It’s all about the glass…

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When I started seriously getting into photography I was always told by those more experienced than me that it is “all about the glass.”  “Forget buying the newest camera bodies,” they would say.  Did I listen?  No.  Not me.  duh.

Well, now I am saying it.  Maybe those that are brand new to photography will learn from this post.  This is not a super scientific blog entry.  I am not really capable of such a thing.  I like to take pictures.  I also have a love affair with good glass.  Nikon, Leica, whatever.

The above photo is the Nikon 85mm f/1.4G “Cream Machine.”  This is a serious lens.  It rivals anything ever produced by Leica.  It is one of Nikon’s greatest designs.  Simple.  Sharp.  Astounding bokeh.  It is as sharp wide-open as many lenses are at f/8.  So, what does this have to do with anything?  Well, it is seriously good glass.  Whether used on a 9 year-old 6.1mp D40 or a newer $5,999 Nikon D3s, this lens performs.  It performs well.

Here are the contenders…

D40 ($110 from eBay) versus $5,999 D3s

D40and D3s

Nothing fancy about what I did.  I just took an old D40 and D3s and put the 85mm f/1.4G lens on each.  I then took a photo of my daughter with each camera using the same lens.  Settings?  It does not matter.  What matters is can you tell which camera combo is which?  I know, you are thoroughly impressed with my study’s design and implementation.  Me too.  In any case, can you tell?


This lens absolutely obliterates the background at f/1.4 into a creamy dreamy example of beautiful nothingness.  These photos were touched very little in post.

I recently taught another small workshop and stressed the importance buying the most glass you can afford.  Why?  Because of this.  One of these photos is shot by a camera almost 10 years-old with less megapixels than your iPhone.  But, toss a $1699 lens on there and you have a $1699-worth-ish-image.  Put a $50 lens on the Nikon D3s and you get what you pay for.  Glass is also an investment.  Many times you can sell a lens for the same (or more) than what you originally paid.  Camera bodies, while obviously important, are not as critical to making good photographs.

To those of you that are experienced, you’re like no kidding.  But, we forget that when we first started, most of us all thought that a better camera immediately took better pictures.  Not true.  So, for those of you just starting out, get a decent camera body and use the rest of your cash on a really good lens.  The 85mm f/1.8G is probably 90% as good as its f/1.4G sister, and at 1/3 the price.

Happy shooting.  -Chris

(oh, the first photo of my little gal was shot with the 2006 Nikon D40)

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