Published December 3rd 2006

A cure for lens lust


Can you really control the urge to browse shop windows, surf B&H, KEH and read the same lens test in a magazine for the umpteenth time? Is there a cure? There just may be...

I have a severe case of LAS -- Lens Acquisition Syndrome. It's something that is like some tropical desease. Sometimes it's supressed and does not really show itself, but sometimes it runs -- practically gallops -- and I have restless nights and endless days where I surf, read magazines and plan my walks and drives in town so that I pass by most possible photo shops.

My own Lust'O'Meter

Even though I argue that there's a cure, I still have a bad case of the lust, and if I did win a million in the lottery tomorrow (not that I play), I would immediately get the following:
- A Nikkor 17-55 f2.8 - an allround lens with superb quality as far as I can read and see
- A Nikkor 70-200 f 2.8 VR. I aways wanted a 80-200 f2.8, but this one seems to beat it by a hair's width
- A Nikkor 200-400 f4 VR. Now that's a zoom for you. Haven't heard anything bad about except for the weight... and the price!
- A Sigma 10-20. Nice lens. I tried it and would love to own one.

Update March 2010: Since this was written, the only one of the above I haven't acquired is the 200-400. It's simply too expensive!

American Pictures

I have always had it like that. I love the thought of new glass for my cameras, and for some reason it's always the best (read: expensive) lenses that draw the most. There is no logic in this, since the rational part of me very well know that great images can be made with even the most lousy camera and lens.
I myself have taken bunches of great pictures with a-lot-less-than-the-best and others even more so.

Danish Jakob Holdt's American Pictures is one such example. Most of his pictures were taken with a small half format camera, which shoots two images on one 24*36 frame (I don't remember the brand). They are stunning just the same, and some of them are in a superb technical quality. But most of all: the subjects make you forget the camera. It doesn't matter.

Ferry "Sagafjord" at 18mm##[Nikon D200 18-200mm f3.5-5.6 VR]
Ferry "Sagafjord" at 200mm##[Nikon D200 18-200mm f3.5-5.6 VR]

Getting the best from what you have

Once we did well with a manual film camera with one or two primes. My own gear bag wasn't stuffed. I started out with a 50mm and a 135mm as many others, but still managed to shoot quite a few decent pictures. My keeper rate hasn't gone up, I think. I just shoot a substantially larger number of pictures now -- particularly after having gone digital.

What a Canon A80 can do with a little care
[Canon PowerShot A80, fill flash]
A professional photographer friend of mine told me about a "game" he and some friends have going: they will limit themselves in some way during a day: only shoot full open, only shoot one focal length, only shoot ambient light, only shoot slow shutter speeds or whatever.
Take any prime lens you have, leave the rest at home and use your eyes and your brain to get good shots within the limits of this lens. I did this recently with my newly acquired 85mm f1.8, and had great fun. This lens was dirt cheap: 1500 Danish Kroners used (about 250 US$ or 200 Euros), and it's an extremely good lens. Light, fast, fun. I would love to have the f1.4 version of this lens or something even more fancy, but honestly: this little gem is more than enough for me in that range and type of lens. Sure a 70-200 f2.8 would cover the same focal length and maybe even deliver a better optical job. But the 85mm was within my reach and has been a very pleasing acquaintance.

The cure...

Well, it might not be a real cure, but at least a small remedy or pain killer. Dig into what you have. Even a kit lens -- the Nikon 18-70mm f3.5-4.5 that a lot of Nikon-owners already have or the new 18-135mm VR that has been or will be bought with a lot of D40's or D50's. Such a lens will take you a long way -- like my own 18-200mm VR has done a lot of good for me.

Or go hunting for a 50mm f1.8 or an 85mm f1.8 like mine. These are fabulous lenses that can be had for very little money. The 50mm is about 100 US$ new!

Think of the limits found in the compact cameras. My own Canon PowerShot A80 has a very limited optical quality. Not that it's bad, but it's a far cry from the lenses I lust so much. But still it manages to produce some amazing shots. And it does well more often than not.