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.
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.
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.