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Lens Tester's Anonymous: It's a lot easier being a Great Consumer than a Great Photographer!

" My shot was crappy because it's a crappy lens.  With a new lens my crappy pictures will be great.   I know it's the lens because  I'm a great photographer.  Where's that new lens test?  I'll order the new lens  today." 

Yeah, Right.   Dream on.  You read it here folks, in black and white.

Some people love to compare published lens tests,  as if  someone else's tests  have  anything to do with the real world lens performance they will get.    A new  test will appear and  Lens Tester's  Anonymous  members will dutifully sell   their old "not as good" lens to buy the new wonderful "better" lens.  This is photography and consumerism at its worst.    

Have you ever noticed that the worst photographers usually have newest and  best equipment? They are so busy checking the latest lens tests, they don't have time to learn how to use the lenses  they already have.     You can spot them because they are excited about the new lenses or camera they just bought, instead of the wonderful picture they just made.

The Problems with Someone Else's Lens Test:

  1. Focusing accuracy -- whether rangefinder or single lens reflex.  Bad focus equals lower resolution

  2. Vibration, shutter or mirror vibration means lower resolution.  Yes, your lens testing results can vary camera to camera because different cameras have different vibration levels.     This means if you have five different bodies of the same mount, the results from the same lens may vary due to body vibration.

  3. Flare within the film chamber lowers resolution.  Contrary to popular belief, cameras can vary considerably with this little discussed variable.  In the mid 70's Fujica marketed a line of 35 SLRs with the mirror box flocked in black matte material.  Modern Photography tested it, and confirmed that Fujica has the lowest flare level of any 35 tested.   Want to improve  lens performance? Eliminate flare in your film chamber.

  4. Film flatness.  The only way to really test the lens and not the camera is to shoot glass plates....which of course no one does.   That is, no one except Kilfitt which shipped a test glass plate with each lens!!!!   Realizing the problem, both Rollei and the CIA use special glass plates or a special film pressure plate to really get accurate images.   A few cameras have addressed the problem, notably the Contax RTS with its vacuum back and the Contax ST with its extra large ceramic film plate.   Some photogs report their believe that  the first couple of exposures on each roll have lower resolution than the rest ... because the of film flatness.

  5. Shutter speed accuracy.  If one camera over exposes half a stop, that means more negative density and less resolution.

  6. Camera support. Different tripods are vastly different in their ability to stabilize the camera and lens, as well as dampening all vibrations.   Kilfitt used to ship a glass plate with each of their lenses showing its resolution.  Guess what kind of tripod they used for testing......a tripod head mounted in concrete.!

  7. What does this add up to?   STANDARDIZE your testing with the best camera and tripod you can.  Test your lenses with the SAME camera body, to make sure you are testing the lenses, and not the camera.   Testing your lenses on different tripods and bodies will reduce the validity of your test results by introducing more uncontrollable variables.  

  8. THIS MEANS:  test with the same camera body that is  calibrated for shutter accuracy and minimum vibration, with a film chamber black flocked for maximum flare reduction, with the same tripod or camera mount which is incredibly solid, with the finest grain sharpest film you can find.   Switch camera bodies, tripods, and films between lens tests, and you are throwing away the ability to compare the lens' sharpness ... the new variables become a test of the camera too!!    Of course this also means if you have a group of lens tests, and then improve your testing procedure using the items above, your old test results  are no longer directly comparable to your new test results.   oh well.


                                                                                                                              Alfred Eisenstadt, the legendary LIFE Magazine photographer,  didn't believe in other people's lens tests.    He tested his own new lenses by using them.  If he liked it, he kept it.

Amazingly, Eisenstadt didn't think he needed someone else's stinking lens test of someone else's stinking lens to take great pictures.  All he succeeded in doing was help define photography this century.   Maybe he was too busy taking pictures to care what someone else thought about his lenses.    How weird.   Misplaced priorities, I guess.

Footnote:  Yes, I wanted  heavier sarcasm, but it would have made the site X-rated. 

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Revised: November 25, 2003 Copyright � 1998-2002  Stephen Gandy. All rights reserved.    This means you may NOT copy and re-use the text or the pictures in ANY other internet or printed publication of ANY kind.  Information in this document is subject to change without notice.  Other products and companies referred to herein are trademarks or registered trademarks of their respective companies or mark holders.