Musings on Photography

Do Lenses Matter? (part two)

Posted in equipment by Paul Butzi on February 22, 2007


Again, returning to Mike Johnston’s blog post , we read:

A lot of people who read it aren’t going to like this, but in many cases, nobody can tell the difference. I wish I had the funding to do a double-blind experimental study along these lines (well, okay, not really), but I’ve tested the proposition pretty rigorously, and I can tell you that even many photographers can’t reliably distinguish good expensive lenses from good inexpensive lenses just from looking at pictures (although a lot of them think they can). And when it comes down to the general public, fuggedaboutit—people just don’t see.

When it comes to an enthusiasm for lenses, it is something we do for ourselves, for fun, for status, for personal satisfaction…not because it matters to the work.

I think Mike is engaging is a little sophistry, here.  The caveat he’s slipped in there, almost unnoticed, is ‘good’.  It’s hard to tell the difference between good expensive lenses and good inexpensive ones. 

Well, forgive me, but that’s a bit tautological, isn’t it?  If two lenses are good, you might well have difficulty deciding which is a better lens.  That’s because you’ve already asserted that they both produce good image quality, and what distinguishes them is not image quality but value.  Big deal.  That’s exactly like saying that often people have difficulty guessing which of two inexpensive lenses is cheaper.

More importantly, though, is the issue that lens choice often DOES make a difference in the images you make, a difference which is easily seen by even the general public.

If you need a  fast lens to work in low light, and all you have is an inexpensive slow lens, then the image you get is going to be badly exposed, or perhaps motion blurred, or you might not even take a photo at all.  If you’re working with a given camera body, and there’s only one choice of lens in that focal length, it matters not one whit that there are thousands of inexpensive good lenses available which mount to other camera bodies but not to the one you’re using.

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  1. sjconnor said, on February 22, 2007 at 5:32 pm

    I suspect Mike was assuming similar focal length/speed between his hypothetical comparison lenses. Obviously, if a job calls for a fast lens, or a macro lens, and all you’ve got is neither of these, the job ain’t gonna get done.

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