By Alexander Hessentswey
Good time of the day! Thank you very much, Steve, for the opportunity to participate in this great project! I visit this site every time a new article or some news appear. And I see here interesting photographs quite often. I’d like to tell you some thoughts. Sometimes it’s well known points of view that I share but sometimes that’s what I’ve noticed.
The Criticism of Elder Times
I meet this argument time to time: Our forefathers shot with the cameras that were way less perfect than ours and they’ve got beautiful photos. So a good shot isn’t about sharpness and quality. You can get it with any equipment. That’s right. You can make a good shot with anything. But, we have to notice some limitations here.
Photo industry produces lenses not better than 30 years before, in general. Sometimes you get more resolution and sharpness. But that classical rendering can come from old, not so well corrected lenses. All the time photography exists, lens designers try to compensate aberrations to get sharpness and neutral colour rendition over the frame field. (If the lens vignettes, it’s one of 3 reasons. It can be because of the current technology level, or it can be great in some other area (large aperture or great macro), or it can be cheap lens which you couldn’t compensate properly not making it 3 times more expensive.)
In fact, an SLR came out in 1960-1970 have ALL you need for a great photography. But there were two things that were improved in lenses – lens coating and sharpness. That’s it — beautiful old lenses grow blind shooting in the back light but modern ones do not. Lens designer will say it’s progress. And what do we think?
Panasonic Lumix G1 + Tair-11 f:2.8 133mm
Why are the old photographs, that were shoot with the less perfect equipment, better?
In the good old times when lenses had an aperture of f:3.5 and films with ISO100-200 had really big grain the things were different. Look at old photographs, the best ones, and you notice that sharpness isn’t so important. Even shoot with SLR focus could be not exactly on a subject. There were no autofocus nor focus peaking nor frame center enlargement. So large grain or slightly missed focus can’t show you how sharp the lens is. If you see a person with a trees behind him and focus isn’t on this person, it’s a good shot. And if it’s not close-up photo sometimes you can’t even see the face because of grain or lack of sharpness.
As for the digital cameras both sensors and image processors constantly improve. By the way, films improve too. And one more thing – light metering.
Panasonic Lumix G1 + Leitz Summicron-R II 50mm
In the first half of XX century photography was closer to painting and used its rules more often and so it could be better. Now there are lots of photographers and shooting is much easier, that’s a fact. (I’ve got film SLR Canon 300V with Summicron 50mm mounted via adapter. Shooting in aperture priority mode is easy even without autofocus. And then I take a film to minilab and scan it at home. I shoot film without even developing it. Film shooting is just as easy as you wish.)
But at what point is a modern lens better than an old one? What’s the purpose of sharpness?
Here’s my answer: sometimes details make all the difference — you either can see one’s facial expression or you can’t. When we need details we need sharpness.
Simon Bolivar the Sailing Ship, Panasonic Lumix G1 + MC Volna-9 f:2.8 50mm Macro 1:2 (m42) — click to enlarge and see some more details
You see, they want sharpness in modern photography… as they wanted art expression in old photography. And that’s expression that makes old lenses quite as good or better than modern ones. But sometimes an old photo could become a bit better if it could get a bit more modern lens. At least you could see a face on a beautiful photo.
So you can make a good shot with anything – an old lens or new lens and with any camera. But not EVERY good shot. Many shots need some image quality or camera options.
The Sand Snake, Panasonic Lumix G1 + Leitz Summicron-R II 50mm
Way of Life
Now I’ve got several lenses so I can tell I like its rendering. All in all, you photograph ‘cause you like it. I think photography is important as a key to your memories, or as your way of life, or as a way to show something unusual or beautiful you’ve noticed.
So if we are talking not about your memories that are definitely important and not about a way of life. And if you show a shot to someone you’ve even never met. In that case you ask yourself is there something unusual or beautiful or important or remarkable on this photograph. And if yes – that’s enough.
Panasonic Lumix G1 + Super Takumar f:1.4 50mm (m42)
The Function of a Sunset
Do you know what’s the most terrible in photography? That’s sunsets and forest. Our eyes see trees as something solid, as a tree crowd. But we can notice a single tree from this crowd and peer at it. We feel this atmosphere, some feelings from this place. Our camera could literally scan a forest so we’ll get a tree crowd. It could keep white balance right. And it’s fail. What we should do is to add some expression and contrast and embrace single trees so that we finally get what we see and keep this place atmosphere. We can do this with an old town backyard much more easily than with a forest.
A sunset… We see these amazing vivid colours so we can’t believe this can happen on a sky. We press shutter release and we get this photo, one of the billions we can find on internet. That’s it, we need to be uncommon in this case. Or we need something that look close… to a painting. How can we? I don’t know…
Steamboats Parade Day, Panasonic Lumix G1 + Tair-11 f:2.8 133mm
We think of a camera as of a tool. We can use any. But every professional prefer to use quality tools. That’s the difference – if we know exactly what we are trying to do, the equipment can help us or prevent us to do this. And a good tool won’t trouble you at least. I never shoot sports and my camera can’t do speed shooting. It couldn’t be a tool for a sport photographer. Sometimes we need microcontrast or details and we need quality. Like a face in a crowd or wooden texture being an important object. So the wrong camera will loose details we need to save in this shot. And if this shot is somehow important it’s a sign that we need to acquire some other equipment. But we need neither sharpness nor details for most of the shots. In a portrait we need to show emotions and enchantment and it’s done not via megapixels or some camera chip. That’s a fortune this human meets his photographer. An argument about some tasks makes sense if you have that very task. If a shot don’t need that depth or details you can choose equipment more freely. BUT. When you shoot portrait the lens with portrait rendering will help.
Seddov the Sailing Ship, Panasonic Lumix G1 + Yashinon DS f:1.7 50mm (m42)
One day you figure out what you like more. Some focal lengths or particular lens rendering. May be they say to shoot with Lensbaby to come out of the box of the equipment you get used to. And one day you see if it’s what you need or not.
You can shoot the most of photos with almost any lens. One of the important exceptions is a portrait.
They say some lenses have a character. So I see an occasions when a lens and a person on a photo didn’t match characters. If this lens doesn’t match this human it can make shooting much harder. A photo you could get naturally while shooting will require a lot of hard work to look just bad and not extremely bad. It’s so strange to believe that your camera doesn’t matter and to find this obvious exception.
Sometimes this happens. You find the one you’ve been waiting for ages. The dream comes true. That happened with me and some of my friends. Someone appears and you feel you needed just him. That happened with some lenses. I start to photograph and feel THAT is the lens I can come with in various situations, that I can trust. It paints an image I just saw or I want to see and I like it. Now that’s fate. That happened with me and Leica Summicron-R II 50mm. That happened with Tair-11, Yashica, Jupiter-3 (a copy of Carl Zeiss Sonar 1.5), Pentax Super Takumar 50mm f:1.4, and others. I’d like to write about those lenses.
Panasonic Lumix G1 + Tair-11 f:2.8 133mm
I met Summicron on various photo sites and every time I liked images. Than I read about it on Steve Huff’s site. And on some other sites. And once I’ve realised if I’ll get an SLR version for R mount, used, it will be expensive but affordable and I’ll be able to shoot digital and film and it will be That Very Lens, you know. From that time I go out from home every time with Panasonic G1 and Summicron.
I think, we choose lenses and lenses choose us.
I’d like to thank my camera. Panasonic G1 almost every time do its work great so it became a dream camera for me. Its image quality and beautiful colours allow to get great shots every time even without post processing. So that’s my turn. If something went wrong it’s about my skills, ‘cause this camera do all its best.
You know there is an art of seeing (perception, reading) and an art of creating, both are important. But there is an art of bringing something beautiful to life, some stories, also. And it’s much more important. To notice and create a fairytales in our lives. And if we’ve noticed a fairytale, why not to photograph one?
Bubbles, Panasonic Lumix G1 + Leitz Summicron-R II 50mm
Panasonic Lumix G1 + Leitz Summicron-R II 50mm
Panasonic Lumix G1 + Yashinon DS-M f:1.4 50mm (m42)
With the best regards,
from Saint Petersburg, Russia
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I’m very happy to see some pics of Saint-Petersburg, having visited this architecturally-magnificent city three weeks ago. Thanks for sharing these lovely images. 😉
Thanks! I love my city.
More to come, may be, if Steve will share some in Daily Inspiration. I’ll send some in the near future.
This is a beautiful and important essay. You convey your thoughts beautifully and fully in keeping with your rather special, atmospheric images.
Thank you, Richard!
enjoyed your thoughts and images, well done.
I completely agree with you, Alexander. Some of the favourite pictures I’ve shot in the last several years have been through a beautiful old Takumar 35mm F3.5 adapted to my Canon. The look of the picture is different, and in many ways more pleasant than my modern, fast lenses. I’m now looking at M42 lenses regularly and will pick up a bargain now and then.
My wife and I have talked about visiting St. Petersburg, now I’m convinced.
I could give some advices where to go in Saint Petersbourg.
It is wonderful to read something so thoughtful and useful expressed in such an elegant manner. I benefited greatly from the technical information but the philosophical context, so patiently rendered, makes this piece especially memorable. Thank you for taking the time to put it together.
I thought I should be more focused on something next time. (And it’s not much of philosophy here. What can I tell about the tales world except for tales?)
Thankyou Alexander ” Sasha” for sharing your thoughts and photos. I share your enthusiasm for using older legacy lenses to get that LOOK.
I often try combinations, not always successfully to find something I like, and hopefully a viewer will also find them pleasing.
I love your town as well. “Venice of the North” is it not.
Elmar is of course one of those lenses with both character and quality, yes.
Interesting photos, nice to see my Sevastopol at Steve’s blog 🙂
I like Sevastopol very much! It’s one of my favorite cities.
да уж, весело снимать винтажным стеклом, поддерживаю!
Зависит от того, что за объективчик. Некоторые копии Цейсса, например, мне не нравятся, как и оригиналы (Гелиос-44 или Юпитер-8, например). А некоторые хороши, часть японцев, например, часть советских.
It depends on what the lens is. I dislike some (even Zeiss Biotar and Zeiss copies), but I like some other lenses. Some Japanese and Soviet glass, in particular.
Thanks for this essay and the pictures. When I see pictures, I want to know something more than what I have known till now. I want to see something that I have not seen before. When I see your ‘Bubbles’ image, I get to know the kind of entertainment people take part in Russia. I get to know how people look, what they wear etc. Photography has to convey something that the photographer intended to convey.
One of the things that would have crossed your mind while you shot that image would have been the delicate flow of colors in the bubble. Your focus has been obviously on the bubble and so you couldn’t care less about some of the other elements. You could have moved a little bit to your right to get the bubble blower’s face between the sticks. This would also have got the bubble out of the other woman’s face. The woman behind this woman would not have appeared as stacked shoulders. You would have ideally wanted to isolate the bubble, which might have lost all the other characters in the image.
I don’t know if all of this went through your mind. Most of the time, when I shoot, I think about these details only after shooting the image and editing them on the screen. A mental checklist would help and it takes time to hone those skills intuitively. The journey is as interesting as the end result.
Your images have conveyed so much about Russia, where I guess they were all shot. Thanks for sharing these images.
Good time of the day, Mo Han! Thank you for your comment!
I’ve shoot Bubble in Sevastopol (Crimea, in the Ukraine) partly because I saw those bubbles before in Saint Petersburg. Indeed, there were a series of shots but I’ve selected this one for facial expressions. It’s not my best shot, though. Sometimes I think those things such as framing, expocorrection for more expression, a figures on background and so on. But most the time I don’t remembere these things and think only after a shot was taken, as you’ve mentioned.
I took about 1/2 of these photographs in Sevastopol (Crimea, Ukraine) and others are from Saint Petersbourg (Russia).
Alexander, as you show perfectly, it’s the person behind the camera that makes the image. Thanks you, and I will be looking into a few of these lenses you use; the rendering is unique (and why you love them, I am sure). Thanks for writing this, KL
I mean, there is not such thing as Soviet lens. Like German lens, the Soviet one can be interesting or not depending on optical scheme (and prototype, if any) and particular item. If it’s Zeiss-like glass, it could render less or more identical to the respective lens. I don’t like Helios 44-2 nor it’s Zeiss original, but both Zeiss Sonar 50mm f1.5 and Jupiter-3 50mm f1.5 are totally great lenses. And some original Soviet glass too. But it only make sense if you like the same very rendering and know how to use it, or if you wish to experiment.
Thanks for your article and the great photos! I like the Helios 44-m lens for it’s swirliness. I’ve used that lens for the last 20 years whenever I could adapt it to the next camera. Don’t know if I am allowed to link pictures here – bokeh shot with said helios 44-m (wide open at f2, 😉 ): http://farm8.staticflickr.com/7125/6967357178_236b2ffef8_z.jpg
Actually you use what you like to. I know Helios-44 is one of the most popular Soviet lenses. I just state that there are other lenses too.
Beautiful images. Very candid and personal shots.