#540. Your experience may vary

#540. Your experience may vary

Tokyo - Fuji 23mm f1.4

Tokyo – Fuji 23mm f1.4

 

Much of DS’ content this past year has been gear-related; lens comparisons, Zeiss’ Otii, Sony cameras v everything else, different software comparisons and despite our best intentions and efforts, little of it really conclusive. Personal preference remains the real test.

 

Tokyo - Fuji 35mm f1.4

Tokyo – Fuji 35mm f1.4

 

Venice - Fuji 16mm f1.4

Venice – Fuji 16mm f1.4

 

Venice - Fuji 16mm f1.4

Venice – Fuji 16mm f1.4

 

Trawling my usual list of daily/weekly/monthly photo blog reads this morning, I hit on a piece detailing lens choice(s) for a planned overseas visit.

 

The lenses selected caused a bit of agonising – don’t they always? In this case, zoom lens solution(s) offered a distinct mass-saving benefit and at that point I wondered whether there might be some kind of yardstick to help the rest of us choose lenses for that all-important trip.

 

Given that two photographers in exactly the same place at exactly the same time are likely to produce two entirely different sets of images, I quickly realised that seeking a one-size-fits-all solution was a waste of time.

 

Hmmm.

 

Prepping for our recent Route 66/Japan trip, I did ponder just packing my M9 and a 25mm Zeiss Biogon to keep my 50 ‘lux and 35 ‘cron company. Not for long though. The Leica is a recent acquisition which I enjoy immensely, but remain entirely unfamiliar with. A breakdown would have been catastrophic for my photography plans. And, despite the lure of reducing my carry load substantially, I didn’t have a back up body and that was simply a road to nowhere.

 

So, I packed a pair of X-Pros (a -1 and the newer -2) along with Fuji’s 16mm, 23mm, 35mm and the heavily steroid pumped 90. It all fitted into my carry-on nicely and on a whim, I added my X100T, just in case.

 

I’d recently bought the 23mm f1.4 as a replacement for the X100T’s own 23mm, thinking I might use it when a pocket carry wasn’t needed and I chose the larger X-Pro/23 combination, when a bag and opportunity presented itself. Well, the idea was great, but in practice, the X100 stayed in the hotel safe most of the time.

 

Venice - Fuji X100T with 23mm f2

Venice – Fuji X100T with 23mm f2

 

Venice - Fuji X100T with 23mm f2

Venice – Fuji X100T with 23mm f2

 

Tokyo - Fuji 35mm f1.4

Tokyo – Fuji 35mm f1.4

 

Two recent city visits show what I mean:

 

Venice (pre buying the 23mm f1.4)

16mm f1.4 20 2%
23mm f2* 628 81%
35mm f1.4 106 14%
90mm f2 23 3%

* = X100T

 

Tokyo

16mm f1.4 103 10%
23mm f1.4 597 58%
35mm f1.4 332 32%
90mm f2 1 1%

 

Tokyo - Fuji 35mm f1.4

Tokyo – Fuji 35mm f1.4

 

Venice - Fuji 35mm f1.4

Venice – Fuji 35mm f1.4

 

Tokyo - Fuji 35mm f1.4

Tokyo – Fuji 35mm f1.4

 

Venice - Fuji X100T with 23mm f2

Venice – Fuji X100T with 23mm f2

 

Conclusion? There really isn’t one, save the obvious; shorter focal lengths are for city, sightseeing and street shooting.

 

Maybe the use of the 23 and 35 together show some similarity – 95% in Venice and 90% in Tokyo, but after that, there isn’t much to be said.

 

Tokyo - Fuji 23mm f1.4

Tokyo – Fuji 23mm f1.4

 

Venice - Fuji X100T with 23mm f2

Venice – Fuji X100T with 23mm f2

 

Tokyo - Fuji 23mm f1.4

Tokyo – Fuji 23mm f1.4

 

To me, carrying and using the 16mm lens is one of those necessities; it’s there when I need it and impossible to shoe horn a view into the viewfinder any other way, save a pano shot.

 

The 90mm is a monster, big, heavy and surprisingly long after the shorter lenses I seem to use so much. And, unless just one image justifies hauling it halfway around the world, either leaving it behind, or opting for a shorter 50mm alternative would be a much more sensible plan. Even my manual 50mm Leica Summilux on a Fuji adaptor would be a better idea.

 

Venice - Fuji X100T with 23mm f2

Venice – Fuji X100T with 23mm f2

 

Tokyo - Fuji 23mm f1.4

Tokyo – Fuji 23mm f1.4

 

Venice - Fuji X100T with 23mm f2

Venice – Fuji X100T with 23mm f2

 

Our next trip is in late March, to London. I’ll know how valid these thoughts are then.

 

Venice - Fuji X100T with 23mm f2

Venice – Fuji X100T with 23mm f2

 

Venice - Fuji X100T with 23mm f2

Venice – Fuji X100T with 23mm f2

 

Venice - Fuji X100T with 23mm f2

Venice – Fuji X100T with 23mm f2

 

Tokyo - Fuji 23mm f1.4

Tokyo – Fuji 23mm f1.4

 

Tokyo - Fuji 23mm f1.4

Tokyo – Fuji 23mm f1.4

 

Venice - Fuji 16mm f1.4

Venice – Fuji 16mm f1.4

 

Venice - Fuji 35mm f1.4

Venice – Fuji 35mm f1.4

9 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Joakim Danielson December 24, 2016

    Focal length’s for your travel bag is always a quandary but I have over the years narrowed it down to this preferred list (for FF): 24mm, 35mm 50mm and a short tele 75-90 so as you can see this is pretty much the same as what you have on your list. Maybe not a coincidence but I would think many chooses the 21mm instead of the 24mm and a tele-zoom (70-200) instead of a short tele and while many will think the 35 and 50 are to close for me they are two distinctly different focal lengths.

    Several very good photos in this post as well!

  2. Avatar
    jean pierre (pete) guaron December 24, 2016

    Hmm.

    The first thing that struck me about your statistical summary was one similarity with my own experience with my much loved Zeiss Contarex and its lenses. Based on that, when I re-equipped to take digital more seriously, I didn’t bother including a telephoto lens, at all. I’d paid a lot of money for the Zeiss lens and scarcely ever used it. I won’t say “never” – but I will say “so little, so why bother?” And I am impenitent about it – it’s not just the weight – it’s the fact that I could spend that money to better purpose on other gear. And besides, if a tele shot was ever that important, I could somehow make do – using the zoom on my half frame for example, or taking Zeiss at their word & using the 100mm Makro as a makeshift tele lens.

    The second was the way pro make far more use of w/angles than amateurs do. (I’m somewhere in between – my usage of w/angles is way up on my past usage, but noticeably less than yours – and frankly, the more I do use it, the more I look to using it instead of the standard focal length lens).

    And the third is bewilderment – why double the usage of a standard focal length in Tokyo, and 30% more use of the w/angle in Venice?

    Beyond that – great shots, thanks, Paul. Venice brings back memories of my first trip overseas, when I spent nearly 3 months a short distance north of Venice, staying with friends just out of Udine. The only visits to Japan have been “armchair tourism” – I did study Japanese history for unit at University here, and over the years I have developed a fondness for their country and their people, but I haven’t been there in person – so I appreciate you sharing your shots.

    FYI – that rusting iron plate for “La Métropole” above the lintel of the doorway in Venice is to mark the building as having fire insurance from that company. Strange system – the plate’s still there, but I imagine that particular insurance company is long gone, and in any event the plate was not recalled when premiums were no longer being paid. But you see them all over the place in Italy.

  3. Avatar
    Chris P December 28, 2016

    Firstly a great set of photographs which I have enjoyed looking at and learning from as you are clearly a much better photographer than me, honest comment, I am not being sarcastic.

    I have a question which I hope you don’t mind answering for me. I don’t do a lot of travel/street photography but when I do I use the same two Fuji lenses that I use for my portrait photography, the 16-55 f2.8 and 90 f2.

    At 23mm focal length on apsc the difference in depth of field at 3 metres/10 feet between f1.4 and f2.8 is only 3 inches and I cannot see that making much difference in practice. I can see that the size of the 16-55 will make it more noticeable but I would assume that an experienced street/candid photographer would work very quickly anyway. Is there some other reason why you and a lot of other photographers doing this type of work use primes rather than a large aperture zoom/

    • Avatar
      paulperton December 28, 2016

      Chris,

      Like the title of this piece, your experience may vary. I’ve been shooting photographs for almost half a century. I’ve used the best equipment I could afford and like many others found my way to Nikon, via a much loved Pentax Spotmatic in the early ’70s. That route culminated in a D2X, a D700 and the three pro-grade zooms; 14-24, 24-70 and 80-200 (an old model).

      Know what? I was taking home reasonable images, but the bulk of them were poorly composed and most, slightly out-of-focus.

      Not long ago, I bought a Sony NEX-7 with the intention of trying to get some usable results from the three Leica lenses I’d bought (with an M4) along the way.

      What was by then a barely tolerable keeper rate, plummeted and I knew that I either had to learn how to take photographs properly, or sell off what had become quite a collection of hardware, or stick to something something less demanding like self-abuse.

      It took a while and my keeper rate has taken a long time to recover, but my preference for zoom lenses has come to an end. The three Nikon zooms are always around, but most of the time, I shoot with a 28 or 50 AIs manual lens. Best of all, I’ve not had to take up wearing glasses.

      Like so many other photographers, my move to Fuji has been driven by Nikon’s non-appearance in the mirrorless market. The X-Pro bodies (I have a -1 and a -2) are beautifully made, solidly built and reliable. Fuji’s primes allow me to shoot with autofocus, or manual focus. Sometimes, I even set the camera up to shoot in zone focus mode.

      So, long answer to a short question; I opted for the f1.4 lenses on the Fuji as the (now) cheaper f2 variants weren’t then available and I enjoy using the widest aperture possible in many shooting situations. On the street, I want to concentrate on what I see in the viewfinder and not be fiddling with anything – as good a reason for using a prime lens as any I can think of.

      Try it if you can. Grab a camera and a prime lens and see what you can achieve.

      Best regards and thanks for the comments.

    • Avatar
      artuk January 26, 2017

      For what its worth, I shoot portraits on the street, asking the subject rather than the “gun and run” approach. Often this is in the evening or night time, when on full frame I tend to use a 50mm lens. I find 35mm often too wide and needs me to be too close to the subject to get them the right size in the frame, although on narrow pavements or cramped conditions it can work. I also use 85/90mm mostly during the day or late afternoon and they suit taking people from across narrow streets. Apertures of the lenses range from f1.8-.2.8 and I often shoot wide open as light can be low and DOF often is not important. I do sometimes use a 24-70mm f4 for such work, which is smaller than your 16-55 f2.8 and its perfectly useable, although doesn’t quite give the same look. I wouldn’t use it at night or in low light due to the f4 ax aperture.

      Short answer – it probably doesn’t really matter, use whatever you had and works for you.

  4. Avatar
    jean pierre (pete) guaron December 31, 2016

    Paul, I think we all should choose the gear that we’re comfortable with & stop chasing butterflies or rainbows – unless of course we’re trying to photography them 🙂

    For the time being I’m using a Canon for a mirrorless – it’s quirky but “interesting” to play with – mirrorless, especially with a fairly flexible tilt/touch screen, has advantages over SLRs in many situations. That cuts both ways, and I still love my DSLRs – but no one cam does everything I want.

    I still use my two zooms for “some” things – mainly candids of pets or kids, I don’t have a hang up about them, they are useful for action shots and, when the subject is jumping all over the place, help with distance from the camera – since I can’t run as fast as they move.

    With the Canon, I do find it useful to ALSO have an ELV, for situations where backlighting makes it hard to use the screen. And with a lot of my photos, I prefer using manual focus primes, so the DSLRs get plenty of use.

    Fuji has a long and highly respected history in photography, and they make some really great gear. If I was starting out now, I’d definitely give Fuji a try. As things have panned out, I’m happy with the gear I have (athough occasionally I’d love a really serious tele lens), so buying another cam would be one step too far.

    What I don’t much like, is when some clod puts a reply on something like this article, pushing some idea that unless you have some camera or lens or whatever that he approves of, the photos the author has gone to such efforts to share are not worth looking at. I don’t know why people like that can’t think of something nice to say, instead of being so dogmatic and rude about everything.

    • Avatar
      paulperton December 31, 2016

      Don’t see dogmatic and rude anywhere, Pete. Even if I did, I’d still approve it – we’ve all got opinions, good or bad.

    • Avatar
      artuk January 26, 2017

      Zooms (and especially “normal” zooms such as 24-70mm) are the most used lenses for many professionals due to their flexibility, versatility and “enough” image quality.

      It is the pursuit of the amateur to chase rainbows whereas professionals just want to get a job done to enough quality.

  5. Avatar
    artuk January 26, 2017

    I once had a 24mm prime and found I almost never used it – I didn’t need fast aperture and wide angle, so an ultra wide zoom or a standard zoom starting at 24mm prove a better substitute. Sorry to talk dirty and shock you!

    There is an interesting philosophical debate about primes vs zoom lenses. Prime lens users say they find images that suit the focal length. Using a zoom, you can adapt to whatever is in front of you (make the lens fit the subject, not vice versa). I can’t shoot a Singapore bay skyline with a 50mm prime, nor in fact a 24mm, so a 16-35mm gives much greater freedom of composition. “Zooming with your feet” is a great conceit that may work at normal focal lengths, but cannot replace the extremes.

    I concur with your findings on mid Tele prime focal lengths. I used to travel with a 135mm and found it got little use except for the odd portrait. I made me a beast of burden because of its size and weight, and it meant day to day I didn’t carry other more useful lenses.

    These days absolutely minimum equipment for a city type break would be a 24-70, 16-35 and then a 50mm fast prime or maybe a 35mm. If I thought I wanted to shoot portraits or close up details of interiors, I might pack an 85/90 or a macro.

    I’ve never understood travelling photographers who carry a 70-200 f2.8 around cities – mostly Canon owners it would appear! – as I find such a lens too large and heavy to carry all day with other equipment, and not really suitable for cities unless picking off small details from afar. I do own a 70-200mm but I only use it for event work or the odd portrait (not my first choice – too large and off-putting for the subject) but it’s an f4 model to reduce the size and weight travelling long haul.

    The need for focal lengths is greatly determined by what one likes to photograph and therefore everyone’s needs may vary.

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