On Tuesday, having spent an enjoyable morning playing around with new wasp scenarios while waiting for an "engineer" to come and service our gas boiler (why, do come in, Mr. Brunel!), I decided to go for a walk around Southampton Common after lunch.* Just for a change, I thought I'd put a Fuji f/1.4 35mm lens on my X-E1, in place of the 18-55mm kit zoom lens that more-or-less permanently lives on that body. I've barely used that 35mm lens since buying it on a whim in my early flush of enthusiasm for all things Fuji, but it's very highly rated by people who should know. And, yes, I suppose that, as well as a change of perspective, I thought I might get one of my extremely rare
I'd forgotten, though, that on "auto" exposure (my normal, bone-idle setting, which works just fine with the kit zoom) the 35mm lens would, more often than not, resort to its wide-open aperture of f/1.4, especially on a January afternoon of deep shadows. That's pretty wide. Now, I know that a lot of photographers lust after the shallow depth of field that a "fast" lens gives at its maximum aperture, and that they abhor small-sensor digital cameras and "slow" lenses precisely on the grounds that they don't want everything to be in focus. I'm the exact opposite. I love deep focus, and avoid as far as possible so-called bokeh (background blur) effects.
To achieve the deepest possible focus, back in the days of film, I relied on setting the hyperfocal distance**. Easy enough, with ye olde lenses, which were engraved with both DOF and focussing scales – just align the infinity symbol with the aperture in use – but always a bit of a compromise, especially with a medium-format camera where a "normal" angle of view of around 50° is delivered by an 80mm lens, with its relatively shallow depth of field. But my first digital cameras, with their tiny sensors and correspondingly teeny focal lengths (where "normal" was around 10mm!), were a revelation on that score: OK, there were no engraved scales at all, but they gave total depth of field, back to front, effortlessly, at pretty much any aperture... Never mind "pin sharp" focus, this was "pinhole" focus!
So, I don't love fast lenses, for that reason, anyway. For me – and your DOF may well vary – unless it's done extremely well and to some observable aesthetic purpose, a deliberately blurred background is like saying, in effect, "No, nothing to look at there, just concentrate on the bit I have decided is interesting!" It always reminds me of those coy images of naked people, with their genitals digitally zapped into pixellated oblivion. Listen, I'll be the judge of whether I want to look or not...
Having said that, I could live with the blurring. A little bokeh once in a while doesn't hurt. What was much worse, and totally unexpected, was the poor handling by the lens of only moderately tricky lighting. I'd forgotten all about "chromatic aberration" until Tuesday. But there were ugly red and green fringes around any brightly-illuminated twig – the sort of thing the kit zoom takes in its stride. And horribly harsh transitions from bright to dark in those much-prized areas of bokeh. Yes, of course I'd got the lens hood on. It seemed that maybe those people who should know a good lens when they test it don't know as much as they think! Maybe that's what comes of only photographing brick walls, bottle labels and test charts.
It's also possible, of course, that I may have acquired a bad example of the Fuji 35mm lens. I do buy my stuff second-hand, and I suppose the seller may have been dumping it. I'll probably dump it myself, now, but – ahem – at a conscience-assuaging bargain price. Caveat emptor... In fact, some of the images were so badly affected by the dreaded red and green fringing that I gave up trying to fix it and resorted to using a monochrome filter plug-in – something else I once bought on a whim and have rarely, if ever, used since. I do quite like that muted, warm-toned platinum-palladium look, though, and may well use it again. Though, hopefully, on some rather better pictures.
* Previously on Idiotic Hat: if you find my changes of location confusing, don't worry, so do I... Yes, we do live in both Southampton and Bristol!
** "The hyperfocal distance is the closest distance at which a lens can be focused while keeping objects at infinity acceptably sharp. When the lens is focused at this distance, all objects at distances from half of the hyperfocal distance out to infinity will be acceptably sharp."