Talking rubbish about lenses - Part Two

Discussion in '35mm Cameras and Accessories' started by Bruce Robbins, Apr 8, 2014.

  1. Bruce Robbins

    Bruce Robbins Member

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    I've posted Part Two of my "Why do we talk such rubbish about lenses" article on my blog.
    The first part attracted a lot of flak when I started a thread about it here last week.
    So as not to upset people or waste their time, here's a general health warning. Don't read the articles if you:

    1. Only consider completely unbiased resolution charts issued by lens makers to be valid
    2. Think subjective lens tests are generally a waste of time
    3. Are an artist and consider talk of lenses to be beneath you
    4. Aren't an artist but still consider talk of lenses to be beneath you
    5. Can't grasp the concept of "light entertainment"
    6. Have so busy a life that reading something you might have no interest in is viewed as five minutes of your time you'll never get back

    Seriously, though, I unintentionally seemed to hack a lot of people off with Part One and I don't want to annoy anyone else if I can avoid it. So please bear in mind that it's a hands-on, real-world, subjective look at a few standard lenses and not a technical review of lenses for the next Mars mission. If that kind of thing might interest you then please feel encouraged to drop by. If you're looking for an Erwin Puts-type review then you'll be disappointed but, now that you've been warned, it'll be your own fault. :smile:

    http://www.theonlinedarkroom.com/2014/04/why-do-we-talk-such-rubbish-about_7.html
     
  2. Chrismat

    Chrismat Subscriber

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    I like the articles and found my self agreeing with them. I also like the fact that you used a Pentax SV, I recently had one cla'd.

    I will be visiting your site regularly.

    Regards,
    Chris
     
  3. ntenny

    ntenny Member

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    Compared to some of the stuff I've seen on inet fora, that last thread was about a 1.4 on a scale of 32 for hacked-ness off. :smile:

    One quibble with the layout of this last article: It'd be nice to see the images from the two lenses side by side, so as to compare them directly rather than via look-page-down-page-up-page-down-look-wait-was-that-f1.4-or-f2?

    Maybe, as some of your commenters suggested, what's special about the Zeiss lenses isn't resolution, but other aspects like contrast and (where applicable) color rendition. Also, perceived sharpness, especially at the whole-image scale rather than down at the grain/pixel level, is complex and poorly understood, so it wouldn't surprise me to find that your Planar images have a certain ineffable "pop" to the eye that can't easily be pinned down to a well-defined difference under high magnification.

    I don't think fooling yourself is the only explanation; you may be working towards finding the criteria that your eye does and doesn't care about in identifying an image as sharp.

    -NT
     
  4. Bruce Robbins

    Bruce Robbins Member

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    Thanks, Chris. You know, I just do it for the love of it. I started the blog to do what I could to keep film and darkroom work going and it's encouraging to get some positive feedback.
     
  5. blockend

    blockend Member

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    Don't worry what people say Bruce, it's the internet, innit? Some people trade in mood and ambience, others prefer lines per millimetre. I saw one review extolling the virtues of a screw thread Leica lens, which would have been okay except the internal elements were so fogged you'd have needed grade 5 paper to get normal contrast, the glass was virtually opaque.

    As a generalisation, Japanese glass is contrasty and German is less so, but there are so many exceptions and each are tamed or enhanced in the darkroom. There's variation even among the finest manufacturers, which is further widened by the condition and treatment a lens has received. I enjoy people's opinions, and am always prepared to learn something new, but people concentrate far too much on the nuances of gear when they should be out photographing with what they have.

    Incidentally, one of the best tests of a lens is to shoot video on it with a DSLR. Put the camera on a tripod and film a static scene and watch how corner detail, contrast and sharpness unravel at different apertures. Without static grain to influence our perception of sharpness it's easier to observe the underlying characteristics of a lens, its strengths and weaknesses.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 8, 2014
  6. Bruce Robbins

    Bruce Robbins Member

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    Good point about the layout. It's not something I can do using the Blogger platform and I don't have Photoshop now having given up digital otherwise I would have done so. I realise it's a pain but the easiest way to view the comparison pics is to right click each one, open in a new window and resize them so you can get them on the screen at the same time.

    As for fooling myself? That's another good and thought-provoking point you've made!
     
  7. mopar_guy

    mopar_guy Subscriber

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    I've been following this and I have a couple of thoughts. I own a lot of different focal length lenses, but I use a 50mm lens about 80% of the time. My primary system is the OM system, and I have a lot of practical experience with the two lenses that you compared in the Blog. I paid about the same amount that you did for my 50mm f2.0 Zuiko Auto-Macro lens. For me, the cost difference is not that important, and the resolution of each lens is not that important. The other features of the two Zuiko lenses do make a difference in the ways that each can be used. Sometimes I use a 50mm lens at a very close working distance, and the 50mm f1.8, or the 50mm f1.4 lenses will simply not focus close enough without using an extension tube.

    For me, other features such as close focusing, contrast, and easy handling are all more important.
     
  8. dynachrome

    dynachrome Member

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    I am often disapointed to read what some people say about lenses when they haven't used them and don't know much about them. I have read that "all 43-86 Nikkors" are bad. I have an AI model and it is quite good. It has a completey different design from the original. Next, I have heard that "all 35/2.8 Nikkors" are bad. Wrong again. The 'K' lens and the early AI model have six elements rather than 7 for the S model or 5 for the later ones. The 6 element models are excellent. Another Nikkor which gets no respect is the 200/4 Q/QC. The Q and QC lenses give me very good results. The coating on the QC is just as effective as that of the later 'K' and AI models. The 'K' and AI models are fine performers but I don't see the great improvement over the QC. Next is the 28/3.5 series. I have read often that they are all the same. They aren't. The AI was reformulated and is an excellent performer. I know the f/2.8 AIS is considered more exciting because it has CRC. At all but the closest distances the f/3.5 AI will be equally good. If I need to get closer I will use a 55/2.8 Micro Nikkor and my close shots will be much better than what an f/2.8 AIS can provide. I know that the earlier 85/1.8 Nikkors had a very good reputation but I find my later 85/2 Nikkor to be very good too. Some of the criticisms of lenses are based not on what they do with film but how they work with digital cameras for which they were not designed. Then there is cost. The 50/2 Zeiss manual focus macro lenses are newer designs than the 55/2.8 AIS. I rarely use macro lenses wide open so my question is not which lens is faster or better on an MTF chart by a small margin but whether the Zeiss lens is $900 better. I can test the limits of a lens on film with TP or Imagelink HQ at least as well as someone else can test it on a high MP DSLR. When you are sitting in heavy traffic driving a 400 HP car, the top speed is not on your mind. If people want or need bragging rights from using certain lenses and if that makes them happy then more power to them. That's a much more peaceful way to compete with your fellow man (or woman) that what I read about in the newspaper.
     
  9. pen s

    pen s Member

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    I've been dinking around with cameras for 40+ years. Most all of that time I paid no more than $5 to $25 for any lens, even Zuikos. That was my budget so I was happy with what I got. The few exceptions in Zuiko glass was an 85mm f2 and a 24mm f2.8, those were at current market value for 'user' lenses when I bought them. Fact is, I have never had anything to compare them with but they seem fine to me. It is amazing what we can get by on when the high priced super lenses are simply not available to you due to their high prices.
     
  10. Dan Fromm

    Dan Fromm Member

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    dynachrome, my first long lens was a 200/4 Nikkor Q. It taught me about the need for steadiness. Very very usable lens but not as good wide open near its close focusing limit as at greater distances. How were yours wide open and focused close?

    Re using test results to decide which lens to use, I've done what I think of as acceptance testing and more formal testing with resolution measurements etc. Acceptance testing comes down to shooting the lens at the apertures I normally use with an emulsion that I normally use at a range of distances. When I was doing it seriously I'd shoot a handful of lenses against each other with the same subjects etc. Acceptance testing and formal resolution testing gave the same rankings, resolution testing was somewhat more informative.

    I always ended up sorting the handful of lenses tested into two piles. Good enough to use given the size of prints I normally make, not good enough to use. I used other criteria, such as weight, shutter condition, ... to decide which one of the good enoughs to carry with me. Good enough means good enough, weight and, sometimes, mechanical issues aside I'd be happy to use any lens that comes out "good enough."

    For me, using a lens with slightly better performance hasn't been a good way to improve my final prints' quality. Paying close attention to technique is less expensive and much more effective.
     
  11. Jim Jones

    Jim Jones Subscriber

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    Yes, indeed. After using both modest and top quality equipment for 60 years, I still find technique, not lenses, usually limits the results.
     
  12. dynachrome

    dynachrome Member

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    I probably have not used the 200/4 Q wide open and at its closest focusing distance of 2 meters at the same time very often. The reason is that I only started making use of Nikon equipment on any kind of regular basis about ten years ago. If I needed to get close with a 200 I might use a 200/4Canon New FD, which gets down to about five feet or a Vivitar 200/3 Series 1 which gets down to four feet. I have the 200/3 in Konica and M42 mounts. I have used it, along with the Vivitar 135/2.8 Close Focusing, to shoot pitcher plants and cactus plants which were behind glass at the NY Botanical Gardens. My 200mm Nikkors include an early CM lens (closest focusing of 3 meters), two Qs, a QC, a 'K' and an AI. The 'K' and AI are more compact but still only get down to 2 meters. My 180/2.8 P goes down to 1.8 meters and I have seen portraits shot with them but 135 is about as long as I like to go for that purpose. I noticed that the second version of the 135/2.8 Minolta MC Rokkor is not very good at its closest focusing distance and at or near wide open but at greater distances it's fine. Higher image quality at closer focusing distances is something technology has improved over time. Dan, did I miss you at last Sunday's show in NJ?
     
  13. ntenny

    ntenny Member

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    This man speaks the truth. Well, I haven't evaluated the effect of lens choice on *Dan's* final prints' quality, but mutatis mutandis for my experience instead of his.

    On the other hand, I have plenty of images where *characteristics* of the lens---things separate from the major measures of "performance"---become important ingredients. Vignetting that makes a central subject pop out is a typical example. So when I stumble across a lens that makes Good Things happen to final images, I'm going to try to bear in mind what it does and use it for its appropriate niche. Technical performance is often beside the point, but differences between lenses are real and long may they wave.

    -NT
     
  14. Dan Fromm

    Dan Fromm Member

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    No, we didn't miss each other. I wasn't aware of the show, I seem to have fallen off of the organizers' mailing list. And I probably wouldn't have gone up Hasbrouck Heights if I'd been aware of the show.

    I haven't asked my route-finding software how far Hasbrouck Heights is from Cherry Hill, but it looks somewhat farther than Wayne. Wayne was roughly at my limit.

    Re limits, I'm not driving as far to go trout fishing as I used to either. I'm going out to Lopez Island next month and am flying, not driving as I used to do.

    Re what's at camera shows, I'm having trouble justifying going to them 'cos there seems to be less and less at them that's of much interest. To me, anyway, I can't speak for others.

    I envy your enthusiasm for accumulating. So far this year I've bought one lens that sort of fills a gap and that I've wanted for a while. I can think of only one other lens I'd like to have. Its uncommon and expensive and I don't really need it. I recently bought one camera part -- a recessed board for my 2x3 Cambo -- and can't think of more parts that I need. When I look at what's on offer on eBay I see things that might be nice to have but I can't justify getting them. All of the lenses I use are at least good enough so its hard to justify getting another that's functionally equivalent to one(s) I have. If I ever get over being an ignorant barbarian insensitive to the fine points ...

    About your enthusiasm for accumulating, I started shooting 35 mm still with a Nikkormat and have stayed with Nikon. Other people -- you, for example -- find reasons to get into more than one 35 mm SLR system but I've never been able to justify it. Not that there's anything wrong with other makes, just that there's never been an alternative to Nikon that I found overwhelmingly superior. I had my "aha!" moment in '75 when I got a 135/2.8 Steinheil macro lens in Exakta mount and had to choose between getting an Exakta body or adapters that would let me use the lens closeup but not at distance on my Nikkormat. I got the adapters.

    Getting a Nikon DSLR will move me to replace my AIS lenses if it can't meter with them. My wife has given me budget but I keep putting off the purchase. I want the digital equivalent of my old Nikkormat FTn or my FM2N, doubt that such a DSLR will ever come to market.
     
  15. dynachrome

    dynachrome Member

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    The Sunday show did have a few interesting things. I got 8 issued of the Minolta Mirror and the followng books: Looking For The Light - The Hidden Life and Art of Marion Post Wolcott by Paul Hendrickson, a paperback of The History Of Photography by Beaumont Newhall, Life Photographers - What They Say by John Leongard and New York Then And Now by Annette Witheridge. I got only two camera items, a high voltahe battery pack for the Nikon SB-11 and a Mamiya M645 with the right hand motor/winder. They both seem to be functioning normally but the seals on the M645 need to be replaced. The winder had batteries with some corrosion and with expiration dates of 2008. I cleaned it up and it works. The winder was attached so there was no manual crank but I have those attached to other M645s. This is my second right hand winder. The battery trays in these are a little annoying to remove but I like the convenience of the right hand winder. The Speed Grips I have on my Bronica ETR series cameras are convenitnt but Mamiya didn't make something like that for the first series of M645 cameras. If I need a winder for a Bronica camera I use an SQ-AM.

    I must have been collecting for about 26 years even though I have been taking pictures a lot longer. In that time I have accumulated a number of systems. Each has its good and bad points and each is enjoyable to use. I have a number of Nikon F2s but I actually prefer the original Canon F-1. The meter is built into the body so the finder is not so bulky and the L focusing screens add some finder brightness. My 105/2.5 Nikkor and 100/2.8 Canon lenses are both good but my favorte non-macro 100 must be the 100/2.5 MC Rokkor-X. Some independently made lenses are favorites so I will look for them in more than one mount. These include the 135/2.8 Vivitar Close Focusing, the 55/2.8 Vivitar Macro, the 50/2.8 Sigma macro, the 28/2.5Vivitar Fixed Mount, the 135/2.8 Sigma Pantel and others. I am at the point where I might start cataloging things and better organizing them. My DSLR is a Pentax K-x. I have made many nice images with it and I have been able to adapt many older lenses to it. I don't think I will ever have the same affection for digital cameras that I have for film cameras but they can be very handy.
     
  16. Bruce Robbins

    Bruce Robbins Member

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    I'm a fan of 1960's Nikkors, too. Wrote a bit about them here.
     
  17. Thomas Bertilsson

    Thomas Bertilsson Subscriber

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    I don't know if I'm adding anything to this thread here or not, but my summary of how important a lens is can be summarized as: it depends.

    I have a number of lenses currently, and some of them I'm not sure why I own, because I never use them. Usually it's because they are big and bulky or that they otherwise don't handle very well. To me, the most important thing about a lens is that it works as it should and that it's reliable. It really is up to the photographer to do something interesting with it, and that is borne out of creativity, imagination, knowledge, and a well harnessed intuition and experience.

    For example, I own a Pentax K-mount 50mm f/1.4 lens, a Pentax K-mount 55mm f/2, a Voigtlander 50mm Nokton f/1.5, and a 50mm Leica Summitar f/2. They are used on various Pentax K-mount SLRs, and the Leica and Voigtlander on a lovingly restored M2. I also use a Super Takumar 50mm f/1.4 in M42 mount, with a Canon EOS adapter for an EOS-3. All five lenses produce amazing results, and I don't have a favorite. I like using all of them, they feel right to me. They work and are reliable. When I go into the darkroom to print negatives from either of them, it doesn't even enter my mind to check which lens or camera I used. I just don't care, because they are all so good! One of those 55mm lenses can be had for a couple of twenties in good condition.

    I also own a 35mm f/2 Pentax K-mount, and a 35mm Voigtlander 35mm f/1.4 Leica M-mount. The Pentax is leaps and bounds better from a technical perspective, but again when I print from negatives made with 35mm lenses, I just don't care.

    Either a photograph is interesting or it's not. A good printer will make amazing prints made from negatives taken with the worst of lenses. The knowledge and skill of using all kinds of equipment shines through as good craftsmanship, where talent and hard work trumps materials any day of the week. Some of my favorite prints are made with a Holga, for crying out loud. Talk about shitty lenses... Cracks me up.

    But, here's the 'it depends' part - some people do this stuff for a living, and they have to meet other people's criteria and requirements. Sometimes only the very best will do, in applications where you really CAN tell a difference. Scientific photography, for example, medical photography, and so on.
    The good news is that a Hasselblad with something like an 80mm Planar can be purchased for nickels on the dollar today, and you will not find anything substantially better today, if you must have the very best lenses, even as an enthusiast today it's entirely possible.
     
  18. blockend

    blockend Member

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    Like many people, I look to digital image making if I want seamless, clean looking representation, and return to film for atmosphere. Those values comes from film stock, development and lenses. In such a context I'm more forgiving of technical imperfections, and better prepared to see their possibilities. One Nikkor is positively eaten with fungus, except for a small central portion. In pre-digital days it would have been landfill but now it provides a particular look that would be difficult to reconstruct. Ditto with medium and large format, where 3-element or ancient uncoated lenses I would have once ignorantly despised, I now use for their rendering, not in spite of it.