Ultra sharp vs character lenses for people. Where are we headed?

Started Aug 9, 2019 | Discussions thread
John Koerner
John Koerner Contributing Member • Posts: 664
Re: Great Topic!

wingster999 wrote:

This is just my opinion, but in the quest to improve quality and capability we really are seeing some major improvements in resolution for full frame cameras. The question is will we lose some of the character and art of lens design? I recently saw some portrait shots with a new mirrorless lenses (I forgot what brand) where you could see every detail but the image left me flat, as in it lacked something that I really could not put my finger on except that it was too sharp and I found it distracting. Same thing with the ultra bokeh that some seem to strive for. I am thinking that lenses like the 105 1.4E and even my beloved 85 1.4D will continue to be my go to lenses. I may get the 85 1.8S as an option but I do not see it replacing those other lenses, just another tool in the bag.

Landscape shooters can never have too much resolution, I get that, but I just think the chase for specifications may dumb down the character of some newer offerings. Am I just becoming fossilized in my thinking here? I used to strive for top resolution but in my journey I have come to appreciate other facets of lens design, one of the reasons why I liked some of the Nikon offerings and maybe some Zeiss in the future. Many of my favorite shots were taken with Nikon glass, and were not always the sharpest lens but had some pop, some depth, some character. But some of the new mirrorless offerings seem somewhat sterile in their looks but maybe that's just me. Its kind of hard to put into words. What say you?

Great topic.

PhotographyLife wrote a poignant article on this very subject, concerning the Nikkor 58mm f/1.4G. To quote:

"As you have seen from this review, the Nikkor 58mm f/1.4G does not shine with exceptionally good optical performance and its general optical characteristics do not make it anything special in comparison to other similar lenses. In fact, considering how bad it is at close distances outside the focused area (thanks to its wavy field curvature issues), the lens could be regarded as a poor performer, if one were to look at it purely based on lab tests ... I have come to a conclusion that some lenses just never do well in lab tests and yet are able to achieve beautiful results. Aside from the 58mm f/1.4G, many of the old Nikkor classics and some modern Zeiss and Leica lenses are designed in such a way."

Many reviewers (who aren't actually photographers) have denigrated the 58 f/1.4G, based solely on lab tests, combined with their own failure to understand the niche function for which it was produced. The reviewer for LensTip, in particular, wrote about as nasty and denigrating "review" as you will find . He said, literally:

"Nikon was joking all along, trying to sell you a rough piece of trash for a lot of money under a cover of a storied Nikon legacy."

All this did was reveal the reviewer's complete ignorance, because he didn't do his homework, in order to realize the unique character-purpose of this lens. In fact, the reviewer himself almost admitted as much, here, when he said:

"I really don’t understand why the Nikon company, employing their best optics specialists, having top-of-the-range technologies available and without any budgetary limits, cannot design a better lens than the Noct-Nikkor – a lens they produced almost 40 years ago, using just paper and pencil. I think something important eludes my comprehension…"

Yes, dude, something very important eluded your comprehension, and that is 1) doing your homework, and 2) having a love of photography, and the ability to appreciate character, a unique look that certain "flawed" lenses (technically) are able to produce ... that "perfect" lenses never will.

The PhotographyLife review was much better-written, because Nasim is a good photographer, and (even though he conducted measurements) he also understood the purpose of the lens, as he illustrated beautifully with his accompanying photography.

I also happened to say similar things about the Zeiss 25mm f/2.8 here. This lens also has been vilified by multiple reviews, by "lab geeks" who don't actually take photos with specific objectives in mind. They take the lens, take some quick snapshots, run some tests ... and completely miss the point of its intended purpose.

So with all that said ... good post ... and good topic.

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