Friday, May 15, 2020

Glass Classism

People who get into picture taking with their first DSLR will often go on photography forums looking  for advice on which lens to buy next, after the one(s) that came in the box with their beginner camera.

Most frequently, and especially in Canon-centric groups, the answer will be "Get the Nifty Fifty!"

On its surface, this is solid advice! Canon's EF 50mm f/1.8 is a lot of bang for the buck. Compact and lightweight, but sharp and with a fast maximum aperture, the "Nifty Fifty" would seem to be a no-brainer. Plus the 50mm prime has been a staple in any kit since the dawn of 35mm photography, since its ~40° field of view closely approximates normal human vision.

But when you buy that 50mm lens and you slap it on your beginner DSLR, which has an APS-C sized sensor, commonly referred to as a "crop sensor" since its small size crops off the outer parts of the lens's image circle, you wind up with a field of view that is much narrower.

On an APS-C sensor, a 50mm lens has a field of view equivalent to a 75mm lens (or 80mm on Canon's APS-C sensor, which is slightly smaller than everyone else's). That's closer to a "short telephoto" or "portrait" length. That's why the little look-a-Leica crop-sensor Fuji X-E1 that I use for playing hipster street photographer pretty much permanently wears a 32mm f/1.8 Zeiss Touit, which equals a 48mm in full frame terms.

But that's a middlin' spendy aftermarket lens. I bought it used, but even used, it was "used Glock" money. It doesn't really fill the "Nifty Fifty profile of being cheap & cheerful while delivering bang-for-the-buck.

Some manufacturers remedy this by selling dedicated crop sensor equivalents to the "Nifty Fifty" for their own systems. Fujifilm themselves make a decent little 35mm f/2 that sells for about two hundo, and Nikon (who use "DX" to signify APS-C lenses and cameras) have a crop sensor "Nifty Fifty" equivalent in the excellent AF-S DX 35mm f/1.8G.

Canon, sadly, doesn't offer anything like this in their crop-sensor EF-S mount; the closest is the 35mm Macro which is, at $300 and f/2.8, too spendy and too slow to really be a "Nifty Fifty" equivalent.

Since I'm primarily a Canon shooter who only dabbles in Nikon for fun (and mostly old film or FX Nikons at that) I've only played with two Nikon DX lenses, the 35mm f/1.8 and the 18-200mm f/3.5.-5.6 VR II, and I've already come to the conclusion that, compared to Nikon, Canon never really gave much of a toss about crop-sensor glass.

Apparently once their 1Ds and 5D hit the market early in the millennium, with their big 35mm full-frame sensors, Canon was like "APS-C? Pfft. Let them eat cake."

Both EF-S and EF-M have a solid little wide-angle pancake prime, a decent macro and... Well, the EF-S 18-55mm f/2.8 is nice, and there's that new 32mm f/1.4 for EF-M that's almost $500, but otherwise crop-sensor Canonland is an uninspiring plasticky wasteland.

Canon expends a disproportionate amount of effort on their high end L lenses, but since their marketing seems largely designed to funnel people toward them red rings, it makes a certain amount of sense.

Most people who buy a Rebel or EOS M just to take vacation or family pics generally won't know or care, but a certain amount will get bitten by the photography bug and migrate upward. It'd be nice if there were more higher-end EF-S/EF-M lenses for them to go to rather than Canon putting all their glass eggs in the full frame sensor basket.