Friday, October 12, 2012

A Brief Word About Lenses

Greetings Shipmates!
Well, what a week it has been. We been helping Mr.Sheephouse out, and we're plain knackered. It was shifting boxes here, shifting boxes there; sorting out this, sorting out that; a scritchin' and a scatchin' with a quill; use of the magnifier.
We even purloined a light.
Not just any light either but The Stevenson on the Mull O'Galloway.
Oh yes, up there at night, pieces of glass held up against its God-like brightness, checking for imperfections and blemishes.
What a week for it.
We settled in at the Stevenson though, even though we weren't supposed to be there. You can't beat a lighthouse in good weather and this is a beauty.
Clear views to the Lakes and the Isle 'O'Man and Ireland. Puffins and gulls. Wide vistas and clean air.
It also has the best collection  of snails I have ever seen (on a south facing wall) - there be hunners o' them - big too. We likes a snail or six, quick fried with garlic an' butter.
Mog hates them though, so he had to make do with a few tins o'Kattomeat from a local emporium.
Oh yes, what a week.
And then when everything was checked it was back on the Goode Shippe FB and off on the seas of ether.
We's got a long haul ahead of us this week though, he's threatening to lock us in his darkroom again so we might be out of signalling distance for some while.
Still, at least we've got a couple o'hunnerweight o'snails to keep us company.


I will warn you in advance - there are a lot of photographs in this weeks FB.
It is strange really and doesn't seem to make any sense at all, but quite a number of years ago, a weird phenomena overtook the world of photography, and it doesn't actually seem to be getting any less. If anything it is on the increase. And I find it hard to get myself into the mindset-cave where it is residing like some big cave-dwelling thing, waiting to devour passers-by.
Surely, photography, any form of photography, is all about the image.
I would hope that any of you reading this that aren't even of a photographic bent would realise this. Snaps of Aunty Tony and Uncle Sally, Nobby the Cat, your children, neighbours, friends, that tree that looms over your garden, a house, a bowl of pasta . . . get my drift . . . a photograph needs subject matter, and more to the point, the subject matter needs to be the reason for the photograph.
I've been doing a lot of legwork in the ether in the past few weeks, checking out lenses and their out of focus characteristics, and also the way they handle contrast and skin tones and detail, and having done all this, I have come to the conclusion that photography, which was once a means to an end, seems to have become an end to a means.
I'm going to be contentious here, but at the risk of getting my baseball cap knocked off my head by the youth with the cudgel, I'll say it anways:
Photography, looks like it has become almost exclusively a 'lads' hobby.
There . .
Let me try and explain how I came to this conclusion at the risk of alienating any female readers.
In much the same way when I was young, male teenagers of 14 and 15 and 16 yearned for a Yamaha 125, or a Kracker (Kawasaki) or a Suzuki moped, now, men (and some women, but mostly men) of a certain age, seem to have have become obsessed with cameras and lenses.
And it is a strange obsession, because it doesn't actually seem to have anything to do with what you can do with a camera. No, it is more of a 'let's-have-it-up-on-the-ramps-and lets-check-this-beauty-from-underneath' type of attitude.
I fully understand that the fascination with the beauty of cameras has been there from the start, and I have that fascination too, however it seems to have turned a corner and now what we are getting is the wholesale grading of every lens ever made with buyers in search of some magical extra something that will make them a better photographer.
So what you have is
everything shot wide open,
everything shot with a regard as to how sharp a picture is.
If it isn't sharp or if it isn't pleasantly smooth, then the lens seems to get disparaged.
Subject matter has nothing to do with it.
Common problems like closeness of subject matter and it's inherent lack of depth of focus, and landscapes and apparent depth of field, are discarded. Hardly anyone mentions the use of tripods or monopods in aiding a steady camera, or mentions the influence a mirror will have in its movements. There is no talk of how a lighter-bodied camera can actually make things worse. Photographic technique and craft? Forget it.
If a lens isn't sharp at maximum aperture, if it doesn't have bokeh smoother than James Bond, then it is almost totally disregarded and the madness and hunger drives them ever onwards.
I think I could understand this if interesting photographs were being made, but they aren't.
Not by a hole a million miles wide they aren't.
Lenses, and the whole point for their existence, photographs seem to have become a diversion from the main meat and potatoes.
We have entered the world of the Cool Wall, but with small bits of glass and brass and aluminium and lubricants.
On the Top Gear Cool Wall, millionaire's toys are paraded around with an audience hungry for petrol fumes and 'fun' and a total disregard for anything nearing practicality.
I used to love Top Gear, but I stopped watching it years ago because it became a semi-pathetic parade of middle-aged men strutting around with their flies open.
Everything became about the fastest, loudest, smoothest, most expensive, most exclusive.
'Petrol Heads' the world over fired up by this boy's-own attitude became intent on using up as much of the finite resource that is oil as possible, with scant regard for the planet's future (don't worry . . I'm not going to soapbox)
Do you know what I mean?
And this Bigger, Stronger, Faster, More attitude has now saturated my rather quaint world.
My Morris Minor Convertible has been nicked and pimped.
I spotted it the other day, harassing some Grannies.
Gone are it's wooden panels and old world charm, it is now sporting Twin-Carburettors, a jacked suspension and a 22 inch Sub-Woofer.
Instead of transporting its occupants on a pleasant Sunday drive for a spot of fishing, it now cruises to the nearest Drive-Thru for the consumption of mechanised meat.
(And whilst I am on the subject, if you eat meat, you'd better get used to becoming a vegetarian .  .there's no way we can sustain current meat production for the populations the world has. Remember the hydroponics plants so beloved of Science Fiction films? They're coming my friends. It's the only way to deal with the coming Hungers.)
Anyway, stop looking at your burger . . it's back on with the lecture!
When I started taking photographs I started because it was part of my college course and because my inherent curiosity about the world seemed to click ('scuse the pun) with making a photograph. I became fascinated with what things looked like in Black And White. I also became fascinated with maybe trying to single out things in this crazy world that looked a little different to my eyes. In a few words, I found a creative pursuit that would enable me to express myself in fuller terms than just playing the guitar.
My pursuit was borne of creativity and is still fired by it, and will continue to be so till I stop.
Yes I love cameras, for what they can do, but they are a means to an end and not the other way round.
Anyway, in the interests of the subject matter of this FB, I have compiled my own tongue in cheek

Cool Wall

Sub Zero
Leitz Summicrons and Summiluxes and Noctiluxes
Cooke Portrait lenses
Anything of historical note with an aperture wider than f1.8
Large format lenses from the golden age of Pictorialism
Zeiss Planars and variations thereof
Zeiss Sonnars and variations thereof
Dokter Optik
There's bound to be a few more, but this isn't meant to be a definitive list

Plastic lenses from plastic cameras
Lens Babys
Nikon/Pentax/Canon/Olympus prime lenses with a highly regarded reputation (Like the Pentax SMC 50mm f1.4)
Ancient prime lenses from the 1950's and '60's
High End Mainstream Manufacturer lenses (the likes of the ED Nikkors)
Kodak Ektar
Anything else other than the pinnacles, with Leitz or Zeiss engraved on it
Some Russian lenses
Nikon and Canon Rangefinder lenses
Certain Schneider, Rodenstock and  Fujinon Large Format lenses
Nikon large format lenses

Zoom  lenses
Canon FD
Most 'ordinary' Rodenstock and Schneider and Fujinon large format lenses
Ordinary mainstream lenses from the likes of Nikon and Pentax and Canon
Rollei MF SLR lenses

Seriously Uncool
Anything by Vivitar, Tamron and other third party manufacturers making lenses for a less well-off mainstream camera buyer
Cheap Bundled mainstream Zoom Lenses
Lenses from people like Soligor - basically manufacturers now long extinct, who were possibly questionable at the time anyway


You'll probably disagree with the list, but then it is just knocked up with only a tiny amount of thought at a ridiculously early hour of the morning whilst recovering from too much wine, so feel free!
This situation has led me to become convinced that what we now have is a:

Look at the lens on that! 
Check out them f-stops 
Got Symmetrical Dialyte?

So, is there any point in this activity at all?
To be honest, I think the answer to that is no, and yet everyone seems to do it!
I'll just ask one question (and the ghosts of Eugene and Ansel and Henri and Wynn and Edward and Clarence are right behind me on this):

Are you going to make a photograph with that lens or are you just going to snap away at random objects and then see how sharp/smooth your new acquisition is? 

It is almost getting to the point where one questions a photograph anyway these days.
This is an enormously complicated subject and way beyond FB, because I could ramble on for far longer than anyone could be bothered with, but the photographic world seems to be morphing (a terrible word) between having a tool that one uses to interpret your take on the world and a gleaming chunk of metal that you polish on your driveway every week.
More Expensive . . .
Does this make any sense to you? I sort of know what I am trying to say, but I am finding it hard to express myself (unusually).
Anyway, I have actually been there and done it, but only in a modest manner.
I've printed and checked and enlarged, and I will now bring out my soapbox and say that really it doesn't seem to matter very much at all.
What matters most is your subject and the way you have observed it.
That my friends is the whole point of picking up a camera in the first place.
It is your recorder of the world you are travelling through.
Anyway, enough of my personal opinions - you lot must get sick to the high teeth of them . . but as I have said before this Blog is my little domain and I can do what I like.
Just to show how very little difference things make (to me) I have included some images made with prime lenses from several different manufacturers.
It isn't an exhaustive list, just what I have to hand.
The only slight difference between any of them is film - it is a mix of Rollei RPX 100, Kodak Tri-X and TMAX 400 and Ilford Delta 400, and camera - SLR and Rangefinder, and camera-shake.
See if you can see a difference that is worth spending hours mulling over, other than the fact that the subject matter might or might not be interesting.
I apologise for the alignment - I couldn't be arsed finding out how to do it properly, plus I ran out of time . . . also the horizontal banding on some of them is from my ***ing scanner . . .
Here goes:

The above were made using a Pre-Ai 50mm f1.4 Nikkor on a Nikon F2.
Possibly my favourite lens - totally sharp wide open and detailed stopped down.

These were from the highly regarded SMC-M Pentax 50mm f1.4, used on a Pentax MX . .
Notice much difference?
The OOFA on this lens was always particularly nice.

And again - the above were from a 1980's Russian 50mm f2 Jupiter 8 used on a 1950's Leica.
Whacker-whacker-whacker . . can you tell what it is yet?
Character is what you get with this lens  - it is soft but does that make a difference?

The three above are from a pantheon of photographic achievement - quite remarkable seeing as it is nearly 80 years old . . a 1934 50mm f3.5 leitz Elmar (uncoated).
A very well made lens with great qualities.
Better in the 3 to 30 feet category and beautiful OOFA.

I'll even add some different focal lengths into the mix.
This is the sharpest lens I own - a Pre-Ai 55mm f3.5 self-compensating Micro-Nikkor - it is astonishing. So astonishing that they adapted it for film camera use when making the original Star Wars films.
It isn't nearly as good at infinity though - but you can't touch it for extreme close to near distance.

Ok, we'll take it down a shade now - the above were made with the humble 40mm f2.8 D.Zuiko on an Olympus Trip.
Nothing too tardy here I can tell you - very sharp all round with nice qualities.

Something a bit wider now - the three above were made with a Pre-Ai 35mm f2 Nikkor.
Sheer quality and great OOFA and sharpness - also a favourite lens.
It has great 'pictorial' qualities.


And finally, some bottom feeding. The lens above is a Nikkor again, however this time the widest I own - a 28mm f2.8 (non-zoom) Nikkor on the lowly AFS600 compact which I purchased for the grand sum of £5.
The lens is actually very sharp indeed and with minimal shutter lag, if you want an all electronic film camera for general purpose picture making then this would be a good choice . .  .if you can find one!
The rewind motor is as noisy as hell though.


So there you go.
Be honest, can you notice any discernible difference other than subject matter and focal length?
Of course lenses are different and the variations are enormous, and owning a nice lens, is a nice thing, but it really isn't the be-all and end-all as far as I can see.
Maybe I am being naiive and stupid, but to me, the important thing is to make photographs.
I had fun making these photographs and printing them - they are my take on things.
They haven't been over-analysed, or mulled over (very much) - they are all to a man, photographs, not lens tests.
So try and get on with things.
In the words of Bobby McFerrin:
Don't Worry, Be Happy
and in the words of Tommy McFerrett:
Nae Worries, Any Lenses, Happy Bunny
Life is short, good light is shorter.
Stop reading about differences, spend the time on learning photographic craft skills - they will always see you right, and get out and make some photographs you can be proud of!
There'll be no FB next week for the simple reason that I need to organise my negatives and get some printing done (yes . . even at my usual ungodly hour of the morning). It might not seem like a lot of work, but each FB is hand-crafted, lovingly carved from words and given a final buff-up before being presented to you . . in other words they take up a huge amount of creative time, and I have let my filing slide!
Also I need to freshen my brain up. Winter's coming up fast - if I want to entertain you I need to take some time out and think about what to write. And also, I am just not sure how long FB can go on. Yes it has sharpened my writing, and yes it has been fun . . but I am not sure how much more I have to say . . . so we shall see. I know I have some regular readers out there . . and a big thank you for that - it is appreciated. So we shall see. I will be back though, even if it is briefly (I've got some planned that'll have you wringing your withers . . .), so worryeth not!
Anyway, as usual, take care, God bless, thanks for reading . . over and out.

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