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!