In general, we photographers love our equipment, Especially our lenses. It is not uncommon to have a favorite one. You can always get a discussion/fight started among photographers when you talk about lenses. I would like to discuss what has become my favorite lens.
The lens is a critically important piece of equipment to photographers. Sensors are improving dramatically and lenses have to improve with them to achieve all the sharpness and resolution the sensor can capture.
Modern lenses constantly improve in resolution. Look at DxO image tests of current best lenses vs. the best from 20 years ago. Our lenses now enable us to capture more information and be able to produce wall-size prints that are extremely sharp.
The lens determines the point of view that is captured in our frame. It establishes the field of view, the width of the scene we are capturing. Some of us naturally have a telephoto view. Others have a wide angle view. This refers to the lens choice we tend to select to frame our subjects. This is just personal preference. The lens is a tool to help express our esthetic.
Many photographers feel they need a whole bag full of lenses of various focal lengths from extreme wide angle to super telephoto, with macro lenses and tilt/shiftes thrown in. Because, you never know what you might find. 🙂 Personally I have simplified my life a lot over time. I generally only carry a 24-70mm and a 70-200mm in my kit. But that is just me and where I am at right now.
So what we want is a lens or lenses that allow us to capture all the information we want (resolution, sharpness, dynamic range) in the field of view we want. A big ask, but doable.
Most of us are in the digital world now. The digital workflow is quite different from the analog workflow.
What we call the analog workflow – the film days- involved developers and enlargers and prints and lots of chemicals and time. Personally, these are days I don’t miss. I am a big fan of the power and freedom and flexibility we have now.
There is a corresponding workflow for digital processing, though. It includes loading images on our computer, viewing them, culling or grading them, processing selects with our software of choice, etc. Each of theses steps is time consuming. Especially since we tend to shoot so many more frames now that they “don’t cost anything”. And each step requires software and considerable training.
The result, though, is that we spend a lot of time in front of our computer now. We probably spend more time in the digital workflow than we did in the analog workflow.
My favorite lens
What does this have to do with a discussion of my favorite lens? Well, in a sense the “lens” I use the most and that has the most impact on my work is my computer monitor.
This is where I view all my images. Zoomed in to 100% I look at individual pixels. Here is where I crop and color correct and adjust tones and contrast and saturation. This is where I view and edit the image when I convert it to black & white. When I create new images by compositing others together, that is done entirely though the monitor “lens”.
Yes, all of the things I just said are actually done through specialized software. In my case it is primarily Lightroom Classic and Photoshop. But metaphorically and to me, the monitor is the lens into the process.
Now days the monitor is where we view everything we do. Regardless of what the original image looked like, what I see in the monitor at the end of the edits is what counts. The result could be a complete re-imagining of the starting image.
The new primary lens
I spend more time in front of my monitor than I do outside shooting. More and more it is coming to dominate my workflow. If I lost or broke a lens, that would be terrible, but I could continue doing my art with other lenses with only minor re-adjustments to my vision. I had this experience recently. My 24-70 lens dropped and shattered the polarizer filter. I was up in the mountains and I did not have a filter wrench with me to get the jammed filter off, so I had to switch to using an alternate lens. A little frustrating, but not a big deal.
But if my computer died, although I could continue shooting, I could not view or process a single image until I fixed it. Eventually things would back up to a critical point and I would have to get the computer back. I also couldn’t select images for galleries or process images for printing. Dead in the water.
So in a sense, the focal point of the digital workflow is the monitor. That is the new lens I use to view and do most of my work. The monitor is the lens for the increasingly important part of the digital workflow.
In the future will this trend increase or will we return to simpler times? What do you think?
My money would be on the increase of digital processing. We will trend more toward an attitude that the camera and lenses are used to gather raw material, but pictures are actually made in the computer, looking through the monitor. Increasingly, the final image may look less and less like the original capture. Better processing software opens up new possibilities. And viewers are more willing to accept that photography should create something more than a true representation of reality.
So the next time you are lusting for a wonderful new lens, it might be better to upgrade your monitor instead.