I Don’t Care Much about Comparing Lenses

by Miserere

  

If you’ve frequented any camera forum for even the shortest period of time you will have undoubtedly come across many posts were members are comparing the benefits of one lens vs another. In most cases they do this hypothetically (or theoretically) because they’ve never actually used any of the lenses they’re comparing. Sometimes, a lucky member will happen to have two or more lenses of similar specs from different manufacturers and they will post photos of brick walls, resolution charts, and 100% crops at different apertures in an attempt to discern which lens is the best.

I admit I do enjoy reading these comparisons, if only to maliciously pick out flaws in the testing procedure or simply enjoy the ensuing rows between owners of either lens. Nonetheless, I admire the dedication of these users and I believe their efforts are not totally wasted and they do provide a service to other photographers who don’t have the opportunity to go to a store and test these lenses themselves. The only thing is, I can never bring myself to do it when I have similar lenses in my own hands.

I recently had in my possession 4 of the best macro lenses ever manufactured:

I had the opportunity to make internet forum history by testing these lenses at the same time, pitting them against each other and against resolution charts, photographing the same leaf with each of them and showing 100% crops at different apertures. In the end I would, hopefully, select a winner and sales of that lens would soar while prices of the other 3 on eBay would plummet. Alas, I missed my one chance at fame. Do you know why? Because I just didn’t care.

It was clear I couldn’t keep all of them—three had to go. You might think I would have performed some stringent testing on each of them in order to decide which one to keep, but the selection process was much simpler than that. You see, macro lenses tend to be optimised for sharpness, because that’s their job, and these particular macro lenses have a brilliant reputation, so they must all be extremely good lenses, and more importantly, they are in all probability much better at being macro lenses than I am at being a macro photographer. How did I make my choice, then?

Sigma 105mm f2.8 EX DG

Should I pick this one...

Tamron 90mm f2.8 SP Di

...or this one?

I wanted an AF lens for versatility; for macro I focus by body movement and don’t need AF, but I wanted to use the lens as a long portrait optic too, and for that I preferred AF. This requirement excluded the Vivitar and Lester-A.Dine and left only the Tamron and Sigma in the running.There you go, in one fell swoop I had halved my choices! Next thing I did was mount each of the two remaining lenses on the camera and went around the house and balcony taking random photos of stuff close up; while doing so I paid more attention to the handling of each lens than to the pictures I was taking. Once I got bored with photographing the patterns in my rug, I headed off to the computer to compare the pictures. I could see no appreciable difference between them. None whatsoever. OK, so sometimes I thought the Sigma looked a little cooler in tone, but I wouldn’t have bet on it, and that’s something that gets corrected in postprocessing anyway. As far as sharpness was concerned, they could have been the same lens.

Handling was similar for both, as was weight and size…hmmm…difficult decision… So how did I eventually decide? I kept the lens whose focal length better fit into my prime lens set up. I already had a 77mm AF prime, which was close to the Tamron’s 90mm focal length, so I kept the Sigma 105mm. It was that simple.

Choosing lenses is more often a matter of being practical rather than scientifically precise. Of course, the price I paid for being practical is giving up everlasting fame on the camera forums. Oh well…maybe some other time.

  

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7 Comments

  1. Yup…. this is exactly how I’d do it. Pixel peeping is fun, but it’s not photography. I’ll explain…. pixel peeping isn’t photography, it’s pixel peeping! lol

    I wish more blogs were this honest. Great article.

  2. Hey Mis,

    Being part of the Paris Hilton CD launch has etched your name in our collective minds.

    What’s a Lester A Dine after after such a promotional feat!

    Great site, btw.

    G

  3. Exactly on point Miserere. I’m at the same crossroad and I think Sigma made a brilliant choice for many platforms. The Tamron is a fine lens in every respect but if you like to have some of the best glass in your kit, there’s not much separation between 85mm and 90mm.

    Given that across almost every brand, the 85mm’s might arguably be the best lens each camera company makes, choosing the Tamron may not fit a dual purpose lens use. Also these 85mm’s are much faster than either macro lens. With 20mm between that and the Sigma, it should perform a dual role better for most shooters.

  4. “I kept the lens whose focal length better fit into my prime lens set up. I already had a 77mm AF prime, which was close to the Tamron’s 90mm focal length, so I kept the Sigma 105mm. ”

    Ha! That was exactly the logic that behind my selection of the Sigma (and not having any of the candidates, I didn’t even have to photograph the carpet.

  5. I’m soooo thinking of another beloved Pentaxian and his ‘dilemma’ in choosing which Ltds he should keep and which he should sell. Oh, the choices he is burdened with haha! :)

    ps- been meaning to say how I love it that I can get to check myself if I am human through your comment submit section. I AM able to select the muffins!

  6. I absolutely agree with your analysis. Looking at test charts, and 100% crops of the absolute corner of the image, is usually overrated. How a camera feels in your hand, functions when it’s mounted on YOUR camera, and fits into your lens portfolio is far more important.

    Now let me tell you the value of online lens comparisons (that you didn’t mention). I’m in the market for a long prime, somewhere between 135mm to 180mm. But I don’t own any of these lenses to do my own in-house comparison. All I can do is go down to the local camera store, mounted on my camera, and see how it feels and focuses. In this case looking at MTF charts and online comparisons is helpful. But still that’s all it is, “helpful”. What’s far more important is how it feels in my hand, and how quickly it focuses on my cameras.

    By the way I have an 85 mm, so I opted for the 150 mm Sigma. I felt that the 105 was only one step further away than my 85.

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