#455. (Re)building a system

By philberphoto | Opinion

Feb 19

Ok, I have been very, very stupid. It is a two-act “tragedy”.

Act one, I unfortunately let my gear bag slip from my fingers and drop onto the ground. Next thing I know, my Otus 55mm is no longer focusing smoothly over 2/3 of its focus throw. Uggggh!

But it gets worse, there is act two.

I am late for a customer meeting, having struggled to find a parking spot. I grab my gear bag, and open the car boot, where my computer bag is. Instead of going to the meeting with both bags, which is cumbersome, I do the lazy thing, and stuff my gear bag in the car boot, and go to my customer meeting with only my computer bag. You guessed how this ends: a broken car window, and the gear bag gone. Exit Sony A7RII, Zeiss Loxia 21, Zeiss ZM 35 f:1.4, Zeiss, ZF.2 135 APO. In both acts, I have been cleaned of more than 10.000€, and, in both cases, my fault, too.


But in every cloud there is a silver lining; I am now free to rebuild my kit from scratch. And, for a gear-whore-and-slut like me, this is a wonderful place to be.

In the interim, I have 2 lenses left, which happened not be where the trouble happened. A very remarkable Leica R 28mm f:2.8 Elmarit vII, considered one of the best lenses ever designed in this focal length, and a very unremarkable (but nice) Leica R 35-70 f:3.5 zoom (not to be confused with its better brethren, the 35-70 f:4.0 macro). As it happens, I never really liked zooms, and haven’t used one in years, and going out with “only” a 28mm hasn’t been my cup of tea either. But, until I make up my mind and rob a couple of banks, that’s what I have.


This was also an opportunity to reflect, and try new and different things out.


Like: is a focal length of 28mm a walkabout option? Leica definitely believe so, as this is what the Leica Q can do. Sony like it longer, with the 35mm RX1.


Next question: can I learn to live with and love a zoom, something I gave up on early in my photo adventure?


Gear-wise, an interesting question: can I buy back my soul from MM. Zeiss, to whom I had sold it (Zeiss-only optics are a sure telltale).


OK. Let’s begin with the beginning. Yes, I can live with a 28mm. Just, in order to get good foreground subjects, it needs to be good close-up. As in, really good. And I need to be comfortable with getting close to my subject. As in, really close. Not really comfortable. But interesting. Enough that I’ll consider a Leica Q? Not sure. Certainly not without trying out the RX1RII, which has been recalled and delayed by Sony. But the Elmarit is very good indeed. Though the formidable Otus 28mm f:1.4 looms large in the same space.

All this means that yours truly can now feel OK with a single-lens walkabout with anything between 28mm and 135mm. Which, considering my propensity to get my gear destroyed or stolen, is a sure way to limit the damage.

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Now, what about the zoom? For those who don’t remember Pascal’s assessment of it, in short, it looks like this: really lovely colours, not many bugaboos, but not much sharpness either, even with the help of Capture One PP tools. Now I am not talking about extreme corner sharpness wide open at infinity at all focal lengths, ’cause then no zoom survives. I am talking image centre in an intermediary focal length, at f:5.6. It is not mushy, just there isn’t much “bite” to even sharp objects. And that extends to all kinds of micro-details. And, of course, the fact that it is f:3,5 is different from my usual shooting range of f:2.0 to f:2.8

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My question, at this stage, has to be: are my pictures “less good” than usual? There, of course, you have to be judges of that. As I know what lens was used, I cannot be considered objective. No doubt, there will be comments and feed-back….


Obviously, I could go back to where I was and just replace my gear like with like. Except that I was going to buy a Otus 28mm and let both my Elmarit 28 and ZM 35 go.

But things change. Pascal’s test of the Zeiss Milvus 85mm confirms what I have been thinking for a while now. If a lens has strong micro-contrast, sharpness will be more visible than detail, and contrast will take precedence over sheer colour beauty. So, not only do I have now with Milvus more lenses to choose from, but Sony introduced 3 new ultra-lenses, the Master G series. 2 f:2.8 zooms (24-70 et 70-200) and 85 f:1,4. It is too early to tell, but the first pictures are very promising. Having at least one such lens, with autofocus, to capture moving subjects, would be a plus.

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But I get ahead of myself and digress. Before purchasing expensive gear, what about any other lessons from using my 2 Leicas? Simple. Unfortunately, expensive as well. I am an addict, and my 2 lenses aren’t feeding this addiction. It is called speed. It used to be that I would happily shoot my twin Zeiss Planar f:1,4 (50mm and 85mm) at f:5,6, but no more. Gradually, I enjoyed shooting wider apertures, in line with the better performance of my lenses, culminating with the really excellent f:1.4 sharpness of the ZM 35 and Otus 55.

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Look at the shots above. No background is really blurred. Merely out of focus. Not the same look at all. Which doesn’t mean it is a bad look, or useless. During this spell of abstinence, I’ve actually some shots I really like; including one that compelled Pascal to ask who shot this gorgeous picture, which cut me down to size…:-)


Just, I want more. So I tried a cheap way out: a second-hand Zeiss Planar 50mm f:1,4. Alas time has not been kind to it. Already a problematic lens wide open on a 22Mp Canon 5DII, it looked even worse on my A7RII (yes, I bought another one before I fully thought things through). No way, Jose.

Then, I retrieved my wounded Otus, and took some shots, “just to get back in the groove”, and fell in love again. And again. And again. Welcome back, Bertha!


Does that mean I can’t live with a zoom? Nope. I was quite comfortable with the Leica, and enjoyed the ability to change focal lengths. But it would need to be a fast zoom. That means big, and expensive. Probably bigger and more expensiver that the 24-70 G Master f:2.8 (why not use a word that doesn’t exist to describe a lens that doesn’ exist?). Both Sigma and Voigtländer have released lenses that are faster than the industry standard (21mm f:1.8 for the latter, 24-35 f:2.0 for FF and 16-35 f:1.8 for APS-C). And both Sigma and Tamron will release 2 new lenses in the coming days.


Arrrghhh, leaving aside the huge cost and waste, it is so wonderfully painful to be without gear and to contemplate this cornucopia….



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  • pascaljappy says:


    two disagreements here :

    (1) in what universe is it your fault when some scumbag breaks into your car to steal stuff you bought with your hard-earned money ?

    (2) I still don’t have a photo of you taking that Ferrari photo, so I have to conclude it didn’t happen 😀

    In spite of this – and the grave misjudgement of even contemplating the purchase of an AF lens -, I admire your positivity, knowing your fondness for that Otus 55 and the loss of 90% of your kit.

    My suggestion (aside from acknowledging that AF is bad for your health and terrible for your Soul) is to start with your fave lens and build slowly from there on, noticing what you miss most as you go along. Not only will you derive more pleasure from the acqusitions but it will also give your mind time to assimilate how bad the idea of an AF lens really is. You are in shock and vulnerable. Forget AF. On a mirroless camera, it’s Absolutely F..ng EVIL.

    Just my 2 Wons.

  • Philberphoto says:

    Pascal, given your infatuation with your Samsung S-6 and, subsequently, all things Korean, I can only imagine you meant that AF “is bad for the Seoul”. And then you need to teach MF on your cellphone; it should be interesting…

  • Bob I. says:

    First off, my sincerest condolences! What an unfortunate double whammy! Secondly, I’ve seen and played with that Elmarit and it is quite a lens. I think your discomfort will wear out quickly if you stick with it. However, in terms of your next purchase, what lens/FL did you most enjoy? (Notice I didn’t say what FL are you most comfortable with?) Next, how did you feel about all those large lenses? When Sony first came out with it’s mirrorless line, it was all about staying small and nimble. I recently sold my FE35/1.4. While it’s a lovely lens, it contradicts why I went mirrorless in the first place. I know you also had the Loxia 50 which is a fraction of the size of the behemoth Otus. So, you might consider going back to the route of our mirrorless adventures. I’m currently doing just that. My line currently consists of the VC 15/4.5, Loxia 21, Batis 25, VC Ultron 35/1.7 (I might change to the Loxia 35), Loxia 50, FE55 and Batis 85. All but the Batis 85 are small. The only zoom I have and will keep is the FE16-35/4 which has its uses in my photography.

    I’m glad you see the silver lining in the great big dark cloud. You have the luxury of starting over and the excitement we have when a new lens arrives. Have fun and keep us posted. We all want to come along on your journey.

  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    OMG – every shutter bug’s worst nightmare! – did you kick a chinaman Philippe? At least you have the Otus 55mm, and you can’t call that “small consolation”.

    Thoughtful. Yes it’s an awful experience. Still, as you recognise, you can keep going with what you still have, and re-equip over time with what you would like to have now. Even without “gear acquisition syndrome”, we all look enviously at other photographers’ kit from time to time, and there’s always a new product which makes us think “I wish I had one of those” – but despite that burden, we continue – and take good shots, if we try hard.

    When I re-equipped last year, grab it & go shooting – after a pro-level full frame DSLR, it’s a nice relaxing experience. So zooms are softer? – I remember reading about studio photographers smearing a lens with vaseline, to get a “softer” image, when photographing middle aged ladies with one or two many skid marks (wrinkles) on their complexions. It’s not a crime, in photography – the real crime is to miss “that shot”, not “how you got it”.

    I was going to try to console you by pointing to Ansell Adams and Henri Cartier-Bresson. After all, while some of their shots were “tack sharp”, heaps of them were as blurry as the ones I took all those years ago on my second hand box Brownie, at the age of 9 or 10. (Theirs were simply miles better photos then mine LOL. Not necessarily sharper, though).

    Bad move. I found an article about CB’s photography, and another about CB the person, and ended up totally absorbed in both.

    • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

      Oops – third para of my previous note – a line dropped out somehow – that para should start “I still have my half frame and from time to time I grab it & go shooting”. Sorry folks.

  • MurphyWasAnOptimist says:

    My deepest commiserations.
    And no, there is no recovery from a Zeiss addiction.
    Having peddled my grandmother, my children and one kidney for the Oberkochen fix, be warned: if you merely traded your immortal soul for a Sonnar ZF.2 135/2 APO, it’s your bargain and the devil’s loss.

    Upon a similar misfortune, squarely way back in film days, I was left but with a Nikon EM and, o the horror!, the Nikon 43-86mm f/3.5; the original, unadulterated, unmitigated crap zoom. Think of that pile of lens-shaped dung, and enjoy your Leica R 35-70 f/3.5; it’s a masterpiece in comparison.

    Final note: Bob I. above mentions the VC Ultron 35/1.7.
    I recently yielded to that temptation (the 2nd version, M mount, chromed brass, and a joy to work with), to complement a few other Voigtländers (a minor and more affordable addiction, but hey, I only have one kidney left). Lust, caution: there is a real danger that some Voigtländers, while not made by angels in heaven like Zeiss, may give you exactly what you look for at given focal lengths.

    • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

      LOL – shake hands, my friend – I’ve been a Zeiss addict since I was a teenager, and that’s a VERY long time ago! Finally parted with my Contarex outfit recently, to help defray the cost of my Otus 55mm. Shooting mostly with a Nikon D810, but quit their 105mm macro to switch to Zeiss’s 100mm Makro-Planar – it doubles as a tele lens, so I can delude myself into pointing at all the money it saves! And enviously read Pascal’s account of his Milvus 85mm.

  • philberphoto says:

    I hear you, Pete and Murphy! So far, I have found no cure to my Zeissdiction, but it could be just around the corner. Early pics from the Sony Master G 85 f:1.4 are very promising, and I will definitely try one out. Besides, my having a AF lens would definitely irritate Pascal, and that bonus is not to be undersestimated! That said, competing with Zeiss is easier said than done, and trying doesn’t mean buying (yet).

  • Bill Langford says:

    Consider for the future a diaper bag for your kit ! Maybe even a “baby on board” window sticker, or a baby blanket to cover your gear if left all alone. Although with the lesson you’ve just learned, you’ll probably never leave your “babies” alone again.
    If you have to slip out of Zeiss heaven for awhile certain older lenses can fill the gaps economically. I’m having a lovely affair with an Olympus OM Zuiko 50mm f/1.2.

  • Steve Spencer says:

    Hi Phillipe,

    So sorry to hear about the theft, but it does give you a chance to rebuild. I think for you the beginning of the system is easy. Replace your Loxia 21 and your Otus 55. You love both lenses without a caveat. You can also keep the Leica R 28 vII as an intermediate lens for at least the time being. In the long run I don’t think you will be happy with a zoom in the 28 to 35 focal length as you like the fast aperture here. To me that leaves 3 contenders. The lovely Zeiss 35 f/1.4 ZM (even though it is hampered on the Sony a bit), the Otus 28, and the new Leica M 28 f/1.4. The Otus looks unrivalled in performance but is huge. You know an love the ZM 35, but know its weaknesses as well. The 28 lux is about the size of the ZM 35, but I suspect it will be better in the edges on the corners than the ZM 35 (it is flawless on the Leica SL). Then you need a longer lens. You can play around with the Sony 85 GM, but I think in the long run you won’t be happy. I think ultimately you want the Zeiss 135 f/2 APO, but consider the Voigtlander 125mm f/2.5 APO Macro. The prices have come down on that lens and it is a great overall solution and would compare to the Zeiss 135 APO, much as the 85 Milvus compares to the 85 Otus–a bit less micro contrast but with a bit more naturally processed files, much as Pascal suggests in his review. I think a 4 lens set with the loxia 21, the Otus 55, one of these good 28’s or the ZM 35, and either of these longer lenses and you will be quite happy,

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