7 comments on “On Slow Lenses

  1. The one time I need a fast lens is when I’m pressed into service to photograph events indoors at church. Our fellowship hall is in a dim basement. One of my Pentax bodies, ISO 800 film, and my 50mm f/1.4 lens and I’m good.

    But for the 98% of the rest of the time I’m out there shooting, the 50mm f/2 lens and any old film works just fine. You can get those 50/2 Pentax lenses for chicken feed on eBay.

    When I’m talking to other film photo collectors/shooters, they ooh and ahh over my 50/1.4, but never remark over my 50/2, as if it’s not that special. So yeah, f/2 is fast — but on a film SLR, it might as well be slow, for how it’s an unloved max aperture.

    Yet when I’ve got my digital Canon S95 out and about, people ooh and ahh that it goes to f/2 at 24mm. So it’s all relative I guess.

    • Don’t get me wrong, when you need a fast lens nothing else will do (at least with film; digital is a different ballgame). I’ve gotten good service from my 50/1.5 Canon lens on occasion, combined with pushing HP5+ to 1600. But I can count those instances without using my toes. Most of the time, I aim to load a film that gives me a baseline of f/8 and 1/125 to work from in expected lighting conditions, adjusting shutter speed first, and aperture second, to manage exposure. This gives me a working range of +/-4 to 5 stops, which is more than enough most of the time.

      I suppose the SLR world is a little different than the rangefinder world I’m more accustomed to. In SLRs, f/2 is sort of a baseline, while in RFs, especially older ones, f/3.5 was the standard for a long time, later supplanted by f/2.8. To me, f/2 feels pretty fast, but I realize that may not be the general perception.

      Of course, there’s the broader question of how a lens renders; the Pentax 50/1.4 has a stellar reputation (I don’t have one to make my own judgment), while the f/2 is considered rather mediocre (I do have one, but I haven’t really used it much). The same applies to RF lenses, which may have an even broader range of overall rendering characteristics due to the age of their optical designs.

      • I love my Pentax 50/2 and if pressed could shoot only it happily for the rest of my life. Yes, of course among rangefinder cameras, f/2 is pretty fast!

  2. Back in the days when I shot more 35mm and less medium format, I found myself with three variants of 50mm f/1.4 lenses in Canon FD fit. Then I woke up one morning and realised that I’d never shot any of them at f/1.4, and sold them, leaving me with a 50mm f1.8.

    The only time I ever shot that remaining lens at f1.8 was when the aperture failed to close down and the whole roll was at f1/8 and overexposed. (Portra still managed to deliver very useable shots though).

    In other words, I agree.

    • I can relate to the experience of waking up to the first conscious thought of the day being some obscure observation on photography. 😉

      I’ve had similar thoughts. As much as I like the wide-open character of some fast lenses, there just aren’t that many opportunities to use it. I’ve found that the sweet spot for my own rendering preferences is often around f/4, depending on the lens and the circumstances of course.

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