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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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Focal Length and 'Drawing'
Old 08-20-2010   #1
Roger Hicks
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Focal Length and 'Drawing'

If you already had a 50mm lens, and only a 50mm lens, would you get another 50mm before getting another focal length?

Barring a wild excess of 'character' in the original 50 - and 'character' I didn't like, at that - I'd far rather go for another focal length: again, almost any lens, provided it was in good order and didn't have too much unwelcome 'character'.

But exactly this advice (to buy a second 50 before any other focal length) was given, and seconded, elsewhere in the forum. I'm not saying it's wrong. I'm just saying it would never have ocurred to me. What do others think?

Cheers,

R.
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Old 08-20-2010   #2
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I would not get another 50mm lens, even if it "draws differently". This is purely because I'm not a professional, so money is a huge motivation in getting any lens/gear. Thus no need to duplicate any focal lengths, unless I plan on only shooting 50mm lenses.
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Old 08-20-2010   #3
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If you're really tied to the 50mm FL then sure, why not?
I'm sure there are shooters who arm two bodies with the same FL (even the same model/version although that would be pushing it for me).
Truth be told I've shot with two 35's before.
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Old 08-20-2010   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by merciless49 View Post
I would not get another 50mm lens, even if it "draws differently". This is purely because I'm not a professional, so money is a huge motivation in getting any lens/gear. Thus no need to duplicate any focal lengths, unless I plan on only shooting 50mm lenses.
Most professionals I've known would take the same view, with the sole exception of REALLY different lenses (macro, soft focus).

Cheers,

R.
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Old 08-20-2010   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by t.s.k. View Post
If you're really tied to the 50mm FL then sure, why not?
I'm sure there are shooters who arm two bodies with the same FL (even the same model/version although that would be pushing it for me).
Truth be told I've shot with two 35's before.
Dear Tony,

Now you mention it, so have I. But eventually I sold the Summicron and kept the Summilux: I must only have used 2x 35mm together a couple of times in a decade. Maybe I should have limted it to if you have only one body, as well.

The question for me is versatility versus... what? I'm not sure. The differences between focal lengths, and the versatility you get from having extra focal lengths, seem far more important than (usually relatively minor) differences between different lenses of the same focal length.

Cheers,

R.

Last edited by Roger Hicks : 08-20-2010 at 08:53.
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Old 08-20-2010   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Roger Hicks View Post
Most professionals I've known would take the same view, with the sole exception of REALLY different lenses (macro, soft focus).

Cheers,

R.
Hi Roger, I do agree if it's a different lens functionally, even if the FL is the same. I've been tempted lately to get a 55mm Macro (or Micro, as Nikon calls it) to use as a "normal" lens for the SLR. But I've not acted upon it, yet. I think it definitely comes down to, if you're a professional, then it's an investment. Whereas, for me, this is a hobby. However serious I am about it, photography gives me pleasure but no money gained, so I still end up having to consider lots regarding my finances. Though all the gears acquired so far are essentially impulse buys
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Old 08-20-2010   #7
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I might duplicate focal lengths if one lens was huge and the other was compact. For example, if I had the cv 35/1.2 and it was just getting to be a nuisance to lug around, I might be tempted to pick up the 35/2.5.

Apart from that, unless they serve different purposes (e.g. macro as mentioned above), I probably wouldn't duplicate.
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Old 08-20-2010   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Roger Hicks View Post
The question for me is versatility versus... what? I'm not sure. The differences between focal lengths, and the versatility you get from having extra focal lengths, seem far more important than (usually relatively minor) differences between different lenses of the same focal length.

Cheers,

R.

Now there's the rub. Versatility VS consistency. I'm no pro but have done "projects" (some during my college years) that required the use of one FL. For me it was a learning process similar to the one lens one body concepts. In whatever versatility I lost, I gained in latitude...stretching the boundaries of what one 35 could offer (ie speeds, more frames, and character..). I realize you noted that wildly different character should be left out of the equation but every lens is different, isn't it? My hunch is if Winogrand ever shot with multiple bodies in his prime, he'd pick another Canon 28. I guess it all depends on what your goal is and how you see the world.
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Old 08-20-2010   #9
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yes, i love both my summar and the nikkor-HC, they draw very differently, and 50mm looks like my memories.
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Old 08-20-2010   #10
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I don't understand the term "drawing", well I do but can't relate my understanding to lenses, but I do double-up at both 50 and 35mm. One pair for monochrome and the other higher contrast pair for colour
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Old 08-20-2010   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by t.s.k. View Post
My hunch is if Winogrand ever shot with multiple bodies in his prime, he'd pick another Canon 35. I guess it all depends on what your goal is and how you see the world.
If I remember right, Winogrand sometimes used two M4s with two Canon 28/2.8 lenses.

To the OP's question: I wouldn't carry around two lenses of the same length. Having them at home is a different question though. And no, if your only lens is a 50mm, I wouldn't advise to buy another 50mm as second lens.
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Old 08-20-2010   #12
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If I remember right, Winogrand sometimes used two M4s with two Canon 28/2.8 lenses.
You're right. I edited my dumb mistake.


I think he had one M4 loaded with color and the other in BW.
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Old 08-20-2010   #13
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they're separate issues, so it may be that the focal length was fine but the 'drawing' was not.
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Old 08-20-2010   #14
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It also might depend on what opportunities arise. For example, I started with just one lens, a 50/3.5 Elmar, after which came a 21 and 28, and more recently a 50/1.4 for $100. However, I am certain that had I come across the 50/1.4 at that price before getting the wides then I would have bought it even if it meant living with just the two lenses for a while.

Would I normally advise someone to get, as their second lens, another of the same focal length? No.

Last edited by corot : 08-20-2010 at 10:23.
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Old 08-20-2010   #15
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For the average person, another FL would be much more useful; however, if you are a 50mm only shooter I can see the wisdom of another 50mm... but that means shooting only 50mm very productively! Many shooters who are fixated with lens nuances and go after lots of lenses with the same FL 'for different applications' and who have a particular affinity for bokeh etc tend to produce (to my eyes) dull photography (emphasis being on nuances at the expense of doing something interesting with the overall image) so the advice would once again be the same - another FL... you know, something wild and adventurous like a 28/25/90

If your only lens was a 50mm Noctilux, as Roger says, a 50 cron/planar/elmar might make some sense first though!
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Old 08-20-2010   #16
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My first interchageable cameras were SLR. I went for different focal lengths first. The only other 50mm I got was a 50mm f/1.4 which was sold with the Fujica when I bought it, versus the f/1.7 that was on my Yashica. Then after 4 other lenses of different FLs, I got a 50mm f/3.5 Fujinon macro. But back then I did forensic photography. As time and opportunity presented, I copied the 28mm and 135mm Yashikors with Fujinon glass as well. But that isn't the same as Mr. Hicks is asking IMO.

So I agree(ed) that the difference in focal length was more important to me. I have a lot of 50mm lenses, but I can't think of but one that didn't just come with a camera I wanted. It just wouldn't make sense to me to buy multiple copies of the same FL. Others obviously think differently.

EDIT: To the poster above or any others that are considering a macro lens. I suggest thinking twice. You need to be doing a lot and for a specific reason to spend the money. For most photography, close up filters, extension tubes, or reversing the lens will give you quite acceptable photos and you can put the money saved into film or more useful gear. Most people (me included) just don't really do a lot of macro in my experience.
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Old 08-20-2010   #17
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I think it makes sense to have a fast lens and a "walk about lens" in the fl where you do most of your shooting. For example, I use a Zeiss Ikon with the 35/1.2 Nokton in the evening, and a M7 with the 35/2 Summicron or 35/2.8 Summaron during the day. Same could apply to 50 mm, where one could use a compact collapsible lens for daylight and one of the fast lenses for the night and interiors.
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Old 08-20-2010   #18
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mfogiel View Post
I think it makes sense to have a fast lens and a "walk about lens" in the fl where you do most of your shooting. For example, I use a Zeiss Ikon with the 35/1.2 Nokton in the evening, and a M7 with the 35/2 Summicron or 35/2.8 Summaron during the day. Same could apply to 50 mm, where one could use a compact collapsible lens for daylight and one of the fast lenses for the night and interiors.
Marek knows the truth of it.

As well, there is the notion I have of lenses in the same FL with different characteristics, not just different functionality.

As you know very well Roger, the Noctilux 50mm which I love (and I think you appreciate it yourself?) is a great, honking lens and affords a certain look and function I am sometimes wanting in a 50 -- but not always; therefore I do use the Elmar-M or Summilux ASPH, too. (The latter two are a bit of a duplication, I admit, in terms of 'look' somewhat, and I may part with one of them someday, but it is the compactness/look package of the f2,8/50 that makes me love it too much to sell it.

What I write here could easily transfer to another common FL.

Respectfully, Thomas
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Old 08-20-2010   #19
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I don't understand the term "drawing", well I do but can't relate my understanding to lenses, but I do double-up at both 50 and 35mm. One pair for monochrome and the other higher contrast pair for colour
Dear Stewart,

Nor do I, which may be why I chose the word...

Yes, I understand having two lenses when you've tried lots of others (and sometimes lenses are duplicated by 'historical accident') but for a beginner I'd have though that FL was the important thing to explore first.

When I had only a 5cm Elmar, I thought a 3,5cm Summaron was a much more important choice than (another, different) 5cm lens.

Today, I'd rather buy a focal length I don't own (probaby 12mm) than duplicate anything I do own -- except, conceivably, a Noctilux, and even then, I like my Sonnar so much I'm no longer sure.

Between us, Frances and I actually have 1x 15 (Voigtländer), 1x18 (Zeiss), 2x 21 (Kobalux and Voigtländer - the Leica was stolen), 1x 28 (Voigtländer), 2x 35 (Leica and Voigtländer), several x 50 (Leica, Zeiss, Voigtländer), 1x 75 (Leica), 3x 90 (Leitz Thambar, Leica and Voigtländer), 1x 135 (Leitz).

If we could afford it we'd buy a Tri-Elmar 16/16/21 and a 24/1,4 Summilux as well. Alas we can't.

But there are two of us...

Cheers,

R.
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Old 08-20-2010   #20
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One other variable comes to mind: Close focus. Having recently run a roll through a Spotmatic with a Takumar 55/2 (versus using my current 'regular' R2a with Heliar 50/2) I see that for regular shots at around f5.6 - 8 and between 2 to 5 meters the results are unsurprisingly much the same with regard to field of view and 'drawing' of the shot. However the field of view with people and flowers shot at 45cm's close focus are obviously quite different to those shot at 1m with the rangefinder. Whilst the Takumar is the same FL as the (now on-sold) Heliar, it offers substantially different picture taking opportunities based on close focus and the effects of depth of field at close versus longer focus points.
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Old 08-20-2010   #21
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mfogiel View Post
I think it makes sense to have a fast lens and a "walk about lens" in the fl where you do most of your shooting. For example, I use a Zeiss Ikon with the 35/1.2 Nokton in the evening, and a M7 with the 35/2 Summicron or 35/2.8 Summaron during the day. Same could apply to 50 mm, where one could use a compact collapsible lens for daylight and one of the fast lenses for the night and interiors.
I think it is all a function of your style. I could be shooting in the bright noon day sun and find myself shooting inside a dimly lit home 60 seconds later. And with no time to change lenses in between. Much less the issue of carrying extra equipment all day. Others have all the time in the world to shoot and not bothered with carrying loads of equipment all day.

So I am a bit of the extreme in usually choosing a lens in the morning before I walk out the door and making the best of my choice all day. My choices are based on focal length as I own very few duplicate lenses in similar focal lengths. But everyone is different and needs to do what works for them.
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Old 08-20-2010   #22
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If you can see a noticable difference from one to the next and can perceive a purpose for each one then why not.

My 50mm C Sonnar is vastly different to my f1.2 Canon and in SLR the Zuiko 50mm f3.5 macro I got recently looks very different to the f1.4 I usually choose ... I think it's the sharpest 50mm I've used to date!

The Lens I seem to like the look of best is my 50mm f1.4 ZF Planar ... whether it be on my D700 or my FM3A that lens blows me away!
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Old 09-09-2010   #23
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Depends if they come as lens caps with USSR cameras !

Seriously , I would love a modern Leitz 50mm f2.5 to complement my Fed collapsible / ugly rigid I 22 / Elmar and Summitar , but I love the feel of these ancient lenses , just as I love the results from my 50mm Rokkors on 4/3rds , so I am in no rush , and have no professional need to indulge further .
I am not sure that my snapshooting would be substancially improved anyway .
50 on my M8 [ 67 ] is just perfect for me though .

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Old 09-09-2010   #24
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I have most focal lengths covered between 20mm and 1000mm for 35mm cameras. And I did buy lenses of different focal lengths before buying "more of each". By the time I was 16, had a 25, 35, 50, 135, 200, and 400. That was a lot of lawn mowing and newspapers delivered.
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Old 09-09-2010   #25
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Roger Hicks View Post
Most professionals I've known would take the same view, with the sole exception of REALLY different lenses (macro, soft focus).

Cheers,

R.
You might extend that to that crazy concept of bokeh, slight vignetting, wide open weirdness, something that I notice which is curvature of the focus plane, color rendition, flare that is +or-, and the beauty of Thorium lenses (again+or-).
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Old 09-10-2010   #26
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Interesting thoughts. I would have said I was much more a 35mm man than 50mm, but a quick audit of "the cupboard" says otherwise.

I actually have11 50mm lenses, vs. 2 at 35mm Ok, some came on bodies (Elmar, Fed and Canon), but most have been bought in search of something different. Whether that is drawing, I'm not sure. One or two have been in search of bokeh (3 Sonnars) or speed (Summilux, Canon and Nikkor), while two have definitely been for that "period look" (Summar and Summarit) - is that "drawing"?

My use tends to fall for 3 of these, depending on film and subject so maybe I need to have a yard sale?
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Old 09-11-2010   #27
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As a corollary to this, what was the first additional focal length people acquired? Way back when I bought my first interchangeable lens SLR camera (when I was 14) it came with a 50mm f1.8. The first lens I bought after that was a 200mm f4 (after about another year of saving!). The reason was I wanted to take pictures of school drama performances/rehearsals and sports matches. What was it that you guys wanted?
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Old 09-11-2010   #28
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As a corollary to this, what was the first additional focal length people acquired? Way back when I bought my first interchangeable lens SLR camera (when I was 14) it came with a 50mm f1.8. The first lens I bought after that was a 200mm f4 (after about another year of saving!). The reason was I wanted to take pictures of school drama performances/rehearsals and sports matches. What was it that you guys wanted?
Good question! 55/1.8 Super Takumar (1966) followed by a 90-190 f/5.8 Yashinon, one of the worst zooms I hae ever tried. I wish I had kept it for portraiture. Couldn't afford a wide-angle until years later.

First Leica (1969) came with a 50/3.5, soon supplemented by a 90/4 'fat barrel', then a 135 Hektor. Again, couldn't afford a WA (Summaron) until later.

Cheers,

R.
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Old 09-11-2010   #29
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I will be buying a lot of 50ies before I try another focal length. Part of the reason is that my "wide angle" needs are covered by the excellent Contax T3. I have no criticism to make on this camera except that...well...It's not a 50mm. The other side is that I have a specific list of wants from a 50 that I don't seem to find in one lens (close .7m focus, short throw, M-mount, character without softness, f2 or smaller).

Right now I have a Sonnar and a Planar. I'm considering trying/getting an old Summicron and/or Summilux at some point.

The C-Sonnar is great in size, handling, and rendition, but when you're sitting at a table with someone, you can't take their picture without leaning waaaay back...The Planar is technically masterpiece, but I'd like it to be a little bit more characterful (maybe its character is "detachment" instead of the Sonnar "nostalgia"?). Actually I also have a J8 but the focus throw is so long, I fall asleep before achieving focus...

I don't feel the need for other focal lengths...Maybe that's the main reason...I feel I can achieve what I want from a 50 and carrying more than that with me would just be distraction. So now I'm looking for one I can synch with fully.
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