The Lens –“its all about the glass”.  


I had a discussion with a photographer this week about whether she should buy a new lens or not. At the time I wished we were close to my computer so I could bring out this article I wrote back in November of 2014. With that, here it is again for the few that didn’t get to read it back then.

Ask any experienced photographer whether to buy a new camera or a new lens and the answer will usually be, “it’s all about the glass,” or, “a good lens is more important than a good camera.”

A bad lens on a good camera will still make poor images, but a good lens on a poor or average camera will still give the photographer good results.

I listened to several friends talking over coffee about reviews they had read about the latest camera offering from Canon. The discussion began with questions like, “why does a photographer that doesn’t shoot sports need a camera with 7 or 8 frames a second” and “I really don’t spend much time shooting in low light situations, so why would I spend extra money on a camera because it is capable of a high ISO.” However, as expected, it wasn’t long before the talk turned to an exchange of views on lenses. Remember, after all, “it’s all about the glass.”

The conversation easily moved from a difference of opinion between those that preferred prime (fixed focal length) lenses, and those, like me, that chose multi-focal length (zoom) lenses. We talked about the importance of wide angle and, of course, wide aperture lenses.

Just because you can change the lens doesn’t mean you have to, but I don’t know many photographers that are that sensible. Most of us are willing to add a new lens to our camera bag as soon as we have extra cash in our pockets. Hmm…that might be more emotional and impulsive than sensible.

I know very few that are content with the short zoom “kit lenses” they got with their camera any more than they are with the tires the manufacturer installed on their car. Yes, the lenses, just like the tires aren’t high quality, but when we change the lens it alters the visual personality of the image, and most photographers I know are engaged in, what I’ll call, a search for a perspective that fits their personal vision.

The camera might capture some subject’s personality, but the lens, in my opinion, allows the resulting image to say something about the photographer.

Several photographers standing on a picturesque hillside using the same camera and lens will probably produce much the same image, but give them each a different lens and the resulting images will be diverse, distinct, and individual.

Yes, it is all about the glass, and there is an exciting diversity of lenses out there waiting for each photographer to choose, discard, and choose again as they explore and create within this stimulating medium.

As I wrote those words I wondered if there were other words that I could use that were more applicable than stimulating. I could have used, intoxicating, invigorating, or even compelling. They all fit and, I think, could apply to some of the feelings those photographers lounging around my shop drinking warm coffee on a cold day as they talked about the lenses they used and would like to use.

A new camera is a lot of fun, but it really is “all about the glass.







12 responses to “The Lens –“its all about the glass”.  

  1. Thank you Michael for taking this on. I do feel somewhat bad about the 180 as Patricia said however I’m just not sure about my part in the project as we have discussed. It may not be a bad idea to chat again. I’m free tomorrow afternoon then I’m in Van Monday Tuesday and then away for 2.5 weeks starting Sat may 27 Cheers Ross 250 537-7659

    Sent from my iPhone



  2. Good to read your article. I remember back in the SLR/film days when getting a zoom lens often meant poorer quality image sharpness among other factors. But lense technology sure has a come a long way. Unless you are pixel-peeper instead of an image-maker – today’s high quality zooms with built in optical stability are certainly great for doing most photography. I’ve had 28-280mm now for 6 months and am very satisfied with handling, lightness and image quality. I should probably get a wide angle zoom sometime, but I usually like to isolate my subject rather than add lots of extra visual info. I also like the layered effect of a telephoto image. For inside shots I use a pemium quality point+shoot camera that had a f/1.8 24-105 zoom.


    • Back in 1974 or 1975 Vivitar introduced the 70-210 series 1 lens and I was a convert. I remember the adverts showing a postage stamp page photographed by that lens. The US distributer, Ponder and Best had them back ordered. So I had a friend that worked for an airline get me one while he was in Japan. Gosh, that was a great lens!
      I was working for the US Office of education documenting alternative education programs and that lens put me ahead of all my contemporaries that were struggling with fixed focal lengths.
      Now days I don’t like wider than 24mm on my full frame camera. If I only could have two lenses it would be my 24-70mm and my 70-200mm.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Wow. I didn’t realize there was such a good quality zoom lens at the time – or maybe I couldn’t afford it since I was just graduating from high school at the time. I used a few fixed lenses at the time, my favourite being a Tamron 90mm.

        Liked by 1 person

      • There weren’t many zooms like the Vivitar. Maybe none.
        Ahh.. the Tamron 90mm macro was a legend. It was the lens to have for biologists and anyone serious about macro and close up photography.

        Liked by 1 person

      • That’s right. I remember it was a macro as well! Thanks for the conversation. Btw – our young pastor Mike Roth is from Kamloops. He knows your shop. His parents still live in Kamloops.


      • yep, you had an exceptional lens in that 90mm Tamron.
        The name Mike Roth is familiar, but I can’t place him. Hey – its a small world Michael. One of these days we must get together and go point our cameras at something. Maybe the next time I am Vancouver.

        Liked by 1 person

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