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Ye Olde Blog

I think I have a problem: lens addiction

Ryan Pennington

I’ve had two digital cameras in 10 years, but I’ve had nine lenses over the same time. Upon buying my X-Pro 1, I found I’m able to adapt nearly any lens. So far I only own one purpose-built lens for my camera.

The rest are mostly older rangefinder lenses that tend to be far more compact than their autofocus counterparts. With the advances in lens design, vintage lenses are less technically perfect than modern lenses. As such, they’re usually less sharp and aren’t nearly as corrected. This often gives them far more character, though.

Portland Japanese Garden

Fuji XF 35mm f1.4

In the last year, I’ve used my Fuji XF 35mm that I bought with the camera for about 40% of my photos. The other 60% were made with lenses most of which were made in the 1950s and 60s. The 35mm is a fantastic lens: it’s out-of-focus areas are beautiful all the while maintaining pretty amazing sharpness. It doesn’t have any outstanding characteristics apart from being outstanding. Lack of quirkiness or character absolutely isn’t a bad thing; there isn’t any characteristic to have to work around—the lens just gets out of the way and lets me create. Plus, autofocus is nice!

From Rattlesnake Ledge

Lincoln Park, Seattle

Jupiter 9 85mm f2

My first purchase was an 85mm f2 rangefinder lens made in Soviet Russia in 1960. Its 15-blade aperture maintains a nearly circular opening throughout the range which lends itself to some great out-of-focus areas. Additionally, its optic design is based on a Zeiss design from the mid 1930s called Sonnar which draws images in a pretty distinct way. A lot of the photos I’ve made with this lens have a vintage feel about them. The photo of my niece was easily worth the price paid.

Miss Madison

Waterfront, Seattle

Canon FD 100mm f4 Macro

Shortly after I bought a Canon 100mm f4 FD macro lens. Given that I frequently take photos as close to the minimum-focus distance of a lens as possible, a lens like this has been a long time coming. Previously, I would hold my 50mm backwards up to my 10D to serve as my impromptu macro lens. (It totally works, but don’t be surprised when you start seeing dust on your lens and sensor!)

Voigtländer 15mm f4.5 M

Having used a 17-40mm on my film-based EOS 3 and, later, my 10D, I was missing a wide-angle lens. I was intrigued when I saw a Voigtländer 15mm f4.5 M at my local camera shop. As a Leica M-mount lens, it’s quite small (maybe two inches deep when attached) and very unobtrusive but produces pretty massively wide images. Often people don’t even know when they’re in the frame. As a modern lens, it’s quite sharp, though it tends to vignette pretty heavily on my camera and in some pretty weird colors besides. Luckily, Fuji’s M-mount adapter lets one correct it so it’s a non-issue.

Great Wheel, Seattle

Gasworks Park, Seattle

Canon 50mm f1.4 LTM

My two most recent purchases have been a pair 50mm Canon rangefinder lenses (Leica Thread Mount). The first and younger is a Canon 50mm f1.4. Supposedly it’s of the same design as the FD SLR lens of the 70s and as a more modern lens, relatively speaking, it’s a sharp lens though it’s not without its own character.

Canon 50mm f1.5 LTM

The most recent lens I’ve added to my already heavy camera bag is the Canon 50mm f1.5 from the late 1950s. Between its chrome-plated brass exterior and seemingly solid bit of glass inside, it’s incredibly heavy for it’s size.  Like the Jupiter 85mm, it’s based on Zeiss’s Sonnar design. Having seen photos of made with this lens and other Sonnar lenses, I grew to covet it. As odd as it is to say, it warms my heart. Much as an artist has preferred brushes, using this lens just feels natural. At maximum aperture, the lens tends to be pretty soft especially off-center—perfect for portraits for so many reasons—while stopped down it’s quite sharp which is true of most Sonnar-based lenses. As other people have said, it’s kind of like having two lenses in one.