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.
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.
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.