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The ten-lens challenge!


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.

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The ten-lens challenge!

21 Jul 2020 9:18AM   Views : 405 Unique : 268

Developing Phil Taylor’s idea about ten lenses, and setting a challenge for those who like lenses. Name your ten favourite lenses, and give a bit of explanation.

1 Top of my list is my Zeiss Planar 85mm f/1.4, bought in 1977, and still going strong. It’s featured here (the blog about accidents, as the bayonet mount wore out and it plummeted to the pavement outside Moor Hill station in Birmingham), and it remains a delight to use, with smooth, backlash-free focus. I learnt one of my trademarks – very shallow depth of field – with it, wide open, often with T-Max P3200 loaded. I love this lens, and it will probably be in my memory box when they cart me off to the House on the Hill (where they give you pills).

2 Lensbaby Muse – this was the first Lensbaby I bought: technically, it has the double plastic optic fitted, and at f/2, there are plenty of aberrations in the images, as well as flare. But the crucial thing is that the way that the lens is mounted on a flexible plastic tube utterly changes the way that I work. It has to be instinctive. Control freaks need to buy the discontinued Control Freak mount, but will never have the same liberating experience as the Muse gives. Currently, the Spark does similar things…

3 The Lensbaby Velvet 56mm f/1.6 is weird and wonderful, with a field that’s not flat, making some weird and lovely effects possible. There’s a lovely aura at wider apertures, just like a Softar filter, and interesting levels of flare.

4 Zeiss Pancolar 50mm f/2 – my affair with wide apertures started here in 1970: far more expensive than an f/2.8 Tessar, and with the potential for more flare and aberrations – but it served me faithfully for several years, and the one I acquired a year or two ago is delightful to use and see results from.

5 The Olympus 45mm f/1.8 must be the biggest bargain in MFT lenses: the cheapest real lens for the format (I exclude the ‘lenscap’ fisheyes and manual focus only offerings from China), and the ideal focal length for portraits. It’s not the sharpest possible lens for the format, but it’s easily up to really testing use.

6 As my main system is based on Alpha 7 bodies, there has to be a native E-Mount 85mm. Possibly surprisingly, the lens normally found on my camera is the Sony 85mm f/1.8 FE. A third of the price and weight of the lovely G-Master f/1.4, but it runs it close on quality, while feeling balanced and ‘right’ on the body, either in my hand or on my shoulder.

7 The Samyang 24mm f/2.8 came as a revelation – the Korean manufacturer has been gaining ground steadily over the last ten years or so, and is a real force to be reckoned with these days. This optic is tiny and light, and a match for the Minolta lens it displaced from my camera bag. Other manufacturers might want to take a lead from Samyang in terms of lenses that make for shoulders that won’t get sore on a long day out.

8 I love taunting Canon fanboys with my Canon 100mm f/3.5. It’s a lens made in the Fifties/Sixties for rangefinder cameras, and was a free gift with the Leica M6 I bought from a friend in around 2005. It’s remarkably sharp, but the contrast is very low, and it’s incredibly prone to flare. Like so many ‘imperfect’ lenses, it’s popular with female models: unlike many other lenses from the same era, I’ve not met another example, and it’s not (yet) achieved cult status.

9 There has to be a special place for the Leitz Summar 50mm f/2. For many years, this uncoated and utterly-imperfect lens suffered a very poor reputation – if you want the sort of quality that you probably associate with the marque, get an Elmar instead. But if you like a Lensbabyesque mix of soft and sharp, this is a lovely lens, and can give something akin to 3D results at wide apertures.

10 My final lens is a new love, and a recent acquisition. When I owned an Asahi Pentax Spotmatic in the Seventies, I chose the f/1.4 standard lens, and it was only when I bought a secondhand Spotmatic with a Super Multicoated Takumar 55mm f/1.8 that I tried the slightly lower-spec lens. And it’s delightful, just like the Spotmatic (about which I waxed lyrical a few weeks ago). If you think about a Platonic ideal Seventies SLR, the Spotmatic is it: and the 55mm is on the front. Self-effacing and gently perfect, it makes using the Pentax addictive.

If the idea interests you, either get in touch with me and we’ll do an email interview, to post here in my blog – or, better, write your own blog and just put a link to it here.

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dark_lord Avatar
dark_lord Plus
19 3.0k 836 England
21 Jul 2020 12:20PM
I don't have ten lenses so a top ten is difficult! Taking into account lenses I've had over the years that would clearly be more than ten, but as my current lenses are my pick then I don't miss the older lenses. However, at the time what I did have I was generally happy with. The combination of Tamron Adaptall SP 28-80 and 80-210 served me well for a long time and were not heavy.
It also depends on what I'm shooting.
My Canon 100 mm macro gets a lot of use and is one of the cheapest of my lenses.
Lenses that are indispensible are my Canon 70-200 f/2.8 L IS and 500 mm f/4 L IS.

We should all have a soft spot for a Lensbaby (pun most severely intended Grin).
dudler Avatar
dudler Plus
20 2.1k 2048 England
21 Jul 2020 2:13PM
Soft spot for Lensbabies. WHY has nobody made that joke before anywhere I've been. Love it.

And I admire anyone who can hone it down to less than ten lenses. Well - less than thirty, actually.
PaulCox Avatar
21 Jul 2020 2:19PM
I would find it hard to put my 10 favourite lenses in a list, but the one that has alway been a favourite is a Minolta MC TELE ROKKOR - PF 135mm f2.8, I have owned it since 1970, when I bought it from a lad in West Wickham, who was a pupil of a friend of mine, I have always suspected that it had fallen of the back of a lorry so to say, but it was used on a Minolta SRT101, for taking many a cars racing at Brands Hatch, and other circuits, not really long enough but better than the standard 50 f1.7, today it is used on a Lumix Micro 4/3 G1 body and works fine, along with my trusty Helios 44/2 58mm f2, I have other lenses too many really but there is a special something about these two. Paul.
dudler Avatar
dudler Plus
20 2.1k 2048 England
21 Jul 2020 2:36PM
It's interesting that you've got a Helios among your favourites: these used to be cheap as chips (sometimes literally) - and now they're a cult. I wonder why? Maybe it's a bit like my Pancolar, the first wide-aperture lens I owned - I was coming from an f/2.8 Tessar, but these days people are seeing it as a contrast to an 18-55 that tops out at f/5.6 at the long end... Compared with which it's mindblowing, of course. Possibly in every way.
GGAB Avatar
GGAB 7 31 1 United States
21 Jul 2020 3:23PM
Being the new kid on the block I do not have lenses that date back to the 70's or older.
That having been said, I do have a few really good modern lenses that I love:

1- Canon 100-400mm L II
2- Canon 70-200mm L III
3- Canon 100mm L Macro
4- Canon 300mm f/2.8 IS L USM ver I. I often use it with either a 1.4 or 2.0x III extenders and a crop sensor body.

I do have others that I use, however this is my top 4 list I use for Nature close up, sports and wild life.
I believe these are destined to be classics since Canon is now focusing on Mirror-less bodies and lenses.
PaulCox Avatar
21 Jul 2020 3:55PM
This is an interesting combination, I do have as well a Nikon AF Nikkor f1,4 50mm, but this Minolta 50mm f1.4 can produce some interesting results with the aid of a Wester Meter.

dudler Avatar
dudler Plus
20 2.1k 2048 England
21 Jul 2020 8:47PM
I'm never sure about Canon L series: a close friend had to return one to Canon because it was so awful: and I shy away from big heavy lenses. Though I know that the Sony equivalents are just as cumbersome. So I'm glad that I rarely go beyond 85mm.

As I recall, you do sport and wildlife, George, so your kit makes great sense: cheap long lenses don't.

I'm intrigued by the idea of a Minolta lens on a Nikon - how does the lens register work out? Can you achieve infinity focus, or anything near it?
GGAB Avatar
GGAB 7 31 1 United States
21 Jul 2020 9:02PM
You shoot much different images than I do, and much better than I do as well. You are a far more talented photographer.
With staged photography using people you have the ability to sneaker zoom and do not need the long lens kits as I do.
Although I was intrigued with the image you showed a few days ago with the 500mm mirror lens. That Minolta lens did very well.

Regarding Canon "L" lens in general, the only one I have that is not top notch imho is the EF-28-300mm L lens. I bought it for sports video shooting I was doing.
I really needed a range of 60 to 300mm with accurate focus. It is a super zoom and has it's issues, however it is built like a tank and that was more important than being a bit soft throughout the range.
I was shooting 1080p video at the time.

I discount the Tamron and Sigma lenses as options when I need focus compatibility. I have never needed to micro focus adjust any of my L lenses.
I have needed to micro focus adjust my third party lens, and continue to need to, micro focus my Tamron 150-600 G2.
PaulCox Avatar
21 Jul 2020 9:06PM
The Adaptor has a correction lens build into it unlike the micro 4/3 adaptors which don’t I have used then for quite a while and infinity focus has never been a problem. However having said that, most of the photos taken with the set up are more close ups and when set at a wider aperture give a very good “Bokeh” effect.

This is the MD TO A1 Adaptor, and hopefully you can see the built in correction lens.
GeorgeP Avatar
GeorgeP 16 62 26 United States
22 Jul 2020 3:00AM

As a life-long Pentax fan (well, with a short digression to early Olympus digital cameras) there are a plethora of compatible lenses to choose from. I own the 31/f1.8 and 77/f1.8 LTD which both get gushing reviews in most Pentax posts, but my favorite is the cheap and cheerful 135/f3.5 KM lens that was released in the mid 70s and is readily available for less than $50. It is inconspicuous and sharp - even at full aperture. On the Pentax APS-C systems with a 1.5 crop factor it is equivalent to a 200mm telephoto allowing for discrete portrait images. It is the one lens that was always slipped into a briefcase when I was travelling for work and which still goes into a pocket on family strolls. For me, it is perfect. (Well, almost – old age makes be wish it had auto-focus. Smile . . . but then, it would not be the same.)
dudler Avatar
dudler Plus
20 2.1k 2048 England
22 Jul 2020 7:34AM
Thanks, everybody, for the extra intriguing wrinkles and thoughts!
philtaylorphoto Avatar
philtaylorphoto 22 334 2
22 Jul 2020 9:49PM
What a joyously bonkers set of lenses! It's got it all, from the 85mm Planar to bottle bottoms in lens mounts

Although not a fan of standard lenses, I have to say that having used the Takumar 50 1.8 on my first 'proper' camera, I have to agree.

One day, I will buy an ES2, just to sit on a shelf.

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