Rush Ranch revisited, and my kingdom for a really sharp wide angle lens

Rush Ranch Revisited -- by Joe Reifer

Rush Ranch Revisited — by Joe Reifer

Last week at the Nocturnes Rush Ranch Workshop I revisited the location of an image I made almost 5 years ago. The camera position and light painting are very similar, but the focal length and exposure time make for a very different image. The image was shot with a Mamiya 7II and 43mm wide angle lens, and the exposure time was about 20 minutes at f/8 on Kodak E100VS film. You certainly can’t tell from the low resolution flatbed scan above, but when viewing the slide on the lightbox the sharpness blew me away.

I don’t want to sound curmudgeonly here, but I’ve been using Photoshop for a long time, and no amount of secret masking tricks or sharpening plugins can seem to deliver the zing of seeing an extremely crisp transparency on the lightbox. And when I get a high quality drum scan the resolution is huge and I typically don’t need to do much if any post-processing before printing. At $60 a pop, I’m only getting drum scans done when I plan to make an exhibition print. But I’m thinking about using the Mamiya a bit more because the thing is just so damn sharp.

This all lead me to start looking at my lenses for the 5D Mark II in askance, wishing they would turn into something as sharp as the Mamiya 43mm. Zeiss has already released a 21mm f/2.8 ZF Distagon lens in Nikon mount, with a 21mm ZE lens in Canon EF mount is scheduled for 4th quarter 2009. Fingers crossed that the 21mm ZE is as sharp as the Contax mount 21mm Distagon that many folks have been using on Canon dSLRs for the last few years. That lens went from $1000 on the used market to around $3000 after word got out. With the announcement of the ZE lens the Contax version is coming back down from the stratosphere.

I’ve never owned the fabled Zeiss 21mm — I’ve been using the next best thing for the last 3 years, the Olympus 21mm f/3.5 lens, which has a more affordable $300-500 price tag. But if the 21mm ZE on a Canon 5D Mark II can get into Mamiya 43mm territory, I’ll gladly pony up. Of course sharpness isn’t the be all and end all of this picture making stuff. Content and emotional resonance are king. So thanks for humoring my little gear interlude here. More night photography and neighborhood abstractions soon!

4 thoughts on “Rush Ranch revisited, and my kingdom for a really sharp wide angle lens”

  1. Those colors are gorgeous, and capture my attention a lot more than sharpness. And if you ever pick up an adapter you can try my 14-24!

  2. Thanks, Steve! While sometimes I prefer Fuji 64T for night photography, Kodak E100VS has a really nice palette of warm yellows against dark cyan blue skies. I’d love to try the Nikon 14-24mm lens, but the Nikon G lenses require a very specialized EOS adapter that is expensive and in short supply.

  3. I’ve been using a Canon 24mm f/1.4 II for a few months now. I’m not sure how it compares with the lenses you’ve mentioned, but to my eyes, it’s amazingly sharp (even in the corners) starting about f/2.0 and going smaller. It’s great for night photography – you can see a bit more through the viewfinder as compared to using a f/2.8 lens.

    I completely agree with your second-to-last sentence, but sometimes talking about gear is fun :-) And I thought I’d bring up another potential lens candidate for you to spend inordinate time thinking about ;-)

    Now, I wonder how the new Canon 24mm t/s II is going to turn out…. :-)))

  4. TJ – if the 24/1.4L II is sharp all the way to the very edges then it’s better than my 24-70/2.8L which smears near the edge. Didn’t have this issue on the original 5D, but the 5D Mark II is much more demanding on the optics.

    I’m waiting for the 24 TS-E II — if that lens is sharp to the edges even when shifted, it will very rarely leave my camera. If the new tilt shift turns out to be a dud, I”ll need to take a look at the 24/1.4L II as an alternative. Would be nice to have the extra brightness in the viewfinder, too. If I win the lotto maybe I’ll get both. :)

Comments are closed.