(Originally published on March 5th 2009 in the dpreview editorial blog)
There's something that's been troubling me a bit recently, and I want to get it off my chest. It's an irritation about the photographic equipment available today, and its fitness for the purpose for which it's most likely to be used. It has germinated over the course of testing an array of 50mm prime lenses, developed further with the recent arrival at the dpreview offices of an array of new fast primes, and finally crystallized with the relative lack of interesting new products and ideas at PMA. And it's this; most manufacturers seem be be thinking very conservatively, treating digital as though nothing's changed from the days of 35mm film, and simply aren't making the right lenses for photographers today.
My line of reasoning goes like this. Through the long history of photography, there's always been one constant; the most popular subject is people. The hardware, materials and techniques may have changed beyond all recognition, especially in the past decade, but when all is said and done our lenses are overwhelmingly trained on our family, friends and loved ones. And possibly the biggest advance over those ten years is the ability of the latest breed of DSLRS to operate effectively in low light, with such remarkable high ISO capabilities that it's now perfectly feasible to shoot indoors without the potentially ruinous effects of flash. This is in marked contrast to the days of film, as anyone who shot even ISO 800 colour negatives will attest; we can now use ISO 1600 or 3200 as a matter of course and achieve previously undreamed-of quality (remember Ilford Delta 3200 anyone?). Just throw on a fast prime, and Bob's your uncle.
The problem is though, which fast prime? The new age of the DSLR has certainly seen a resurgence in popularity of 50mm lenses, mainly because they are relatively cheap and gather lots of light. And the manufacturers appear to have cottoned on to this, with a new breed of 'fast fifties' appearing recently from Sigma, Nikon and Pentax (likewise Sony has been showing a 50mm F1.8 DT ‘concept lens’ at PMA).
But really, why 50mm? On an APS-C imager, that's equivalent to around 75mm-80mm in full frame terms. Problem is that this is a strange focal length, too long to be considered ‘normal’ yet just a bit too short for portraits (few manufacturers ever made a 75mm prime for film). The portrait range has classically been considered as being between 85mm and 135mm for comfortable 'head and shoulders' shots; personally in my book, 100mm counts as 'about right'. So it seems to me that manufacturers may be misinterpreting the appeal of those 50mm lenses; they’re popular just because they are fast and cheap, not particularly because of their focal length.
|With a classic portrait lens you can shoot indoors in low light, and blur the background to oblivion|
It’s not just the focal length that’s a problem, though, there's another issue with those 50mm primes, and that's the much-misunderstood concept of 'bokeh'. Now contrary to popular belief, a mere ability to blur the background is not enough; the concept of ‘bokeh’ refers to the aesthetic quality of that blur, which ideally needs to be smooth and attractive, not harsh and fussy as rendered by many 50mm lenses (a by-product of the traditional design goal of the 'standard' lens for maximum sharpness). True portrait lenses need a different optimisation, for attractive imaging at large apertures that balances sharpness against bokeh. And quite simply they need a large physical aperture, to achieve both that background blur and proper selective focus; 60mm F2.8 macro lenses don’t quite cut it I'm afraid.
Now the longer end of the portrait range can still be served quite reasonably on APS-C by 85mm lenses designed for full-frame, and at the lower end the Pentax DA* 55mm F1.4 looks like a step in the right direction. The problem is though that there's nothing much in the middle, in that 'just right' 65-70mm region. The only really convincing offering comes from Pentax (the one company, I think, that really understands primes right now, as evidenced by the new 15mm F4 ED AL), in the shape of the 70mm F2.4 AL Limited, although its compact design results in arguably too much compromise over speed.
So what I'd like to see is the other manufacturers join in on the act, and produce a new breed of 70mm lenses optimized for shooting portraits on APS-C. These could perhaps come in two flavors, a ‘cheap and cheerful’ F2 and higher-end F1.4. No need for the manufacturers to obsess over pure sharpness or minimal vignetting wide open; let's just have something small, light and discreet to work in harmony with the new capabilities of our DSLRs.
So Sony, if you're listening; scrap that 50mm F1.8 DT, it's just 'old think' and a hangover from the days of the film. If you're really serious about making an APS-C prime, start afresh and offer something more suited to the digital era. The world will be a better place.
Sep 17, 2014
Sep 16, 2014
Sep 18, 2014
Sep 18, 2014
|The Engineer by EXX|
from Steam Trains
|Madrid subway by MAGMATCICO62|
from Your City - Public Transport
|Incandescent Bulb by Kukla|
from Illuminate- Macro only
|Curiousity by PERCY2|
from Macro - Your Best Macro Ever
|Hoar Frosted Trees by sabishiT3T|
It's been twenty years since Jeff Keller founded the Digital Camera Resource Page, one of the first websites dedicated to digital photography. Jeff, who has been at DPReview for nearly five years, looks back at the rise and fall of consumer digital cameras and his website.
We're counting down our top 10 most popular sample galleries of 2017. At #2 we have another staff favorite – the Sony Alpha a9.
Rotolight has released the Anova Pro 2 circular LED for stills and video, boasting a 70% increase in brightness and what the company describes as "unrivaled battery performance."
Designer Vinicius Araújo has imagined what he believes the perfect Adobe software keyboard might look like. From customizable touch pads, to a scroll wheel, to a little display that shows the tool in use, his design is pretty compelling.
Peak Design has teamed up with Leica to release a limited-edition backpack made special for fans of the Red Dot.
A portrait of an android woman has beaten over 5,700 pictures of humans to take third place in this year’s prestigious Taylor Wessing Portrait Prize. The judges were not told the subject was an 'android' until after the winning images were chosen.
Hauling around C-Stands just got a whole lot less annoying thanks to these new Matthews shoulder and roller bags, which can hold two or three C-stand (respectively) plus accessories.
Neal Preston has shot timeless photos of everyone from Led Zeppelin, to Whitney Houston, to Michael Jackson. In this interview, he offers insights into his craft to up-and-comer Elijah Dominique.
Future prosumer Canon DSLRs might feature light-up buttons, if this newly published patent is any indication of the camera company's plans.
Sony's a7R Mark III shoots 42.4MP files at 10fps and incorporates a robust video feature set, large battery, refined ergonomics and more. It certainly looks impressive, but what is it like to use, and how does it stack up against the rest of the market? Find out in our full review.
We're counting down our top 10 most popular sample galleries of 2017 – the Fujifilm X100F takes the bronze and the #3 spot.
There's never been a better time to shop for a new camera, but the number of options available can be overwhelming. In this series of buying guides we've provided customized recommendations for several use cases, from shooting landscapes to buying a first camera for a student photographer.
Shopping for a camera with a set budget? No problem! We've rounded up our favorite cameras, broken them into price brackets and picked the best of the bunch.
Looking for a lightweight compact camera that's easy to bring with you anywhere? Or maybe you're smartphone-shopping and want the one that takes the best picture. And what if you want to shoot from above? In these buyers guides we have recommendations for the best compact cameras, smartphones and drones.
Despite reports to the contrary, analysis of DPReview images by our friend Jim Kasson confirms a disappointing fact: Sony a7R III is still a Star Eater. But there may be some improvements.
As the saying goes: A photo is worth a thousand words. And if you're sending that photo through Facebook Messenger, your thousand words now look twice as nice after today's update to 4K resolution.
Get to know the new Leica CL in short order by giving our 90 second 'First look' video a watch.
Leica has just released the CL, the forth in its series of APS-C L-mount cameras. Despite sharing a name with a camera released in the mid-70s, the new CL is a thoroughly modern ILC, with a 24MP sensor and built-in electronic viewfinder.
The Leica CL is a 24MP rangefinder-style mirrorless camera, which sits alongside the TL2 in the company's APS-C lineup. We've been using one for a few days – check out our gallery of images.
While it shares a name with one of Leica's most popular and affordable cameras of the 1970s, the new CL is separated from its namesake by more than just years. We've been using one for a few days - click through for a detailed first-impressions report.
We're counting down our top 10 most popular sample galleries of 2017, and the #4 ranking goes to the Leica M10.
Sigma is discounting 13 different high-performance 'Art' series lenses from today until November 30th. The company is calling it an 'unprecedented' sale.
See DJI's 'AeroScope' drone-tracking technology in action. This is the system that DJI says can help law enforcement and airport (among others) track and identify rogue drones.
iPhone X owners can already accessorize their new phone with high-quality smartphone photography lenses courtesy of Moment's new lineup.
Considering buying Sigma's exciting new 16mm F1.4 DC DN Contemporary lens for crop-sensor E-Mount and M43? Check out these official full-res samples first!
Vimeo has just added support for 8K HDR 10-bit content, making it possible to show up to 75% of the colors the human eye can perceive vs the usual 35%. Take THAT YouTube.
The holidays are coming, but your gear isn't cutting it? It's time to treat yourself!
We're counting down our top 10 most popular sample galleries of 2017, and sitting pretty at #5 is the Fujifilm X-T20.
See some of the most iconic black-and-white photographs throughout history brought to life by a community of colorization enthusiasts and professional retouchers in the new book Retrographic.
Shopping for a photographer? Whether you are one yourself or not, chances are you could use some ideas. From stocking stuffers on up, we've got some photography gift suggestions for every budget.