Friday, December 27, 2019

In Praise of Cheap Lenses

I'm not a lens snob.

In fact, I mostly tune out the ad infinitum and ad nauseum discussions of rendering, edge sharpness, bokeh, etc., that seem to be the bread and butter of many blogs and web sites. I have difficulty seeing the fine distinctions they make, and wouldn't care much if I could. A lens is to take pictures with. If it does a reasonable job of that (as in, do the photos look okay?) nothing else is required.

I began my full-time professional career in 1978 with a pair of Nikkormats, a 50mm Nikkor, and two Vivitars -- 28mm f2.5 and 100mm f2.8. They were fine. A year or so later, I switched to the Olympus OM system, which I used for 12 years with great satisfaction. I had quite a few lenses for the OMs, and all were satisfactory except for the 35-70 f3.6. That one was a dog.

By 1993, aging eyes dictated a switch to autofocus, so I bought into the Canon EOS system and used various bodies and lenses for the next 24 years. Along the way, I used a number of L lenses, including the 28-80 f2.8-4L, the 28-70 f2.8L, and the 24-70 f2.8L (twice). I also owned the 24-104 f4L twice. But I kept going back to the 24-85 f3.5-4.5 and the 28-105 f3.5-4.5, neither of which is an L lens, but both are small and light, fast enough for the work I do,  and again, sharp enough for the work I do.

Not long after my book Rock City Barns: A Passing Era was published, I walked into my local pro lab and found another photographer standing at the counter leafing through my book, which is in 9x12-inch coffee-table format. Having learned from the lab owner that I was the creator of the book, he asked if I had made the photos on 5x7-inch film. When I told him no, he said, "Oh, 4x5?" When I explained that all were made with 35mm cameras, he had difficulty believing it. But in fact, almost all the photos in the book were shot with the Canon EF 28-105 f3.5-4.5 or the 24mm f2.8. As Kirk Tuck says, there are very few lenses that aren't sharp at f8!

In 2017 I sold my Canon gear and bought into the Fuji system. I will tell you that I do not own their more expensive and highly rated lenses, but the ones I have do the job for me just fine.

I don't do many weddings these days, but here's a photo from a wedding in 2018, taken with a Fuji X-T20 and the 16-50 f3.5-5.6 kit lens at f8. 

Full frame: Fuji X-T20, 16-50 f3.5-5.6 kit lens at f8

100% crop The blogging process does not render the true sharpness of this photo. In the original the woman's eyelashes are very clearly delineated.

To quote Kirk Tuck again, "Very few lenses are not sharp at f8!"

1 comment:

  1. I agree with you. I have a number of 11x14 pictures on my walls that get lots of compliments. I have a few people ask what kind of camera was used as if that was the secret to a good picture. Or they think the camera was expensive. All my digital cameras have been on the lower end of the price range. A Nikon D5000 that worked good until I dropped it in the ocean and than a Nikon D700 with a kit lens and a Nikon 75-300 lens all bought as a factory refurbished items. I lusted after full frame cameras and longer lenses but never had the funds. Anyway after shooting for awhile I realized the quality of the images from the Nikon was superb and I didn't need pro lenses. Hurrah for cheap lenses.