because of their cosmetic condition; they duplicate focal lengths and abilities I’ve already got in Nikon mount so truthfully, I have no business owning them.  It’s strange that they already feel far more natural — reproducing the scene as-I-saw-it and not interfering with the process — than anything I’ve used before.  I may be compelled to make it a trio or more, especially as several of those lovely Telyt 400 f/6.8’s have materialized at reasonable prices … I could always use a bit more hand-held reach.