Photography Museum: Lenses

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Photographic lenses shape the light that we record with photographic film or digital sensors. They range in construction from cheap plastic toys to modern glass marvels of optical science, and vary in price from hundreds to thousands of dollars. While better lenses result in objectively better recordings of light, photography is an art as well as a science and sometimes a photographer’s vision is better captured by a slightly inferior lens with more character.

My choice in lenses has often been dictated by a certain amount of pragmatism. I don’t mind spending money on quality technology, but I also balance desire with the reality that for most of my photographic career I have simply been an amateur enthusiast. I’ve had the pleasure of owning several top of the line professional instruments, but I’ve also immensely enjoyed many cheaper, more compromising lenses (often with barely noticeable differences in image quality).

I’ve generally avoided using third-party lenses. While often less expensive than native lenses, that savings used to come at the cost of quality. Now third-party lenses from Tamron and Sigma are first rate, but one still has to worry about compatibility issues with new camera bodies. Native lenses largely avoid such problems and just work.

Most of my photography is landscape, nature, or architecture. Sports and people are rare subjects. As such I have always tended to prefer a wide-angle field of view, with the occasional long telephoto lens session done for variety.