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Lenses; percieved quality vs. real quality

Discussion in 'General Discussion' started by Scott Sherman, Jul 10, 2005.

  1. I am wondering if we give too much importance to the self proclaimed experts to whom we look for guidance in making our lens purchases. The reason I ask this, is because I have read several threads in several forums saying certain lenses, such as the 24-120 is too soft or not as vibrant or not pro level or the 17-55 is less sharp than the 17-35 or the xxx is better than the xxx lens.

    In fact, I have seen images from the 24-120 that are sharper and more vivid than the so called sharpest lenses available when used by talented artistic photographers. The difference in any two given Nikonn lenses when opened to the same aperture at the same focal length seems to my layman's eyes to be only as sharp as the ability of the photographer's ability to apply it to the scene in front of him/her.

    To make it more complicated, the same image seen on my laptop does not look as nice as when I look at it on my desktop and it looks different still from the image seen on my wifes PC desktop. An image printed on an Epson will look slightly different from the same image printed on a Canon printer. Photoshop and NC and other software make it possible to bring an inferior image to near perfection in many cases.

    We have created technology that will allow us to exceed the limits of our ability to percieve. We can define millions of colors, but can only see thousands. The cheapest lens can record the finest detail beyond our ability to see the detail without instruments. But we continue to pursue "the best" lens and pass over very good lenses in the process in the pursuit of perfection. I think for most of us any Nikon lens which covers a given focal length if it is fast enough for the light anticipated, should serve well. That probably goes for most 3rd party lenses, but I like name brands like Nikon because they hold their value for resale better. Not that they are better but they are percieved to be better.

    Have the Madison Avenue, slick multi million dollar advertising campaigns in a highly competative market made us all so concerned with having perfect equipment, that we have far exceeded our ability to perform up to the limits of the equipment that we purchase on credit and easy payment plans?

    Just some random thoughts during a moment of idle time. Please feel free to support or dispell my thoughts. I would like to see some discussion. Who among us would not rather have a less expensive single all purpose lense like the 24-120 but have passed on it to buy two or three more expensive lenses to cover the same focal length just because we have been convinced that it is better to buy the most expensive so called "professional" lens that is "perfect".

    This is not by any means a mine is better than yours discussion. I have certainly been one of those who has fallen into the trap of more (money) must be better when I probably should have spent less.

    Any thoughts?
  2. Chris101


    Feb 2, 2005
    You're right Scott, but we've got an economy to uphold here!
  3. Maybe, here the Lust-thing kicks in, too.

    I sure don't need a 230 Km/h car, buts its nice to own one. Same with this "Magic Nikon Glass". :wink:

    But it's true what you say, some of my nicest pictures where taken with the cheap Sigma 18-125.

    PS can really change a pic a lot, boost the to flat colors, sharpen the slightly off focus parts ......

    One point which may be truly important would be max aperture, it can make a real difference ( blurred or not blurred) to shoot 1/50 at f2.8 or at 1/25 at f4.

    Just my thoughts on that.
  4. Good point Chris.

    I think Nikon, Canon, and all the others, must be laughing thier heads off all the way to the bank when they read the lens lust threads or the... "the (fill in the blank) lens is sharper than the other (very expensive fill in the blank) lens, I can't wait to upgrade or should I sell and buy discussions.
  5. Scott, guilty as charged, but I have not regretted buying any of the top quality lenses I have bought. I just received my new used beautiful 500mm F4 nikkor yesterday! WOW! I wil be busy. CS Dayan
  6. Ken-L

    Ken-L Guest

    I agree Scott. As with other technologies (like audio), the arguments over differences can become theoretical and obsess on minute variations that can only be measured in a lab.
  7. Okay, Scott - I'll bite. Over the years I have been bitten by not getting the best tripod, ball-head or lens. I always end up unhappy with the poorer product and upgrade.

    You mention that we now have technology that exceeds our own senses. In this, regarding lenses, I do not agree. The density of the D2X photo-sites has shown the weaknesses in many lenses that the owner had thought better than they were. I do not own the 24-120VR, but I suspect I would not be happy with its quality for long, compared to the best glass.

    Another specific example is the 300/4 vs the 300/2.8VR. The 300/4 is a great lens and I have a large number of excellent photos, but it is not as good as the 300/2.8. I can see the difference in detail, bokeh and contrast.

    However, there are gems out there, especially fixed focal length lenses, that have amazing optics, even on a D2X. Nothing wrong with retro lenses that perform.

    Also, nothing wrong with less that optimum lenses if your goal is not to get the most you can out of your system. Of course, little point in a 12 MP camera - the D2H will fit the bill.

    I do agree with you that we spend too much time listening to the "experts", when we should be doing our own tests and making our own judgements.

    After all, what I am saying really only applies to me. You, and others, will of course, have different objectives, needs and skill sets.
  8. Scott here a little story I read in one book but I can't remember which. A professional photographer was having a chat with the owner of a big New York camera store. A young man approch them and the owner ask him if he can help. He showed them a really old camera and ask them if he could take better pictures with the nice camera on the shelves. Both of them were skeptic and he ask the young man, do you have picture to show me so I can give you an answer. He took a book out of an old army bag and handled it to them.

    They started looking at the picture with amazement and told the young man, you cannot take better picture than that, but the new camera can really make it easier for you to take them.
  9. MontyDog


    Jan 30, 2005
    #1064 - You have an error in your SQL syntax;
  10. Ken talking about audio, I have been to a lot of store to listen to different speakers and been to a lot of audio show, but I only once heard a system that had an "audio image". The music was from an Oscar Peterson trio and I could reach with my hand to touch every musician as far as right to left as to where they were front or back. The speaker were some SNELL, i am not sure but i think they are made in the Boston area.
  11. Paul that story I read it in a 1980 photography book, I don't know if the book you suggest is from those years
  12. JayR


    Jul 6, 2005
    Redmond, WA.
    I agree with Michael w/ fast glass.

    I think there might be some cases where it might be necessary to buy fast glass which generally is the "pro" variety & expensive. For instance in my case :) . I live in Seattle where I struggle with less than ideal light most of the time. I find that "fast" lenses give me better yield. Autofocus on my D70 performs much better with 1.8 or 2.8 lenses. I am in the process of upgrading my glass.

    Is this lens lust or just a necessity? I don't know. I will find out sooner or later.

    Audio - My other money pit. I went through "chronic upgraditis" for a while but it finally settled down. I haven't changed my audio equipment in more than 2 years. I really enjoy the system now. I don't think about the equipment anymore but it has defintely made me explore more music which I still do. I really don't know what will happens if something breaks.G-- forbid.

    Just thought I will ramble a bit because 2 of my hobbies was mentioned.
  13. I'm not saying speed (max apeture) and focal length doesn't make a difference. A 200-400mm VR will always be better than a 70-200 + TC20eII. Yes there are quite certainly inferior and superior lenses.

    I have and carry on my outings for example a 10.5mm, 17-55mm f2.8, a 28mm f1.4, a 60mm micro and a 70-200mm vr. All superior "pro level" lenses but, ouch my aching back! Very large, very heavy bag and a lot of lens changes.

    I am seriously considering putting all these into storage for use only in specific occassions and just carrying a 17-55 f2.8 + a 55-200 f4-5.6 DX when I travel. These two lenses cover most common ranges, have ED glass, and DX for minimum size and weight benefit. They are arguably much inferior lenses technically, but in reality, does the trade off in weight, lens changes (convenience), size (much smaller lighter bag), and (if I were just starting out from scratch), cost offset the lack of speed on the long zoom and perfection in lens construction. With the D2x, I would then be able to take better advantage of the better image at higher iso or tripod (or both) to get the speed when neccessary in those less common situations where there is less light . (and there is always a flash).

    This would be a kit I could grab and run with. But it is also a step down in lens quality. Or is it? :lol: :?:

    I would be interested in comments.


    Apr 30, 2005
    Sure sharpness, bokah, and contrast all matter. However they are secondary factors in producing a nice image. For me, composition is the most important factor in a great image.

    So does one need 'Pro' glass to take a great picture......IMHO no.


  15. Scott,

    I'm probably going to upset a lot of people now, but here goes:

    I think that, quite often, those people (I'm including myself in this, o.k.) who buy lots of lenses, do so in the mistaken belief that it will improve their photography skills.

    The problems that you see time and time again is that people have minimal artistic ability, little knowledge in how to use light well, lack a full understanding of the abilities of their camera and lack the appropriate skills to reliably make a correct exposure and white balance under difficult conditions.

    A "better" lens will quite probably produce a better photograph than the cheaper one, so it is bought. It is a quick fix solution. I mean, how in God's name am I going to improve my artistic ability? Read lots of books? Go to art classes for a year or two? Alternatively, I could buy that nice sexy lens or camera, that I have been lusting after. Now, I can point out how incredibly detailed my average photographs are.

    Anyway, I am not hurting anyone, and neither are lots of other people, by doing this. It makes me happy and I shall continue to do it, and maybe I will pick up enough (skills) along the way to see some sort of improvement. However, I am realistic enough to know that I am not going to be a Dirk Vermeirre, just by going out and buying me a D2X or a Fuji S3.
  16. Ken-L

    Ken-L Guest

    At the "height" of my audio fanatacism I visited specialty stores nationwide, brought along my own tape, and listened blindfolded. It go so bad that I listened to the equipment rather than the music. Today, I'm happy with what I have and am no longer an "audiophile" - I had to undergo 6 months of rehab (a desert island with no music at all) and I go to AA meetings (Audiophiles Anonymous) :lol:
  17. ckdamascus


    May 14, 2005
    New Jersey
    What is your final output is the key question. Is it for the web? Is it for viewing on your computer? Is it for making prints? If so, what size?

    You are not going to see a lot of these defects for the web, or when you resize it to fit on your monitor (unless you run your monitors at a high resolution), or when you do 4x6 prints.

    Perception vs reality. Shiny car, but if you used a microscope you would see nasty blemishes despite it looking wonderful from afar. If the blemishes are there, but it requires a microscope to see it, doesn't mean it isn't shiny enough for human viewing.

    The same analogy can be done with photography. If you are viewing it on the computer, I don't view it at 100% normally unless I want to inspect it for suitability for LARGE prints. If you need to view it at 100% to see the defects and go much further, yet it looks fine if you had it as a web, small print, or resized for your monitor, why are you spending more money for "higher quality"? You are removing those microscopic blemishes on that shiny car of yours.

    Most of the pros work maybe printed to much larger sizes. It is here where you can start spotting horrible defects as it is magnified. It is here where skimping on that stable tripod, lens, not cleaning the lens/or filter, using a cheap filter, etc all of it might come and bite you hard.

    Now, if you can see these defects even in these smaller formats, you just have to make the conventional economic cost call. Is the difference in quality worth the price gap? Only you can decide.

    Obviously composition, choice of perspective, etc are still very important. Having the best technical photographic equipment but no artistic taste results in equally bad pictures.
  18. ckdamascus


    May 14, 2005
    New Jersey
    Regarding the "slightly inferior glass" concept, this is something I have been struggling with myself.

    In the end, do I really want all those lens or do I just want to keep the good "enough" stuff. (i.e. lightweight enough to work with)

    I think a lot of this depends on your shooting style. Some people have very elaborate planned on photography trips, and others just shoot while going someplace. Others go on long trails and might want to go with a lightweight kit. Sometimes the people you go with aren't too crazy about waiting for you to change lens or bracket a bunch of shots.

    Go with what is the most convenient for your shooting style and lifestyle. I am not sure what your final output of the pictures will be (large prints, or just computer), but I am sure you will find out soon enough if your lightweight kit is good enough for your needs.

    Save the good lens for those special occasions where you know exactly what you want to be shooting and want the highest quality shots.

  19. This was the original reason I was attracted to photography instead of art or music. I could actually go out and buy something that would sort of do the work if I just made a few adjustments, pointed it and pressed a button and I could begin right after reading the owners manual. (I would have bought a piano, but the manual was so confusing.) Obviously an exaggeration and over simplification but not that far off the mark. I figured that the more money I threw at it the better I would be. Well, unfortunately, it is not that simple at all. Photography, especially digital photography requires an aptitude for many skills and patience and yes money (a strong back is also an attribute).

    I started with a Coolpix and graduated to a D1 then a D1x then a D2x. I purchased the best lenses money could buy from Nikon. I found that I actually enjoy photography, and the computer related tools that bring it together. I have had some minor success, but more importantly, it gives me great pleasure and a direction in my leisure time. I have also found some friends along the way that I enjoy sharing thoughts and experience with here at the Cafe which is a tremendous bonus.

    Now that I have the great (heavy) lenses, I find that it may be less important than I first thought, and I am finding that simplification is also a skill that needs to be developed. Less can be more actually in photography. Especially in lenses. (The more I have, the less likely I am to carry them out and use them it seems.) So, as Carol suggested, I am going to order a 55-200mm DX lens and try it out. If it does not live up to my expectation, I will probably have no problem selling it. It is still new enough and a very desirable zoom range, especially for D70 users.
    I may never be a famous or highly paid photographer, but it gets me out of the house and I like it.
  20. Well Scott I agree somewhat with you but I do understand what Rory says, because I'm in a similar situation. I guess it depends on what you want to do with your photography.

    The Issue for me is not the smaller focal lengths, the lenses I have there (12-24, 17-55, 28 F2 AIS, 45mm P, 50mm 1.8 AIS, 55mm Micro AIS, 105 Af-D, 180mm AF), pretty much all perform well enough, if need to be I just go with a smaller aperture most of the time on a tripod and sharpness is fine.

    But the issues start coming up with 300mm and above. I have a 300mm 2.8 AF and a Sigma 800mm F5.6 and it is very hard to get close enough even with the 800mm to get even halfframe shots of birds, my new passion in photography. So the 100% crop as a tool to see the sharpness is becoming very important. Because you have to crop. And then you start seeing the difference between the great lenses and the ok ones. It's not fun to go out a full day and try to get pictures of birds and come up and have a few keepers out of a a couple of hundred shots, it gets you down a bit.... OK so often it is my fault - I'm still learning. But way to often it is because the lens isn't sharp enough.

    So I agree with Rory I have tried lenses that where not the best and I have been dissapointed, I guess it all depends on what you want to do.

    On a tripod at F11 most lenses will do quite well. at their largest aperture whether they are F2.8 or F4.5 most of them don't.

    My travel kit is the 17-55 and the 80-400mm VR which gives pretty good coverage and in good light the 80-400 does really well (in bad low light it doesn't). The 17-55 enabled me to shoot a picture for a friend of the inside of here house at F2.8 that was reasonably sharp, the 24-120VR would not have been able to do that (I have had it and tried)

    For me I will keep on hunting for that great lens that will give that just tiny bit of extra details so that I can try to get a shot of that bird far away in a tree before it flies off.... look at the Goosehawk shots Rory took with the 500mm Af-I, it is a very rare bird and Rory will remember this majestic bird his whole life and others can enjoy it in fine detail because he had a fine lens (and waited for several hours to get the right shots and hiked for hours carrying it etc. etc.) For these kinds of shots it is perhaps not only enough to be a fine talented photgrapher like Rory. You probably have to have the best of glass and other equipment as well

    Scott, you have very good points and I agree in context with a lot of them, I just think it depends on what one wants to do. Sometimes only the best of glass will make that special shot. I guess I'm an idiot but I'm still trying to find my once in a lifetime "Goosehawk like" shot, that I can remember for the rest of my life....
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