Save & earn with MPB; trade-in and buy pre-loved

THAT lens


Time for an update: I still use film, though. Not vast quantities, but I have a darkroom, and I'm not afraid to use it.

I enjoy every image I take: I hope you'll enjoy looking at them.
...Read More

THAT lens

20 Mar 2022 10:42AM   Views : 425 Unique : 253


Those who share my upbringing, middle-class British, within living memory of two world wars will possibly also share my knowledge of Biggles books and Airfix models. The two were often linked!

For those not in the know, James Charles Bigglesworth was a Boys' Own type aviator, who began his career in the Royal Flying Corps, flying a Sopwith Camel in 1918 (though he started earlier, if you really know the Biggles canon!) By some amazing sleight of age, he commanded a Spitfire Squadron in 1940, but it’s the Camel that is relevant here.

One of the stories involved a special reconnaissance camera, fitted with a very special lens allowing more detailed aerial pictures than ever before: the challenge was to capture it, as it belonged to the other side, and was used in a specially-designed aeroplane, which was able to fly above the service ceiling of allied fighters. So the task was twofold: get up there, and get the camera down without damaging the lens.

And Biggles approached the task methodically and inventively. He persuaded the ground crew to modify his Camel, extending the upper wings by eighteen inches each side with parts from wrecked aircraft (of which there were always plenty at the time: the average working life of pilots at one point was two weeks), polishing the whole aircraft to reduce drag, and loading shorter belts of ammunition to save weight.
Top and bottom of the story: Biggles successfully forced the reconnaissance plane down, but found that a bullet had gone through the lens. But that allows me to launch into my main topic – the methodical and inventive superlens.


I wrote an article a while back about the ‘Bokeh Monsters’ – the lenses with amazing specifications (and cost, and weight) that allow even more differential focus than I can achieve with my 85mm f/1.4. And the other day, I was confronted with one of them on a secondhand shelf. Under £1,000, but well over 1,000 grams, a Sigma 105mm f/1.4.

As it was in a shop where I am ‘known’ (and profitable) I was allowed to take the lens for a walk, and take a few pictures, which are attached. And for the moment, I have resisted: lovely as the results are, amazing as the look of the shots is, it’s still a lot of money! So if you fancy one of these lovely lenses, it may be worth ringing LCE in Derby to see if the last week has seen it lumber from the shelf (such a mighty bit of technology will never have the agility of a Sopwith Camel).


Recent blogs by dudler

Focus scales

If you’ve been taking pictures since before autofocus arrived, you’ll be very familiar with focus scales – they are one of the primary controls on an old-school camera, and just one more of the things that you really needed to get right. With autof...

Posted: 27 Dec 2022 7:01AM

Porcelain processing

People commented on the look in my last post and it seems like a good idea to share the secrets for Christmas. I learned the technique several years ago: a model’s boyfriend told me about it, and a website that described it in detail: I tried it, l...

Posted: 23 Dec 2022 10:47AM

You develop your own films don’t you?

If you have your own darkroom, or if you use film cameras regularly, there are always a few people who mention the attic. As in ‘Grandpa’s cameras are in the attic. I don’t even know if they have film in them!’ This leads me to ask if I can have a l...

Posted: 16 Aug 2022 11:17AM

Choose your pond

There’s an old saying about being a big fish and a little pond. Do you want to be the most important person in a small organisation, or are you content being a relatively small cog in a big machine? It’s the same in photography. With relatively mo...

Posted: 3 Jun 2022 2:25PM

Graduated filters

This is for Hannah, and anyone else who has come across the casual way that a lot of togs talk about one or two types of filter that landscaper photographers use a lot: graduated filters and neutral density filters. A graduated filter is one that i...

Posted: 25 Apr 2022 12:18PM


dudler Plus
19 2.1k 2018 England
20 Mar 2022 10:43AM
And it's still singing a siren song to me...
20 Mar 2022 7:51PM
One has to ask oneself " Do I REALLY need it? Will it get used after the first flush of ownership ?" and " Can I afford the gym membership to tone my muscles to get the best from it ??? "

I am with you all the way, John, I have cupboards full of cameras and lenses that sang to me too. SmileSmileSmileSmileSmileSmile
dudler Plus
19 2.1k 2018 England
20 Mar 2022 8:44PM
Most of my cameras and lenses still sing regularly, though.

In this case, it's partly that it's big and heavy, as well as rather niche. Oddly, I've been playing with my 135mm f/2 today: seeing the Sigma last week reminded me of the most extreme lens I currently own... There are real practical limitations - any wide aperture lens is hard work, for instance, with leaves that flutter in the breeze...
20 Mar 2022 9:01PM
My widest is the Olympus 55mm f1.2, a wonderfully sharp lens,
but very difficult to get absolutely spot on lighting, very easy to overexpose at the 1.2 setting.
As you said, you need to be in a still, calm emviroment to get the best.
It is superb with Macro rings, but with digital I need to use a 8x Loupe on the screen to get perfect focus.

dudler Plus
19 2.1k 2018 England
21 Mar 2022 8:56AM
Magnification is the way to go for manual focus on digital, definitely. Beats focus peaking by a mile!

Sign In

You must be a member to leave a comment.

ePHOTOzine, the web's friendliest photography community.

Join For Free

Upload photos, chat with photographers, win prizes and much more.