lens – Are all kit lenses poor? (And if so, why?)

There are lots of lenses that are better than kit lenses such as the typical AF-S DX Nikkor 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G VR, for example.

That’s not to say that the current 18-55mm “kit” lenses from Nikon and others are bad. Everything on the market from the major camera manufacturers is pretty good these days. It’s just that some lenses, to borrow a phrase from Cajun cook and humorist Justin Wilson, are “more better” than others.

We could list a wide variety of different lenses at a wide variety of price points, but we still wouldn’t know what lens(es) are better for the specific kind of shots you wish to create, much less which ones fall within or outside of your budget.

  • Some are better for outdoor family portraits. Different ones may be better than others, depending on the number of family members involved, the time of day and weather conditions, etc.
  • Some are better for senior pictures. Different ones may be better than others for different types of senior pictures. Indoors in a studio with fully controlled lighting? Outdoors in a variety of settings with a variety of natural lighting conditions? Head shots? Full body? Environmental?
  • Some are better for newborn sessions. Different ones may be better than others for different types of newborn sessions. Cramped surroundings or plenty of room? WHat kind of lighting? Elaborate props or basic set with the newborn filling most of the frame?

In general, prime lenses perform better optically than zoom lenses do. This is particularly the case when a prime lens is at roughly the same price point as the zoom lens to which it is being compared. Normal¹ prime lenses costing only a few hundred dollars can often perform as well optically as zoom lenses costing thousands.

What one gives up with prime lenses is the flexibility of being able to alter focal length without changing lenses. This can be important when there are issues such as space constraints, or when one is shooting subjects that tire easily and may not tolerate the time required to swap lenses frequently during the shoot. It’s also important with prime lenses to be sure and select an appropriate focal length for the task at hand. There’s no “wiggle room” to get the framing right from a specific distance for a specific perspective like there is with a zoom! Even with the same focal length, different lens designs can make the resulting photos look very different. A 90-105mm Macro lens optimized for close focusing and flat field performance from edge to edge of the frame won’t be as suitable for portraits as another 90-105mm lens optimized for longer focus distances and smooth out of focus areas.

Among zoom lenses, those with a lower ratio between their widest and longest focal lengths generally tend to be better optically than those with a wider range of focal lengths when both are in the same price range. A 17-50mm or 17-55mm zoom lens doesn’t have to make as many design compromises as an 18-200mm lens does.

This answer to a slightly different question covers the differences between different types of lenses and why a lens specifically designed for a particular task can be better for that task at the expense of being less suitable for other tasks.

There are also many other things that can improve one’s results with the same lens and camera.

  • A good tripod and sturdy head with a remote cable, infrared, or radio release is one such thing, for instance.
  • Good lighting and modifiers are another. Putting the right light on a subject reduces the demands placed on the camera and lens to pull something out of what is sometimes very little to work with.
  • Good post-processing skills that draw the best results out of the combination of any particular gear and lighting.

Part of what it means to be a capable photographer is the ability to recognize what one needs and what one does not need in a particular piece of equipment to get a particular kind of shot. Part of that comes with experience and playing around with different bits and pieces to see what works. But a good portion of that can also come from studying others who have taken similar types of photos to what one wishes to create and learning how they got the results they did: not only what gear they used but even more so what techniques they used, how they lit the scene, etc.

The key for most of us to getting cleaner, crisper pictures is usually technique.

Determining exactly what is making one’s photos blurrier than one would like is covered in this question: How do I diagnose the source of focus problem in a camera? The accepted answer has a lot of links to other questions here that cover many of the various reasons why images may not be as sharp as we’d like them to be. Most of the links deal with issues involving shooting practices and technique. Once issues with technique are eliminated, only then can we begin to consider that we may be pushing up against the limits of a particular lens or camera or other piece of gear.

When one reaches that point, it is really up to the individual photographer to select what is most appropriate for the kinds of photos one wishes to produce.

¹ A normal lens is one that is roughly the same focal length as the the diagonal of the camera’s format size. For instance, the diagonal of a 36×24 mm full frame/35mm film camera is about 43.5 mm. Lenses from about 40mm to 55mm are considered normal for the 135 format.

Is it possible to commission a custom lens that would significantly outperform stock lenses?

Lens design is always a compromise and typically you can’t improve something without degrading another aspect of the performance, but since you specifically said:

achieve a full stop of additional light transmission while holding
equal to or better to a comparable lens in sharpness, distortion,
vignetting and chromatic aberration

then Yes, you can!

And you don’t even have to spend time designing a new lens (which can always fail if the goal is too ambitious)

Instead, build a scaled up version of the original lens. By the laws of geometry, it will retain the same optical properties, except that everything will be just bigger – which means we also need a bigger sensor to cover the enlarged image circle.

The focal length increases but it is compensated by a bigger sensor, giving the same 35mm equivalent focal length (and the same field of view).

The f/ratio remains the same, but the amount of light increases with proportion to the geometrically larger aperture, so each of your scaled up pixels of your scaled up sensor receives more light so it behaves as if the ISO was multiplied by 2 (for +1EV).

Yes, the answer is a bit stretched, as it also calls for a new camera, but it seemed you might be interested in theoretical considerations, not just in ordering a custom built lens 😉

old lenses – What is this Angenieux lens?

Exactly what it says on the tin. I recently acquired an old manual Pierre Angenieux 18-180mm f2.2 lens, but I can’t find any documentation for it online. As far as I can tell, it was built for use with TV cameras, given the push-pull focusing mechanism and truly ridiculous size/weight (I don’t have a scale, but I’d estimate it’s upwards of 7 or 8 kilograms).

Around the end of the barrel are the following labels, stamped into the metal:

TYPE 10X18 J3

Plus serial number 1203891 and aperture/focal length information. The focal length ring also has a label, in English, Lens made in France (implying it was made for export).

This lens has clearly had a hard life – there are numerous gouges in the metal of the barrel, and more than one place where bare metal (vs. the black anodization) is visible, which, at least to my mind, implies a couple of decades of daily use.

As befits its use for TV/cinema, it has a continuous (i.e. not click-stopped) aperture ring.

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That silver bit at the body end of the lens is, I believe, a later addition.

I’m specifically looking for documentation on it – manuals, history, that sort of thing. Or, at the very least, a spec sheet or images of what it’s supposed to look like.

UPDATE: I got in contact with Angenieux (and they actually responded this time). They have basically no information on it, and the only things they could tell me were:

  1. These were manufactured between 1963 and 1973.
  2. They were originally made for 16mm film cameras.
  3. They could be (as has been stated in one of the answers) used for Plumbicon cameras.

canon – Sweet Spot on Zoom Lenses on APS-C CMOS sensors?

I have made the conscious decision not to go full-frame on my camera body purchase but to spend the money on top quality ‘L’ lenses for my Canon 80D. More explicitly, I have the 24_105 L, f4 and 70-200 f4 Land do not require a low light capability to warrant the price increase on going down to 1.8 etc. I spend most of my time out in the Scottish Highlands and although there are some scenarios where I do require more control of my DOF, invariable I am disappointed by my usual landscape photos at F11. Why is this ? Can anyone recommend what f-stop I should be using for a ‘generic’ landscape shot in order to get it pin sharp ?

Lens – Why have manufacturers stopped using DOF scales on lenses?

I think there are two very basic reasons why DoF scales are no longer attached to lenses: zoom and autofocus.

Zoom lenses should have dynamic DoF scales that change depending on the focal length of the lens. For example, while this may be possible with Eink or LCD displays, this is something that has never been attached to lenses before.

The more problematic problem, however, is what auto focus in lenses did by "throwing" the manual focus ring. Old manual focus lenses have long throw distances. That is why they are valued by video shooters. You can focus one of these lenses very precisely. Now take your favorite autofocus prime and test how far the manual focus ring goes.

If your lens is focused, keep in mind that there may be no accuracy at all because the ring is no longer mechanically coupled to the focusing mechanism. And although these rings might be oriented to allow for a longer throw, a look at the focus scales of most modern lenses overall should show quite clearly that a) there is no room for a DoF scale, and b) itself if this were the case the focus of the lens could not be adjusted precisely. The difference of a millimeter or two on the ring can result in a focus difference of several feet. Accuracy simply cannot be guaranteed.

Take a look at a modern lens does Do you have a DoF scale (EF 35mm 1: 2L IS USM) if you don't believe me:

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Do you really think you could focus this lens precisely on 8 m? Or can you set the hyperfocal point exactly for f / 8 or f / 16?

And of course this does not take into account the whole question of what is acceptable sharpness or which constantly changing confusion arises due to constantly changing pixel spacing and increasing number of pixels. What was given as the hyperfocus point of a lens in film days no longer applies to digital for many people.

It is more likely that camera manufacturers prefer to hyperfocal the lens in a different way. OTOH, it's never like Canon's A-DEP mode worked.

Recommendations for bird photography lenses on a Canon 7D Mk I.

Both Sigma and Tamron currently offer image-stabilized lenses with 150-600 mm f / 5-6.3 in the Canon EF frame. These are probably the most budget-conscious options beyond 300mm for relatively new lenses.

There is also the EF 100-400 mm f / 4.5-6.3 IS II and its predecessor, the EF 100-400 mm f / 4.5-6.3 IS. Although the names, focal lengths and maximum apertures are similar, these two lenses differ significantly. Tamron and Sigma also offer 100-400mm f / 5-6.3 designs for the Canon EF mount.

For third-party lenses, make sure you get the latest deals that connect USB docks to the lenses to update the firmware and perform camera / lens calibration. For Sigma, these are so-called "Global Vision" lenses: the Art, Sports and Contemporary series. For Tamron you only have to see when the lens was inserted and whether it is compatible with the "TAP-in" console. The 150-600 mm "G2" (Generation 2) and the latest 100-400 mm are both TAP-in compatible lenses.

The older Tamron and Sigma lenses with a budget of 70-300 mm f / 4-5.6 are not a big improvement over your EF 75-300 mm f / 4-5.6. I would recommend saving the money until you can afford something that makes a bigger difference.

Aperture priority on Nikon DF doesn't work with pre-AI lenses?

I just bought a 55 / 3.5 pre-AI.

To use aperture priority mode, I did the following:

  1. Raise the coupling lever on the meter
  2. Data on non-CPU lenses:
    Focal length: 55
    maximum appearance: F / 3.5
    Light meter coupling: non-AI

As I change the aperture, the display stays at F / 10. No wonder my photos are underexposed.
However, with other AI / AIS lenses, the camera correctly recognizes the lens hood. And of course the aperture priority works flawlessly.

Is there something wrong with my 55 / 3.5 pre-AI?

canon – Which old lenses without AF can be adapted to my EOS 550D EF-S mount?

Olympus, Nikon and Pentax lenses can be easily adapted to the EF mount with simple adapters that do not require optical correction to maintain infinity focus. See the full list below ….

Bob Atkins: Using manual focus lenses on Canon EOS bodies

Canon EOS lens adapter

Distance between flange and focal plane

“The focus of a lens is determined by the distance from the lens to the sensor. A mechanical adapter that can be used to mount a lens on an EOS housing and focus at infinity is only possible if the lens is designed to focus an image at a distance greater than that between a standard lens EF series and the sensor in the EOS housing. This is because you need some space for the mechanical adapter between the EOS housing and the lens. If the lens is designed to focus an image closer than an EOS EF lens, the manual focus lens must be inserted into the EOS body! The distance between the mounting flange on the back of the lens and the film (or digital sensor) is referred to as the "flange back" or "flange to focal plane" or sometimes "flange to film".

Here is a list of the distances between the flange and the focal plane. It's 44.0mm for all Canon EOS cameras, which is shorter than most other large cameras. This (theoretically) enables the construction of lens adapters for the lenses shown in green below. Lenses shown in red (including all Canon FD lenses and earlier lenses) cannot be mounted on an EOS housing and still reach infinity focus without intermediate optics. "

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