The Gentleman’s Lens

I’m not a lazy photographer by nature. Whatever pictures I’m taking with whatever equipment I’m using, I try to get the best technical result I can. It’s a personality trait. Long experience has taught me that cheap cameras and lenses used carefully and sympathetically can outperform the best equipment lazily used. I recently used a sub £50 lens(UK) (USA) which on a test rig is dross. I got some very nice pictures using it for what it was suited to. Here’s one.
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Would it have been better on a Nocticron(UK) (USA) at 20 times the price? No, not really, though the picture would have been easier to make. Autofocus, autoexposure, stabilization, as opposed to tripod mounting, twist the focus ring yourself and meter the exposure for yourself. Even so, give me a DIY lens and the extra effort doesn’t faze me at all. I’m not, repeat N.O.T. lazy.

So why, if I go to Lightroom and click on EXIF, do I see that my most used lens is my Panasonic 14-140 f/3.5-5.6 (UK) (USA)? Is it sharper than than the Olympus Pro lenses (USA)? No. Lighter or smaller than the the 12-32 (UK) (USA) and 35-100 (UK) (USA) Panasonics? No. I have all those lenses so it’s not that I’m short of (better?) alternatives. Why then? I think the answer is that it is my gentleman’s lens.

The gentleman has always held an emblematic status in England. A gentleman is good at what he does but not superb. That would involve too much effort, which is ungentlemanly. A gentleman is superior but without effort. Effort would imply that he is concerned about what others think. That would be pandering and decidedly ungentlemanly. The essence of a gentleman is summed up by the old English aristocracy’s mode of dress. For example, an expensive, but not too expensive jacket which has been allowed to become a bit ratty, with leather patches on the elbows and frayed – but not too frayed – lapels. The message of the jacket is that the wearer has enough money but not too much (vulgar!), though almost certainly more than you because he allows a good quality jacket to become scruffy whereas you, not being a gentleman, would probably have had it repaired or – horror! – bought a new one. The message is that so superior are you that you do not even deign to compete.

So, to my gentleman’s lens, the Panasonic 14-140. It isn’t as sharp as the Olympus Pro pair but they are awfully manly and butch and, well, professional looking. A touch of the trying too hard syndrome there, I think. Very nice if you want other photographers or even admiring onlookers to think you are a professional, just back from the war or a steamy photo session with Carla and Kate. But my gentleman’s lens, it’s not too big, not too small. It’s quite cobby when it’s in the 14mm position but looks a bit of a dog tromboned out to 140mm. Perfect! It shows that the photographer using this lens is not concerned with how it looks, only that it is good enough to do what he needs without too much effort. He is focused on, or more gentlemanly, heedful of his results. Swapping lenses is not only an effort but slightly undignified, not to say a distraction from the job in hand. This photographer is plainly a true artist, no more concerned with his equipment than a painter is with his brush!

What about the 12-32 and 35-100? Both wonderful examples of modern lens technology. Excellent performance and tiny with it. A truly informed choice by the photographer who values portability and the size/ quality balance. Whoa! Informed choice? Size/ quality balance? That’s a bit intense isn’t it? Can you imagine an intense gentleman? The whole gentlemanly demeanour is of effortlessness, insouciance. My gentleman’s lens didn’t take a lot of choosing. It’s small but not especially so. It has excellent performance but not outstanding in the context of Micro Four Thirds primes. It is the gentleman’s choice yet again. It works. It does the bidding of its master and that is all it has to do. Flash looks, stellar performance, sky high price? Simply too, too vulgar, dear boy.

I can’t help feeling Panasonic have missed a trick here. Fender sell editions of their classic electric guitars called Relics. They distress them, rub off paint where years of contact with a beer belly would rub off paint, add myriad dents, dings and scratches and sell them for three times the price of the regular model. All that money so you look like a road hardened roadhouse player who doesn’t give a cuss ’bout anythang ‘cept the blues, rather than a bank clerk who has just turned page 2 of Bert Weedon’s Play In Day book.

So why don’t Panasonic make a special metal bodied Relic edition 14-140? Add Scratches, dents and dings so that it looks like an old 200mm Nikkor that Don McCullin binned when he came back from Viet Nam? Now that would be a real gentleman’s lens. Imagine the other photographer’s faces when they see it and ask you where you got it. “Oh, this old thing! It fell out of Don’s recycle bin when a fox knocked it over. Seemed a shame to waste it and frankly, Geographic, Match and Stern simply don’t care what equipment I use”.

Until Panasonic do make the Relic Edition, I will still use my normal one. There’s something about a lens that is sharp enough, small enough, well stabilized, avoids lens changing out in the field and focuses closely enough for flowers and even insects at a pinch. Today, out on a stroll though the vineyards, I only shot three frames, a closeup, a landscape and the heavily backlit hay stack and vines.
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All on the 14-140 at 140, 80 and 14mm. No lens changing, clicking or clacking, no fiddling with focus ring. Just bring the camera to the eye and point the lens in the right direction and idly press the button. Leisurely, with style and insouciance, the image is made. I do not review it on the monitor because to do so would betray a lack of confidence in the lens and myself.
(joke) The 14-140 simply and without fuss renders my vision to my art (/joke). That is why it is my most used lens. And that is why it is a gentleman’s lens.

19 thoughts on “The Gentleman’s Lens

  1. Karlo

    I enjoy reading this article, as all other your articles, but I always refrained from commenting because I wondered if that would be too ungentlemanly. Be that as it may, I did enjoy the concept of the Tamron 18-270 VC PZD super-zoom on my D300. Although large and heavy and limited in light gathering, it did provide me with the leisure of always being ready to capture that shot, for good or less good (mostly less good, but hey, I’m only an enthusiast). I was subject, though, to large amounts of ridicule from other more serious photographers with their 1.4 and 1.2 primes but I do like to think that I bore the ridicule in a gentlemanly way, that is, keep taking pictures.
    Now that I left Nikon-land, I will most probably acquire another superzoom in a Panasonic or Olympus flavour. That said, keep up the good work and please, do write more often. Cheers from Belgrade, Serbia.

    Reply
    1. dt@dthorpe.net Post author

      Thanks Karlo! The gear thing can get out of hand, can’t it? A newspaper photographer mate of mine who travels the world with his Nikons has as his most used lens a Nikon superzoom. No ridicule in that. Professionally it is accepted that you use any lens that does the job with the least inconvenience.

      The Panasonic 14-140mm is one of the best superzooms and performs well. As it happens it is my most used lens for the reasons you say. Some wonderful landscapes in your part of the world I bet.

      cheers from London!

      Reply
  2. John Kennan

    Reading this instantly produced a horrible flashback to the recent day when I stood up suddenly thus putting a horrible ding in my immaculate sunburst Stratocaster. It’s nice to be reminded that I’ve probably increased its value substantially.
    I may take the sandpaper to my 12-24 now and hope for a similar effect.

    Reply
    1. dt@dthorpe.net Post author

      You just want to go back in time ten seconds and have another go when that happens, don’t you? I reached across for a cup of coffee once and put a ding, its only one, on a Martin acoustic. I’m someone who looks after cameras and guitars and it infuriates me when I do something so stupid. Rather than sandpaper the lens, why not give it a good bash with something pointed and then explain that it ‘took an incoming’ when Don McCullin was using it in ‘Nam? Doubles the price, they tell me 🙂

      Reply
  3. StephenD

    I was raised middle middle class in the 1950’s in the South (Florida).
    Supposedly upwardly mobile (LOL).
    That whole gentleman’s code thing really strikes a bell for me.
    The Southern Gentleman, totally molded on those old European class values.
    It’s so subtle I don’t really even understand how it was transmitted.
    You were joking of course but people really do live by those unspoken rules.
    People are strange . . .

    P.S. Totally love your work.
    Have been entranced by your videos for a long while, but just discovered your blog.
    What a delight to find out that you are a just as talented, and even funnier,
    writer as you are a video reviewer.
    Your great strengths in your reviews are your down-to-earth practical approach to photography and its gear, and that calm mellifluous British-accented voice.
    Well, that’s enough somewhat inappropriately enthusiastic and overly emotional feedback – must maintain decorum.
    So – good go, old chap!

    Reply
    1. dt@dthorpe.net Post author

      Yes, those social rules are everywhere. I’m in France at the moment where you have the tutoyer, having two words for you, the familiar tu and the general vous. Not even the French understand exactly when you go from calling someone vous to tu. Family, of course. But friends…some vous, some tu. I just give up and fall back on being English and stupid!

      If I had one ambition socially, it would be to be a Southern Gentleman. That soft intonation and the measured use of words. If ever I were in a tight spot, a Southern Gentleman would be the one to take charge and get us out of it.

      I’m so glad you like my stuff. I enjoy doing it and I think that must come across. So, to finish in American style as you did in English, I am glad to have made your acquaintance, sir!

      Reply
  4. Antony

    This chap prefers primes….Why ?……The thought of periodically appearing with a variable trombone in a public situation seems to me a touch un-gentlemanly. One should go prepared when displaying ones self in a public situation. Of course clicking and un-clicking primes in public, could seem a touch flash. A constant prime length should be more impressive and last longer than the variable potential of a zoom.
    25,45,75mm lens’s….Taking in to account the multiplication factor of double the length. Should yield satisfying experience 🙂
    Though it could pale into insignificance against the variable trombone effect. But me thinks that primes will last longer and have a slight edge on performance by being a little sharper with less diffraction when shot wide open.

    Reply
    1. dt@dthorpe.net Post author

      I do agree that a gentleman should not be seen to be varying the length of his trombone in public. It is also true that the longer lasting nature of a prime may be more satisfying to some. I fear the case for a gentleman’s lens may not fully made out on my part. I shall think on a doubling of length,as you suggest but I shall do it quietly and in privacy. A gentleman cannot be seen to be concerned with things such as length.

      Reply
  5. David Fredericks

    My 14-140mm is my primary travel lens. When taking travel photos, I seldom have time (or inclination) to swap lens and the 14-140mm covers most of the ground for me. Mounted on my GX8, it is truly a jack-of-all-trades lens. The other lens in my travel bag is my “Museum” lens, the Lumix 7-14mm f4.0. These two lenses give me a 20 to 1 full frame range of 14mm to 280mm so not much can escape my camera. The 14-140mm is not the sharpest lens in my arsenal but it lets me capture memories I might otherwise miss – and isn’t capturing memories the whole point of travel photography?

    Reply
    1. dt@dthorpe.net Post author

      I have had my 7-14m for a long time now and I don’t have any intention of changing it either. It’s sharp, compact and plenty fast enough for a wide angle. I hadn’t thought of the ‘museum’ lens aspect but, yes it has been around a long time. I read that Panasonic are bringing out an 8-18mm f/2.8-4 but it’s hard to see how they can better the 7-14 and I think I prefer the extra 1mm wide to an extra stop in speed. 7mm is quite a lot at the shorter focal lengths used for Micro Four Thirds and an extra 7 degrees angle of view horizontally is worth having if you are working in a tight space. 7-140 in two lenses, amazing, isnt’ it?

      Reply
      1. David Fredericks

        To clarify, the reason I call my 7-14mm a “museum” lens is not because of its age but because I find it handy in tight environments photographing large objects (like in some museum settings).

        Reply
  6. Bill Sprague

    Well written! Thanks.

    After watching all of Downton Abbey, I laughed at the “gentleman” definition.

    I bought the lens for a GX7 a couple years ago for a Disney World trip with grandchildren. It has had little use since. I got a GX8 specifically for the 100-400 and have no other lenses at all! It is time to get the 14-140 off the shelf and take it for some long walks.

    Thanks also for your camera “training” videos and books on both the GX7 and GX8. They’ve helped this “gentleman” a lot!

    Reply
    1. dt@dthorpe.net Post author

      Thanks, Bill! We ‘gentlemen’ need to stick together. You obviously do some specialized stuff for the 100-400 to be your main lens so the 14-140 is handy to do everything else. And just two lenses take you from wide-angle to extreme tele. It’s amazing really.

      Reply
      1. Bill Sprague

        Yes, I continue to try to be a wildlife specialist. But as a gentleman, I continue to be only occasionally successful! And you’re right, 14 to 400 in two lenses is phenomenal.

        Reply
  7. Ian

    Don’t encorage them! Last year you could buy, for only $24,500, a Leica M-P ‘Correspondent’ set – a 240 body with 35 and 50mm lenses that were ‘pre-worn’ with rubbed off brass edges supplied in a silly briefcase. I think they sold to red dot collecters and were utterly pointless.

    Reply
    1. dt@dthorpe.net Post author

      I’m astonished. I thought I was making a joke, something so absurd that no-one would dream of doing it. Oh, well, live and learn.

      I have always looked after my kit. Even in my news photography days I used to take care of my gear, put it in cases or bags rather than just toss it in the car boot as some did. The result was that my while my cameras stayed shiny and unscratched, it was me that got worn and frayed around the edges. €24,500 to make yourself look like a war correspondent….crazy! Mind you, I have an Olympus Pen F that I don’t use much. I’ll ping a few shots at it from my air gun, sand the edges and corners and use a centre punch to get a few dings on it….yours for £12,575.99. Can’t say fairer than that 🙂

      Reply
  8. B. Shepard

    Well said, as always.

    I love the 14-140 as well, just wish it focused with a bit more assurance on my Olympus in low light. I do wonder if a Panasonic body would perform better with it sometimes.

    Reply
    1. dt@dthorpe.net Post author

      Focusing performance is up there with the best on my Panasonic bodies but less assured on Olympus. It’s not bad or anything but noticeably less certain. I did a test when comparing a Pen F and GX8 and I was so surprised at the difference that I re-ran it – got the same result though. That was the GX8 with the 14-140 and Olympus with the 40-150 f/2.8. The video is on my YuoTube channel YouTube Channel

      Reply

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