At DPReview, Roger Cicala explores why 50mm lenses—historically the simplest and cheapest lenses available for a 35mm camera—have gotten much bigger, more complex, and more expensive. “Historically, if you bought an F1.2 or wider aperture lens, you expected that it would be soft wide open and even stopped down it wouldn’t be as sharp as a less expensive, slower lens. The modern (and more complex) designs we’re seeing now allow F1.2 lenses be impressively sharp wide open, and just as sharp as a smaller aperture lens stopped down. And that is actually kind of a big deal.” Nikon’s Z-mount 50mm lenses are much larger, have more lens elements and cost three to seven times more than their decades-old AF/AF-D equivalents; that they’re also reportedly exquisitely better isn’t much help if you can’t afford them.
I have a digital SLR—a five-year-old Nikon D7100—but I haven’t been using it very much over the past few years. Blame that on the iPhone, which has a camera that while nowhere near as good or as versatile as a digital SLR, is good enough in most cases, and has the advantage of always being (a) with me and (b) connected to the Internet. Which meant that I was able to get shots I’d otherwise miss, not having my camera with me, but it also meant that convenience and spontaneity often trumped image quality. The Nikon came out for deliberate acts of photography—such as last summer’s solar eclipse—which lately haven’t happened very often.
I think that might be changing. I’ve been picking up the Nikon more and more lately: to take pictures of nearby garter snakes, the trilliums growing on our property, and the birds that pay us a visit. So I’ve been blowing the dust off the photography-centred parts of my brain and getting myself back up to speed on using the big gun.