#797. Monday Post (10 Dec 2018) – With a lens, or through a lens?

By philberphoto | Monday Post

Dec 10
Dawn time

The first criterion to describe a lens is its focal length. 50mm, or 24-105mm or whatever. Beginners are told that the choice of focal length will determine what picture they get. Compact cameras come with zooms buitt in, and ILC’s are offered with “kit zooms”. In both cases, the zooms are supposed to cover the basic focal lengths one is supposed to need.

Crime time

For 8 months I have had to make do with just one focal length (28mm prime lens on APS-C, equivalent to 42mm on FF), and I can honestly say that I haven’t missed having more lens choices to hand.

Indian summer time

Ah, you will respond, but that is because 42mm is a very good “normal length”, very close to what the human eye sees, a focal length that is “good for pretty much everything”. That is what lead legendary Henri Cartier-Bresson to pursue his whole carreer with “only” a 50mm lens…

Fall-off time

Not quite. Because, having decided to invest back into yet another camera system, I plonked down for a Zeiss Loxia 25mm, and it picked up just where the Leica 28mm left off. Just because, again, its focal length is equivalent to 37,5mm, making it a “normal” fl? Nope, because I lent it to Pascal for his Japan trip, and he used it on his FF camera, i.e. at its designed fl of 25mm, and he didn’t feel the need for any other lens for his whole trip, even though he had two of the finest with him.

Fall-down time

Now I too have a FF camera, and never before had I used a lens that wide as my only lens, but again I feel no need for something else. There were early warning signs of that, in that, when I had a full bag, 90% of the time I would do a whole shoot with just one prime lens, and later just rotate them from time to time to avoid feeling ridiculous for having three expensive, heavy lenses and to ever use only one…

Lost time

This leads me to think that there may be two significantly different approaches to taking a picture.

Quiet time

One is: you see “in your mind” what you want your picture to look like, and then you need multiple primes or a zoom to execute on that vision. That is what I call “viewing the world with a lens”.

After the rain time

The other one is: you see the world “through a lens”. Meaning, you see something interesting, but not (yet) a picture. You then look at “it” through your camera and lens, and then decide if indeed “it” is of interest.

Tied up time

Typical examples of that are when the human eye cannot give you the whole story, and you need the lens to do that: macro photography with a macro lens, or bird photography with a long telephoto are fields when you only know “what you’ve got” when looking through a lens.

Jogging time

I will freely admit to “discovering what I’ve got -or not-” through a lens, and I know that others, beginning with Pascal, preview the picture in their minds.

Skinny-dipping time

This can be illustrated by two metaphors. I am the fishing type. I cast my net, or bait my line, but I am not sure what fish there might be for me to catch. Pascal is the shooting type. He sees is target before pressing the trigger.

Pose time

The other metaphor involves Mozart and Beethoven. The multiple autograph scores by Mozart are special in that they are free of corrections or edits of any kind. This proves that he “knew ahead”, before committing ink to paper. Beethoven’s scores are overladen with many edits and corrections, and sometimes he re-did the whole piece, like the overture for Leonore. He needed to see the score to evaluate “what he had”.

Decay time

This has consequences, gear-wise. Pascal is in direct contact with the world he sees, and his “perfect gear” will let him commit that to electronic print with as little interference as possible. For me, my gear is part and parcel of the world I see. Change the gear, and it changes the world as I see it.

Reflexion time

So, are you a Mozart, or a Beethoven?

Time to close

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  • Steve Mallett says:

    Me? Definitely Mozhoven.

    • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

      Me, too, Steve – thanks for telling me how to spell it! πŸ™‚
      Philippe, thanks to you too, for restoring the equilibrium of DS, with your bicycle shot.
      Going further into your discussion – both. I do “see” images I want to capture, and select a lens to suit. And I do shoot with the lens I have. Worse – for some purposes, I use a zoom (when your chasing the shot with a moving target, you haven’t the luxury of choosing a lens!) It depends on the subject – and whether the shot is planned or spontaneous.

      • philberphoto says:

        A zooom!?! Perish the thought! Don’t your pics self-destruct after 30 seconds? And your camera too? And do you actually mean a zoom with autofocus??? OMG!

        • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

          Actually for two purposes.

          One – scouting & planning a shot.

          Two – for things like pet photography – the damn creatures fly all over the place, and you don’t have the luxury of being able to change lenses fast enough to keep up with them. It becomes a trade off between quality one way and quality the other – crop with a zoom or crop later, in the operating theatre, with the post processing scalpel. Usually the zoom beats the scalpel, for IQ, these days.

          And as Pascal knows, I now have a third purpose. I can’t afford to spend $18 grand or whatever on a super tele sport lens, so I’ve spent less than a tenth of that buying an as-new 150-600 SIGMA sports zoom. I had two motives – long distance panoramic landscape shots of an island offshore here, that fascinates me – and astronomical stuff. I’ve since discovered you can use it for all sorts of things, and I’m still exploring what it can do.

          So purists can have convulsions. At least part of my photography is purely self-indulgent, hedonistic, pleasure-seeking fun!

    • philberphoto says:

      Hahaha, touchΓ©! Thanks, Steve!

  • Steve Mallett says:

    And some lovely pics. After the rain and Tied up, fab.

    • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

      My favourite is “Indian summer time”. I don’t believe for a moment that Philippe shot that one in India. What do I love about it? All sorts of things. In fact it would make a great print, to hang on the wall. Pascal, you know Philippe well and you’re looking for prints – here’s a great possibility for you! I think I see ducks floating on the river, too -they draw the eye into the picture. Well actually the contrasting colours had already done that, before I spotted the ducks – but they really complete the effect.

      • pascaljappy says:

        Philippe has shot wonderful pictures in that area, particularly in misty conditions. Wonderful stuff. It’s an area loved by the impressionists and it’s easy to see why.

  • Peter Thomas says:

    There is a lot to be said for this approach Philippe, as is demonstrated by your beautiful shots. Some recent hip surgery has reduced my carrying capacity for a while and so I have reduced what is in my bag but, I haven’t yet managed to get down below three (admittedly, reasonably small) lenses!



    • philberphoto says:

      Thanks, Peter! That said, necessity is the mother of invention. I, too couldn’t reduce below 3 before I was forced to, and then, it got me a new outlook…. so… Not saying that theft is good, or wishing it on anyone, least of all DSers, but maybe experimenting with just one prime could be of interest…

      • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

        Did that for years, with my original Zeiss SLR – then when I started using a 60cm square cam, I went back to my old ways and started using a w/angle and a tele as well. On my travel photography roughly 90% of the photos are taken with a 50 or 55 prime – and the rest with a w/angle. That’s enough gear – and it’s a pleasant task, working out how to get the picture I want with the gear I have. Unlike Dallas, I had to make do from time to time – he has a tilt screen on his D850, but the screen on the D810 is fixed. I got some strange looks, lying on church pews to photograph the ceiling – or lying on floors in other locations, for a similar reason. Leave your best clothes at home! πŸ™‚

  • Georg says:

    Ditto, Steve’s 2nd comment. Love Tied Up.

  • James Mapletoft says:

    Tied up time. Not bad, not bad at all.

  • pascaljappy says:

    Beezart, vous avez dit Beezart ?

    • philberphoto says:

      Beezart Vs. Mozhoven. Reminds me a famous movie: sharktopus Vs. pteracuda… ’nuff said! πŸ™‚

      • Steve Mallett says:

        Of the two, Mozart always comes first, simply because of his sense of humour – he regularly makes me laugh. Beethoven, a true genius but one serious dude.

        • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

          I strongly believe that if Mozart hadn’t died so young, he would have totally eclipse Beethoven. Beethoven had an extra 2 or 3 decades as an adult composer. What he was capable of, age for age, was nothing like the quality of Mozart’s works.
          Perhaps not – Mozart was never as serious as Beethoven – genius is often described as 1% innate and 99% hard work, and Mozart was more inclined to enjoying life to the full. His genius is visible, as Philippe pointed out, in their scores – Mozart could write a score for a symphony, starting on page 1 and straight through to the final bar, without a single alteration – Beethoven’s scores dripped with alterations!
          How anyone could envisage all that much stuff and just simply speed write it, like that, in an hour or two, is one of the most astounding achievements in the whole of human history.
          Try it for yourself some time – learn a whole score off by heart, here’s a pad of music paper, start writing NOW – and I’ll be back in 2 hours to see how you’re progressing!
          PS – he was also a bit of a maverick, like me – I’ve often wondered HOW wild he was! πŸ™‚
          Which all adds up to this – it seems I’ve contracted “M-phasis”. The prime idols of my cultural life are Michelangelo (sculpture), Monet (art), and Mozart (music). Hmm. Oh well, it’s not a harmful or contagious condition.

          • pascaljappy says:

            Ooh, I can’t believe I’m allowing myself to get drawn into this discussion.

            Here’s a defender of Beethoven four youz, gentlemen. Mozart, a genius? Undoubtedly. One of a kind. One in a century. But a lot (not all) of his work is amusing, superficial. I daren’t say “easy” because I couldn’t write his simplest sonata in a thousand years. But there is a lot of repetition in his work. That’s why it’s so easy to recognise. A lot of it is variation.

            Which doesn’t diminish the incredible talent it must have required to put those variations to paper. But, still, I feel Beethoven is more varied and goes a lot deeper. There’s suffering in his music that can’t have been easy to channel onto paper. What must have gone through his mind, I can’t even bare to imagine.

            The two are pros. But, to me, one feels pro-found and the other pro-lix. If “feels easier” to me to hum along, however brilliantly, than to meditade deeply, over and over again, and return from the abyss with a timeless masterpiece.

            If I was granted the ability to channel 1% of the talent of either, I’d sure prefer to photograph like Beethoven. There, I said it. Shoot me now.

        • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

          Aha! – but he was writing in a different period – post Haydn and pre Beethoven. In that time slot – not in Beethoven’s time or ours – he was a leader, not a follower – an innovator, not a plagiarist. If you have the time, grab a copy of Haydn’s symphonies and without doing anything else, listen to the lot in strict numerical sequence. When you recover, do it again with Mozart – and then again with Beethoven.
          Then you will be able to see them all, in perspective. I did, anyway.
          Did you ever hear what happened when Beethoven arranged a concert to premier one of his symphonies, a concerto (I think) and his double concerto? Half the audience walked out – no, STORMED out – at the first interval, screeching how dreadful it was! Because it was new – then – not now, of course, and for us it’s hard to understand how that could ever have happened.
          And although I hear what you think of Mozart, he had similar issues with audiences – and with orchestras, too, when he turned up with a score for a clarinet concerto and nobody had a clarinet, nobody even knew where to find one!
          To really appreciate any of these old masters properly, we have to borrow that DeLorean from Michael Fox, and go back to the18th and 19th centuries, to see them as they were, in context. Through the eyes of someone living then, not now.
          What Mozart DID write was “post Haydn” – but not all of it was “pre-Beethoven” – his later works really were stretching the envelope, and I personally find late Mozart more satisfying than early Beethoven. Looking at the rate of change, I have always felt that if Mozart had lived another 30 years, he would have eclipsed Beethoven – instead, we’ve been deprived of his genius before it finished flowering.
          Disclaimer – I did study music from age 10 until my early 20s, including 5 years at our Conservatorium – but apart from matriculating in music (among a zillion other things), I ceased taking exams from then on. The Conservatorium was OK with that, and i had the opportunity to continue under one of the best of our local pianists, who occasionally let me play on his pet piano. And if you can imagine the difference in performance between Tesla’s 250mph (400kph?) sports car and perhaps a Mercedes, that would be roughly the same as the difference between his piano and the Steinways we were normally expected to play on!
          Sorry Pascal – this excursion into other art forms is very dear to my heart. πŸ™‚

  • Dieter Hepp says:

    “One Prime only” – Dogma, Question of Principle or simple question of THE GOAL?

    1. “GENERATING BEAUTIFUL FOTOS on a journey, a city-walk, a wedding, generally ..” (like the ones we can admire above). We may use our (currently) favorite Prime lens; taking pictures of the scenes/views which fit to this Prime. Or

    2. “DOCUMENTING a journey, a city-walk, a wedding (unknown topography, perspectives)”: preferably by having at least 3 Primes and/or a Zoom available; and using the specific Prime/Zoom which allows taking pictures of the scenes/views we have selected.

    For 10 years I had a pre-war Zeiss Ikon Contaflex (Tessar 2,8/45) as my only camera. I learned to know (and sometimes to hate) the limitations of the 45mm Prime Lens.
    Today, Sony spoils us by offering the Rx1r or A7r -Series as alternatives for or different goals.
    Of course,we can limit ourselves to one focal length. I like the freedom to chose ….

  • Dallas says:

    I fall in the 2nd category of seeing through a lens, is this bad, I’m not sure. The prime is my weapon of choice usually something between 35/50 the 135 is something to behold. As for the 2nd question Mozart or Beethoven my classical music knowledge is somewhat light so I will go modern with Lennon and McCartney. Wonderful images Philippe, I remember you shooting many of them.

  • philberphoto says:

    On the Mozart Vs. Beethoven divide, I happen to be on… both sides! Both embody the highest form of human genius IMHO (not excluding that others reached that highest level as well). And I am not sure that I go along with this “better” or “later” characterization. My personal take on Mozart’s last works is that they embody a certain level of “it is finished”. Listen to symphony NΒ°41. While it is an awesome display of Mozart’s composition virtuosity and genius, there is also an element of “this is the full cycle, the grand finale, the bouquet final of the fireworks”. This to me is because Mozart accessed music from within himself, and it feels like, at the end he had no more to give beyond that.
    Beethoven on the other hand seems to be accessing music from outside/beyond himself, of almost seismic nature and force. Which may be why I never feel like Beethoven exhausts his supply of energy/life force, even when he is a very sick (and deaf) man. If anything, the opposite…
    On the photography side, I cannot imagine being “on the Mozart side”, even at the humblest level. Pics don’t just come effortlessly floating my way (I think I know what I am talking about, ’cause other things do, so I have almost constant experience of “hard-earned Vs. effortless”). And, like Pascal says, that doesn’t make me a Beethoven, much more a Salieri…
    So Pascal’s quest is for his process to become so pure, so in touch, like a Japanese archer, that he produces “accomplished” pictures, whereas I hope to be there when a “perfect” one begs to be harvested.

    • pascaljappy says:

      Oy, I never said that! I have the greatest respect for your photography. And I would love love love to be an artist of Salieri’s stature.

      But yeah, the Japanese archer analogy really works for my unreasonable goals πŸ˜‰

  • Kakalotli says:

    Thanks for the good article!
    In response to the question, I think we usually go from one stage to another every time we change equipment, and this step I think is more clear with the fixed focus, I clarify: spend 10 years with two zoom lenses (economically tight student was not I had money to spend on equipment) an 18-55 (kit of the camera) and a cheap 70-300, for me those numbers were only to zoom out or close, and it happened to me that I always threw the net to see it captured “I saw a scene anyone and framed it at my convenience, end of the edition. ” The discipline of going to catch a fish in particular I think it develops more the fixed focus, after a stage of recognition (which will be shorter the longer we use the lens and longer the more distant the focal length is from a normal lens) And that is when we see the lens, there comes a second where we already know our friend and we take advantage of their features as our tools, we recognize their framing, their colors, to see what the world looks like before putting the eye in the viewfinder and that’s when we start to create, we go after that fish before we have seen it, that’s when we go directly to the area where our fish lives to hunt it. I dare say that fixed focus educates more to the eye of the photographer than the zoom lens. After those two zoom lenses (one I gave to a friend and the other opened to see what a lens was like inside) I acquired several fixed focal lengths from 10mm to 105mm, what I do to use them all, is that I put one in the camera 2 months and I do not take it whatever I do, at the beginning I spend that period of recognition and after the first week, my mind is already thinking about the fish that wants to put in the fathoms the next morning.

    • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

      The first step is to decide what you are going to photograph. The second is to decide where you position the camera. The focal length of the lens can then be decided or determined.
      Zooms have generally been regarded as the lazy man’s way of doing that – we’re expected to use primes with a fixed focal length, and choose the right one for the shot, once we’re standing in the right position to take the shot.
      Part of that is piffle – cheap kit zooms on entry level cams created the legend, but it doesn’t apply to ALL zoom lenses. In any case, I find zooms are a very handy way of exploring a shot, because they measure the focal distance when you took a shot with them to check the image you want to capture. You can then simply use that measurement to choose your prime lens.
      Your idea, Kakalotli, of using just one prime for two months at a time and exploring what it can do for your photography is a very good one. Isn’t there a saying somewhere, that the person who is no longer learning has ceased to live? We are ALL learning, one way or another, and your plan is an excellent way of doing it – learning, I mean.
      Sardines one month, snapper the next! πŸ™‚

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