#908. Sony 18-135mm. Cheap. Far more than cheerful.

By Adrian | Opinion

Sep 27

There is a lot of snobbery and prejudice in photography, and internet amplification syndrome ensures that strongly held beliefs are perpetuated, even when they may not be easy to substantiate with empirical evidence. In fact, it’s better if views cannot be substantiated, as then there can be no limit to the endless conversations about lens micro-contrast, plasticity, colour rendition and all the other quasi-religious beliefs that so many photographers cling to.

Massed ranks

Some amateurs remain absolutely convinced that prime lenses are best, that zoom lenses are inherently inferior, and that they make you lazy because using a prime lens you can “zoom with your feet”. This is bad advice on so many levels, based on an out-dated view of lens quality rooted in the 1970s, and a complete lack of understanding of focal length, subject distance and field of view. If you take a photograph at the same subject magnification with different focal lengths, at different subject distances so that the subject is a consistent size in the frame, you will get quite different pictures because of the varying field of view. The relationship between objects at different distances in the frame will be different, and so the picture will be different.

Candle offering

That’s assuming that you could even get close enough or stand far enough back so that diffferent focal lengths could capture the same subject. There’s a reason architectural photographers use wider lenses – they probably can’t stand 3 streets away and get the same picture with a longer focal length, as the subject will be obscured by another building.


Different focal lengths are suited to different subjects, and give different fields of view that can be used creatively by the photographer who understands that, so they can control composition and the relationship between objects in the frame. A zoom lens offers a choice of compositions for the same subject that a prime lens simply can’t.

Baby Naga

The other conceit of the enthusiast is that expensive equipment is also always better, and therefore what photographers “need”, especially if that equipment can be deemed “professional”, the holy grail of perceived quality. Inexpensive lenses are inherently inferior because they have slow or variable apertures, whilst expensive lenses with big apertures are always “better”.

Glimpse of Buddha

This attitude demonstrates a profound lack of understanding of lens design, ignoring the challenges created by ever increasing apertures, and therefore a greater need to correct for the abberations this can create. Faster apertures can cause more vignetting, more geometric distortions, and greater challenges with spherical and chromatic abberations. What results is one of two possibilities. That fast aperture can make a lens less capable, so at fully open aperture it may be a bit soft or have distortions. Or alternatively, as we see increasingly often with modern lens design, as any kind of abberation is entirely unacceptable to the internet influencers, designing out all the imperfections caused by an adventurous design results in ever bigger and heavier lenses.


To me, this latter effect seems particularly at odds with the general trend for smaller and lighter cameras for both consumers and enthusiasts. I recently saw Canon’s 24-70mm f2 and 85mm F1.2 lenses for their full frame EOS R system, and a Sigma 105mm f1.4 for SLRs, and they all seemed ridiculously large and heavy and completely at odds with the cameras they were intended to be used with.

New King offering

To make a slow aperture lens is so much easier than to make a fast aperture one that a 35mm f4 lens could be of stellar quality whilst also being smaller, lighter and cheaper – but the internet influencers and enthusiasts demand ever more challenging specifications and performance, so we end up with huge 35mm f1.4 lenses, or 85mm f1.2s, monstrous Leica SLs / Panasonic S camera systems, and a Sigma 105mm f1.4 with a 105mm filter thread and a 1.6kg payload instead. Don’t get me started on some of the Zeiss Uber lenses either. For me, all of these represent inflexible beasts of burden for the travelling photographer, something to lug around in the hope of finding something suitable to photograph. Lenses that dictate the composition, not that suit what the photographer wants.

Evening prayers

So what’s any of this got to do with Dear Susan’s ode to creative travel photography?

Recently I went on holiday. I’ve had another year with the stresses of family problems, so I wanted a holiday to relax and unwind. I hadn’t any photographic plans, itineries, photo shoots or competitions, so I didn’t want a camera bag that felt like I was carrying equipment on some military exercise. I took my very light Sony A3000 and A5100 cameras and a few small lenses.

Riverside flowers

At the airport, I came across an ex-demo Sony 18-135mm lens being sold very cheaply. It was really small, about 8cm when collapsed, and only grew by 3-4 cm when fully extended. It was really light, about 300g. It had OSS, Sony’s designation for their in-lens stabilisation. Word on the internet was that it was good, so I couldn’t resist the low asking price.

It hasn’t been off my camera.


It’s taken me back around 15 years to when a friend lent me his Minolta 35-200mm xi zoom to use on my first trip to Thailand. Back then, I didn’t worry about fast apertures, esoteric glass, or complex designs that weighed me down. That 35-200mm stayed on my camera almost all the time, and I just concentrated on taking pictures.

Local temple

In the years that have followed, like many amateurs I’ve become “bogged down” worrying about equipment. Sensor size and performance and fancy expensive lenses become important, and for some feel like a raison d’etre in themselves, a self justifying mark of the quality of what the owner is photographing, rather than anything about story telling or picture taking.

Waxwork Monk

Lenses which dictate the pictures to take by what they are suitable for, or what can show off their abilities, rather than pictures first and then equipment that can take it.

Riverside coffee

For anyone who read my article Introducing-the-non-camera, an ode to inexpensive basic cameras, this Sony lens is most certainly “the un-lens”. It’s aperture is too modest to be of interest to the enthusiast (f3.5-5.6). it’s very light and made of plastic, two things which are always bad for the well informed enthusiast as both are the mark of poor quality. It’s made in China, which instantly means it’s terrible as a lack of quality control means every example is bad in some way. Finally, it’s an inexpensive zoom lens which “everyone” knows are always of bad optical quality, especially when combined with slow aperture and plastic build quality.


This Sony travel zoom has been a revelation on many levels. Firstly, it’s about half the size and weight of similar lenses for other APSC camera systems, weighing a little over 300g, so it’s easy to carry around all day. The trade off is that it requires digital correction for geometric distortion, a feature the E mount system was designed to support. Abode users didn’t understand that the required correction data is embedded in the raw file because for some reason Abode – who always know best – ignore it and require you to download a profile they created (or a third party). When the lens was released they all bitched about high levels of distortion, which other software never lets you see because it uses the camera’s own data to correct it as designed.


It’s a non issue for me anyway, since as far as I can tell it’s mostly sharp from corner to corner at almost any focal length or aperture. I heard of some enthusiasts who choose their aperture based on which setting gives the “sharpest” results, which is wrong-headed on many levels. Aperture is a way of controlling exposure and depth of field, and if you paid $3000 for a fancy Uber lens of impressive maximum aperture, you should use it. If you’re going to stop down to f8 because tests showed you it’s the “sharpest” setting, then you might as well have bought a cheap slow aperture lens. Every modern lens is sharp at f8 – get over it.

The final bonus of this plastic travel marvel is the optical stabilisation, which allows me to get clear photographs at its longest focal lengths (c. 200mm full frame equivalent) that are sharp and free from vibration blur hand held at 1/10-1/20s.

Mirror and Lamp

Now read that again, and think about how little the modest maximum aperture matters with such a wide shooting envelope.

I can hear the baying voices of objection looming on the horizon, so before I’m taken away to the institution where off message photographers go, I also own expensive, fancy, ego-defining lenses too. The Sony 24-70mm F2.8 GM has some of the best bokeh and rendering I’ve personally seen from a zoom lens, and in the right conditions the results can be sumptuous and painterly. I understand that quadrupling the price gets you from 98% good to 99.5% good, as the law of diminishing returns sets in and we justify the extra cost with bokeh or plasticity or 3D rendering. If I combined my 24-70mm GM with the 70-200mm f2.8 GM tele-zoom, the pair would weigh almost 2.5kg, and they aren’t stabilised, although I’d get muscle tremors from carrying them around all day.

Curve 1

When I still used an SLR, my preferred travel kit for sight seeing was a 17-35mm zoom for architecture and interiors, combined with a fast aperture 50mm lens for available light work and shallow depth of field effects, and a short Tele prime (85-100mm) so I had a little “reach” to capture temple details or things across the street. Often I was forced to use large apertures when I would have preferred more depth of field, as tripods may not have been allowed (or I didn’t want to carry the Eiffel tower around all day in 38 degree humidity) and high ISO would have spoilt the picture quality.

This modest zoom lens solves all those problems in one small package, and takes photos of such surprising quality that I don’t need to worry about equipment and can just get on with picture taking.

As Vidal Sassoon would have it, “just shoot and go”.

Arm Chair

I once joked with a photographer friend about my “dream lens”. It had an impossible specification, with a focal length ranging from 12mm to 200mm, and a specification that included a fisheye, an apodisation filter, and an aperture that varied up and down with focal length. This small, light, modest travel zoom comes close.

It’s been liberating to come full circle and not have to obsess over the self-created worry of equipment and instead just get on with picture taking. It’s been great to travel light, and its been a revelation to return to a more straight forward approach and concentrate on the pictures.

Curve 2

I’m going to say it: this is a great lens, and I don’t caveat that with “for the price”.  In fact, it may be one of the best lenses I’ve owned for sheer versatility combined with quality.

Maybe it’s a non-lens uber-lens.  Don’t tell anyone, otherwise they might all want one.  Let’s keep it as our secret handshake.

Photographs in this article were taken with a Sony A3000 E mount camera and Sony E 18-135mm f3.5-5.6 OSS lens, and processed to taste using Adobe Photoshop Express for Android.


This article is dedicated to my good friend Ton and the happy memories he has given me


​Never miss a post

​Like what you are reading? Subscribe below and receive all posts in your inbox as they are published. Join the conversation with thousands of other creative photographers.

  • Sean says:

    Hi Adrian,
    Some of your images really are super. That lens does draw well, doesn’t it. I sense you convey a message in that snobby photogs know both enough to be a pain and little enough of simply going about taking real photos using only the very kit they have to work with – the kit that doesn’t meet their standards. What a snob can miss is a photographer is a master of their kit – not a slave to puffed-up opinion. In sum, could a snobs pricy portfolio match on an emotive level of what you’ve crafted here?

  • Sean says:

    Hi Adrian,
    Some of your images really are super. That lens does draw well, doesn’t it. I sense you convey a message in that snobby photogs know both enough to be a pain and little enough of simply going about taking real photos using only the very kit one actually has to work with – the kit that doesn’t meet their standards. What a snob can miss is a photographer is a master of their kit – not a slave to puffed-up opinion. In sum, could a snobs pricy portfolio match on an emotive level of what you’ve crafted here?

    • Adrian says:

      Hi Sean,

      Thanks for your kind comments. I’ve used a lot of different equipment over the years, and this consumer travel zoom combined with Sony’s cheapest E mount camera (A3000) appears to take pictures of the same quality as other very expensive equipment I’ve used, whilst being extremely portable, offering huge flexibility of focal length, and with a fairly wide shooting envelope thanks to the excellent OSS. What’s not to like?

      As I discussed in my previous article about the un-camera, I increasingly think (male) enthusiast photographers obsess too much about equipment and things that probably don’t matter. Of course , we all enjoy owning and using expensive equipment because ultimately the ownership gives us pleasure, and we probably justify it emotionally with words like “need” rather than “want”, complaining corners aren’t pin sharp at open aperture (this making a lens “useless”), and using fancy words like micro-contrast and MTF.

      Pascal often talks about the importance of story telling and art, and I agree with him (admittedly, there isn’t much story telling in my photos here). Enthusiasts seem to worry too much on equipment and the technical rather than the photographs.

      Finally, when travelling, what can be better than equipment that weighs a few hundred grammes rather than a few kilos? The funny thing is that this cheap camera and consumer lens has given me the most photgraphic pleasure I’ve had in some time, and the pictures are as good as anything I’ve taken at these locations and have made me happy. I think when we are in the right emotional state it reflects well in our photographs too.

  • Philberphoto says:

    Whew, Adrian, I feel my head being slowly cut off by an exquisitely un-sharp knife and handed to me on a platter!
    Yes, I plead guilty to using primes over zooms, and have heretofore shot mostly fast, über-expensive-and-heavy primes.
    Weight is what broke my passion for those exquisite boat anchors, but I still pine for their output (see Pascal’s review of the Otus 100 f:1,4). But I concur with you that slower designs are or at least can be technically superior.
    No, what drives me away from zooms is complexity. My experience is that a zoom is not a constant performer over its whole zoom range, and this requires the user to get conversant with the multiple parameters that entails. I find it hard enough to get to know a simple prime intimately, and they are rarely constant performers across their aperture range, that I cannot imagine achieving intimate knowledge of zoom performance across the variables of focal range and aperture. Hence my praise of the simple, single-prime system, limited though it is.
    But your pics show that you achieve what I can’t -and abundantly so!-, so it can be done. Kudos and congrats!

    • Adrian says:

      Hi Philippe, I know you have used to very high quality lenses, and I also remember you talking about the burden of carrying that equipment around.

      The article came about after a private conversation with Pascal about this lens. He commented that most modern equipment is far superior to that used to create many classic photographs that are regarded as good or important. Nobody judges those classic by how sharp the corners are, yet the industry as a whole and most of the internet remains obsessed with pixels, corner sharpness, MTF charts, micro-contrast, and branding (etc etc).

      Everyone can use whatever equipment that want that makes them happy. It frustrates me when enthusiasts talk about “needs” when really they mean “like” or “want”, and it would be a shame if a general industry move to the higher end of the market made individuals think they had to own such expensive equipment or out people off photography.

      I understand your sentiment about understanding the qualities of a lens to know how to use it (or get the best from it). Ironically, this may be most true at the higher end of the market, where lenses perhaps tend to have “character”? So many cheaper and mass market brand lenses are mostly quite sterile and characterless, so there often isn’t much to learn. This plastic fantastic travel zoom certainly lacks “character”, but seems to trade it for surprising consistency. There really isn’t much to learn about it – “just go and shoot” – which is quite liberating. I’m sure side by side with an “Uber prime” it’s lack of character would be abundantly clear, but that is traded with being able to use any focal length between 28mm to 200mm! My back certainly thanks me for it, and for travel I think it’s an excellent lens.

      Use what makes you happy Philippe. I’m not evangelising.

  • pegelli says:

    While I agree with almost everything you write in your article (about the photography aspects) I find the multiple statements about “snobbery”, “lack of understanding”, “internet amplification” etc. etc. a bit over the top. I think your article would be more powerful if you didn’t try to critisize and/or belittle people who have different ideas or beliefs about these things. Just make your points, that would be good enough for me.

    On the other hand, great pictures!

    • Adrian says:

      Hi, thanks for your comments. I do think that “internet amplification syndrome” tends to create views in others about what’s “good” or “bad” often based on fairly little evidence, and I do think there is a lot of brand snobbery sometimes created by internet influencers that gives many enthusiasts views on what they think they need.

      Photography, and photography “journalism” (I use the term loosely as most online content doesn’t come close to unbiased journalistic standards) seems to have become almost completely focused on technical aspects of photography, not about pictures and story telling. I do believe this feeds the “male collector gene” in many enthusiasts, who find it easier and more interesting to talk about equipment and technical things than to.disxuss photography, art or story telling. As a community, we are mostly obsessed with equipment, as evidenced by discussions about the latest new camera or high end lens creating 10 times more trafficqffic than talking about photos.

      None of the comments are about individuals, but about an industry that is in turmoil and at risk of killing itself off with a near pathological drive for “more” at higher and higher prices, which can only act to shrink the overall market by pricing many out of the hobby, or making others disillusioned when they can’t afford the latest equipment (perhaps in an internet fuelled belief that it will make their photography “better”). I didn’t intend to belittle anyone, but perhaps to challenge notions about what we think is “good” and what we think we “need”.

  • pegelli says:

    Adrian, just a question to ask yourself: doesn’t the “internet amplification syndrome” you talk about (and don’t like) get reinforced by some of the language you use to describe different beliefs/opinions from your own in this matter?

    I think between different photograpers there should be room for different opinions/beliefs without such strong language, even if that strong language isn’t directed at anyone personally.

  • Kim Howe says:

    Can I get you to imagine two images. A number of scarecrows in a row. Shallow depth of field but sharply defined straw stuffed into the shirt of the frontmost scarecrow and the others blurring nicely into the background. The second image is of the same straw men knocked down and destroyed.

    Can a talented photographer come up with good photos using mediocre equipment? Of course. It’s utterly fallacious to say this means better equipment is simple snobbery.

    Sometimes this “better equipment” is costly. Sometimes it’s well worth it. That doesn’t mean spending more is always better – fallacious again.

    I expect better of Dear Susan.

    • Adrian says:

      Hi Kim, I’m afraid you lost me with the scarecrows.

      Of course more expensive and higher specification lenses and equipment are often of better quality.

      I didn’t say that wanting them was only about snobbery, but the industry and the internet seem to have entered a phase where “more” is always better and the enthusiast is perhaps brainwashed into believing it is the solution to the problem they feel they have.

      Specification and to an extent brand seems to be paramount, and of course that comes at a price.

      I’ve used much higher specification and more expensive equipment to take similar photographs, and I’m really not sure anyone would notice the difference.

      I worry the industry and the internet are creating a fairly toxic environment where specification, and to an extent brand and price are king, to encourage enthusiasts to spend ever more money in the pursuit of some unspecified dream of “better” photographs.

      Pascal and I had been discussing that the pictures of “old.masters” aren’t generally judged on corner sharpness etc which coincided with me owning this lens, and that led to an article intended to challenge what we think we “need”.

  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    Sigh – the endless argument over nothing.
    For what it’s worth, this is NOT “controversial”. It’s simply a question of opinions. And they generally differ, although they do admittedly coincide SOME times.
    Or as the french are accused of suggesting – à chacun son goût – to each, his own taste.
    I have both. Two of my smaller cameras came with a built in zoom. Another, which I’ve long since sold, had a zoom I enjoyed using, so I still have it. And for specialised purposes, I have more recently bought two other zooms.
    One thing Philippe mentions, and it is perfectly true – if you want to use zooms, they often introduce a new factor to worry about – performance over the full range of the zoom.
    One of my zooms is great at certain focal lengths, and noticeably “off” at others (particularly at the full zoom telephoto length, where it’s frankly unacceptable) – but for what I use it on, that is simply irrelevant. Anyway, I’ve had issues like that with a prime that I eventually ditched, too.
    Something I haven’t picked up so far in this post, is the fact much of the “bad” about zooms is historic. And the fact that modern zooms are often as good as their fixed focal length prime competitors – with the added (zoom-lens-only) advantage that “one lens suits all”, instead of the (prime lens problem) of having to have separate lenses for each of the desired focal lengths in the range – and trying lugging THAT on an international flight, as cabin luggage!
    But all of this is out of focus. The real focus is on the quality of our photos. Whether we take them with a home made camera fashioned out of a cardboard box and a piece of bottle glass, or a Summicron with a bright red measle spot attached to it, or a Phase One $50 grand 150MP beast, is not the point. Neither is the price or the specs of the lens. What IS at issue is the photographer.
    My apologies to people with other views – sadly, I was born without a “snob” gene, and my presence here is superfluous – I only open DS for the sheer pleasure of the “read” it offers me, and the photos it shares with me.
    Oh – and to continue that thought – thanks once again, Adrian, for sharing such fascinating photos with us. Sadly, the only time I’ve ever spent in Thailand was beneath the international airport in Bangkok, looking for my luggage, which got lost when I was transferred from a Qantas flight from Rome to Australia, onto a Thai Airways flight from Bangkok to Singapore. Finally after 6 hours in a vast concrete cave beneath the airport, the baggage was located and I was sent on to Singapore. These photos go some way towards making up for the opportunities I’ve never had.

    • Adrian says:

      Hi Pete, I am guessing when you got stuck at Bangkok airport it was probably the “old” airport, “Don Muang”, which was somewhat like the depressing 1970s horror of the UKs Heathrow. They now have a rather beautiful new airport, Suvarnaphum.

      On to “controversy”, and the tone of my writing.

      I think what I discuss can be summarised based with the words “perceived need”. I honestly think many enthusiast amateurs aspire to own high-end equipment for a range of emotional reasons, but which become expressed as some form of “need”. This is perhaps based on a hope to take “better” photographs. We wrap up our desires into what I call “chasing rainbows”, because the right lens will imbue our pictures with extra quality – drawing style, rendering, micro contrast, pick your term.

      It’s not that I don’t know higher quality lenses are”better” on some technical level, but unfortunately, no lens that I know will make you a better photographer

      As enthusiasts we may talk of aspirations for “professional” equipment. To take 3 examples, Kirk Tuck, David Kilpatrick and Roger Hicks use a variety of cameras and lenses from 1″ to full frame, often use older equipment if it meets the needs of clients, and purchases of new equipment have to be justified on commercial grounds (will it pay back). For these people, there doesn’t appear to be any “chasing rainbows” or expensive Uber equipment. For a working wedding photographer, a constant aperture zoom lens of reliable quality is important. For the rest of us, we may convince ourselves it is, but if we are not invoicing clients or selling work, then it’s a choice – an indulgence – not a “need”.

      It’s not that high end equipment doesn’t have professional, commercial uses, but the applications may be relatively niche. It’s clear to me that all photographic brands realise that the market for their products, and the profit, lies with the amateur market. There are simply more of us, and we have deeper pockets without costs and revenue to consider. Marketing, PR and internet influencing all act to try to convince us of the importance of new equipment, to drive revenue.

      There’s nothing wrong with aspiring to own beautiful equipment, and everyone is absolutely free to choose to use whatever they want. My honest opinion is that so much of what enthusiasts covet and aspire to are largely things that don’t really matter to the end result – the picture. It may be that I’m not a very good photographer, but I’ve taken this type of travel image with other more expensive equipment, and I don’t think people would perceive any difference.

      When this article was originally conceived from a conversation with Pascal, one of the themes was that nobody judges the quality of work by the “masters” by corner sharpness. Pascal was unable to add to the article, so that part of the discussion is absent. We also discussed the quality of modern equipment, and how it far exceeds what previous generations had to work with.

      The controversy over language and tone seems to over-shadowed that general point that, and that we sometimes (often?) justify our choices and preferences for all sorts of emotional reasons that get dressed up with technical speak as “fact”, but which ultimately really don’t matter to the final picture. As with my earlier “un-camera” piece, this was about reflecting on what was actually important and makes photographs “good”, rather than holding on to belief systems. Choices aren’t “right or wrong”, and I never said they were. That it has been seen as so “controversial” and the language to “belittle” suggests that it’s a sensitive issue.

      • Sean says:

        Hi Adrian,
        You have remained calm and objective given others have disagreed on an issue that you found important enough to express some well considered thoughts on.

        I sense they became chafed as your article doesn’t celebrate the experience in attaining Uber gear, and the subjective feelings that come attached with that journey. You get flamed in return for your objectivity.

        What’s missed is you the person have also, most likely, gone through this same want v need thing and come out the other side of that black hole with a well reasoned and rational overview on that experience.

        It’s not opinion, it’s only a reveal on how it happened, and where you are now, as a consequence to, and part of, as you’ve identified, a former participant in that constant drive for bigger and better – but at what cost.

        Some responses to what you wrote reveal how subjectivity and feelings, as opposed to objectivity, blinds in appraising the actual what and why you put a pen to paper, along with your supporting images.

        • Adrian says:

          Hi Sean
          Thanks for your further comments.

          I think people have reacted to words like “snobbery”, and the idea that those who favour primes or expensive lenses don’t understand issues of perspective, field of view, or design complexity.

          I didn’t say all people who choose to use primes or enjoy higher quality lenses are guilty of this. However, what I talk of is based on multiple examples where people have been advised to “zoom with their feet” or that expensive / higher specification lenses are “sharper”.

          Perhaps it’s a reflection of where I am in life at the moment, but to much of this type of discussion (MTF, plasticity, micro-contrast, buttons, grip size, pixel count etc) I find myself asking “but does it matter?”. Does it make our photographs better?

          The common reply to such a question may be along the lines of “it may not matter to you, but it does to me/other people”, which neatly avoids the self reflection required to answer the question. For a professional who needs to turn in the work to get paid, it matters.

          For the rest of us who photograph as a hobby, notionally for pleasure, I fear we are caught in a loop of “chasing rainbows” in the pursuit of some magic that will solve our perceived problems, and until then will remain somehow dis-satisfied or unhappy.

          You are right that what I write about is in part influenced by my own journey to get here. Personal insight. I’ve dragged heavy bags of primes around in stifling heat and humidity and I can’t honestly say the pictures look that different. Perhaps the expensive prime has more “3D pop”, but if I showed the pictures to my mum, she won’t notice.

          Photographs largely aren’t judged on the qualities that some amateur photographers obsess about. A kind of internet consensus group think acts as an echo chamber in which opinions and beliefs go unchallenged, and wants and desires become expressed as “needs”.

          It’s not about right or wrong, good or bad, but about considering why we make the choices we do and what it is that we really need. We are spoilt by a wealth of riches of equipment that even at the consumer end of the market is so good that it far exceeds the capabilities of the equipment used only a few decades ago.

      • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

        “I’ve taken this type of travel image with other more expensive equipment, and I don’t think people would perceive any difference”
        BTW, I do have the 55mm Otus. On technical appraisal (price, too, in all probablity!), the world’s BEST FF DSLR lens – at least, for the moment. And a D850, the world’s best [currently] DSLR.
        But I often find I am perfectly happy using my Nikon 9700 pocket job, or my Canon PowerShot. And perfectly happy with the results I get from them – from the shots I take with them – which of course is not ALL of my photography – any more than the D850/Otus 55mm is “all” of it!
        And because I print practically all of my photos, they are subjected to [sometimes, quite extreme!] scrutiny before I file the print in one of my albums. So I am well informed on the comparative quality of the images from all of my gear.
        Which is my “favourite”? Sigh – for me, it’s “horses for courses” – whatever suits the task in hand. And to be perfectly honest, having travelled a very long road, from my original second-hand Kodak Box Brownie, to my D850/Otus 55m combo, and practically everything in between, I am rather amused by the controversy this topic has generated.
        Your “honest opinion”? – “My honest opinion is that so much of what enthusiasts covet and aspire to are largely things that don’t really matter to the end result – the picture.” May I be presumptuous and claim it as “our” honest opinion? That is, if you don’t mind sharing! 🙂

        • Adrian says:

          Hi Pete, you may agree or disagree to whatever you want!

          I have taken similar pictures with much more expensive cameras and lenses (zoom and prime) and I don’t think anyone would really tell them apart. Ironically, this lens has allowed me achieve greater depth of field and lower ISO, rather than having to battle with a shallower depth of field because of a large aperture in an attempt to keep ISO down to maximise quality. So I could have taken the same photos with primes, but I would have needed several of them (more cost and more to carry), they may have restricted the compositional choices, and ironically the pictures may not have been as good. That is part of essence of the message – a piece of equipment that isn’t sexy or exotic, that would probably be over looked by the enthusiasts who are adamant about what is needed or best, has turned in results that for me seem just as good. Some have interpreted this as me.saying this lens is better than primes and a universal solution to other requirements – I’m not at all sure where I said that, or how that has been the “take away’.

          I’m going to nail my colours to the mast here and say that in some members of the photographic community, there appears to be too much worry about sharpness, corners, pixels, types of glass, brand name, and terms like “plasticity” and “micro contrast”, so it becomes an aim in itself. Most people when they look at a print won’t be able to tell, if it’s even apparent at all. Further, those qualities and attributes don’t by themselves make a photograph “good”. It seems to me that even humble modern equipment can make good.pictures, perhaps sometimes with greater ease and flexibility. The message was always that we shouldn’t stick to rigid principles or obsess about things that probably don’t matter because in the end, surely all that matters is the final result?

          The challenges I started the piece with about not slavishly sticking to rigid mantras and looking at other options in an objective way seems to have been misunderstood and overshadowed the example of using this relatively humble lens and what I believe it can achieve.

  • Chris Bradford says:

    Wow! I never thought my favorite lens would get any love. I have it on my a6500 all the time. Just returned from 2 plus weeks in Southeast Asia and took over 3,000 photographs with it. It took me the last month to process them, but I was rarely disappointed in the results. All problem photos were my fault, not this lens’. I particularly liked your comment about the less than stellar 3.5-5.6 range. It’s only a “problem” if you absolutely have to have very shallow dof, which I don’t. Zooming in close does the job for the most part. My preferred genre of photography is travel, and this lens is almost perfect for me. I have three or four fixed lenses but rarely travel with them. If I have portraits to do close to home, then I bring them out. I bought this lens a year and a half ago to replace my Tamron 18-200 and haven’t looked back. Inexpensive, light, and plasticky, but a thing of beauty.

    • Adrian says:

      Hi Chris, thanks for your comment. I’m glad you also like the lens, and like me you seem to find the performance more than adequate for the types of use the lens was probably designed for. Having dragged much heavier equipment around on travels, often with very much higher specification with a belief that it would help me take “better” photographs, I’ve been surprised by just how capable this (on paper) modest lens is. There’s much advice online about what equipment is “best”, which may not be best for you, and I’m glad you also enjoy the lens and aren’t disappointed with the results. Let’s just keep it our secret handshake!

  • Pascal B. says:

    Dear Adrian,
    After reading your article, I am left with a conundrum: what shall I rank first, the quality of your pictures, the fact that you took them with a non-camera equipped with a non-lens to illustrate the too frequently undervalued merits of frugality or the no-nonsense style of your writing?

    I shall leave it at that; as you rightly conclude in one reply to a comment what really matters is that one should use what makes him/her happy.

    This, to me, is the essence of DS.

    Thank you for a controversial, thought provoking, well illustrated article, looking forward to many more.

    • Adrian says:

      Hi Pascal, thanks for your comments. Without wishing to be accused of calling people stupid, I do increasingly think that through clever marketing etc combined with the influences of peers and views often discussed and repeated on the internet, it’s easy to become entrapped by “perceived needs” in the desire to take better photographs. That’s not meant to denigrate people’s choices – for example, some people.prefer using prime lenses – but I did deliberately challenge some of the often repeated beliefs that are spread around the internet (primes are better than zooms, consumer grade equipment Isn’t very good etc).

      There are some pictures in my article that probably wouldn’t have been possible with the more expensive equipment I have generally used before because of focal length, the ability to hand hold successfully, or because I would have missed a picture whilst caught changing lenses.

      I think the industry and the opinions of the internet drive beliefs about what we think we “need” that often go unchallenged. Plasticity, MTF curves, micro contrast or the brand on the side of the barrel are rarely what makes a photo great. I fear in what feels like a near constant drive to aspire to and attain “better” equipment, we may lose sight of what’s really important.

  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    Adrian, this article is also of interest, on this topic –

    Written by one of the co-proprietors of F-Stoppers, after using the Fuji GFX-100. His “take” on a 100MP cam, and one that costs way more than my gear.

    His final paragraph says it all. Especially the last 3 sentences!

    • Adrian says:

      Hi Pete, thanks for the link. What’s interesting are the pictures with the slider – I assume one half is the original image, and the other after post! processing? If you only saw the “after” images, you might think the camera produces sumptuous results – whilst the “before” images are somewhat flat and uninspiring. It’s an example of how internet content, perhaps combined with a positive review of a medium format camera and the “benefits” of a larger sensor, could easily create a desire in readers.

      As the article concludes, very few people “need” 100Mp, but that doesn’t stop many amateurs upgrading their cameras to new models with ever higher pixel counts – I assume because they feel it satisfies some “need”.

      • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

        I suspect the “need” is the same as the one that the couple who sat at the next table when I was having a coffee in Montmartre – a place notorious for pickpockets etc! – and between them, they were wearing EIGHT Leicas around their necks, complete with the conspicuous red dot. If I’d had a Harry Potter wand, I would have wished them to the other end of Paris – they were about the LAST thing I wanted talking to me about cameras, when I was trying to conceal mine from the invisible prying eyes in that area.

        • Adrian says:

          Do you think they owned so many Leicas because they had determined for themselves that they were the most suitable tool, or because they had been convinced by others?

          Don’t misunderstand, it’s not jealousy. People can spend their money how they want. You can drive to work in a Renault Twingo or an Audi R8, but please don’t say you “need” the Audi to drive on the motorway, when every car currently manufactured is capable of doing so.

          I would like a Sony A9, as the 20fps would open up new opportunities when photographing men’s fitness (acrobatic) categories in physique sports. However, I don’t need one, as that is a very small and infrequent part of my photography. I would be nice to have, but I’ve decided it would essentially be a waste of money for the use it would get. I’d like it, but I don’t need it.

  • Yow! A hot topic. Makes me remember a newspaper photographer colleague and proud Leica owner who likened photographers to monkeys, constantly checking out the other guy’s equipment.

    It’s the end result that matters — ink on the page — and obviously possible to get great photos with less-than-the-best gear. If you’re a professional, reliability and predictability become very important and an aw-shucks attitude to failed efforts or imperfect results won’t be acceptable. Amateurs like me don’t have that constraint. Hell, I don’t even map the performance of my zooms across their range. Life is too short.

    For me, travel photography demands light, compact, inexpensive gear and m43 fits the bill. Quality is very good, there’s no problem printing very sharp photos up to 16×20 and file sizes are manageable. If I had to carry something larger (been there done that!), I’d probably just use my phone or an Olympus Tough. Unless, of course, I win the lottery and, like a guy I saw at Istanbul’s Hagia Sofia, parade around with my Phase One camera and a young, athletic assistant to carry it.

    As Aleister Crowley, ‘the most evil man in Europe,’ said: “Do as you will shall be the whole of the law.” Carry on!

    • Adrian says:

      Hi Alan, it sounds as if like me you have been around the block with different equipment and settled on something that you’ve decided yourself meets your needs.

      This item.was never about professionals, and you are right that they have different needs, although I’ve come across several who claim to use quite humble equipment for some types of paid work (because they too have identified equipment that meets their needs and the needs of their clients).

      Photography seems to be becoming ever more aspirational and therefore ruinously expensive if one finds oneself on the treadmill of regular upgrades and uber-equipment. When this item was conceived, Pascal and I were discussing that attributes like lens sharpness and corner sharpness are hugely.over-ratrd, have little bearing on pictorial quality, and I suspect most amateurs don’t need the huge performance envelopes they crave.

      I’m certainly not giving up on other equipment, as I sometimes shoot physique sports competitions that requires longer lenses and higher frame rates. I also do some available light work, both formal portraits and on the street, that benefits from much higher iso ability. It’s about choosing what works for you and what’s suitable for (or required for) your use. It’s all to easy to let manufacturers, bloggers and peers convince or seduce you into thinking you need something that perhaps you don’t.

      • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

        I’d still like to talk to you about that shot you took on a 200 pound camera 🙂
        And I’ve spent the afternoon taking available light shots of dogs – with a cam with a 1″ sensor and a [rather slow] built in zoom, in a darkened room. That cam cost less than practically any or all of my lenses!

        • Adrian says:

          This reminds me of those “giga-pixel” images that sometimes get produced. It’s another example of the obsession with pixels. The last one I saw was of a city Scape. It’s primary objective seemed to be the number of pixels and therefore the level of detail – which somewhat goes along with my belief that we “obsess” about things like pixels and resolution and sharpness, all of which are mostly a given with almost any modern lens and camera. The giga-pixel image wasn’t noteworthy for its composition, exposure, or artistic criteria.

        • Adrian says:

          Ah yes, the sea off the Barcelona coast. It was taken with my £239 kit Sony A3000, though admittedly used a Zeiss branded Sony lens… Though it was a zoom, which the internet often a says isn’t very good (E 16-70mm f4 OSS). I’ve never had any significant problems with it, and it’s significantly better than an equivalent FF lens made for SLRs of the same range that is 20 years it’s vintage.

      • It’s been ever thus though, as in every aspect of life (sound reproduction, food, kitchen equipment, houses, cars, bicycles, sheet thread counts, etc etc) things have spiralled to enormous and often ridiculous heights as engineers come up with bigger and better items, marketing machines work on our desires, and banks find new ways to loan us money. I’m content with where I am but confess to a bit of jealousy and some nagging sense that I’m missing out. Oh well…

  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    Here’s a new entry for the GAS addicts and gear junkies!
    The world’s biggest (and likely the most costly!) lens, to be used on a 3.2 gigapixel camera, for astro photography.
    If you want one, the cost is around $168 million (that’s USD, BTW)

    • Nice! It makes the 6mm Nikkor look small and cheap. I lusted after one of these for a time (though never too seriously) and spotted one in the window of a Hong Kong camera shop in 1983 available for a couple thousand dollars. Another failure on my part to recognize a good investment. https://petapixel.com/2012/05/08/160000-nikkor-6mm-fisheye-in-action-on-a-nikon-d800/

      • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

        ROTFLMHAO – Alan, you should be on the stage, with that sense of humour!

        • Alan MacKenzie says:

          My first notable investment failure was also photo-related. Adams was still alive — we met him at a book signing in Carmel — and a gorgeous, large print of Moonrise over Hernandez was selling in his Yosemite shop for $500. I lusted after that too but five hundred dollars for a photo? Ridiculous!

          • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

            I wonder what that photo is worth today – I used to lust after a painting by one of our better known artists, when I was just an articled clerk and paid hardly anything – I walked past it on the way to the station, to catch the train home, night after night – they only wanted 200 pounds for it, but I was only earning a few pounds a week and it was taking me ages to save enough to buy it. Then one day, when I was still about 20 pounds short, the artist died – and next day the price of the painting was 20,000 pounds!

            • Alan MacKenzie says:

              You’re making me cry. The highest auction price thus far is US$609,000. Alas, much as you related, $500 was a lot at the time.

  • From Ansel Adams’ autobiography (Little, Brown, 1996):
    Edward Weston wrote Adams in 1937:
    “Dear Ansel, One reason I write you is for opinions and information on lenses. I’m sure you have 10 times my knowledge at your fingertips…. My Turner Reich which I bought because it was a good bargain has proved quite satisfactory under most conditions… I would like a doublet of not less than 19 in… up to date color correction. I would prefer a slow lens because I don’t want to pay too much and because it would be lighter, less bulky.”
    Adams replied:
    “Dear Edward, Any good modern lens is corrected for maximum definition at the larger stops… I think what you want… is a Zeiss Protar No. 6, 19 in…. This lens is quite light in weight. The “Protar” gives the most beautiful “breathing” image of all lenses — you cannot enlarge as many times as you can with the Dagor, but for contact work and moderate enlargement it cannot be excelled.”

    Plus ca change…

  • >