#785. Monday Post (12 Nov 2018) – When you are lighter, you can climb higher… or vice-versa

By philberphoto | Monday Post

Nov 12

DearSusan is a travel photo blog, but, if you think that the title of this post means I am taking you hiking, this is pure deceit on my part. Besides, if I did take you hiking, the possibility of it triggering a tsunami somewhere like Papua is altogether too great for me to stomach. At least according to Lorenz’ theory of predictability.

No, what I have in mind is to see whether there is a new trend afoot in photo gear. Light is good again! No, not light as in the opposite of dark. Though, hold that thought (as would say Hugh Brownstone, blogging-flavor-of-the-month). Light as in un-heavy.


Old Shibuya


For years the photo world got used to “better corrected lenses must be heavier and larger”. One noted exception was Leica, but they made up for that in pricing. Of course, lightness was a major selling feature of Sony mirrorless camera bodies, starting with the original NEX, and continuing with the A7 series.

But people kept asking: what is the point of saving half a pound on the camera body if the lens remains the same weight, as it must if laws of physics are respected? And, indeed, the FE-mount Sony F:2.8 zoom trilogy was no lighter than its Canikon opposite numbers. Of course, saving weight was not the only saving grace of the mirrorless, far from it, as we know now that Canikon have joined the in the fun. Once again Leica buck the trend, having introduced the heavy SL mirrorless.




Meanwhile, not only were lenses not only not getting lighter, they were getting heavier. Think Zeiss Otus and Sigma ART. 1kg+ seemed to be the new black.

The first inkling that I got that something might be happening was when I saw how small and light the new Zeiss 25mm f:2.4 was…. Hmmmm. Couldn’t be a serious lens, could it? Well, as you know I just bought one, so… Next, Zeiss got competition from Sony with a new 24mm GM f:1.4. 445 g, Vs some 600 g. for the Canon-Nikon-Sigma. Now that lens can’t possibly be light AND good? Wrong, it seems!

It reminded me that Laowa produce lenses, the weight of which defy common wisdom. That a Voigtländer 12m would be light is possible, because it is a f:5.6 lens, but a 15mm f:2.0 needs to be a heavy lens, right? 500 g. despite an all-metal construction. Hmmm… Nothing to do with pancake lightweights which have been around for a long time, but where performance lags in exchange for low weight, but still…


A house, made of Gold


One more example, lest you think it is happening only with wide and ultra-wide angle lenses. The new and long-awaited Sony 400mm f:2.8 comes in at a portly 2900 g. but is shockingly lighter than the massive 3800 g. of the Canikon rivals. Except that Canon release a new one that chimes in at 2800 g.! In the meanwhile, Nikon release a 500mm f:5.6 at only 1460 g.!

Incidently, lighter lenses are also easier to auto-focus!

Lenses aren’t the only product where this happens. Think camera bodies, and Fuji release a GFX 50 R, some 15% lighter than its predecessor, the GFX 50 S. And the integrated Zeiss ZX1 with 35mm f:2.0 lens only weighs 800g, which is 1/3 lighter than the lens-only Sigma 40mm f:1.4!


Lady in pink


Now, remember when I said “hold this thought”? What does lighter have to do with un-darker? Well it’s like this. Cameras are getting better at high ISO. 3200 used to be the grail of the very best C-MOS, and now it is the new normal. Some people show pics way higher than that, with no apparent loss at Internet-type resolution. How does that relate? Simple: if you use a slower lens, it can be intrinsically lighter than a faster one, and you compensate in low light by jacking up the ISOs…


Wood, old and new


My guess is that many prosumer and advanced hobbyist ‘togs are advancing in age; hence the need to offer them (a) AF, (b) EVF cum magnification and (c) lighter weight. Lenses just took longer in coming. But lower weight is here to stay IMHO. All the more so if rumours that someone will start using Alon instead of glass are true…


(Photos by Julia, my new Loxia 25, in the hands of Pascal)

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  • Pavel Bochman says:

    Another way of reducing the glass weight is to use the camera processor (a.k.a. computational photography) for lens correction and even for reducing the depth of filed, instead of doing it in the glass.

  • David Mack says:

    Good Morning;

    The new lens technology is the use of expanded “Nano” coating being developed into full lens construction. The sporting industry of rifle scopes is all over this. Sharper, more luminous, optics have reduced weights by 30 to 40%. I expect to see this is photo lenses in the near future.
    Hopefully a lighter lens will require a lighter housing thus reducing weight even further.

    I am to see you recognized the “weight reduction argument of mirrorless” is a boondoggle because the increased barrel length required to comply with light physics negates the weight saved in the camera body. However one of the under appreciated advantages of mirrorless is being able to correlate the exposure seen thru the EVF or screen representing the actual exposure. DSLR hasn’t figured that out yet, not even using liveview. Fuji’s histogram on the EVF, is really great.

    So many choices, so little time and money to try them all!!

    David Mack

  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    LOL – just sent Pascal a letter on a different topic – but it contained a thought that is very relevant to the theme of your post, Philippe. “The only constant in life is change”. Look at all the flora & fauna we’ve lost over the past few thousand centuries, because they failed – or couldn’t – adapt to the changes they encountered !! It even happens to politicians (thank you, Lord !!) 🙂

    Philippe, I am assuming from the subject matter of your photos that you accompanied Pascal on his recent trip to the far east. And that that is your excuse for your failure to include the mandatory photo of a bicycle.

  • Sean says:

    Nice article Phil,

    Yes there are times when “… lighter can climb higher …” as you state and explain, in your above article. There are definitely advantages in adopting this practice in ones photography, at times where it’s going to be of benefit. I don’t have that Loxia 25mm lens – yet.

    So by way of example I have, and where their advantages outweigh other aspects of photography, both the Perar MS-Super Triplet 35mm F3.5 and the Perar MS-Super Triplet 28mm F4 lenses. I use them on, say my Sony A7RII, and you wouldn’t know they’re there, they’re that small – but there very, very effective, in capturing images in situations where there’s a lot of people and you have to move quickly and efficiently, in a non-intimidationg manner.

    I make good use of these two lenses, for example, at Sydney’s annual ANZAC Day march – particularly when individuals are readying themselves to participate, prior to their march. People often don’t realise that the camera has a lens attached – the Perar’s are that diminutive.

    If it’s acceptable to DearSusan and in support of your “… lighter can climb higher …” point of view, the following link will take you to several images taken on Sydney’s ANZAC Day 2017 where a small and effective lens, along with high ISO values, were used, to good effect: https://www.flickr.com/photos/hewlbane/albums/72157679871436603

    I also use these lenses on other cameras, whilst photographing life on the streets of Sydney.


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