Camera Lenses and compatibility

In my opinion, fixed camera lenses are the only way to go; as opposed to zoom.

I always say that it makes little difference what you use to snap that shot. If you have the eye, the photograph will be beautiful even using a 1934 Voigtlander Bessa.

What a beautiful piece of machinery. And by the way, they do take gorgeous photographs.

Here are a couple of examples. I planned to put up only one, but I just couldn't help myself.

And the one I like best...

All three photos were taken with the 80 year old Voigtlander and no post editing was done to any of them. You see them as they came from the camera, were developed and scanned to digital.

There’s an exception to every rule. The rule is; the equipment doesn’t make the artist. The exception is that faulty or incompatible equipment limits the artist; like camera lenses.

The subject of this page is; compatibility of camera lenses to your camera body. The rule is; normally which camera you use makes little difference in the end photos. The exception is; putting consumer camera lenses on a professional camera body doesn’t work.

I learned this the hard way. I got a D40 [Consumer DSLR] and a D200. [High end consumer/professional DSLR] I bought several camera lenses compatible with both.

The consumer body took very beautiful photographs. The professional body using the same camera lenses took lousy pictures. They were nearly all fuzzy; out of focus. It took 5 years of headaches and research to figure out why.

I bought consumer camera lenses unaware of the consequences of my choice. Consumer lenses are designed for consumer bodies. Professional bodies require professional glass.

You would think that a professional body would help make up for the lower quality of consumer camera lenses. It doesn’t. Instead it accentuates the flaws. But I don’t hear ANYBODY talking about this.

Expect a picture taken with a consumer camera coupled to a consumer lens, to be much superior to one taken using the same lens mounted on a professional body. Go figure.

Usually it won’t show when pictures are printed at 4X6 or even 5X7. But when cropped, enlarged in print or displayed full size in digital form, it becomes painfully obvious. These three pictures show the full size zoom.

Notice that the professional body coupled to the consumer lens produced the fuzzy picture. This is the typical result I get using that combination. And the camera was tripod mounted for this picture.

The next two are sharp.

This picture was hand held.

As was this one; hand held.

Also, the “Pro” lens used for the third picture is a simple $125, 50mm fixed lens. This enlargement is cropped out of the full photo. It shows how sharp the photo prints at 24”X36.”

You are seeing it displayed at a mere 76 PPI, or there about. Printed at this size it would still be over 100 DPI. That would give even more clarity than shown.

NOTE: PPI and DPI, while having different meanings are the same for all intents and purposes of this page.

Now look at the inserted photo. That is the original full photo at the actual size it was recorded. The part outlined in red is what you see in this enlargement. It’s enlarged about 36 times.

Your question may be to ask why even bother with a pro body and camera lenses if the little consumer camera gives near equal quality? The answer is that on top of speed and range, it’s because the pro combination offers larger file sizes.

With that comes a sharper image and a greater ability to crop and zoom on the finish picture without loss of quality. There is a noticeable difference.

This picture is at full size for its file size. If it were enlarged to the size of the other, it would not be nearly as clear. A consumer body with the smaller file size makes it hard to sell your work regardless of having sharp photos.

With a consumer body + consumer camera lenses you can expect to get good results up to about 16”X20” photos. With a professional body and professional camera lenses you can expect to get great results up to about 16”X20”. But with a lowly consumer lens coupled to a professional body you’ll be hard pressed to get any good pictures larger than 4”X6”.

All of these results are assuming proper lighting. And the limit is when it comes time to sell your photos.

Using anything less than a medium format camera you’ll be hard pressed to sell for over 8”X10” finished work. That means your professional digital camera body is already limited because it does not produce large enough photos for many commercial applications if that is the direction you plan to go.

Add fuzzy photos from incompatible camera lenses and you end up with what I had; work that cannot be sold! It’s just the nature of the beast.

By the way; the vintage Voigtlander shown above is a medium format camera. It is the size of a large digital point and shoot but it does so much more.

I’m writing this so anyone with plans to enlarge your photos, especially if you plan to sell your work, will be aware. The only real advice I can give you is to remember this phenomenon when you make your choice of camera and lenses; and ask all the right questions. The counter person may very well not be aware.

I cannot find the quote to give proper credit, but a well known photographer was once asked which is the best of the best zoom lens? His response was; step back and recompose your shot. I have to agree.

Zoom lenses seem to be, by far, the worst culprits for fuzzy photos. Zoom lenses have 7, 9 even 11 or 13 elements. Each one will cause slight loss of image integrity. The longer the lens the more important a role this principle plays.

The general rule is, build your collection around your camera lenses, not around your camera body.

This is one of those places that it pays to plan for the future. If you do that you can use the same lenses as you step up to different camera bodies. You only have to buy one set of lenses and they will last for many years.

There’s another variable involved here. There are two types of DSLR sensors; cropped and full frame. Know which you are getting in the camera you settle on. Cropped sensor is not necessarily consumer. The two are not synonymous.

Here’s an example of the same picture taken with each a crop and a full frame camera. The red rectangle resembles how the picture looks when taken with a camera that has the crop sensor. The focal length of the lens was the same in each shot.

A picture taken, using the same focal length lens and from the same distance will vary as to how much is in the picture. The picture will still be what you see in your viewfinder. The difference is how much actually shows in your viewfinder.

The amount a camera crops the picture varies with the different cameras. This shows just about the worst case scenario; but you can see how much advantage there is in the full frame shot.

Full frame is the standard by which all camera sensors are measured. It is the size of a 35mm film; 1.4”wide X.95” high. It offers more latitude when it comes to shooting cropping and enlarging your pictures.

Read more about it here.

The reason I’m pointing this out is so you know before hand which lenses to get. Some manufacturers make lenses that fit on both types of camera. Though they are compatible, the crop sensor camera body will limit the full frame lens. And the crop lens will limit the full frame body.

You are far better off buying only one good quality lens with your camera body and then getting one per year until you have your collection. Most professional lenses in varying focal lengths are available for around $600. That may sound like a lot but it's far better than buying all new ones like I have to!

A good quality long lens can cost 10s of thousands of dollars. If you need it, it is well worth the investment.

If you’re unsure, a great place to start is to get a lens like the one I used for the sharpest picture above. It is a fixed, 50mm 1.8D lens; Nikkor for Nikon, or the equivalent for your camera body. The lens was only a little over $100.

If they are compatible you’re also better off buying full frame lenses for your small sensor camera. People will argue about this. They will claim it is a waste to invest the greater amount of money when you’re using the lens on a camera that limits it.

Yet when you step up you don’t have to buy all new lenses. I learned my lesson the hard way; I am in the very process right now of buying all new everything.

Also; being the lens above was only $100, how can you go wrong by getting just one good lens if you’re not sure? The other option is to get a lens that will provide lesser quality pictures knowing full well that you may regret it.

Learn and know the difference before you make your final decision on which DSLR to get.

And unless you absolutely must have zooms; I strongly urge you to step back and recompose your shot. You will be much happier for it. Look at it from this angle; either you will have a fuzzy picture and be very limited as to how much you can crop or enlarge it, or you'll have a sharp photo from farther away that can be cropped and remain sharp.

There are two main reasons to get a high end consumer/professional camera body. One is the speed with which you can shoot. You will have a hard time capturing growing active children with anything less.

The other reason is to sell your work. Anything less will not offer large enough file sizes to interest buyers in your photographs.

In the end, do your homework and don’t let anyone talk you into consumer glass if you have plans for your pictures other than personal use in 4”X6” photo albums and/or a digital picture frame. It all depends upon your future plans. Even if you enlarge them to display on your own wall, I am convinced that you will be much happier with sharp photos as opposed to fuzzy snapshots.

Two other options are available. One is to buy now; planning to sell later at a loss when it's time to get the better lenses. The other is to buy used camera lenses until you know equipment well enough to make the proper choice for yourself. Who knows, you very well may get used lenses that give you decades of great shots.

If you choose either of those you still don’t want to spend lots of money on lots of lenses like I did. You’ll just take lots of loss when you move up. If you go that route, at least now you can get those camera lenses knowingly and by choice, not by surprise.

That's why I say that fixed camera lenses are the only way to go. I prefer professional lenses over consumer and consumer zoom will be a good investment only if you plan to never move up.

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