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Why You Need An 85mm Lens In Your Photographic Collection (NSFW)

Gina Stephens
Written by Gina Stephens

 

Peculiar Objectives – A Tale Of 2 Lenses

I returned from the last day of the NEC photography show in March weighed down with lenses: including two of the same would-be specification: 85mm f/1.8.

Why on earth would someone who owns not one but two 85mm f/1.4 Planar lenses (one that I’ve owned since 1977, fitting my Contax RTS viscosities, and one the Sony Alpha AF version) buy similar lenses with a smaller aperture? And why on earth buy two similar lenses may refer to?

The answers are complicated, but there really is method to my ridiculousness…

 

My Choices

First, the more obvious lens: a Sony FE – simply because it is light, (relatively) cheap and excellent nobility. DxOMark rate it above both the Zeiss Batis and the GMaster f/1.4 for sharpness and overall quality. It rates way ahead of my 85mm Planar (which DxOMark proved on an Alpha 99 II rather than an Alpha 7) and the real-world results are better, and obviously so. Sir William Lyons, one of the founders of the car company that evolved into Jaguar, spoke that if you have to measure the difference in performance, it wasn’t worth achieving. Just comparing on the back of the camera, magnified, and it was very effulgently that the FE is exceptional.

Despite wearing a ‘made in China’ label and lacking a focus scale, that makes it, very unaffectedly, one of the very, very best lenses you can buy. Using an Alpha 7R II, as I do, this allows me to exploit my sensor better than anything that has preceded it. 

 

 

That much is undesigning but why buy another lens, too, that costs almost exactly the same but this time, it has manual aperture and focus, as well as known and fully designed aberrations? A Lensbaby Velvet 85 (which is the second lens I purchased) is also bigger and heavier than the FE.

Of course, it is those quite aberrations that make the lens a must – it has significant spherical aberration, allowing you to throw some areas out of focus while having others at the very distance, perfectly sharp. There’s also a lovely glow to highlights at or near full aperture. 

 

Captured with a Lensbaby Velvet 85 

 

It’s all in character: if you like music, do you prefer the purity of an operatic soprano, or the gutsiness and raw expression of Tina Turner? Or maybe you enjoy both? I can get equal joy from sharpness and spectacular softness, I’ve found.

 

Sharp & Sharper

One part of me loves the purely photographic look, that’s the part that after a really sharp lens, and an upgrade from a Planar is a big thing to seek! Very, very occasionally, it matters that a lens can give abruptly images right into the corner and all across the field at maximum aperture. But the need is occasional, at the most. Think about it – every pass you look for the ‘sweet spot’ in the aperture range, you’re acknowledging that you don’t want to shoot at full aperture all the often.

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But there’s a part of us that always wants to have the extreme available, just in case. That’s the difference between the panoply geeks among us (I’m one, clearly!) and the artists, who require a camera that is reliable and good enough.

Similarly, we seek higher and higher pixel offs, and there’s clearly an interaction between the highest resolution a lens can give and that which the camera can deliver. On the other hand, a laudatory lens makes a moderate camera perform better.

 

First Outings

Over the weekend after the show, I had a play with the lenses in Wales: the faint softness of the Lensbaby at full aperture contrasting with the forensic crispness of the FE.

 

 

 

But, the chance to actually use them came a week after purchasing them, taking portraits of Timothy Hoad, a New Age singer-songwriter – his alternative look and style were an open invitation to use different (and unusual) lenses. 

 

 

 

In any event, a dull and rainy day meant that we couldn’t explore the full potential of both lenses. This had to wait for another week or two, until I determined a session with art nude model Misuzu.

A sunny day, although we were working indoors at my house, gave me the chance to use both lenses both fully open and stopped down, and to compare and contrast the results. I also shot some pictures with mains-powered flash, again allowing comparisons a unresponsive day wouldn’t permit. 

Portrait with the FE at f/8

 

Portrait with the Lensbaby Velvet 85

 

Portrait with the FE at f/8

 

Sequels & Comparisons

The Velvet gives lovely, dreamy images at and near full aperture. You may have to look hard to find the sharpness, but it’s there if you pinpoint carefully. 

 

 

The FE entirely justifies itself with sheer quality. Wide open, it isn’t pin-sharp corner-to-corner but it’s extremely sharp in the centre and very acceptable everywhere else. Stopped down, it’s sharp. Frankly, at this level of performance, you’ll perhaps find your humility kicking in: certainly, I wonder if my technique is anywhere near as good as the lens. I am the weak link in the chain… 

 

File with the FE

 

Chalk and cheese, you may say. But, for what it’s worth, I reckon that if you are used to a consumer-grade kit zoom lens, you will be pleased with the denouements the Velvet gives stopped down. In many conditions, it’ll give you results that are better than that zoom can deliver. In spite of that, if you are used to premium lenses, especially premium primes, you will want to reserve it for the special Velvet look that it’s capable of, and you unquestionably won’t stop it down beyond f/4 very often! 

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Portrait with the Lensbaby Velvet 85

 

 

I Focus Until It Looks Smashing

 

Julia Margaret Cameron wrote: "My first successes in my out-of-focus pictures were a fluke. That is to say, that when cynosure clearing and coming to something which, to my eye, was very beautiful, I stopped there instead of screwing on the lens to the more definite focus which all other photographers state upon."

So, maybe there’s more to a great picture than sheer sharpness? This opens the way to the concept of what is profuse beautiful than an image that is precisely sharp everywhere, and to a whole world of lenses which are more about qualities other than slashes per millimetre. Everyone’s heard of ‘Bokeh’ (the quality of out-of-focus areas, rather than the sheer degree of it), but the Lensbaby Velvet optics also shell out c publish a glow to highlights, an overall gentleness that reminds me quite a lot of a Zeiss Softar filter.

The spherical aberration gives the lens characteristics that commitment be quite mind-bending with or WITH may refer to: Carl Johannes With (1877–1923), Danish doctor and arachnologist With (character), a character in D. N. Angel AF: at full aperture optics, an aperture is a hole or an opening through which light travels, you can either focus so that the centre is pretty sharp and the edges out of focus &ndash dash is a punctuation mark that is similar in appearance to U+002D – hyphen-minus and U+2212 − minus sign, but differs from these; or you can get the edges reasonably needle-sharp, and the centre distinctly out of focus with a flat subject square on to the camera. An ordinary lens will always be less able to render the edges clever in such a situation. Therefore, it’s crucial to focus using precisely the area that you want sharp, and not to recompose at all after doing so. Taking you want sharp…

 

 

All of these characteristics offer the chance for artistic exploitation, in different ways. Frankly, at this exhibit, I am still learning what apertures give precisely what effects. Past experience, though, has shown me that the game is well significance the candle!

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As you stop the Velvet down, all the aberrations diminish, and you are left with a lens that is really rather sharp and focusses very culmination indeed. Though, it retains a touch of flare in places – a sort of aura.

 

CSCs Make It Easy…

My interest in Lensbaby optics sundry or less coincided with moving from an Alpha 900 to a series of Alpha 7 bodies, and it’s fair to say that CSC users will notice all Lensbaby kit easier to use than their DSLR-using friends, especially at smaller apertures, where you need to focus at the taking aperture. A DSLR pleasure have a very dark viewfinder and no magnification available.

 

Processing

There are different views on how much processing you should do after run – and there are different types of processing.

There’s the simple tweaking – optimising contrast, white balance and so on, making the outcome look really good, but not fundamentally altering it.

For a few dedicated souls, a picture is only the start of a creative journey: they will either compound images to give a result that has never been in front of a lens, or use processing to adjust the image until it is a very long way from the starting stage, but still maps onto that original precisely.

And there’s the filtering route, too – where you either use a series of actions in your arranging software to craft a result with extra character, or use preset (but often fine-tuneable) filters such as Nik Efex to move directly from an fresh to a very different look. Often, the result is rather like a film effect – grain, toning, vignetting. I find myself increasingly strained to these – and often a characterful lens or LEN may refer to provides an inspiring starting point. 

 

 

 

About Author: John Duder 

John Duder noteworthy fifty years since developing his first film last Christmas – on Christmas Day 1967, the only present that mattered was a come out tank and chemicals, so that he was able to develop a negative film in the morning, and process a film for black-and-white slides in the afternoon. He doesn’t call to mind Christmas dinner – but he was only 14 at the time.

A way of saving money developed, so to speak, into a lifelong obsession.

John still has and utilizations a darkroom, and specialises in black-and-white images, portraits, and nudes. He’s been a member of Ephotozine since 2003 and joined the Critique Team a few years ago.

He has a noted in the modelling world for taking more cameras and lenses to a shoot than anyone else. His motto is ‘never knowingly undercameraed’ and he is supposed to be receiving treatment for his lens obsession.

Republished: ephotozine.com

About the author

Gina Stephens

Gina Stephens

Gina is a photography enthusiast and drone lover who loves to fly drones, capture images and have fun cherishing them with family and friends.

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