The ultimate lens list, at Nov 2016 (part II)

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Continued from part 1.

Remember: what constitutes ‘ultimate’ is actually highly subjective; some value smooth drawing quality and tonal transitions over outright resolution; others require zero distortion or high color accuracy or secondary color correction. If anything, my personal preferences tend to lean towards resolution and microcontrast; I can accept some vignetting, distortion, secondary lateral CA (but not longitudinal) – because these are easy to fix in post. Field curvature, smearing, coma etc. are not. Not all lenses on this list are here because of technical perfection or MTF chart performance, either. On top of that, there are two lenses that are not system options, but included anyway because they deserve honourable mentions. There are probably also better lenses I’ve not used yet (and so obviously can’t include them). I’ve tried to give justifications where possible. With that in mind, and in no particular order, here we go.

**Items denoted with two stars are lenses I currently own. *One star, lenses I’ve owned. Links are to reviews or affiliate suppliers. Images shot with the respective lenses mentioned.

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The ultimate lens list, at Nov 2016 (part I)

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Following a couple of recent email exchanges I’ve had, I thought I’d tidy things up and publish them here for the benefit of the general readership. This is a list of what I consider to be the ultimate lenses, on their native systems (and irrespective of system, actually). Lenses also tend to have significantly greater longevity (especially if without electronics) especially compared to camera bodies; you could buy one set of Otuses and adapt it to just about everything now and to come. In that sense, whilst good glass is expensive – the long term cost of ownership is significantly less than cutting edge bodies, and given residuals are high, generally worth the investment.

Of course, what constitutes ‘ultimate’ is actually highly subjective; some value smooth drawing quality and tonal transitions over outright resolution; others require zero distortion or high color accuracy or secondary color correction. If anything, my personal preferences tend to lean towards resolution and microcontrast; I can accept some vignetting, distortion, secondary lateral CA (but not longitudinal) – because these are easy to fix in post. Field curvature, smearing, coma etc. are not. Not all lenses on this list are here because of technical perfection or MTF chart performance, either. On top of that, there are two lenses that are not system options, but included anyway because they deserve honourable mentions. There are probably also better lenses I’ve not used yet (and so obviously can’t include them). I’ve tried to give justifications where possible. With that in mind, and in no particular order, here we go.

**Items denoted with two stars are lenses I currently own. *One star, lenses I’ve owned. Links are to reviews or affiliate suppliers. Images shot with the respective lenses mentioned.

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Review: the Zeiss 1.4/28 Otus APO-Distagon

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28, 55, 85. A pretty versatile core set for pretty much any purposes. And now fully filled out by the latest in the Otus series, the recently-announced 1.4/28 APO-Distagon. Advance warning: this is not a general purpose lens, nor is it the kind of thing you can deploy casually. That is merely the nature of steeply diminishing returns; there are no gains without significant incremental effort. And we’re really talking about pushing the last 1% here. If you’ve not felt anything lacking in your images, then I suggest you stop reading here and save yourself a lot of money, because chasing perfection isn’t cheap…

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A visit to Zeiss and thoughts on the Milvus line

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The mothership

I was fortunate enough to spend the last three days at Zeiss with Lloyd Chambers (update: his blog entry is here) – with a level of access that I suspect that has never been granted before to independent external parties. They were gracious and first class hosts – I don’t think I’ve had that many types of non-alcohlic beer before. We asked every question we could think of and more, and received answers which we had never expected and at a level of depth that has left me deeply, deeply impressed with what the lens team is doing out in Oberkochen. This may seem like a strange way to talk about the new announcement, but bear with me for while; there is method to the madness.🙂

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Lens review: The Zeiss ZF.2 1.4/85 Otus APO-Planar

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One year after the 1.4/55 Otus APO-Distagon, Zeiss is back as promised with the second installment in the new line of super-lenses: the 1.4/85 Otus APO-Planar. Announced unofficially on facebook several months back, the lens makes its official debut at Photokina. I’ve had the opportunity to shoot with a final-pre-production prototype for the last two months; in fact, through pure coincidence, I got the email from my contact at Zeiss saying they had a surprise for me on my birthday…

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Photoessay-review: the Nikon AFS 70-200/4 VR and Havana cityscapes, part I

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This will be the first in my new review format for ‘light’ reviews – pieces of equipment that perhaps don’t necessarily need a full blown magnum opus, but benefit from some context in deployment and typical usage. A short piece on the D4 will follow next.

One of the few lenses in the Canon system I’ve long been jealous of is their 70-200/4 IS (in addition to the 17TSE). Until not so long ago, Nikon users have been missing a light/ compact high quality telephoto option. Sure, there’s been the 70-300/4.5-5.6 VR, but that was only a decent performer up to 200mm; anything else was emergency territory. And it simply wasn’t that good on the D800E, nor a pro build. Finally, we have the AF-S 70-200mm f4 G VR ED IF (what a mouthful). I’m going to address two questions in this review: firstly, is it any good, and secondly, f2.8* or f4? I suspect the latter question is going to be of interest to many still sitting on the fence.

*It’s important to note there are two versions of the 70-200/2.8 G VR. I’ll go into the differences in more detail later.

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Lens review: The Olympus 12-40/2.8 M.Zuiko PRO

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Announced and available together with the new OM-D E-M1 (reviewed here), the 12-40/2.8 M.Zuiko Digital PRO (24-80mm equivalent) is the first in a new line of M.Zuiko Digital PRO lenses. Development of an equivalent-grade f2.8 fast telephoto zoom was also announced, with a 2014 release. Thanks to the folks at Olympus Malaysia, I’ve had the opportunity to use this lens together with the new camera for some time now. Read on for my review.

Advanced warning: Flickr will apparently be down for maintenance for a little while on Friday 13/9, so if some images don’t appear, it’s because they’re hosted there…

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Lens review: The Panasonic Lumix Vario PZ 14-42/3.5-5.6 X G

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14-42 X on OM-D, collapsed and extended. If you’re wondering why I got a silver one, it’s because the black ones were out of stock at the time I needed it. Would I have preferred black? Obviously.

I don’t normally review ‘consumer’ grade gear for the simple reason that it’s usually built to a price, rather than built to deliver a certain grade of result (or perhaps it is, only the accountants and engineers know for sure). However, sometimes you come across a piece of equipment that fills a need much better than you imagined; this lens is one such example. The Panasonic Lumix Vario PZ 14-42/3.5-5.6 X G (what a mouthful, hereafter known as the 14-42X) is a very small – about the size of the 20/1.7 pancake when collapsed – zoom for Micro Four Thirds. It was the kit lens for the GX1 and a couple of other cameras for a while, and fortunately also available separately.

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Lens review: The Nikon AF-S 80-400/4.5-5.6 G ED VR II N

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Nikon’s 80-400mm received a long-deserved update earlier in the year; it’s in fact had a complete overhaul and optical redesign. The original lens was Nikon’s very first VR lens, and body-driven to boot – the large front element had a reputation for pinching fingers between the protruding filter ring flange and the zoom ring (I fell victim to this on my first outing with it). It’s gone from being a 17/11 design to a more complex 20/12, gained Nano-Crystal coating, a shorter minimum focus distance (1.75m in AF and 1.5m in MF vs 2.3m), a silent wave motor and internal focusing, second-generation VR, and plethora of additional switches. Gone is the aperture ring, so you’re not going to be using this on a pre-command dial film body. The hood is also now a petal-type design with the same kind of locking catch as the 17-55, 24-70 and 70-200 hoods. It reverses for storage. Unlike the old lens, it’s also fully gasketed and weather sealed. It’s also more expensive; about $800 more, to be precise.

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Lens review: The Leica 35/1.4 Summilux-M ASPH FLE

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I couldn’t find a product shot in my archive, so you’re going to have to settle for one of me using it instead.

Not long after this lens was initially released and generally available – early 2012 – I published a guest post review here on the Leica Blog. At that point, I’d had no more than a couple of weeks to shoot with the lens, and certainly not under any kind of duress or pressure. Since then, I’ve both encountered many situations with the lens and used it as pretty much the go-to on my M9-P in the hopes of making 35mm one of the intuitive focal lengths in my repertoire. It didn’t stick, and somewhere in the middle of last year, I landed up selling it to one of my students.

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Diner. All images in this review shot with the Leica M9-P except where otherwise noted.

I’ve been meaning to do a full review for some time now, but the reality is that there have been many other things which have gotten in the way – or perhaps I should stop making excuses for being lazy.

The 35mm f1.4 Summilux-M ASPH FLE is version seven in a long and distinguished line of lenses – some may even think of them as legendary and quintessentially Leica. They’ve grown larger, heavier and more expensive as time moved on – earlier versions were practically pancakes compared to the 35 FLE, but admittedly they were also relatively poor performers at maximum aperture. The previous version (VI) featured a single aspherical element (there was a very rare double aspherical version produced too, relatively early on in the life of this lens) and was known for being both an excellent optic, but hamstrung by one huge flaw: focus shift.

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