Why You Should Be Excited for Lens Innovations to Come

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sony 85mm f1.4 G Master Lens (8 of 11)ISO 4001-50 sec at f - 2.8

Years ago, two companies did something very big for the lens manufacturing world in the photo industry. Those two companies were Zeiss and Sigma. Zeiss announced and released the Otus 55mm f1.4 while Sigma revamped with the Global Vision and dropped the 35mm f1.4 Art lens. Both exhibited major strides forward in lens design and manufacturing. For years, the industry hadn’t seen anything that sharp, contrasty, etc.

Then everyone else started to catch up.

In the same way that cameras were updated with more megapixels and all fairly frequently, lenses started to also see more innovative updates.

  • Nikon created a Fresnel lens that made an otherwise long focal length really small and lightweight
  • Canon introduced a Blue Refractive optic
  • Fujifilm, Olympus and Panasonic continued to output solid quality lenses that they always have.

Then Sony got into making full frame 35mm format mirrorless camera lenses. And most recently, they reimplemented an innovation that was otherwise long gone from digital for many years.

Very recently, Sony announced 11 aperture blades and a new emphasis on great bokeh in their G Master series of lenses. For a while, the most we would get is 9 aperture blades.

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Zeiss 58mm f2 Biotar images (3 of 4)ISO 4001-60 sec at f - 8.0

Now don’t get me wrong here, more aperture blades isn’t a new concept. Years ago, Zeiss used to put 17 aperture blades into their lenses. This gave users seriously beautiful bokeh that is otherwise tough to mimic with modern lenses. For bokeh fiends, it’s a given.

All of this means that we as consumers are bound to get even better options in the future and that lens innovation is going to move even further ahead. Years ago, camera companies would offer multiple variants of focal lengths: like a 50mm f1.2, f1.4, f1.8, f2, f2.8 or an f3.5. They would all be targeted at different customers and though we may not see that strategy again, it will be very awesome to see how companies are trying to innovate and attract folks to their lenses. There is only so much that someone can do with better sharpness, less CA, and less distortion. But otherwise, it can be tough to differentiate one lens from another these days because they’re all just so damned good.

Model: Natalie Margiotta

Model: Natalie Margiotta

At the same time though, manufacturers are still guaranteeing that your lenses are going to still last you many years. A while back, I interviewed many of them, and they all state that new innovations were why they did refreshes. Part of this has to do with keeping up with camera technology, but they now all claim that their current lineups will be more than sufficient for over 100MP sensors.

Considering the emphasis on street photographers, it could even be possible that we see a return of the working depth of field scales. Of course, a guy can only dream.

This is a lot of gear talk, and at this point I think that it’s imperative for me to remind you that it’s the photographer that creates the images, not the camera. Cameras and lenses know nothing about moment, intimacy and beauty. They’re just cold machines. But where this makes everything even more interesting is how it will segment cameras and lenses even further from phones–which have otherwise become the more common tool for the masses. A while back, I stated that the camera should become a luxury lifestyle product, and in some ways that’s happening. Photography is and always will be an expensive hobby in the same way that watches, cars, headphones, kitchen cutlery and music are.

But for the hobbyist and pro photographer, it’s nice to see that the segmentation and standout features are going to continue to be there as a tool offered to the photographer who wants more from the images that they create.

  • alexcosy
    Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown

    Aperture blades number is relevant only when stopped down, wide open the bokeh is by definition not affected by the diaphragm.
    The quality of the bokeh is not only very subjective, but the optical formula, asph or non asph etc… Is way more important than 9 or 11 aperture blades.

  • Georg Fiedler
    Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown

    we should be excited in order to feed the industry.
    photography actually is a hobby, that especially nowadays can be done very cheap. buy a used Fuji x-e1 for 200€, plus three old but good prime lenses for 100 each, and you can create 75% of all possible photos at 95% of the quality. there is great free software out there, like gimp or darktable, and there are zero running costs for digital photos. we are in really great times for great photography on a budget!

  • V.C.
    Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown

    That’s a pretty fat/heavy lens. So much for the smaller form factor of the Sony a7s.

  • Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown

    There is also severe pricing escalation at hand too, which shouldn’t go unnoticed. As camera bodies continue becoming more affordable due to mass production and market forces, lenses are the new cash cow for sustaining profit margins. Journalists and bloggers will either join the cheering section for lens price escalation, or keep a vigilant eye. Meanwhile, it bears noting that lens standards are changing faster than ever, from mounts to image stabilization to focus-by-wire and electronic apertures. So the old (tired) principle of investing in a lens for life is almost laughable by now. The multi-national corporations are gunning for the strategy that you are forced to buy new replacement lenses every few years (or less).

    • johnnykangaroo
      Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown

      Aren’t most bloggers just advertisers dressed as journalists?

      • ChrisGampat
        Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown

        Be extremely careful as to how you say that. Bloggers like myself are required by law to not taint information and if we’re caught doing so or writing a sponsored post without actually having a sponsored label on it, then we’re liable to a class action lawsuit.

        You may be joking around about this, but I take it extremely seriously because it means that six years of building a business is over.

        There are some that actually legally do deserve it, but this site isn’t one of them.

        • Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown

          Not sure I understand. If you’re guilty, you’re guilty. As you note, some legally might deserve it (from being sponsored but masquerading as objective). If you don’t do that, you’re good, nothing to worry about! (He said “most” bloggers, which could or could not include you — and could change at any moment with any post.) In the meantime, I note that Sony flew out all these bloggers to cover this a6300 and lens announcement, putting them up in a hotel in New York City. None of them are saying that their “hands-on” reviews were sponsored, but judging from their excitement (reports in baited breath back at their hotel rooms), it looks like they had a hell of a time.

          • ChrisGampat
            Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown

            I appreciate your words, but I don’t think you understand where comments like Kangaroo’s come from or know his history of trolling on this site. Considering that you run a blog yourself, you clearly should understand. But I empathize with the fact that you may not.

            Comments like this are thrown around without thinking because folks in general on the web don’t take responsibility for what they say the way that they do in real life. It’s true. It’s so incredibly true and perhaps one of the truest statements about the web. If people commented on Facebook the way they do on websites or Reddit, they’d alienate their friends and family.

            When commenters casually throw things out like this, it’s not cool.

            Sony only flew out some publications. The majority of them are based in NYC. Some that flew don’t ethically allow Sony to pay for it. Example: DPReview. They’re swimming in Amazon money. But CameraLabs.com and Steve Huff for example are smaller publications and don’t have the financial infrustrcture that other large sites have. So they get flown in. When I go on press trips, I also get flown in. It’s my job as an EIC to massage relationships and then pass it off onto my ad agency to take care of the money side. But I’ve absolutely never given something a glowing review just because I wanted the ad revenue.

            And I run a blog. To that end, I didn’t work my ass off for six years and get this site to where it is by not being clear about sponsored content. I also spent six years developing a community that either offers constructive crit or praise. It doesn’t foster trolls. This isn’t Petapixel, DIYPhotography, SLR Lounge or FStoppers. It’s a much different site with its own identity, not a copycat.

            I highly doubt they’re not being honest though. I’ve said it before and I will always say it: no one is making a bad lens or camera anymore. The global state of the economy does not allow a product manager to say “I want to make a crappy product that will make no money for us.”

            No, that doesn’t happen anymore.

            Coming back to Kangaroo, I could easily just ban him. This is my web property. Just like a property in real life, if you go on it and cause chaos or cause some sort of problems, the owner has a right to kick you off. You don’t go into a restaurant and act a fool because you’ll get kicked out.

            To that end, what protects people on the web is the fact that they hide behind these avatars which I quite honestly don’t think is right. People should take responsibility for their actions on the web the same way they do in person.

            • Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown

              It appears that I did saunter into a personal feud that I did not, as you note, know anything about. I see everything you’re saying and it all makes sense; everyone exercises their privilege of expression but it’s not a fundamental right on private property (which is what any blog is). That said, I’ve seen a tacky trend downward in the general “blogosphere” of almost everything reading like a press release. The analogue is film criticism where the reviewer spends most his/her time reciting the plot. What does that add to anything?

              I’m pretty passive at the thing I’m running, because it’s a mostly user-generated community with specific camera user groups, me throwing in news links and an occasional essay. I would hate to be that kid at xyz blog anxiously waiting for their prince to come in the form of press invitations, free samples, rubbing shoulders, etc. All these heaps of tech are for the singular purpose of creating art/media. As you say, generally nothing comes to market without being qualified for success. Part of that venture is investment in advertising. To get a huge chunk of that for free from bloggers is a fattening epidemic, naivete manifest, and true to the nature of chaos in cyberspace, as you note.

              In the parallel universe of politics, I loved David Byrne’s insights yesterday touching on this: http://davidbyrne.com/the-echo-chamber