Richard W. W. Wright on Photography

So many lenses

My wife keeps asking me why I have so many lenses.   I keep saying that they are all different but she points out that they are all small to medium sized cylinders filled with glass in silver or black with strange markings on them.   This blog may explain why I have so many lenses.

Lenses vary by magnification (focal length), light gathering power (speed), sharpness, and other factors.   Some lenses are water resistant.   Some have motors inside to focus or zoom.   There is a trade off between the various factors so that there is no lens perfect for every situation.   Lenses that do more tend to be heavy, akward to carry, and are often slower and less sharp.

There are also special purpose lenses for close up work or 3D pictures.

Prime Lenses

Prime lenses have only one focal length or magnification.   They tend to be fast (work in low light) and very sharp.   They are also very small and relatively inexpensive, which is a good thing because I need several of them at different focal lengths.

My prime lens kit contains six lenses: An ultrawide angle 7.5mm, wide angle 12mm, wide angle 17mm, standard 25mm, portrait 45mm, and telephoto 75mm.   All of them are f/2.0 or better for low light.   The whole set weighs 2-1/2 pounds and fits along with the Pen-f, in a case the size of a small lunch box.

The downside of primes is changing lenses.   That doesn't matter much for certain kinds of photography such as portraits, street photography, architecture, or some events.   It does matter when I can't plan my shots in advance.

Zoom Lenses

Zoom lenses vary the focal length continuously over some range.   They allow changes in framing without having to change lenses.   The flexibility comes with a loss of sharpness and lens speed as well as an increase in size and weight.   As the zoom range increases the problems increase.   With many zoom lenses the speed decreases as the focal length increases.

Sharp, fast zoom lenses tend to be large, heavy, and expensive.   They also tend to have a very limited zoom range requiring more lenses.   I have three fast and sharp premium zooms: A 12-40mm "standard" lens, a 7-14mm wide angle lens, and a 40-150mm telephoto. All three are f/2.8 throughout their range.   I also have a very sharp 12-100mm f/4.0 walkabout lens and a sharp 100-400mm f/4-f/6.5 lens for nature photography.   Each of the lenses weighs over a pound and several are up around four pounds.   I really have to think about what I need for each outing.

I also have a set of "touring" lenses that are smaller, lighter, and necessarily of lower quality.   The primary touring lens is a 14-150mm f/4-5.6 long range zoom that is of pretty good quality and weighs only about 10 ounces. For indoor use I have a 12-60mm f/3.5-f/5.6 of similar quality that weighs even less.   Together they make up a reasonable tourist package of small size and weight.

Cameras and Lenses

Image quality, that is sharpness, color saturation, and color fidelity, depends most on the quality of the lens and only after that on the resolution of the camera.   A high quality camera fitted with an inferior lens can not produce hi quality pictures.   In the same vein, buying a professional lens and attaching it to a consumer grade camera is a wast of resolving power.

My two high-resolution cameras, the E-M1 II and the Pen-F need the highest quality lenses.   The lower resolution of the E-M5 II (as well as its light weight) make it a good fit for my touring lenses, even though it can still benefit from the better lenses.

Additional Stuff

Most of my lenses are made by Olympus, but the astute reader may have noticed that several of the lenses mentioned are not in the Olympus catalog.   One of the advantages of the Micro Four-Thirds (MFT) system is that it is a consortium of several vendors.   I have lenses by Panasonic (Lumix), Leica, Tamron, and less well known manufacturers.   Also, note that a Micro Four-Thirds lens has twice the magnification of a lens designed for the 35mm film format.   For example a 25mm MFT lens is similar to a 50mm film lens and a 400mm MFT lens is like an 800mm film lens.