2 added 499 characters in body; added 345 characters in body
source | link

First point: it's pretty safe to say that even a "really poor" lens for a typical DSLR has higher resolution than (for example) most of the lenses used by Adams, Weston, etc. (though, of course, they were using a much larger "sensor", so the total amount of information captured was still quite large). Even if we stick to small-format photography, some stunningly great pictures have been taken with lenses that would barely even qualify as "poor" today.

Second point: for portraits (in particular) "soft focus" lenses are quite popular (as are various "filters" and tricks to reduce sharpness). In short, maximum sharpness isn't necessarily a particularly desirable quality for this kind of picture.

Third: I'd say at least 95% of the people who say a particular lens (or camera) is poor are basically making excuses for the fact that the pictures they take pretty much suck. In most cases the problem is about six inches behind the camera, not in the lens.

From a technical viewpoint, it's true that nearly all lenses improve in quality when stopped down a bit (optimal performance is typically around 2 stops down from wide open). In all honesty, there's usually a bigger improvement in coma and astigmatism than in sharpness, but there's usually an improvement in sharpness as well.

Just for completeness, I'll mention one other option: at one time, Nikon made the 58mm f/1.2 Nocturnal Nikkor. This was optimized for use with the aperture wide open, and (by reputation -- I've never used one personally) had excellent sharpness and contrast, even at maximum aperture. This is a mostly theoretical option though: first of all, it hasn't been made in quite a while, so you can only buy them used (for around $3,000 the last I heard). Second, as 50mm lenses go, they're almost ridiculously big and heavy (and, as mentioned above, expensive).

There is, however, a somewhat more reasonable alternative that bears mentioning: the Sigma 50 f/1.4 EX DG HSM is better wide open than most of the "first party" manufacturer's lenses (Canon, Nikon, Sony, etc.) Like the Nocturnal Nikkor, however, this is big, heavy, and relatively expensive -- though certainly to a lesser degree (in all respects). It also has the advantages of being autofocus, current, and easily available. Whether you would really benefit from spending extra money for this is open to question -- a lot of people use Nikon's f/1.4 lenses to produce very nice pictures (both wide open and stopped down), and I have no doubt at all that if you have sufficient skill, you can do the same. OTOH, if you really want optimal performance from a "normal" lens wide open, the Sigma probably provides the best optical performance you can get right now.

Edit: I suppose since I mentioned the Nocturnal Nikkor, I should give equal time, and correct that last statement a bit: I meant something like "the best you can get for your Nikon". If somebody's truly fanatical about optimal performance and maximum aperture, there's also the Leica 50 f/0.95 Noctilux. For most people, this is impractical in too many ways to even think hard about it, but it's at least as practical a choice as the Nocturnal Nikkor (at least it's still in current production).

Bottom Line: the lenses you're looking at are certainly usable, and capable of taking great pictures, wide open. When you do have enough light, the sharpness will generally improve by stopping them down somewhat, but (as with most lenses) the real limiting factor on picture quality will usually be how the lens is used, not the lens itself.

First point: it's pretty safe to say that even a "really poor" lens for a typical DSLR has higher resolution than (for example) most of the lenses used by Adams, Weston, etc. (though, of course, they were using a much larger "sensor", so the total amount of information captured was still quite large). Even if we stick to small-format photography, some stunningly great pictures have been taken with lenses that would barely even qualify as "poor" today.

Second point: for portraits (in particular) "soft focus" lenses are quite popular (as are various "filters" and tricks to reduce sharpness). In short, maximum sharpness isn't necessarily a particularly desirable quality for this kind of picture.

Third: I'd say at least 95% of the people who say a particular lens (or camera) is poor are basically making excuses for the fact that the pictures they take pretty much suck. In most cases the problem is about six inches behind the camera, not in the lens.

From a technical viewpoint, it's true that nearly all lenses improve in quality when stopped down a bit (optimal performance is typically around 2 stops down from wide open). In all honesty, there's usually a bigger improvement in coma and astigmatism than in sharpness, but there's usually an improvement in sharpness as well.

Just for completeness, I'll mention one other option: at one time, Nikon made the 58mm f/1.2 Nocturnal Nikkor. This was optimized for use with the aperture wide open, and (by reputation -- I've never used one personally) had excellent sharpness and contrast, even at maximum aperture. This is a mostly theoretical option though: first of all, it hasn't been made in quite a while, so you can only buy them used (for around $3,000 the last I heard). Second, as 50mm lenses go, they're almost ridiculously big and heavy (and, as mentioned above, expensive).

There is, however, a somewhat more reasonable alternative that bears mentioning: the Sigma 50 f/1.4 EX DG HSM is better wide open than most of the "first party" manufacturer's lenses (Canon, Nikon, Sony, etc.) Like the Nocturnal Nikkor, however, this is big, heavy, and relatively expensive -- though certainly to a lesser degree (in all respects). It also has the advantages of being autofocus, current, and easily available. Whether you would really benefit from spending extra money for this is open to question -- a lot of people use Nikon's f/1.4 lenses to produce very nice pictures (both wide open and stopped down), and I have no doubt at all that if you have sufficient skill, you can do the same. OTOH, if you really want optimal performance from a "normal" lens wide open, the Sigma probably provides the best optical performance you can get right now.

First point: it's pretty safe to say that even a "really poor" lens for a typical DSLR has higher resolution than (for example) most of the lenses used by Adams, Weston, etc. (though, of course, they were using a much larger "sensor", so the total amount of information captured was still quite large). Even if we stick to small-format photography, some stunningly great pictures have been taken with lenses that would barely even qualify as "poor" today.

Second point: for portraits (in particular) "soft focus" lenses are quite popular (as are various "filters" and tricks to reduce sharpness). In short, maximum sharpness isn't necessarily a particularly desirable quality for this kind of picture.

Third: I'd say at least 95% of the people who say a particular lens (or camera) is poor are basically making excuses for the fact that the pictures they take pretty much suck. In most cases the problem is about six inches behind the camera, not in the lens.

From a technical viewpoint, it's true that nearly all lenses improve in quality when stopped down a bit (optimal performance is typically around 2 stops down from wide open). In all honesty, there's usually a bigger improvement in coma and astigmatism than in sharpness, but there's usually an improvement in sharpness as well.

Just for completeness, I'll mention one other option: at one time, Nikon made the 58mm f/1.2 Nocturnal Nikkor. This was optimized for use with the aperture wide open, and (by reputation -- I've never used one personally) had excellent sharpness and contrast, even at maximum aperture. This is a mostly theoretical option though: first of all, it hasn't been made in quite a while, so you can only buy them used (for around $3,000 the last I heard). Second, as 50mm lenses go, they're almost ridiculously big and heavy (and, as mentioned above, expensive).

There is, however, a somewhat more reasonable alternative that bears mentioning: the Sigma 50 f/1.4 EX DG HSM is better wide open than most of the "first party" manufacturer's lenses (Canon, Nikon, Sony, etc.) Like the Nocturnal Nikkor, however, this is big, heavy, and relatively expensive -- though certainly to a lesser degree (in all respects). It also has the advantages of being autofocus, current, and easily available. Whether you would really benefit from spending extra money for this is open to question -- a lot of people use Nikon's f/1.4 lenses to produce very nice pictures (both wide open and stopped down), and I have no doubt at all that if you have sufficient skill, you can do the same. OTOH, if you really want optimal performance from a "normal" lens wide open, the Sigma probably provides the best optical performance you can get right now.

Edit: I suppose since I mentioned the Nocturnal Nikkor, I should give equal time, and correct that last statement a bit: I meant something like "the best you can get for your Nikon". If somebody's truly fanatical about optimal performance and maximum aperture, there's also the Leica 50 f/0.95 Noctilux. For most people, this is impractical in too many ways to even think hard about it, but it's at least as practical a choice as the Nocturnal Nikkor (at least it's still in current production).

Bottom Line: the lenses you're looking at are certainly usable, and capable of taking great pictures, wide open. When you do have enough light, the sharpness will generally improve by stopping them down somewhat, but (as with most lenses) the real limiting factor on picture quality will usually be how the lens is used, not the lens itself.

1
source | link

First point: it's pretty safe to say that even a "really poor" lens for a typical DSLR has higher resolution than (for example) most of the lenses used by Adams, Weston, etc. (though, of course, they were using a much larger "sensor", so the total amount of information captured was still quite large). Even if we stick to small-format photography, some stunningly great pictures have been taken with lenses that would barely even qualify as "poor" today.

Second point: for portraits (in particular) "soft focus" lenses are quite popular (as are various "filters" and tricks to reduce sharpness). In short, maximum sharpness isn't necessarily a particularly desirable quality for this kind of picture.

Third: I'd say at least 95% of the people who say a particular lens (or camera) is poor are basically making excuses for the fact that the pictures they take pretty much suck. In most cases the problem is about six inches behind the camera, not in the lens.

From a technical viewpoint, it's true that nearly all lenses improve in quality when stopped down a bit (optimal performance is typically around 2 stops down from wide open). In all honesty, there's usually a bigger improvement in coma and astigmatism than in sharpness, but there's usually an improvement in sharpness as well.

Just for completeness, I'll mention one other option: at one time, Nikon made the 58mm f/1.2 Nocturnal Nikkor. This was optimized for use with the aperture wide open, and (by reputation -- I've never used one personally) had excellent sharpness and contrast, even at maximum aperture. This is a mostly theoretical option though: first of all, it hasn't been made in quite a while, so you can only buy them used (for around $3,000 the last I heard). Second, as 50mm lenses go, they're almost ridiculously big and heavy (and, as mentioned above, expensive).

There is, however, a somewhat more reasonable alternative that bears mentioning: the Sigma 50 f/1.4 EX DG HSM is better wide open than most of the "first party" manufacturer's lenses (Canon, Nikon, Sony, etc.) Like the Nocturnal Nikkor, however, this is big, heavy, and relatively expensive -- though certainly to a lesser degree (in all respects). It also has the advantages of being autofocus, current, and easily available. Whether you would really benefit from spending extra money for this is open to question -- a lot of people use Nikon's f/1.4 lenses to produce very nice pictures (both wide open and stopped down), and I have no doubt at all that if you have sufficient skill, you can do the same. OTOH, if you really want optimal performance from a "normal" lens wide open, the Sigma probably provides the best optical performance you can get right now.