Someone asked me the other day if a lens really made a difference. It does and it doesn’t. Let me explain.
Photography is the art of capturing light to create images, either on film or digitally. Now, the most important part of any camera rig is the person using it. That’s why a lens can make zero difference. It is all about who is using said lens.
That being said, when taking photographs we are capturing light. How do we get the light from the world around us to the camera’s sensor or film? Why the lens of course. The more expensive the lens, generally, the better it is. The better it is at auto-focusing, it’s sharper, works better in low light conditions, etc.
As with anything, exceptions exist. Take the Nikon 35mm f1.8 lens for example. It’s cheap by any standards, and feels like it when you pick it up (hello plastic lens). However, if you’re shooting any of the Nikon DX (crop sensor) cameras I believe it’s worth having in your arsenal. Why? Well, it’s tack sharp, renders creamy bokeh, and it’s lightweight make it a breeze to carry around all day on your camera. When I was at the Grand Canyon last year I spent the entire second day shooting exclusively with it, and I came away with far better shots that day than the day before when I used a variety of lenses that cost more than that little lens.
Lately, I’ve been picking up old manual focus lenses and shooting with them. Some of these lenses can be quite expensive, but I’ve stayed on the cheap side. Cheap as in about $25 or less. Not to discount any of them mind you. Some of them were produced in such vast quantities that the supply far outweighs the demand. Most people don’t want to shoot with an old lens, and have to focus manually and work out of full manual mode or deal with having to use adapters to fit the lens to whatever camera they’re using. To shoot with an old lens on a DSLR or mirrorless camera, you have to want it, because you will fail often.
The thing about old lenses is they’re often built to last. They’re heavy and tough, and there’s something uniquely satisfying in holding one. The lens might be 40 years old, but it’s as rock solid as the day it was produced. You can find prime lenses (fixed focal length) that will take as good as, if not far better shots than anything you might have lying around. You can find lenses that produce beautiful soap bubble bokeh, like the Meyer-Optik Trioplans lenses, and not to be forgotten the Helios lenses that have a “flaw” that creates a swirly bokeh effect, but you have to work for it, it’s not an automatic occurrence.
Of course, I’m no expert. Just a guy that loves photography and has an addiction to old lenses.