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Roger Hicks -- Author of The Rangefinder Book

Roger Hicks is a well known photographic writer, author of The Rangefinder Book, over three dozen other photographic books, and a frequent contributor to Shutterbug and Amateur Photographer. Unusually in today's photographic world, most of his camera reviews are film cameras, especially rangefinders. See www.rogerandfrances.com for further background (Frances is his wife Frances Schultz, acknowledged darkroom addict and fellow Shutterbug contributor) .


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The camera, the lens and the photographer
Old 02-08-2013   #1
Roger Hicks
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The camera, the lens and the photographer

Some photographers are better than others. Some cameras and lenses are better than others. Why are some people apparently unable to separate these two simple, non-contradictory statements?

Point out that any given lens is (for example) not very sharp, lacks contrast or suffers from field curvature, and immediately, someone pops up and says, "Yeah, but you can still take great pictures with it."

OF COURSE YOU CAN. Only a fool would deny it. You may even be able to turn these defects to advantage, despite the fact that from the point of view of lens design, they are unquestionably defects. But equally, there will be other pictures, other subjects, other ways of seeing, which will work better with a lens that is sharper or contrastier or otherwise technically better. Again, only a fool would deny it.

Any lens is a compromise on speed, optical quality, size, ergonomics and price. My 50mm C-Sonnar, for example, sacrifices quite a lot to size and contrast; my pre-aspheric 35mm Summilux sacrifices a good deal to speed and size. They're both fine lenses. The compromises they make suit me. But I don't pretend that they are in all ways comparable with the latest Leica aspherics in the same focal lengths. They're smaller and cheaper for a start.

Still less can anyone pretend that a lens from 60 years ago is likely to compare with the best of today's lenses when it comes to technical quality. A few do compare well: 21mm Biogons spring to mind. But most don't. You may love them; you may take great pictures with them, or admire the great pictures that others have taken with them. But you can't realistically deny that technically, most high-end modern lenses are superior to most high-end old ones -- especially when it comes to fast lenses or wide angles.

Whether or not the photographer needs, or can take advantage of, better cameras or lenses, is a separate issue. That's down to the photographer, not the camera or lens. But to deny that some cameras and lenses are better than others is as feeble-minded as denying that some photographers are better than others.

Cheers,

R.
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Old 02-08-2013   #2
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Very true!

How about all of these soft and underexposed photos

http://www.magnumphotos.com/C.aspx?V...RID=24KL53ZTH6
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Old 02-08-2013   #3
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Totally agree. But somehow you forgot to define "better". This is also THE error from most people when they ask or discuss what is "better". Even "technically quality" its possible to define parameters so that one can twist "better" to accommodate one personal preferences. Example: I want a lens with soft rendering / low contrast. Which then is "better"?

Sorry if Om nitpicking :-)
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Old 02-08-2013   #4
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What makes a lens a superior lens?
the missing of CA - the contrast - the sharpness or what?
Just to say that new leses are better as old lenses is something that is senceless!

Do you just look at the labor charts?

And even then - a good or perfekt lens wouldn´t be perfect for any situation so what?

I'm not a good and famous photographer - just somebody who loves to play with his gear - but even I see that some of my old lenses have a touch that give a photo a life!
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Old 02-08-2013   #5
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Oh look! A dead horse.

Let's beat it!!
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Old 02-08-2013   #6
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Roger said at all.

I think the definition of "better" when it comes to equipment is the right tools needed for the job really. In that sense I think it's all about the photographer's vision.

I personally love the softer look, low contrast lenses that represents well the mood of the photography I am doing. There's my Leica M2s and the old DR Cron and soon the 50mm Summarit that Dave Lackey was so generous to lend me! That said, I don't think it can't be done with modern sharp and contrasty lenses, sure it can, but not by me.

I shoot a lot of windows/doors/courtyards too, but for that I feel I need maximum sharpness and contrast and detail (for what I call grafics) and there comes the Hasselblad.

Again, a better photographer than myself will probably make better pictures with different and not necessarily more expensive equipment, but there's his different approach, angle, ability to see and work the light and experience.

To resume, I am perfectly happy with what I have tho' and yet not ultimately happy with the results I am getting but there's not to blame on the equipment.
Shooting regularly and a lot is my formula to get a satisfactory picture. And luck. And the ability to say something more in your pictures than "I was there".

Regards,

Boris
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Old 02-08-2013   #7
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Today I just sold a Canon 50mm f/1.4 LTM (Excellent condition) for a good price. This lens was tested yesterday by another gentleman and he walked away after testing it on his NEX-5. His reason was it was not as sharp as his expectation, which is something as sharp as Zeiss 50mm f/2 Planar ZM.

I kept quiet and let it go.

I believe there are many outstanding lens out there, old and new, with different characteristic which can be utilize for specific type of pictures.

It's the same as in my kitchen, I have a sauce pan, pancake pan, sautee pan. Basically they're all very good pan but I need different pan for different job. I hope this pan analogy does make sense to you.
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Old 02-08-2013   #8
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So was Henry Cartier-Bresson a " better" photographer than let's say Robert Capa ? Was it the other way around ?

What is "better" in terms describing photographer ?
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Old 02-08-2013   #9
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Those two are both better.

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Old 02-08-2013   #10
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Obviously everything Roger has said is true, I think it's just that many people have trouble seeing grey areas, particularly in internet discussions. Add to that, the desire that people often have to defend, at all costs, items that they own.

Most people will accept what Roger has said if directly asked, but often the instinct is to defend their possessions.
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Old 02-08-2013   #11
Roger Hicks
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Quote:
Originally Posted by flyalf View Post
Totally agree. But somehow you forgot to define "better". This is also THE error from most people when they ask or discuss what is "better". Even "technically quality" its possible to define parameters so that one can twist "better" to accommodate one personal preferences. Example: I want a lens with soft rendering / low contrast. Which then is "better"?

Sorry if Om nitpicking :-)
Not nitpicking at all. You are absolutely right. One lens suits one style of photography; another, another. but some people seem unable to see that the soft, low-contrast lens is not 'better' for everything. Or that in purely optical, technical terms, more sharpness, more contrast and a flatter field represent advances. It's a lot easier to make soft lenses (with still softer edges) and low contrast.

Cheers,

R.
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Old 02-08-2013   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Guillermo View Post
Oh look! A dead horse.

Let's beat it!!
Amen, amen.
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Old 02-08-2013   #13
Roger Hicks
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Heru Anggono View Post
Today I just sold a Canon 50mm f/1.4 LTM (Excellent condition) for a good price. This lens was tested yesterday by another gentleman and he walked away after testing it on his NEX-5. His reason was it was not as sharp as his expectation, which is something as sharp as Zeiss 50mm f/2 Planar ZM.

I kept quiet and let it go.

I believe there are many outstanding lens out there, old and new, with different characteristic which can be utilize for specific type of pictures.

It's the same as in my kitchen, I have a sauce pan, pancake pan, sautee pan. Basically they're all very good pan but I need different pan for different job. I hope this pan analogy does make sense to you.
Perfect sense! By the same token, I have a coarse garlic press and a fine garlic press.

Cheers,

R.
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Old 02-08-2013   #14
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Originally Posted by maddoc View Post
So was Henry Cartier-Bresson a " better" photographer than let's say Robert Capa ? Was it the other way around ?

What is "better" in terms describing photographer ?
Look in any photo magazine, on any web-site, in any book. Some pictures are truly rotten shots, dull and tedious records of a dull and tedious scene, poorly composed, technically incompetent. Another picture might be equally blurry and soft, but still communicate immediately.

Which is the better photograph?

And, by extension, someone who produces a higher percentage of better photographs is, in my book, a better photographer.

Cheers,

R.
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Old 02-08-2013   #15
Roger Hicks
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Guillermo View Post
Oh look! A dead horse.

Let's beat it!!
You might think so, but there's been an extraordinary efflorescence of "you can still take good pictures" comments lately. Clearly some people need reminding.

Cheers,

R.
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Old 02-08-2013   #16
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Roger Hicks View Post
You might think so, but there's been an extraordinary efflorescence of "you can still take good pictures" comments lately. Clearly some people need reminding.

Cheers,

R.
I suppose it is a better attitude to have than "you can only take bad pictures".
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Old 02-08-2013   #17
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Roger Hicks View Post
Some photographers are better than others. Some cameras and lenses are better than others. Why are some people apparently unable to separate these two simple, non-contradictory statements?
This seems a rant against some specific answer to some specific post and I don't know which post you have in mind so my answer is very unspecific. I think that people who argue when questions like these come out are not trying to not separate the two concepts but only discussing the relevance of these. For example, in this analysis light never appears but then someone (I am among those who do) can ask whether with all the rest being equal (in particular with a given photographer behind the camera) is the quality of the picture changed more radically by using a slightly better lens (let's be honest, probably not even 1% of us use really bad lenses) or by studying and using a better lighting. In the end, of course, we are just discussing and having fun and when we go out to take pictures, from family snaps to once in a lifetime assignments we are alone and we decide what to do as we please. Money and time are both finite, someone decide to use what they have to buy yet another 50mm lens and use time to test it against brick walls to enjoy the lower distortion, other use the money for a pair of Einstein Monoblocks and try a different light schemes...

GLF
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Old 02-08-2013   #18
Roger Hicks
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Quote:
Originally Posted by giellaleafapmu View Post
This seems a rant against some specific answer to some specific post and I don't know which post you have in mind so my answer is very unspecific. I think that people who argue when questions like these come out are not trying to not separate the two concepts but only discussing the relevance of these. For example, in this analysis light never appears but then someone (I am among those who do) can ask whether with all the rest being equal (in particular with a given photographer behind the camera) is the quality of the picture changed more radically by using a slightly better lens (let's be honest, probably not even 1% of us use really bad lenses) or by studying and using a better lighting. In the end, of course, we are just discussing and having fun and when we go out to take pictures, from family snaps to once in a lifetime assignments we are alone and we decide what to do as we please. Money and time are both finite, someone decide to use what they have to buy yet another 50mm lens and use time to test it against brick walls to enjoy the lower distortion, other use the money for a pair of Einstein Monoblocks and try a different light schemes...

GLF
No. It's several posts, by more than one person. Otherwise I'd not have bothered.

Cheers,

R.
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Old 02-08-2013   #19
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I got some really great lenses that I very seldom use. Simply because they compromise with things that's important to me. That is size and weight. Whenever I pull them out they amaze me but in the end that doesn't matter.

The sad part is. That even if the perfect lens existed... it still wouldn't make me a better photographer. But then again, neither would any lens.
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Old 02-08-2013   #20
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But what else am I going to spend my money on!!!!
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Old 02-08-2013   #21
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I am SO going to enjoy snapping a roll of exposures this weekend with the new-to-me 1939 Robot Star II with Zeiss Jena Biotar 4cm f/2 ...

Sharp, schmarp. I want to see what it does and whether it makes me happy. The camera as a curiosity does already. ;-)

G
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Old 02-08-2013   #22
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Hell hath no fury like a Leica owner (in particular) who's been scorned, spurned, slighted or slagged off, and whose reproducing equipment (his lenses, that is ..) has been criticised for being overly soft, limp and lacking in appeal and potency....
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Old 02-08-2013   #23
Roger Hicks
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Godfrey View Post
I am SO going to enjoy snapping a roll of exposures this weekend with the new-to-me 1939 Robot Star II with Zeiss Jena Biotar 4cm f/2 ...

Sharp, schmarp. I want to see what it does and whether it makes me happy. The camera as a curiosity does already. ;-)

G
Dear Godfrey,

NERD ALERT! Now read on...

The '40mm' seems to be a 42.5mm according to some sources -- effectively, in pure theory, just about the perfect theoretical length for a full frame 35mm negative (about 1mm short). Except that -- oh, dear -- you'll be shooting 24x24... EDIT -- I apologize to those who misunderstood: I was calling myself a nerd, for bringing up such otherwise pointless minutiae, as an example of how little theory normally matters.

Theory rarely matters much. I just get pissed off with people who deny that there have been any (theoretical) advances in lens design. Whether you get great pics with your Biotar or not, you'll enjoy using it. But when someone says, "I want a good lens for a __________" and someone recommends a frankly lousy vintge lens, or says "You can still take great pics with a [select old mushy lens here]" I wonder how much they're doing to help the OP with his (rarely if ever her) question.

Cheers,

R.
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Old 02-08-2013   #24
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Heru Anggono View Post

It's the same as in my kitchen, I have a sauce pan, pancake pan, sautee pan. Basically they're all very good pan but I need different pan for different job. I hope this pan analogy does make sense to you.
You're right, different pan for a different job. I have a large pan and a small pan. When I don't have a lot to cook I take the small one so that I don't waste energy. So you see we think differently about the definition of job here.
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Old 02-08-2013   #25
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This feels like the regular roundabout discussion born of needing something to talk about. The world would have been just that little bit quieter and content without it. But while the topic has been raised it is universally true that a good photographer armed only with a pinhole camera will make more successfully engaging photographs that a halfwit armed with the latest Canon or Fuji. And yes I agree with you Roger, image standards on the web are woeful and often amount to little more than demonstrating that the photographers equipment is real and not imaginary, when all we yearn for is for the 'photographer' to 'get real'.
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