Do lenses have subjective qualities not shown in any technical specification?

Started Mar 31, 2013 | Discussions thread
Grevture Veteran Member • Posts: 4,188
Yes, lenses have subjective qualities not shown in technical specifications

Alex Notpro wrote:

I used to love the 50 f/1.4D and 85 f/1.8D  on my D7000, but now that I upgraded to a D700 I need a longer lens for portraits. I prefer old 'D' lenses over their AF-S equivalents, as I believe they perform better as investments in addition to taking photos that are 99.9% as good as the newer lenses (I once compared the 50 f/1.4D to the 50 f/1.4G for several days before making this sweeping generalization).

Such a generalization might work for some lenses, but certainly not for others. The AF-S 85/1.8 most certainly is a better lens then the older D model. Same with the 85/1.4. For some the difference will be clear and important, for others less so. As for the 50/1.4 I would agree with you - the newer AF-S might be better optically (like noticeably better OOF rendition), but is bigger and focuses slower. I'll keep my Af-D until it falls apart.

So. Thorn between the 85 f/1.4D, 105 f/2DC, and 135 f/2DC, and not wanting to spend too much money upfront (I don't like buying lenses with the intention of returning them), I decided to buy two old primes to study and compare: 105 f/2.8D Micro, and 135 f/2.8 AI-s.

In that context you could also have tried the AI-s 105/2.5 - a brilliant gem of a lens

So now I can play around with cheap primes in the 3 focal lengths, 85-105-135, before deciding which one to drop $1,000+ into.

Now here's where it gets interesting...

After much real-world testing, mostly in "home studio" conditions (kids in my living room, bounced flash and off-camera flash), I quickly concluded that I don't like the results from the 105 f/2.8D Micro.

When bench-testing (lab-like conditions), the 105 is sharp. In real usage, it's too often un-sharp and the colors seem off and unattractive, and boring. The 85/1.8 is a reliable stunner, always sharp in the plane of focus, even wide open, beautiful colors across the frame. The 135/2.8 is a close second, despite being handicapped by the Manual Focus.

Keep in mind these are lenses made with rather different design goals, a close -up lens like the 105 Micro is great for close ups, for working with extension tubes, for getting maximum sharpness at say f8 or f11 ... While a 85/1.8 is meant to be used wide open or nearly so, and has less focus on contrast and more on pleasing out-of-focus rendition (contributing to a subjectively "better" sharpness.

So, yes, they will be different, because they were made with different uses in mind.

Hence the question. Do lenses have subjective qualities not shown on any technical specification? Otherwise, what exactly in the technical specification of these lenses, is the 105/2.8D lacking relative to the other two?

I would not say it is really lacking, just that it is good for different things then you might have used it for. It is after all first and foremost a close up lens, hence the 'Micro' in its name.

Say we had thrown in the 70-200/2.8 VR II in the comparison and went of to shoot a basketball game. Then the zoom would probably have excelled, and the others would have appeared somewhat (or a lot) less useful. That does not mean it was anything wrong with them, just that they were used slightly out of their context while compared to a lens made for exactly such a context.

Some lenses are general purpose tools which work reasonably well in almost all conditions, but excel at none. Others are more specialized, purpose made, and more or less fail at things they were not made for, while excelling at the very things they actually were designed for.

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