Saturday, January 02, 2010

Photographers and lenses

I was chatting to some photography enthusiasts quite a while ago, and we came upon the topic of lenses. This fellow who owned a full frame 5D couldn't even name me the current offering of wide angle lenses from Canon, namely the 16-35 f/2.8 and 17-40 f/4. I was flabbergasted / appalled / dismayed / horror-stricken, etc. In my opinion, it's a serious insult to your own brand if you don't know whats available on the market, and how to use them. And here I am, an Olympus user telling a Canon user about Canon lenses! Aside from being material for small talk between photography enthusiasts, there are some advantages about knowing offerings from other manufacturers, one of which is a certain amount of respect if you can talk about Sony lenses to a Sony user, for example.

I've featured several websites on the right hand column of my blog which feature lens reviews. This is not going to be an exhaustive list, but mainly just a platform for you to read up and venture on your own and expand your knowledge about DSLR lenses in general. offers a very comprehensive review of lenses on the market for main manufacturers, eg. CaNikon, Sony, Pentax and Olympus.There's a even a small section on micro 43rds lenses and rare lenses (eg. Voigtlander, Cosina. The diagrams and charts are large and logically organised for you to find your way through the website. Admirably, they have separate lens tests for full format and APS-C bodies, and even for different resolutions (eg. the 15MP EOS 50D vs. the 8MP EOS 350D). The conclusions are quite blunt, and occasionally they place a "highly recommended" icon for lenses which have a good performance to price tag ratio.

Canon fans have much to rejoice so far at for its detailed reviews of Canon lenses on the latest EOS bodies such as the 1D mk4. Oh yes, there's even a 800mm f/5.6 L IS USM lens which only costs $10,900. Its one of the most comprehensive review websites I've seen so far - various views of the lens mounted on different bodies, comparison tables, size comparisons, 100 percent crops, bokeh examples, basically the whole lot. With some technical assistance from Chuck Westfall, Assistant Director/Technical Information Dept for Camera Division/Canon U.S.A, I don't think you can ever go wrong with this site ;) which is a sister website to the hosts a variety of lens reviews which are quite educated in their own right. They cover common aspects such as sharpness, chromatic aberration, vignetting, build quality and autofocus with alternative lenses to consider at the end of the review. Other than the interactive graphs, I like the fact that common users are able to give their own take of the lens on the same page of the review.

Based in Queenstown, New Zealand, Gordon Laing has placed a small number of consumer oriented lens reviews on Just don't expect too much premium glass over there but mostly kit / moderately priced lenses. I especially enjoy their video reviews which are quite easy to understand. In the verdict section, Gordon lists out the good / bad points and a simple score system, eg. 70/100.

For Fourthirds enthusiasts, biofos and wrotniak are MUST READS (note the capitalised letters in bold, trust me, it's for a good reason) for lens reviews and fourthirds material, albeit having a more traditional layout compared to current websites. They feature plenty of image samples, They're personally managed for no financial gain as I can see it, which is admirable indeed. If you're looking for more exotic reviews such as a ZD 300/2.8 or a 90-250/2.8, you'd be better off looking here.

Most large stores nowadays feature lens reviews to entice customers to purchase their products in the form of articles such as Adorama or video reviews on B & H Photo Video. Though not as detailed and fanciful as the websites I've featured above [you can't be too blunt to increase chances of sales, can you? ;) ], its still interesting to read what they have to say. Fancy a $10,000 Leica 50mm f/0.95 Noctilux-M ASPH or some cheaper Voigtlander lenses? It's all here for you to read up.

Of course, we should always bear in mind the venerable pixel-peeping folks who use dpreview as their bread and butter for lens reviews. I don't mind their camera reviews, but I personally know some folks who aren't fond of them.

Do bear in mind that after reading all these reviews, better lenses won't make you a better photographer. Aside from bragging rights, they're merely a tool for you to expand your potential, and they're very expensive investments. Unfortunately, there will always be folks with a huge trophy of lenses, but after viewing their photos, you'll start to feel that they don't have much substance. Treat these reviews with a grain of salt before you read them, and you'll be fine.


A wise friend told me once:

"Gear heads? They are all over and probably make up as high as 90% in the photography world. For manufacturers, they thank them cause that's where they get the money for R & D. Since I picked up photography as a teenager, I have since found out that real artists spend time creating masterpieces more than hanging out in forums or camera shops buying stuff. They usually use just 1-3 lenses for a long long time. I always remind myself, Thank God for gearheads, cause without them, photographic technology will not improve and we won't get as many second-hand bargains!"

That's pretty neat! ;)



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