Talking rubbish about lenses - Part Two
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.
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.
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. :-)
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.
San Diego, CA, USA
The lady of the house has to be a pretty swell sort of person to put up with the annoyance of a photographer.
-The Little Technical Library, _Developing, Printing, And Enlarging_
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.
Originally Posted by Chrismat
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 blockend; 04-08-2014 at 07:30 PM. Click to view previous post history.
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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.
Originally Posted by ntenny
As for fooling myself? That's another good and thought-provoking point you've made!
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.
"She's always out making pictures, She's always out making scenes.
She's always out the window, When it comes to making Dreams.
It's all mixed up, It's all mixed up, It's all mixed up."
From It's All Mixed Up by The Cars
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.
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.
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.