Prime Numbers -Why I Love Fixed Focal Lengths

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Taken on my Nikon D3300 with the 35mm f1.8 DX lens.

Zoom lenses are one of the more developed areas of modern photography, covering ultra wide angle to extreme telephoto and with increasing capability. They provide convenience and less compromise with each new version. This is to be applauded, more quality glass is always a good thing. I’m not without zoom lenses myself; I have the Canon 17-40L and 70-200 L F4 in my collection. However, my most favoured lenses have become primes. It all started with the Canon nifty fifty, that plastic, noisy lens that just happens to be good quality and at the bottom of their price range. Auto focus was loud to begin with, but stray sand got into the barrel to the point where it sounded like a robot with arthritis. So I began to manual focus it and I loved it. Prior to this, I often shot the Sigma 10-20 on my 20D and my style at that time was decidedly wide angle. That 50mm lens changed my style, for the better.

Shorn of bending perspective to my will, with results that don’t often look good to my eye a decade later, I was now shooting in a more standard way. Of course, that 50mm lens was 80mm in APS-C money, but I was now looking at potential images differently. More abstract, wooed by the fast aperture. More often stark, black and white to go with it. Primes made me change drastically from stock landscapes and long exposures, and 10 years later, had a bigger influence on my style. My next prime love was the Helios 44M. With a screwmount adapter for EOS, I was able to make use of a lens I’d idly collected when I went through a phase of buying cheap film SLRs. Wow, what a creative spark it ignited. On one trip with it I re-imagined a leaf as the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury and the light between two tree trunks as the Hot Gates from Spartan mythology. I was thinking more about the final image, because I had one focal length and that was anything but a limitation.

Fast forward to this year and I bought the Fuji with its 35mm equivalent focal length. I also bought the Sony RX with its 24-70. It’s not that I’m zoom averse, but I just prefer the tactility of primes when manually focused. The reason I have so many different options is because I’d rather shoot with something designed for that purpose, more often. The Sony is perfect for my work bag, but unlikely to be my choice if going out specifically to photograph. This also ties in with my recent posts about smartphones and the fully manual Canon I wish existed; disparate notions, but both speak to my preferred approach to photography. That is, work within confines to boost creative thought and shoot manually as much as possible, so the act of taking the photo is all part of the experience. A good prime ties-in both of those ideals pretty well.

 

Thanks for reading. Matt.

The Apertura Wishlist – Cameras I wish existed (Part 1)

Canon M

There have been many cameras throughout the modern era, from mainstream hits, to obscure, fascinating oddities. Something I love is obscure and fascinating things, so naturally they pique my interest. One of my favourites – and one I’d love to own – is the Canon EF-M. Before this became the acronym for their mirrorless lens mount, it was used on an export-only, manual version of the EOS 1000 35mm SLR. Without an LCD screen or typical mode selector dial, this was a manually operated, manually focused SLR from a company who had made a concerted effort to embrace auto focus with their EOS line. The wiki article here will fill in more detail for you if you’re unfamiliar with this particular Canon.

Since discovering the EF-M, I’ve often wished Canon would engineer a modern, digital equivalent. Leica can create monochrome, display-free bodies almost at will and given their following, surely Canon could stand to do the same thing too. If nothing else, it would be an alternative for purely stills shooters who don’t necessarily need the 4K, mic-input trappings of a 5D Mark IV; however, they would very much benefit from DIGIC 7 and some of the better lenses out there, all of which have a manual setting.

By removing some of the features, it could also lower the price. This I feel is an important consideration. I’d always buy just enough camera you need, so I could spend more on lenses. With a £1000 full frame, manual DSLR, you could spend the extra £1000+ an EOS 5D model would cost on more lenses, of which Canon has the most varied line-up of all. A niche product that would still drive their lens business? Sounds fairly low risk, but potentially headline grabbing work, eh Canon?

Whilst I appreciate it is not a camera for every photographer out there, that’s fine – they are already very well catered for. Sure, you could just shoot everything manually on your DSLR, which I often do, but the change in handling, to include some of that Fuji tactility could make it a really sweet product. As can be seen in my mock-up (pardon the Photoshop, it’s been some years since I last dabbled) there are two selector dials. On the right you have ISO, with a Drive and WB button familiar to the EOS range. On the left, your shutter speed dial with a range from 1/4000 to 30 seconds and Bulb mode.  The  right-hand jog wheel that normally functions to alter shutter speed is now the Exposure Compensation. Otherwise, no bells or whistles. My perfect Canon digital camera.

 

Thanks for reading, cheers. Matt.