Lenses and Reality


The window between you and the image. It is also the second most important thing attached to your camera. The holder of that camera, the operator, the photographer, is the most important attachment. Never forget that.

Lenses, however, are a constant point of argument. There are some truths that must be acknowledged up front.

First, the best lenses do not make better photographers. If the knowledge and skill is not there to take advantage of the advantages then it is merely an expensive accessory doing about as much good as a Formula 1 wing on a Hyundai Accent.

Second, it is possible to create interesting, artful images with no lens at all. (Look up the pinhole camera)

Third. The “advantages” of the super lenses are often unnecessary. Take for comparison, Adobe Photoshop. It is superb image editing software considered to be the flagship jewel yet there are functions within that are hardly ever, or even never, utilized. On that note also there are functions of PS that are so focused on and over-used that the entire image suffers. It is the same with super lenses. Focusing only on the advantages offered without understanding or properly utilizing these advantages will not improve your images at all.

It is this third “truth” that is the focus here. Adobe Photoshop is not the only image editor on the market. There are many that are a fraction of the cost or even free and offer most to all of the same functions to varying degrees. The same is true for lenses in comparison to the super lenses.

Lenses produced by the manufacturer of the camera are generally regarded as the best. “Generally” is the key word. Some of them are really little more than a pipe with glass on each end. Third party manufacturers such as Tamron and Sigma are even frowned upon by some purists yet they do produce some great lenses that offer fantastic results.

Like Photoshop in comparison to other software shopping for lenses is a matter of what you want verses what you will actually use. Understanding the basic terminology used in measuring and comparing lenses is important. Applying this information to your photography style, or expansion of your style, is as important and possibly a challenge.

Vignetting, distortion (barrel or pincushion), saturation, chromatic aberration, depth of field, sharpness, bokeh… All of these terms and more become elemental in obtaining measured results for comparison. OK… “bokeh” is more subjective and could be tossed out as a measure but I would wager more money is spent on lenses for this “feature” than perhaps any other. Yes, there are artistic and subject matter isolation concerns in the topic of “bokeh” but they really do linger in the realm of “eye of the beholder”…

Note: I’m not here to educate on this terminology. If you are reading this you have the internet. “Google” it. Or, to stay within the realm of this article, “Yahoo” or “Ask” it… Let go of my hand and do some of your own work.

So… What, exactly, are you buying when you throw down for one of the super lenses? Aperture and materials, for the most part. Lenses considered “pro series” contain more metal than plastic and are often more precise in the tolerances and construction. The glass is often hand engineered and measured and tested. The aperture is often larger creating what is commonly referred to as a “fast lens”. (For more details on graded lenses check this article by Nasim Mansurov online at photographylife.com)

Consider again, the Hyundai Accent mentioned earlier… Consumer or even enthusiast grade lenses verses the super lenses is like comparing the mass produced, automation constructed, pieced from other mass produced components Hyundai Accent to a highly specialized, hand tooled and measured for every detail Meredes Formula 1 car. Yes, it is an extreme comparison but valid. Now apply those considerations to how you use your camera. Perhaps this analogy will help:

If you drive every day and your top speed is 70 mph in the daytime then what need would you have of the Mercedes F1…? If you are still going 70 in the daytime you haven’t changed anything but your wallet. Yes, it is nice to know you could take the corner at 120 mph and roll out of the apex and accelerate to over 200 mph but realistically, how often would you do that?

So… There it is. The thing about lenses. It is what you want (or think you want) compared to what you need and what you will actually use and your finances along with your style and ability thrown in. Shooting an 85mm 1.8 prime at f8 and 250th of a second is no different than shooting your 18-200 at 85mm at f8 and 250th of a second. The prime is likely to perform a bit better but are you going to really see it unless you know what you are looking for?

Research and learn. There are some really good lenses out there that do not cost twice or more than your camera. Some can be had for next to nothing.

Which ones…? What…? You want all of my secrets….?